Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Idea of a University

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Idea of a University

Article excerpt

The Idea of a University. By John Henry Newman and edited by Frank M. Turner. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996. vii + 377 pp. $35.00 (trade cloth), $15.00 (paper), $89.95 (14 cassettes).

Yale's recent reprinting of the better part of The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated (1873) takes its place among the recent spate of new editions and books on the writings and accomplishments of John Henry Newman (1801-1890), English man of letters and prominent leader in the Church of England and in the Church of Rome. Competing with two other currently available (and complete) paperback printings of Newman's now classic work (Loyola University Press, 1987; University of Notre Dame Press, 1982), the new Yale edition is one in a series called "Rethinking the Western Tradition." The stated purpose of the series is "to address the present debate over the western tradition by reprinting key works of that tradition along with essays that evaluate each text from different perspectives."

The Idea of a University proper ( 1873) consists of two parts: the Dublin Discourses of 1852 and the "Lectures and Essays on University Subjects" published separately in 1859. For Newman, the idea of "University" represents a place of universal learning in which are taught all of the interdependent branches of the complete circle of knowledge. Each branch or discipline, including theology, is an abstraction from the circle of knowledge and offers unique access to an aspect of truth. Together the various disciplines check and balance each other's encroachments and imperialist tendencies, including those of theology, as together they constitute a representation of the ultimate subject matter of all knowledge, the interconnected whole of God's creation. No one of the disciplines, including theology, can be systematically excluded from the circle of knowledge without prejudicing the accuracy and scope of the others. Not the mere acquisition of information, not training for a vocation or profession, not even knowledge directed toward the moral or religious improvement of the young, liberal education is, simply and directly, learning for its own sake. It is, first of all, the cultivation of an enlarged and illuminated intellect, the development of an orientation, or a "philosophical habit of mind," which enables a person to survey and to map, to evaluate and to judge, the relative bearings and dispositions of things, of viewpoints and of values. It is, secondly and indirectly, a preparation for life in the world and for any profession or vocation an educated person wishes to undertake.

In the last two Dublin Discourses, Newman shifts dramatically into a new register and radically qualifies the ideal of the liberally educated "gentleman" he has just set forth. Liberal education, Newman claims, tends toward the absolutizing of one's own powers of reason, character and judgment; it tends toward a self-centered, self-sufficient life of leisure-one that is troubling to the thoughtful Christian commanded to love and to serve others. The most brilliant ethicist is not by that fact living a moral life, nor is the knowledge of theology any guarantee of religious faith.

Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk, then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man (90).

The broader vision that Newman is now advancing becomes clear: while the idea or essence of the university is the cultivation of the intellect, "practically speaking," he says, ". . . the Church is necessary for its integrity," that is, for the completion of its idea in the virtuous and faith-filled life of the individual in community.

The new Yale paperback edition of The Idea is unique in its helpful critical apparatus for the Newman neophyte, in its addition of five interpretive essays (by Martha McMackin Garland, Sara Castro-Klaren, George P. …

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