John Henry Newman.

On the scope & nature of university education online

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some particular faculty or capacity; and, while vehe-
mently 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 pursu-
ing, 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 gener^
ally, 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.

This is the case of men of genius: now one word on
the contrary in behalf of master minds, gifted with a
broad philosophical view of things, and a creative
power, and a versatility capable of accommodating
itself to various provinces of thought. These persons,
perhaps, like those I have already spoken of, take up


some idea and are intent upon it; some deep, prolific,
eventful idea, which grows upon them, till they develop
it into a great system. Now, if any such thinker starts
from radically unsound principles, or aims at directly
false conclusions, if he be a Hobbes, or a Shaftesbury,
or a Hume, or a Bentham, then, of course, there is an
end of the whole matter. He is an opponent of Revealed
Truth, and he means to be so; nothing more need be
said. But perhaps it is not so; perhaps his errors are
those which are inseparable accidents of his system
or of his mind, and are spontaneously evolved, not
pertinaciously defended. Every human system, every
human writer, is open to just criticism. Make him shut
up his portfolio; good! and then perhaps you lose
what, on the whole and in spite of incidental mistakes,
would have been one of the ablest defences of Revealed
Truth (directly or indirectly, according to his subject)
ever given to the world.

This is how I should account for a circumstance,
which has sometimes caused surprise, that so many
great Catholic thinkers have in some points or other
incurred the criticism or animadversion of theologians
or of ecclesiastical authority. It must be so in the
nature of things; there is indeed an animadversion
which implies a condemnation of the author; but there
is another which means not much more tkan the pit
legendum written against passages in the Fathers. The
author may not be to blame; yet the ecclesiastical
authority would be to blame, if it did not give notice
of his imperfections. I do not know what Catholic
would not hold the name of Malebranche in veneration ;
but he may have accidentally come into collision with
theologians, or made temerarious assertions, notwith-


standing. The practical question is, whether he had
not much better have written as he has written, than
not have written at all. And so fully is the Holy See
accustomed to enter into this view of the matter, that
it has allowed of its application, not only to philosophi-
cal, but even to theological and ecclesiastical authors,
who do not come within the range of these remarks.
I believe I am right in saying, that, in the case of three
great names, in various departments of learning,
Cardinal Noris, Bossuet, and Muratori, while not con-
cealing its sense of their each having propounded
what might have been said better, nevertheless it has
considered that their services to Religion were on the
whole far too important to allow of their being molested
by critical observation in detail.

And now, Gentlemen, I bring these remarks. to a
conclusion. What I would urge upon every one, what-
ever may be his particular line of research, what I
would urge upon men of Science hi their thoughts of
Theology, what I would venture to recommend to
theologians, when their attention is drawn to the
subject of scientific investigations, is a great and
firm belief in the sovereignty of Truth. Error may
flourish for a time, but Truth will prevail in the end.
The only effect of error ultimately is to promote Truth.
Theories, speculations, hypotheses, are started; per-
haps they are to die, still not before they have sug-
gested ideas better than themselves. These better
ideas are taken up in turn by other men, and, if they
do not yet lead to truth, nevertheless they lead to
what is still nearer to truth than themselves; and thus
knowledge on the whole makes progress. The errors
J of some minds in scientific investigation are more



fruitful than the truths of others. A Science seems
making no progress, but to abound in failures, yet
imperceptibly all the time it is advancing, and it is of
course a gain to truth, even to have learned what is not
true, if nothing more.

On the other hand, it must be of course remembered,
Gentlemen, that I am supposing all along good faith,
honest intentions, a loyal Catholic spirit, and a deep
sense of responsibility. I am supposing, in the scientific
inquirer, a due fear of giving scandal, of seeming to
countenance views which he does not really counten-
ance and of siding with parties from whom he heartily
differs. I am supposing that he is fully alive to the
existence and the power of the infidelity of the age;
that he keeps in mind the moral weakness and the
intellectual confusion of the majority of men; and that
he has no wish at all that any one soul should get harm
from certain speculations to-day, though he may have
the satisfaction of being sure that those speculations
will, as far as they are erroneous or misunderstood,
be corrected in the course of the next half century.



1801. Born in London.

1816. Entered at Trinity College, Oxford.

1822. Elected Fellow of Oriel College.

1824. Ordained Deacon in the Anglican Church.

1825. Ordained Priest.

1827. Publication of Keble's Christian Tear.

1828. Instituted to the Vicarage of S. Mary the Virgin,

1833. Keble's " Assize " sermon, the beginning of the Oxford


1841. Publication of Tract 90.
1843. Resigned the living of S. Mary's.

1845. Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Received

into the Roman Catholic Church.

1846. Ordained Priest at Rome and given the degree of

Doctor of Divinity.

1847. Established in England an Oratory of the Brotherhood

of S. Philip Neri.

1852. The Achilli libel trial. This is the " great anxiety"
to which he refers in the Dedication of the Dis-
courses. He was found guilty and fined ;ioo.
The heavy expenses of the trial were met by a
public subscription.

1854. Invited to become Rector of the new Catholic Univer-
sity in Dublin.

1859. Established the Edgbaston School.

1864. Apologia pro vita sua.

18656. The Dream of Gerontius.

1877. Elected Honorary Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford.

1879. Created Cardinal Deacon of the Holy Roman Church.

1890. Died. He is buried at Rednal.






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Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanOn the scope & nature of university education → online text (page 22 of 22)