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John Henry Newman in Four Books

It has often been suggested, and not without ample reason and evidence, that the importance of a great thinker never finds itself as potently realized during the thinker’s own lifetime. The significance of truly great thoughts, that is, take not only decades but centuries to unfold. Thus, when it is claimed that John Henry Newman will be seen as the transitional figure between the modern and post-modern ages, much as Augustine was between antiquity and the medieval, it should be recognized that this claim points not to a past recognition but one dawning at this very hour. Certainly, Newman’s work carried weight in his own time, as did Augustine’s. Will Newman’s name grow to the same greatness?

Augustine’s Confessions, like Newman’s Apologia; his City of God, like Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine; and his On Christian Teaching, like Newman’s Idea of a University, all show striking parallels between the writings of the two saints. But it is in their most systematic works that we find an even more remarkable parallel. Living a life contemporaneous with the early definitions of nature and person in theology, in On the Trinity, Augustine trained his genius on the ultimate mystery of the Triune God, easily the most challenging and the most fertile of all Christian doctrines.

Newman, living amidst the modern world’s storms of doubt and confusion, along with its celebrated, and risky “turn to the subject,” directed his attention instead to a meticulous study of the very act of faith – that movement of the human intellect that enables it to assent to such teachings in the first place. What he discovered were insights of such uncommon luminosity that not only theology, but all knowledge – of whatever type – found itself newly vindicated. By showing the role that pre-rational belief plays in every venture of human knowing, and the complexities of assent in consolidating our opinions and certitudes, he seemed to be turning epistemology on its head. The result was easily his most demanding and in retrospect his most revolutionary book: The Grammar of Assent. To this book the seminar will direct a more focused attention. Also Newman’s oft misunderstood celebration of conscience can only be grasped from within the perspectives laid open by this book.

These initial comparisons between the two saints are being made only in the interest of portraying Newman as a kind of modern Augustine. It will be suggested that what Augustine meant for the subsequent medieval centuries, Newman represents for late modernity and post-modernity. It will be his four books that will be the focus of our study. Augustine’s thought has already been folded into the fields of Christian reflection during the long 15 centuries that separate the two men’s lives. Newman’s ideas, on the other hand, are just beginning to be fully appreciated. For most of our readings, we shall follow selections chosen from each of the four works in sequence: from the Apologia, the Essay, the Idea, and the Grammar. Access to the seminar, taught by Fr. Scott Randall Paine, PhD, begins on 1 April 2023. View the syllabus here.


Discussion Sessions

10:15am ET

(World times)
Study Topics &

Lecture 1: Overview of the Life, Work and Legacy of John Henry Newman
» [Primary] Sheridan Gilley. “Life and Writings”.
» [Secondary] Afterword to Ian Ker’s biography of JHN.
Lecture 2: Apologia Pro Vita Sua“The Story of a Mind”
» [Primary] Selected excerpts from the Apologia.
» [Secondary] Ian Ker. John Henry Newman: A Biography.
» [Secondary] Robert C. Christie. The Logic of Conversion: The Harmony of Heart, Will, Mind, and Imagination in John Henry Newman.
Lecture 3: Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine – From Seed to Fruit
» [Primary] Selected excerpts from the Essay.
» [Secondary] Bogdan Dolenc. “Newman’s Essay… Its Genesis and Enduring Relevance”.
Lecture 4: The Idea of a UniversityNewman’s Vision of Liberal Education
» [Primary] Selected excerpts from the Idea.
» [Secondary] Mark van Doren. “Liberal Education,” from Liberal Education.
» [Secondary] Jarislav Pelikan. The Idea of a University: a Reexamination.

Lecture 5: Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent I Notional and Real Assent
» [Primary] Selected excerpts from the Grammar, Part 1: “Assent and Apprehension.”
» [Secondary] Michael Polanyi. “The Logic of Affirmation”, in Personal Knowledge.
Lecture 6: Grammar of Assent II – The Illative Sense
» [Primary] Further selected excerpts from the Grammar, Part 2: “Assent and Inference.”
» [Secondary] John Deely. “Knowledge” from Introducing Semiotic: Its History and Doctrine.
» L.M. Régis. “Assent or Value Judgment About the Truth of First Principles,” in Epistemology.
Lecture 7: Newman and the Conscience
» [Primary] Selected excerpts from the Grammar and other works.
» [Secondary] Gerard J. Hughes. “Conscience,” in Cambridge Companion to JHN.
» Bernard Dive. “Introduction” to John Henry Newman and the Imagination.
Lecture 8: Newman Today – A Church Doctor for the 21st Century
» [Primary] Discourse and Homily for the Beatification of John Henry Newman, Pope Benedict XVI, 2010
» [Primary] Newman’s “Biglietto Speech,” 1879.
» [Secondary] Erich Przywara. A Newman Synthesis, selections.


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