Disc. 9. Duties of the Church towards Knowledge

Newman begins that last discourse of the original ones of his Idea of a University reminding the reader that in the course of the lectures he appealed to a line of thought more familiar to Protestants. He treated the subjects “as a philosophical and practical, rather than as a theological question, with an appeal to common sense, not to ecclesiastical rules.”

He admitted how arduous the task had been since there were no authoritative and developed treatises on the subject. And he repeated that his purpose had been to describe the nature and object (purpose) of a University, but not a Catholic University.

Once again Newman makes a long summary of his work, which bears repeating: “I have accordingly laid down first, that all branches of knowledge are, at least implicitly, the subject-matter of its teaching; that these branches are not isolated and independent one of another, but form together a whole or system; that they run into each other, and complete each other, and that, in proportion to our view of them as a whole, is the exactness and trustworthiness of the knowledge which they separately convey; that the process of imparting knowledge to the intellect in this philosophical way is its true culture; that such culture is a good in itself; that the knowledge which is both its instrument and result is called Liberal Knowledge; that such culture, together with the knowledge which effects it, may fitly be sought for its own sake; that it is, however, in addition, of great secular utility, as constituting the best and highest formation of the intellect for social and political life; and lastly, that, considered in a religious aspect, it concurs with Christianity a certain way, and then diverges from it; and consequently proves in the event, sometimes its serviceable ally, sometimes, from its very resemblance to it, an insidious and dangerous foe.”

Even though the purpose had been to describe the nature and scope of a University, Newman realizes that he must make some remarks about the duties of the Church towards it. He writes: “If the Catholic Faith is true, a University cannot exist externally to the Catholic pale, for it cannot teach Universal Knowledge if it does not teach Catholic theology.” Next Newman asserts the main point of the discourse: for a University to be called a Catholic University it would not suffice to have many theological chairs because theology would be considered as only one of many branches of knowledge. For a university to be Catholic its chair of theology requires the active jurisdiction of the Church, lest it become the rival of the Church. And in such a University the Church must interpose at times in the subject matter of a Liberal Education (literature, history and the social sciences).

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