Cardinal Newman’s Simple Rule of Life

March 10, 2017

Blessed John Henry Newman was a Cardinal of the Catholic Church and one of the most famous English converts to the faith. While he was a distinguished man of letters, an erudite apologist, and an accomplished prelate, he was known most of all for his holiness of life, the result of which has been his recent beatification.

Cardinal Newman was a scholar well acquainted with the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and yet he also knew the holiness was not a matter of great learning or academic study. Holiness is available to all—even an illiterate peasant.

The Simple Path

But how is one to be holy? In his work, Meditations and Devotions, the holy Cardinal outlines a simple path to holiness. Here it is. 

It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well. A short road to perfection-short, not because easy, but because pertinent and intelligible. There are no short ways to perfection, but there are sure ones.

I think this is an instruction which may be of great practical use to persons like ourselves. It is easy to have vague ideas what perfection is, which serve well enough to talk about, when we do not intend to aim at it; but as soon as a person really desires and sets about seeking it himself, he is dissatisfied with anything but what is tangible and clear, and constitutes some sort of direction towards the practice of it.

We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic-not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings-but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound-we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.

He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day.

I insist on this because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim.

If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first-

Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;

give your first thoughts to God;

make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;

say the Angelus devoutly;

eat and drink to God’s glory;

say the Rosary well;

be recollected; keep out bad thoughts;

make your evening meditation well;

examine yourself daily;

go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.


Sam Guzman


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Reader Interactions


  1. Christopher Schaefer says

    This could be expanded to more of what we do each day, e.g. be as good a spouse and parent as you can be; whatever your employment, do your job as well as you can—not just the minimum required of your employer; be a good neighbor on your street; be a good citizen in your town, your state, your country; regularly perform the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, either directly or indirectly (via charitable donations); always be aware of the Four Last Things—and let these guide every decision.


  1. […] Convenient reference: 7 basic steps to holiness. The problem is, it isn’t an “action” checklist: pray, etc. It’s, rather, a list of seven dispositions you need. If you want an “action” checklist, you might try Newman’s Short Road to Perfection. […]

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