Faith and Prejudice
John Henry Newman
Edited by the Birmingham Oratory

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This book was published in the U.S.A. in 1956 by Sheed & Ward, New York, and its copyright was not renewed. It was published as Catholic Sermons of Cardinal Newman in the U.K. in 1957 by Burns & Oates, London—NR.

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I. 1848

1. The Omnipotence of God the Reason for Faith     19.
2. Preparation for the Judgement    31.
3. The Calls of Grace    41.
4. Prejudice and Faith    52.
5. Surrender to God    63.
6. The World and Sin    74.
7. Our Lady in the Gospel    85.

II. 1870

8. Stewards and Also Sons of God    99.

III. 1873

9.   The Infidelity of the Future  113.

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{7} Of the sermons Cardinal Newman composed after becoming a Catholic, and of which the autograph has been preserved, only nine seem to have escaped publication, and these are now printed here for the first time. If the most striking of them is that intended for the opening of the Seminary at Olton in 1873, with its grim forecast of the future course of unbelief, the earlier ones have a special interest of their own. They were preached at St. Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, in the Spring of 1848, almost at once after Newman's return from Rome as a priest of the Oratory. They are thus the first sermons he preached in England after he had left Oxford and the Anglican Communion.

Newman's last sermon as an Anglican, "The Parting of Friends," [Note 1] had been preached on September 25th, 1843 for the Dedication Feast of the church he himself had built at Littlemore. The village children were there in new frocks and bonnets, a parting present from Newman, {8} and the church overflowed with his friends, who knew they were listening to him for the last time. People sobbed audibly, and it is said that there was not a dry eye in the church. Pusey, who was the celebrant, was unable to control himself. Newman alone was calm, and Pusey described his sermon in a letter that same day:—"The sermon was like one of Newman's, in which self was altogether repressed, yet it showed the more how deeply he felt all the misconceptions of himself. It implied, rather than said, Farewell." [Note 2] After that there was silence, and then, two years later Newman went, as he himself knew, and wrote to Keble, "setting my face absolutely towards the Wilderness," among strangers, into what he believed to be "the one true fold of Christ." "It was like coming into port after a rough sea," but there was still much that he found trying, or, to use his own word, dreary. The first sermon he preached in his new position, on December 4th, 1846, was a case in point. It broke a silence of three years, since "The Parting of Friends," but what a contrast! Newman was in minor orders, and studying at the College of Propaganda in Rome, still undecided as to his vocation. A niece of the Countess of Shrewsbury had died suddenly in Rome, and it was insisted that Newman should deliver the funeral oration, in the Irish Franciscan church of St. Isidore. Prince Borghese, the Countess's son-in-law, obtained the necessary {9} permission, and would take no refusal. Further, Newman was to point a moral and bring home to the English Protestants who would be present the need of conversion. "I assure you I did not like it at all," he wrote. He did his best, preaching outside the altar rails without cotta or biretta, as custom required. Ambrose St. John's appreciation of the sermon may be found in Ward's Life of Newman [Note 3]. Newman remarked that "we all need conversion," but offence was given to some of those present. He was thought to have shown a lack of tact and understanding of the world. The Pope was said to be displeased, and to have remarked that what was needed on such occasions was not "aceto" but "miele." The humiliation was a keen one, and that Newman felt it as such can only have increased the merit of his humble abandonment to God, a virtue he had long been both preaching and practising.

That was his first sermon as a Catholic, but it was extempore, and it has not been preserved. Nor is any record to be found of the sermon Newman preached on 31st October, 1847 to the English-speaking students at Propaganda, in their chapel. Those were exceptional occasions, and Newman's Catholic preaching begins with his return to Maryvale, near Birmingham, at the end of that year, to set up the English Oratory of St. Philip. He again wrote out his sermons and numbered them, as {10} he had done as an Anglican. He was invited to St. Chad's Cathedral, and Number One was preached there. All that we know of it now is the entry in Newman's diary for January 23d, 1848, "went early to Birmingham with Dalgairns first time."

The second sermon of the series and those that followed it are now put before the reader, seven in all, the last being preached on March 26th, the third Sunday of Lent. On the cover containing Newman's manuscripts of them there is a note by Father William Neville, his confidant and secretary during the last years:—"The Cardinal gave me these seven sermons. He said I could copy them out or make use of them if I chose. He said he used to walk in from Maryvale to St. Chad's and preach them, but he does not remember why he did not go on but supposes that he was tired and gave up. He cannot account for No. 1 not being with them but he said that if it turned up he will give it me. Wm. P. Neville, May 1881." Perhaps the preaching which the Oratorians undertook in London, at the end of Lent, had something to do with the incompletion of the series. On the evening of Passion Sunday Newman was preaching in St. George's Cathedral, Southwark.

The interest of these sermons will be apparent at once. They may lack the ornament and elaboration of the sermons Newman himself published as a Catholic, Discourses to Mixed Congregations (1849) and Sermons {11} on Various Occasions (1857), and in that they come nearer to the Parochial Sermons, but they show us how entirely he threw himself into the "Catholic system." The old mastery is there, the style, the concrete illustrations, the psychological insight, the use of Holy Scripture, the stress on the moral preparation needed for receiving the truth;—it is authentic Newman, and entirely Catholic. "Father Dominic told us we were but babes in Christ, and that is the beginning and the end of it." This humility and docility, which were so remarked on at the time, showed itself even in the matter of delivery. As an Anglican he had always read his sermons. Now, anxious to avoid all singularity, he conformed to the Catholic custom. The entry in his diary for January 30th, 1848, referring to the first sermon printed in this volume, runs:—"walked into Birmingham and read No. 2 at High Mass, then walked back," but the next three sermons, those for Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima, are all headed, in the autograph, "preached not read at St. Chad's." These sermons too are mentioned in the diary. On February 20th, Septuagesima, we read:—"went over in fly to Handsworth with Richard [Stanton] and Austin [Mills]—& preached—thence to St. Chad's where preached in evening ... back in fly." On the 27th, "walked into Birmingham in afternoon, & preached." And on the 28th, "walked back." March 5th, "walked into Birmingham, {12} preached & slept there." On the 6th, "walked back"; and so on.

St. Mary's Oxford is only sixty miles from St. Chad's Birmingham, but they belonged to different worlds. Newman could always enter into the minds of others, and so now the simplicity of these sermons is perhaps their most striking characteristic. Everyone could follow them in that congregation drawn from a large industrial town, its numbers swelled by poor Irishmen driven over by the Famine. Along with vivid pictures of sin, not excluding one of the drunkard (2 Lent), and warnings of the danger of unhealthy curiosity, very practical at the present day (1 Lent), come passages on how prejudice blinds men's eyes (Quinquagesima), and about opening our hearts to the Word and realizing (Sexagesima). The beautiful description of evening in the sermon for Septuagesima may be compared with that in another sermon for the same Sunday, preached five years earlier in St. Mary's [Note 4].

The seventh and last sermon of the series, on our Lady, accounts very effectively for our Lord's apparent coldness towards her, especially His turning aside of the praise of the woman from the crowd (Luke xi, 27). At the end of this sermon there comes an early exaggeration which Newman was later to correct:—"But be sure of this, that if you cannot enter into the warmth of foreign {13} books of devotion, it is a deficiency in you." In 1866, in the Letter to Pusey, Newman wrote:—"I prefer English habits of belief and devotion to foreign ... and in this line of conduct I am but availing myself of the teaching I fell in with on becoming a Catholic ... if ... (in 1848) … I was betrayed into any acts which were of a more extreme character than I should approve now ... the impulse came not from the old Catholics or superiors … and ... my mind soon fell back to what seems to me a safer and more practical course." [Note 5]

The eighth sermon here printed was preached in the church of the Birmingham Oratory, on the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 31st, 1870. The Parable of the Unjust Steward is given a moral application. One sentence in it, "not to do good is really to do evil," helps us to understand the cause of the great cross of Newman's life—that he was so often hindered from doing good, whether this was owing to the attitude of those in authority or to the slander of his opponents. He knew, and in view of the history of the Oxford Movement, he could not help knowing, that Almighty God had given him the greatest natural talents, and yet during so much of his Catholic life he found himself condemned to idleness, his sword rusting in its scabbard, through no fault of his. The very pages in his Journal which describe his {14} cross enable us also to glimpse the heroic abandonment it occasioned.

The last sermon is perhaps the most interesting of all. It was preached at the opening of Bishop Ullathorne's new seminary, at Olton, near Birmingham, on October 2nd, 1873. At the end of a low Mass celebrated by the Bishop came the sermon. According to the report in the Tablet of October 11th, "The kindly and familiar tone of the venerable preacher added to the warmth of the feelings with which he was greeted." The long summary there printed shows that Newman must have followed the autograph closely, but a vertical pencil line drawn through many of its pages suggests that it would have been carefully revised if he had intended it for publication. It is now put before the reader as its author left it.

Newman has something to say about seminaries in Historical Sketches [Note 6], but now he touches on the subject more profoundly and intimately, and, as he once remarked, "from first to last, education, in this large sense of the word, has been my line." [Note 7] Most of the sermon, however, is taken up with grim forebodings about the spread and future course of infidelity, more terrible even than those he was to utter six years later, when he was made a Cardinal [Note 8]. The future is foretold with a disturbing {15} accuracy—the absence of all spiritual beliefs and the weakening of the non-Catholic religious bodies. Not that all the details have come true as yet. There has been no English persecution of Catholicism, and in parenthesis, passionately as Newman loved his countrymen, how he understood them! "Englishmen are cruel when they are frightened." To the objection that infidelity is no new thing comes the clear summing up, "Christianity has never yet had experience of a world simply irreligious." Then comes the remedy,—nothing less than the practice of the Presence of God, the essence of that ecclesiastical spirit which seminaries exist to create. "Now this I consider to be the true weapon by which the infidelity of the world is to be met." Very convincingly in his last sentences Newman brings out the importance of this state of recollection, and shows it to be the recipe for a holy and effective clergy.

As has been said this volume contains all that can be found of the unpublished autograph sermons written since 1845. They are reproduced with only minor alterations. One or two mistakes have been corrected, and occasionally marks of punctuation have been supplied or substituted for the succession of dashes Newman uses when he is not writing for publication. There exist also about a hundred and forty sermons which were taken down at the time of delivery, and some of these were afterwards approved or corrected by Newman. (It is {16} hoped to publish a selection of them as a companion to the present volume.)

Of the Anglican sermons, besides the 230 which Newman himself published in the eight volumes of Parochial and Plain Sermons, in Sermons on Subjects of the Day and in Oxford University Sermons, there exist a further 170 in Newman's handwriting. These have been carefully preserved and catalogued ever since Newman's death. A number of them deal with themes already treated in the published sermons, and on one collection, headed "Packet of Sermons, St. Clement's, 1824-1826," Newman wrote:—"May 17th 1881. None of these sermons are worth anything in themselves, but those preached at St. Clement's 1824-6 will show how far I was an Evangelical when I went into Anglican Orders." It is hoped that all the sermons will see the light in time, but meanwhile, for those who seek, there are, in the volumes already published, ample spiritual riches to be turned to account.

C. Stephen Dessain
The Oratory
Birmingham, England


1. Sermons on Subjects of the Day, p. 395.
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2. Henry Parry Liddon, Life of Edward Bouverie Pusey, II, p. 375.
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3. Life of Cardinal Newman, I, p. 155.
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4. Sermons on Subjects of the Day, p. 11.
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5. Difficulties of Anglicans, II, pp. 20-22.
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6. III, pp. 240 ff.
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7. Ward, op. cit., I, p. 584.
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8. Ward, op. cit., II, p. 462.
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Title Page

Faith and Prejudice

and Other Unpublished Sermons





Edited by The
Birmingham Oratory




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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.