This month would have been the 215th birthday Of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. One of the first teachers to tackle the modern and utilitarian problems facing Catholic Education, Cardinal Newman was originally an evangelical Oxford University academic and priest in the Church of England. He became later drawn to the high-church of Anglicanism. “Newman provides a much-needed educational vision today as an attractive alternative to the shapeless, relativistic and uninspiring alternatives of so many contemporary universities,” said Paul Shrimpton, who teaches at Magdalen College School, Oxford, and specializes in the history of education. “His practice and example will appeal to those who value the idea of a liberal [arts] education, those interested in the education of the whole person and those with an interest in the idea of a faith-based college or university.”
While it may be hyperbole to say that he foresaw most of the problems that are facing Catholic colleges and universities today, there is a reason and insight in Newman’s writing that is still applicable to this day. While there are many who are aware of his writings, not as many know about the true devotion he had to the vision of an authentic Catholic education. He was instrumental in the founding of the Catholic University of Ireland, which has evolved into the University College of Dublin, the largest university in Ireland.
Anti-Catholicism was central to British culture at the time, ever since the Protestant Reformation. In order to educated the public, Newman took the initiative and booked the Birmingham Corn Exchange for a series of public lectures. He decided to make their tone popular and provide cheap off-prints to those who attended. These lectures were his Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England and they were delivered weekly, beginning on 30 June and finishing on 1 September 1851.
In total there were nine lectures:
- Protestant view of the Catholic Church
- Tradition the sustaining power of the Protestant view
- Fable the basis of the Protestant view
- True testimony insufficient for the Protestant view
- Logical inconsistency of the Protestant view
- Prejudice the life of the Protestant view
- Assumed principles of the intellectual ground of the Protestant view
- Ignorance concerning Catholics the protection of the Protestant view
- Duties of Catholics towards the Protestant view
-which form the nine chapters of the published book.
Andrew Nash describes the Lectures as: “an analysis of this [anti-Catholic] ideology, satirising it, demonstrating the false traditions on which it was based and advising Catholics how they should respond to it. They were the first of their kind in English literature.”
John Wolffe assesses the Lectures as: “an interesting treatment of the problem of anti-Catholicism from an observer whose partisan commitment did not cause him to slide into mere polemic and who had the advantage of viewing the religious battlefield from both sides of the tortured no man’s land of Littlemore.”
The poet Aubrey de Vere was, at the time, another lecturer appointed by Newman. De Vere stated, “I was pained by the very humble labours to which Newman seemed so willingly to subject himself. It appeared strange that he should carve for thirty hungry youths, or sit listening to the eloquent visitors. Such work should have fallen on subordinates, but their salaries it was impossible to provide.”
Much of his work focused on the importance of Catholic education and the importance it plays on the health of the Church itself. Many Catholic institutions today owe their practices to Newman, as do the Popes, and how they guide education throughout the years.