The Anglican Newman was a pastor of souls, a University teacher, and a student of Christian history and theology. Informed by pastoral experience, his studies were above all shaped by his insight into the needs of the present.
Newman’s point of reference was the Church of the Apostles and the Fathers, the great teachers of the first Christian centuries. Newman believed that mind and heart, dogma and experience, come together. With the doctrinal and sacramental faith unfolding in him, Newman desired to revive Christianity for a culture descending into unbelief.
1842-5 were his ‘wilderness’ years secluded in prayer and study. At Littlemore, outside Oxford, he worked on the still deeply influential Development of Christian Doctrine (1845). The book studies the ways in which Faith has unfolded in history; Newman saw an analogy with how Faith unfolds in individual minds, including his own. At last he was convinced that the Faith of the Apostles and Fathers was the Faith of Roman Catholicism. The Church of Christ was the Church of Rome. Embracing the Catholic Church as the ‘One Fold of Christ’ Newman was received at Littlemore by Blessed Dominic Barberi on 9th October 1845, hence his feast day.
Ordained a Catholic priest in Rome in 1847 Newman returned to England with a mission from the Pope to found Oratories of St Philip Neri, in Birmingham (where he lived until his death on 11 August 1890) and then in London. The Oratory discloses the heart of Newman: small and stable communities of priests, living together in charity, dedicated to prayer, to the liturgy, to preaching, teaching and the intellectual life.
Pastorally and educationally, in his published writings and in his correspondence, Newman’s aim was to describe and arouse the Christian mind. His vocation was to help modern people realise the demands of thinking and acting with the mind of Christ and His Church.
In perhaps his most powerful testimony to our own day, Newman shows how the light of conscience, active in every human heart, finds fulfilment not in subjectivity and individualism, but in obedience to the teachings of the Pope in the communion of the Catholic Church.