What would Blessed John Henry Newman say about the recent decision by the president of the University of San Diego to rescind a fellowship offered to radical theologian Tina Beattie?
Blessed John Henry Newman engaged in many a good argument in his day, and no doubt he would have been quick to defend USD against contemporary critics like Eamon Duffy, Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge. Duffy joined in the outrage against USD’s decision, calling it indicative of what he called the “Sovietisation of Catholic intellectual life which many people feel is one of the saddest features of the contemporary Church.”
Remarks like Duffy’s are similar to much of the overblown rhetoric surrounding this story which The Cardinal Newman Society has reported on extensively, but Duffy also added his own wrinkle by unfortunately attempting to use Newman’s own words to bolster his stance.
Contrary to Duffy, The Catholic Herald writer William Oddie wrote recently that USD should never have issued the invitation in the first place to Beattie. “A few inquiries about Professor Beatt[ie] would have elicited that she was already well-known for her rejection of the authority for Catholics of the Magisterium of the Church,” wrote Oddie, who specifically pointed out Beattie’s radical position on gay “marriage.”
Beattie also supports abortion rights and has spoken out in favor of female ordination as The Cardinal Newman Society has reported previously.
But Oddie specifically targets Duffy’s usage of Newman to criticize USD:
In his defence of Professor Beattie, Professor Duffy quotes John Henry Newman, predictably perhaps, woefully out of context: claiming Newman in this way is, of course, an established liberal tactic; usually, it is the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk which is thus abused in an attempt to paint Newman, that wonderfully acerbic doctrinal rigorist and scourge of liberalism (which he describes in the Apologia as “false liberty of thought”) as being a liberal himself. I think Professor Duffy’s quotation must be from The Idea of a University (though I have been unable, after several digital scans of Newman’s works, to discover this passage — can anyone identify it?) Newman, he says, “criticised the ‘shortsightedness’ of those who ‘have thought that the strictest Catholic University could by its rules and its teachings exclude intellectual challenges to faith. The cultivation of the intellect involves that danger, and where it is absolutely excluded, there is no cultivation’.”
But this simply cannot be applied as a defence of Professor Beattie. For a start, it is clear that Newman was writing about intellectual challenges from outside the Church and not from within the community of faith. Newman made absolutely unambiguous his belief that in modern conditions a specifically Catholic University ought to exclude heresy, so that its enemies were beyond its boundaries and not within them. It is, he wrote in The Idea of a University “one great advantage of an age in which unbelief speaks out, that Faith can speak out too; that, if falsehood assails Truth, Truth can assail falsehood. In such an age it is possible to found a University more emphatically Catholic than could be set up in the middle age, because Truth can entrench itself carefully, and define its own profession severely, and display its colours unequivocally, by occasion of that very unbelief which so shamelessly vaunts itself. And a kindred advantage to this is the confidence which, in such an age, we can place in all who are around us, so that we need look for no foes but those who are in the enemy’s camp.”
That is precisely what San Diego University presumably wants to do by withdrawing its invitation to Professor Beattie, an invitation it should perhaps never have issued in the first place. A few inquiries about Professor Beatty would have elicited that she was already well-known for her rejection of the authority for Catholics of the Magisterium of the Church (she is a trustee of and regular contributor to The Tablet)…
In a Catholic University, says Newman, “we need look for no foes but those who are in the enemy’s camp”. Then, maybe: but not now — and that’s the problem. Elsewhere in the same discourse, Newman says that in his own time, the Church “has … a direct command and a reliable influence over her own institutions, which was wanting in the middle ages. A University is her possession in these times, as well as her creation: nor has she the need, which once was so urgent, to expel heresies from her pale, which have now their own centres of attraction elsewhere, and spontaneously take their departure. Secular advantages no longer present an inducement to hypocrisy, and her members in consequence have the consolation of being able to be sure of each other”.
But the Church in our own times no longer has that “direct command and… reliable influence over her own institutions” that Newman believed was essential; and the old mediaeval imperative to “expel heresies from her pale” has returned as an “urgent need” for the modern Catholic University. Heresies no longer “spontaneously take their departure” as they did in Newman’s day; now, they must be driven out. There can surely be little doubt that Newman of all people would have been horrified at the idea of Tina Beattie teaching young Catholics, in a Catholic University, not only about the desirability of gay marriage and the need to defy the Church’s teachings about that, but about so much else besides.
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