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The Catholic Historical Review 90.1 (2004) 138-140
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Paul Cullen, John Henry Newman, and the Catholic University of Ireland, 1845-1865. By Colin Barr. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. 2003. Pp. xv, 288. $30.00 paperback.)
The story of the conception, structure, and early development of a Catholic university in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century has often been presented asthe struggle of its first rector to preserve a delicate balance between authorityand freedom. This book, however, which began its life as a thesis, is lessconcerned with the inner struggle of Newman in coming to terms with anewly-found persona than it is with the ongoing relationship between Cullenand Newman in the construction of an effective alternative to the non-denominational Queen's Colleges, established in 1845 and condemned by the Synod of Thurles in 1850.
In the attempt to present Cullen's leadership in a more favorable and balanced way, Barr has yielded to the temptation to demonize those who had a different conceptual approach to the Queen's Colleges and the nature of the proposed Catholic university. This is particularly noticeable in the treatment of Archbishops Murray and MacHale and, at times, Slattery of Cashel in the author's attempt to weaken the charge of obscurantism leveled at Cullen's leadership. It is a temptation, however, into which revisionist historians have to be essentially on guard.
At least a quarter of the book is given over to examining well-known issues of 'mixed' education at various levels before attention is directed at the central themes. This is to the author's credit although, despite it, the changing concepts of educational thought in nineteenth-century England are not considered in any serious depth. While it is important to emphasize the relationship between Cullen and Newman against the overtones of famine, poverty, politics, and nationalism in Ireland, it is equally important to stress the anti-Catholicism of the British Parliament in relation to contemporary troubles within the Church of England, the waves of post-1845 converts to Catholicism, and the latent anti-Romanism manifested in 1851 and subsequently in response to the establishment of Roman Catholic bishops-in-ordinary in England.
On the university issue, for Cullen the primary duty of the Church was to form its own youth in connection with the depositum fidei of which she was [End Page 138] guardian and true exponent. For Cullen, as indeed for Manning in England after 1865, the need was for the Church to construct an escarpment from which to sally forth to do intellectual battle with the secular world. Outram Evennett once claimed that for men like Cullen and Manning, the university question concerned not merely a few individuals or their career opportunities but the whole future prospects of Catholicism in Ireland and England. The internal self-completion of the Church lay at the heart of things, both men being determined that the Church must not be arrested in her attempt to establish and pursue her missionary endeavor. Fundamentally, the failure of MacHale to grasp the importance of this truth was why Cullen found his approach to the university so reprehensible and also why Cullen was disappointed by Newman's reluctance to take the university question seriously enough to warrant giving full-time attention to it and a continuing presence in Dublin.
Newman's desire to create a second Oxford (an Imperial University) in Ireland, a concept copper-fastened upon the ecclesiastical authority of an ageless Catholicism, seemed at its best an irrelevancy to some Irish bishops and at worst a lack of appreciation of those Irish interests expected to support the new institution financially. Newman mused in 1851, "Curious it will be if Oxford is imported into Ireland, not in its membership only, but in its principles, methods, ways and arguments." For Newman, this was not a simple or idle thought: it embraced the force of commitment. Perhaps in Ireland could be found home and work for many of those scholarly converts who, in England, were...