St. John Henry Newman on Liberal Education: A Scandal

Saint John Henry Newman, speaking of the unique status of Western Civilization in the history of the world, emphatically asserts,

I think it has a claim to be considered as the representative Society and Civilization of the human race, as its perfect result and limit…I call then this commonwealth preeminently and emphatically Human Society, and its intellect the Human mind, and its decisions the sense of mankind, and its disciplined and cultivated state Civilization in the abstract, and the territory on which it lies the Orbis Terrarum, or the World.

Now if it wasn’t for the fact that this Cardinal was just canonized, I think we could all brush this statement off  as an overly zealous defense of Western Civilization. After all, sometimes people get carried away and say things that they don’t really mean. For example I will often say things like,

I think 100% arabica coffee beans may be considered as the representative coffee bean of civilization and of the human race. Nay even the preeminent coffee bean and even the bean in virtue of which all other beans merit the name “coffee bean.”

To the extent that other beans measure up or fall away from the arabica bean, that is the exact measure in which each bean may be called a coffee bean.

Or perhaps about the music of Mozart,

I think it has a claim to be considered as the representative music of the human race, as its perfect result and limit…I call then this music preeminently and emphatically Human Music, and the mind of Mozart is par-excellence the musical mind!

Mozart’s music is the music of mankind and in the abstract, his music and the territory in which it is heard is the Orbis Terrarum, or the World.

Ha! That is a wonderful statement. Nay even more…that is a manly statement!

 

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I love the bravado. And what’s more I completely agree with it.

As a matter of fact- with apologies to Newman, I think I will lay claim to this statement as being perhaps the very clearest statement ever made about the worth and value of Mozart’s musical contributions.

Did you ever hear him praised more highly?

I think not!

In the future I plan on making a similar statement about Shakespeare so prepare yourselves.

But in the meantime let me return to the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and his statement about Western Civilization.

Can there be a clearer or more forceful statement about the value of Western Civilization that flies more in the face of the current attitude of cultural relativism?

No. Again, I think not!

My old teacher Dr. Jack Neumayr, a philosopher and professor at Thomas Aquinas College, commenting on Newman’s statement writes:

Some who regard all culture as empirical, as we have seen, will defend liberal education because it is good to know our origins; not that our culture is normative, but it is ours. Others will insist on the utility of knowing the roots of the good and evil in our society. Still others, thinking it well to know the works of man, urge us to scan the achievements of western thought. None, however, under the pressures of egalitarianism and skepticism, dares assert it is the measure of the human mind.

Indeed, few in our day see the value of liberal education so clearly. This education, which arises from western society, is none other than the education which is the measure of the human mind. It is the education that fulfills the nature of man; it is the education that disposes man for the life of grace.

Liberal education is a scandal to the modern world. Liberal education is a scandal because it presents itself in direct opposition to the prevalent educational philosophy of our day; it is a stumbling block to the aspirations and goals of modern education. Those goals include no more than what is thought necessary to equip the student with the particular knowledge that will further a specific career.

Liberal education …a boulder in the road of establishment educational philosophy! (Admittedly, that boulder is a little more than a “scandal”)

Thus liberal education is a scandal to modern ears for at least two reasons. It is a scandal to those who are themselves ‘proponents of liberal education’ for the wrong reasons; reasons that amount to no more than a sort of cultural relativism and ultimately deny that liberal education is the education for the human mind.

It is also a scandal to those who propose the purpose of education is to equip man for this world; for some career.

As Cardinal Newman writes elsewhere,

“This process of training, by which the intellect, instead of being formed or sacrificed to some particular or accidental purpose, some specific trade or profession, or study or science, is disciplined for its own sake, for the perception of its own proper object, and for its own highest culture, is called Liberal Education…”

About marklangley

Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see theLyceum.org) Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their twelve children.
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4 Responses to St. John Henry Newman on Liberal Education: A Scandal

  1. michael urban says:

    At the risk of what the fetching Mrs Urban would consider taking this discussion down into the weeds I wonder, since we might all agree that the Founders because of their collective Liberal Education were uniquely prepared to create The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution and its Bill of Rights, what might be the result if we took a group of today’s Millennials – say the Yale or Princeton class of 2010 – and give them a similar task (without the benefit of referencing our own founding documents) and see what they might come up with as founding documents for the creation of a new nation to be established in 2019. Scary thought! I’d suggest that today’s Ivy League education would in no way result in some new country conceived as brilliantly as the good old USA due to the absence of a Liberal Education.

  2. Collette says:

    Thank you! Loved this post! What a pleasure to read! I especially loved the definition of Liberal Education at the end 🙂 … Thank you Mr. Langley!

  3. nivitae says:

    Tried and true! It’s why we dedicate our lives to educaiton.

    BTW, Our Latin Mass priest, Fr. Francisco Nahoe, moved to Berkley and teaches now for a small Muslim Liberal Arts College. Strange, but they consciously copy TAC as much as they can except they have a different set of authors.  Yours, Eve

  4. Mary Coyne says:

    Sent from my iPhone

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