Our Tradition: Educating For This World

Even if we could, still we should be shrinking from our plain duty, Gentlemen, did we leave out literature from education. For why do we educate, except to prepare for the world? Why do we cultivate the intellect of the many beyond the first elements of knowledge, except for this world? Will it be much matter in the world to come whether our bodily health or whether our intellectual strength was more or less, except of course as this world is in all its circumstances a trial for the next? If then a university is a direct preparation for this world, let it be what it professes. It is not a convent, it is not a seminary; it is a place to fit men of the world for the world. We cannot possibly keep them from plunging into the world, with all its ways and principles and maxims, when their time comes; but we can prepare them against what is inevitable; and it is not the way to learn to swim in troubled waters never to have gone into them. Proscribe (I do not merely say particular authors, particular works, particular passages) but secular literature as such; cut out from your class books all broad manifestations of the natural man; and those manifestations are waiting for your pupil’s benefit at the very doors of your lecture room in living and breathing substance. They will meet him there in all the charm of novelty, and all the fascination of genius or of amiableness. Today a pupil, tomorrow a member of the great world: today confined to the Lives of the Saints, tomorrow thrown upon Babel—thrown on Babel, without the honest indulgence of wit and humour and imagination having ever been permitted to him, without any fastidiousness of taste wrought into him, without any rule given him for discriminating “the precious from the vile,” beauty from sin, the truth from The sophistry of nature, what is innocent from what is poison. You have refused him the masters of human thought, who would in some sense have educated him, because of their incidental corruption: you have shut up from him those whose thoughts strike home to our hearts, whose words are proverbs, whose names are indigenous to all the world, who are the standard of their mother tongue, and the pride and boast of their countrymen, Homer, Ariosto, Cervantes, Shakespeare, because the old Adam smelt rank in them; and for what have you reserved him? You have given him “a liberty unto” the multitudinous blasphemy of his day; you have made him free of its newspapers, its reviews, its magazines, its novels, its controversial pamphlets, its parliamentary debates, its law proceedings, its platform speeches, its songs, its drama, its theatre, of its enveloping, stifling atmosphere of death. You have succeeded but in this in making the world his university.

Difficult then as the question may be, and much as it may try the judgments and even divide the opinions of zealous and religious Catholics, I cannot feel any doubt myself, Gentlemen, that the Church’s true policy is not to aim at the exclusion of literature from secular schools, but at her own admission into them. Let her do for literature in one way what she does for science in another; each has its imperfection, and she has her remedy for each. She fears no knowledge, but she purifies all; she represses no element of our nature, but cultivates the whole. Science is grave, methodical, logical; with science then she argues, and opposes reason to reason. Literature does not argue, but declaims and insinuates; it is multiform and versatile: it persuades instead of convincing, it seduces, it carries captive; it appeals to the sense of honour, or to the imagination, or to the stimulus of curiosity; it makes its way by means of gaiety, satire, romance, the beautiful, the pleasurable. Is it wonderful that with an agent like this the Church should claim to deal with a vigour corresponding to its restlessness, to interfere in its proceedings with a higher hand, and to wield an authority in the choice of its studies and of its books which would be tyrannical, if reason and fact were the only instruments of its conclusions? But, anyhow, her principle is one and the same throughout: not to prohibit truth of any kind, but to see that no doctrines pass under the name of truth but those which claim it rightfully.


  • Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman

    Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801 – 1890) was an Oxford academic and priest in the Church of England who co-founded the Oxford Movement. Following the publication of his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine in 1845, Newman converted to Catholicism and was made a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879. His major writings include his autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1865–66), and his philosophical treatise An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870). Newman was the founding president of University College, Dublin, and his inaugural lectures on education were collected in The Idea of a University (1853). Newman was a widely respected and influential Victorian churchman who also wrote novels, poetry, and composed popular hymns. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on September 19, 2010.

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