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To risk a grave understatement with which no one will disagree, education is important. However, Discourse 4 of Idea of a University helps us defend against seeing education as the only, all-sufficient solution to all of our problems. For instance, moral formation is not unrelated to education, but, for Newman, is never the final goal of a University. People arrive at a University with the purpose of pursuing knowledge and “intellectual excellence.” This implies a certain level of moral formation, but the moral formation is not its goal, lest the University become a Church, or a Temple, or a Department of the State, or a Penitentiary. 

In explaining why Newman made a sharp distinction between “intellectual excellence” and “moral transformation,” the former the goal of a “liberal education” and the latter the goal of the Church, Newman scholar Frank M. Turner, in an essay “Newman’s University and Ours,” says that “Newman was no educational utopian.” Newman knew from experience that schools must be free to be schools, and the Church must be free to be the Church, and only thus could the two properly relate. Therefore, Newman heavily affirms the good of a “secular” dimension to education, which forms an important natural component that is perfected by supernatural grace, with the purpose or end of intellectual excellence. To put a twist on one of Newman’s phrases from University Sketches, a liberal education is critical to our well-being, but is not the primary source of divine truth or the essence of human redemption. For that, we need primarily Christ and his Church. For Newman, the University can at best make only very modest claims to be in the business of moral formation, lest it encroach upon the domain of the Church.

This appears as a strange and complex web. What is “secular” education? What is “religious” education? How do they relate? What is “intellectual excellence,” and how does it relate to “moral formation?” Are these distinctions even correct to make in the first place? Discourse 4 will help us puzzle over these questions in two ways: 1) in affirming that Revelation is a part of the “web” of knowledge Newman has woven in Discourse 3; and 2) in explaining why Newman is keen to make a distinction—but, note well, not a separation—between secular and religious knowledge, between “intellectual excellence” and “moral formation.” 

First, Newman builds off of Discourse 3 (The Bearing of Theology on other Knowledge) by describing Revelation, God’s gracious and definitive communication to Man about Nature, Man, and Himself, as a vital and inextricable part of the “web” of human knowledge: “revealed truth enters to a very great extent into the province of science, philosophy, and literature.” To keep the two separate is in fact a “great damage” to science. Newman does grant that there are degrees of damage. “Pure mathematics,” for example, may be less directly damaged than “politics, history, or ethics.” However, since all of the “various branches of science are intimately connected with one another and form one whole,” even the minor damages are detrimental to the whole. Therefore, he upholds, in a classic Victorian understatement, that “revealed knowledge is very far indeed from an inconsiderable department of knowledge.”

Newman describes Revelation as “the written and unwritten word of God,” referring to Scripture and Tradition which, in the language of Vatican II document Dei Verbum, together form a single mirror in which the “pilgrim Church on earth” looks at the reflection of God in heaven. And God, as the summum bonum simpliciter, the supreme good simply in Himself, through his Revelation “furnishes facts to the other sciences, which those sciences, left to themselves, would never reach;” and it “invalidates apparent facts which, left to themselves, they would imagine.” Newman’s language is strong here, since he has already described knowledge as the apprehension of “facts and their relations.” In his view, there are some things within the domain of real knowledge—that is, facts—which can only be revealed by God, and these facts are vital to scientific disciplines. 

Newman cites the example of the preservation of mankind in Noah’s ark as a “historical fact;” and he cites the way in which Revelation contradicts the notion, in “physiology and moral philosophy,” of “our race’s progress and perfectibility,” perhaps in reference to various social theories growing in his lifetime, claiming that humans could arrive at perfection through genetic, economic, and material means.  In any case, Newman strongly upholds a notion upheld by the Catholic Magisterium, famously articulated in St. Pope John Paul II’s 1998 Fides et Ratio: that Reason and Revelation together bear witness to what is real, and that lacking the fulness of the one or the other is not knowledge but ignorance. 

Thus, we see Newman affirm the essential role of Revelation, of the Church, of Grace, in the intellectual life of man and, by extension, its necessity for the flourishing of the University. In a second and third post on Discourse 4, we will explore what Newman thinks happens to “secular knowledge” if it foregoes the divine knowledge of Revelation. This will also help us understand why, even in light of his comments on Revelation, Newman is also keen to keep the end, the purpose, the essence, of the University as “intellectual excellence,” and not other albeit noble and in their own right essential human aims.

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Newman lays down a firm rule in the light of life's abundant blessings: the Christian is not allowed to be gloomy.

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.”

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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. 

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About Cardinal John Henry Newman

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

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.
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