Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman
Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman
The Dream of Gerontius, Part 9


John Henry Newman’s long poem draws closer to its high point. Gerontius’ angel explains to the soul how it will suffer at the sight of Christ and consider its own sinfulness:angel-of-the-agony

“When then—if such thy lot—thou seest thy Judge,

The sight of Him will kindle in thy heart

All tender, gracious, reverential thoughts.

Thou wilt be sick with love, and yearn for Him,

And feel as though thou couldst but pity Him,

That one so sweet should e’er have placed Himself

At disadvantage such, as to be used

So vilely by a being so vile as thee.

There is a pleading in His pensive eyes

Will pierce thee to the quick, and trouble thee.”


Newman continues, exploring the sorrow the soul will feel:


“And thou wilt hate and loathe thyself; for, though

Now sinless, thou wilt feel that thou hast sinn’d,

As never thou didst feel; and wilt desire

To slink away, and hide thee from His sight:

And yet wilt have a longing aye to dwell

Within the beauty of His countenance.

And these two pains, so counter and so keen,—

The longing for Him, when thou seest Him not;

The shame of self at thought of seeing Him,—

Will be thy veriest, sharpest purgatory.”


The soul, now as ready as it can be to see God, replies:


“My soul is in my hand: I have no fear,—

In His dear might prepared for weal or woe.

But hark! a grand, mysterious harmony:

It floods me like the deep and solemn sound

Of many waters.”


At last the angel announces:


“We have gain’d the stairs

Which rise towards the Presence-chamber; there

A band of mighty Angels keep the way

On either side, and hymn the Incarnate God.”


Newman introduces angels whom he calls the Angels of the Sacred Stair. These angels explain that fallen man is incapable of recounting the love of God, only the Angel who witnessed the agony of Christ can truly praise God:


“Father, whose goodness none can know, but they

Who see Thee face to face,

By man hath come the infinite display

Of thy victorious grace;

But fallen man—the creature of a day—

Skills not that love to trace.

It needs, to tell the triumph Thou hast wrought,

An Angel’s deathless fire, an Angel’s reach of



It needs that very Angel, who with awe,

Amid the garden shade,

The great Creator in His sickness saw,

Soothed by a creature’s aid,

And agonized, as victim of the Law

Which He Himself had made;

For who can praise Him in His depth and height,

But he who saw Him reel amid that solitary fight?”


The fourth choir of angles breaks in with praise:


“Praise to the Holiest in the height,

And in the depth be praise:

In all His words most wonderful;

Most sure in all His ways!”


With this crescendo of praise by the angels Blessed Newman invites us to enter ourselves into the logic of God’s love who surrendered his Son for love of us. Only when we die will we have a full understanding of his wonderful love of which now we can only have a glimpse. This sorrow “will pierce us to the quick,” purifying our souls for heaven.




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