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Cardinal Newman and Franciscan University

New undergraduate students this semester were invited to read excerpts from John Henry Cardinal Newman's The Idea of a University and to discuss them in groups as part of their orientation to Franciscan University.

What impact do Newman's ideas have on you?

Newman's work is not easy. He gave his two sets of talks 144 and 146 years ago. Some of his words are little used today; "palaestra" would send most of us to the dictionary. Other words have changed meanings, for example, hazard, empiric, exigencies, and liberal. That last word is especially important. You are receiving a liberal arts education. Does that suggest that your political views are being molded after those of Senator Teddy Kennedy? Hardly!

Despite the challenges of Newman's prose, his work is important to you. It shapes much of your experience here at Franciscan University. Newman taught, and we believe, that "liberal education... is simply the cultivation of the intellect, as such, and its object is nothing more or less than intellectual excellence." The word "liberal" comes from the same root as "liberate"; a well-cultivated mind sets you free.

Some people think of education as learning a lot of facts. But a command of facts is only a byproduct. A liberal arts education encourages life long habits of the mind that enable you to see past trivia, sham, and illogic, that help you distinguish what is important from the merely urgent. There is a beauty in an incisive well-disciplined mind. You are in university, not just to accumulate knowledge, but to learn how to learn for the rest of your life.

Newman's work is not widely understood in modern society.

Newman protested against "utilitarianism", the insistence that everything we do must be useful in some way or other. Yet it is commonplace to view education as vocational preparation. "Go to university, so you can get better jobs when you are finished." The United States is a utilitarian society, influenced much by the philosophy of John Locke. In contrast, we are caricatured as insisting that learning is good to the extent that it is useless (non-utilitarian). Not so! The cultivated mind has value in and of itself, just as time spent gazing into the eyes of our beloved has value in and of itself. Moreover, at Franciscan University we point to a much higher utility. The parable of the dragnet in the Gospel of Matthew (13:47-53) illustrates God's utility: "When it was full, they hauled it ashore and sat down to put what was worthwhile into containers. What was useless they threw away. That is how it will be at the end of the world." So we take utility very seriously. Where we differ from conventional wisdom is that self-serving utility is not a worthy end. We must look higher.

Newman also made a strong separation between cultivation of the mind and of morality. They are separate. That doesn't mean that we are not interested in morality! Is Theodore Kaczynski (the Ph.D. Unabomber) an educated person? What of that Rhodes scholar who humiliated the nation with his sexual antics in a room next to the oval office? The one man hates people. The other has eroded the moral strength of a nation. Both have educated minds. Both are ethically challenged.

At Franciscan University, we are interested in development of the total person, and not in the intellect alone. Why? Because we believe that God wants all that we are... our mind, our will, our capacity to love and to serve. Newman talks about freedom as an end, a cultivated intellect as an end. Within the scope of his argument, the idea of a university, Newman is precisely correct. In our mission statement (part A of General Policies, page 247 in the catalog), we concur with Newman: "The specific vocation of a student is intellectual development. This is what distinguishes a student from those in other walks of life." But Franciscan University urges us to go further, to look at education from the divine perspective. Intellectual life and freedom now are seen as means to a higher end. "A Christian student is one who concentrates on intellectual development through studies while integrating faith and learning in and out of the classroom. THEREFORE, AT THIS UNIVERSITY THERE IS NO ARTIFICIAL SEPARATION OF THE INTELLECTUAL AND THE FAITH LIFE."

Look at the first verse of Galatians chapter 5: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." You are here to strive for the freedom that comes from a cultivated mind. Rejoice in freedom! Proclaim the beauty of freedom. BUT... freedom is a means to a higher end. Galatians 5, verse 13: "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another."

Freedom is a means to servanthood! Freedom is a means to love.

One last point.

Watch out for the arrogance, not there in Newman, but very much part of the culture in which he labored in 19th century Britain and Ireland. "Educated gentlemen" tended to despise the professions. Professional studies were not part of the university then. Now they are together. Our mission "is to further the higher education of men and women through programs of liberal, professional and pre-professional studies...." From a Christian Catholic perspective, the professions have as their starting point human need. Professionals are servants who enhance human dignity through caring service. So we have the liberal arts and professional studies together here, both brought to you in a divine utilitarianism, that whatever our educational area and our future service, we will love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves, to the greater glory of God.

Want a homework assignment? Read Ex Corde Ecclesiae, John Paul's 1990 encyclical, which expands upon Newman and lays out very neatly the magisterial understanding that is the basis for your educational experience here at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

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