Friday, June 3, 2011

Newman's Idea of a University

In April, Father Ian Ker delivered a lecture at the Catholic University of America explaining Newman's great work on University education:

Rev. Ian Ker described Cardinal John Henry Newman’s book The Idea of a University as “the one classic on university education” in an April 27 lecture titled “Newman’s Idea of a University — Some Misunderstandings.”

However, Father Ker — one of the world’s leading experts on Newman and a senior research fellow in theology at Oxford University — noted that Newman’s work has been misinterpreted in some ways.

Newman, who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on Sept. 19, 2010, was the rector at the Catholic University of Ireland from 1854 to 1858. The book, which was published in 1873, was written in two parts at different times: one on university teaching (1852) and one on university subjects (1858).

In his book, Newman wrote that liberal education was the principal goal of a university. Newman’s definition of a liberal education, Father Ker noted, is not a liberal arts education as it is understood today, but “a real cultivation of the mind.”

“The heart of his philosophy of education was to use one’s mind, to think,” said Father Ker.

He concluded his lecture with a reminder of the continuing relevance of Newman's vision of university:

In the end, Father Ker noted that all universities have changed since Newman’s time but that does not mean that his ideas are irrelevant today.

“The fundamental principles of Newman are still of value,” he said. “If you stray too far from them, you can’t be a university.”

While preparing for his new role as president of CUA, Garvey read The Idea of a University. The book inspired Garvey in his selection of the inaugural year theme “Intellect and Virtue: The Idea of a Catholic University.” This lecture was part of a series of events related to that theme.

Father Ker is generally recognized as the leading authority on the life and thought of Newman. He has written and edited more than 20 books about Newman, including the Oxford critical edition of The Idea of a University and John Henry Newman: A Biography. He is also the author of The Catholic Revival in English Literature 1845-1961 and Mere Catholicism.

In introducing Father Ker, Monsignor Kevin Irwin, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies, described the scholar as “breaking news” in the United Kingdom as his new book, G. K. Chesterton: A Biography, was just published there last week.

More on Fr. Ian Ker at CUA here. More on the Chesterton biography here.


  1. I wonder what Newman would have made of the enormous debts students for training that doesn't really relate to education.

  2. I don't know what he thought of economic issues--politically he was a Tory, so he might have thought those attending university would be able to pay as you go. His father owned a bank that went bankrupt, you know, so he might have been wary of debt!

  3. Hehe - at least there was the absolution of bankruptcy!

    These days banks and the state exist in unholy matrimony, and the taxpayer gets damned with the bill.

  4. Mr. Newman and his partners did pay off their creditors, at least!