The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated

by John Henry Newman

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Other Themes

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A number of other, more minor themes can be found in Newman’s original nine lectures and also in the various occasional lectures given after his Irish university opened. In a speech given in 1854, for example, Newman defined “civilization” in a distinctly Western manner, as belonging to those cultures and traditions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and resident in Europe. In particular, Jerusalem was defined as the fountainhead of religious knowledge, while Athens was the foundation of all secular knowledge, with Homer identified as the “first Apostle of Civilization.” Rome was seen as the beneficiary of both traditions, which were then mediated to a Christianized Europe. Newman was certainly aware of other cultures lying outside the Mediterranean and European sphere but essentially dismissed them as irrelevant.

In a later lecture, Newman expressed the wish for a truly Catholic tradition of literature, but went on to douse his own hopes by saying that the English literary tradition was already essentially formed (almost exclusively by Protestants) and that the language such a tradition both presupposes and perfects was already set out as complete.

More important were several lectures given on the relationship between theology and the sciences, in which Newman essentially dismissed the growing tension between the two areas as artificially contrived. Central to his discussion was his distinction between science as an inductive pursuit and theology as a deductive pursuit: Science was engaged in the discovery of the processes of the natural world and in the description and categorization of those processes, while theology concentrated on the understanding and characterization of divine revelation, which was complete in and of itself. This distinction allowed Newman to reiterate his belief that both science and theology could be taught side by side, without either one interfering with the proper work of the other.

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