We recently celebrated the Feast of St. John Henry Newman and the one-year anniversary of his canonization. If you missed it, Dr. Bernadette Waterman Ward’s reflection on Newman’s famous Idea of a University and its relationship to UD’s Core Curriculum can be found here.
At the invitation of Public Discourse, the journal of Princeton University's Witherspoon Institute, I had the opportunity to write about one of Newman’s lesser-known sermons. Newman delivered this sermon on “Intellect, Instrument of Religious Training” on the Feast of St. Monica in 1856.
Newman, then rector of the new Catholic University of Ireland, poses the question of the goal or intention of the Church in establishing universities. Comparing the Church’s relationship to young students with Monica’s relationship to her son, Augustine, he proposes that the aim of the Church is “to reunite things that were in the beginning joined together by God but which have been put asunder by man.”
For anyone who knows Newman’s Idea of a University, the accent on reunification or integration will not be surprising. In that book, Newman defends the thesis that the goal of the university is the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake — the discovery of truth in its complexity and its unity.
The sermon addresses a question Newman does not directly answer in Idea, namely that of the role of moral and spiritual formation in collegiate life. In Idea Newman rejects the notion that academic instruction could provide direct moral formation. Here Newman echoes Aristotle who insists that study, even the study of ethics, does not make one good. Developing the right kinds of habits is what makes one virtuous.
Newman’s worry about youth is that as they come into early adulthood, they begin to see and be attracted to a range of goods. In his inimitable prose, he observes, “[I]t is commonly thought, because some men follow duty, others pleasure, others glory, and others intellectual, therefore that one of these things excludes the other; that duty cannot be pleasant, that virtue cannot be intellectual, that goodness cannot be great, that conscientiousness cannot be heroic.” As Newman notes, in many human lives, “there is a separation” and often eventually an opposition between the spheres.
A Catholic university should aim to offer cultivation of these capacities in a way that allows for the full development of each but in a way that highlights their ultimate integration, particularly the integration of faith and reason. Newman targets the assumption, perhaps even more common in our time than in Newman’s, that “to be religious, you must be ignorant, and to be intellectual, you must be unbelieving.”
I have always thought of the University of Dallas as the Catholic university for the cultivation of young souls in the pursuit of the human good in its complexity and unity. Uniquely, the University of Dallas provides an education that both ennobles and enables. Striking and memorable testimony to this fact was given by Matt Hejduk, MA ’02 PhD ’06, on the occasion of his endowing the St. John Henry Newman Scholarship in Philosophy.
St. John Henry Newman, pray for us!
Thomas S. Hibbs, Ph.D., BA ’82 MA ’83