J.H. Newman on Notre Dame… in advance

From First Things.  Biretta tip to my friend Fr. GM    o{]:¬)

My emphases and comments.

Newman and Notre Dame

By Joseph Bottum
Tuesday, March 31, 2009, 12:10 PM

Fr. George Rutler’s 1995 book Crisis of Saints has just been republished, which is a good thing. Missing from the new edition, however, seems to be the chapter “Newman and Land O’Lakes,” [I have been mentioning the Land O’ Lakes Statement and its connection with Notre Dame.] about the condition of Catholic education. As we contemplate the self-satisfied responses of Notre Dame to the objections about its commencement speaker, perhaps this passage from the chapter deserves remembering:

As early as the Tamworth Reading Room letters, Newman was certain that even a classical education based on other than Christianity as its element and principle would degenerate into either “a mawkish, frivolous and fastidious sentimentalism” or “ a dry, unamiable longheadedness” or “an uppish, supercilious temper, much inclined to scepticism.” The Land O’Lakes “Statement on the Nature of the contemporary Catholic University” succumbed to all three, expressing itself incidentally in an English as bereft of the standards Newman enjoyed as it is of his logic. It already sounds dated as Newman’s “Idea” […of the University"] cannot be, trapped in a 1960s time warp, the abject proof that thought must surrender to the slavery of contemporaneity [nice phrase] when it is not “formed” by the liberating disciplines of the arts.

Certainly with the best intentions, a prominent churchman, not unrepresentative of the Land O’ Lakes school of thought (Bishop James Malone), upset the economy of Newman’s intelligence of obedience when he said in a 1986 commencement address at Notre Dame: “Theology will also enrich the Church if it takes into account the teaching office of the bishops and the pope, not slavishly but with honorable fidelity.” Unlike Newman, he is not careful to define his terms, but he does imply that there are theologians who might enslave themselves to the Magisterium. [Ah yes… and you can hear the cheerful clink of ice in faculty dining room high-ball glasses as they exchange quips about the fundamentalists…]  A servile theologian would be a contradiction as Newman understands theological science. [Why? … Because… ] The teaching office of the Church precludes unthinking obedience precisely by the fact that it teaches essentially as the seat of authority only because it is integrally the seat of wisdom. The commencement speaker made the same dialectical faux pas that led Berengar of Tours astray in his exaggerated rejection of scholastic priorities in the eleventh century. No one in the audience, not even all those new bachelors of arts, seemed to have detected this, not even after four years in a midwestern Catholic university. […cough…] Perhaps the day was too sultry. Or perhaps the microphone had failed, or the distractions of so an exciting an occasion did not encourage serious allusions. Or perhaps, even in a Catholic university, they had not been told about Berengar of Tours. . . .  [Should that have been McBrien’s course… I wonder…  ]

Intellectualism so partisan may be the romance of the natural man and even the reverie of the pagan gentleman, but it is not the logic of the Catholic scholar. Liberal education untutored by ecclesial obedience has a tendency to turn into “pick and choose” intellectualism. Says Newman, “This Intellectualism first and chiefly comes into collision with precept, then with doctrine, then with the very principle of dogmatism;—a perception of the Beautiful becomes the substitute for faith . . . even within the pale of the Church, and with the most unqualified profession of her Creed, it acts, if left to itself, as an element of corruption and infidelity.” With grave prophecy, Newman warned that a university captive to such corruption would become a religion of its own, an institutional rival to the Church.


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  1. R&R says:

    Spot on indeed.

  2. TNCath says:

    “Lead Kindly Light amid th’encircling gloom…” (Cardinal Newman)

    Truer words were never more applicable to today’s state of affairs in the world and in the Church.

    Lead Thou us on!

  3. EDG says:

    “an institutional rival to the Church…” That’s a very interesting point. I hadn’t considered this aspect. One of the things that AmChurch is seeking is institutionality, that is, the existence of some institutional framework that will legitimize them and make them seem like the rightful and established “owners” of the Church. Very interesting.

  4. Thomas says:

    I just bought CRISIS OF SAINTS a few weeks ago when I popped into my local Pauline Books and Media. I’d never heard of it before, but I like Fr. Rutler. Now I find out the publishers hacked parts out of it! What the #$@!%.

  5. Supertradmom says:

    The trouble is that Notre Dame administration and some of the faculty actually believe they are Catholic! Somehow, they have twisted the definition of what it means to be Catholic to something more akin to the Protestant definition involving “private interpretation of the Bible” and supposed “superiority of personal conscience”. They quote Newman on this issue of conscience frequently, claiming that a person’s individual beliefs trump those of the Magisterium. Such “scholars” use the same language more traditional and orthodox Catholics may use, but with a difference. This, to me, is frightening, as the language of Newman and other Catholic scholars, has been distorted to suit the ideology of the liberal. Isn’t this a definition of “propaganda”-the purposeful misrepresentation of truth for political or social ends?

  6. Ed says:

    Does anyone know of a good article debunking the abuse that Newman on conscience has endured? I mean–beyond this one, although this article clearly shows that even if folks “really, really think” they are right…they aren’t.

  7. Cel says:

    I sometimes wonder if the best people to teach are really the people who speculate and research. Professors seem to confuse those two separate parts of their jobs. Some probably do so on purpose. Why is it so difficult to understand that you don’t compromise your academic freedom to research and speculate on all manner of topics when you spend a mere 6 hours a week lecturing on the basics of what the Church teaches. Sure, go ahead and bring up the wild theories in a graduate seminar course, but not in an undergraduate survey course. Even if you mention what your research is about it is not hard to say “but that is my speculation, now lets open the book and see what the Church currently teaches.” These are smart people they should be able to figure out how to pull it off. But then, the goal is not to teach the subject but rather to question the authority.

  8. mpm says:

    Comment by Supertradmom — 31 March 2009 @ 6:06 pm

    The answer as to whether it’s “propaganda”: Yes.

    The background “heresy” was called “modernism”: you won’t hear that word used
    by these fellows you are referring to (without a smirk) because they often do
    not even understand what it means.

    Modernism essentially undermines true doctrine by retaining a word or phrase
    and eviscerating it of its orthodox meaning. One example, the phrase “Christ’s
    Real Presence in the Eucharist”. What the Church means by “real” is that His
    Presence is “in re”, in the thing itself, i.e., not “in mente” in the mind only.

    Modernists I have known will eviscerate that by describing all sorts of other
    modes of “presence”: “health” as present in the IV drip, in medicine, in the
    doctor’s science, etc.

    What these folks lack is the supernatural virtue of Faith. They don’t want to
    believe that the Faith as taught to the Apostles by Christ, and to us by the
    Apostle’s and their successors, could ever possibly be accurate, since there
    are no known instances of such a phenomenon elsewhere in the world. Why this
    is a lack of Faith is this: the Guarantor of that Tradition is the Holy Spirit,
    not our human talents.

    The reason it is propaganda is that when one loses the Faith, nature abhors a
    vaccuum, and the Faith is replaced by any ideology you want. The expression of such ideologies is mere propaganda.

  9. Steve K. says:

    mpm, good explanation, well done!

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