St. John Henry Newman wrote poetry throughout his life, though not continually. Much of his early poetry, written while he was still Anglican, addresses the problems he saw invading the religion of his day. Many of these poems were written on his Mediterranean voyage. “External Religion” was composed during this time, and in theme and content can be seen as a follow-up to his poem, “Liberalism,” in which he gives a strong indictment of the religious liberalism of the early Victorian Period. Countering this liberalism would lead him and others to begin the Oxford Movement. The two poems, “External Religion” and “Liberalism,” could very well be applied to our own time.

External Religion

WHEN first earth’s rulers welcomed home

The Church, their zeal impress’d

Upon the seasons, as they come,

The image of their guest.


Men’s words and works, their hopes and fears,

Henceforth forbid to rove,

Paused, when a Martyr claim’d her tears,

Or Saint inspired her love.

 In these first two stanzas, St. John Henry recalls the early Church when disciples and leaders filled with zeal saw God’s providence in all things, including the establishment of the visible Church. This Church grew, built upon saints and martyrs. However, as time passed, human corruption caused damage to the Church. The poem continues:


But craving wealth, and feverish power,

Such service now discard;

The loss of one excited hour

A sacrifice too hard!


And e’en about the holiest day,

God’s own in every time,

They doubt and search, lest aught should stay

A cataract of crime.


Where shall this cease? must crosiers fall,

Shrines suffer touch profane,

Till, cast without His vineyard wall,

The Heaven-sent Heir is slain?

(Palermo. June 11, 1833)

In the last three stanzas, Newman’s depiction of forces hostile to the Church as “feverish” hint at his own near deadly fever which he suffered on this sea voyage. The illness within the Church is a similar affliction that can cause death, but the death of souls. He then observes the lax reverence of even the holiest day, Sunday, a mere one hour for God is too much of a sacrifice! How this rings true in our time, when so many Catholics no longer attend Sunday Mass, apparently ignorant that this constitutes a mortal sin. But what does this have to do with the title of the poem, “External Religion?” We can turn to one of Newman’s sermons for clarification.

In “Offerings of the Sanctuary” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 6, no. 21), he writes:

“Belief is not enough; we must confess. Nor must we confess with our mouth only; but by word and by deed, by speech and by silence, by doing and by not doing, by walk and conversation, when in company and when alone, in time and in place, when we labour and when we rest, when we lie down and when we rise up, in youth and in age, in life and in death,—and, in like manner, in the world and in Church. Now, to adorn the worship of God our Saviour, to make the beauty of holiness visible, to bring offerings to the Sanctuary, to be curious in architecture, and reverent in ceremonies,—all this external religion is a sort of profession and confession; it is nothing but what is natural, nothing but what is consistent, in those who are cultivating the life  of religion within . . . “ (303-04).

Religion is more than just an abstraction, – it is a lived reality. There must be outward manifestations of our Christianity. Newman considered this outward manifestation of external religion to be a reflection of the inward principle of grace moving the soul.

 As one popular evangelist has put it, “If you were put on trial for the crime of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Let our external religion be enough to convict those around us, that Jesus is Lord and Savior. Jesus, the heir to the Kingdom, was cast out. We must rise from our slumber to meet Him, and worship Him as the King He is. For we, as in the last line in this poem, do not want to be cast out of the vineyard on that last day, but join those saints and martyrs in heaven who helped establish the early church.





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About Cardinal John Henry Newman

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A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
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Review by Serenheed James
(Antiphon, April 2023)

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Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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