Chapter 13. University Lectures (1854-1858)

{390} WE pass now from the record of the sufferings of a singularly sensitive spirit in an impossible endeavour, amid surroundings largely uncongenial, in a position involving tasks for which neither his antecedents nor his gifts fitted him, to the consideration of the great and permanent work which these years of apparent failure brought forth. If the Rector failed, the Christian thinker succeeded. And it was the opportunity of failure—namely, his appointment as Rector—that was the means, painful yet indispensable, of success in dealing with the great educational problem of the hour—how Christians were to uphold the traditionary theology and yet be fully alive to the changed outlook wrought by science in a new age; how Faith was to be definite, yet compatible with breadth of view. The Queen's Colleges were banned as opening the door to 'liberalism'; it was all-important not to commit Catholics to an opposite extreme. His lectures had to be intelligible and persuasive to hearers educated in the traditionary groove, but as they proceeded they approached ever nearer to tracing the desired Via Media.

His preliminary lectures on the Scope and Nature of University Education were directed to emphasising the fatal defect underlying the constitution of the Queen's Colleges in so far as they banished theology from the educational programme. Yet their scope was not at all unacceptable to those able Irish Catholics who had wished to work the Queen's Colleges—for they had never regarded those Colleges as fulfilling the ideal of a Catholic education. The lectures purported to point out that theology is indispensable in any scheme of general knowledge such as a University professes to establish. By theology he means, {391} as he explains in the lectures, the science of the one God; 'one idea unfolded in its just proportions, carried out upon an intelligible method, and issuing in necessary and immutable results; understood, indeed, at one time and place better than at another; held here and there with more or less of inconsistency, but still, after all, in all times and places where it is found, the evolution, not of half a dozen ideas, but of one.' Of theology in this sense he adds: 'Can we drop it out of the circle of knowledge without allowing either that that circle is thereby mutilated, or, on the other hand, that theology is no science?'

'Theology, as I have described it,' he writes, 'is no accident of particular minds as are certain systems, for instance, of prophetical interpretation. It is not the sudden birth of a crisis as the Lutheran or Wesleyan doctrine. It is not the splendid development of some uprising philosophy as the Cartesian or Platonic. It is not the fashion of a season, as certain medical treatments may be considered. It has had a place, if not possession, in the intellectual world from time immemorial; it has been received by minds the most various, and in systems of religion the most hostile to each other. It has primâ facie claims upon us, so imposing that it can only be rejected on the ground of those claims being nothing more than imposing,—that is, being false ... When was the world without it? Have the systems of Atheism or Pantheism, as sciences, prevailed in the literature of nations, or received a formation or attained a completeness such as Monotheism? ... If ever there was a subject of thought which had earned by prescription the right to be received among the studies of a University, and which could not be rejected except on the score of convicted imposture, as astrology or alchemy; if there be a science anywhere which at least could claim not to be ignored but to be entertained, and either distinctly accepted or distinctly reprobated, or rather, which cannot be passed over in a scheme of universal instruction without involving a positive denial of its truth, it is this ancient, this far-spreading philosophy.' [Note 1]

These lectures are too well known for it to be necessary here to give any full analysis of them. If one may venture to speak of a leading idea in them, it is that in a University knowledge and enlargement of the mind are contemplated {392} as an ultimate object. For this object (he argues) the science of God is indispensable. Neither professional skill nor controversy on behalf of religious conclusions, is the primary object of a University, but the formation of educated minds and cultivated intelligences. And Newman concluded the series with a plea for general cultivation among Catholics, and for the presence of the Church as a safeguard and a purifying influence in the schools of learning, as preferable to the exclusion of general literature from the education of a Catholic.

The note struck in the last of his preliminary discourses, that educated Catholics in a University must face and even welcome truth of whatever kind, formed the direct subject of the later lectures given, after his installation—lectures which are especially valuable as containing suggestions made under the stress of actual experience. He undertook in these lectures the delicate task of pointing out the concessions to the scientific spirit which were absolutely necessary on the part of Catholics as well as of others. This task was indispensable if the University was to hold its own in the scientific world, and its abler alumni were to be enabled to look at modern research with a frank and unflinching eye as something quite compatible with Christian faith. The University was in this sense indirectly to be an instrument, and a potent instrument, of apologetic. 'The reason which led me to take part in the establishment of the University' was, he said in an unpublished address of 1858, 'the wish ... to strengthen the defences, in a day of great danger, of the Christian religion.'

But in order to win sympathy in this part of his task he had first to bring home to his colleagues and pupils the full grounds there were for anticipating an age of unbelief, and to impress on them the urgent necessity, in consequence, of such a philosophy of religion as would satisfy earnest and inquiring minds alive to the existing outlook. The word 'agnostic' was not then known. Yet the tendency it expresses had long been noted by Newman. He foresaw its rapid spread. 'I write for the future,' he often said. We are in our own day familiar with Professor Huxley's comparison of theological speculation to conjectures as to the politics of the inhabitants of the moon. It is almost startling {393} to see how closely this gibe of Huxley's in the eighties was anticipated by Newman in the fifties. It is set forth by him in an address entitled 'A Form of Infidelity of the Day.' [Note 2]

'I may be describing a school of thought in its fully developed proportions,' he writes, 'which at present everyone to whom membership with it is imputed will at once begin to disown, and I may be pointing to teachers whom no one will be able to descry. Still, it is not less true that I may be speaking of tendencies and elements which exist, and he may come in person at last who comes at first to us merely in his spirit and in his power.

'The teacher, then, whom I speak of, will discourse thus in his secret heart:—he will begin, as many so far have done before him, by laying it down as if a position which approves itself to the reason, immediately that it is fairly examined,—which is of so axiomatic a character as to have a claim to be treated as a first principle, and is firm and steady enough to bear a large superstructure upon it,—that religion is not the subject matter of a science. "You may have opinions in religion; you may have theories; you may have arguments; you may have probabilities; you may have anything but demonstration, and, therefore, you cannot have science. In mechanics you advance from sure premisses to sure conclusions; in optics you form your undeniable facts into system, arrive at general principles, and then again infallibly apply them; here you have science. On the other hand, there is at present no real science of the weather because you cannot get hold of facts and truths on which it depends; there is no science of the coming and going of epidemics; no science of the breaking out and cessation of wars; no science of popular likings and dislikings, or of the fashions. It is not that these subject matters are themselves incapable of science, but that, under existing circumstances, we are incapable of subjecting them to it. And so, in like manner," says the philosopher in question, "without denying that in the matter of religion some things are true and some things {394} false, still we certainly are not in a position to determine the one or the other. And, as it would be absurd to dogmatise about the weather and say that 1860 will be a wet season or a dry season, a time of peace or war, so it is absurd for men in our present state to teach anything positively about the next world, that there is a heaven, or a hell, or a last judgment, or that the soul is immortal, or that there is a God. It is not that you have not a right to your own opinion, as you have a right to place implicit trust in your own banker or in your own physician, but undeniably such persuasions are not knowledge, they are not scientific, they cannot become public property, they are consistent with your allowing your friend to entertain the opposite opinion; and if you are tempted to be violent in your own view of the case in this matter of religion, then it is well to lay seriously to heart whether sensitiveness on the subject of your banker or your doctor, when he is handled sceptically by another, would not be taken to argue a secret misgiving in your mind about him, in spite of your confident profession, an absence of clear, unruffled certainty in his honesty or in his skill."

'Such is our philosopher's primary position. He does not prove it; he does but distinctly state it; but he thinks it self-evident when it is distinctly stated. And there he leaves it.

'"Christianity has been (according to him) the bane of true knowledge, for it has turned the intellect away from what it can know, and occupied it in what it cannot. Differences of opinion crop up and multiply themselves in proportion to the difficulty of deciding them; and the unfruitfulness of Theology has been, in matter of fact, the very reason, not for seeking better food, but for feeding on nothing else. Truth has been sought in the wrong direction, and the attainable has been put aside for the visionary."'

Such an attitude of mind as this was, in Newman's view, best counteracted not by a formal reply, but by the concrete exhibition of a counter-ideal of the true philosophy of life and knowledge.

That counter-ideal was embodied in the very institution which he was endeavouring to set on foot. As the agnostic ideal was fostered by the system followed in the Queen's Colleges informed by the spirit of the modern intellectual world, so must its opposite be fostered by a really efficient {395} Catholic University animated by the spirit of Catholicism. The former excludes religion from the Lecture Room as being concerned with the unknowable, and banishes definite theology as tending to obscurantism. It concentrates the imagination on the advance of the positive sciences as the one inspiring goal in the search for knowledge. The ideal Catholic University on the other hand upholds and recognises the Catholic Church—'the concrete representative of things invisible,'—and treats as unquestionable the relation of theological science to reality, while, at the same time, its devotion to the secular sciences and recognition of their independence in their own sphere should be equally thorough and ungrudging. The alleged obscurantism of theology is thus disproved by visible facts. Solvitur ambulando.

'Some persons will say,' he writes in his first University Sermon at Dublin, 'that I am thinking of confining, distorting, and stunting the growth of the intellect by ecclesiastical supervision. I have no such thought. Nor have I any thought of a compromise, as if religion must give up something, and science something. I wish the intellect to range with the utmost freedom, and religion to enjoy an equal freedom; but what I am stipulating for is, that they should be found in one and the same place, and exemplified in the same persons. I want to destroy that diversity of centres which puts everything into confusion by creating a contrariety of influences. I wish the same spots and the same individuals to be at once oracles of philosophy and shrines of devotion ...

'I want the intellectual layman to be religious, and the devout ecclesiastic to be intellectual.'

It was to depicting a Catholic University as the representative of scientific truth as well as religious that he devoted himself in the lectures on science and literature which succeeded his installation as Rector. But we must at starting bear in mind that their prospect of success was dependent on their very limitations. Had he treated in detail the new hypotheses which were most inconsistent with some traditionary views, he would have had many religious men who were not as far-sighted as himself actively attacking him if he conceded more than they would yet admit to be necessary. His object was to forestall this difficulty. He had to establish far-reaching principles by illustrations which could {396} raise no controversy. He could thus indicate without offence that educated way of looking at theological science in its relation to the secular sciences which, when once put in action, when it had become a temper of mind, would make the work of assimilation take place naturally and almost automatically.

This is the character of the work he attempted in some of his articles in the University Gazette [Note 3], to which he was a constant contributor, as well as in some highly valuable and significant lectures to the Schools of Letters and of Science.

In order to bring himself to undertake so delicate a task Newman needed two things—the sense that duty called him to the work, and a position in which he had a precedent for it. The former existed in his appointment as Rector under the special sanction of the Holy See. The latter he had in the writings and status of such University Professors as Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Alexander of Hales, in the very parallel circumstances of the thirteenth century to which he so often referred. These Catholic thinkers, with a courage which startled and dismayed the more conservative theologians, in place of continuing to oppose philosophical systems and weapons which had long proved such redoubtable foes to Christian thought—notably the philosophy of Aristotle,—by a bold change of policy adopted and used them in the service of Christianity. On a similar principle Newman urged on Christians of his own day the candid recognition of modern scientific hypotheses in all their degrees of probability—the fearless use of the inductive method in physical science and history alike.

The department of the philosophy of religion, which so urgently needed cultivation to meet new difficulties, was one which he regarded as specially suitable to cultivated lay writers, and thus within the province of those whom he was directly training. Here then, again, he had precedent on his side.

'Theologians inculcate the matter and determine the details of revelation,' he wrote in one of his lectures; 'they {397} view it from within; philosophers view it from without, and this external view may be called the Philosophy of Religion, and the office of delineating it externally is most gracefully performed by laymen. In the first age laymen were most commonly the Apologists. Such were Justin, Tatian, Athenagoras, Aristides, Hermias, Minucius Felix, Arnobius, and Lactantius. In like manner in this age some of the most valuable defences of the Church are from laymen, as De Maistre, Chateaubriand, Nicholas, Montalembert, and others.'

Newman, then, set himself in lecture after lecture, when his work as Rector had fairly begun, to delineate the ideal which should form the genius loci in a Catholic University—an ideal which each of its alumni should reflect according to his capacity. How could a University be really the defender of a particular faith, yet the home of impartial research? How could Catholics be genuine men of science, following the scientific reason whithersoever it led them, yet uphold a theology which some of the ablest contemporary writers assailed in the name of science itself. How could it be Catholic yet not sectarian; committed to definite views yet sympathetic, as real cultivation makes men, with all genuine thought? Here were obvious problems at the outset which he set himself to consider.

And as a man will, in the heat of conversation, take any objects which may be ready to hand to illustrate his argument in the concrete, and will avail himself—if he needs a diagram—of such chalk, pen, or pencil as he may find, so Newman illustrated his great and far-reaching ideal by the half-formed institution at Stephen's Green, Dublin. Some professors indeed he had of calibre fully adequate to the realisation of his ideal; but his Chancellor was opposed to it, and his undergraduates were but a handful, barely half of them even British subjects.

A real and accurate apprehension of the bearings of new speculation on revealed truth could—so he urged in his writings of this time—be gained only by full and free discussion. Among the unlearned such discussion might be excessively startling and dangerous. This prospect was in modern times immensely increased by the growth of the {398} periodical Press and of general reading among the uneducated. Hence the special value of a University—the residence exclusively of those devoted to learning. In the Middle Ages the Universities had been the homes of those active minds whose business it was to meet contemporary speculation and scientific criticism, not by repressing it, but by the energetic sifting process which ultimately resulted in the assimilation of what was valuable and true in it. The gradual diminution almost to vanishing-point of this important function in the economy of the Church, the decay of Catholic Universities, and of the theological schools, a reminiscence of which long lingered in the old Sorbonne, appeared to him a most serious fact. It destroyed the normal opportunity for the safe exercise, among Catholic scholars, of that freedom of thought which he maintained to be in its proper sphere as essential to the development of a satisfying theology as was the principle of authority—a freedom which had been so conspicuous in the formation within the Church of the great scholastic synthesis of knowledge. It was an inspiring ideal to do something towards restoring an arena for such free discussion which had now quite a new urgency for thinking minds.

'A University,' he wrote in the University Gazette, 'is the place to which a thousand schools make contributions, in which the intellect may safely range and speculate, sure to find its equal in some antagonist activity, and its judge in the tribunal of truth. It is a place where inquiry is pushed forward, and discoveries perfected and verified, and rashnesses rendered innocuous and error exposed by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge ... Such is a University in its idea and in its purpose; such in good measure has it before now been in fact. Shall it ever be again? We are going forward in the strength of the Cross, under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin, in the name of St. Patrick, to attempt it.' [Note 4]

In two lectures belonging to the year 1855 Newman indicated his views on the nature of the freedom which must be accorded in any University worthy of the name to the men of science in their own sphere. One is entitled 'Christianity {399} and Physical Science,' the other 'Christianity and Scientific Investigation.'

In the lecture on 'Christianity and Physical Science' Newman deals ostensibly with the suspicion, so widely prevalent in the fifties, that there 'really is at bottom a certain contrariety between the declarations of religion and the results of physical enquiry.' Hence irreligious minds were prophesying the disproof of Revelation, and religious minds were 'jealous of the researches and prejudiced against the discoveries of science.' 'The consequence is,' he adds, 'on the one side a certain contempt of theology, on the other a disposition to undervalue, to deny, to ridicule, to discourage, almost to denounce the labours of the physiological, astronomical, or geological investigator.' [Note 5]

While such a contrariety may (he admits) exist between the views of certain representatives of theology and of science, he earnestly maintains that the true theologian who realises the limits of his science, and the man of science who does not confound speculation with genuine scientific investigation and proof, are in no danger of collision. Science proper might safely in a Catholic University claim all the freedom it needs without fear of opposing true theology.

He disarmed theological opposition by an eloquent passage in which he denounced the application of the empirical and inductive method to theology as barren and unsuccessful. Yet even here he was careful to avoid the exaggerations so common among loose thinkers. What he maintains on this subject is only that thorough-going empiricism is equivalent to naturalism, and tells us nothing of God. Empirical science cannot therefore make a theology at all. Nor can it interfere with a faultless theological deduction. But that it can in certain cases correct long-standing beliefs which have been held by Christian theologians as well as by the less learned, or the inaccurate deductions made by individual divines from revealed truth he indicates by instances from history. While eloquently defending the deductive theology, he is careful to note that its territory is as a rule quite separate from that of physical science, and consequently does not interfere with its freedom. {400} The chosen territory of theology, he explains, is the invisible world, not the visible. Theology 'contemplates the world not of matter but of mind; the supreme intelligence; souls and their destiny; conscience and duty; the past, present, and future dealings of the Creator and the creature.' [Note 6] If then 'Theology be the philosophy of the supernatural world and Science the philosophy of the natural, Theology and Science, whether in their respective ideas, or again in their own actual fields, are incommensurable, incapable of collision, and needing at most to be connected, never to be reconciled.' [Note 7]

Here is the first ground on which the provisional freedom from theological interference which is necessary to modern science is justified—that the provinces of the two sciences are for the most part separate. The second he indicates quite plainly, though he does not state it so fully. When the visible world is, in exceptional cases, touched by the statements of sacred writers, these statements, if at first sight they seem to be opposed to facts ascertained by science, are eventually interpreted by theologians so as to accord with those facts. He gives as instances the opposition of certain divines on Scriptural grounds to belief in the antipodes when it was first broached, and again to the Copernican system. In both cases the theological opposition was eventually withdrawn. 'Experience may variously guide and modify the deductions of Theology,' he writes. Again he indicates the same conclusion when he speaks of the few cases where Holy Scripture does declare facts concerning the visible world, the territory belonging to science. For he singles out instances in which it was already in 1855 evident that the more literal interpretation of the sacred documents in which Revelation was contained was contrary to the conclusions of the scientific world or to the facts of history, and yet that the theologians had already seen clearly that they must accept those conclusions. He adds other instances in which the interpretation of early theologians has been since disproved. 'It is true,' he writes, 'that Revelation has in one or two instances advanced beyond its chosen territory, which is the invisible world, in order to throw light on the history {401} of the material universe. Holy Scripture does, it is perfectly true, declare a few momentous facts,—so few that they may be counted,—of a physical character. It speaks of a process of formation out of chaos which occupied six days; it speaks of the firmament; of the sun and moon being created for the sake of the earth; of the earth being immovable.' [Note 8] Again he points out that 'there have been comments on Scripture prophecy' long relied on, and touching the world of fact, which science or experience could ultimately verify or disprove, of each of which we may now at least say that it is 'not true in that broad, plain sense in which it was once received.' [Note 9]

This lecture, with its measured and carefully guarded plea for liberty in the pursuit of physical science, was delivered in November 1855 in the School of Medicine. Encouraged by its success, he attempted a somewhat fuller one on the same lines, still more plainly advocating freedom of investigation and freedom of discussion for all the positive sciences and for theology itself.

This lecture on 'Christianity and Scientific Investigation' takes a wider sweep, and it is necessary to recall one or two particulars as to the state of thought at the time.

Biblical criticism was not yet to the front. But the strictures on long received views of theologians from the point of view of the ethnologist, the historian, the representative of physical science, were in full course. The chronology of the Old Testament, the derivation of the human race from one stock, the universality of the Deluge, and other such subjects were being fully discussed among the thinkers. The most conservative theologians, among Protestants as well as Catholics, were inclined to regard the new theories of the time as aggressions on theology, to be repelled. Newman, on the contrary, saw very early that, with whatever incidental extravagances, they represented a fruitful activity, a real advance in the positive sciences, although they were doubtless used by the type of scientist represented a few years later by Huxley and Tyndall, as weapons of attack on current orthodoxy. {402}

In vindicating the rights of science the Rector had, of course, at heart the reputation of the University, knowing well that undue ecclesiastical interference with science would at once brand the institution in the eyes of the whole scientific world as hopelessly inefficient.

If we bear in mind the date at which his lecture on the subject of 'Christianity and Scientific Investigation' was written—1855—it will, I think, be generally admitted to be a remarkable instance of wise foresight. Doubtless as we read it after the lapse of half a century, in which, more than ever before, these problems have been under active discussion, and the historical and critical sciences have made such considerable advance, we feel that certain points might have been emphasised more clearly. But its essential value is now what it was, as almost a Magna Charta of the freedom demanded by secular science in a Catholic University.

Its main argument is as follows. First, on the lines of the previous lecture, but with more distinctness, Newman points out that there may be opinions prevalent among Catholics which at a given time are regarded by the multitude, and even by theologians, as certain. They may be drawn by deductive argument from revealed truth, or they may be even confused with revealed truth. This has been so in the past beyond question. The belief that the last day was at hand after Our Lord's death, he points out, was universal among Christians, and it was a deduction (which proved mistaken) from His own words. The belief that the earth was stationary was, in Newman's words, 'generally received as if the Apostles had expressly delivered it both orally and in writing.' The event disproved the one, the advance of science disproved the other opinion. But the lesson afforded by this disproof of what had long been so confidently held to be sacred and undeniable remained to be learnt and to be applied to the present. Opinions maintained in our own day by divines, or by the multitude of Catholics with equal confidence, as certain consequences of revealed truth, might, he intimates, prove to be equally mistaken. Therefore the path of scientific conjecture cannot fairly be blocked by such opinions. Nothing is harder for the uneducated mind than to apply the lessons of the past to the present. A {403} Catholic University was to develop in its alumni that candour and refinement which should enable them to do so.

If such long-standing opinions might ultimately prove to have been unfounded, theologians had no right to interfere with scientific investigation on the ground that its trend ran for the time counter to opinions even universally received within the Church. 'I am not,' Newman is careful to repeat, 'supposing any collision with dogma; I am speaking of opinions of divines or of the multitude parallel to those in former times of the sun going round the earth, or of the last day being at hand.'

On the other hand, the men of science also may prove to have been wrong in what they advance; but the plea for freedom stands equally on that hypothesis. The very freedom which science demands issues in a great deal of speculation, therefore in many false hypotheses—ballons d'essai—in a good deal of rash theorising. All this is the normal road to truth—a circuitous road, often through stages of error. You may have to try many keys in a lock in order to find the one which fits it. For this reason the man of science, who is often far too sanguine as to the truth of the newest hypothesis, must not interfere with the theologian or challenge him to amend his conclusions or his interpretations of Scripture in deference to scientific speculations, any more than he can himself be called upon to submit to theological interference. It must be left to theologians themselves to recognise at what point the evidence adduced by the secular sciences should affect their own conclusions.

The general outcome of Newman's remarks is that all sciences, secular and religious, should be allowed by a Catholic University to develop provisionally without interference from without; and that temporary antagonisms in their conclusions should be patiently tolerated; that such contradictions are to be expected in the natural course of things, because of the imperfections of human knowledge. A premature synthesis is deprecated as really in spirit unscientific; although it is what so many men of science imperiously demand. It is unscientific, for it leaves out of account the essentially progressive nature of the positive sciences, the temporary reign of unproved hypotheses which are on their trial. The theologian rightly upholds {404} the traditionary conclusions until the road to their correction is unmistakably found. For those conclusions are in possession and have (it may be) become bound up with the religious life of the many. On the other hand, the time will come when the trend of science is too clear on specific points to allow him to maintain positions tenable in pre-scientific days, but contradicting hypotheses which have come to be universally admitted and taught in the scientific schools. Thus the intelligent theologian of the seventeenth century could with Bacon and Tycho Brahé deny Copernicanism. To deny it a hundred years later would have meant obscurantism.

The whole tendency of the lecture we are considering is against this danger. It was obvious that if religious thinkers ceased to be on the alert, or to acquaint themselves with the general drift of contemporary science and thought, many absolutely antiquated opinions on the borderland between theology and the positive sciences would remain in the textbooks. The result would gradually become most serious, and bring with it the danger of something like a revolution in theology; for if obvious corrections were long neglected or opposed by authority, the point would eventually come at which the normal powers of gradual development in theology would not be equal to the situation; just as neglect of obvious remedies for a physical disorder may make a dangerous operation necessary which could otherwise have been avoided.

In this connection Newman urged two points:

(1) It was the conservative opinions of zealous theologians, or of theological tribunals, and not any infallible utterances of the Holy See, which were in the past invoked as decisive against new speculations which ultimately proved true. (2) In the palmary instance in which theologians had successfully emerged from the struggle with bewildering and aggressive speculation, representing the 'science' of the day (in the thirteenth century), the victory had been won by Catholic theologians not through repression or intolerance, but by the most strenuous intellectual labour, in which the methods of theology had been transformed and largely adjusted to those of the intellectual movement whose excesses were anti-Christian. {405}

In illustration of the first point Newman reminds us that St. Boniface, 'great in sanctity though not in secular knowledge,' complained to the Holy See of a writer who taught the existence of the antipodes, and the Holy See declined to condemn the opinion.

As to the second point, he observed that even when the Church was at the height of her temporal power—in the thirteenth century—it was not by intolerant opposition but by freedom of discussion, among her theologians, of the new theories of the time, by their adopting what was good even in the hitherto detested philosophy of Aristotle, that the pantheistic and rationalistic movement of the neo-Aristotelians was effectually checked. He could urge the example of the 'Angelic Doctor' even on the most conservative Irish divines with effect. The moral has often been pointed in recent years. Then it was practically new. It is still effective. At that time it must have been far more so from its comparative novelty [Note 10].

The conclusion pointed to is that a body of thought, candid and thorough, among Catholics which includes and locates the scientific theories of the time, reverses Lord Morley's boast, 'We will not attack Christianity, we will explain it.' A Catholic University representing such a body of thought would be a source of far greater strength to Christianity than experiments in polemic which might be misdirected for want of adequate knowledge of the situation. On some of these points Newman's own words must be recalled.

The fundamental ideal of a University as the impartial representative of the sciences, including, but not dominated by, theology, is given in the following passage:

'We count it a great thing, and justly so, to plan and carry out a wide political organization. To bring under one yoke, after the manner of old Rome, a hundred discordant peoples; to maintain each of them in its own privileges within its legitimate range of action; to allow them severally the indulgence of national feelings, and the stimulus of rival interests; and yet withal to blend them into one great social establishment, and to pledge them to the perpetuity of the one imperial power;—this is an achievement which carries with it the unequivocal token of genius in the race which effects it ... {406}

'What an empire is in political history, such is a University in the sphere of philosophy and research. It is, as I have said, the high protecting power of all knowledge and science, of fact and principle, of inquiry and discovery, of experiment and speculation; it maps out the territory of the intellect, and sees that the boundaries of each province are religiously respected, and that there is neither encroachment nor surrender on any side. It acts as umpire between truth and truth, and, taking into account the nature and importance of each, assigns to all their due order of precedence. It maintains no one department of thought exclusively, however ample and noble; and it sacrifices none. It is deferential and loyal, according to their respective weight, to the claims of literature, of physical research, of history, of metaphysics, of theological science. It is impartial towards them all, and promotes each in its own place and for its own object. It is ancillary certainly, and of necessity, to the Catholic Church; but in the same way that one of the Queen's judges is an officer of the Queen's, and nevertheless determines certain legal proceedings between the Queen and her subjects ...

'Its several professors are like the ministers of various political powers at one court or conference. They represent their respective sciences, and attend to the private interests of those sciences respectively; and, should dispute arise between those sciences, they are the persons to talk over and arrange it without risk of extravagant pretensions on any side, of angry collision, or of popular commotion. A liberal philosophy becomes the habit of minds thus exercised; a breadth and spaciousness of thought, in which lines, seemingly parallel, may converge at leisure, and principles, recognised as incommensurable, may be safely antagonistic.' [Note 11]

But while a University thus prepared the way for a synthesis of all knowledge by defining and classifying the existing sciences and their outcome, an actual synthesis is in our present state impossible. 'The great Universe,' he writes, 'moral and material, sensible and supernatural, cannot be gauged and meted by even the greatest of human intellects, and its constituent parts admit indeed of comparison and adjustment but not of fusion.' Moreover, the sciences are progressive, and their present conclusions are in many cases irreconcilable. {407}

'I am making no outrageous request,' he adds, 'when, in the name of a University, I ask religious writers, jurists, economists, physiologists, chemists, geologists, and historians, to go on quietly and in a neighbourly way in their own respective lines of speculation, research, and experiment, with full faith in the consistency of that multiform truth which they share between them, in a generous confidence that they will be ultimately consistent, one and all, in their combined results, though there may be momentary collisions, awkward appearances, and many forebodings and prophecies of contrariety, and at all times things hard to the imagination, though not, I repeat, to the reason …

'He who believes Revelation with the absolute faith which is the prerogative of a Catholic is not the nervous creature who starts at every sound and is fluttered by every strange and novel appearance which meets his eye ... He knows full well there is no science whatever but in the course of its extension runs the risk of infringing without any meaning of offence on its part the path of other sciences: and he knows also that if there be any one science which, from its sovereign and unassailable position, can calmly bear such unintentional collisions on the part of the children of earth, it is Theology. He is sure,—and nothing shall make him doubt,—that, if anything seems to be proved by astronomer, or geologist, or chronologist, or antiquarian, or ethnologist, in contradiction to the dogmas of faith, that point will eventually turn out, first, not to be proved, or secondly, not contradictory, or thirdly, not contradictory to anything really revealed, but to something which has been confused with revelation.' [Note 12]

On the absolute necessity of free discussion he writes as follows:

'Now, while this free discussion is, to say the least, so safe for religion, or rather so expedient, it is on the other hand simply necessary for progress in Science; and I shall now go on to insist on this side of the subject. I say, then, that it is a matter of primary importance in the cultivation of those sciences, in which truth is discoverable by the human intellect, that the investigator should be free, independent, unshackled in his movements; that he should be allowed and enabled, without impediment, to fix his mind intently, nay, exclusively, on his special object, without the risk of being distracted every other minute in the process and {408} progress of his inquiry, by charges of temerariousness, or by warnings against extravagance or scandal.' [Note 13]

No doubt this freedom has its dangers, especially in relation to religious faith as it exists in weaker and less intellectual minds. 'There must be great care taken to avoid scandal,' he writes, 'or shocking the popular mind, or unsettling the weak.'

Such care, however, being supposed, the scientific inquirer may, and must, claim provisional independence from the encroachments of the representatives of the current theological opinions.

'A scientific speculator or inquirer is not bound, in conducting his researches, to be every moment adjusting his course by the maxims of the schools or by popular traditions, or by those of any other science distinct from his own ... Great minds need elbow-room, not indeed in the domain of faith, but of thought. And so indeed do lesser minds, and all minds. There are many persons in the world who are called, and with a great deal of truth, geniuses. They had been gifted by nature with some particular faculty or capacity; and, while vehemently excited and imperiously ruled by it, they are blind to everything else. They are enthusiasts in their own line and are simply dead to the beauty of any line except their own. Accordingly they think their own line the only line in the whole world worth pursuing, and they feel a sort of contempt for such studies as move upon any other line. Now, these men may be, and often are, very good Catholics, and have not a dream of anything but affection and deference towards Catholicity; nay, perhaps are zealous in its interests. Yet if you insist that in their speculations, researches, or conclusions in their particular science, it is not enough that they should submit to the Church generally, and acknowledge its dogmas, but that they must get up all that divines have said or the multitude believed upon religious matters, you simply crush and stamp out the flame within them and they can do nothing at all [Note 14].

The late Mr. Pollen told the present writer that the lecture on 'Christianity and Scientific Investigation,' though approved by such excellent theologians as Dr. O'Reilly and Dr. Russell {409} as entirely orthodox, was judged by them inexpedient in view of the prevailing temper on matters theological, and the views of Dr. Cullen: and the lecture, though subsequently published, was not delivered. Lacordaire once compared modern theology to a Swiss tour in which everyone follows a guide who follows the beaten track [Note 15]. Originality of treatment had (he said) come to be out of fashion. Newman had, as we shall see later on, a feeling somewhat akin to Lacordaire's.

It was the lectures on Literature rather than those on Science which marked a distinct phase in Newman's own style. As the restraint which characterised the Oxford Sermons had given place to the far more ornate and rhetorical manner of the Sermons to Mixed Congregations, so now a somewhat similar change showed itself in the prose essays which he delivered as lectures. The presence of an Irish audience probably contributed to the change. There is in the lectures a suspicion of the copiousness of language which marks the Celt. There is far more of self-expression in them than in his earlier writings. The following passage from one of them represents, I think, the quality that characterises the whole:

'Since the thoughts and reasonings of an author have, as I have said, a personal character, no wonder that his style is not only the image of his subject, but of his mind. That pomp of language, that full and tuneful diction, that felicitousness in the choice and exquisiteness in the collocation of words, which to prosaic writers seems artificial, is nothing else but the mere habit and way of a lofty intellect. Aristotle, in his sketch of the magnanimous man, tells us that his voice is deep, his motions slow, and his stature commanding. In like manner, the elocution of a great intellect is great. His language expresses, not only his great thoughts, but his real self. Certainly he might use fewer words than he uses; but he fertilizes his simplest ideas, and germinates into a multitude of details, and prolongs the march of his sentences, and sweeps round to the full diapason of his harmony, as if [kudei gaion], rejoicing in his own vigour and richness of resource. I say, a narrow critic will call it verbiage, when really it is a sort of fulness of heart, parallel to that which makes the merry boy whistle as he walks, or the strong man, like the smith in the novel, flourish his club when there is no one to fight with.' {410}

Into the department of literature the question of theological censorship entered less than into that of science. But the main lessons Newman urged in its regard were similar. He was equally emphatic in both departments as to the necessity of breadth of outlook for a truly liberal education. To identify Catholic education with the 'hothouse' attitude would be to exclude the intellectual classes from the Church—those very classes for which, in Newman's view, Catholicism, adequately interpreted, was the one sufficient antidote to agnosticism. Moreover, such a course prevented the growth of strong men who would be strong apologists. It closed the mind instead of opening it. It realised his celebrated description of 'bigotry,' not that of faith. The plan, then, of forming an English Catholic literature as the exclusive intellectual food of Catholic minds was in Newman's eyes quite unsuitable for a University, and he disclaimed it in a series of lectures to the School of Arts from which I proceed to make some extracts. To begin with, he rebuts the supposition that a University has any special concern with distinctively religious literature at all:

'If by a Catholic literature were meant nothing more or less than a religious literature,' he said, 'its writers would be mainly ecclesiastics; just as writers on law are mainly lawyers, and writers on medicine are mainly physicians or surgeons. And if this be so, a Catholic Literature is no object special to a University, unless a University is to be considered identical with a Seminary or a Theological School.

'And if, moreover, the religious literature becomes controversial or polemical, it ceases to have the character which will enlist the sympathy of a cultivated layman.' [Note 16]

Against this false view of Catholic literature as special pleading on behalf of religion Newman enters his earnest protest. But in point of fact true literary culture is not (he holds) attainable for an Englishman by the study of any group of works belonging to one society—even though that society is the Catholic Church. Catholics cannot form an English literature, though they may contribute to it. English literature has been the issue of the national life as a whole. {411}

'If a literature be, as I have said, the voice of a particular nation, it requires a territory and a period as large as that nation's extent and history to mature in. It is broader and deeper than the capacity of any body of men, however gifted, or any system of teaching, however true. It is the exponent, not of truth, but of nature, which is true only in its elements. It is the result of the mutual action of a hundred simultaneous influences and operations, and the issue of a hundred strange accidents in independent places and times; it is the scanty compensating produce of the wild discipline of the world and of life, so fruitful in failures, and it is the concentration of those rare manifestations of intellectual power which no one can account for. It is made up, in the particular language here under consideration, of human beings as heterogeneous as Burns and Bunyan, De Foe and Johnson, Goldsmith and Cowper, Law and Fielding, Scott and Byron. The remark has been made that the history of an author is the history of his works; it is far more exact to say that, at least in the case of great writers, the history of their works is the history of their fortunes or their times. Each is, in his turn, the man of his age, the type of a generation, or the interpreter of a crisis. He is made for his day, and his day for him. Hooker would not have been but for the existence of Catholics and Puritans—the defeat of the former and the rise of the latter; Clarendon would not have been without the Great Rebellion; Hobbes is the prophet of the reaction to scoffing infidelity; and Addison is the child of the Revolution and its attendant changes. If there be any of our classical authors who might at first sight have been pronounced a University man, with the exception of Johnson, Addison is he; yet, even Addison, the son and brother of clergymen, the fellow of an Oxford Society, the resident of a College which still points to the walk which he planted, must be something more in order to take his place among the Classics of the language, and owed the variety of matter to his experience of life, and to the call made on his resources by the exigencies of his day. The world he lived in made him and used him. While his writings educated his own generation, they have delineated it for all posterity after him.' [Note 17]

In one of those characteristic passages which live in the memory, Newman points out that a thoroughly 'bowdlerised' literature, still more a literature with a religious purpose, {412} cannot be a national literature which should represent the nation as it is—the human nature in it with its excesses as well as its virtues.

'Man's work will savour of man; in his elements and powers excellent and admirable, but prone to disorder and excess, to error and to sin. Such too will be his literature; it will have the beauty and the fierceness, the sweetness and the rankness, of the natural man, and, with all its richness and greatness, will necessarily offend the senses of those who, in the Apostle's words, are really "exercised to discern between good and evil." "It is said of the holy Sturme," says an Oxford writer, "that, in passing a horde of unconverted Germans as they were bathing and gambolling in the stream, he was so overpowered by the intolerable scent which arose from them that he nearly fainted away." National literature is, in a parallel way, the untutored movements of the reason, imagination, passions, and affections of the natural man, the leapings and the friskings, the plungings and the snortings, the sportings and the buffoonings, the clumsy play and the aimless toil, of the noble, lawless savage of God's intellectual creation' (p. 316).

The conclusion of his remarks is most characteristic, and reminds one of his object—of protesting against a wrong direction which he saw in the programme of the narrower school, which he desired to arrest, whether he could succeed or not in substituting something wholly satisfactory.

'And now having shown what it is that a Catholic University does not think of doing, what it need not do, and what it cannot do, I might go on to trace out in detail what it is that it really might and will encourage and create. But, as such an investigation would neither be difficult to pursue nor easy to terminate, I prefer to leave the subject at the preliminary point to which I have brought it.'

Yet, together with his protests against intellectual narrowness, whether in dealing with science or with literature,—against fear of the human reason or exclusion of the great classics,—we have indications of two lines of thought tending in the opposite direction, which he maintained with equal insistence. One was that, although reason rightly exercised would in the long run justify belief in Theism and Catholic Christianity in the face of all difficulties, still in man as he {413} exists, with his passions and with the constant presence of the visible world to bring forgetfulness of the invisible, a force stronger than his unaided intellect is needed to keep alive and vivid those first principles on which religious belief depends. And that force is supplied by the living Catholic Church. Secondly, while free discussion is essential in order to clear the issues, in the complicated structure of human knowledge, the intellect of man has actually and historically a constant tendency to exceed its lawful limits and arrive at unbelief, by reason of its failure in an impossible attempt. This tendency was his old enemy, religious liberalism, which he defined as 'the exercise of thought on subjects on which, from the constitution of the human mind, thought cannot be brought to a successful issue.' Here again the antidote was the controlling action of the Catholic Church in arresting speculation when it ran to excesses beyond the power of man's mental digestion. He recognised a value in her repressive action, as he also recognised the necessity in its place of free discussion. Each principle needed assertion; neither could be allowed to be supreme.

With this side of the question he dealt in part in his farewell lecture given in 1858—the last words he spoke to the University as its Rector. And we have in this lecture the general lines of his reply to the earlier one quoted in this chapter, on 'a form of infidelity of the day.'

The lecture was delivered in the School of Medicine after his final resignation, and he introduced the subject by referring to the science to which his auditors were devoted.

'You will observe,' he said, 'that those higher sciences of which I have spoken,—Morals and Religion,—are not represented to the intelligence of the world by intimations and notices strong and obvious, such as those which are the foundation of Physical Science. The physical nature lies before us, patent to the sight, ready to the touch, appealing to the senses in so unequivocal a way that the science which is founded upon it is as real to us as the fact of our personal existence. But the phenomena, which are the basis of morals and religion, have nothing of this luminous evidence. Instead of being obtruded upon our notice so that we cannot possibly overlook them, they are the dictates either of Conscience or of Faith. They {414} are faint shadows and tracings, certain indeed, but delicate, fragile, and almost evanescent, which the mind recognizes at one time, not at another,—discerns when it is calm, loses when it is in agitation. The reflection of sky and mountains in the lake is a proof that sky and mountains are around it, but the twilight, or the mist, or the sudden storm hurries away the beautiful image, which leaves behind it no memorial of what it was. Something like this are the Moral Law and the informations of Faith, as they present themselves to individual minds. Who can deny the existence of Conscience? who does not feel the force of its injunctions? but how dim is the illumination in which it is invested, and how feeble its influence, compared with that evidence of sight and touch which is the foundation of Physical Science! How easily can we be talked out of our clearest views of duty! how does this or that moral precept crumble into nothing when we rudely handle it! how does the fear of sin pass off from us as quickly as the glow of modesty dies away from the countenance! and then we say: "It is all superstition!" However, after a time we look round, and then to our surprise we see, as before, the same law of duty, the same moral precepts, the same protests against sin, appearing over against us in their old places as if they never had been brushed away, like the Divine handwriting upon the wall at the banquet. Then perhaps we approach them rudely and inspect them irreverently, and accost them sceptically, and away they go again, like so many spectres, shining in their cold beauty but not presenting themselves bodily to us for our inspection, so to say, of their hands and their feet. And thus these awful, supernatural, bright, majestic, delicate apparitions, much as we may in our hearts acknowledge their sovereignty, are no match as a foundation of Science for the hard, palpable, material facts which make up the province of Physics.'

What, then, is the force which will give to these 'apparitions' the permanence and stability they need if they are to be our stay in life, if we are to feel their reality as we feel the world of sense to be real; if we are to rest on them as the foundation of our hopes for the future? The Church which, by her liturgy and theology and by the constant preaching of her ministers, keeps those truths energetically before us and represents them as ever-living principles of action, is here our great support. {415}

'That great institution, then,—the Catholic Church,' he continues—'has been set up by Divine Mercy as a present, visible antagonist, and the only possible antagonist, to sight and sense. Conscience, reason, good feeling, the instincts of our moral nature, the traditions of Faith, the conclusions and deductions of philosophical Religion, are no match at all for the stubborn facts (for they are facts though there are other facts besides them), for the facts which are the foundation of physical science. Gentlemen, if you feel—as you must feel—the whisper of the law of moral truth within you, and the impulse to believe, be sure there is nothing whatever on earth which can be the sufficient champion of these sovereign authorities of your soul, which can vindicate and preserve them to you and make you loyal to them, but the Catholic Church. You fear they will go, you see with dismay that they are going, under the continual impression created on your mind by the details of the material science to which you have devoted your lives. It is so,—I do not deny it; except under rare and happy circumstances, go they will unless you have Catholicism to back you up in keeping faithful to them. The world is a rough antagonist of spiritual truth; sometimes with mailed hand, sometimes with pertinacious logic, sometimes with a storm of irresistible facts, it presses on against you. What it says is true perhaps as far as it goes, but it is not the whole truth or the most important truth. These more important truths which the natural heart admits in their substance, though it cannot maintain,—the being of a God, the certainty of future retribution, the claims of the moral law, the reality of sin, the hope of supernatural help,—of these the Church is in matter of fact the undaunted and the only defender ... She is ever the same,—ever young and vigorous, and ever overcoming new errors with the old weapons ... Catholicism is the strength of Religion, as Science and System are the strength of Knowledge.'

This was, as I have said, his last lecture in Dublin. And he parted from his hearers with a note of great simplicity and great humility. He could not but feel that his strenuous effort at intellectual enlargement was not in harmony with the views of those on whom the University most closely depended. He did not change his own opinion as to its necessity. He believed that, for thorough health and efficiency in the Catholic body, it was essential. He {416} believed that the time had come when it was desirable to act on his view of the case. Yet as ever he 'spoke under correction.' It might be that at present speculation would get so far out of hand, if let loose, that the faith would be widely lost. It might be that greater caution than he himself saw to be desirable was really necessary. A great intellectual sacrifice might still be demanded of Catholics as the price of what was far higher—namely, their Faith. He did not think so; but he would now as ever bow to the Church and obey her if such was the opinion and decision of her rulers.

'Trust the Church of God implicitly,' he said, 'even when your natural judgment would take a different course from hers, and would induce you to question her prudence or her correctness. Recollect what a hard task she has; how she is sure to be criticized and spoken against whatever she does; recollect how much she needs your loyal and tender devotion. Recollect, too, how long is the experience gained in eighteen hundred years, and what a right she has to claim your assent to principles which have had so extended and so triumphant a trial. Thank her that she has kept the Faith safe for so many generations, and do your part in helping her to transmit it to generations after you.'

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1. Idea of a University, p. 67.
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2. Idea of a University, p. 381. If the state of mind he describes was not then familiar to the world at large, to the ecclesiastical authorities—so Father Neville has testified—it was practically unknown. 'Any allusion,' writes Father William Neville, who was his close companion at that time, 'to the possibility of such a danger as trials to faith was thought strange—nay more. Even in conversation such an allusion was too unwelcome to be repeated. Sympathy of thought on the subject whether in England or in Ireland, he found little or none.'
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3. Republished in Historical Sketches, vol. iii.
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4. Republished in Historical Sketches, iii. vide p. 16.
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5. Idea of a University, p. 429.
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6. Idea of a University, p. 434.
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7. Ibid. p. 431.
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8. Idea of a University, p. 439.
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9. Ibid. p. 443.
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10. Idea of a University, p. 489.
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11. 'Lecture on Christianity and Scientific Investigation.' See Idea of a University, pp. 458-60.
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12. Idea of a University, pp. 465-66.
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13. 'Lecture on Christianity and Scientific Investigation.' See Idea of a University, p. 471.
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14. Ibid. p. 476.
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15. Inner Life of Lacordaire, by Chocarne (English translation), p. 72.
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16. Idea of a University, p. 296.
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17. Idea of a University, p. 311.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright © 2004 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.