"That irresistible burst into life again"[1]

J.H.Newman proclaiming the Holy Spirit

von Günter Biemer


I. The Primitive Church - a Revelation of the Holy Spirit

II. The Life-giving Spirit in the Universe, in Salvation-history, and in the Church

III. Development of Faith understood as Marian principle

IV. The Holy Spirit as principle of growth in the Subjective Word of God.

V. Renewal of the Catholic Church in England: the work of the Holy Spirit

VI. Inspiration of Holy Scripture and the Infallibly teaching Office: Newman’s theological considerations about the Holy Spirit.

In his “Meditations on Christian Doctrine” Newman addresses the Holy Spirit as the “Eternal Paraclete, the Life of all things”:

“I adore Thee as the life of all that live. Through Thee the whole material Universe hangs together and consists, remains in its place, and moves internally in the order and reciprocity of its several parts. Through Thee the earth was brought into its present state, and was matured … Through Thee all trees, herbs, fruits, thrive and are perfected. Through Thee spring comes after winter and renews all things. That wonderful and beautiful, that irresistible burst into life again, in spite of all obstacles, that awful triumph of nature, is but Thy glorious presence. … Thou art the life of the whole creation, o Eternal Paraclete – and if of this animal and material framework, how much more of the world of spirits!”[2] Creation is the work of  the Spirit of God, but it is only one of the dimensions of his activities. “It is by Thee that the sinners are turned into saints. It is by Thee the Church is refreshed and strengthened …; new countries are added to the faith, new manifestations and illustrations are given of the ancient Apostolic Creed …”[3]

Newman emphasizes time and again that the Holy Spirit is the driving force in salvation history in general and especially in the history of the Elder and New Covenant. The central position of Christology in Newman’s understanding of the Christian faith has been shown by Jean Honoré, Fortunato Morrone, Roderick Strange, and several others.[4] Here a limited effort will be made to show features of his pneumatology, the role of the Holy Spirit in Newman’s preaching and teaching. I choose six passages.

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I. The Primitive Church - a Revelation of the Holy Spirit


In two of his University Sermons of the early 30ies Newman is dealing significantly of the Holy Spirit. Although it was “written in haste on a sudden summons to preach” Newman had chosen his favourite topic “holiness” for the sermon of March 6, 1831, entitled “Evangelical Sanctity, the completion of natural virtue”. His motto was from Eph 5, 9: “Walk as children of light; for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.” – Newman explained how the goal of human existence could be and could only be achieved with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

“While Christianity reveals the pardon of sin and the promise of eternal life through the mediation of Christ, it also professes to point out means for the present improvement of our moral nature itself. This improvement, we know, is referred in Scripture to the Holy Spirit, as a first cause; and, as coming from Him, both the influence itself upon the mind and the moral character formed under that influence are each in turn called ‘the spirit’.“[5]

Newman demonstrates that the virtuous and the spiritual mind are essentially the same; and yet there is a difference between them. Compared with ordinary virtues of civil society the special elevation of Christian holiness consists in the process of a whole life.  It is “the full gift of the Spirit. How shall we limit the process of sanctification?” Newman asks considering the vocation of the individual Christian. – Only two months later, on May 22nd 1831, Newman took up the same subject on “Christian Nobleness”[6] speaking of  “that sacred fellowship with Christ, which the Church provides for her children” through the Holy Spirit. “I am not speaking of ourselves in this degenerate time, when we seem well nigh to have forfeited the Gospel gifts through our sins”, Newman modifies. Yet he has a vision of the greatness of the Christian vocation as practised in the early times of persecution, “to think little of the ordinary objects which men pursue – wealth, luxury, distinction, popularity, and power. ... Hence, too, the troubles of life gradually affect the Christian less and less, as his view of his own real blessedness, under the Dispensation of the Spirit, grows upon him; and even though persecuted, to take an extreme case, he knows well that, through God’s inward presence, he is greater than those who for the time have power over him, as martyrs and confessors have often shown”.


On January 22, 1832, Newman preached his fifth sermon “before the University of Oxford” on “Personal Influence, the Means of propagating the Truth” of the Gospel. At that time Newman was deeply involved in the study of the Arian controversy. There he became acquainted with St. Athanasius whose personality was to become of central importance for Newman’s life. In Athanasius’ writings he learned how precisely the Fathers of the fourth century thought and taught about the mystery of the incarnation using the specific term condescension (sugkatabasis). Newman was impressed by both the persecutions Athanasius had been ready to face for the true doctrine and the faithfulness of the Alexandrian laity who adhered to their legitimate bishop and who shewed a real instinct for orthodoxy in matters of doctrine. Newman discovered at the same time the value and significance of catechesis which conveyed the true Spirit of understanding the gospel message as a “divine philosophy”. 

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In his sermon Newman encouraged his congregation to become existential witnesses of the gospel in their life-time. The gospel truth, Newman said,

“has been upheld in the world not as a system, not by books, not by argument, nor by temporal power, but by the personal influence of such men [and women, GB] who were at once the teachers and the pattern of it.”[7] And looking at them individually Newman continued: “We shall find it difficult to estimate the moral power which a single individual, trained to practise what he teaches, may acquire in his own circle, in the course of years.”[8] - “A few highly-endowed men will rescue the world for centuries to come. Before now even one man[9] has impressed an image on the Church, which, through God’s mercy, shall not be effaced while time lasts. Such men, like the Prophet, are placed upon the watch-tower, … Each receives and transmits the holy flame …”[10]


The basic principle of this sermon is to point out how the Primitive Church is still showing us the normative features and the living shape of how to be a real Christian. And this very function of the early Chuch is made possible by the assistance of the Holy Spirit.


The Primitive Church “in its collective holiness may be considered to make as near an approach to the pattern of Christ as fallen man ever will attain; being, in fact, a Revelation in some sort of that Blessed Spirit[11] in a bodily shape, who was promised to us as a second teacher of truth after Christ’s departure, and became such upon a subject-matter far more diversified than that on which our Lord had revealed himself before him.”[12]


To regard the early Church in its collective holiness as a revelation in some sort of the Holy Spirit as if in bodily shape was one of the sources of Newman’s theology, not only in his Anglican days. It was there, in the Church of the Fathers,  that he discovers the principle of episcopal succession, and the practice of infant baptism, as he says in the same sermon “On Personal Influence”. Newman emphasizes the specific function of Holy Scripture “to secure the formation of a certain character”, to qualify the people of God for their task of giving a testimony of faith in an age of martyrdom.-   William Palmer (of Worcester College) who had heard Newman’s sermon wrote to him the same day: “…How thankful do I feel to Divine Mercy for raising up preachers od righteousness. In times of sorrow and depression when evil seems to prevail over all the earth, there is an inexpressible consolation to the broken spirit to see and know that there are still some faithful found.”[13]


It sounds like a truism to conclude that the Oxford Movement received its spiritual power from the Church of Antiquity which Newman regarded as the revelation in some sort of the Holy Spirit in bodily shape. Less known is the fact that the author of a parallel revival in the Catholic Church in Germany, Johann Adam Möhler, also believed in the unifying power of the Holy Spirit and drew his christological orientation from the Fathers, even like Newman from “Athanasius the Great”.[14]

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I. The Life-giving Spirit in the Universe, in Salvation-history, and in the Church


In the first of his Tracts, that started the Oxford Movement, Newman addressed his fellow-presbyters with an appeal to stir up the Apostolic spirit which had been imparted to them in the act of ordination: “I fear we have neglected the real ground on which our authority is built – our Apostolical descent … Therefore, my dear Brethren, act up to your profession … For if you have the Spirit of the Apostles on you surely this is a great gift …Show your value of it!”[15]

Newman communicated the importance of the Holy Spirit also to his congregations during the early years of the Movement. On the feast of Pentecost 1834 Newman said about “The Indwelling Spirit”[16]:

 “The condescension of the Blessed Spirit is as incomprehensible as that of the Son. He has been the secret presence of God within the creation: a source of life amid the chaos, bringing out into form and order what was at first shapeless and void, and the voice of truth in the hearts of all rational beings, tuning them into harmony with the intimations of God’s Law  …Hence he is especially called the ‘life-giving’ Spirit; being (as it were) the soul of universal nature; the strength of man and beast, the Guide of faith, the Witness against sin, the inward Light of patriarchs and prophets, the Grace abiding in the Christian soul, and the Lord and Ruler of the Church.”[17]


The Holy Spirit has ever been in his creation, he accompanies the history of humankind right from the beginning guiding pagan traditions[18]. In a more specific way God’s Spirit inspired Moses, the seventy elders of Israel and many other leading personalities of the Jewish covenant. “We as Christians”, Newman continues, “are honoured (with) that great privilege of receiving into our hearts, not the mere gifts of the Spirit, but his very presence, Himself, by a real not a figurative indwelling.” Since Jesus of Nazareth became the Christ, the Anointed, in order to show that the Spirit comes from God, the great heavenly gift is calles “the Spirit of Christ, that we might clearly understand, that he comes to us from and instead of Christ”:

He is “the present pledge of him who is absent – or rather more than a pledge …a something in advance of what is one day to be given in full … He comes to us as Christ came by a real and personal visitation.”[19]

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The Holy Spirit is nothing less than a substitution for Jesus Christ, Newman explains, a guarantee that the change which Christ has brought about in the history of salvation is continued, “both in the Church (as a community) and in the individual soul”. - Summing up the work of the Holy Spirit Newman made three points:  a. “He impresses on us our heavenly Father’s image” that’s why we may call God “Our Father”. – b. “The indwelling of the Holy Ghost raises the soulk not only to the thought of God, but of (Jesus) Christ also.” He completes the work of Christ with the inspiration of Holy Scripture, with the sacraments, in the formation of the Church. – c. Finally, the mysterious community with the Father and the Son gives peace and joy. “Thus the Spirit of God creates in us the simplicity and warmth of heart which children have, nay rather the perfection of his heavenly hosts … joined together in his mysterious work….”[20]


A year later, in November 1835, Newman preached on “The Gift of the Spirit”. His motto was from 2 Cor 3, 18: “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord”.[21] The Spirit himself, his presence in the Church, “is called the gift of glory. …”, as Newman says: “(It) cannot be limited,; it cannot be divided, and exhausted by division …And all the descriptions we can give of it can only, and should only run out into a mystery.” The glorious mystery and the mysterious glory which signifies the divine dimension of the Church is the work of the Spirit. - Commenting on  John 3, 5: “Except a man be borne of water and of the Spirit …” Newman shows how collective and individual salvation are interdependent: “The greater mystery of Incarnation is made to envelope and pledge to us the mystery of the new birth”.- As the Transfiguration of Jesus made those apostles realize that the Kingdom of God is in a hidden presence among them – “Christ (being) the centre of it, his glory the light of it” - , so by the “new birth the Divine Shechinah is set up within . (the baptized person), pervading soul and body, separating him really, not only in name, from those who are not Christians, raising him in the scale of being … and imparting to him its own surpassing anf heavenly virtue. Thus, while he carefully cherishes the Gift (of the Spirit), he is, in the words of the text, ‘changed from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord’.” –Newman concludes stimulating his congregation to “particular works of faith” not knowing how they avail “to our final acceptance. … All we know is, that as we persevere in them, the inward light grows brighter and brighter, and God manifests himself to us in a way the world knows not of. …”

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Newman finished his sermon on “The Gift of the Spirit” concentrating on the mystery of the Church: “The doctrine on which I have been dwelling cannot fail to produce in us deeper and more reverent feelings towards the Church of Christ as his special dwelling place.” – We know that this was not the way in which the leading majority of Anglicans understood their Church. Even “to speak of the Church at all, though it is mentioned in the Creed, is thought to savour of Rome”,[22] Newman explains in his Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church in 1837. In that attempt to establish a really existing Via Media of ecclesiology Newman struggles with the promise of Holy Scripture and historical reality: “… The Church is declared to be the great and special support of the truth …, and a direct promise is vouchsafed to her that the word of truth  committed to her shall never be lost, and that, in consequence of the ever-present care and guidance of the Holy Ghost”.[23] Yet the empirical disunity of the Christian Churches contradicted their task of being the support of the truth. “Since the Church is now not one, it is not infallible”.[24] The self-definitions of the Anglican Church in her XXXIX articles could not be brought in agreement with the role of the Holy Spirit as described in Scripture; and that left Newman with an insoluble task. The Via Media was a model of compromise which would not consist in the face of the Eternal Truth as guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. Seen in the light of salvation history the Middle Way was “absolutely pulverized”, as signifying the track of heresy. – Nevertheless, in a second attempt of vivifying the Via Media for a basic concept of Christian faith Newman was more successful. In his “Lectures on Justification” (1838) Newman finds the solution between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant view in a deeper understanding of the creative work done by the Holy  Spirit who takes “his abode in the soul of the baptized” person. “Justifying faith”, Newman says at the end of the 12th lecture, “is the beginning of that which is eternal, the operation of the Indwelling Power which acts from within us outwards and round about us, works in us mightily, so intimately with our will as to be in a true sense one with it; ppours itself out into our mind, runs over into our thoughts, desires feelings, purposes, attempts, and works, combines them altogether into one, makes the whole man its one instrument, and justifies him into one holy and gracious ministry, one embodied lifelong act of faith …”[25] – No doubt, Hans Küng rightly observed in his doctoral thesis on Karl Barth’s concept of justification Newman to have written “one of the best works on justification”.[26] 

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III. Development of Faith understood as Marian principle

The feast of Purification on February 2nd 1843 suggested the motto for Newman’s sermon on “Theory of Development in Religious Doctrine”: “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Lk 2,19). Newman declares in the beginning:

“St. Mary is our pattern of faith, both in the reception and in the study of divine truth. She does not think it enough to accept, she dwells upon it; not enough to possess, she uses it; not enough to assent, she developes it; not enough to submit the reason, she reasons upon it; not indeed reasoning first, and believing afterwards, with Zacharias, yet first believing without reasoning, next from love and reverence, reasoning after believing. And thus she symbolizes to us, not only the faith of the unlearned, but of the doctors of the Church also, who have to investigate, and weigh, and define, as well as to profess the Gospel, to draw the line between truth and heresy …, to combat pride and recklessness with their own arms, and thus to triumph over the sophist and the innovator …”[27]  


In this Marian attitude of “reasoning after believing”, of professing and obeying as well as investigating the Gospel Newman discovered the personal icon of his new key concept in theology which he called “development”. For the first time he could see the two rivers of  episcopal and prophetical tradition being united. From now on the gulf could be bridged between the Spirit of the Primitive Church and the contemporary Church claiming the competence of witnessing to the presence of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.


Still thinking in Anglican terms in June 1843 Newman was proclaiming the “Connection between Personal and Public Improvement”. He proposed a church reform via self reform of the individual Christian under the guidance of the Holy Spirit:

“The divine baptism, wherewith God visits us, penetrates through our whole soul and body. It leaves no part of us uncleansed, unsanctified. It claims the whole man for God. Any spirit which is content with what is short of this, … is not from God. The heavenly influence which He has given us is as intimately present, … in an individual heart as it is in the world at large. … And the surest test that we are members of the Catholic Church is the evidence of this Catholic influence (in our religious life, G.B.). … Thus the heart of every Christian ought to represent in miniature the Catholic Church, since one Spirit makes both the whole church and every member of it to be his temple.”[28]


At that time Newman gained Ecumenical insights which will remain valid as long as the Church exists: “Let us learn first to come diligently ‘to the waters’, and ask for that gift of God, which will be ‘a well of water in us springing up into everlasting life’. And let us not doubt that if we do thus proceed, we shall advance the cause of Christ in the world … Let us but raise the level of religion in our hearts, and it will rise in the world. He who attempts to set up God’s kingdom in his heart, furthers it in the world.”[29]

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IV. The Holy Spirit as principle of growth in the Subjective Word of God.


Newman was obviously looking back on his life when he prayed: “I adore Thee, o Almighty Lord, the Paraclete, because Thou in thy infinite compassion hast brought me into this Church, the work of Thy supernatural power. I had no claim on Thee for so wonderful a favour … In the course of time, slowly but infallibly did Thy grace bring me into Thy Church. …”[30]

The objective importance Newman attributed to the Holy Spirit in the process of doctrinal development can be seen in his Latin version of the theory which he drafted at the request of Giovanni Perrone in 1847. In “De catholici Dogmatis evolutione” Newman had recourse to his old distinction of a twofold Tradition, episcopal and prophetical, which he signifies in the new context as Verbum Dei obiectivum and Verbum Dei subiectivum, correspondingly. “The word of God is said to be objective in the first instance as existing in the intellect of the Holy Spirit, to whom as its supreme author and giver, the whole revelation is in every respect entirely manifest. – . It is likewise objective as existing in the intellect of the Apostles, fully illuminated by that Spirit who teaches them all truth. - . Furthermore … the word of God is considered objective as, by a singular gift, always present in the intellect of the Church of Rome, where Peter is. To that Church the faithful have constant recourse, drawing from it for their own uses, truth itself.”[31]

On the other hand Newman emphasized the part of the faithful in the process of handing on the faith. “The word of God is properly called subjective insofar as the faith once delivered by the Apostles to the Saints had its abode in the minds of individuals, private persons, teachers, or churches of particular times and places.”[32] Like the sacrament of baptism the word of God is of a unifying character. The word of God has different parts; those parts however “constitute a single whole. Their coherence and consistency are such that all together comprise one totality. They mutually correspond. Each of them calls for the others.” That is why “a person who is said to have embraced one dogma holds it in such a way that all the others already have, at least potentially …or inchoately a foundation in that person’s mind.” As the unifying power of God’s word, so the power of logical sequence or coherence of this word in those who receive it, is the work of the Divine Spirit. “For that Spirit in which the word is a totality lives in all its parts, but is communicated through each singly.”[33]

The existential involvement of the individual faithful who dwells upon God’s revelation and uses it kindles the spark of knowledge and develops the faith. In Newman’s words: “When one contemplates it with a steady gaze, it often illuminates and attaches to the mind, winning free from a confused welter of thoughts with its parts clear and distinct, and taking on the character of a habitual disposition. Then it is alive and active in the intellect, no longer as a shadow of truth but as a reality, with its own foundation and properties. And it impresses upon the intellect an abundant knowledge of itself, what it is, what it is like, what are its constituent parts …”[34]

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In a letter of that time Newman considered himself to be “the first writer who made life the mark of a true church”.[35] This he shows indeed in his Perrone-paper; the life of faith consists in a growth into the knowledge of the divine message under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In the end he says: “The progress of the subjective word (of God, GB) in the Catholic mind … does not occur randomly, but proceeds with a definite order, as a kind of development having laws of tis own.” – As we have shewn it is the teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church that bridges the gulf in Newman’s theory between the episcopal an the prophetic, i.e. the static and the dynamic dimensions of doctrinal Tradition. In his words: “The means by which the Church’s subjective sense passes into objective dogmas are, in the first place, declarations by the Supreme Pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, and secondly, definitions by ecumenical councils.” Even as regards the kairós of exercizing its gift of infallibility the church can rely on divine guidance: “It . proceeds in a timely way to issue its definition, sooner or later, whenever it is willed by that Spirit in whom it is infallible.”[36]


There is in Newman’s life and theology an extraordinary example which illustrates the significance of the subjective word of God for the Church, and that is the rôle of the laity for the process of the tradition of faith. Already as an Anglican in his history of the “Arians of the fourth century” Newman observed how Athanasius could rely on the Alexandrian people who supported him as their legitimate bishop and who followed him in his defense of the incarnation as the orthodox doctrine. Accordingly, in his “Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England” Newman took the opportunity of emphasizing the rôle of the Catholic laity for the Church at their time. In his famous manifesto of the laity under the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the mission of the Church in the world Newman declares: “I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, … but men who know their religion, who enter into it, …who know what they hold, and what they do not, who know their creed so well, that they can give an account of it … I want an intelligent and well instructed laity … In all times the laity have been the measure of the Catholic spirit …”[37]


At that time the dogma of the Conceptio Immaculata Beatae Mariae Virginis was being prepared in Rome in the way of consulting all the bishops round the earth about the faith of their people concerning this doctrine. Newman understood that procedure as a confirmation of his theology of the subjective word of God: The Holy See regarded the people of God represented by their shepherds as legitimate witnesses for the existing practice of the Marian faith. Consequently Newman defended his theological method in this point when he wrote in 1859: “I am accustomed to lay great stress on the consensus fidelium as an important channel of Tradition.[38] – Presupposing that it is in the same Holy Spirit that the word of God is taught and learned in preaching and receiving it Newman could even insist on a richer reception of the mystery of Salvation when clergy and laity cooperated. “Though the laity be but a reflection or echo of the clergy in matters of faith, yet there is something in the ‘pastorum et fidelium conspiratio’, which is not in the pastors alone. … Pope Pius has given us a pattern, in his manner of defining, of the duty of considering the sentiments of the laity upon a point of tradition, in spite of whatever fullness of evidence the bishops had already thrown upon it.”[39] – Here we get to the core of the matter. “Knowledge is nothing compared with doing,” was  Newman’s maxim already as a young preacher.[40] And he always kept a preference for faith realized in biographical credibility, in the lives of martyrs or confessors. Life was to him greater than logic, the real more fascinating than the notional. Consequently he preferred in a certain way faith practised in the hearts of people, charity exercized in everydays life, hope proved in the process of living and dying to brillant theological treatises on those virtues. Newman had a preferential option for a theology which contained the natural reasoning of the ordinary faithful, of how they lived and died, prayed and cursed, became holy or failed. For Newman a preference was no contradiction. He saw the two sides of the medal, and was as good in describing the theory of faith as well as faithful life.

Again: The point he had to make with his contribution to a theology of the Holy Spirit is to be seen in the importance of the subjective word of God, i.e. in the prophetical tradition, as it passes with a definite order into objective dogmas. – There is a beautiful analogy where Newman applies the rôle of living faith in the Church to living learning at universities: “No book can convey the special spirit and delicate peculiarities of its subject with that rapidity and certainty which attend on the sympathy of mind with mind, through the eyes, the look, the accent, and the manner, in casual expressions thrown off at the moment, and the unstudied turns of familiar conversation.” The “personal presence of a teacher” Newman explains, is the common principle in the process of secular studies and Oral Tradition guided by the Holy Spirit: “It is the living voice, the breathing form, the expressive countenance, which preaches, which catechises. Truth, a subtle, invisible, manifold spirit, is poured into the mind of the scholar by his eyes and ears, through his affections, imagination and reason; it is poured into his mind and is sealed up there in perpetuity. …”[41] 

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V. Renewal of the Catholic Church in England: the work of the Holy Spirit


After the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy Newman was invited to preach at their first meeting on July 13, 1852, in the neo-gothic Chapel of Our Lady at Oscott College. He chose the motto from the Song of Songs: “ Arise, make haste my dove, my beautiful one, and come. For the winter is now past …” He called his sermon “The second Spring”.- The scenario Newman created included events in the church of martyrs in times past and possibly in times to come. They were, Newman told his contemporaries, witnesses of a phenomenon which was against natural law and a work of the Holy Spirit:

“The physical world revolves year after year, and begins again, but the political order of things does not renew itself, does not return … The past is out of date, the past is dead … This then is the cause of this national transport, this national cry, which encompasses us.The past has returned, the dead lives. … The English Church was, and the English Church was not, and the English Church is once again. … It is the coming of a second spring; it is a restoration in the moral world, such as yearly takes place in the physical.”[42]


As regards their future as Roman Catholics in England Newman speaks against any kind of triumphant exspectations. “They have welcomed us as the lion greets his prey”. Therefore Newman finished with the hope rooted in the Holy Spirit as he had accompanied the Church of the Fathers: “The more malicious are the devices of men against us, the louder the cry of supplication will ascend … We shall not be left orphans; we shall have within us the strength of the Paraclete, promised to the Church and to every member of it.”[43]


Nobody who has read the last chapter of Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine will miss the connection between the seventh note “chronic vigour” and its homiletic application in “The Second Spring”. It is the breath of the Holy Spirit in whose rhythm the Church moves:

“It is true, there havce been seasons when … the Church has been thrown into what was almost state of deliquium … She pauses in her cause, and almost suspends her functions; (but then, G.B.) she rises again, and she is herself once more; all things are in their place and ready for action. …There may be changes, but they are consolidations or adaptations, all is unequivocal and determinate, with an identity which there is no disputing. Inded it its one of the most popular charges against the Chatholic Church at this very time, that she is ‘incorrigible’; change she cannot, it we listen ot St. Athanasius or St. Leo; change she never will, if we believe the controversialists or alarmists of the present day.”[44]

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VI. Inspiration of Holy Scripture and the Infallibly teaching Office: Newman’s theological considerations about the Holy Spirit.


The sixties were a decade for Newman during which he wrote a number of very sad entries into his diary. Like on January 1863: “As a Protestant, I felt my religion dreary, but not my life; but as a Catholic I felt my life dreary, but not my religion”.[45] The sixties were also the time when Newman wrote the Apologia, the Letter to Pusey, and the Grammar. In some his private papers he was dealing with the twofold work of the Holy Spirit, inspiring Holy Scripture and guiding the teaching office of the Church.


In his treatise “On The Idea and Prima facie Aspect of the Inspiration of Scripture” Newman remarks:

“By Inspiration is meant literally a ‘breathing into’ … The appropriateness of the word in theology arises from the circumstance that the word ‘spirit’ or breath is used in Scripture both for the Supreme Being and for his gifts. Divine inspiration in its active sense is Almighty God’s (the Creator’s) communication to the creature of Himself, Altissimi Donum Dei, viz., the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, or again of certain powers or qualities, intimately His and beyond nature. In its passive sense, it denotes the state of the creature consequent upon that communication.”[46] – Newman distinguishes three kinds of the communicated Spirit of God:

“When God ‘formed man out of the mud of the earth’, ‘inspiravit in faciem eius spiraculum vitae’, and ‘man became a living soul’. This was an inspiration, and was being a gift over and above the creation of the animal frame. – Again, in one of the visions of Ezechiel, the Prophet is directed to pray over the multitude of corpses … Here is a second inspiration of life; exercized on a corpse. – Again: ‘Thou shalt send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created; and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.’ Here too inspiration is the communication of a quality, viz., restoration, or refreshment to a subject already existing …” – “Such being the general meaning of the theological term”, Newman continues getting to the clue of his treatise, “it designates, when applied to men (mankind), those favoured persons whose minds God has visited with a peculiar presence or grace … They speak, they act under its influence; and their deeds and words, in the province and for the object of their inspiration have a claim upon the veneration and acceptance of their fellows  … What that province it and that object of the inspiration of the Prophets and Apostles, is very determinate. It is religious truth.”

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Inspiration, given to secure revelation, is not a privilege for the person’s sake, rather a means of comunicating the divine truth, the truth about God himself to all mankind. In Newman’s final words: “Let  us then consider Inspiration to be that spiritual endowment, whereby the recipients of a revelation are enabled, to be adequate (sufficient) organs of the matter revealed, and that whether by word or by deed.”[47]

Inspiration was the activity of the Holy Spirit in the time of the history of revelation. He qualified human beings to be reliable ambassadors for the divine message. This security will also be necessary afterwards during the period of handing on the gospel truth from generation to generation of Christians through the centuries. In Newman’s argumentation: “If development must be then, whereas revelation is a heavenly gift, He who gave it virtually has not given it, unless He also secured it from perversion and corruption, in all such developments as come upon it by the necessity of its nature.”[48] The gift with which God the Holy Spirit keeps the Church of Jesus Christ from loosing the truth of revelation is the infallibility. This subject was discussed in the English public during the second half of the sixties, in the time before the First Vatican Council. 


Joseph Flanagan, a former member of the Birmingham Oratory who had become worried about certain extreme positions in the public dispute about infallibility asked Newman for advice. Newman drafted his theory of the divine assistance for the teaching office starting from two presuppositions. 1) The Depositum fidei does not consist of a “a list of articles that can be numbered; no, it is a large philosophy; all parts of which are connected together, and in a certain sense correlative together, so that he who really knows one part, may be said to know all, as ex pede Herculem.”[49] – 2) The Creed, in the sense of the Deposit of faith, “was delivered to the Church with the gift of knowing its true and full meaning. A Divine philosophy is committed to her keeping …” – As regards the personal track or qualification for handing on the divine message, there were the inspired Apostles and there is, in their succession, the infallible Church. “There is nothing which the Church has defined or will define but what an Apostle if asked would have been fully able to answer and would have answered, the one answering by inspiration, the other from its gift of infallibility … The differences between them being that an Apostle could answer questions at once, but the Church answers them intermittently, in times and seasons, often delaying and postponing, according as she is guided by her Divine Instructor”, the Holy Spirit.[50] And finally, - only two years before the dogmatic definition, - Newman describes the inside of the procedure of an infallible statement as an act of partial illumination: “I conceive then that the Depositum is in such a sense committed to the Church or to the Pope, that when the Pope sits in St.Peter’s chair, or when a Council of Fathers is collected round him, it is capable of being presented to their minds with that fullness and exactness, under the operation of supernatural grace, (so far forth and in such portion as the occasion requires,) with which it habitually … resided in the minds of the Apostles.” Newman believes in the infallibility of the Church working “under the temporary illumination of  Divine Grace”, i.e. the Holy Spirit.- He wrote that letter “with great diffidence” as he confesses in the end, yet it was “the view which I have entertained for so many years.”

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The Paraclete[51]


“My God, the Paraclete, I acknowledge Thee as the giver of that great gift, by which alone we are all saved, supernatural love. Man is by nature blind and hard-hearted in all spiritual matters; how is he to reach heaven? It is by the flame of Thy grace, which consumes him in order to new-make him, and so to fit him to enjoy what without you he would have no taste for. It is Thou, …who .. art the strength of the martyr … Thou art the stay of the confessor in his long, tedious, and humiliating toils. Thou art the fire by which the preacher wins souls … By Thee we wake up from the death of sin …By the fire which Thou didst kindle within us, we pray, and meditate, and do penance. As well could our bodies live, if the sun were extinguished, as our souls, if Thou art away.”[52]


[1] MD (1912) Part III, 97. Franzöische Version: “Cet irresistible retour à la vie”. J.H. Newman proclame l’oeuvre de l’Esprit Saint, in: Etudes Newmaniennes No 17, 2001, 97-116.

[2] ibid.

[3] Ibid. 98

[4] R. Strange, Newman and the Gospel of Christ, Oxford 1981; F. Morrone, Cristo il Figlio di Dio fatto uomo, Milano 1990; J. Honoré, La pensée christologique de Newman, Paris 1996

[5] Newman’s University Sermons, ed. with introduction by D.M.McKinnon and J.D.Holmes, London (SPCK) 1970, 37 – 53; 37

[6] SSD 137 –149; 144 ff

[7] l.c. p. 74 – 98; ( Nr. 26) p. 92

[8] ibid. Nr. 26, p. 94

[9] Newman’s own footnote: „Athanasius“

[10] ibid. Nr. 35, p. 97

[11] In a letter to J.D.Dalgairns about the translation of the OUS (Febr 8, 1847) Newman suggests as clarification: “That blessed Spirit as if in a bodily shape” (LD XII, 32). He was “terribly frightened lest the book, like Rosmini’s and others, should be brought before the Index” (= commission). LD XII, 29.

[12] ibid. Nr. 11, p. 82f

[13] LD III, 8

[14] G. Biemer, A Vivified Church: Common Structures in the Ecclesiology of Johann Adam Möhler and John Henry Newman. In: Cardinal-Newman-Studien, vol XVI, 240 – 268; 249f and 257f.

[15] Tract 1

[16] PPS II, 217 - 231

[17] ibid. 218

[18] Arians 80 f

[19] ibid. 220 f

[20] ibid II, 229 f

[21] PPS III, 254 - 270

[22] Proph. Off. 5

[23] ibid. 193

[24] ibid. 201

[25] Justif. 302

[26] H.Küng, Rechtfertigung, Einsiedeln 1957, 209

[27] OUS loc. cit. 1979, 312 – 351; 313

[28] SSD 126 – 136; 131f

[29] ibid. 133f

[30] Meditations on Christian Doctrine, 100f

[31] J. Gaffney, ed., Roman Catholic Writings on Doctrinal Development by John Henry Newman, Kansas City 1997, 11f

[32] ibid. 14

[33] ibid.

[34] Ibid. 15

[35] January 27th, 1846: LD XI, 101

[36] J. Gaffney, loc. cit. 19-20 and 24

[37] PresPos, with an Introd. and Notes by A. Nash, Millenium Edition, Gracewing/Notre Dame, 2000, 390

[38] J.H.Newman, On Consulting the Faithful in matters of Doctrine, ed. J. Coulson, London 1963/Glasgow 1986, 63

[39] ibid. 104

[40] PPS I, 27

[41] HS III 8f and 14

[42] SVO 168f

[43] ibid. 178 and 180

[44] Dev. 444

[45] A.Wr. 254

[46] Theological  Papers of John Henry Newman on Biblical Inspiration and on Infallibility, selected, edited, and introduced by J.Derek Holmes, Oxford 1979, 57 – 71; 57

[47] ibid. 58f

[48] Dev. 92

[49] Letter to Flanagan, 1868, in: Theological Papers, l. c. 158

[50] ibid.

[51] There are two studies on Newman’s pneumatology that are to be mentioned here. A thesis from the Lateran university by Pierre Masson OP, L’Esprit Saint dans l’oeuvre du Cardinal Newman. La transformation interieure du chretien dans l’église, Roma 1978. And a recent fundamental study by José Morales, El Espíritu Santo en la Teología de Newman, in: J. Morales, Teología, Experiencia, Educación. Estudios Newmanianos, Pamplona 1999, 71 – 94 (=EUNSA)

[52] Meditations on Christian Doctrine, l.c. 104

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