Newman Association of America Presentation

An Essay by Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFMConv.

The soon to be canonized Bl. John Henry Newman was born on February 21, 1801 and died on August 11, 1890. Pope Benedict XVI beatified him on September 19, 2010. Pope Francis will canonize him on October 13, 2019.
Our Lady of the Angels Province friar, Fr. Edward Ondrako, OFM Conv. has been studying his works since his seminary days. He delivered this essay “Four Themes Basic to Intellectual Formation in the Idea of a University: Disambiguating with Newman’s Power of Assimilation” at the annual meeting of the Newman Association of America at the University of the Holy Cross, New Orleans, LA, August 1-3, 2019.

Four Themes Basic to Intellectual Formation in the Idea of a University:
Disambiguating with Newman’s Power of Assimilation

Précis. I focus on four themes in John Henry Newman’s account of the role of a university in the intellectual formation of the human mind which are basics of pedagogy and its metaphysical or meta-pedagogical ground.[1] Newman advocates for as much free inquiry as possible to the inquiring mind.[2] The Irish bishops thought the university ought to be under the bishop in the same way as a seminary.[3] Newman’s prescient insight won and remains: a Catholic university has to be a university which contributes to the intellectual and moral formation of gentlemen (and ladies[4]) capable of making good judgments. Judging includes areas outside of their competence and with limited information. Today’s secular and Catholic universities have a friend in Newman’s diagnostic. Theology assists a university curriculum to train good judgers even as the secular university sidesteps “theology” for usurpers.


Catholic universities, by their nature, resist Hegelian inspired “misremembering” of Christian thought very much as Kierkegaard resisted the Lutheran bishops in Denmark.[5] When adapted to the twenty-first century, Newman’s principles of a university act as edged tools capable of doing the work rather than the rusty tools Gladstone used to critique the formal definition of papal infallibility.[6] To empower good judgers[7] is Newman’s goal for a university. This follows a progressive illumination with Newman’s notes or markers of development. Although it is fitting to include all seven, I am limiting my approach to his third principle of development, the power to assimilate, which is inherent in the definition of a university. The charge of the reformers and rationalists or liberals was Christianity is a systemic failure. Newman cautioned against assuming systemic failure even if failure can, and does, occur on occasion.


The game is on

Newman’s definition of a university in modernity is original. His text is coherent in every respect and principles have inspired a powerful history of effects.[8] In Newman’s day, liberal arts belonged to a university. Today, a university is thought of more as the creator of professional expertise. To form students into good judgers may be taken for granted today but are we to presuppose success in all cases? Good judgers are a non-quantifiable result for the university. The basics of pedagogy in producing knowledge for knowledge sake also implies something non-quantifiable. E.g., the Franciscan intellectual tradition preserves the metaphysical or meta-pedagogical ground[9] and to disambiguating the power of assimilation. There is a development which I call progressive illumination.

Is the game rigged?

Modernity would like to rig the game. Newman knew it. His response is the prompt for me to retrieve four of his most integrating insights: first, the unity of knowledge; second, the place of theology within this frame of reference; third, the principle of causality and the will; and fourth, knowledge as an end in itself. Christianity is on the run as it tries to redress without negotiating with postures that will turn out to be fatal. The secular backdrop is formidable. I worry with Newman that science will usurp the inability and impasse to include theology in the curriculum of the secular university.[10] With all of the helpful contributions from modern historical methods, sociology, psychology, anthropology, practical apologetics, and evangelization, the question remains for both secular and Catholic universities about inclusion of the absolute character of metaphysical truth or its usurpation.

Newman’s definition of a University

Newman’s definition of a university is open to reverent and conscientious speculation and development of its origins and continuity of its principles. A referee assists, but who is the referee? Modernity would like to be the referee and to have the advantage of rigging the game. When there is no referee, in principle, both sides have to yield. But, do they? As in his day, liberalism or rationalism suggests there are no particular set of rules and a person is only expected to behave appropriately and civilly, in a Lockean manner. This kind of politeness is a gaming strategy from the beginning. It means there can be no room for righteous anger, nor any comprehensive sense of truth, nor any inclusion of religious matters. In that sense, the game is rigged, and Newman is protesting.

Inquiry and/or Investigation

Newman is in the modern field, fully aware of the challenges of inquiry and/or investigation and the modern dilemma. Newman identifies the problem that modern inquiry eschews all presuppositions and demands everything be investigated. He insists that in the personal quest for truth, truth is is more elastic than inquiry. Investigation depends on objective testing that ought to be ongoing, but Newman asks: is investigation on-going? His point is that Christianity remains a contender and is equal in contending with liberalism and rationalism. He cautions that inquiry as used in modern epistemological texts is part of the rigging.

Secularity and freedom

Modernity is mischievous in the relation between secularity and freedom in a person. Newman assumes disputes will occur, but one ought not to pretend to do more than what is in his seven notes or markers. Theology responds to the mischief by being curious. Theology deals with ambiguities, sorts them out historically, and investigates ideological complexities. A person puts intelligence and knowledge to investigate the truth. Modern inquiry’s mantra is unrestricted curiosity about everything, but for Newman, unrestricted curiosity cannot be theology. Theology is a mode of human intelligence that seeks to unravel. Theology operates in a horizon of trust. Theology is aware that it may need more sophisticated formulation about what has been handed down, but it will preserve what is handed down.


Newman’s response

In the Parochial and Plain Sermons, Oxford University Sermons, the Development of Doctrine, Idea of a University and Grammar of Assent, Newman addresses the problem of faith being gutted by the second order requirement of Lockean democracy that insists every religious community behave rationally in order to claim religious entitlement. Newman’s strategy is to step back and reflect again on the questions to who we are and to our destination. The center is Christ and what Christ has done. Newman blames faith in Christ that is being gutted in England on modernity that wants to be the referee. To restrict faith as a primitive principle, the primacy of faith, the employment of antecedent probabilities is rigging the game. Newman helps us to analyze by distinguishing between investigation and inquiry. Theology is not inquiry, but investigation. Theology investigates the truth. Inquiry can behave imperialistically and leave no room for presuppositions nor antecedent probabilities, nor the natural outgrowth and articulation of what is given in divine revelation. Inquiry is supposed to be disinterested, a pure seeker of truth, but is it?

How to employ Newman

To employ Newman’s way, it is knowledge that enables a person to make assumptions. E.g., tradition is more likely to pass the test than unrestricted inquiry. Inquiry, in Newman’s diagnostic, has a restrictive nature. Investigation is not restrictive according to Newman. He is employing theology as St. Augustine: fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding. “Secularity” is related. Secularity is the connatural antecedent of personal choice. In the twenty-first century personal choice is critical. Secularity is very different from “secularism” which is the option to make finite autonomy the core of happiness. Secularity builds on the presupposition that love of knowledge and personal autonomy emerges first in the life of a person as point of departure for a conscious, desire for God. Desire, in general, may include desire for holiness by acquiring virtue.[11]

A Franciscan Newman?

Peter Damian Fehlner, OFM Conventual, reflects a mode of Christian thinking that amplifies desire for holiness in a personal choice or conscious desire for God. His life’s research (1931-2018) unfolds why Newman is close to John Duns Scotus, a discovery that has inspired my on-going research.[12] Both Oxford giants employ secularity and freedom in relation to the possibility of striving for holiness. According to Fehlner, the concepts of secularity and freedom are a way of interpreting the four points of Newman which follow in this essay. The four are incredibly important because the dynamic of secularity and freedom responds to the turn in today’s university against Christianity. Ironically, Christianity remains the only side with a set of arguments that include moral formation with intellectual.[13]


If we understand Newman correctly, the goal of the university for the intellectual formation of the human mind today must include the hermeneutics of continuity with tradition and openness to renewal and development. Newman defines the university as liberal meaning universal. Fidelity to Newman, or remembering Newman, not misremembering Newman, means that cultivation of the liberal arts as such is to seek knowledge for knowledge’s sake. According to Newman, this is not elitist because its purpose is to help society by the development of tastes about literature, art, and music. All contribute to forming a good judger. Every person has to plumb texts, contexts, and ask awkward questions. The power to assimilate, appropriate and to employ Newman’s definition of a university today must avoid recycling in a manner Newman himself would not recognize.


Cyril O’Regan gives us a definition. Misremembering may be a response to forgetting the urgency for remembering, in this case, what a university is. It may be difficult in practice to distinguish the distinction between forgetting and misremembering but the semantic distinction is real. To forget implies a would be recall put out of action. To misremember implies a recall which can be very confident but turns out to miss the mark. I suggest that critical analysis as a diagnostic protects against misremembering by calling upon the need and value of remembering correctly to overcome the human tendency to forgetting.[14] Misremembering has a further dimension of deliberately forgetting in order to redesign. What I mean is that employing Newman’s definition of a university would never be a comprehensive misremembering of Christian thought and the ways of recognizing how it was lived in premodern, modern, and now post-modern practices

Point one: The Unity of Knowledge

Newman set the stage for the unity of knowledge as his first emphasis a decade or so before his Idea of a University, in his Essay on the Development of Doctrine. There the third marker or note of seven is the unitive power of faithful developments as the power of assimilation.[15] In all seven notes or markers, the analogy of growth or development in ideas is very real and necessary to understand him.[16] Newman writes: “Doctrines and views which relate to man are not placed in a void, but in the crowded world, and make way for themselves by interpenetration, and develop by absorption.”[17] Newman’s critique is compelling because of its emphasis that truth is one and the search for truth is not the gratification of curiosity. The mind is below truth and not above it. Newman’s pastoral side is evident when he says the mind is below truth and not above it. He adds: (in life) “truth and falsehood are set above us for the trial of hearts.”

When named a Cardinal in 1879, his acceptance or “Biglietto Speech,” adds ardently that truth and falsehood in religion are not matters of opinion or that one doctrine is as good as another. God holds us answerable for our opinions. It is not enough to sincerely hold what we profess. Our merit does not lie solely in seeking but in possessing truth. It is insufficient to say that it is our duty to follow what seems to be true, without any fear that it can be harmful if it is not true, to hold it may be a gain to succeed and can be no harm to fail, to take up and lay down opinions at pleasure, and that belief belongs to the mere intellect, not to the heart. Newman says: “we think we may safely trust to ourselves in matters of faith and need no other guide. This is the principle of philosophies and heresies, which is its very weakness.”[18] My point is that Newman is asking and answering the critical question of entering into the heart in modernity, a time of seismic shift in culture and society and the need for diagnostics.

With the stage set by the historical markers of development, Newman begins the Idea of a University by defining the nature and goal of university education in simplest terms to impart liberal knowledge. Liberal knowledge is universal. Liberal knowledge is distinct from useful knowledge, be it for secular or religious ends. He says: “Useful knowledge deals only with that which is useful or practical for some end and beyond itself; liberal knowledge is an end in itself, [and] deals with that which is good for its own sake” (Idea, 307). This distinction is already under speculative and practical knowledge in the definitive Prologue to the Ordinatio by Duns Scotus.[19]

The central tenet in The Idea of a University is Newman’s differentiation of liberal knowledge and useful knowledge.[20] Newman insists a university is to be distinguished from an academy or technical school, a seminary, or house of spiritual or religious formation. The latter were not to be confused with a university where liberal knowledge is an end in itself.[21] This is critical[22] in the four elements of “reformulation” I am addressing as Newman’s gift to modernity.[23]

Newman worried about the deliberate omission of the study of theology and of the liberal arts as not useful in effecting secular progress.[24] His worry was much more than a larval objection to a Kantian epistemological bias.[25] There is a constant basis in Newman’s thought. Sometimes Newman refers to a philosophical temper of mind that yields knowledge of reality that is not possible otherwise. Without liberal knowledge, single components of human knowledge tend to usurp roles for which they are not capable and lead to an abuse of the gift of intellect.[26] This tool effectively helped Newman to break from the rationalists, especially Whately, under whose influence he was in the 1820’s until he realized that he was beginning to prefer intellectual excellence to moral. Related was the widespread Lockean thought in England that knowledge is limited to sense knowledge. Newman galloped away from this and from knowledge as a mere mental fiction as Kant affirms. Knowledge for Newman is far more than the Kantian claim of authenticity to the degree it provides a useful service as the epistemological justification for the empirico-mathematical scientific method, or for spiritual-ethical experience.[27] These points are developed in his sequel to the Idea of a University, the Grammar of Assent. He takes out Locke and Hume as patrons of a utilitarian approach to learning.

[In future essays I will develop why I join C. O’Regan[28] and P. Fehlner[29] in reading the Grammar of Assent as a reply to modernity as crisis.]

Point Two. The place of theology within this frame of reference

What is theology and the key place of theology in his view of liberal knowledge? Newman begins by defining what theology is not. Theology does not assume that Catholicism is true, nor is it reduced to pious or polemical remarks upon the physical world viewed religiously, nor interchange evidences of religion for theology, nor solely acquaintance with the Scriptures.

I stress: the place of theology in Newman’s frame of reference is predicated on his view of liberal knowledge. Newman says: “I simply mean [theology] is the science of God, or the truths we know about God put into a system. … The idea of the subject matter [of theology] presupposes … its fulness to lie beyond any system, …. It teaches of a Being infinite, yet personal; … absolutely separate from the creature, yet in every part of creation at every moment, above all things, yet under everything. It teaches of a Being, the minister and servant of all; who though inhabiting eternity, allows himself to take an interest and have a sympathy, in the matter of space and time.”[30]

Once again, see that Newman’s third note or marker, the power of assimilation, provides a setting for the answer. He writes: “The stronger and more living is an idea, that is, the more powerful hold it exercises on the minds of men, the more able it is to dispense with safeguards, and trust to itself against the danger of corruption.”[31] A person ought to trust her or his personal quest for truth.

Along with a standard division held by others, Newman identifies three forms of theology: the first refers to revealed theology based on the supernatural or gift of infused faith. The second refers to natural theology. The third includes physical theology. By natural theology, Newman means anthropological or human as image of the Word Incarnate.[32] His critical analysis leads to his deeply personal conviction that a living idea is developing and the more powerful its hold on the mind the more it can trust itself against the danger of corruption.

Another way of expressing this is that theology is secondary to the real assent, judgment, choices and striving for holiness of the believer. It is no surprise then that does not reject as invalid the five ways of St. Thomas in the Summa nor those of St. Bonaventure in chapters I and 2 of the Itinerarium mentis in Deum.[33]

Point Three: The principle of causality and the power of the will

Newman galloped away from vague or less than vague denials of any real difference or any real inequality between Creator and creature.[34] The principle of causality and power of the will connects his thoughts with conscience and knowledge of God as personal. Two presuppositions in the Idea of a University frame this. First, knowledge links with action. To know how to exercise voluntary or personal causality links with exercising it. Knowing and acting reflects the perfect causal power of the omnipotent Creator who made everything out of nothing. To bring new things into existence for the operation and development of the material world depends on the volitional. His worry is to exclude the study of the anthropological and theological will lead to a confusion of empirical science with the divine. The human mind will get unbalanced and claim to be autonomous. The mind then operates in a secular, arbitrary, and tyrannical manner. The tragedy is the mind’s inability to exercise what Newman calls the illative sense, or personal judgment.

Newman’s second presupposition is that empirical knowledge is not the whole of liberal knowledge, nor its most important part. The difficulty he sees with the empirical method of reasoning is that it accents the objective and leaves out consideration of the personal and volitional.[35] While, Newman lamented that he had not been trained in the method of scholastic metaphysics which would have helped him to avoid empirical minefields, it would be a mistake (which I made early on in my Newman studies) to conclude that he lacked the ability to reflect on the unity of knowledge between human experience in this life and the element of what is trans-experiential.[36]

The Augustinian backdrop enables Newman to make an evocative distinction about causality. To proceed from ignorance to enlightenment does not begin in total darkness. A person knows axioms of mathematics without benefit of schooling.[37] Every person is capable of stepping back and reflecting, or the person does not have a mind. Augustine’s theory of illumination is at work. Abstraction is relatively imperfect, but, at its core, is met with the illumination of light and warmth of fire. Abstracting from the sensible and experiential, a person comes to remember or to meet what is first, temporally, scientifically, and trans-experientially, or eternally. This Newmanian position, I claim, brings us in contact with thinkers who do not so much forget the past and justify the challenge of forgetting as in secular thinkers of Enlightenment persuasion whom Cyril O’Regan identifies as misrememberers because they remember the philosophical and Christian past and contribute to its distortion. The issue is complex for misrememberers have more recall of the past but Christian ideas, practices and forms of life become distorted compared to what really happened historically.[38]

Newman does not use the term misremembering, but he makes a prescient point when he says: discussing ideas such as preservation of the teachings of Christ and the apostolic period may appear more open to an external bias at their commencement rather than afterwards. I think this is crucial to his decision that the Roman Church has and would best uphold the teachings of Christ and the apostolic tradition. He concluded that to consider the Medieval Church corrupt and to trace its corruption to the first four centuries does not show that an idea readily coalesces with these ideas or has been unduly influenced by or corrupted by them. He said: the idea had an antecedent affinity to the problems in the first centuries.[39] In O’Regan’s analysis, this is not to say that there is no forgetting, or no remembering, but to the extent they are present, they create another backdrop. Memory is deployed for certain, but, it recalls Christian symbols, practices and forms of life in a repackaged form.[40]

Newman’s analysis in the Idea of a University insists that our knowledge is voluntary. During his early career at Oxford, the rationalists had insisted on historical points in historically verified chaos. They held, as many do today, that empirical knowledge is the whole of knowledge thus overlooking personal causality. They substituted the power of the will as absolutely autonomous.[41] More than a decade after the Idea of a University, his Grammar of Assent develops a language of antecedent probability, the convergence of probabilities, real and notional apprehension, real and notional assent, and the illative sense. The Grammar is a sequel to the Idea. Both play massively important roles[42] in understanding causality and the power of the will so necessary to making good judgments.

In the Grammar, Newman qualified certitude and certainty. “Certitude is a mental state, an active recognition of propositions as true.” Everyone has a duty to exercise reason to reach certitude and to withhold if reason forbids. This leads to certainty which is a quality of propositions. Certitude is a quality of mind and not a proof furnished by the logic of words. The genius of the Grammar is to assist a person to resolve inadequate thinking.[43] The genius of the Idea of a University is to make good judgments. Without adequate thinking and good judgments, a person cannot enter the spiritual and divine order of existence.[44] This is Newman’s Augustinian – Bonaventurian echo.[45]

Looking back a decade before the Idea of a University, The Essay on the Development of Doctrine already frames causality and the will at work. He writes: an eclectic, conservative, assimilating, healing, molding process, a unitive power, is of the essence the third test of a faithful development. Facts and opinions get modified, laid down afresh, or thrust aside as the case might be. A new element of order and composition comes among them; and its life is proved by this capacity of expansion, without disarrangement or dissolution.[46] The power of development is proof of life and success vs. a formula that does not expand or shatters in expanding. A living idea becomes many yet remains one. First principles are at work in the attempt at development and the success of a development confirms the presence of an idea. Principles stimulate thought, and an idea concentrates it.[47]

Point four. Knowledge as an end in itself

Newman makes a daring claim. “Knowledge is capable of being its own end. Such is the constitution of the human mind, that any kind of knowledge, if it be really such, is its own reward.”[48] His critics claim this concept leads to a secularization of Catholic education.[49] Newman denies it and explains how university education gives a sound basis for students to cultivate Catholic principles as they learn how to exercise the duties of their respective vocations and to make good judgments. The liberal arts, philosophy, literature, and art are in every corner of the globe, in every age, as examples of what may not seem important but turn out to be examples to contribute to the love of learning through acquiring knowledge.

Knowledge is power and whatever excellence knowledge may have, has results beyond itself. “Prior to its being a power, it is a good; therefore, not only an instrument but an end.”[50] Whether knowledge resolves itself into an art, a mechanical process, or falls back on reason which informs it, and resolves itself into a philosophy, the first will be called useful knowledge, the second, liberal knowledge. Using this distinction, useful and liberal, enables Newman to take out his critics of his claim about seeking knowledge for its own sake and for nothing else. He develops a cohesive argument that knowledge ever leads to something beyond itself, and, thereby, is its own end. The end is decisive: of this world or of the next. In sum, Newman’s fourth point is that all knowledge is cultivated either for secular objects or for eternal. He returns to the unity of knowledge. The first is called useful knowledge. If directed to the eternal, the second is religious or Christian knowledge.

Newman’s summary is ascetic: “liberal knowledge does not benefit the body or estate, it ought to benefit the soul; but if the fact be really so, that it is neither a physical or secular good on the one hand, nor a moral good on the other, it cannot be good at all, and is not worth the trouble which is necessary for its acquisition.”[51] Knowledge in human beings as an “end” in itself is indifferent to the use to which it is put.

[To allow time for questions and discussion, I proceed to a brief summary and conclusion]


First, liberal intellectual formation is the soundest foundation for development of the dogmatic principle of faith. Second, liberal intellectual formation includes theology and the liberal arts which counters any split between secularity and the use of freedom in the person. Third, knowledge is a unity in a person, an end in itself.[52] Fourth, secularism or modernism emerges with the refusal to admit this unity in favor of finite autonomy as the heart of happiness. Fifth, love of learning and the desire for God is the prompt behind the unity of knowledge, theology as investigation, the principle of causality and the will, and knowledge for its own sake as a good in itself. Sixth, striving for holiness is implied but not essential for Newman. Seventh, sanctity and moral excellence in the formation of gentlemen (and ladies) appear closely related but differ constitutively.


In the twenty-first century, liberal democracy can tolerate Christians seeking to be holy because we are not obviously socially mischievous. Liberal democracy prefers us to make absolute freedom and autonomy the norm of reason which demonstrates its Kantian roots. The cloud which liberal democracy casts is that a person is to be ruled by absolute autonomy. Such a cloud covers “the critical question” I am asking of entering into the heart, of choosing to be holy. Compounding the cover, liberal democracy obfuscates the difference between sanctity and moral excellence. The cloud of liberal democracy has made sanctity unintelligible. That is why it is good for Newman to be a pugnacious, boasting elder brother.[53] The Oxford Plato, as Blanco White called him, protects Christianity from a thinning of religion as inevitable.[54]

I end this essay with more of a plea to remember, to revivify the renewal and development of the Church by remembering Vatican II as an authentic part of the living tradition of the Church. Remembering the discourses, practices and forms of life of historical Christianity today is complex but promises to clarify why some contemporary interlocutors not only forget but misremember what refitting and revitalizing the theological tradition and philosophical tradition means. Historically both are primary interlocutors. In this context it is easier to imagine why during the Second Vatican Council, a sense emerged that St. John Henry Newman is an absent father at Vatican II.[55]

Since the late 18th century and the First and Second Vatican Councils we are dealing with a complex and subtle form of misremembering rather than remembering or making alive again the Church. Cyril O’Regan attributes this in dual frames of historicism and positivism that does not have room for the supernatural and German Wissenshaft that does not allow theological premises. To the point, fellow travelers exhibit acute forms of forgetting. O’Regan analyzes the opportunity Balthasar found in the misremembering of Hegel who would have been known to Newman and Heidegger who would not. The challenges require intelligence and the powers of judgment of the Christian community and theologian in particular.

In the Idea of a University, Newman demonstrates how capacious he is in the goal of the Catholic University to train good judgers. If Peter Damian Fehlner can be counted as a Franciscan Newman, he does so in a Newmanesque openness to the correct understanding of the ancient tradition. Fehlner adds the ultimate response is to the working of the Holy Spirit and Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit and Mother of the Church. In the twenty-first century, forgetting and the will to resist it by remembering, counters “misremembering.” Different ranges of forgetting and misremembering call for cultural and historical memory to assess the truth conditions of our history. Newman’s capaciousness in the Idea of a University offers a diagnostic of making judgments between apparent and real remembering.[56]


[1] Peter Damian Fehlner, “Scotus and Newman in Dialogue,” in E. Ondrako, ed., The Newman Scotus Reader (New Bedford: Academy of the Immaculate, 2015), 239-289. See 306-333 for the development of meta-pedagogical. Fehlner discovered the metaphysical-dogmatic thread during the course of Newman’s lifetime.

[2] Since the Irish bishops did not know what the curriculum of a university would look like, they brought Newman as an expert who stunned them by saying uncongenial things about jurisdiction.

[3] A seminary in the 1850’s did not have the post Vatican II freedom of inquiry, thought and expression, understanding of religious freedom, formation of priests, religious, the duties of bishops, ecumenism and the charge to read the signs of the times. Study of theology was in need of a new bridge to modernity.

[4] Newman did not add ladies since women were left out in the 1850’s in Ireland and beyond. Formation of ladies is presupposed in the twenty-first century.

[5] Kierkegaard lambasted the Lutheran bishops for compromising on Christ and his message.

[6] The term “rusty tools” comes from William Ewart Gladstone’s Vatican Decrees, his response to the definition of papal infallibility in 1870. Newman responded with “edged tools” in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk in 1874-1875.

[7] Cyril O’Regan teaches undergraduates and doctoral students at the University of Notre Dame and been a visiting scholar at others. I wholeheartedly endorse his interpretation for the genius of Newman and his work is his personal quest for truth and holiness. I agree with O’Regan that although much discourtesy abounds that signifies conceptual confusion of Newman’s works, it is appropriate that Pope Francis will canonize him on Oct 13, 2019.

[8] See William D. Miscamble, C.S.C., American Priest: The Ambitious life and Conflicted Legacy of Notre Dame’s Fr. Ted Hesburgh (New York: Image, 2019). There is a controversy surrounding the life of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C. Kenneth L. Woodword, “The Legacy of Fr. Ted Hesburgh“ (Commonweal, June 1, 2019), takes issue on several salient points. Miscamble fails to develop the complex character of Newman and the incredibly inhospitable environment particularly around the question of jurisdiction.

[9] Fehlner, “Scotus and Newman in Dialogue,” 239-289. See the second part of this lengthy essay, 306-333, for the development of meta-pedagogical, but Fehlner frames this salient point in the first part of his essay by textual analysis to support his argument that there is a metaphysical-dogmatic thread during the course of Newman’s lifetime. England did not have a reputation for study of metaphysics which Newman lamented.

[10] Douglas Farrow, ed., Recognizing Religion in Secular Society (Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2004), 183-184, questions the conclusion of Jos Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), that the modern secularization thesis of Wilson, Mill, Marx, and Weber, is over and thinks that the judgment that the age of secular-religious cleavages, the struggles of the historical process of modern secularization in Western Christendom is long gone. Farrow defends Casanova from the charge of being disingenuous but agrees that a clear and common definition of “secular” and “religious” is difficult to give. Casanova asks: who still believes the founding myth of sociology, the myth of secularization?

[11]Newman builds on his notes in the Development of Doctrine, a decade earlier, where he argues why authentic development has to show genuine apostolic Christianity has sufficient power to assimilate the best in societal and cultural products and practices. The correct relation which Newman has between secularity and freedom leads to the unity and integrity which is an indispensable basis for grasping the profound insights of Gaudium et Spes on the Church in the modern world.

[12] Fehlner and I had numerous conversations on the commonalities between Newman and Duns Scotus. Chapter 7, “Scotus and Newman in Dialogue,” in The Newman-Scotus Reader, is Fehlner’s original summary. In the latter part of his long life, it became apparent to me that he was building a bridge to the theology that was developing in the twenty-first century. The jury is still out as to how successful he may have been.

[13] Formal education recognizes many means to informally acquire the ability to judge well. Newman’s analysis of university education distinguishes it from the academy or specialized school of useful knowledge, including the ethical and spiritual. Both aim to form students to know the truth, how to give advice, and to make good judgments. Formal education does not guarantee this result, but all agree more ought to become good judgers.

[14] Cyril O’Regan’s critical analysis of the meaning of misremembering is in his Anatomy of Misremembering. Crossroad Publishing Company, 2017, 2-27. Vol. Two is forthcoming in 2020. See his Introduction in this second volume for a succinct overview of his discovery. (Unpulished).

[15] Dev. Doct. p 2. ch 5. Sect. 5.

[16] Knowledge, conscience, the love of learning and desire for God are the backdrop for Newman’s Idea of a University. Newman’s seven notes or marks on development assist, not as criteria, but markers for investigation of what is intelligible about development. My analysis investigates the importance of the third note, the power of assimilation, to explain the role of a university in the intellectual formation of the mind.

[17] Dev. Doct. p 2. ch 5. sect. 3.

[18] Dev. Doct. ch 8, sect 2.1.

[19] In 1308, Duns Scotus was editing this Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, which every student had to do, at the time of his sudden and premature death. At the time of writing this essay the critical edition of the Ordinatio is complete and books three and four are waiting for scholarly engagement.

[20] Long gone and forgotten, Newman reformulates what the university was in the middle ages, that is, a fine tuning of academic excellence whether under medicine, law, or theology.

[21] A seminary, monastery or convent imparts a theological study which a university is not expected to supply. That clarification from the 1850’s still has massive purchase on the meaning of a university today.

[22] Some formation programs today have developed a creative blending of liberal and useful as Newman defines them. The seminary formation at Notre Dame for the Congregation of the Holy Cross is noteworthy.

[23] Medieval universities were reconstituted first in Germany and then throughout Europe and North America in the 19th century on a pragmatic and utilitarian basis to provide the necessary international specialization to justify projects which empirico-mathematical science makes possible. To Newman, this as fostering the concept of knowledge as primarily useful rather than liberal.

[24] Newman disagreed with the new University of London and its program of study which omitted the liberal arts and above all study in theology.

[25] Newman’s Idea of a University for Dublin in the 1850’s is really the Idea of a Catholic University based on the Oxford model. He demonstrated why the Oxford model was radically Catholic. After the French Revolutions in the 1790’s, many Catholics were prone to confuse a Catholic university with a training school for growth in virtue or preparation for ministry. Newman feared this form of pragmatism would become a simulacrum that, in time, would become counter-productive. The unique character of liberal knowledge is study that included philosophy and theology when contrasted with secular or religious use of such knowledge.

[26] Although he regretted that he did not have the opportunity to be trained in scholastic metaphysics, his writings demonstrate that metaphysics yields the best kind of realistic knowledge which he defined as contemplation of the Truth in Light which is God. Even if at the natural level this knowledge occurs in a dark, enigmatic manner, it takes nothing away from the principle: to attain perfection requires grace and holiness of life.

[27] Newman is responding to excessive dependence on the scientific method of inquiry into natural phenomena such as that of Francis Bacon.

[28] Cyril O’Regan, The “Gift of Modernity,” Church Life Journal (March 23, 2018).

[29] Peter D. Fehlner, “Scotus and Newman in Dialogue,” in NSR, 308, 309. Fehlner explains his respect for the valid insights of Kant and disagreement with a Kantian epistemological bias. Fehlner interprets Newman as quarreling with Kant and empirico-mathematical science. Fehlner sees the reconstitution of the medieval universities first in Germany during the 18th century, then throughout Europe and eventually North America as a problem. Fehlner’s refutation to Kant has a different epistemological and metaphysical emphases from O’Regan.

[30] Newman, Idea, part 1, disc. 3, 7, pp. 60 ff.

[31] Newman, Dev. Doct. p 2. ch 5. sect 3 n.5. Newman recognizes within the history of the Church that its strength corresponds with agility and its healthy constitution can throw off ailments, of which he denies none. When parties within the Church live in a manner that is rash and at times, may be betrayed into extravagances, they are reigned in as a system by the Church’s inherent vigor.

[32] See Fehlner, NSR, fn. 182, 316-317. Anthropological or natural theology centers on the human-personal rather than physical-impersonal nature. Fehlner does not wish to mix natural theology and the anthropological point of Newman with the transcendental Thomists, long after Newman. Fehlner sees the radical inadequacies of Paley’s exposition of physical theology and its almost total reliance on scientific methodologies and the principles of physical cause and effect in the world of material being. Natural or anthropological distinguishes a person from the merely physical. Personhood is rooted in an intelligent nature and the characteristic is the free will.

[33] Fehlner NSR, 117.

[34] A human being could recognize that my experience is not absolutely first, or the primitas.

[35] Newman wrestled with the noetics, especially Whately, his mentor in the late 1820’s. Newman blamed the omission of philosophical anthropology and its basis in natural theology as it appears in the modern curriculum. The absence of philosophical anthropology results in error in thinking and failure to think more deeply.

[36] Fehlner, NSR. Fehlner develops this persuasively in his essay: “Neo-Patripassionism from a Scotistic Viewpoint” (Quaderni di studi scotisti 3 (Frigento: Casa Maria Editrice, 2006), 35-96. See 41-43.

[37] St. Augustine suggests that no one goes to school to learn that one and one makes two. One knows that already. Similarly, wisdom and its true attractiveness, its gaining knowledge, is easy to understand if it is studied to contemplate and understand what is already known. Intensive learning precedes and makes possible growth in knowledge or intensive learning and validates interpretation of experience and prayer. Mathematical axioms appear lifeless, but upon reflection, are hardly. Truth in reference to mathematics and stepping back to reflect on experience, or the second degree of abstraction, is true to the third degree of abstraction, or metaphysics.

[38] Cyril O’Regan, Anatomy of Misremembering, Philosophical Sources of Von Balthasar: Heidegger, vol. 2 (forthcoming, 2020). I am working with chapter one of the Introduction from a manuscript.

[39] Dev Doct p 2. ch 5. sect3. n.3. Newman is subtle about why he joined the Roman Church even though he was kicking and screaming with many criticisms of the Roman Church before making his profession of faith. His point is: problems in the middle ages can be studied in relation to problems in the first centuries, e.g., papal primacy. Think of the chaos in jurisdiction and debacle when three popes were elected simultaneously, the Great Western Schism.

[40] Anatomy of Misremembering, vol. 2 (forthcoming).

[41] Newman identified the empirical method of reasoning which accents the objective to the detriment of the critical question of the will as the power to initiate freely. He discovered two luminous beings, himself and his Creator. This became the anthropological argument from conscience and capacity of entering into the heart. Again Newman’s worry is the omission of philosophical anthropology and its basis in natural theology as it appears in the modern curriculum. Only when a person references the metaphysical dimensions of conscience do we begin to grasp the personal considerations essential to full recognition at the level of faith.

[42] The Grammar amplifies what he had written in the Idea of a University. The Grammar is a re-do of several Oxford University Sermons and the Development of Doctrine.

[43] Any mind is capable of metaphysical thinking or it would not be a mind. Less rigorous thinking is rarely equal to or a substitute for depth of thinking or metaphysical depth. Power of assimilation for Newman explains what in Christianity is opinion, or, can identify as philosophy or scholasticism. If the opinion is rejected, it is called heresy.

[44] A person is to ponder the human experience of existence and life. The focus is our conscious autonomy, its trans-experiential or metaphysical component, yet without being identical with it, or subordinate to and dependent upon it. The absence of the traditional or dogmatic component is a sign that there is no real recognition that my experience as such is not an absolute first. Newman is relying upon the dogmatic principle.

[45] The soul is memory before intellect and will. Memory is not a vision of God, but the power to recognize the dynamic presence of the first, the Principium, in the biblical sense of beginning. Not understanding, nor love, nor personal experience are possible without abstracting from the sensible and then the finite in order to meet or to remember what is first. Newman’s works confirm the illumination of life and warmth of fire is truth and goodness.

[46] Newman, Dev Doct p 2. ch 5. sect 3. n.1.

[47] Newman, Dev Doct p 2. ch 5. sect 3. n.2.

[48] Idea, 102 ff. Discourse 5 of part 1 is a jewel.

[49] If I hear that the University of Notre Dame is no longer Catholic, the person misunderstands Newman.

[50] Idea, 102.

[51] Idea, part 1, discourse 5, 2, 102 ff.

[52] The role of a university in the intellectual formation of the human mind invites further study and comparison of Newman and Duns Scotus on human acts as morally neutral. Newman ’s concept of liberal knowledge ought to be clear. Liberal knowledge as first secular, even when, and perhaps, above all, when it includes theology, means it is secular before it is holy and virtuous. Duns Scotus is saying the same when he insists that human acts are first morally neutral before they are moral. Newman’s analysis of university education of the intellectual formation of the human mind is profoundly correct as he distinguishes it from that of the academy or specialized school and useful knowledge, including the ethical and spiritual. By distinguishing secularism, or the option to make personal autonomy the heart of happiness, from secularity that is the connatural antecedent of a personal choice of holiness as the way to happiness, I think Newman and Duns Scotus become clearer. The love of knowledge and personal autonomy comes about when a person makes a conscious, deliberate desire for God and is willing to sacrifice in God’s service.

[53] He employs Christianity as a gift to modernity because it recognizes the good, has an argument, the ability to construct a coherent reply, to give it back just as it gets pummeled by what is not so good. Ours are tangled lives, even the most saintly, and our lives have features that can be read differently.

[54] Frank Turner, John Henry Newman: The Challenge to Evangelical Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002). Turner’s expertise was on Evangelical religion. The points he raised about Newman need to be revisited. What is Newman’s unique vision? What value does he have for who we are today, our journey, and our destination? The debate between the liberals and Newman is theological. Liberals insist on argument, on sensibility to decide all problems in the public space. The crucial strategy of the liberals is to make sure that the public space, which is supposed to be neutral, will not function neutrally. When a person presupposes that he or she is tolerated for the space rightly deserved by the claim of Lockean toleration, they are not invited into the public domain to speak out of their set of convictions. The position that may be contested is already decided and your position is privatized. The game is rigged. Argument can occur in public space, but really, no argument occurs. There is a set of preventive measures to embarrass and to silence the person. Social expectations of polite and civil discourse are determinative. This debate between Newman and the Liberals applies to Evangelicals. Assume this debate to be the case in the twenty-first century, but it was already in England in the nineteenth century. O’Regan summarizes: a person’s position is assumed to be privatized and to bring it into the public space is a category mistake.

[55] E. Ondrako, Freedom within the Church: The Controversy between William Ewart Gladstone and John Henry Newman in 1874-1875, and Its Shadows and Images over Vatican II. Ann Arbor, MI: 1994), Ph.D Dissertation Syracuse University.

[56] The Anatomy of Misremembering, vol 1, 13, 14; vol 2, introduction (forthcoming). O’Regan says “formally Heidegger, like Hegel, is judged both to remember and misremember, and thus is welcome and unwelcome. [Thus] neither means that the coefficients of memory/misremembering are the same, nor the ratio of welcoming and unwelcoming the same.”

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
August 2, 2019

NOTE: On August 1, 2019, The Newman Association of America elected Fr. Ed as their new Vice President!


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