Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Gospel as the Centre of Education

My Sister-in-law Update

No, update, just to say that the wedding pictures are starting to roll in, but they are so far of poor quality, so stay tuned.

Back to Our Matter

How should the Gospel be at the centre of education? Sounds like a simple matter, but would you be surprised to learn that, for instance, the Fathers of the Church had different takes on the matter? Some thought "Gospel at the Centre" meant the total exclusion of profane learning, some did not. A very interesting and promising position was sponsored by that Father of the Whole West - St. Benedict. His view of the "Gospel at the Centre" (henceforth GATC) did not come about as a direct result of his meditation on pedagogy per se. For him study was always second to prayer, even though his view was almost single-handedly responsible for every bit of learning done in the West from, say, the 7th century to the 13th. Here is an instance of Catholics doing things Catholicly without realizing that they are. This naturalness recommends it. I know that one or two of my colleagues at OLSWA would 100% agree with me that Benedict's view of education is the way to go. Education as servant of prayer, as occupation of prayerful people. (For Leclercq's excellent study of this topic see here.)

The Benedictine example, although a sound one, might not fit into every circumstance. Does it work without the accompaniment of eight hours of prayer a day? I don't imagine that too many people would be too hard on students who were not in every degree fulfilling the Benedictine way of life.

I teach theology in a school that values it. Yet we don't do math theologically, we do math mathematically. Is this wrong of us? I doubt it. But how does this correspond to the GATC? It is math being done by people of prayer. The prayer doesn't (directly) inform the math, rather, the prayer characterizes the life of the mathematician who is not just a mathematician but a human being. We do theology theologically, but even here there can be confusion and conflict. Sometimes students have difficulties with my findings. And it is, of course, interesting to note that when they disagree with me it is not like when we they disagree with their history prof. Would it not be appropriate in such cases to appeal to the specifics of the theological method as the ultimate arbiter, as they would in the case of history?

There is a strong case for maintaining that GATC informs the methodology, or perhaps is the methodology. In a way it is, or is at least an element in, the method of all the sciences, not just theology. Who would dispute that the Gospel has a great deal to say about conflict resolution? The charity of the Gospel, I would suggest, is perhaps the most powerful element in any science. It is rarely allowed to do what it can, but this doesn't it mean that it can't.

Some have laboured to prove how all the 'arts are retracable to theology' and that theology is the 'queen of the sciences.' So many people I run into take these for granted, yet I hardly think they have thought through what exactly they mean. I do not want to engage in a wholesale reductio at artem here (mainly because I can't imagine how it is to be done). I simply want to reflect upon the role the Gospel can and should have in the academy today. What a much simpler task, for it doesn't need to dream up a situation upon which to apply the Gospel; it takes a situation and asks how does or how should the Gospel govern the academy.

(I know I switch from Academy to academy, and from School to school. If you think about it, it doesn't really matter to which one I am referring in most cases.)

I can think of two ways right off the top of my head. As above, the Gospel governs the virtues of the enquirer (bear in mind 1 Cor 13 in this case). Secondly, it governs philosophy as its ultimate object. Don't think in this case of Thomas' 'Five Ways;' think of the Natural Law.

This seems like a good place to sign off. How about the next post - or next two - flesh(es) out these two aspects of the GATC?

Dominus vobiscum.


  1. Just read your last three posts and I am breathless and impressed that you have a published letter in First Things. I am also wondering how to get an imprimatur placed on my blog or at least an unofficial ecclesiastical plug on the blog of a local archbishop. Say hi to Anne-Marie for me and congratulate her viewing of Saving Private Ryan while only engaged; Dave saved that movie for our first year of marriage.