Latest Liberal Catholic Claims on Newman Mislead

I am very sorry that Professor Eamon Duffy should have seen fit so immoderately to spring to the defense of Professor Tina Beattie, an invitation to whom to take up a fellowship has been withdrawn by the (Catholic) University of San Diego, following that institution’s discovery of her public support for gay unions.

“It is deeply dispiriting,” he writes, “that the President of a Catholic University should characterize academic discussion and debate among Catholics as ‘dissent’, and should seek to suppress academic exchange by black-balling an individual whom the Church has not condemned.”

That wasn’t all, however. “I fear,” he continued, “that by publicly withdrawing this invitation, the University of San Diego has brought academic ignominy on itself, and is colluding in the Sovietisation of Catholic intellectual life which many people feel is one of the saddest features of the contemporary Church.” In other words this is also a direct attack on the pontificate of Pope Benedict, and one couched in language which is so grossly over the top as simply to discredit not only this particular attack, but even to some extent its perpetrator.

As I say, I am very sorry about this. Professor Duffy is a very good historian indeed, that rarest of academic types who is both a painstaking scholar and is also compulsively readable. Two of his splendid books in particular—most recently Fires of Faith, a fascinating delineation, inter alia, of the intelligent and responsive Catholicism reintroduced into England by Cardinal Pole and Mary Tudor (good Queen Mary) and tragically lost after it was ruthlessly suppressed by Elizabeth I (Bloody Bess)—have greatly contributed to making me the Catholic bigot I am today.

Professor Duffy is, nevertheless, generally considered to be something of a theological liberal; I can’t quite see why he is, though. It is yet another illustration, perhaps, that sound scholarship in one area doesn’t necessarily bring wisdom elsewhere (another famous illustration of this phenomenon was one of C. S. Lewis’s targets, the Anglican Bishop John Robinson, a sound conservative Biblical scholar but a theological loony, even by Anglican standards).

All the same it is a puzzle to me that the author of The Stripping of the Altars should, for instance, be so keen on warm ecumenical relations with the Church of England. He has written that Rowan Williams’s “open-hearted invitation” [yuck] to Fr Timothy Radcliffe to write the official Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book for 2009 was “a sign that the ecumenical landscape is by no means so barren as we sometimes fear”—fear? What is so fearsome about the recognition of reality? But let it pass.

In his defense 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, “criticized 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 defense 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).

Here’s a sample of her writing, from her book God’s Mother, Eve’s Advocate (p 80):

Today it [the Mass] has become an act of (homo) sexual intercourse… In our own age, however, the female body is recognised as equal but different and is still incapable of representing Christ, because Christ’s kenotic self-giving has become implicitly associated with the male orgasm, with all the pagan overtones that this implies… women have become bystanders in the metaphysical consummation of homosexual love, a marriage between men and God in which the male body is both the masculine bridegroom and the female bride, the masculine God and the female creature, the masculine Christ and the feminine Church.

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 medieval 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.

This column first appeared 14 November 2012 in the Catholic Herald of London and is reprinted with permission.

Dr. William Oddie


Dr. William Oddie is a leading English Catholic writer and broadcaster. He edited The Catholic Herald from 1998 to 2004 and is the author of The Roman Option and Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy.

  • Edward Peitler

    My experience has led me to conclude that where there are challenges to the full teachings of the faith – the full teachings of the Catholic Church – there is sin of some sort. Sin that is not acknowledged and is transmuted into rebellion. It all starts with pride for which repentence and humility are necessary antidotes.

  • That passage from Beattie is practically incoherent. I have trouble discerning whether it is heretical or simply insane. What in the world can she be talking about? Why is anyone who writes like that published anywhere at all?

    I’m so tired of Catholic universities priding themselves on things like this. For anyone who reads this stuff, it ought to be one of those, “The Emperor has no clothes” moments. It’s not academic brilliance, it’s sheer drivel. But no, say the universities, it’s serious and important scholarship, and aren’t we cutting-edge and daring for encouraging more of the same??? It’s as if Catholic universities have such an inferiority complex that they have to not only endure and promote the usual academic crap (the same kind of thing, but in the field of history or black studies or women’s studies or psychology) AND stuff about what is supposed to be the very center or our lives. “See, secular universities? We can do you one better! We think even less of God than you do, and we actually BELIEVE in him! Sort of….”

    • The academe has been always narcissistic but with the advent of the “postmodern” pseudo-disciplines such as gender studies or gay studies (to name only a few) this narcissism has been combined with an urge to indoctrinate and an itch to employ an incomprehensible elitist jargon. Fortunately, the latter obstructs to some extent the effectiveness of the former. By the way, imagine Martin Luther writing something like this: “Today the Church has become a form of heterosexual intercourse with the pope who combines the maleness of his physical body with the femaleness construed by his symbolic equivalency to the whore of Babylon”…

  • Alecto

    I am glad Catholic University rescinded her invitation. Reading Beatty’s excerpt made me wonder if she’s got a porn fetish? Is she writing for Skinamax or furthering the understanding of the Church?

    If Beatty and Duffy represent a majority view of American Catholic scholars, then I am not receiving what I was promised from the edumacated blancmange that is the American Katholik intelligentsia. To the laity, such “scholars” are caricatures of serious theologians of the past like Newman.

    • John200

      It is illegitimate to call them “Catholic scholars” although “Catholic” scholars and Catholic “scholars” can be made serviceable names for some such characters.

      Duffy, a big disapppointment, would be a “Catholic” scholar (similar to “liberal Catholics”), defined as fakers who want to claim to be Catholic without the “burden” of practicing Catholicism. On a personal note, I am surprised at him.

      The BeattieThing would be a Catholic “scholar” who has lived, and plans to live, without the burden of practicing scholarship. It also qualifies as a “Catholic scholar” but nobody needs more explanation. Big disappointment, but no surprise.

      The yoke is easy; the burden is light; but these worthies will never know it.

  • Peter Freeman

    Would we feel any more comfortable with universities disinviting orthodox Catholics from giving lectures precisely because their religious or social views ran contrary to that school’s identity? Wouldn’t we rather observe that the validity of that scholar’s research stood on its own independent of their orthodoxy to the Church?

    To play Duffy’s advocate, the articles I found on Beattie’s visit indicated that she was supposed to “give a lecture on how women are represented in art depicting sin and redemption.” I’m not entirely comfortable with silencing experts from discussing their expertise because they make erroneous claims outside of the field of their expertise. Should her academic works be banned from the library as well? Should students not be allowed to quote her research in their papers? If this was a bona fide research talk, then her views on homosexuality seem somewhat irrelevant to her visit.

    I would concur with the sentiments of this column entirely if she was being invited to speak about gay marriage and without any lecturer to balance her arguments.

    • Augustus

      If we were talking about an invitation to Eamon Duffy to speak about, say, the Whig Interpretation as it pertains to the study of the English Reformation, then one might not expect a controversy. Why? Because Duffy does not write books in his field (or outside) that are either blatantly heretical or patently absurd. A lunatic feminist will invariably view female artistic images through a lunatic feminist lense. (With the exception of Camille Paglia, do you know of any academic feminists who don’t support the gay agenda?) What makes you think that she would not give a talk that was as politicized as her other written work? Both the topic of the lecture and the passage quoted above are theological. The university knew what it was going to get. Must a Catholic university give a forum to every point of view? (Besides, just because her “expertise” is in something presumably innocuous does not mean she’s competent to speak about it.) If I was a librarian at a Catholic school with a limited budget, I would invest in serious scholarly books, both Catholic and non, so that if a student needed to read the faddish crap, they could borrow it from the loser universities though inter-library loan.

      • Peter Freeman

        If the school believes that her critical approach is absurd, then that would have been grounds never to have invited her in the first place. Dr. Oddie, however, implies that Beattie was uninvited because of her personal beliefs rather than her critical approach. She was uninvited “following that institution’s discovery of her public support for gay unions.”

        I am comfortable with a school not inviting scholars because faculty don’t think their work is interesting. I’m not comfortable with requiring guest speakers to pledge an Oath of Obedience.

        • Augustus

          What likely happened was that lunatic fringe faculty members invited her to speak because they shared her lunatic fringe views on theology and art, etc. Then an administrator, or perhaps the local bishop, found out about her public opposition to Church teaching on marriage. Intervention from the administration followed. Yes, we can safely say that Catholic university faculty lounges are full of theological dissenters. She was invited because there were people at San Diego who shared her views. But as I say, there is little difference between her theological dissent on marriage and her feminist/gender “critical approach.” These people have a political agenda. They may dress it up in academic language but the purpose is the same. If students are going to go to a Catholic university, they should expect to receive a Catholic education. John Paul II required theological faculties to take an Oath of Obedience because there was so much hostility toward Church teaching among faculty members who were supposed to teach it. If a Catholic school abandons it’s Catholic identity and mission, I don’t see way any student should spend good money on a defective product.

          • Peter Freeman

            It looks like Beattie was disinvited from a lecture in her home diocese on similar grounds. Her response: “I am well aware that there is a difference between taking a
            position as an individual theologian and addressing a diocesan event as
            a Catholic speaker. I would never abuse the hospitality and trust of
            the Bishop by raising potentially divisive questions in such a context,
            even although the same questions might be perfectly legitimate and
            indeed important to debate in different contexts.”

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  • The Truth

    I was under the impression we were to rebuke the devil. To not allow him into our homes or our ears, eye’s or any othe portal he may make use of. Or are we to invite his twisted theology in? to circumvent the truth.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    I would suggest that Duffy’s strongest point is, ” black-balling an individual whom the Church has not condemned.”

    That does rather smack of setting up a parallel magisterium.

    • Augustus

      But I’m sure you would agree that liberal Catholic academics have already set up their own parallel magisterium from which they judge Church teaching and cry foul when their views are challenged by legitimate authority. A university should not be prevented from making prudential judgments about who can and who can’t speak on its campus. It should not have to wait for years until the Vatican makes a pronouncement before taking action. Furthermore, it does not require sophisticated theological training to determine who is dissenting from Church teaching and who is simply proposing new formulations and ideas that have not as yet been vetted by the larger Catholic scholarly community as Newman would want to see happen under normal circumstances.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        You may claim that “it does not require sophisticated theological training to determine who is dissenting from Church teaching,” but the suspicion that at one time attached to philosophers and theologians whose orthodoxy no one now disputes suggests otherwise. Consider Cardinal Henri de Lubac’s vindication of Maurice Blondel, Henri Bremond and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. De Lubac himself had been suspended from writing or teaching, following the publication of « Surnaturel » in 1946, now widely recognised as one of the most important theological works to appear in the dark days between Lamentabili and Pascendi and the Second Vatican Council. Remember Hans Urs von Balthasar was also, at one time, banned from teaching.

        Other names that spring to mind are Joseph Maréchal, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Yves Congar, Cardinal Jean Daniélou and Louis Bouyer

        And, of course, from the previous century, we have Bl Antonio Rosmini-Serbati.

    • drbill


  • TheodoreSeeber

    He’s a liberal for the same reason all academic liberals are liberals- because they are trying to directly insert tolerance for sin into the next generation and get people to vote for socialism.

  • poetcomic1

    I love that quote of hers about the mass. Now all she has to do is turn her head completely around and vomit green slime and I’ll be convinced that she is what she appears to be.