1833 - 1841 | ‘I have a work to do in England.’
In 1833 on a trip to Sicily, Newman became seriously ill, likely of typhoid fever, and was close to death for ten days. In his delirium he repeated phrases to those aiding him, one of which was ‘I have a work to do in England.’ When he recovered, he would consider this another great conversion as it lead him to surrender himself even more to God. It awoke even more deeply his desire to bring a renewal to the Church that he loved.
On his return, Newman banded together with his friends who equally wished to bring about this renewal, namely John Keble and Edward Pusey, among others. They despaired at the state of the Church of England at that time, believing that it cared more for maintaining a good relationship with the establishment than being true to its origins and that it had been warped by its political history. Newman wrote of it, ‘This remarkable Church has always been utterly dependent on the civil power and has always gloried in that dependence. It would be in fact a second Reformation: - a better Reformation.’
To bring about this ‘better Reformation’ Newman and several of his associates embarked upon what would become known as the 'Oxford Movement', disseminating their views through a common medium: pamphlets. Titled 'Tracts for the Times', they challenged the status quo of the Christian establishment in England. The very first tract published begins with this startling question ‘Should the Government of and Country so far forget their God as to cast off the Church, to deprive it of its temporal honours and substance, on what will you rest the claim of respect and attention which you make upon your flocks?’ Designed to provoke and educate, the tracts were published as the work of a nameless 'Presbyter', although Newman authored about one third of them. Between 1833–41 ninety tracts were published and their frequency gained the movement a second name ‘The Tractarian Movement.’
However, Newman’s best method of reaching the people was still his sermons and public lectures. The movement began to excite Christians around the country and some students at the university took up the mantra ‘Credo in Newmanum’ – ‘I believe in Newman.’
As he continued to study and teach Christian history and especially apostolic succession, Newman began to reconsider his own hostility towards Catholicism. Catholics had been reviled and persecuted in England for centuries after the reformation, but times were changing, foremost with the passing of the of ‘The Roman Catholic Relief Act’ in 1829, which quelled a potential Irish revolution. Nonetheless, Newman strongly believed the Catholic Church to be lacking in holiness, writing, ‘Rome must change first of all her spirit, … if they (Catholics) want to convert England, let them go barefooted into our manufacturing towns, let them preach to the people, like St. Francis Xavier, let them be trampled on – and I will own that they can do what we cannot; I will confess that they are our betters.’
In Tract 90, published in 1841, Newman argued that the defining doctrines of the Church of England were in fact fundamentally more Catholic than Protestant. Many at the university felt that Newman had now gone too far; senior tutors and heads of houses expressed outrage, arguing that the message was 'suggesting and opening a way by which men might violate their solemn engagements to the university.’ This caused the then Bishop of Oxford to call for the Tracts to come to an end. This led Newman to leave Oxford, to continue his search for the truest form of the Christian faith and to begin the next chapter of his journey.