Newman’s Idea of a University makes an essential contribution to thinking about education, especially religious education, and is an important book for Catholic educators today, of all ages. Discourses 1-7 are quite intellectually heavy; he appeals to human nature through rational argument.

But he takes a swift turn in Discourse 8, a turn that is quite jarring, but a breath of fresh air. At long last he aims at a full integration of religion and reason, the natural and the supernatural, as they apply to education. Newman himself begins the discourse by saying that he has been adrift on an open sea, but now finally has come to safe harbor (a metaphor he also uses about his feelings upon converting to the Roman Catholic Church). Only in the authoritative revelation of Christ and His Church is there a true sanctuary and true foundation for the great enterprise of education.

 To make his point about the necessity of God’s grace and the supernatural gifts given to man by Christ through his Church, Newman will employ rhetoric that sounds almost like he is repudiating his previous arguments that appeal to secular reason and natural human experience. But his sudden turn is not a repudiation; it is an integration based on the conviction that only Christian religion and revelation can give education its full flourishing.

Many in the Victorian era were self-aware of how social etiquette, gentlemanly and lady-like manners, and the conventions of polite society contributed to a surface morality that merely masked hidden vices. Many today seem to think they can overcome this stuffy veneer by merely accepting the crass and vulgar, allowing hidden vices to be visible and public. However, even during the 19th century, Victorian satirical writers exposed the problem of a polite surface masking hidden vice. Newman was one of them. 

The English convert argued that real transformation of the heart, without which all external manners are hypocritical, is essential for authentic formation. He notes how the people of his century experienced an unprecedented level of material prosperity and comfort compared with “rude and semi-barbarous periods.” He certainly celebrated advances in medicine, housing, and infrastructure: “The rude food, the scanty clothing, the violent exercise, the vagrant life, the military constraint, the imperfect pharmacy, which now are the trials of only particular classes of the community, were once the lot more or less of all.” Nonetheless, Newman pointed out that these advances were being mistaken for automatic moral goodness, causing “resourceless ignorance” and a lack of moral fiber.

His central point in Discourse 8 is that the very best of education, the highest possibilities for intellectual formation, even the kind he has delineated at length in previous discourses, can become a big sham, a decorous crust hiding a seething lack of moral formation. Only religion, he argues, made an explicit and actual part of schooling, can allow for the full flourishing of the human person, integrating high intellectual achievement with real inward transformation of character.

Newman begins by granting that, in a certain sense, the educated mind is already “religious” without Catholicism, already devoted to a higher invisible truth. In some degree, Newman thinks the kind of education he lays out, honed by the ancients, brought to perfection by the scholastics and still bearing fruit in modern sciences and humanities, can cultivate man in his natural state as far as possible without grace. However, he is by no means denying the necessity of the Church or of grace; quite the contrary. An individual formed in this education has the potential to co-operate with or thwart the mission of the Church, God’s plan for the divine pedagogy of mankind. The Catholic Church, in particular, lays claim to the magisterial fullness of truth imparted by Christ, the Apostles, and the Holy Spirit; a merely natural education, while attaining some level of excellence in various times and places, will be prone to error, decline, and ignorance without the perfecting grace of revealed truth from God, which is ever ancient and ever new, full of life and the constant renewal of the Life-Giver.

Discourse 8 should rank with the best satirical English prose of the 19th and 20th centuries, satire at the service of sanctification, which I will examine more in my next post. Newman uses wit and humor to show us that education, social customs and manners can present a false surface, and only the real grace of God can transform our hearts inwardly. Faith, not external formation, nor good breeding, nor social savvy, can make us truly moral. Without the fullness of the Christian religion, all our education is a clanging gong or sounding cymbal. 

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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.
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