John Paul II and education for the new millennium

John Paul II and education for the new millennium
GK – minstrel of faith

I have always loved the passage from Book Eight of Aristotle’s Politics on education  –  the statesman must assemble the people to hear the bard:

There remains, then, the use of music for intellectual enjoyment in leisure; which is in fact evidently the reason of its introduction, this being one of the ways in which it is thought that a freeman should pass his leisure; as Homer says, “But he who alone should be called to the pleasant feast,” and afterwards he speaks of others whom he describes as inviting “The bard who would delight them all.” And in another place Odysseus says there is no better way of passing life than when men’s hearts are merry and “The banqueters in the hall, sitting in order, hear the voice of the minstrel.” It is evident, then, that there is a sort of education in which parents should train their sons, not as being useful or necessary, but because it is liberal or noble.

The bard, the minstrel, sing the songs about the gods and heroes — so there is no better way of spending ones time, indeed, than to hear such songs of old. After all, Aristotle begins the final book of the Politics, VIII, with the statement that “the legislator should make the education of the young his chief and foremost concern.” He notes that most regimes neglect education. But education is necessary at the very least for the perpetuation of the regime, let alone for the over all excellence of the members and the city.

What should be the place for making man’s heart merry and what manner of minstrel should Christians honor? A Catholic university would be the place. And the bards of Catholic culture its minstrels. (I am told that Professor MacIntyre, at a recent meeting of the ACPA, said that Catholics who wish to engage modern culture must combine the gifts of Waugh, Chesterton and Aquinas!) It would then live up to that claim to be a place of discovering joy in truth, according to Ex corde. And how now  does one find such glad tidings?

Here is a try: have each student come to study “each of the various disciplines within the context of a vision of the human person and the world that is enlightened by the Gospel, and therefore by a faith in Christ, the Logos, as the center of creation and of human history.” Ex corde §16 Enlightened by the gospel. Faith in the logos. Center of history. This demand requires a personal orientation and an existential commitment. Then we must be “aided by the specific contributions of philosophy and theology.” The problem is that Ex corde is brief, but to the point. Erstwhile core reformers easily pass this one by, because it is very existential, very specific, and very creedal. It carries a wallop much harder than the vague reference some make to integration or ethics. This remark is but the sign of a deep account of Christian existence, as explained in Novo millennio or Fides et ratio or Newman or Maritain.

Philosophy and theology do more than serve as formal principles of integration, although they do in fact to that. They are expressions of an existential integration of man with God, and of time with eternity, as lived in liturgy and sacrament. Here we should recall the passages from Novo millennio ineunte about Christianity and history. 

  •  Christ is true fulcrum of history, to which the mystery of the world’s origin and its final destiny leads §35
  • the Incarnation is the pulsating center of time . . . the seed destined to become a great tree §5
  • the Resurrection is event set at the centre of the mystery of time, prefiguring the last day when Christ will return in glory

That would in turn require faculty who could teach within such a vision, and who dwell liturgically with the Church. The campus life as well its classroom and curriculum would be imbued by the liturgical life of the Church and the mystery of the Paschal mystery.

University teachers should seek to improve their competence and endeavour to set the content, objectives, methods, and results of research in an individual discipline within the framework of a coherent world vision. Christians among the teachers are called to be witnesses and educators of authentic Christian life, which evidences attained integration between faith and life, and between professional competence and Christian wisdom. §22

Integration has become no more than a new shibboleth for bourgeois Catholicism as it tries to lay hold again upon the sacred aims of Catholic education in a secularist society. I say this because while “integration” is incanted daily, faculty continue to live in a dual world of specialized professionalism and weak sentiments of faith, exercised once a week but not within the discipline or near the classroom. The task is shunted over to the theologians and philosophers to speak in splendid isolation. The curriculum still lumbers on within the orbit of the secularized disciplines. Where is Christian culture? Where is salvation history? Where the Redeemer of Man?

I propose that all Catholic universities and all core reform be given the “Fulcrum test.”  How does this program, this course, this curriculum, this professor . .  weigh on the fulcrum of history, the mystery of Christ and the world’s origin and destiny?

I remember many years ago when my brother and I were undergraduates at Notre Dame; we were on an elevator in the Hesburgh Library with theologian Stanley Hauerwas and a Jesuit scholar whose name I cannot recall. The Jesuit was explaining to Hauerwas the nature of his research on the Bhagavad Gita. As the elevator doors opened on the first floor Hauerwas blurted out “What the dickens (it may have been another word) does that have to do with the Lord Jesus Christ?” There is the fulcrum test. I believe that Waugh and Chesterton would pass the test..

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