Father Harper and Newman's Grammar of Assent

Kevin J Sullivan, Fordham University


Dr. Francis X, Connolly, a noted Newman scholar, has stated that A Grammar of Assent was, by its very nature, its author's most controversial book. "His [Newman's] stimulative definitions of words like 'instinct,' 'moral sense,' 'illative sense,' 'notional assent,' and 'real assent' introduced a new and hence confusing vocabulary to theological philosophers whose vocabulary was based upon a medieval scholastic tradition. Although controversial fireworks were set off in many quarters, Non-Catholic as well as Catholic, when the Grammar met the mobile, I am going to limit myself to a study of one man's criticisms of Newman's "most controversial book." This man's name is Thomas Morton Harper. According to the short biographical sketch in the Catholic Encyclopedia, he was a priest, philosopher, theologian and preacher. He was born in London 26 September, 1821, of Anglican parents, and died 29 August, 1893. He was educated first at St. Paul’s School, London, then at Queen’s College, Oxford. Having taken his B.A. degree, he subsequently received orders in the Anglican Church, in which he worked for five years as a curate, and during which time he took a vigorous part in ecclesiastical controversies. He was obviously drifting steadily towards the Catholic Church. The final impulse came, oddly enough, from the perusal of an attack on the Jesuit Order in a volume entitled "One Year in the Noviceship of the Society of Jesus" by Andrew Steinmetz, Harper’s logical instinct discerned the intrinsic discrepancies of the book and the feebleness of the argument as a whole. Within half a year he was received into the Catholic Church, and some months later, in October, 1852, he entered the Society of Jesus. Ordained priest in 1859, he was appointed professor of theology the following year at St. Beuno’s College. Two years later he was transferred to the chair of logic and general metaphysics at St. Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst. A man of highly-strung nervous disposition and intense mental application, his health made frequent changes necessary. He returned after a short time to teach theology at St. Beuno’s, and subsequently worked on the mission for some years, achieving a high reputation as a preacher. During the last half-dozen years of his life he suffered from prolonged attacks of mental prostration, the malady at times assuming an acute form.

Subject Area

Philosophy of religion

Recommended Citation

Sullivan, Kevin J, "Father Harper and Newman's Grammar of Assent" (1967). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28673364.