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As St. John Henry Newman came of age at the beginning of the long 19th century, the effects of utilitarian philosophy, arising from John Locke and championed especially by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), were already being heavily felt. In contrast Newman thought that the true, healthy fruit of learning is a “Liberal Education,” or a “philosophic habit of mind,” or “cultivation of intellect,” and contrasts it sharply with “Utility,” or useful learning. 

A sound education gives students a “habit of mind” to prepare them not just for the real world of society, but more fundamentally for the real world God has created. Knowledge, through various scientific disciplines, brings one into understanding of creation, something entirely necessary for living in it as a human being. Knowledge must be “free” and be its own “end” in order to stay true to the nature of our high calling to know the Creator and His works. Since God is the the supreme knower of all things, and we are made in his likeness to know Him, know ourselves, and know His Creation, it is a very good thing that we seek perfection of our knowledge, of our intellectual abilities.

“Liberal education,” or an education in which knowledge is “free,” not determined by usefulness, Newman also calls acquiring a “philosophic habit of mind.” Fully forming one’s intellect is to have understood the basic structure of reality, to have “mapped out the Universe.” Not everyone is a philosopher, but Newman thinks everyone should cultivate a “philosophic habit of mind,” by which he means about the same thing as we do today when we talking about the importance of learning “to think.” Those who strive for true intellectual freedom cultivate the habit of always glimpsing the whole picture in the midst of life’s practical demands and challenges. To not acquire this awareness of “the relative disposition of things,” how each part of reality and experience fits into the whole, is to remain in “the state of slaves or children.” The ambition or boast of “philosophy,” the measure of the mature, cultivated, free mind, is an “acquired illumination … a habit, a personal possession, and an inward endowment.” It is to become fully formed in that which defines the image of God which we bear: our intellect.

Newman says that “Knowledge” is called “Science or Philosophy” once it is “acted upon, informed, or … impregnated by Reason.” Reason, a human mind activated by Knowledge, a mind applying its reason to knowable matter, is the principle of that intrinsic fecundity of knowledge.” To the mind thus engaged there is no need to look “abroad for any end to rest upon external to itself.” The glory of fully maturing and using our God-given Reason is its own reward, much like athletes enjoying the simple fact of physical exercise. 

Distinguishing the “Liberal” from the “Useful,” Newman says the latter is not “inferior,” but is “distinct.” While things belong to both these categories in their measure, education belongs to the “liberal” because the fruit it bears is both enjoyable and useful, not strictly useful. Academic disciplines, from the arts to history to math and sciences, which are devoted to the accumulation of knowledge in their fields, can become distorted, narrowed, and incomplete if isolated only to useful application. If chemists were only concerned with making their work useful and marketable, there would never be time for free exploration of new chemical knowledge, new discoveries in the field that might change our awareness of chemistry in general, and eventually in turn would yield better applications. 

Newman thinks the same thing not only applies to all disciplines, but more fundamentally to the human mind. The process of learning requires free exploration, not anxious demand for output or use. Many complain of the demands of common life, and the difficulty of finding time for leisurely pursuits. Newman wants to liberate us from these demands under the conviction that sacrificing time and resources to pursue knowledge is good just because it is good. We serve a God who is gratuitous, who gives goodness simply because it is good, and we His creatures may choose to rest in that same goodness: knowledge of Him and His wondrous creation.

In a memorable phrase, St. Augustine writes, “men go about to wonder at the heights of mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not.” Do we stop to consider ourselves, the wonder of our God-given minds, hearts, and souls? Do we cultivate our minds, and try to see things as they are relative to God’s purpose and creation? Doing so more often would make us stop and reflect in gratitude for the miracle of our own souls, our own ability to know and grow in knowledge, not only of the natural world, but of God’s grace and the Eternal Life he shares with us.

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The world which sees only appearances cannot comprehend the hidden reality of a heart captive to Christ. 

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.

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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
(Antiphon, April 2023)

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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.
About Newman
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