The John J. Burns Library’s John Henry Cardinal Newman papers reflects the many interests and evolutions experienced by the Cardinal during his nearly ninety years of life. It contains over fifty personal and professional letters, as well as pamphlets and ephemera that exhibit his philosophical and theological thought. While collections of his letters have been published, most notably the thirty-two volume Letters and Diaries of John Henry Cardinal Newman, the Burns holds some unpublished letters, and of course, provides the thrill of seeing the Cardinal’s ideas in his own hand.
John Henry Cardinal Newman, born in 1801 in London, started life as a member of the Church of England. The earliest letters in the Burns Collection reflect these sentiments. Indeed, in a letter dated February 26, 1836, Newman wrote of his indignation at the power struggle taking place between the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury. At the time, the King had put forth several “improper persons for consecration” without consulting the Archbishop. This, according to Newman, was the first instance “of an appointment without the Archbishop being first informed of it” (Box 1, Folder 50, John Henry Cardinal Newman Papers, MS.1986.039, John J. Burns Library, Boston College). Newman’s attempts to create a petition to challenge the unilateral authority of the King is only among the examples of his dynamic personality at work.
Cardinal Newman is known for his tumultuous path to Catholicism. The Oxford Movement, sometimes pejoratively called “Newmanism,” posited common roots for Anglicanism and Catholicism. The Anglican reaction to Newman’s publication of “Tract 90” in 1842, which sought to re-assert the Church of England’s Catholic beginnings instigated Newman’s departure from the Church of England and his subsequent conversion to Catholicism.
The Burns’ Newman Collection focuses on the period after his conversion. In contrast to many of his letters, which emphasize biblical exposition, most of the Burns’ previously unpublished letters concern Catholicism and liberal education. In 1851, Newman became the first rector at the Catholic University of Dublin (now University College, Dublin) where he remained until 1858. His continued appreciation of liberal arts education led him to offer advice to Catholic families. Although little is known of his correspondent in these letters, Mrs. Bethell, the Burns Library owns three letters written to her in response to queries about the educational formation of her children. Of these three letters, two are unpublished. In them, Newman instructs Mrs. Bethell on the proper upbringing of her sons, Augustus and Henry. Newman especially urged her to send Augustus to his own university where Augustus could pursue both Chemistry and the arts all through a Catholic worldview (Box 1, Folders 46, 48, and 49, John Henry Cardinal Newman Papers, MS1986-39, John J. Burns Library, Boston College). Newman’s commitment to learning becomes clear and is reflected in his publication, The Idea of a University. In the Burns Collection, we can see these ideas germinating in a more personal forum.
A good portion of the remaining letters exhibit Newman’s beliefs as he related them to his friends. The intimacy of this setting is especially evident in one of his final correspondence with his friend, George T. Edwards, an Anglican. In it he includes his personal translation of the Anima Christi, which he has entitled “My Creed”. Click on the image to read Newman’s creed.
Though the Cardinal died in 1890, his memory has lived on. John Henry Cardinal Newman was proclaimed “Venerable” in 1991, and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. To further research this prodigious and influential figure, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
- Elise Franklin, Graduate Research Assistant, Burns Library & Doctoral Student, Department of History
John Henry Cardinal Newman Papers, MS1986-39, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.
Ker, Ian. John Henry Newman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.