SUMMER 2023, NO 446
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If we were to play Isaiah Berlin’s game and divide the writers and thinkers of this world into two groups, foxes and hedgehogs (see his The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View of History, 1953), into which group should we put John Henry Newman? For Berlin, of course, this classification, referring to a cryptic ancient Greek fragment – ‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’ – is too simple and shouldn’t be pushed too hard; but it does capture a deep dichotomy in approaches to the world. Some people – hedgehogs such as Plato, Dante, and Hegel – relate all their thoughts and experience to a central vision or organising principle and strive to maintain an integrated sense of reality. Others – foxes like Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Joyce – have no expectation of ever apprehending the great scheme of things and so embrace a vast variety of experiences without trying to fit them into a unitary vision. While everyone has elements of both, Berlin supposed, each person fits more in one group than the other.
So, where would Newman fit in? In a sense, his hedgehog credentials are secure. The unity of truth was axiomatic for him, and he believed that the pursuit of truth in any specific area had to be oriented towards that unity. His insistence on the need for theology in the university was built on this understanding; without it the university curriculum would cease to cohere and would fragment, if not disintegrate. He saw theology as the regulating principle of the whole Church system; and truth, he wrote, ‘is the guiding principle of theology’. This ‘centripetal’ dynamic, to use Berlin’s metaphor, is typical of the hedgehog: specific truths ought not to masquerade as the whole truth; all knowledge must be configured to truth itself.
Yet there is something fox-like in Newman too, and ironically it is sustained precisely by his unitary vision of truth. He did not suffer the ‘metaphysical’ anxiety that Berlin presumed goes with being a hedgehog; in fact, it was his conviction that all truths converge that made him unafraid of the discoveries of the natural sciences, willing to immerse himself in histories that challenged his own understanding of providence, and content to learn about the philosophical and theological traditions that ran against his own. He was an empiricist at heart, not a metaphysician. ‘We are in a world of facts,’ he wrote in the Grammar of Assent (Ch. 9, sect. 1), ‘and we use them; for there is nothing else to use. We do not quarrel with them, but we take them as they are, and avail ourselves of what they can do for us’. And this fearless realism showed in another critically important apprehension, one that dominated the course of his life and became the linchpin of his philosophy of mind: in all his enquiries he had nowhere to start other than with himself. ‘I am what I am, or I am nothing,’ he asserted, again in the Grammar (Ch. 9, sect. 1):
I cannot think, reflect, or judge about my being, without starting from the very point which I aim at concluding. My ideas are all assumptions, and I am ever moving in a circle. I cannot avoid being sufficient for myself, for I cannot make myself anything else, and to change me is to destroy me. If I do not use myself, I have no other self to use.
This he was happy to call ‘egotism’ – which, he said, in provinces of inquiry such as religion, philosophy and theology, is ‘true modesty’ (Grammar, Ch. 10, Introduction):
In religious inquiry each of us can speak only for himself, and for himself he has a right to speak. His own experiences are enough for himself, but he cannot speak for others: he cannot lay down the law; he can only bring his own experiences to the common stock of psychological facts.
What we have in Newman, then, is a conception of the unity of knowledge, but also a firm conviction that a student’s growth in understanding is of necessity radically limited by their subjectivity. Which means, if the work of a university is to come to anything, two things are required. In the first place, the students must recognise both the objective and the subjective limits of studying any one discipline. And secondly, what Hans Georg Gadamer has termed a fusion of horizons of understanding is needed – students from many disciplines brought together so that their minds are shaped and tempered by interchange and collision with other minds, such that each of them is left with ‘a consciousness of mental enlargement’; ‘he does not stand where he did, he has a new centre, and a range of thoughts to which he was before a stranger’ (Idea of a University, Discourse VI, Pt. 4).
This was what Newman meant by the ‘idea’ of a university – a living principle embodied in a community, sustained by a tradition, and holding many strands of learning together into an integrated whole. It may well be a far cry from the research universities of today, with their stress on specialisation, attracting funding, and incubating business ventures, all under an increasingly managerialist leadership, but that does not make it irrelevant. There is much to be gained by calling contemporary values into question and asking if some of the deficiencies in the political, social, and moral order of our culture may not be ascribable to the failure of universities to foment a broader and more integrated sense of knowledge.
Though Newman’s tenure as Rector of the Catholic University of Ireland was brief – no more than four years – his impact on the later incarnations of the institution has been considerable. It is a happy sign of that continued influence that University College Dublin has for some years now had a Newman Centre for the Study of Religions, a Recognised Research Centre based in the School of Philosophy. The stated role of the Centre is ‘to provide a national and international forum for interdisciplinary research into religion and faith in all their aspects, with inclusivity towards different religious traditions, perspectives, and values’. Also, one of its core aims is ‘to continue to promote the legacy of Newman and support research on all aspects of his work’.
Last October (2022), UCD’s Newman Centre, together with The Notre Dame Newman Centre for Faith and Reason, hosted a series of discussion panels over two days. The first day addressed the theme of ‘Newman’s Idea of a University’, and the second looked at ‘The University and Society in the 21st Century’. Thanks to the good offices of Dr Daniel Esmonde Deasy, Associate Professor in the UCD School of Philosophy and Director of the Newman Centre, Studies is able to publish a number of the panel contributions in this issue. I am grateful to Dr Deasy and to the contributors for this opportunity.
Two of the essays published here relate specifically to Newman’s experience in Dublin. In ‘Newman’s Idea of a University’ Finola Kennedy presents an overview of his relations with Ireland in the context of the university project. She emphasises that the university, unlike specialised research academies, was meant to lay the stress on teaching, especially through a tutorial system that fostered relationships between students and teachers. The tutorial system is also the subject of Paul Shrimpton’s ‘Newman’s Idea of a Tutor and its Implementation at the Catholic University’. The essay describes how Newman and like-minded tutors at Oriel College, Oxford, held the view that the tutorial system could fulfil a pastoral role, breaking down the distance between teachers and students so that the students could best be helped to mature. What worked in Oriel, however, was not so easy in Dublin, but Newman was determined to implement the system.
The two remaining essays on Newman relate to his understanding of development. The first, Katherine O’Donnell’s ‘The Gentleman in Newman’s Idea of a University: A Genderless Model for Irish Catholics’, also pertains to Newman’s Dublin experience but it considers his idea of personal development rather than the functioning of the university itself. Specifically, it shows how Newman’s idea of a gentleman stands in striking opposition to the image of highly charged masculinity proffered by the apologists of ‘muscular Christianity’. Newman’s gentleman is ‘oddly genderless, or non-binary’; the image is not dependent on not being feminine but is simply about the cultivation of grace and dignity. The last of these essays, by the present writer, was not delivered at the Newman Centre’s discussion panels but was inspired by them. ‘Newman’s Idea of Development: A Note’ concerns the development of doctrine. It argues that the Church’s growth in wisdom and knowledge is comparable in structure to the psychological and maturation processes of an individual, and that to this extent it is markedly different from the narrower organic model of development proposed by St Vincent of Lérins.
In ‘A Pilgrim Church: Responding in Uncertain Times’, Timothy Quinlan responds with his own reflections on some of the essays published in the autumn 2022 issue of Studies, on the theme of Derek Scally’s book The Best Catholics in the World. He notes the many ways in which the abuse of power in the Church, particularly through covering up corruption and placing loyalty to the institution before justice, has hampered its commitment to pastoral accompaniment and a culture of attention and dialogue. He argues that for the Church truly to become a pilgrim people it will be necessary to bridge the gap between the institutional Church and the local Church.
Sociologist Mary Murphy has just published an important book on Creating an Ecosocial Welfare Future (Policy Press, 2023), and in her article here, ‘The Future of Welfare is Ecosocial: Making it Happen, she presents the key ideas of the book. The problem she identifies is that contemporary capitalism, both Irish and global, relies on growth and increased consumption as a legitimating narrative. This must be challenged, as it leads directly to inequality, environmental destruction, and global warming. A post-growth ecosocial solution is needed, one which is capable of effecting transformative change through people power, mobilisation, and collective action.
In ‘Rebalancing Distorted Science Policy’, William Kingston address the hot topic of research funding in Ireland. He is critical of a policy that directs funds towards the universities even though the country does not have the firms necessary to utilise the research that results. Economic innovation, he argues, begins with ‘innovative individuals and managements in firms’. The policy of funding agencies, therefore, should be to support firms that are actually working in markets, and help them to forge links with universities for research that they cannot do themselves.
Journalist and academic Brian Feeney presents a comprehensive history of the Northern Irish Protocol, beginning with British Prime Minister Theresa May’s declaration in 2016 that Britain would push back against the EU on Brexit issues. He follows the story through the downfall of May, the ‘bad faith’ of Boris Johnson, the problematic response of the DUP, the UK–EU impasse under Liz Truss, and the drawing up of the Windsor Framework. Deep divisions remain, he notes, and much remains to be resolved.
Two review articles complete the essay section of this issue. In ‘How to Address the Climate Crisis’, Peadar Kirby brings together two important and complementary books, Greta Thunberg’s The Climate Book and Gregory Claeys’s Utopianism for a Dying Planet: Life after Consumerism. He notes the breadth and depth of Thunberg’s book, a large compendium of essays by established climate experts, and he sees its work to be furthered by Claeys’s exploration of the utopian tradition as a necessary framework for realisable changes in human activity. The immensity and urgency of the climate crisis is such that a whole new way of thinking is needed, and these two books, taken together, provide a map for this. And in ‘Apocalyptic Humanism in Hauerwas and Barth’, theologian Declan Kelly reviews Stanley Hauerwas’s recent publication Fully Alive: The Apocalyptic Humanism of Karl Barth. He dates the ‘apocalyptic turn’ in theology to Barth’s work in the aftermath of the First World War, and he broaches the question of to what extent Hauerwas may be considered to be ‘an apocalyptic theologian for our apocalyptic time’. But while apocalyptic theology sound serious and dire, Kelly affirms that for both Barth and Hauerwas, it entails a playfulness grounded in a deep eschatological hope.
A Pilgrim Church – Responding in Uncertain Times
Having spent some thirty years (1980–2010) teaching religion at second level in a Dublin city school, I can confirm from personal experience many of the contentions about the steady decline of the influence of the Catholic Church as detailed in Derek Scally’s book The Best Catholics in the World and as it is reflected in the broad range of articles in response to its publication in the autumn 2022 issue of Studies.
Newman’s Idea of a Tutor and its Implementation at the Catholic University
John Henry Newman was invited to become the founding rector of the Catholic University in July 1851. Soon after accepting he announced his intention to combine the professorial and tutorial systems in his plans, adding that ‘the principal making of men must be by the Tutorial system’. A year later, he explained that at Oxford the ‘real working men were, not the Professors, but the Tutors’, and that he wished this to be the case in Dublin as well.
Newman’s Idea of a University
Newman’s journey to Dublin began with an invitation in 1851 from Archbishop Cullen of Armagh – shortly afterwards to become Archbishop of Dublin – to advise on the proposed establishment of a Catholic University. He also asked Newman if he ‘could spare time to give us a few lectures on education’. These ‘few lectures’ would form the Dublin Discourses and ultimately The Idea of a University. There was a total of nine discourses, five of which were delivered in Dublin.
Newman’s Idea of Development: A Note
In March of this year (2023), Joseph Strickland, Bishop of Tyler, Texas, long a vocal critic of Pope Francis, accused the bishops behind the German ‘synodal way’ of using Newman’s concept of the development of doctrine as a vehicle to push false teaching forward. In his support, he quoted a 2017 First Things essay by Michael Pakaluk, Professor of Ethics and Social Philosophy at the Catholic University of America. Newman’s theory, Pakaluk wrote, had its origin in the Commonitorium of St Vincent of Lérins, the main preoccupation of which was to show that the contents of the faith are unalterable. The Commonitorium, written in the 430s, was the first sustained theological effort to establish criteria by which the true development of doctrine could be distinguished from heresy. It was hugely influential, especially for the two principles at its core: firstly, that the Church must ensure that it holds ‘that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all’ (quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est – often called the Vincentian canon);4 and secondly, that development in the teachings of the Church must be an advance of established teaching (profectus), not a reversal (permutatio).
Rebalancing Distorted Science Policy
In an earlier article in Studies I discussed Ireland’s need for indigenous economic innovation, and what might be done about it.What follows focusses on related issues of excessive and wrongly directed expenditure on scientific research as a barrier to the achievement of this.
The Future of Welfare is Ecosocial: Making it Happen
Mary P. Murphy
This short article addresses the process of creating an ecosocial welfare future and is organised as nine key steps to a future welfare settlement, outlined in the visual of the Spiders Web below, and proceeds by exploring the problem, the solution and the politics of mobilisation for transformation. This version of an ecosocial welfare future is offered not as a concrete solution or definitive answer but to prompt social and institutional imagination and encourage discussion and debate. This article identifies the dual challenge of environmental destruction and inequality, and proposes an ecosocial solution as part of a broader transformative agenda to a post-growth world. It situates a political strategy for making it happen through a deepening and widening of democratic institutions and processes and through coalition-building. The conclusion underscores the urgency of now and the need to be Ready Now.
The Gentleman in Newman’s Idea of a University: A Genderless Model for Irish Catholics
The Idea of a University (1858) comprises ten public lectures John Henry Newman gave in Dublin on the occasion of the establishment of the first Catholic University of Ireland in 1852 when he was invited by the Irish Catholic hierarchy to assume the role of rector. The publication also includes a series of discourses and articles written during his tenure at the university from 1854 to 1858. In the preface Newman defines the nature and aims of a university, stressing that it is a place not so much for the advancement of knowledge through research as the diffusion of knowledge and the acquisition of wisdom through teaching and learning.
The Protocol for Ireland/Northern Ireland: A Long and Winding Road
The gestation of what became the Irish/Northern Irish Protocol, later simply ‘the protocol’, began on Sunday 2 October 2016, after the British Prime Minister Theresa May made a speech at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham setting out a hard line on Brexit. The next day Michel Barnier began his new job as the EU’s Brexit negotiator.