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Cardinal John Henry Newman closer to becoming Saint

Cardinal John Henry Newman is close to becoming Britain’s first new saint since St. John Ogilvie was Canonised by Pope Saint Paul VI in 1976, writes Dr Stephen Kelly.

Two authenticated miracles are required before sainthood and Newman, who was already credited with curing a man's spinal disease, is now said to have healed a woman's unstoppable bleeding.

The decision on behalf of Pope Francis to authorise the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to issue a decree attributing the second miracle to Cardinal Newman removes the last hurdle in the cause of his Canonisation.

Cardinal Newman, who was declared Venerable by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1991 and Beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, was an extraordinary individual.

He stands as a Victorian giant in the field of theology, philosophy and education. Influencing many academic and spiritual disciplines, Cardinal Newman’s writings and his lifelong search for religious truth continue to inspire scholars throughout the world. 

Liverpool Hope University aims to enhance and extend the reach of Cardinal’s Newman’s life and spirituality.

The Gradwell collection, housed in Hope’s Library, contains a generous corpus of Cardinal Newman’s own published works (including first editions) and books on or related to Newman.

This scholarly resource is complemented by the availability of a recently updated extensive collection of Newman related publications from the main Sheppard-Worlock Library collection.

The collection also includes, preserved on microfilm, the diaries, letters and miscellaneous documents from the Cardinal Newman Archive held at the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, in Birmingham.

On the subject of Cardinal Newman’s educational thought, particularly towards his idea of liberal knowledge, modern educationalists and third level institutions throughout the globe remain indebted to his vision.

Indeed, today, there is hardly a humanist educator who has failed to quote the significance of Cardinal Newman’s idea of Liberal Knowledge.

The mania for specialisation at university level, with its consequent result of narrow-mindedness and inability to communicate with those not of the same intellectual discipline, has led to a greater awareness of the necessity for a liberal education, which Cardinal Newman so skilfully portrayed.

By Liberal Knowledge Cardinal Newman did not mean an acceptance of the emerging 19th century liberal educational philosophy of Utilitarianism. Rather his use of “liberal” was far more ancient; it denoted a commitment to the philosophy and ethos of the historical ”liberalism” of European cultural tradition.

For Cardinal Newman, liberal education was entailed as an education in which knowledge was sought for its own sake and not for any benefits which might derive it.

This did not mean he viewed Liberal Knowledge as its own end, as “implying a total expulsion of religion and morality from higher education.”

On the contrary, Newman believed that Liberal Knowledge had an important objective in the field of higher education.

Cardinal Newman’s idea of Liberal Knowledge, as defined in his seminal publication 'The Idea of a University' (1852) and put into practice during his rectorship of the Catholic University of Ireland (CUI) from 1851 to 1858, was to get the balance right between a liberal education, which would prepare good members of society, and a utilitarian training, which would provide experts skilled in their professions.

Through The Idea of a University, particularly Discourses V, VI and VII, Cardinal Newman articulated eloquently his idea of Liberal Knowledge, both from a philosophical and practical standpoint.

He spoke of his “exhaustion” in composing his Discourses; while he may have very well been physically and mentally worn out by his Irish mission, it proved a worthwhile exercise.

His idea of Liberal Knowledge was, therefore, what one would today call “general knowledge,” conceived of as a preliminary both to professional training and to civic life.

Despite the fact that all writings become dated, Cardinal Newman’s views should not be dismissed.

Newman scholars agree that the doctrine of Liberal Knowledge is Cardinal Newman’s most important contribution to the theory of higher education.

Indeed, his rectorship of the CUI ushered some examples of forward-thinking on the subject of higher education. 

Although Cardinal Newman envisaged that the CUI would follow the medieval tradition, with four faculties consisting of arts, medicine, law and theology, under his guidance the university was to the forefront of European academic advancement.

At the CUI, he founded chairs of Political and Social Science, Political Economy, and Geography.

Additionally, Cardinal Newman found one of the first chairs of English Literature in the British Isles, to which he added a chair of Poetry; indeed the CUI was one year ahead of Oxford University in founding a Chair of English Literature.

He urged the establishment of an Engineering School, despite the difficulty of combining academic residence with the practical studies of the experience in field works which the sciences required.

Not only that, but Cardinal Newman was one of the earliest exponents of the laity securing prominent academic and administrative positions at the CUI. He wanted a layman to be appointed as vice-rector and requested that a lay committee be employed to administer and supervise the university’s finances.

Arguably, Cardinal Newman’s most important educational advancement was the foundation of the Medical School at the CUI. He wrote that its importance was not simply a question of producing qualified doctors, but of “securing the moral and liberal education of the Medical Profession, a profession which can, of all others, be an aid and support to parish priests in the country at large.”

Essentially, Cardinal Newman held an appreciation for what was worth preserving from the traditions of the older universities, together with an awareness of what needed to be inaugurated in response to the requirements of contemporary society. In the words of Michael Tierney, Cardinal Newman’s mission to Ireland established a new type of university which, “while drawing upon the lessons of the past, would at the same time be capable of meeting the challenge of the present and future.”

Dr Stephen Kelly is Senior Lecturer in Modern History and author of A Conservative at Heart? The Political and Social Thought of John Henry Newman (Dublin, 2012).

Published on 29/05/2019