Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Although it is not a major theme of Caritas in Veritate, education is not unrelated to the “integral development” of homo socialis, of man in society, and what the Pope says about it is significant. He ties it in to the search for a wisdom capable of integrating the different aspects of our divided culture – a chaotic cultural state which reflects our degraded and fragmented image of man.
“Paul VI had seen clearly that among the causes of underdevelopment there is a lack of wisdom and reflection, a lack of thinking capable of formulating a guiding synthesis, for which ‘a clear vision of all economic, social, cultural and spiritual aspects’ is required. The excessive segmentation of knowledge, the rejection of metaphysics by the human sciences, the difficulties encountered by dialogue between science and theology are damaging not only to the development of knowledge, but also to the development of peoples, because these things make it harder to see the integral good of man in its various dimensions. The ‘broadening [of] our concept of reason and its application’ is indispensable if we are to succeed in adequately weighing all the elements involved in the question of development and in the solution of socio-economic problems” (31).
The broadening of reason is, of course, a theme not just of this encyclical but of his whole pontificate. Here he emphasizes that it must involve collaboration between the various separated academic disciplines under the umbrella of charity (which implies an important role for theology, correctly understood). In fact it is the nature of love as the highest form of knowledge that makes the new synthesis possible.
“In view of the complexity of the issues, it is obvious that the various disciplines have to work together through an orderly interdisciplinary exchange. Charity does not exclude knowledge, but rather requires, promotes, and animates it from within. Knowledge is never purely the work of the intellect. It can certainly be reduced to calculation and experiment, but if it aspires to be wisdom capable of directing man in the light of his first beginnings and his final ends, it must be ‘seasoned’ with the ‘salt’ of charity. Deeds without knowledge are blind, and knowledge without love is sterile” (30).
But all of this implies an adequate anthropology. The Catholic faith gives us an understanding of the human person in which all the divided pieces fit together, but the world around us continues to divide, and therefore to promote systems of education that erode and corrode our very humanity.
“The term ‘education’ refers not only to classroom teaching and vocational training — both of which are important factors in development — but to the complete formation of the person. In this regard, there is a problem that should be highlighted: in order to educate, it is necessary to know the nature of the human person, to know who he or she is. The increasing prominence of a relativistic understanding of that nature presents serious problems for education, especially moral education, jeopardizing its universal extension” (61).
There are, of course, many books that I could recommend for a deeper study of this question. (I have had a go at writing one myself, called Beauty for Truth’s Sake.) The one I want to single out here is a wonderful little book of essays by Thomas J. Norris called Getting Real about Education from Columba Press. Influenced by Newman, Balthasar and Lonergan he writes, very much in the spirit of Pope Benedict,
“The human being is in fact an image of infinity, being made in the image and likeness of God, and being born with an insatiable hunger for communion with mystery, love, truth and beauty. To disconnect the education of the human being from the integral identity of the human being is to deform and not to educate. Such a person may have everything he or she needs, except a reason to live and a reason to die! If the university project is severed entirely from the moral and spiritual, then the weight of knowledge, scientific technique and technology will crush out of existence the springs of love that are in the world – the family, the community, the volunteers” (p. 12).
By the way, a recent book by James Tooley looks interesting. Called The Beautiful Tree, it tells the story of private education among the world's poor - not mission schools for the rich, or government schools, but co-operative, community schools. This connects with our item above, dated 1 August, which concerns the cooperative movement. Tooley's book is recommended by

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed The Beautiful Tree....primarily because Tooley was so surprised to find that the education establishments in the poor countries disavowed knowledge of the reality that parents, paying sacrificially to see to their own kids' education, were having a better job done of it in small, neighborhood, unregulated, bells-and-whistles-free 'home schools' than could be done with the first world' education pushed at them by well-meaning philanthropists. Very interesting book.