All-Souls

 

Of the many influential writers of the 19th century, none is better known than Newman’s contemporary, Charles Dickens. Both Newman and Dickens shared concerns about the state of education: Dickens’ novel Hard Times famously presents these concerns through an infamous teacher-figure, Thomas Gradgrind, a machine-minded man who treats teaching like a system and students like cogs. In Chapter 2, titled “Murdering the Innocents,” Gradgrind is introduced thus:

A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, Sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic. (12)

Gradgrind grinds out graduates, but neglects true human nature. His depressing philosophy is all too familiar: do well in school, go to a good college, major in something lucrative, retire early. Even while running this rat-race, students and teachers cynically sense its inhumanity. Teachers “teach to the test”; state, national, and global standards dictate an ersatz content; and students scheme ways to hack or cheat the system. Where will all this grad-grinding end? What happens when school becomes about achievement for the sake of achievement; what happens when schools forget knowledge for the sake of truth, truth for the sake of wisdom, wisdom for the sake of humans? What happens when education becomes less about human persons, and more about human systems?

        While Dickens decries the state of education with satire, John Henry Newman offers hope and wisdom in The Idea of a University (1852). These writings on education, no doubt flowing from his own love and mastery of teaching, provide a foundation for resisting the powerful Gradgrinds of our own day and for embracing an education that truly forms students as human beings, as image-bearers of God, in truth, beauty, and goodness.

        In the “Preface” to The Idea of a University, Newman lays out two “main principles” to his discourses. The first principle is about what the essence of a University is:

[The University] is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its object is, on the one hand, intellectual, not moral; and, on the other, that it is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement. If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a University should have students; if religious training, I do not see how it can be the seat of literature and science. (3)

The nature, or essence, of a University is to teach, diffuse, and extend universal knowledge—knowledge that is discoverable and applicable to all men everywhere and at all times. The word itself—uni–verse—literally means “one-turn,” evoking the image of a single point or center on which all other things turn. If a student learns universal knowledge well, that student is prepared to learn and practice any other discipline for the rest of his or her life; the student has learned first principles, absolute truth. According to the Roman poet Virgil, such a student is happy, or blessed: Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas [Happy the man who knows the causes of things] (Georgics Bk. 2 l. 490). Therefore, Newman qualifies that the essence of a University is not merely to advance knowledge, lest the University merely become a slavish place whose object is based only on research goals. If “advancement” of knowledge were the aim, Newman does not see how it could actually have students; the student would instead be one of Gradgrind’s cogs. Rather, the aim is to extend to students a foundation in universal knowledge. And, such a foundation is in harmony with human nature; created as bearers of God’s image, reflecting his Divine Reason, his Logos, humans are called to know God and to know his creation. Thus, forming students in universal knowledge is essential to Newman’s idea of a University.

          In the next post, we will consider Newman’s second fundamental principle and his vision of a successful University graduate. These preliminary considerations will form the groundwork for unpacking his remaining Discourses on a University.

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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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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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