In Discourse 2, Newman claims that a university that lacks theology is not fully itself, but like a dough that, aspiring to be bread, lacks yeast. It is missing a key ingredient essential to making it what it should be. This key ingredient–theology–must be rooted in the notion that God is different from nature, while also accessible to natural reasoning. While the truth of the Supreme Being is a discipline proper to natural theology, this does not mean that the truths of theology are merely subjective measurements and private interpretations. Rather, theology deals with the supreme truth and real object of God, who is Creator, not creature. Theology is the most objective of all the disciplines.

If theology is not an objective discipline of the highest order, it is not at all theology. Newman thinks subjectivizing theology lowers God to human criteria, as if “the divine sovereignty [were a] sort of constitutional monarchy, in which the Throne … cannot issue the most ordinary command except through legal forms and precedents, and with the counter-signature of a minister.” If God requires human measure and authority to be true, “… then belief in a God is no more than an acknowledgment of existing, sensible powers and phenomena, which none but an idiot can deny.” In other words, if theology is merely a confirmation of the facts of nature ascertainable by other scientific disciplines, then theology itself is not a distinct discipline, and ceases to exist. If theology is a science in the same sense and with the same objects as other disciplines, then Newman confesses there “ …[would be] no specific science about God, [and] theology is but a name.” Theology would be a mere muddle of empty words.

This sentimentalization of theology starts in a seemingly benign place, in contemplating how “the universe ‘leads onwards to divine truth.”’ But failing to begin by considering the radical difference between the natural and the divine is to treat “divine truth [as] not something separate from Nature, but [as] Nature with a divine glow upon it.” This then would collapse knowledge of God into knowledge of Nature, and conflate the Creator with the created. To Newman, there is no difference between “ … avowing that there is no God, and implying that nothing definite can for certain be known about him.” In the same way that skepticism and agnosticism are merely early stages of atheism, Newman says that “ … Religious Education treated as the cultivation of sentiment” is really no different from treating “Religious Belief as the accidental hue or posture of the mind.” To teach that faith and religion as matters of sentiment or preference—as if the Divine is merely a “glow” upon our accidental subjective experience of life and nature—is, according to Newman, fundamentally no different than rejecting faith and religion.

Newman concludes Discourse 2 by summarizing his argument: “(R)eligious doctrine is knowledge, in as full a sense as Newton’s doctrine is knowledge. University teaching without Theology is simply unphilosophical.” Thus, a university that lacks theology as a distinct scientific discipline, in the firmest sense, is not a university. This truth begs an important question for our modern age: what is a school that claims to be a university but lacks theology?

It is a general truth that, when man becomes the measure of all things, the gap left by God is filled with what 19th century German nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called the “will to power.” Man becomes the measure of man. The university becomes an ideological tool of those in power. Schools become idea-factories, teachers become mechanists, students become cogs. Learning becomes a farcical puppet-show of the presently prevailing bureaucracy. Freedom to explore truth is derided and dismissed. Lest we fall into this bleak spiritual and cultural death at the hands of well-meaning but severely misguided educationalists, Newman insists: God is the King of all things, and reason is an obedient intellectual response to His truth. And theology, the science of discerning God’s truth, is, in the classical phrase, the “Queen of the sciences.” It is this fact that can give us hope to learn about, support, and strengthen authentically Catholic intellectual education.

Like this article?

Newman wrote, “I have been accustomed to consider the action of the creator on and in the created universe, as parallel in a certain sense to that of the soul upon the body.”

For a Christian, death is no longer defeat nor something to fear, rather it is the sign of Christ’s victory.

Leave a comment

We need to remember our mortality, so that we may be ready to meet Our Lord each and every day. Lent and lenten mortifications have a role in this preparation. We must die to self daily, so that we may be brought to the glory of His resurrection. 

Our Books

About Cardinal John Henry Newman

Purchase Book

A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

Review by Serenheed James
(Antiphon, April 2023)

Purchase Book

Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.

Purchase Book

Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

Purchase Book

What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

Purchase Book

Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

Purchase Book

Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
About Newman
Fr. Peter Conley

Slopes, Popes and Newman

Newman wrote, “I have been accustomed to consider the action of the creator on and in the created universe, as parallel in a certain sense to that of the soul upon the body.”

Read More »
Sermon Blog
David Warren

Endurance, the Christian’s Portion

Today, on Good Friday, we remember our Lord’s crucifixion, not as though it was a wrinkle in His otherwise peaceful earthly life, but rather as the focus and the pattern of His life.

Read More »
About Newman
Fr. Juan Velez

Fasting and Holy Week

In Fasting a Source of Trial, Newman reminds that we must not forget its main purpose: to unite ourselves with Christ.

Read More »