In Discourse 2, Newman wants to show that theology is in fact a science, and therefore must be part of a university curriculum. However, he was not merely concerned with the total absence of theology, but with its absence from the scientific disciplines. In his time, theology was increasingly relegated to what some saw as the more subjective disciplines, like music, poetry, and art. Newman is worried that if theological inquiry begins in the gut, not the head–if God, religion, and faith are mere matters of “sentiment,” taste and preference, rather than matters of truth, knowledge, and intellect–then all questions about God are solely determined by each individual, or what he calls “Private Judgment.” But Newman thinks that if there is a Supreme Being, then theology is the Supreme Science. If there is no Supreme Being, theology is a mess of useless words. There is no middle ground. Thus, he argues that theology is a science, in part to rescue it from demotion to subjectivity and sentiment, which “mutilates the divine” and forgets the true nature of theology as pursuing divine Truth.
Therefore, Newman strongly affirms that faith is an “intellectual act, its object truth, and its result knowledge.” Faith is not a feeling, although feelings play an important role in stirring up one’s desire to know and to do. Faith is the engagement of one’s reason with truth in a committed and total way. The word faith itself–fides in Latin, piste in Greek–suggests not belief in an irrational sense, but in a committed and knowing relationship, as one might sense in the word fidelity which shares the Latin root. To be faithful to something is to be committed in a way that is rational and ongoing.
Newman traces the history of Protestant thinking to show how religion, faith, and theology came to be based, “ … not on argument, but on taste and sentiment.” Rather than seeing Christianity’s presence in the world as an act of God, religious forms came to be viewed as mere social or psychological phenomena. He analyzes this stemming from the Protestant dogma of sola scriptura, that Scripture is the sole authority. This includes an implied corollary that “Private Judgment” is the sole authority in interpreting Scripture’s meaning. But this is self-defeating, because each individual becomes his or her own mini-Magisterium (cf. 2 Peter 1:20). Lacking objective authority or revealed principles with which to interpret Scripture results in an effusion of splintered Protestant sects who all derive different doctrines from Scripture. Newman says, “they learned to believe and to take it for granted, that Religion was nothing beyond a supply of the wants of human nature, not an external fact and and work of God.” If Private Judgment determines meaning, then Religion, Church structures, and faith itself become merely social, man-made manners of expression, not Divine events in human history. Faith itself becomes based on subjective preferences, not on truths objectively revealed by God.
So, Newman was battling the notion that theology is merely a matter of subjective sentimental taste, not objective scientific inquiry into truth. This toxic notion, Newman shows, leaves an immense intellectual vacuum. It is to “ … consider knowledge, as regards the creature, [as] illimitable, but impossible or hopeless as regards the being and attributes and works of the Creator.” When God ceases to be the measure of all things, one must say with Protagoras in Plato’s Theatetus, “of all things the measure is Man.” If Man can measure and determine all things, what basis is there for any truth? When faith ceases to be a matter of the intellect, it ceases to be faith. When theology ceases to be a science, it ceases to be theology. When a university leaves off theology, it ceases to be a university. As pro-life advocate Joseph Schiedler says, the intellect craves truth like the stomach craves food. If the Supreme truth of God is neglected, something less than intellectual truth will become the aim, resulting in malnourishment and fierce hunger pangs.