"Lead, Kindly Light," Wrote John Newman

"Lead, Kindly Light," Wrote John Newman

"I shall not die; I shall not die, for I have not sinned against the light." In restless, fever-tossed dreams a young vicar repeated the words again and again. "God still has a work for me to do. I have a work to do in England." The vicar was right. He recovered and helped initiate the Oxford Movement.

Becalmed at sea on his return from Italy, the vicar, John Henry Newman, composed the hymn, "Lead, Kindly Light." Back in England, he preached at his college, calling men to repentance. His messages attracted large numbers. The church in Ireland had suffered some heavy-handed blows from the English government. Anglicans felt threatened. The government took the stance that it had absolute authority over the church. Newman's concern led him to issue a series of Tracts for the Times. Through these he hoped to define more clearly the Church of England's doctrine and position so that the church would not be subject to the whims of the government.

One of his tracts argued that the Church of England had only disassociated itself from the excesses of the Roman Catholic church, not its fundamentals. This stirred a cry of outrage. Newman resigned his posts and went to Littlemore with a group of friends to rethink his place in the Church. After much deliberation and prayer, he decided he must leave the Anglicans and join the Catholics. On a visit to Rome, he was ordained.

His secession from the Anglicans threw England into an uproar, so influential had been his sermons and writings. Many of England's leaders had been his friends. Now friends and family ostracized him.

Novelist Charles Kingsley accused Newman of teaching that priestly lies are acceptable. Newman, with deep love for the truth, said he taught no such thing. An exchange developed. Finally Newman answered with a masterpiece: Apologia pro vita sua (Apology for My Life). Newman earlier had written The Idea of the University, another respected work. Poetry came to him with ease and he actually threw away The Dream of Gerontius, thinking it of little worth. A friend rescued it and goaded him into printing it.

On this day May 12, 1879 Newman was created a cardinal by Leo XIII. The move was extraordinary. Although he was an ordained priest, he held no churchly function of any sort. The honor was given because of Newman's piety, zeal, erudition and other virtues. "The cloud is lifted from me forever," said Newman. He had faithfully adhered to his deepest principles, and the honor had possibly been unexpected. The Oxford Movement, in which he was so influential, persisted with great strength even after he had become a Catholic. Oxford itself later elected him as an honorary fellow, restoring his association with them.


  1. D'Souza, Dinesh. The Catholic Classics. Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 1986.
  2. Newman, John Henry. Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., Image Books, 1956.
  3. "Newman, John Henry." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  4. "Newman, John Henry." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  5. Routley, Erik. Hymns and the Faith. Greenwich, Connecticut: Seabury, 1956.
  6. Wells, Amos R. A Treasure of Hymns; Brief biographies of 120 leading hymn- writers and Their best hymns. Boston: W. A. Wilde company, 1945.

Last updated April, 2007.

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