In Discourse 5 of Idea of a University, Newman has gone to great lengths to establish a key principle: that knowledge is its own end; it is liberal, or free. But in Discourse 6, he shifts his focus. He now wishes to portray what a well-educated mind looks like concretely, and uses the phrase “intellectual perfection” to suggest what he is after. Along the way, he offers an important reminder, that the foundation of intellectual formation is moral formation. Sirach 1:26 echoes this theme: “If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments, and the Lord will bestow her upon you.” Giving children a foundation in faith and morals is essential to cultivating the next generation of Catholic Christians. 

First, we must admit that pursuing “intellectual perfection” is a good thing, that we should encourage it in our children, and that a university is the proper place for it. Perfection of faith and morals is to be a saint, and the Church is the vehicle for them; perfection of athletics is the olympian, trained in the best gyms; perfection of the body is “health,” championed by hospitals; perfection of morality is “virtue,” schooled in the home and community life. There must also be perfection of the mind, but Newman notices that we have no single word for this. So, he proposes we call it “philosophy” (literally, love of wisdom), or “philosophical knowledge, enlargement of mind, illumination,” not merely synonymous with “knowledge, science, learning, or wisdom,” but indicative of a kind of intellectual fullness of those things when they have actually germinated, taken root, and matured in the mind. The garden where this intellectual fullness grows is the university, where one experiences “intellectual culture,” as in cultivation.

While a high volume of knowledge is desirable, Newman does not think this is the essential ingredient of “intellectual culture.” To truly cultivate intellect is more like growing a muscle, or becoming a virtuoso on the piano, than it is merely consuming new information. The first key ingredient, Newman thinks, is being prepared with solid moral foundations prior to arriving at university. In the younger years, Newman thinks it is essential that a pupil acquire great skills of “memory,” and for years of early formation the mind does act like a mere receptacle for “facts,” in accord with the propensity of the young to quickly absorb new information in an attitude of humble wonder. Early in formation, the intellect is entirely “externalized”: opinions are formed by mere repetition of those of friends and mentors, and the mind is “almost passive in the acquisition of knowledge.” By the time the student leaves for university, “he is mainly the creature of foreign influences and circumstances, and made up of accidents, homogenous or not, as the case may be.” He should then go on to develop his own internalized views and intellectual qualities at university. But for this to happen, acquisition of moral virtues is essential.

Newman thinks the “moral habits … encourage and assist … ” development of mind. “[D]iligence, assiduity, regularity, dispatch, persevering application … are the direct conditions of acquisition, and naturally lead to it.” Fortitude carries the student along, temperance keeps him undistracted, a sense of justice instils a duty to discover truth, and prudence disposes him to follow those truths wherever they lead. But Newman worries that this is too often ignored by misconstruing early intellectual preparation as mere “acquisition of knowledge.” Rather, true “mental culture” produces virtues that allow students to encounter difficult intellectual tasks. 

There are two errors common in education that both stem from this sharp division between mere “acquisition of knowledge” and moral formation. On the one hand, knowledge might be delivered without moral formation; on the other hand, one might prioritize moral formation but exclude any real intellectual rigor. Both are fatal to education. The first fails because the student will not possess the fortitude, prudence, and perseverance necessary to actually acquire and keep new knowledge. The second fails because moral training will seem cheap and sentimental, lacking any real intellectual meat to chew, and nothing will really be learned. 

It is essential that Catholic educators maintain both, since both are essentially part of each other, and indeed part of our faith – we are called to obey God that we may come to know Him (Heb. 8:11, 1 Cor. 13:12). We must present students with truly demanding academic content, appropriate to their age and dispositions, and continually encourage them and speak to them about the virtues necessary to accomplish the difficult tasks. We must teach both what to study, and how to study. 

What good would it be to acquire knowledge but lose our souls? On the other hand, what would we become, as rational creatures, if we stopped seeking knowledge, since we are made to know? Especially for those with direct duties for young people – parents, grandparents, teachers, and catechists – it is important to instill in young minds a love for truth and learning, but to recognize that moral and faith formation are primary. A life of virtue, a love of the good, perseverance and courage to continue learning even when it is difficult, will dispose the mind toward “intellectual perfection,” which is ultimately a preparation for saintly perfection – knowing God and His Holy Will. 

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 »