What makes a Catholic university?

‘A University is not ipso facto a Church Institution’, Newman argues; like a hospital, it ‘has no direct call to make men Catholic or religious, for that is the previous and contemporaneous office of the Church’. Nevertheless the indirect effects of a university can be religious; ‘As the Church uses Hospitals religiously, so she uses Universities’. In order ‘to secure its religious character, and for the morals of its members, she has ever adopted together with it, and within its precincts, Seminaries, Halls, Colleges and Monastic Establishments’. (First draft of an Introduction to Discourse VI, 16 July 1852)

What follows from this line of thinking ‘is that the office of a Catholic University is to teach faith, and of Colleges to protect morals. (Second draft of an Introduction to Discourse VI, 23 July 1852)

Newman reminds his readers that, ‘when the Church founds a University, she is not cherishing talent, genius, or knowledge, for their own sake, but for the sake of her children, with a view to their spiritual welfare and their religious influence and usefulness, with the object of training them to fill their respective posts in life better, and of making them more intelligent, capable, active members of society’. (Idea of a university)

This means that when the Pope recommends to the Irish hierarchy the establishment of a Catholic university, his ‘first and chief and direct object is, not science, art, professional skill, literature, the discovery of knowledge, but some benefit or other, to accrue, by means of literature and science, to his own children; not indeed their formation on any narrow or fantastic type, as, for instance, that of an “English Gentleman” may be called, but their exercise and growth in certain habits, moral or intellectual’. (Idea of a university)

But this does not mean that in acting like this the Church ‘sacrifices Science, and, under pretence of fulfilling the duties of her mission, perverts a University to ends not its own […] the Church’s true policy is not to aim at the exclusion of Literature from Secular Schools, but at her own admission into them. […] She fears no knowledge, but she purifies all; she represses no element of our nature, but cultivates the whole.’ (Idea of a university)

Newman argues that, ‘it is no sufficient security for the Catholicity of a University, even that the whole of Catholic theology should be professed in it, unless the Church breathes her pure and unearthly spirit into it, and fashions and moulds its organization, and watches over its teaching, and knits together its pupils, and superintends its action’. (Idea of a university)

The consistency of his approach with the Church’s traditional teaching on the essential unity of religious and secular knowledge was brought out much more clearly in ‘The Tamworth Reading Room’. There Newman states: ‘Where Revealed Truth has given the aim and direction to Knowledge, Knowledge of all kinds will minister to Revealed Truth’. (Discussions and arguments)

‘It is the honour and responsibility of a Catholic University to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth. This is its way of serving at one and the same time both the dignity of man and the good of the Church, which has “an intimate conviction that truth is [its] real ally […] and that knowledge and reason are sure ministers to faith”.’ (John Paul II, Ex corde Ecclesiae, which quotes from the Idea of a university)

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