Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Theology to the Rescue

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Theology to the Rescue

Article excerpt

"Newman, God, and the Academy" by Daniel Cere, in Theological Studies (Mar. 1994), Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass. 02167.

In the modern academy, there is "a strange silence about ultimate questions of good and evil, life and death," observes Cere, a lecturer in religion and theology at Concordia University, Montreal. Theology - the tradition of inquiry into the "God-question," the question of the "supreme good" - has been pushed to the margins of academic debate, replaced by "religious studies," which deals with religious experience only in descriptive and historical terms.

In his controversial 1987 book about higher education, The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom blamed the academy's malaise on its blanket repudiation of the Socratic tradition of philosophical inquiry, yet he ignored "the foundational role of the Christian tradition in the development of the university," Cere says. Bloom's own nemesis, Nietzsche, "warned that we cannot expunge `God' from our grammar and expect that things will go on as before. Athens needs Jerusalem since metaphysical reason cannot stand without a universal ground."

John Henry Newman (1801-90), in his classic defense of liberal education, The Idea of a University (1853), presented a more balanced picture, Cere believes: "Newman's bifocal view of the Greek and Judeo-Christian heritage of the academy alerts the reader to the critical role of theology in the emergence of the European university and in the evolution of Western academic discourse."

A Roman Catholic cardinal who, before his conversion, had been a leader of the high-church Oxford Movement in the Church of England, Newman saw theology not as a sovereign "queen" reigning over the academy but as a legitimate "sister" in the "goodly family of sciences. …

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