Final Examination of
David P. Delio
for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
2:30 p.m., Caldwell Room 125
John Henry Newman’s Areopagus: The Tamworth Reading Room
as an Apology for the “Christian Difference”
Director: John T. Ford, C.S.C, Ph.D.
John Henry Newman’s Tamworth Reading Room presents a unique a distillation of his Anglican thought on education, faith and reason, and the Church. This work of theology and literature challenged his contemporaries and continues to challenge its readers today.
Newman crafted seven letters to the editor of The Times of London in February 1841 in response to an address given by a leading British politician, Sir Robert Peel. The letters, witty and woven with theological and philosophical arguments, contrasted with Peel’s view of secular knowledge and institutions as means to human fulfillment. Although the letters were pithy and written for a general audience, they were provocative and insightful. Together they anticipated Newman’s later works as a Roman Catholic including the Idea of the University and An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent.
Themes, ideas, and the context of the letters have been treated by a variety of scholars with varying degrees of accuracy and ability. This study seeks to clarify the history and interpretations of the Tamworth Reading Room. More importantly, the dissertation tries to connect the letters to Newman’s deeper theological concerns. In order to achieve these goals, social and political aspects of 19th century England as well as biographical portraits of Peel and Newman are narrated. Peel’s address is then detailed followed by summary interpretations of Newman’s letters. The legacy of the letters is traced to the end of Newman’s career.
This study does not follow along the lines of some previous scholarly interpretations of the Tamworth Reading Room, e.g., literature, education, or religious epistemology. Rather, the dissertation complements these prior efforts, but concludes that the Church figures as the original idea undergirding the letters. For Newman, the Church and the faith it proclaimed created a “Christian Difference” to Peel’s vision. The faith of the Church was flexible and inclusive enough to elevate the truths found in modern institutions and innovations in knowledge, yet remained distinct in its origin and telos as the means for human salvation.