All posts tagged: John Henry Newman

Reason’s Shadow: Romanticism’s Impact on Catholic Thought

Bl. John Henry Newman, one of the greatest modern intellectuals for both Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions alike, had little patience with Romanticism. Although a contemporary of the British Romantics—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats—Newman was by and large dismissive of Romantic efforts to turn the world away from an overdependence on reason, which had seeped into modern minds with Kantian ideas and the emergence of German idealist philosophy. Instead, Newman offered a robust recalibration of reason in his Grammar of Assent, The Idea of a University, and various of his Oxford Sermons. Reframing the first question of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, Newman enjoined, “Admit a God, and you introduce among the subjects of your knowledge, a fact encompassing, closing in upon, absorbing, every other fact conceivable. How can we investigate any part of any order of Knowledge, and stop short of that which enters into every order?”[1] Newman’s preoccupation with reason and knowing emerged in response to modern philosophy’s downgrade and dismissal of faith as a matter of personal and non-rational belief. What mattered in …

The Myth of Original Christianity and the Holy Sepulcher’s Immovable Ladder

“The Holy Land”—the modern state of Israel and the West Bank—is a space sacred not for its singularity in relation to the rest of the globe, but rather for its iconic representation of the human drama, condensed into a pressure cooker of 27,736 square kilometers or 10,709 square miles. To provide a sense of scale: Texas is 268,597 square miles, New York State is 54,556 square miles, and Indiana is 36,418 square miles. Located in the heart of this Maryland-sized plot of land, the Old City of Jerusalem takes up a mere 0.9 square kilometers or 0.35 square miles. Within this city, whose area is one-fifth the size of the University of Notre Dame’s campus, there is a piecemeal basilica-church which occupies approximately 0.007 square kilometers or 0.003 square miles. Since Constantine reclaimed it for the local Christian community in the 4th century, that church, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, has been a keenly cherished destination for Christian pilgrims. Just as Israel/Palestine is a crux for crises wrought by human frailty and power compressed …

97 Aphorisms and Apothegms Inspired by Reading John Henry Newman

Pascal is right in much of what says about grace, right in some of what he says about sin, and entirely wrong with regard to what he says about their relationship. The “average man” elevated by self-pronounced realists is a lemming, not only a symptom of the failure to thrive but even to begin. Whether we want it or not a human being is the tensile string between saint and sinner. The “average man” is a modern construct. He arises in an age of capital, when one man wishes to exploit another and feel good about it. The best way of complimenting Adam Smith is to ignore what he says about money, and listen to what he says about the affections. The “average man” is a fiction that institutes the power of number. The mediocre many can be adduced against the few who are excellent.  Lacking in the modern view of the “average man” is the sense of scale. Historical Christianity certainly recognized mediocrity and gave it cover. What distinguishes it from modern or liberal …

The Advent Apocalypse

Our parishes are too safe. They gather together like-minded citizens whose children go to the same schools, whose parents root for the same football team and work in similar fields. We form insular communities that sing music praising not the triune God who comes to interrupt history through the power of the cross, but music reminding the Creator of the universe how lucky God is to have a people like us as his own. The Church’s liturgy in these instances functions not as a counter-polis but as a replication of social structures that reduce the reign of God to a country club. We naively sing (accompanied by an upbeat tambourine), “Send down the fire of your justice,” unaware that this fire may be for us. And we do so in the name of an evangelization that is supposed to be palatable for a generation that longs not for prophetic discourse but therapeutic memoirs. Advent is the season in which our parishes should once again become dangerous spaces. The coming of Christ that we prepare for …

The Folly of “Mine”

“Mine.” It’s a word that parents of young children hear a lot. And it’s a sentiment that parenthood slowly chisels out of you—that false sense of being able to lay claim to things to which we’re attached. Naptime, for example: naptime is “mine”—my oasis of peace while the children both sleep, God willing. Perhaps nothing has taught me more about the potency of expectation than the day-to-day suspense of whether naptime will create an opening in the day’s schedule, or not. As C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters puts it so succinctly, it’s easy to fall prey to feeling cheated: Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. . . . Nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. . . . You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own.’ Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours.”[1] …

The Idea of a Catholic University

Those privy to conversations in Catholic higher education in the last twenty years are well aware of the contentious status of discourse regarding Catholic identity among these institutions of higher learning.[1] Does the Catholic identity of such schools relate primarily to the prominence of theological and philosophical education in the curriculum? Is it ensured through an emphasis on tangible Catholic practice and visible iconography on campus? To what extent does Church teaching inform who is invited to campus, either for awards or for other lectures? Does one cultivate the Catholic character of a university by establishing faculty and student quotas, ensuring the presence of religiously like-minded faculty, staff, and students alike? If Catholic identity is a contentious term, might it be more profitable to nurture a robust conversation regarding Catholic intellectual tradition?[2] Such queries are not simply the result of Catholics, who succumbed to the secularization of higher education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[3] As Monika Hellwig summarized the situation of modern-day Catholic higher education in the United States: We are the …