St. John Henry Newman mentioned in a December 1832 letter to his sister, Harriet, that this poem, “The Watchman,” was a “sort of ecclesiastical carol.” At first reading, it doesn’t seem to be a carol at all, but rather a complex poem. However, after the reader realizes that the last line of each stanza is basically the same with only slight adjustments, a kind of refrain, then the poem’s meaning becomes more straightforward. This refrain is the key to the whole poem, that is, human weakness and failing cannot thwart God’s perfect plan for mankind.  

In the first stanza, we are reminded that there will always be a remnant few who keep the faith, even though the forces of evil are fierce. The watchman’s role is to continue to proclaim and hold onto the truth. In each subsequent stanza, episodes from the Old Testament are recalled where human weakness did not prevent God’s plan.

And so in the second stanza, Ammon and Tyre, enemy nations of Israel, are referenced, leading into the third stanza, which reminds us of several characters and their misdeeds found in the book of Samuel. There is Eli, a priest of Israel, and his “feebleness” was that he did not stop his two wicked sons, which caused Israel to lose a battle to the Philistines. And there is Saul, who was known to be violent when angry, and Ahithophel, who gave counsel to Absalom when he wished to seize the throne from David, his father (Ahithophel’s spite). Mt. Gerizim is a place from where prophets speak and Gath is the home of Goliath, slain by David. The refrain reminds that man’s weakness is forever God’s might.

The fourth stanza relates the story of Moses who came down from Mt. Sinai to find the Israelites worshipping the molten calf. Also in this stanza is the reference to the contest Elijah stages between Yahweh and Baal on Mt. Carmel when, of course, Yahweh is proven to be mightiest. (1 Kings 18). We, therefore, are called in 1 Corinthians 6:13 to “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith . . . and to be strong.”  The chosen few are powerful,  for “Scantness is still Heaven’s might” as the final refrain proclaims.

Here is the poem read in its entirety, so that the repeated last line may be heard as a refrain. Note: Newman liked to use archaic words in his verse. The word “aye” here means “forever.”


The Watchman (A Song.)

FAINT not, and fret not, for threaten’d woe.

Watchman on Truth’s grey height!

Few though the faithful, and fierce though the foe.

Weakness is aye Heaven’s might.


Infidel Ammon and niggard Tyre,

Ill-fitted pair, unite;

Some work for love, and some work for hire.

But weakness shall be Heaven’s might.


Eli’s feebleness, Saul’s black wrath.

May aid Ahithophel’s spite;

And prayers from Gerizim, and curses from Gath-

Our weakness shall prove Heaven’s might.


Quail not, and quake not, thou Warder bold.

Be there no friend in sight;

Turn thee to question the days of old.

When weakness was aye Heaven’s might.


Moses was one, but he stay’d the sin

Of the host, in the Presence bright;

And Elias scorn’d the Carmel din.

When Baal would match Heaven’s might.


Time’s years are many. Eternity one.

And one is the Infinite;

The chosen are few, few the deeds well done.

For scantness is still Heaven’s might.   At Sea. December 12, 1832.

In this time of Advent, we should be watchmen of the kind who gaze toward heaven, waiting for Our Lord, with the sure knowledge that this Christ who comes to us was also slain, but His death was overcome by Heaven’s might.


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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.

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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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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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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.

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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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“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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