Newman's Idea of a University

It would be reasonable to interpret the beatification of John Henry Newman this month as a sign that "now is the acceptable time" for a much-needed reform of Catholic higher education, since Newman stands for the "ideal of an educated laity."

Newman was a formidable scholar, one of the leading intellects in Oxford during the Victorian period, and perhaps the greatest stylist in the English language in any age. He was the general editor of a series of new translations of the Church Fathers into English, carried out by the best scholars in Oxford. His "Apologia Pro Vita Sua" is usually counted among the "Great Books." His poem about the journey of a soul after death to Purgatory, "The Dream of Gerontius," is a masterpiece and later became the text for an oratorio by Sir Edward Elgar.

Newman was passionately concerned about education throughout his life. He was a magnetic tutor at Oxford with a large personal following. When the bishops of Ireland wished to found a new Catholic University in Dublin, they invited Newman to serve as rector. After Newman left Oxford and became a father in the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, he founded a school for boys associated with the Birmingham Oratory. Hilaire Belloc was his student there.

At the founding of the Irish university Newman delivered a series of lectures on university education, which form the basis of "The Idea of a University," yet another masterpiece. But "The Idea" is one of those books that is often cited but not frequently studied. As Newman's beatification approaches, it is helpful to remind ourselves of its main themes.

1. Newman's most important argument is that a true university needs to have a vibrant theology department at its center. He argues in the following way. A university, he says, by its very name proclaims to be a place where universal knowledge is imparted to students. (If an institution is primarily engaged in research, he says, it should call itself a "research institute" rather than a university and should not be engaged in educating undergraduates.) But the greatest and most central object of knowledge is God and his attributes. All subjects are illuminated and made more coherent by knowledge of God as the beginning and end of the universe. To leave out the study of God, then, is an even more serious deficiency than if a university were to exclude, as a matter of principle, the study of an important field such as biology or mathematics.

It follows that "secular" universities are pseudo-universities -- and also any institution where theology is no longer taught as true, such as institutions where "religion" or "comparative religions" have replaced theology.

Newman observes that the faculties of a university are meant to constitute a community of scholars. When theology is removed from its proper place, the community degenerates, because the principle of unity of the disciplines has been removed.

Furthermore, there is no longer a standard for judging the relative importance of the various disciplines. This is the origin of the individualism which marks a modern researcher, and the "consumer mentality" which governs course selection and competition among faculty for enrollments.

Also, once theology is removed, departments no longer observe their proper boundaries. Since theology is no longer present to "check" and keep other disciplines in place, these tend to encroach on the ground that is proper to theology. That is the origin of the ideologies and substitute religions which thrive in the modern secular university, such as scientism, naturalism and left-wing political activism.

2. Newman's second important claim is that a university properly has as its goal, not preparing students for a career, but rather forming in them the "virtues of the intellect." The reason is that the mind or intellect is one of God's greatest gifts to us, but like everything human it needs to be cultivated. The mind has its proper excellences and virtues. But we will not attain these unless those who educate us aim at them deliberately. It is not possible to acquire any virtue by accident, any more than one could become a good athlete or musician without deliberately and persistently striving for excellence.

However, most universities implicitly or explicitly adopt a different goal. They say that they are preparing students to make more money or have a career. Or in their "distribution" and "core" requirements they display little understanding of intellectual excellence.

3. Newman also argues that intellectual excellence is not the same as good character or holiness. The goal of a Catholic is to become holy. So a university which imparted only intellectual excellence would potentially be leading its students astray. That is why it is necessary as well that a university have a good culture -- and be animated with the spirit of Christ -- so that, in those important years of formation, the university is actually helping its students become good.

Newman's teachings on university education, like "Ex Corde Ecclesia," certainly present a standard to bishops, university administrators, and other Catholics who are "in charge" and have authority for universities and colleges. But it would be a mistake to say that Newman is speaking only to them.

The soon-to-be Blessed John Henry Newman speaks also to parents and college-bound seniors. He asks you to distinguish between what "the many" seek in a college education, and what you should be seeking, if you evaluate and esteem university education rightly.

Michael Pakaluk has recently accepted an appointment as Professor of Philosophy at Ave Maria University, where he is also chairman of the Philosophy Department. His most recently book, "The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God," is soon to be published by Ignatius Press.

World
Cardinal beatifies 22-year-old Romanian as 'martyr to chastity'

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A 22-year-old Romanian peasant has taken a step closer to sainthood as a "martyr to chastity," six decades after she was murdered ...

Nation
Maryland attorney general will review church records on child sex abuse

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- In a Sept. 24 letter to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop William E. Lori informed priests and deacons that the ...

Nation
People helping people is what attracted actor to 'God Friended Me'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Television audiences may recall seeing actor Joe Morton as Eli Rowan Pope, the father of professional Washington fixer Olivia Pope, ...

Nation
Pa. bishops support creating fund to compensate survivors of sex abuse

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- The bishops of Pennsylvania's eight Roman Catholic dioceses are supporting creation of an independent fund to compensate survivors ...

Nation
CRS sells fair trade coffee, supporting Mexican farmers and land

Baltimore, Md., Sep 24, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Catholic Relief Services is now offering fair trade coffee beans that will benefit local farming communities ...

World
The Jesuit who survived the KGB

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 24, 2018 CNA.- When Pope Francis visited a former KGB building in Vilnius, Lithuania Sept. 23, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius ...

World
Next step toward artificial reproduction violates human fundamentals, ethicist warns

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Artificial human reproduction appears to be on the horizon with Japanese scientists’ claim to ...

World
Update: Scandals create outrage, but there is time for conversion, pope says

TALLINN, Estonia (CNS) -- In what is probably the least religious country in Europe, Pope Francis said he is surprised by how many people hold firm to ...

Nation
Catholic leaders oppose administration's plan to limit green cards

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders are speaking out against a Trump administration proposed rule announced Sept. 22 that would deny green cards to legal ...

Nation
Head of Georgetown Prep urges renewed commitment to being 'men for others'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a letter to the school community, the president of an all-boys Jesuit high school in suburban Washington emphasized the schools' ...

Nation
Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to ...

World
Stay close to the suffering, forgive one another, pope tells Latvians

AGLONA, Latvia (CNS) -- What would Mary do? was the question Pope Francis, in effect, asked Latvian Catholics gathered at their nation's popular Marian ...

Nation
Joy, hope contagious for Encuentro participants as they discern priorities

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Joy, hope, energy and a spirit of continued collaboration are contagious among the participants of the Fifth National Encuentro, ...

World
Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and ...

World
God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub ...

World
Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced. Pope ...

World
Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to ...

Nation
Ospino: Encuentro reflects 'energy, maturity' of a church 'here to stay'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- The thousands of Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders gathered in Texas for the Fifth National Encuentro shared views on the maturity ...

Nation
N.J. cardinal won't attend synod, asks to remain home at 'time of crisis'

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark told the people of his archdiocese Sept. 21 that Pope Francis has granted his request that he ...

Nation
Detroit Archdiocese welcomes investigation into Michigan dioceses

DETROIT (CNS) -- Michigan's attorney general has opened an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by clergy in all of Michigan's seven Catholic ...

Nation
Catholics believe in God but 'don't believe in us,' Miami archbishop says

MIAMI (CNS) -- The crisis the Catholic Church is facing is not "a crisis of faith" or "mainly about a crisis of sexual abuse by clergy," but is "a crisis ...

Nation
Update: Disney animator says grounding in Catholic schools led to success

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Ron Clements is a renowned animator, screenwriter and producer-director of award-winning Disney films, including the blockbuster ...

Nation
#WhyImCatholic movement aims to share hope at difficult time for church

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension has launched a new social media campaign called #WhyImCatholic to offer "hope and unity" for Catholics by inviting ...

Nation
Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic ...

Nation
Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions ...

Nation
Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Nation
Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

World
Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Local
Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Local
Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Local
Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Local
Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Local
Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

Local
From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

Nation
N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

Nation
U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Nation
Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

World
Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

World
Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

World
In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Nation
Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...