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The Liberal Spirit and Anti-Liberal Discourse of John Henry Newman


Ambrose Mong Ih-Ren

Not many cardinals get to be declared saints, and even rarer is one who is known for his controversial ideas and interpretation of doctrinal faith both within and outside the church. John Henry Newman (1801-1890), however, beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010, was no ordinary churchman. Raised an Anglican and a leading member of the Oxford Movement in his younger days, he converted to Catholicism and, through prolific writing and polemics, established an intellectual and spiritual influence far beyond the placid, pastoral domain of the papacy. This book seeks to settle the historical question of Newman as anti-liberal or liberal, and to shed theological light on his liberal spirit and anti-liberal discourse, in order to provide fresh insights into the issue of religious pluralism. In particular, the author examines Newman’s perception of the danger of the liberal spirit of his time and his possession of another kind of liberal spirit that made him so original, bold and prophetic.


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2. Biographical Sketch 29


29 Chapter 2 Biographical Sketch In the course of his long life, John Henry Newman had had many con- versions, and he changed his mind at least five times: from an adoles- cent fling with atheism, to evangelical and Calvinistic Anglicanism, liberalism at Oxford, High Church Tractarianism and finally to Roman Catholicism. Little wonder that he says, ‘In a higher world it is other- wise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often’.1 However, it seems that his attitude towards liberalism remained constant throughout his entire life. We will trace his early upbringing and the influence of Oxford that shaped his understanding of liberalism. Early Life Newman lived a long life spanning almost the entire nineteenth cen- tury. He was born on 21 February 1801, in the City of London, and died at Edgbaston, Birmingham, on 11 August 1890. His father was John Newman and his mother Jemima Fourdrinier of French Hugue- not stock, which accounts for his religious training in the form of modified Calvinism received from his mother. As a child he was brought up to take delight in Bible reading although he formed no re- ligious conviction until he was fifteen when he underwent a ‘conver- 1 An Essay on the Development of the Christian Doctrine, development/index.html, 41. 30 sion’, and from the works of Calvinistic writers, he gained definite dogmatic ideas. Newman matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford, on December 1816. Working too hard for his...

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