The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 4

Author: John Henry Newman  | Date: 1849


Catholicism and the Religions of the World*

Take its bishops out of the legislature, tear its formularies from the Statute Book, open its universities to Dissenters, allow its clergy to become laymen again, legalize its private prayer-meetings, and what would be its definition? You know that, did not the State compel it to be one, it would split at once into three several bodies, each bearing within it the elements of further divisions. Even the small party of non-jurors, a century and a half since, when released from the civil power, split into two. It has then no internal consistency, or individuality, or soul, to give it the capacity of propagation. Methodism represents some sort of an idea, Congregationalism an idea; the Established Religion has in it no idea beyond establishment. Its extension has been, for the most part, not active; it is carried forward into other places by State policy, and it moves because the State moves; it is an appendage, whether weapon or decoration, of the sovereign power; it is the religion,not even of a race, but of the ruling portion of a race. The Anglo-Saxon has done in this day what the Saracen did in a former. He does grudgingly for expedience what the other did heartily from fanaticism. This is the chief difference between the two: the Saracen, in his commencement, converted the heretical East with the sword; but at least in India the extension of his faith has been by emigration, as the Anglo-Saxon’s now; he grew into other nations by commerce and colonization; but, when he encountered the Catholic of the West, he made as little impression upon Spain, as the Protestant Anglo-Saxon makes on Ireland.

There is but one form of Christianity possessed of that real internal unity which is the primary condition of independence. When you look to Russia, England, or Germany, this note of divinity is wanting. In this country, especially, there is nothing broader than class religions; the established form itself is but the religion of a class. There is one persuasion for the rich, and another for the poor; men are born in this or that sect; the enthusiastic go here, and the sober-minded and rational go there. They make money, and rise in the world, and then they profess to belong to the Establishment. This body lives in the world’s smile, that in its frown; the one would perish of cold in the world’s winter, and the other would melt away in the summer. Not one of them undertakes human nature; none compasses the whole man;none places all men on a level; none addresses the intellect and the heart, fear and love, the active and the contemplative. It is considered, and justly, as an evidence for Christianity, that the ablest men have been Christians; not that all sagacious or profound minds have taken up its profession, but that it has gained victories among them, such and so many, as to show that it is not the mere fact of ability or learning which is the reason why all are not converted.

Such, too, is the characteristic of Catholicity; not the highest in rank, not the meanest, not the most refined, not the rudest, is beyond the influence of the Church; she includes specimens of every class among her children. She is the solace of the forlorn, the chastener of the prosperous, and the guide of the wayward. She keeps a mother’s eye for the innocent, bears with a heavy hand upon the wanton, and has a voice of majesty for the proud. She opens the mind of the ignorant, and she prostrates the intellect of even the most gifted. These are not words; she had done it, she does it still, she undertakes to do it. All she asks is an open field, and freedom to act. She asks no patronage from the civil power; in former times and places she has asked it, and, as Protestantism also, has availed herself of the civil sword. It is true she did so, because in certain ages it has been the acknowledged mode of acting, the most expeditious, and open at the time to no objection, and because, where she has done so, the people clamored for it and did it in advance of her; but her history shows that she needed it not, for she has extended and flourished without it. She is ready for any service which occurs; she will take the world as it comes; nothing but force can repress her. See, my brethren, what she is doing in this country now: for three centuries the civil power has trodden down the goodly plant of grace, and kept its foot upon it; at length circumstances have removed that tyranny, and lo! the fair form of the Ancient Church rises up at once, as fresh and as vigorous as if she had never intermitted her growth. She is the same as she was three centuries ago, ere the present religions of the country existed; you know her to be the same; it is the charge brought against her that she does not change; time and place affect her not, because she has her source where there is neither time nor place, because she comes from the throne of the Illimitable, Eternal God.

*From "Discourses to Mixed Congregations," published in 1849.

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Chicago: John Henry Newman, The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 4 in The World’s Famous Orations, ed. William Jennings Bryan (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, December, 1906), 219–222. Original Sources, accessed May 26, 2024,

MLA: Newman, John Henry. The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 4, in The World’s Famous Orations, edited by William Jennings Bryan, Vol. The World#8217;s Famous Orations, New York, Funk and Wagnalls, December, 1906, pp. 219–222. Original Sources. 26 May. 2024.

Harvard: Newman, JH, The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 4. cited in December, 1906, The World’s Famous Orations, ed. , Funk and Wagnalls, New York, pp.219–222. Original Sources, retrieved 26 May 2024, from