Here we continue with Disc. 8 of the “Idea of a University” in which Newman explains how human knowledge exerts a salutary effect on morality, and in which he will distinguish between the Religion of Philosophy and Supernatural Religion.
Newman argues, however, that knowledge can elevate man beyond the sensual and thus even though it is still susceptible to error and to pride, it can elevate man’s thought, training man and providing him with a law to avoid mortal sins. He continues: ” Knowledge, the discipline by which it is gained, and the tastes which it forms, have a natural tendency to refine the mind, and to give it an indisposition, simply natural, yet real, nay, more than this, a disgust and abhorrence, towards excesses and enormities of evil, which are often or ordinarily reached at length by those who are not careful from the first to set themselves against what is vicious and criminal.” Although this does not protect against violent temptation, the mind loathes what is most vile and “ungentle manlike.” This serves as a safeguard when the restraint of the public eye is not present; “it will create an irresolution and indecision in doing wrong, which will act as a remora till the danger is past away.”
Newman acknowledges that the knowledge by itself does not “mend the heart” or secure it from the very evils, which it sometimes repels, but sometimes after a sin has been committed it produces a keen remorse, which can be sufficient to cure a particular moral disorder or prevent its future repetition.
In earlier times of material hardship, war, poor medical care and poverty, religious feelings and superstition were an aid to the missionary. ” But, when in the advancement of society men congregate in towns, and multiply in contracted spaces, and law gives them security, and art gives them comforts, and good government robs them of courage and manliness, and monotony of life throws them back upon themselves, who does not see that diversion or protection from evil they have none, that vice is the mere reaction of unhealthy toil, and sensual excess the holyday of resourceless ignorance?”
Newman notes that in an age of advanced civilization, the moral disorders which Reason and Revelation denounce are combated with libraries, science lectures, museums and gardens. With these instruments the intellectual culture exerts a positive influence on our moral nature fostering such virtues as “veracity, probity, equity, fairness, gentleness, benevolence, and amiableness; so much so, that a character more noble to look at, more beautiful, more winning, in the various relations of life and in personal duties, is hardly conceivable.” In such a civilization the ideal men shine by the exercise of charity, understood as generosity and harmony with others. This charity has a Christian origin, yet these man lack the religious principle of faith.