Having read Fr. Peter Milward’s book, My Idea of a University in Japan, I am firmly of the opinion that it needs an audience in the West. It is universally applicable and relevant to those seeking a deeper understanding of what constitutes an authentic university education.

Last year saw the passing of Fr. Peter Milward, an old and valued friend, who was a boon and a blessing in multifarious ways. For those who don’t know of this English Jesuit and scholar, a brief biographical sketch might prove helpful.

Fr. Milward studied under C.S. Lewis at Oxford in the early 1950s and also heard J.R.R. Tolkien lecture. Graduating in 1954, he departed for a new life in Japan as a professor at the Jesuit University of Sophia in Tokyo, remaining in Japan until his death more than sixty years later. He is best known as an indefatigable Shakespeare scholar, showing in his work the evidence for the Bard’s Catholicism, most notably in Shakespeare’s Religious Background, an influential and groundbreaking study, published in 1973, and in later works, such as The Catholicism of Shakespeare’s Plays (1997) and Shakespeare the Papist (2005), the last of which I was honoured to publish when serving as editor-in-chief of Sapientia Press. He was also a leading scholar of the work of the poet and fellow Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and I was also honoured, in 2005, to oversee the publication of his book A Lifetime with Hopkins.

It is, however, his authorship of another book, My Idea of a University in Japan, which will be of particular interest to those who are interested in authentic education. This slim volume, published by the Hokuseido Press in Tokyo, is virtually unknown in the West, which is a crying shame considering the wisdom that it contains. Each of its sixteen brief chapters asks an axiomatic question, which Fr. Milward then answers with succinct and sagacious brilliance: What is a University? What is Education? What is Culture? What is Religion? What is Knowledge? What is Wisdom? What is Philosophy? What is Science? What is Literature? What is Language? What is Art? What is Nature? What is Law? What is Music? What is World? What is Home?

 “There are so many universities in Japan,” writes Fr. Milward at the beginning of his preface to the book. “And yet so few of the students know why they are studying, or what is the true nature and purpose of education. It is so sad, and such a waste of precious time!” Unsurprisingly, he points his own students to Newman’s Idea of a University, especially to the lecture contained therein entitled “What is University Education?” It makes a deep impression on them. “If only,” they exclaim, “we had been introduced to this book in our first year!” The problem is that Newman’s seminal tome is not very accessible to the average undergraduate. It is not outdated, Fr. Milward insists. “It still applies to universities everywhere, and not only to Catholic universities.” It is just that Newman makes for difficult reading in our deplorably illiterate age. “[T]he style of his sentences, for all its charm, is typical of Victorian Oxford, when intellectuals prized elaborately balanced Ciceronian sentences.” It was, therefore, necessary to take Newman’s Idea as the inspiration but to make it more accessible to modern readers. And this was the germ and the genesis of Fr. Milward’s own Idea of a University.

Having read his book, I am firmly of the opinion that it needs an audience in the West. Inspired by Newman’s work, though containing elements of Fr. Milward’s own development of Newman’s ideas, it is universally applicable and relevant to those seeking a deeper understanding of what constitutes an authentic university education. Perhaps, as with Fr. Milward’s books on Shakespeare and Hopkins, I might be able to play a small part in getting this work published. In the interim, I will continue to dip into its pages in order to bring Fr. Milward’s nuggets of wisdom to a wider public.

Republished with gracious permission from The Cardinal Newman Society (February 2018).

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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “A Meeting of Japan, China, and the West” by Shiba Kokan (1747-1818), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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