In a 2013 article, writer Tara Burton at The Atlantic makes the intriguing argument that theology should be a necessary part of a liberal arts curriculum. Citing her experience studying theology at Oxford University, she notes how exciting it was because of its overlap with many other humanities disciplines. “If history and comparative religion,” she writes, “alike offer us perspective on world events from the ‘outside,’ the study of theology offers us a chance to study those same events ‘from within’: an opportunity to get inside the heads of those whose beliefs and choices shaped so much of our history, and who … still shape plenty of the world today.”


Burton’s intuition of the limitations of mere “comparative religion” is correct, but Newman would see her solution as not much different. Burton has merely shifted the focus to “comparative theology,” a survey of varying perspectives “from within,” looking closely at the actual beliefs of historical figures and their impact on history (which, indeed, just describes what a good historian should do anyway!) This is still a far cry from where Newman, and classic Christian thinkers (not to mention the heritage of Oxford theologians) would like to see theology. Theology’s true natural habitat is in philosophy, and Newman goes so far as to say that philosophy, and other disciplines, are worse off without it. This is natural theology, the highest field in philosophy, which seeks to investigate God’s existence and attributes scientifically. Newman would insist on true theology as a philosophical science of the highest order, wherein one seeks to discover the truth in his or her field. For theology, this means seeking the truth about God.


The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle called philosophy the science that considers truth, which includes the material world but also looks behind it at its principles and causes. And this, indeed, describes the behavior not only of the good philosopher or theologian, but also of the good scientist, whose experiments are conducted under the conviction that some kind of objective truth is indeed discoverable in the visible world. Newman would say this is equally true of the invisible world. Newman uses a much richer sense of the word “science,” which literally means “knowledge,” or refers to the act of knowing. Thus, inquiry into the visible and invisible worlds can both accurately be described as science, seeking to understand the fulness of things outside of us. 


But what actually constitutes science, in both cases, is drastically misunderstood today. These misunderstandings began in Newman’s time, and grew into what some have called ‘scientism,’ which mistakenly believes that a narrowly mathematical or physical science is capable of proving or disproving metaphysical truths, like the existence of God, the moral law, the origin of the universe, or the origin of species. Science (in this sense) can provide elements that lend toward plausibility in these areas, but not in the same way that the scientific method can prove a hypothesis through repeated and observable phenomena. 


True science is not limited to only visible phenomena. Aristotle studied the being of things, the nature of their existence, in a scientific manner. And this can be done with God himself. The idea of God—that, as Newman says, “ … behind the veil of the visible universe, there is an invisible intelligent Being, acting on and through it, as and when he will … ”—is an objective reality that can be analyzed scientifically. It involves a scientific discipline aimed at the fundamental reality of “Divine agency,” or the objective activity of God in eternity and human history. 


Knowledge of God’s agency is both plausible and reasonable. To ignore “Divine agency,” Newman says, “is a virtual denial of God.” To deny that God is a real agent behind every part of existence is the same thing as denying the existence of God himself. So, on the other hand, if God really does exist, then knowledge of his active existence is objectively knowable. Further, such knowledge of a God whose activity is behind all aspects of existence is vitally and essentially connected to learning about everything else: mathematics, physics, history, anthropology, art, etc. Newman says that without God, our knowledge of nature and man will be “more or less unreal.” To fail to teach robust and objective theology to human beings at a university is to fail to prepare them for the real world! 


Newman says, “Truth is the object of knowledge,” and “granting [that] Theology is a real science, we cannot exclude it, and still call ourselves philosophers.” In a beautifully moving passage, Newman notes how this involves a deep connection between Reason and Revelation wherein we realize that all things are from our “Eternal King,” who blesses our studies and arts, laws and societies, and offers his “co-operation.” God has made us to know him, has made us to know the world, and has made the world able to be known by us. We live in a world of what philosophers call intelligibility—of communion and communication—where, at our deepest level, we can know and be known. According to Newman, without operating with this awareness of how things are in reality, we cannot be true knowers, true philosophers, true scientists, or our true selves.

Like this article?

What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

Leave a comment

What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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.
Sermon Blog
David Warren

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity

What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: “We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son’s is another, the Holy Spirit’s another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.”

Read More »
About Newman
Fr. Juan Velez

The Eucharistic Presence

We call His presence in this Holy Sacrament a spiritual presence, not as if ‘spiritual’ were but a name or mode of speech.

Read More »
About Newman
Prof. Barb H. Wyman

The Priestly Office

The sacrifice of the altar as a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary is a “bloodless rite,” but nevertheless, like that sacrifice, it too is a “fire of Love,” and a “Fount of Light.”

Read More »
About Newman
Fr. Juan Velez

The Indwelling Spirit

With this indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have the indwelling of Christ in our souls. Christ is born in us. The Holy Spirit makes us children of God, crying out Abba Father, and restores in us the likeness of Christ.

Read More »