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A Publication of
Catholic Concern for Animals


A Selection from the Ark
Number 216 - Winter 2010

We honour Cardinal John Henry Newman at this time of his beatification, and look at some of his known opinions on the subject of animals,  those of his brother Francis, and also of his patron saint Philip Neri

Cardinal Newman was adamant that cruelty is ‘an affront to the good God’ ; as He Himself is love, ‘cruelty is an offence against His Majesty’ (from The Grammar of Assent, 1870). An exposition of his opinion on cruelty to animals is in a sermon he preached in St Mary’s, the University of Oxford church of which he was vicar, on March 25, 1842, just three years before he was received into the Roman Catholic Church. It being Good Friday, the sermon  concentrated on the crucifixion – not so much on what happened as on the emotional response of the Christian to the sufferings of Christ on that event. Here is an edited extract from that sermon.

 He used as his text, Isaiah 53:7:

‘He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.’

“ST PETER makes it almost a description of a Christian, that he loves Him whom he has not seen ... Unless we have a true love of Christ, we are not His true disciples; and we cannot love Him unless we have heartfelt gratitude to Him; and we cannot duly feel gratitude, unless we feel keenly what He suffered for us. I say it seems to us impossible, under the circumstances of the case, that any one can have attained to the love of Christ, who feels no distress, no misery, at the thought of His bitter pains, and no self-reproach at having through his own sins had a share in causing them.

                I know quite well, and wish you, my brethren, never to forget, that feeling is not enough; that it is not enough merely to feel and nothing more; that to feel grief for Christ’s sufferings, and yet not to go on to obey him, is not true love, but a mockery. True love both feels right, and acts right; but at the same time as warm feelings without religious conduct are a kind of hypocrisy, so, on the other hand, right conduct, when unattended with deep feelings, is at best a very imperfect sort of religion. And at this time of year  especially are we called upon to raise our hearts to Christ, and to have keen feelings and piercing thoughts of sorrow and shame, of compunction and of gratitude, of love and tender affection and horror and anguish, at the review of those awful sufferings whereby our salvation has been purchased...

                You will ask, how are we to learn to feel pain and anguish at the thought of Christ’s sufferings? I answer, by thinking of them, that is, by dwelling on the thought. This, through God’s mercy, is in the power of every one. No one who will but solemnly think over the history of those sufferings, as drawn out for us in the Gospels, but will gradually gain, through God’s grace, a sense of them, will in a measure realize them, will in a measure be as if he saw them, will feel towards them as being not merely a tale written in a book, but as a true history, as a series of events which took place.

                Now, then, let me make one or two reflections by way of stirring up your hearts and making you mourn over Christ’s sufferings, as you are called to do at this season.

Christ as lamb

First, as to these sufferings you will observe that our Lord is called a lamb in the text; that is, He was as defenceless, and as innocent, as a lamb is. Since then Scripture compares Him to this inoffensive and unprotected animal, we may without presumption or irreverence take the image as a means of conveying to our minds those feelings which our Lord’s sufferings should excite in us. I mean, consider how very horrible it is to read the accounts which sometimes meet us of cruelties exercised on brute animals.

                Does it not sometimes make us shudder to hear tell of them, or to read them in some chance publication which we take up? At one time it is the wanton deed of barbarous and angry owners who ill-treat their cattle, or beasts of burden; and at another, it is the cold-blooded and calculating act of men of science, who make experiments on brute animals, perhaps merely from a sort of curiosity.

                I do not like to go into particulars, for many reasons; but one of those instances which we read of as happening in this day, and which seems more shocking than the rest, is, when the poor dumb victim is fastened against a wall, pierced, gashed, and so left to linger out its life.

                Now do you not see that I have a reason for saying this, and am not using these distressing words for nothing? For what was this but the very cruelty inflicted upon our Lord? He was gashed with the scourge, pierced through hands and feet, and so fastened to the Cross, and there left, and that as a spectacle.

                Now what is it moves our very hearts, and sickens us so much as cruelty shown to poor brutes? I suppose this first, that they have done no harm; next, that they have no power whatever of resistance; it is the cowardice and tyranny of which they are the victims which makes their sufferings so especially touching.               For instance, if they were dangerous animals, take the case of wild beasts at large, able not only to defend themselves, but even to attack us; much as we might dislike to hear of their wounds and agony, yet our feelings would be of a very different kind; but there is something so very dreadful, so satanic in tormenting those who never have harmed us, and who cannot defend themselves, who are utterly in our power, who have weapons neither of offence nor defence, that none but very hardened persons can endure the thought of it.

                Now this was just our Saviour’s case: He had laid aside His glory, He had (as it were) disbanded His legions of Angels, He came on earth without arms, except the arms of truth, meekness, and righteousness, and committed Himself to the world in perfect innocence and sinlessness, and in utter helplessness, as the Lamb of God. In the words of St. Peter, ‘Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously’ [1 Peter 2:22, 23].

Picturing Christ in the suffering animal

Think then, my brethren, of your feelings at cruelty practised upon brute animals, and you will gain one sort of feeling which the history of Christ’s Cross and Passion ought to excite within you.

                And let me add, this is in all cases one good use to which you may turn any accounts you read of wanton and unfeeling acts shown towards the inferior animals; let them remind you, as a picture, of Christ’s sufferings. He who is higher than the Angels, deigned to humble Himself even to the state of the brute creation, as the Psalm says, ‘I am a worm, and no man; a very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people’ [Psalm 22:6].”

Further examples to excite feelings

Newman then took two other examples to ‘excite the feelings’ of his hearers: the first, that of cruelty to an innocent little child:‘What if wicked men took and crucified a young child?’ He re-enforced this with the story of the Old Testament character Joseph, being sent to help his brothers (in Genesis 37:19, 20). These older brothers, who should have protected him, instead put him in a pit and then sold him as a slave. 

                The second example was that of ‘some aged and venerable person ...  who had encouraged us, smiled on us, comforted us in trouble, ... very holy, full of wisdom’ – if that person were to be taken, stripped, whipped and mocked, and so on. ‘But what is all this to the suffering of the holy Jesus, which we bear to read of as a matter of course! ... Our feelings are not in our own power; God alone can rule our feelings; God alone can make us sorrow, when we would but cannot sorrow; but will He, if we have not diligently sought Him according to our opportunities in this house of grace?”

From: Parochial and Plain Sermons, J.H.Newman, Volume 7, page 133ff..


More scraps on John Henry Newman (1801-1890):

On the fasting of animals:

From the pulpit at St Mary’s, Newman cautioned a friend of his, John Morris, against excesses of what Morris [wrongly] believed to be Catholic views, such as advocating the fasting of animals on fast days. In a letter to another friend, J.W. Bowden, Newman remarked, ‘May he have a fasting horse next time he goes steeple chasing’! Incidentally, John Morris, 1826-93 was received in  1847 and later became secretary to Cardinals Wiseman and Manning, joining the Jesuits in 1867, and becoming a well-known writer.

On bad behaviour towards animals

In a letter to E. Z. Lyttel, the curate of St Barnabus, not far from Birmingham Oratory from where Newman wrote this on October 28, 1870, he shows that he condones neither the whipping of naughty boys, nor the bad behaviour of one child in pulling a donkey’s tail – although donkeys can ‘play rough’ too!:

“Revd Sir, I am sure you will be glad to know that your informant has been misinformed.

                No horsewhip has been used in the orphanage – no boy has been lashed. The only fact which has been the ground of the incorrect report, is that the other day a bad boy was struck with a stick – and that, before he was struck, as he well deserved, he began shrieking. I hope and believe he has been sent away, and will never shriek in that house again.

                As to the donkey, whose tail was pulled, he is a very sociable animal and affords great amusement to the boys. The policeman, I am told, stood by and laughed. I am empowered by the inmates of the house to invite you to come and try his powers. For he is able to pick the boys’ pockets of bread. If they hit him too hard or pulled his tail, it must be recollected that donkeys can give as well as take, and that their play, as well as boys’ play, is rough.

                Thanking you for the kind feeling which dictated your letter.

                I am [etc]  ”

On Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859):

In a letter written to E.B. Pusey, on June 5, 1870 from the Oratory, Birmingham:

“I conceive [Darwin’s book] to be an advocacy of the theory that that principle of propagation, which we are accustomed to believe began with Adam, and with the patriarchs of the brute species, began in some one common ancestor millions of years before.

1. Is this against the distinct teaching of the inspired text? If it is, then he advocates an antichristian theory. For myself, speaking under correction, I don’t see that it does – contradict it.

2. Is it against Theism (putting revelation aside) – I don’t see how it can be. Else, the fact of a propagation from Adam is against Theism. If second causes are conceivable at all, and Almighty Agent being supposed, I don’t see why the series should not last for millions of years as well as for thousands.

                The former question is the more critical. Does scripture contradict the theory? – was Adam not immediately taken from the dust of the earth? ‘All are of dust’ – Eccles.3: 20 – yet we never were  dust – we are from fathers, Why may not the same be the case with Adam? I don’t say that it is so – but if the sun does not go round the earth and the earth stand still, as scripture seems to say, I don’t know why Adam needs be immediately out of dust – Formavit Deus hominem de limo terrae – i.e. out of what really was dust and mud in its nature, before He made it what it was, living. But I speak under correction. Darwin does not profess to oppose Religion. I think he deserves a degree as much as many others, who ever had one.”

[Darwin was offered an Hon Degree at Oxford, but there was opposition to this, and he declined it].

Francis William Newman (1805-1897)

Francis William (Frank)Newman was one of the six children of John Newman, a London banker, and the youngest of the three sons. John Henry (born 1801) was the eldest. Both brothers attended a good private school at Ealing and both went up to Oxford and became clergymen.

                Frank achieved a double first, in mathematics and classics, and became a professor of Latin. He married twice, and wrote and lectured on a variety of erudite subjects, including mathematics and oriental languages.

                In 1829 he assisted John Henry at Littlemore, and in 1830, on resigning his fellowship at Balliol, he made full repayment to John Henry of what had been a generous loan to pay for his education. He fell out with John Henry for a time over matters of doctrine and belief (Frank was attracted to Unitarianism for a time), but later in life they agreed to differ and Frank often visited his brother at Maryvale, the first time just nine months after John Henry’s reception into the Catholic Church, and at the country retreat house at Rednall.                            On 18th June 1877 John Henry wrote to a Mr Lilly, that ‘The Dublin [journal] has a practice of always calling me F. Newman, whereas my brother is commonly distinguished from me by this initial, his name being Francis. I say this because, much as we love each other, neither would like to be mistaken for the other.’

Animals: torture and vegetarianism      

Why is this brother receiving more attention here than the other four siblings? Because of his known beliefs about animal ethics. In one essay, appearing in the 1881 collection Essay on Vivisection, scientifically and ethically considered in prize essays (edited by James Macauley, et al) Frank wrote this:

Evidently why it is wicked to torture a man is not because he has an immortal soul, but because he has a highly sensitive body; and so has every vertebrate animal, especially the warm-blooded. If we have no moral right to torture a man, neither have we a moral right to torture a dog. We have to add to our morals a new chapter on the rights of animals.

For many years he was an active supporter of women’s suffrage and co-founded Bedford College for women, later part of London University. In October 1872 Francis gave a talk at the Friend’s Institute, in Manchester, entitled ‘A Lecture on Vegetarianism’. He was an ethical vegetarian, President of the Manchester-based Vegetarian Society from 1873 to 1883, and in 1883 collected his writings on vegetarianism into an anthology, Essays on Diet. This  passage is from that:

We must admit into our moral treatises the question of the rights of animals; and not only the limits of our rights over them, but other topics hence arising. When man must starve unless he kills a deer or bison no one blames the slaughter, but it does not follow that when we have plenty of wholesome food without killing, we are at liberty to kill for mere gratification of the palate. To nourish a taste for killing is morally evil; to be accustomed to inflict agony on harmless animals by wounding or maiming them without remorse, prepares men’s hearts for other cruelty.

George Elliot once attended one of Professor Frank’s lectures on geometry at Bedford College and called him: ‘our blessed St Francis’ whose ‘soul was a blessed yea’.

                In 1886, four years before his brother’s death, Frank, now frail himself, meets with John Henry for the last time at his holiday retreat in Rednall.

                Is it inconceivable that the brothers agreed about the proper treatment of animals, even if they disagreed about certain other matters?


St Philip Neri

John Henry Newman was formally received into the Roman Catholic Church on October 9, 1845 by Father Dominic, an Italian Passionist. The following year he moved from Oxford to Oscott in Birmingham, then home of Bishop Wiseman, Vicar-Apostolic of the Midland district. In October he went to Rome, was ordained priest and was given the degree of Doctor of Divinity by the pope. In 1847 he returned to England as an Oratorian, and lived in Birmingham, first at Maryvale (near Oscott), and finally at the Oratory at Edgbaston. He also established an Oratory in London – where Catholic Concern for Animals have been holding  their meetings for many years!

                The Oratorians are congregations of Catholic priests and lay-brothers who live together in a community. They do not take formal vows and are answerable directly to the pope. They were founded in Rome by St Philip Neri (1515-1595), one of only two saints mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in relation to animals (paragraph 2416 includes:‘We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St Francis of Assisi or St Philip Neri treated animals’).

                St Philip Neri was an ethical vegetarian, way ahead of his time. Once, passing a butcher’s shop, he says, ‘If everyone were like me, they wouldn’t kill animals’.  He also set free captive birds, which, by their own choice, would not  leave him then for many years. Animals were attracted to him—in the manner of some of the Celtic saints—such as a cardinal’s small dog who refused to leave Philip, and was carried around for many years by the saint’s young followers.

                 At one time Philip was brought a young bird found in the chapel. ‘Don’t squeeze, don’t hurt it,’ Philip insisted. ‘Open the window and let it fly away.’ But when it had done so, Philip worried whether he had done the right thing, ‘It was so small; it won’t know where to go’. 

                 Of Philip, John Henry Newman comments: ‘Nothing was too high for him, nothing too low’. Philip insisted on flies being shooed out of the window instead of being killed, of giving away a brace of live partridges donated for his meal, with instruction that they were not to be harmed. He expressed pity for animals on their way to slaughter, and released captured mice into places of safety for them—all fairly commonplace acts today, but remarkable in their time.

Go on to:  Animal Affections
Return to: The Ark Number 216 - Winter 2010

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