Benedict on Catholic Education

The Holy Father met yesterday with the plenary session of the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Vatican office that deals with seminaries and other institutes of Catholic education. It’s no surprise that the focus of Benedict’s talk was on the bolstering of the Catholic identity in education, which he called one of the “primary works of love” that the Church is called to perform [N.B. the translations are my own, from the Italian original]:

"The area of education has always been particularly dear to the Church, which is called to make its own the concerns of Christ, who—as the evangelist says—seeing his flock ‘is moved…because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things (Mk 6:34).’ The Greek word that is used to express this attitude of ‘commotion’ evokes the depths (le viscere) of mercy and refers to a profound love that the heavenly Father directs toward man. The Tradition [of the Church] has seen in this teaching—and, more generally, in education—a concrete manifestation of spiritual mercy, which constitutes one of the primary works of love that the Church offers to humanity as part of her mission."

One of the major ideas the pope hit on was the recent reform of the philosophy curriculum in seminaries, and the overall importance of philosophy and theology as a basis for higher studies in a world were new intellectual challenges regularly arise:

"The ecclesiastical disciplines, above all theology, are now subject to new questions…from rationalism, which follows a falsely unbounded rationality and is freed from every religious reference, and on the other extreme, fundamentalisms, which falsify the true essence of religion with their incitement of violence and fanaticism."

According to Benedict, Catholic education should also be properly focused on education beyond the realm of theology—in forming a proper understanding of the human person and human reations from a sociological and anthropological viewpoint as well:

"The Catholic school, which has as its primary mission the formation of students according to an integrally anthropological vision—indeed one being open to all people and respecting the identity of each individual person—must present one unified perspective of education that is both human and Christian. A new challenge is presented, which globalization and growing pluralism are rendering more and more acute: namely, the encounter of religions and cultures in a common search for truth. The reception of this cultural plurality among students and their parents is necessary and is itself confronted with two further demands: on one hand, the non-exclusion of persons in the name of cultural or religious affiliation; on the other hand, an insurance that the appreciation of this cultural and religious diversity not be stopped at its simple realization."

Although the Holy Father’s insights are very simple, they are truly profound; they are filled not only with the spiritual sense proper to him as pastor of the universal Church, but also with the insights of a man well-versed in scholarly pursuits. They speak volumes about the challenges that the Church faces in the modern world, but more specifically about what we can do to confront them. For our part—and the part of Catholic universities around the world—all we have to do is listen, pray and carry out the task.