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Today, argumentation and debate can be so unpleasant, combative, and even vengeful, it is tempting to assume that those who pursue knowledge and intellect are prideful, and that humility looks like not caring too much about being smart. It is important to do everything out of loving service, not desire to master or defeat others, but Newman would say it is in fact prideful to fail to pursue truth, and holds “intellectual perfection” as his ideal for students. Pursuit of knowledge, used rightly, is a deeply integrated aspect of our Christian discipleship and our service to the God who made us, our reason, and the Creation which we know with our reason.

Newman’s stress on pursuing truth with intellectual excellence is, in fact, a mark of humility. It is the prideful man who thinks he has arrived at the fullness of truth; it is the humble man who, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, remains a docile learner at the feet of his master and teacher. This humble posture is on display in both St. John Henry Newman, and in St. Therese of Lisieux. St. Therese called herself a “Little Flower” in God’s garden, or a pilgrim on the “Little Way,” living her life, in every small and hidden act, with great love and service to God. Her “apostolate of prayer,” her personal call to be a mighty intercessor, began on earth with her constant docility to others and to truth. St. John Henry Newman, as a young student at Oxford University, wrote a poem describing his love and thirst for knowledge, and his zealous desire for study, by calling himself a little “Snapdragon” flower growing out of his dormitory wall, content to glorify his Maker with his sweet fragrance in his “cloistered” cell by learning. (Read about the poem here). It is precisely Newman’s humility that makes him long for truth and zealous to study. Seeking “intellectual perfection” is, indeed, a humble path to holiness.

Just as the saint views all things from God’s vantage point, the student in liberal education must habitually take a higher vantage point from which to descend to more specific studies, having “taken a survey of all knowledge” and being “kept from extravagance by the very rivalry of other studies,” being given a “largeness of mind and freedom and self-possession.” Liberal education also gives one a better, more creative sense of each particular subject, a wider view that allows a better grasp of the particular subject at hand. In other words, the mathematician who also knows something about history, philosophy, letters, physics, chemistry, and so on, is not only more well-rounded, but will also be a much more excellent, creative, and innovative mathematician, because he can take stock of his mathematics in the context of the full range and scope of knowable reality. He can think, and think creatively and expansively, through analogies, comparisons, and realistic awareness of limitations. Newman may rightly be regarded as the patron saint of generalists.

Newman implies an ethical dimension, suggesting that we have a “duty” owed to “human society,” in all humility and good conscience, to fully mature our mental powers: “a cultivated intellect, because it is a good in itself, brings with it a power and a grace to every work and occupation which it undertakes, and enables us to be more useful, and to a greater number.” Ironically, here he twists and recycles a famous maxim of Benthamite pragmatism, that the greatest good is the maximum pleasure spread to the greatest number of people. Here, Newman does Bentham one better, arguing that the maximum of intellectual cultivation, of rational apprehension of truth, makes possible the highest usefulness, and therefore the greatest happiness, for the greatest number. But make no mistake, Newman thinks that the mechanistic, Benthamite approach to education, in which all traditional subjects would be replaced with or reduced to whatever is of practical use in society, is at stark odds with the wisdom of a classical Christian approach. The former treats human beings as units in a vast system, the latter as creatures of infinite value made in the image and likeness of God.

Newman’s star pupils, who devote themselves to intellectual excellence in humility, are also the best equipped to serve their fellow men, to be useful. They can

…fill any post with credit, and master any subject with facility. [A liberal education] shows him how to accommodate himself to others, how to throw himself into their state of mind, how to bring before them his own, how to influence them, how to come to an understanding with them, how to bear with them. He is at home in any society, he has common ground with every class; he knows when to speak and when to be silent; he is able to converse, he is able to listen; he can ask a question pertinently, and gain a lesson seasonably, when he has nothing to impart himself; he is ever ready, yet never in the way…

Newman’s well-cultivated mind, humble before truth, is not unlike St. Therese’s Little Flower in God’s garden, accepting all gifts offered to her by the Father, including natural skills, honed intelligence, and generous knowledge. We must not mistake ignorance for humility, or massive intelligence for pride; but we must trust the Gardener, who gives to all his Little Flowers the nourishment they need and the fragrances that please Him, so they may be of best service to the world, all to the glory of God.

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For forty days we are in ‘spiritual circuit training’, with the goal of joining St Peter on his morning run to Christ’s tomb.

But our Lord is clear: He said “to all” that “if any” man, and in doing so both offers Himself to every man and leaves no room for half-hearted disciples.

Newman encourages us to be more of what we are: courageous Christians who do all we can, to our utmost, for His Kingdom.

In this ingenious poem, “Candlemas,” Saint John Henry Newman weaves together the entire liturgical year using the theme of light as the thread

Newman approached his teaching from an obviously Christian anthropology. He saw every young person from the start as a being in the image of God.

Do we treat time, which is always slipping through our hands, as the precious resource it is?

Dominic abundantly shared with John Henry the gifts inspired by the Saints he admired, who are recorded in his spiritual journal.

The contemplation of Him, and nothing but it, is able fully to open and relieve the mind, to unlock, occupy, and fix our affections.

Our Books

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.
Fr. Peter Conley

For forty days we are in ‘spiritual circuit training’, with the goal of joining St Peter on his morning run to Christ’s tomb.

David Warren

But our Lord is clear: He said “to all” that “if any” man, and in doing so both offers Himself to every man and leaves no room for half-hearted disciples.

Robert Kirkendall

Newman encourages us to be more of what we are: courageous Christians who do all we can, to our utmost, for His Kingdom.

Prof. Barb H. Wyman

In this ingenious poem, “Candlemas,” Saint John Henry Newman weaves together the entire liturgical year using the theme of light as the thread

Scott Goins

Newman approached his teaching from an obviously Christian anthropology. He saw every young person from the start as a being in the image of God.

David Warren

Do we treat time, which is always slipping through our hands, as the precious resource it is?

Fr. Peter Conley

Dominic abundantly shared with John Henry the gifts inspired by the Saints he admired, who are recorded in his spiritual journal.

Robert Kirkendall

The contemplation of Him, and nothing but it, is able fully to open and relieve the mind, to unlock, occupy, and fix our affections.

Fr. Juan Velez

Merry Christmas to all! In the following video from Colombia, I send you a warm greetings for Christmas. May God richly bless you and your families, and may St. John Henry Newman continue to be a source of inspiration for