While John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) wrote an autobiography (Apologia Pro Vita Sua by John Henry Cardinal Newman), the life and ideas of this famous 19th century intellectual's conversion from the Church of England to the Church of Rome is much more convincingly described in Ker's detailed biography.
About the 1834 publication of a volume of Newman's sermons, Ker asserts, "there is no doubt that they constitute one of the great classics of Christian spirituality. It is certainly almost as hard to conceive of the Oxford Movement without the 'Parochial and Plain Sermons' as without the 'Tracts for the Times.'"
Newman became a proto-Catholic, and too controversial to be allowed to continue to preach to Anglicans. "They exclude me, as far as may be, from the University Pulpit; and though I have never preached strong doctrine in it, they do so rightly as far as this, that they understand that my sermons are calculated to undermine things established. I cannot disguise from myself that they are."
When he was converted and then reordained as a Catholic, Newman's 'difficulty' (i.e., "I could not say that Anglican orders were invalid") "had been removed by the assurance that, although ordination would not be explicitly conditional, the 'condition' would be implied ... in the Church's intention."
Ker describes Newman's basic philosophical orientation as that "he thought all beliefs rested on 'first principles' which lay outside the range of logical argument and belonged to the inner life of the individual, where conscience not logic reigns supreme," and that "Newman certainly did not see himself as a theologian in any technical sense of the word. If he had an intellectual mission, apart from education, it lay in the field of apologetics." Concerning the writing of Newman's Apologia, Ker notes that "Never before had any book cost him so much as this. Not only had he never been in such 'a stress of brain' , but also he had never suffered such 'pain of heart' as well. He had been constantly in tears, and constantly crying out in distress."
Concerning Newman's distress over the First Vatican Council's declaration of Papal Infallibility, Newman wrote that the Council was "infusing into us ... little else than fear and dismay.... I look with anxiety at the prospect of having to defend decisions, which may not be difficult to my private judgment, but may be most difficult to maintain logically in the face of historical facts. What have we done to be treated, as the faithful never were treated before?" Nevertheless, Newman's objections notwithstanding, infallibility became a dogma, and Newman eventually was made a Cardinal.
Ker's book is of great interest to those interested in Newman, Catholicism, religious intellectual history, and religious biographies.