Sunday, July 23, 2017

Discourse 1. Introductory

In the introductory discourse, Newman begins to lay out is vision. It appears that Newman is acutely aware of the political tightrope he is walking. He is careful to never go too far nor to leave any counterargument undefended. He is proposing a middle ground which is always vulnerable to being flanked on purity. Newman’s idea of a Catholic university the institution maintains a modest independence is most vulnerable to those that thought the Church should take tighter control. 

Newman writes of his former institution in England, “it was giving no education at all to the youth committed to its keeping.” One major reason given was brought upon by the push for universities to drop “their remoteness from the occupations and duties of life.” Newman draws liberally from his past work in education. Defending this at length in the piece. He seeks to build his new institution with safeguards against the failings he personally experienced.

Addressing his Protestant background, he seeks to undercut the idea that it will be different in Ireland simply because she is Catholic. He cautions, “we are sometimes tempted to let things take their course, as if they would in one way or another turn up right at last for certain.” While there are distinct differences between the universities of England and the Ireland, Newman sees no reason to not learn from England.

Ireland and the Church in Ireland, according to Newman, were at a crossroad with regards to university education. Where the Church saw the necessity of some secular education when expedient, now, “highest authority has now decided that the plan, which is abstractedly best, is in this time and country also most expedient.” Newman shows that the Church has learned from non-Catholics in the past but that does not mean a more Catholic experience cannot be achieved in their lives.

Newman is careful to check the Bishops of Ireland by noting the ultimate decision rests with “the highest authority on earth, from the Chair of St. Peter.” This is maybe the most telling section of this discourse. Tipping the reader off that what he is reading is meant as more than a thought experiment. There is a political component that underlies the entire piece. This added complexity can be difficult as we are left without context of the other players. We must infer from the text what the various schools of thought were.

Knowing he is an outsider to Ireland, Newman is quick to show humility but maintains an air of authority. The prose is careful to not insult where it is not needed. He recounts the historic spreading of the Church’s theology. This being accomplished by outsiders entering a foreign domain and spreading the Gospel. Newman noting when the Saints of past often being sent by Rome.

Newman gives us an idea of some of his larger goals at the end of the first discourse. After acknowledging that the past stays the past he speaks of Britain and Ireland, “Rome is where it was, and St. Peter is the same: his zeal, his charity, his mission, his gifts are all the same. He of old made the two islands one by giving them joint work of teaching; and now surely he is giving us a like mission, and we shall become one again, while we zealously and lovingly fulfil it.”

1 comment:

A Wiser Man Than I said...

Good summary. On the one hand, Newman's preoccupation with theology, while understandable, would seem to have little to do with the university today. Even in Newman's own time, the torch was being passed from religious institutions to secular arms. Still, if the university is to seek its aim, it must have a measure of independence, so Newman's thoughts remain prescient.

I found your last quote most interesting. Newman was the first prominent English convert in a very long time. But he was far from the last. From the Oxford Movement--named after the institution where Newman made his famous conversion--up through the middle of the 20th Century, it seemed possible that England would return to the ancient Faith it once shared with Ireland. That this did not happen doesn't mean it could not have. History is only inevitable in hindsight.