He learns to cast away many a cherished notion now dinged and broken in the war of minds; he is taught to distrust himself and tolerate the opinions of others. If the recreation, however, is to be a mental gymnasium it must be guided by fixed rules, and this is most important.
The tone must be of a high level. No vulgarity; no scurrility. In the hottest debate we must not forget that we are gentlemen.
We should argue, not to overcome an opponent, but to make truth evident. Minds in debate should resemble flails on the threshing floor, that labour not to overcome each other, but to separate the solid grains from the chaff and straw.
No man should be ashamed to say “I don’t know” or “Perhaps I am wrong.”
Without these safeguards the recreation or debate might easily become a cock-pit of unbridled passions. “Our fortunes lie not in our stars, good Brutus, but in ourselves.” The making of the priests depends not merely on the college, but also on the students’ own endeavours. This latter fact is but imperfectly understood, or acted on only in a very limited extent. It is from intercourse between minds of various bents, the debating clubs, the social unions, and not the lecture halls or study desks, that the Oxford student draws strength and elegance of character. It is the want or misuse of these opportunities that leaves the young Irish priest so raw and unfinished.
Knowledge only comes from the professor and the book, but the character is shaped, rounded, and polished by a variety of agencies lying outside both these. The creation of these agencies is almost entirely in the student’s own hands.
[Side note: The dangers of the hour and how to meet them]
If the Irish priest on the foreign mission is to become a force in the future, his course of philosophy must be both solid and practical.
The last half century has not only changed the arms of his adversaries but transferred the conflict to new grounds.
Protestantism is dying. The mere veneer of Christianity is fast fading off among the sects.
The cobwebs of neglect are overspreading the works of theological controversy; but in the domain of ethics and metaphysics activity daily grows in intensity.
The student would do well to keep this fact before his eyes. It is proper that a priest should be conversant with the errors of the past and the arguments by which they are met. Many of these errors he will discover exhumed, draped in new disguises, and paraded as the fruit of modern “thought.” But it will be well also, in his studies, not to ignore the fact that the Agnostic and the Socialist are, under his very eyes, digging what they confidently assure us is to be the grave of Christianity.