John Henry Newman repeatedly asserts, especially in Discourse IV of Idea of a University, that God’s Revelation is a vital part of the human “web of knowledge.” All knowledge is connected. Biology depends, for example, on chemistry and mathematics in order to fully understand living organisms. Further, data analysts have noticed an interesting trend: if one visually maps out the cross-citations made in academic journals to other disciplines, the map begins, in time, to look like a perfect ring, and “Religion” shows up right in the middle (see “Click-Stream Data Yields High-Resolution Maps of Science”).

Newman, of course, has already asserted that, in principle, Theology is at the center of all knowledge. God is real, and has spoken, and this affects our knowledge of everything else. But Newman would also say that failing to hear this divine voice at the center of all knowledge tends to degrade all other forms of knowledge. It disrupts the web, leaving human knowledge in a worse, less enlightened state. Assuming the full realness of God’s being and his communication with creation, it may be asserted that “Revealed Religion 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.” In contrast to some mistaken notions, Newman goes on to say, “It is not then that Catholics are afraid of human knowledge, but that they are proud of divine knowledge, and that they think the omission of any kind of knowledge whatever, human or divine, to be, as far as it goes, not knowledge, but ignorance.” To deny God’s creation and revelation takes away from human knowledge, and leads human scientific disciplines into ignorance, and error.

Newman sees this “web of knowledge” as an organic entity, wherein scientific and philosophical disciplines have a real and proper place. But error arises when you “drop any science out of the circle of knowledge,” because “ … you cannot keep the place vacant …” it is “forgotten,” and “ … the other sciences close it up, or, in other words, they exceed their proper bounds, and intrude where they have no right.” For one piece of knowledge to fall out, the other pieces will begin to think they are something they are not. St.  Paul’s image of the body of Christ is apt. The foot cannot claim to be the head; rather, each has its own unique gifted role from the Holy Spirit. 

So, in Newman’s thought, to forego one discipline of knowledge is to leave the others to “make up” for its lack by trying to be something they are not. For instance, Newman imagines (not without precedent in modern history) what might happen if ethics is dropped from the “web of knowledge”: it would be split up between “law, political economy, and physiology,” all of which would now presume to answer the questions and apply the solutions that belong properly to ethics. 

He imagines what might happen if “experimental science” became a mere “Antiquarian Society”: archaeology would become the only method of testing physical phenomena; or if history was “surrendered” to metaphysics, inquiry into what is most fundamentally real would become a mere matter of historical record. Newman, of course, is concerned in these examples about a trend in his own day: pure materialism, the assumption that all that is amounts exclusively to historical and observable data, which was taking over philosophical disciplines. History, archaeology, and experimental science are vital disciplines that should never be neglected, but they are not philosophical disciplines, and damage themselves if they presume to answer philosophical questions within their own categories.

For Newman, this is evident in what happens when Theology is left out of the “web of knowledge:” the other disciplines are damaged by having to answer the questions and  apply the solutions that are proper to theology. Theology would become “the prey of a dozen various sciences,” and those sciences would be “plainly exceeding their rights and their capacities in seizing upon it.” Before diving into details, Newman lays out this “broad principle”: there is “no science whatever, however comprehensive it may be, but will fall largely into error, if it be constituted the sole exponent of all things in heaven and earth … for the simple reason that it is encroaching on territory not its own, and undertaking problems which it has no instruments to solve.” Pride led the devil, and leads sinners into thinking they can be like God by their own power, and are led into confusion and destruction. Just so, lacking Theology in the “web of knowledge” leads the other disciplines into presuming Theology can be within their domain, bringing intellectual error and dissolution.

But this requires admitting something very difficult for modern man: that human intellect does not stop at the visible senses, but “perceives in sights and sounds something beyond them.” This is a scientific, not just spiritual, process, since “Science and Philosophy … are nothing else but this habit of viewing, as it may be called, the objects which sense conveys to the mind … throwing them into system, and uniting and stamping them with one form.” Newman says this method is highly natural, and is a feature of all human minds. But as human knowledge expands, specific knowable objects become more and more apparent: mammals, rocks, gravity, angels, ocean currents, beetles, black holes, democracy, galaxies, and God himself are all real things that may be known through connected, although distinct, methods, that take us from the senses to something beyond them. 

In a  classic turn of phrase, Newman suggests that we in fact crave and demand to observe these real objects: “We cannot do without a view, and we put up with an illusion, when we cannot get a truth.” If God or any other real objects are left out of the buffet table at which the human mind may feast, we will want some strange falsity in its place. We will begin worshipping an intellectual idol of our own devising.

Without Theology, other academic disciplines become intellectual idols. In this excess, those disciplines break their own bounds and damage themselves. In a final post on Discourse IV, we’ll see how Newman thinks this damage could extend beyond an individual discipline to Religion itself.

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There is a clear picture that emerges from these glimpses into life at The Oratory School: Education was in service of man, not the other way around. Play found its proper place, not only as a balance to rigorous academic study, but as an important part of human development.

O most Sacred, most loving Heart of Jesus, Thou art concealed in the Holy Eucharist, and Thou beatest for us still.

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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."

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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
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

Review by Serenheed James
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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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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.

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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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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.”

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

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