John Henry Newman.

On the scope & nature of university education online

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to believe and to take it for granted, that Religion
was nothing beyond a supply of the wants of human



THEOLOGY



nature, not an external fact and a work of God.
There was, it appeared, a demand for Religion, and
therefore there was a supply ; human nature could not
do without Religion, any more than it could do with-
out bread ; a supply was absolutely necessary, good or
bad, and, as in the case of the articles of daily susten-
ance, an article which was really inferior was better
than none at all. Thus Religion was useful, venerable,
beautiful, the sanction of order, the stay of government,
the curb of self-will and self-indulgence, which the
laws cannot reach : but, after all, on what was it
based ? Why, that was a question delicate to ask,
and imprudent to answer ; but if the truth must be
spoken, however reluctantly, the long and the short of
the matter was this, that Religion was based on custom,
on prejudice, on law, on education, on habit, on
loyalty, on feudalism, on enlightened expedience, on
many, many things, but not at all on reason ; reason
was neither its warrant, nor its instrument, and science
had as little connection with it as with the fashions,
or the state of the weather.

You see, gentlemen, how a theory or philosophy,
which began with the religious changes of the six-
teenth century, has led to conclusions, which the
authors of those changes would be the first to denounce,
and has been taken up by that large and influential
body which goes by the name of Liberal or Latitudi-
narian ; and how, where it prevails, it is as unreason-
able of course to demand for Religion a chair in a
University, as to demand one for fine feeling, sense of
honour, patriotism, gratitude, maternal affection, or
good companionship, proposals which would be simply
unmeaning.

Now, in illustration of what I have been saying, I

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A BRANCH OF KNOWLEDGE

will appeal, in the first place, to a statesman, but not
merely so, to no mere politician, no trader in places,
or votes, or the stock market, but to a philosopher,
to an orator, to one whose profession, whose aim, has
ever been to cultivate the fair, the noble, and the
generous. I cannot forget the celebrated discourse of
the celebrated man to whom I am alluding ; a man
who is first in his peculiar walk ; and who, moreover
(which is much to my purpose), has had a share, as
much as any one alive, in effecting the public recog-
nition in these Islands of the principle of separating
secular and religious knowledge. This brilliant
thinker, during the years in which he was exerting
himself in its behalf, made a speech or discourse, on
occasion of a public solemnity ; and in reference to
the bearing of general knowledge upon religious belief,
he spoke as follows :

" As men," he said, " will no longer suffer them-
selves to be led blindfold in ignorance, so will they
no more yield to the vile principle of judging and
treating their fellow-creatures, not according to the
intrinsic merit of their actions, but according to the
accidental and involuntary coincidence of their opinions.
The great truth has finally gone forth to ajl the ends
of the earth," and he prints it in capital letters, " that
man shall no more render account to man for his
belief, over which he has himself no control. Hence-
forward, nothing shall prevail upon us to praise or to
blame any one for that which he can no more change,
than he can the hue of his skin or the height of his
stature." 1 You see, gentlemen, if this philosopher is
to decide the matter, religious ideas are just as far

1 Mr. Brougham's Glasgow Discourse.
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from being real, or representing anything beyond
themselves, are as truly peculiarities, idiosyncrasies,
accidents of the individual, as his having the stature of
a Patagonian, or the features of a Negro.

But perhaps this was the rhetoric of an excited
moment. Far from it, gentlemen, or I should not
have fastened on the words of a fertile mind, uttered
so long ago. What Mr. Brougham laid down as a
principle in 1825, resounds on all sides of us, with
ever-growing confidence and success, in 1852. I
open the Minutes of the Committee of Council on
Education for the years 1848-50, presented to both
Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty,
and I find one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools,
at p. 467 of the second volume, dividing " the topics
usually embraced in the better class of primary schools"
into four : the knowledge of signs, as reading and
writing ; of facts, as geography and astronomy ; of
relations and laws, as mathematics ; and lastly sentiment,
such as poetry and music. Now, on first catching
sight of this division, it occurred to me to ask myself,
before ascertaining the writer's own resolution of the
matter, under which of these four heads would fall
Religion, or whether it fell under any of them. Did
he put it aside as a thing too delicate and sacred to be
enumerated with earthly studies ? or did he distinctly
contemplate it when he made his division ? Anyhow,
I could really find a place for it under the first head,
or the second, or the third ; for it has to do with
facts, since it tells of the Self-subsisting ; it has to do
with relations, for it tells of the Creator ; it has to do
with signs, for it tells of the due manner of speaking of
Him. There was just one head of the division to
which I could not refer it, viz., to sentiment ; for,

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A BRANCH OF KNOWLEDGE

I suppose, music and poetry, which are the writer's
own examples of sentiment, have not much to do with
Truth, which is the main object of Religion. Judge
then my surprise, gentlemen, when I found the fourth
was the very head selected by the writer of the Report
in question, as the special receptacle of religious topics,
44 The inculcation of sentiment" he says, "embraces
reading in its higher sense, poetry, music, together
with moral and religious Education/' What can be
clearer than that, in this writer's idea (whom I am far
from introducing for his own sake, because I have no
wish to hurt the feelings of a gentleman, who is but
exerting himself zealously in the discharge of anxious
duties; I do but introduce him as an illustration of
the wide-spreading school of thought to which he
belongs), what, I say, can more clearly prove than a
candid avowal like this, that, in the view of that school,
Religion is not knowledge, has nothing whatever to do
with knowledge, and is excluded from a University
course of instruction, not simply because the exclusion
cannot be helped, from political or social obstacles,
but because it has no business there at all, because it is
to be considered a mere taste, sentiment, opinion, and
nothing more ?

The writer avows this conclusion himself, in the
explanation into which he presently enters, in which
he says : " According to the classification proposed,
the essential idea of all religious Education will consist
in the direct cultivation of the feelings." What we
contemplate, then, what we aim at, when we give a
religious Education, is, it seems, not to impart any
knowledge whatever, but to satisfy anyhow desires
which will arise after the Unseen in spite of us, to
provide the mind with a means of self-command, to
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impress on it the beautiful ideas which saints and
sages have struck out, to embellish it with the bright
hues of a celestial piety, to teach it the poetry of de-
votion, the music of well-ordered affections, and the
luxury of doing good. As for the intellect, its exercise
happens to be unavoidable, whenever moral impres-
sions are made, from the constitution of the human mind,
and it varies in its conclusions with the peculiarities of
the individual. Something like this seems to be the
writer's meaning, but we need not pry into its finer issues
in order to gain a distinct view of its general bearing ;
and taking it, as I think we fairly may take it, as a
specimen of the philosophy of the day, as adopted by
those who are not conscious unbelievers, or open
scoffers, I consider it amply explains how it comes to
pass that this day's philosophy sets up a system of
universal knowledge, and teaches of plants, and earths,
and creeping things, and beasts, and gases, about the
crust of the earth and the changes of the atmosphere,
about sun, moon, and stars, about man and his doings,
about the history of the world, about sensation, memory,
and the passions, about duty, about cause and effect,
about all things imaginable, except one and that is,
about Him that made all these things, about God.
I say the reason is plain because they consider know-
ledge, as regards the creature, is illimitable, but im-
possible or hopeless as regards the being and attributes
and works of the Creator.

Here, however, it may be objected to me that this
representation is certainly extreme, for the school in
question does, in fact, lay great stress on the evidence
afforded by the creation, to the Being and Attributes
of the Creator. I may be referred, for instance, to the
words of one of the speakers on a memorable occasion.
24



A BRANCH OF KNOWLEDGE

At the very time of laying the first stone of the Uni-
versity of London, I confess it, a learned person, since
elevated to the Protestant See of Durham, which he
still fills, opened ihe proceedings with prayer. He
addressed the Deity, as the authoritative Report in-
forms us, "the whole surrounding assembly standing
uncovered in solemn silence." " Thou," he said, in
the name of all present, "Thou hast constructed the
vast fabric of the universe in so wonderful a manner,
so arranged its motions, and so formed its productions,
that the contemplation and study of Thy works exer-
cise at once the mind in the pursuit of human science,
and lead it onwards to Divine Truth" Here is ap-
parently a distinct recognition that there is such a
thing as Truth in the province of Religion ; and, did
the passage stand by itself, and were it the only means
we possessed of ascertaining the sentiments of the
powerful body whom this distinguished person there
represented, it would, as far as it goes, be satisfactory.
I admit it ; and I admit also the recognition of the
Being and certain Attributes of the Deity, contained in
the writings of the gifted person whom I have already
quoted, whose genius, versatile and multiform as it is,
in nothing has been so constant, as in its devotion to
the advancement of knowledge, scientific and literary.
He then, in his "Discourse of the objects, advan-
tages, and pleasures of science," after variously illus-
trating what he terms its "gratifying treats," crowns
the catalogue with mention of " the highest of all our
gratifications in the contemplation of science," which
he proceeds to explain thus:

"We are raised by them," says he, "to an under-
standing of the infinite wisdom and goodness which
the Creator has displayed in all His works. Not a

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step can be taken in any direction," he continues,
* without perceiving the most extraordinary traces of
design ; and the skill, everywhere conspicuous, is cal-
culated in so vast a proportion of instances to promote
the happiness of living creatures, and especially of our-
selves, that we can feel no hesitation in concluding,
that, if we knew the whole scheme of Providence,
every part would be in harmony with a plan of absolute
benevolence. Independent, however, of this most con-
soling inference, the delight is inexpressible, of being
able to follow, as it were, with our eyes, the mar-
vellous works of the Great Architect of Nature, to
trace the unbounded power and exquisite skill which
are exhibited in the most minute, as well as the
mightiest parts of His system. The pleasure derived
from this study is unceasing, and so various, that it
never tires the appetite. But it is unlike the low
gratifications of sense in another respect : it elevates
and refines our nature, while those hurt the health,
debase the understanding, and corrupt the feelings ; it
teaches us to look upon all earthly objects as insigni-
ficant and below our notice, except the pursuit of
knowledge and the cultivation of virtue, that is to say,
the strict performance of our duty in every relation of
society ; and it gives a dignity and importance to the
enjoyment of life, which the frivolous and the grovel-
ling cannot even comprehend."

Such are the words of this prominent champion of
Mixed Education. If logical inference be, as it un-
doubtedly is, an instrument of truth, surely, it may be
answered to me, in admitting the possibility of inferring
the Divine Being and Attributes from the phenomena
of nature, he distinctly admits a basis of truth for the
doctrines of Religion.

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I wish, gentlemen, to give these representations
their full weight, both from the gravity of the ques-
tion, and the consideration due to the persons whom I
am arraigning ; but, before I can feel sure I understand
them, I must ask an abrupt question. When I am
told, then, by the partisans of Universities without
Theological teaching, that human science leads to
belief in a Supreme Being, without denying the fact,
nay, as a Catholic, with full conviction of it, neverthe-
less I am obliged to ask what the statement means in
their mouths, what they, the speakers, understand by
the word " God." Let me not be thought offensive,
if I question, whether it means the same thing on the
two sides of the controversy. With us Catholics, as
with the first race of Protestants, as with Mahometans,
and all Theists, the word contains, as I have already
said, a theology in itself. | At the risk of anticipating
what I shall have occasion to insist upon in my next
Discourse, let me say that, according to the teaching
of Monotheism] God is an Individual, Self-dependent,
All-perfect, Unchangeable Being; intelligent, living,
personal, and present ; almighty, all-seeing, all-remem-
bering ; between whom and His creatures there is an
infinite gulf; who has no origin, who is all-sufficient
for Himself; who created and upholds the universe;
who will judge every one of us, sooner or later, ac-
cording to that Law of right and wrong which He
has written on our hearts. He is One who is sove-
reign over, operative amidst, independent of, the ap-
pointments which He has made ; One in whose hands
are all things, who has a purpose in every event, and a
standard for every deed, and thus has relations of His
own towards the subject-matter of each particular
science which the book of knowledge unfolds ; who
27



THEOLOGY



has with an adorable, never-ceasing energy mixed Him-
self up with all the history of creation, the constitution
of nature, the course of the world, the origin of society,
the fortunes of nations, the action of the human mind;
and who thereby necessarily becomes the subject-matter
of a science, far wider and more noble than any of
those which are included in the circle of secular
Education.

This is the doctrine which belief in a God
implies : if it means anything, it means all this,
and cannot keep from meaning ail this, and a
great deal more ; and, even though there were
nothing in the religious tenets of the last three cen-
turies to disparage dogmatic truth, still, even then,
I should have difficulty in believing that a doc-
trine so mysterious, so peremptory, approved itself
as a matter of course to educated men of this day,
who gave their minds attentively to consider it.
Rather, in a state of society such as ours, in which
authority, prescription, tradition, habit, moral instinct,
and the divine influences go for nothing, in which
patience of thought, and depth and consistency of
view, are scorned as subtle and scholastic, in which
free discussion and fallible judgment are prized as
the birthright of each individual, I must be ex-
cused if I exercise towards this age, as regards its
belief in this doctrine, some portion of that scepticism
which it exercises itself towards every received but
nnscrutinised assertion whatever. I cannot take it for
granted, I must have it brought home to me by tan-
gible evidence, that the spirit of the age means by the
Supreme Being what Catholics mean. Nay, it would
be a relief to my mind to gain some ground of assur-
ance, that the parties influenced by that spirit had, I
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will not say, a true apprehension of God, but even so
much as the idea of what a true apprehension is.

Nothing is easier than to use the word, and mean
nothing by it. The heathens used to say, "God
wills," when they meant " Fate " ; " God provides,"
when they meant " Chance " ; " God acts," when
they meant "Instinct" or "Sense"; and "God is
everywhere," when they meant " the Soul of Nature. 1 '
The Almighty is something infinitely different from a
principle, or a centre of action, or a quality, or a generali-
sation of phenomena. If, then, by the word, you do
but mean a Being who has contrived the world and keeps
in in order, who acts in it, but only in the way of general
Providence, who acts towards us but only through
what are called laws of Nature, who is more certain
not to act at all than to act independent of those laws,
who is known and approached indeed, but only through
the medium of those laws ; such a God it is riot diffi-
cult for any one to conceive, not difficult for any one
to endure. If, I say, as you would revolutionise
society, so you would revolutionise heaven, if you have
changed the divine sovereignty into a sort of constitu-
tional monarchy, in which the Throne has honour and
ceremonial enough, but cannot issue the most ordinary
command except through legal forms and precedents,
and with the counter-signature of a minister, then
belief in a God is no more than an acknowledgment
of existing, sensible powers and phenomena, which
none but an idiot can deny. If the Supreme Being is
powerful or skilful, just so far forth as the telescope
shows power, and the microscope shows skill, if His
moral law is to be ascertained simply by the physical
processes of the animal frame, or His will gathered from
the immediate issues of human affairs, if His Essence
29



THEOLOGY

is just as high and deep and broad and long as the
universe, and no more ; if this be the fact, then will
I confess that there is no specific science about God,
that Theology is but a name, and a protest in its behalf
an hypocrisy. Then is He but coincident with the
laws of the universe ; then is He but a function, or
correlative, or subjective reflection and mental impres-
sion of each phenomenon of the material or moral
world, as it flits before us. Then, pious as it is to
think of Him, while the pageant of experiment or
abstract reasoning passes by, still, such piety is nothing
more than a poetry of thought or an ornament of
language, and has not even an infinitesimal influence
upon philosophy or science, of which it is rather the
parasitical production. I understand, in that case,
why Theology should require no specific teaching, for
there is nothing to mistake about ; why it is powerless
against scientific anticipations, for it merely is one of
them ; why it is simply absurd in its denunciations of
heresy, for heresy does not lie in the region of feet
and experiment. I understand, in that case, how it is
that the religious sense is but a " sentiment/' and its
exercise a " gratifying treat," for it is like the sense of
the beautiful or the sublime. I understand how the
contemplation of the universe " leads onwards to divine
truth," for divine truth is not something separate from
Nature, but it is Nature with a divine glow upon it.
I understand the zeal expressed for Natural Theo-
logy, for this study is but a mode of looking at
Nature, a certain view taken of Nature, private
and personal, which one man has, and another has
not, which gifted minds strike out, which others
see to be admirable and ingenious, and which all
would be the better for adopting. It is but the
30



A BRANCH OF KNOWLEDGE

theology of Nature, just as we talk of the philosophy
or the romance of history, or the poetry of childhood,
or the picturesque, or the sentimental, or the humorous,
or any other abstract quality, which the genius or the
caprice of the individual, or the fashion of the day,
or the consent of the world, recognises in any set of
objects which are subjected to its contemplation.

Such ideas of religion seem to me short of Mono-
theism ; I do not impute them to this or that indi-
vidual who belongs to the school which gives them
currency ; but what I read about the " gratification "
of keeping pace in our scientific researches with " the
Architect of Nature " ; about the said gratification
" giving a dignity and importance to the enjoyment of
life," and teaching us that knowledge and our duties
to society are the only earthly objects worth our
notice, all this, I own it, gentlemen, frightens me;
nor is Dr. Maltby's address to the Deity sufficient to
reassure me. I do not see much difference between
avowing that there is no God, and implying that
nothing definite can for certain be known about Him ;
and when I find Religious Education treated as the
cultivation of sentiment, and Religious Belief as the
accidental hue or posture of the mind, I am reluctantly
but forcibly reminded of a very unpleasant page of
Metaphysics, viz., of the relations between God and
Nature insinuated by such philosophers as Hume.
This acute, though most low-minded of speculators,
in his inquiry concerning the Human Understanding,
introduces, as is well known, Epicurus, that is, a
teacher of atheism, delivering an harangue to the
Athenian people, not indeed in defence, but in ex-
tenuation of that opinion. His object is to show that,
whereas the atheistic view is nothing else than the
3 1



THEOLOGY



repudiation of theory, and an accurate representation
of phenomenon and fact, it cannot be dangerous, un-
less phenomenon and fact be dangerous. Epicurus is
made to say, that the paralogism of philosophy has
ever been that of arguing from Nature in behalf of
something beyond Nature, greater than Nature ;
whereas God, as he maintains, being known only
through the visible world, our knowledge of Him is
absolutely commensurate with our knowledge of it
is nothing distinct from it is but a mode of viewing
it. Hence it follows that, provided we admit, as we
cannot help admitting, the phenomena of Nature and
the world, it is only a question of words whether or
not we go on to the hypothesis of a second Being,
not visible but immaterial, parallel and coincident with
Nature, to whom we give the name of God. " Allow-
ing," he says, "the gods to be the authors of the
existence or order of the universe, it follows that they
possess that precise degree of power, intelligence, and
benevolence, which appear s in their workmanship ;
but nothing further can be proved, except we call in
the assistance of exaggeration and flattery to supply
the defects of argument and reasoning. So far as the
traces of any attributes, at present, appear, so far may
we conclude these attributes to exist. The supposition
of further attribmes is mere hypothesis ; much more
the supposition that, in distant periods of place and
time, there has been, or will be, a more magnificent
display of these attributes, and a scheme of administra-
tion more suitable to such imaginary virtues."

Here is a reasoner, who would not hesitate to deny
that there is any distinct science or philosophy possible
concerning the Supreme Being ; since every single
thing we know of Him is this or that or the other



A BRANCH OF KNOWLEDGE



phenomenon, material or moral, which already falls
under this or that natural science. In him then it
would be only consistent to drop Theology in a course
of University Education : but how is it consistent in
any one who shrinks from his companionship ? I am
glad to see that the author, several times mentioned, is
in opposition to Hume, in one sentence of the quota-
tion I have made from his Discourse upon Science,
deciding, as he does, that the phenomena of the
material world are insufficient for the full exhibition
of the Divine Attributes, and implying that they
require a supplemental process to complete and
harmonise their evidence. But is not this supple-
mental process a science ? and if so, why not acknow-
ledge its existence ! If God is more than Nature,
Theology claims a place among the sciences : but, on
the other hand, if you are not sure of as much as this,
how do you differ from Hume or Epicurus?

I end then as I began : religious doctrine is know-


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Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanOn the scope & nature of university education → online text (page 5 of 22)