John Henry Newman, perhaps the most prominent churchman of nineteenth-century England, was born in the City of London to a Huguenot mother and a father of religiously broadminded sentiments. While a member of the Church of England, his views began to move gradually from low-church evangelical to high-church catholic until his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845; soon after, he was ordained a Catholic priest, and was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879.
While an Anglican priest, he spent much of his time, both on and off the Oxford University campus, fighting a form of liberalism he called the “anti-dogmatic principle”: “Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion....” A Fellow at Oriel College (Oxford) and Vicar of University Church of St. Mary, he was a liberal for his era in ways that did not contradict his Christian orthodoxy. During his Anglican days, he supported Catholic Emancipation of 1829, and as the leader of the Oxford Movement, he sought to sever the tie between the Church of England and the crown, believing that state control of the Church could never serve the interests of religion. Following his conversion, he took up a defense of lay rights against clericalism and defended the liberal arts against fellow clergy who desired to restrict student access to new knowledge for fear these ideas would undermine their faith.
In his classic autobiography, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, he contrasted theological liberalism with the sort of church reform he supported by naming liberal Catholics Lacordaire and Montalembert as individuals he admired. He was never active in politics, though he held opinions and expressed them privately. His support for Gladstone's Liberal Party strengthened toward the end of his life. Newman's close collaboration with Lord Acton and his publication The Rambler, further indicated his liberal sympathies on church matters. He was an early opponent of Church involvement in temporal affairs and was greatly responsible for convincing young Acton of the correctness of this position.
Sources: John Henry Newman by Charles Stephen Dessain (A&C Black, 1971) and The Acton-Newman Relations by Hugh A. MacDougall (Fordham University Press, 1962).
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