At first glance, John Henry Newman and Viktor Frankl seem like very different thinkers. Newman, an English scholar who converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, largely lived an uninterrupted life of privilege in the nineteenth century. Frank, a twentieth-century Viennese Jew, had his life journey severely disrupted when he was sent in his twenties to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp. Nevertheless, both men were intellectuals who deeply valued knowledge and learning, and believed that knowledge should be grounded in faith.
John Henry Newman argued that knowledge, learning, and faith were intimately tied together. To his mind, it was almost impossible to have a fully developed faith life without pursuing knowledge about universal truth and virtue. Yet he also stated strongly that while even secular knowledge is a good in and of itself, it needs to be grounded in Christian theology. He wrote in "The Idea of a University" that:
"In a word, Religious Truth is not only a portion, but a condition of general knowledge. To blot it out is nothing short, if I may so speak, of unraveling the web of university teaching."
To Newman, faith and reason complement each other. Science is not the enemy of religion. Nevertheless, secular knowledge has failed if, through it, a student loses his religious faith.
Newman also believed that living a moral life--practicing what we preach--makes people more virtuous. Knowledge, properly understood as the search for universal truth or meaning, cannot be separated from virtue: an individual needs to understand what virtue and truth are in order to practice them. Further, Newman believed that knowledge and learning are meant for the benefit not just of the individual or small group, but for humankind as a whole.
Like Newman, Frankl came to believe that a connection to the divine is at the core of the fulfilled human life. Although he was a psychologist, he believed it was not merely material drives, such the sex drive or the death drive or the will to power that motivate humans most deeply, but the search for deeper meaning. If a person's life seems deeply meaningful to him or her, that person will have a greater possibility of surviving even in the worst situation imaginable, such as a concentration camp. He writes in Man's Search for Meaning about how having a sense of purpose helped him survive in hellish conditions.
Like Newman, Frankl believed that knowledge and learning are integral to the search for meaning and are, for that reason, highly valuable. In Man's Search for Meaning he states:
"I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge."
In his doctoral dissertation, The Unconscious God, Frankl wrote that religious faith is a deeply individual matter but that belonging to or being involved with a faith group in a knowledgable way increases a person's sense of meaning and purpose in life. Frankl believed that people should seek self-knowledge of their hidden or unconscious spirituality in order to be able to find their unconscious God (their divine source). Although he did not, like Newman, advocate for a particular religious faith, he did, like Newman, believe that spirituality or a sense of meaning is the ground of knowledge and learning. Also, like Newman, he believed that knowledge and learning should be for the improvement of all human beings—and that as individuals find their true spiritual core and purpose they will be more likely to live the kind of lives that will improve humanity overall.