Sunday 24 November 2013

Education open to God

A new book has gathered together Pope Benedict XVI's statements and writings on education in one place. Read about it here. "The editor has grouped 63 addresses on education by Pope Benedict under seven themes: the relationship between faith and reason; the compatibility of freedom and truth; education and love; pedagogy and learning; education in faith and community; culture and the university; and the relationship between science, technology and theology." Sounds important to all readers of this blog.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Remembering the present

In Beauty in the Word, I based my philosophy of education on three pillars or elements: Remembering, Thinking, and Communicating (roughly equivalent to the ancient categories of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric – the "Trivium"). The connection between these is not always obvious, but I think it can be explained in the following way.

Memory is foundational. On it is grounded not only our sense of personal identity, but our ability to think and communicate. One of the most profound comments on memory I have come across is in Pavel Florensky's The Pillar and Ground of the Truth. In it he writes, "That which in God is called 'memory' completely coincides with God's thought, for in God's consciousness Time is identical to Eternity, the empirical identical to the mystical, and experience is identical to creativity. God's thought is perfect creativity, and His creativity is His memory. God, remembering, thinks, and, thinking, creates" (p. 149). Thus for man, too, remembering is the highest form of thought. Education begins and ends with the awakening of memory – get that right and the rest follows.

It is not that we already know, or knew, every detail of what our teachers want us to learn. Rather, to remember the Being from which we come and on which we depend – to recall the Principle of existence – is to establish a context for learning everything else. It is to give thinking and communicating a place to stand. Again, in God, thinking is identical with remembering, and so, for us, to think correctly we must remain faithful to the memory of our origin and build upon it. Thought, science, argument, must be soaked in wonder to be authentic. Communication, too, must come from the heart where our most fundamental memories are pondered and treasured. The Beautiful, Ethics, and the Arts can only flourish when heart speaks to heart, which is when hearts stand on the same universal ground, the ground of Memory.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Image of God

Catholic schools have a big problem when it comes to teaching about sexuality and ethics. Society at large, and the government that helps to determine the curriculum, have absorbed the modern view of body and soul as essentially separate from each other, and the body as an instrument of the mind that can be treated as we wish. This view is false, but has been accepted as common sense. The task of the Catholic school is now partly to show why it is false, and to offer an alternative – an alternative beautiful and coherent enough to convince, and strong enough to provide the foundation for a Catholic way of life. This is what Blessed John Paul II tried to do with his "Theology of the Body", founding a John Paul II Institute in each continent (under the Pontifical Lateran University) to teach and develop further his rich vision of Christian anthropology – in a sense tackling head-on one of the strongest forces behind the Culture of Death.

Since then many people have tried to simplify and express the basic principles of the Theology of the Body in more accessible, less academic terms. Dr Christopher West has become well known for this, although his approach has been criticized by some of the faculty of the John Paul II Institute, partly on the grounds that it lays too much emphasis on sexual experience per se. I do not propose to survey all the alternative resources available in the field of sex education or marriage prep, but here are two examples of courses based specifically on John Paul II that readers may find interesting.

Imago Dei has been developed by a former professor of the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC, Dr Mary Shivanandan. In four seasons of six sessions each, her study guide, A New Language, takes participants through the scripture-based Theology of the Body to a joyful understanding of marriage, sexuality, consecrated celibacy, and single fidelity. A new element in the programme by Dr Jem Sullivan and Mary Ellen Bork will use works of art to help people understand the Church's teaching.

The Rich Gift of Love by Sister Jane Dominic Laurel OP and others – a collaboration between Newman Connection and Aquinas College – explores John Paul II's understanding of self-gift, loving through our bodies and doing it in the context of living for our families, our society and our culture.

I also recommend Called to Love by Jose Granados and Carl Anderson, a Study Guide to which can be downloaded from HERE, courtesy of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.