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Life and Scholarship of St. John Henry Newman Honored in Lecture Series

November 5, 2019

In honor of the recent canonization of St. John Henry Newman, the college hosted a series of lectures to commemorate the life of this important saint and his diverse achievements.  These public lectures featured Christendom professors from the history and political science departments and were delivered over the course of four days.

On October 28, history professor Dr. Adam Schwartz laid the foundation of the lecture series with a talk titled “A Stern Necessity:  Newman’s Conversion to Roman Catholicism.”  In this talk, Schwartz detailed Newman’s intellectual conversion to Catholicism through Newman’s work in the Anglican church at the time.  In particular, Schwartz noted the importance of Newman’s idea of the development of doctrine, which allowed Newman and the Catholic Church to come to a fuller understanding of the deposit of faith.

Political science professor Dr. P. Bracy Bersnak gave a lecture entitled “In Praise of Uselessness:  Newman’s Philosophical Habit of Mind” on October 29.  Bersnak analyzed the four qualities of mind Newman used to approach liberal education:  intellectual gentility, intellectual self-possession, philosophical habit of mind, and enlargement of mind.  Paraphrasing Newman, Bersnak said, “Liberal education is something we seek for its own sake, and ultimately, what we’re aiming for is this habit of mind that allows people to think well and do everything well.”

On October 30, history professor Dr. Brendan McGuire lectured on “Newman’s Historical Epistemology,” which outlined Newman’s importance strictly as an historian.  McGuire praised Newman’s approach to history, contrasting it with the current trend to reduce history to a “soft science,” in which the historian uses theories to paint a picture of the past rather than seek true knowledge of history on its own terms.  McGuire argued that in Newman, “we find a man whose historical research, as distinct from his religious conviction, led him, unwillingly, against the whole bent of his intellectual formation, to embrace the Roman Catholic Faith.”

Lastly, on October 31, history professor Dr. Christopher Lane delivered the lecture “Newman, Anglo-Catholicism, and the Anglican Patrimony.”  Lane traced the Catholic bent of Anglicanism both before and after Newman’s conversion, arguing that Anglicanism itself was especially influenced by Newman and his work as a Tractarian.  “The Tractarians,” Lane said, “had already renewed among Anglicans a high theology of the Eucharist as sacrifice and the real, objective presence of Christ in the Eucharist.”  Lane argued that Newman’s work influenced Anglicanism even after his conversion.

The talks were well received by the student body and gave a comprehensive view of Newman’s life.

This article was written with contributions from Katarina Federici (’20).