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A Phenomenological Theology of the Trinity: A Study in John Henry Newman and Edmund Husserl
  • Ono Ekeh
John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) is widely known for his essays on doctrinal development and education, which highlight important aspects of his thinking. However, his crowning philosophical-theological achievement was An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870) which synthesized a lifetime of reflection on issues of faith and the validity of belief in Christian doctrine.
Phenomenology, a philosophical school of thought established by the German philosopher, Edmund Husserl (1859-1939), is a type of philosophy that seeks to understand the world by engaging in precise descriptions of the relationship of human beings to and in their world. The starting point for phenomenological thinking is the actual state of affairs and not pre-existing mental “ideas.”
In the Grammar of Assent, Newman sought to defend faith as a legitimate product of rational human activity. However, he stressed that the logic of faith differs from the logic found in mathematics or the sciences. Newman argued that certitude can be attained through a logic that would be unacceptable to science but is nonetheless valid in human affairs. An example of such certitude is the Christian belief in the Trinity.
Newman, in his Grammar, displays a phenomenological approach in his theology. His simple and complex assents and his examination of Christian belief in the Trinity reveal a philosophical approach similar to Husserl's transcendental phenomenology outlined in his Formal and Transcendental Logic. One reason for the convergence in both men's philosophy is that both men were heavily influenced by British philosophers such as Locke, Hume, and Mill. Another reason is that Newman belonged to the Victorian transcendental school of thought which explains his emphasis on a transcendental approach to philosophy.
This study provides a way to better describe and utilize the genius of Newman by understanding his philosophical approach as phenomenological in the Husserlian vein.
  • Edmund Husserl,
  • John Henry Newman,
  • Trinity,
  • Phenomenological theology,
  • Phenomenology
Publication Date
Field of study
School of Theology and Religious Studies
John T. Ford, C.S.C., S.T.D.
Citation Information
Ekeh, O. P. (2009). A phenomenological theology of the Trinity: A study in John Henry Newman and Edmund Husserl (Doctoral dissertation). The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No.3385569)