John Henry Newman’s impact

Eamon Duffy’s short biography of the first English saint canonized since the Reformation

“I have no tendency to be a saint—it is a sad thing to say, Saints are not literary men,” John Henry Newman wrote to a correspondent in 1850. But the Catholic Church has judged differently. Last October, Pope Francis conferred sainthood on the eminent cardinal and man of letters, completing the two-stage process that began with his beatification in September 2010. Newman is the first English saint to be canonized since the Reformation.

Irish historian Eamon Duffy provides a timely, balanced introduction to Newman’s life. This is no easy task in light of Newman’s many published works, diaries, and extant letters (20,000—among the most of any major Victorian figure) and given the intense passions Newman aroused both during his lifetime and afterward. Protestants did not trust him because he converted to Catholicism in 1845. Monsignor George Talbot, chamberlain to Pope Pius IX, once called Newman “the most dangerous man in England.” Talbot was worried that Newman, precisely as a convert, did not fully toe the line on papal authority and thus might lead well-meaning Catholics astray.

During his lifetime, Newman was peripheral to many Catholic affairs, which had the European continent as their primary theater. But since his death in 1890, his stature has only grown. Some would rank him with Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and a handful of other giants of Christian thought.