Monday, April 7, 2008
Reading again Newman's The Idea of a University, I recently stumbled upon this "editor's note" (in the 1927 Loyola edition edited by Daniel O'Connell): "It is notorious that Prefaces are seldom read. And they yet they are the heart of a literary viand, the very thesis of the entire book. This is well illustrated in the present preface."
Here is an excerpt from the preface of the book thus introduced, words for all of us who care about Catholic legal education to chew on: "The view taken of a University in these Discourses is the following: -- That it is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its object is , on the one hand, intellectual, not moral; and, on the other, that it is the diffusion and extension of knowledge rather than the advancement. If its object were scientific and philosophical discovery, I do not see why a University should have students; if religious training, I do not see how it can be the seat of literature and science.
"Such is a University in its essence, and independently of its relation to the Church. But, practically speaking, it cannot fulfil its object duly, such as I have described it, without the Church's assistance; or, to use the theological term, the Church is necessary for its integrity. Not that its main characters are changed by this incorporation: it still has the office of intellectual education; but the Church steadies it in the performance of that office."
There ensue affirmations that the Pope, in calling for the foundation of Catholic universities, does not fulfil a vow "to be a preacher of the theory of gravitation, or a martyr for electro-magnetism." The Catholic goal in founding a University, according to Newman, is (at least) to realize the "exercise and growth in certain habits, moral or intellectual." "[W]hen the Church founds a University, she is not cherising talent, genius, or knowledge, for their own sake, but for the sake of her children, with a view to their spiritual welfare and their religious influence and usefulness, with the object of training them to fill their respective posts in life better, and of making them more intelligent, capable, active members of society."
If Venerable Card. Newman is right about why Catholic universities are founded and sustained as "Catholic" by the Catholic Church (and I suspect that is he is indeed correct), what are the questions that follow about how Catholic law schools, in the United States today, are to be staffed and directed? How do we make ourselves worthy of the appelation "Catholic" that we readily (and on signs aplenty) apply to our now well-heeled but sometimes meandering or even tradition-loathing institutions? The defenders of the appelation "Champagne" have a point, albeit less worthy.