The compatibility of faith and reason

One of Newman’s greatest contributions to Christian thinking, and one which guided him in his educational endeavours, concerns the relation of faith and reason in fallen man. He was convinced that the disjunction of academic and moral education was one of the great evils of the age. He saw through the argument that by becoming more knowledgeable, a man would become better morally, while understanding how a people like the English, with no real religious faith to speak of, would resort to such false notions as the supposed moral benefits of knowledge: such an idea, he held, was based on a false understanding of human nature, for it did away with any conception of moral development and neglected the education of conscience.

The whole foundation of Bentham’s utilitarian University College in London was premised on the idea that knowledge does make men better morally; as early as the 1830s, Newman was a consistent critic of this fallacy of the ‘march of mind’.

For Newman, the University Church in Dublin ‘symbolized the great principle of the University, the indissoluble union of philosophy with religion’. (‘What I aimed at’)

Newman balances the claims of revealed religion and natural knowledge, explaining that a university, ‘is pledged to admit, without fear, without prejudice, without compromise, all comers, if they come in the name of Truth; to adjust views, and experiences, and habits of mind the most independent and dissimilar; and to give full play to thought and erudition in their most original forms, and their most intense expressions, and in their most ample circuit’. (Idea of a university)

The university man ‘who believes Revelation with that absolute faith which is the prerogative of a Catholic, is not the nervous creature who startles at every sudden sound, and is fluttered by every strange or novel appearance which meets his eyes’. Rather than live in a state of apprehension, ‘he laughs at the idea, that any thing can be discovered by any other scientific method, which can contradict any one of the dogmas of his religion’. (Idea of a university)

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