Gravissimum educationis

After a bit of a break, let us resume with Gravissimum educationis: Vatican ll’s text on religious education.  I am suggesting this as there has been a lot of discussion (cf Mark Lambert’s, Ttony’s and my blogs, inter alia) and I thought this might be relevant.  I haven’t read it yet, so don’t know what to expect.

The English text can be found here, and the Latin here.

If anyone would like to suggest questions or themes to discuss, feel free!

It looks rather shorter than some of the other texts we have read, which I find comforting…

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10 Responses to Gravissimum educationis

  1. Ttony says:

    Before looking at Gravissimum Educationis itself, I want to make three points. The first is that GE is merely a Declaration, which seems to mean a statement of basic principles; the second is that unusually for Vatican II, there is nothing new in GE, nothing that would have beet noticeably odd to any Pope in the twentieth century; third, that the first footnote 1 of GE, in reviewing the “many documents illustrating the importance of education” could find none worthy of note older than Benedict XV’s Communes Litteras of 1919 (which addresses a very specific set of contemporary circumstances in the US) or of greater authority than Pius XI’s apostolic encyclical Divini Illius Magistri of 1929. In fact, except for the language and style, GE is not easily distinguishable conceptually from DIM except that GE sees a more restricted role for the state than does DIM.

    Over on Twitter, in response to a query about commenting on this particular document, I joked that “Is that it?” would be deprecated as a response to a Council document. Looking at what the Church has to say about education, however, I must say that my joke may have been misplaced: it seems as though the principles underpinning Education are so obvious that they need only be barely stated and everything else will follow naturally.

    What are these principles: first that “true education aims at the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as man, he is a member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share”; second that Christian education ” does not merely strive for the maturing of a human person … but has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of Faith they have received, and that they learn in addition how to worship God the Father in spirit and truth especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth”.

    Armed with these two principles, GE examines the respectives roles of parents, Church and State: parents, within the context of the family have the inalienable right and responsibilitiy for the education of their children; the State supports this by providing an education system which respects the principles exspounded above and ensures that parents can fulfill their duties; and the Church is bound to her children as a mother who must “do all she can to promote for all peoples the complete perfection of the human person, the good of earthly society and the building of a world that is more human”.

    There is a section on Catholic schools and colleges, but, effectively, that’s it. The idea of education being something that continues after you finish at school or university seems not to be considered except in the context of catechesis. Home schooling parents will have to work hard to situate themselves in a document which only considers education as something which happens in schools and colleges.

    I don’t think there’s anything tendentious in GE at all. The principles aren’t platitudes and the respective responsibilities of parents, the State and the Church are carefully weighted. The overall aim: the formation of the human person to be a good member of society and the continuing education of the baptized in the mystery of their Faith; is exactly right.

    But there is something missing, and it’s not just a problem of Vatican II: there doesn’t seem to be anything earlier either, or subsequently for that matter. It’s as though the Church has to worry about the top level principles, and then in schools worry about the curriculum, the fabric and such like, without filling the layer in between.

    My normal practice with Vatican II documents is to look at the documents of the 1980 National Pastoral Congress in Liverpool to see how the “spirit of Vatican II” has managed to take a way the Church has behaved for centuries and turn it into something else: in this case it hasn’t – a first!

    Maybe I’m inventing a problem that isn’t there, or worrying about something that doesn’t matter. It’s interesting that in the Catholic blogosphere – somewhere where there are opinions about everything – we only really argue about Catholic schools when discussing the flavour of Catholicism taught in RE and the schools’ approach to sex: I’ve never seen a Catholic critique of the History curriculum at Key Stage Three, for example.

    I’m keen to see what people think.

    • Lazarus says:

      Coming to this discussion rather late!

      Your point about the absence of any more concrete discussion of the curriculum strikes me as being extremely important. History at a Catholic school ought to be different from history at a non-denominational one, not because (eg) we should be explaining how wonderful Queen Mary was and how her sister Elizabeth was a bit of a rotter really, but because it should be integrated into that vision of the person oriented towards our ultimate end. Crudely, we study history to study people struggling to find that ultimate meaning in their life.

      Frankly, I can’t imagine this being possible in a school looking to get someone through a public examination or follow the National Curriculum, but for Catholics it really should be as important as the constant attempts by the Tories to find a narrative of Britishness. We should be looking for that narrative of salvation.

  2. Ben Trovato says:

    Ttony: I think I agree on every count. I hadn’t done the research you had, but did feel on reading this that it was wholly in keeping with Catholic tradition and sensibilities – as far as it went. But, as you point out, there is a lacuna, and a big one at that. I have heard a Catholic Educator, possibly on a tape from a Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice conference or some such, talking about a truly Catholic education; insisting (and in my view rightly) that not only History, but also Geography and come to that Carpentry can and should be taught in a Catholic way. (I have dim memories of him saying that although he knew nothing about carpentry, he was sure that there was a Catholic way of hitting a nail.)

    Sheed says it in the beginning of Theology and Sanity, too, (iirc): that we don’t see the world and then +God. Rather the reality of God transforms the way we see the world; enables us to see it properly, just as the sun enables us to see it properly. Thus, in my view, theology should permeate (or better, enlighten) every academic discipline

    That said, GE does provide valuable foundational principles (which as you note are not simply platitudes); the challenge is surely to build on those principles and construct Catholic Education fully worthy of the name.

  3. Megan says:

    *bursts in late, looking flustered* er, hello everyone.

    So, I was initially surprised at how brief the document is, before realising this was entirely to be expected given, as Ttony mentions, the wonderful simplicity of the principles it was setting out. They’re foundations whose strength you see in how much you can build on them.

    On which, I think Catholic education can be pretty much summed up, in GE’s phrase, as that which ‘aims at the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end.’ There is certainly a Catholic way of hitting a nail, in other words.

    That phrase, and ‘Holy Mother the Church must be concerned with the whole of man’s life…’ in the preceding paragraph, reminded me a lot of one of the main emphases in the teachings of the Pope Emeritus; that all the advances of modernity, and all human virtues, can never be fully realised and brought to full fruit unless we realise their transcendent basis in God. So this is a very apposite document, I think, for the Year of Faith and the New Evangelisation, and for BXVI’s recently ended pontificate. (Also, where it mentions that ‘educating belongs to the Church’ was anyone else put in mind of how Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum says ‘charity belongs to the Church’, for the same reason more or less?)

    I think the emphasis on subsidiarity is also an important and much-needed one, and something we have a lot to learn from – the description of the family as ‘the first school of the social virtues’ reminded me of a passage in the recent cross-party report into unplanned pregnancy (yes, I know, I have fun bedtime reading) which made a recommendation that (and this is paraphrased, not verbatim) ‘young men be more aware of their obligations and responsibilities in relationships and the standards of behaviour they should adhere to’. It assigned responsibility to implementing this recommendation to… the Department of Education. Subsidiarity fail.

    The discussion of the role of families also put me in mind of this phrase from a homily of Fr Andrew Pinsent’s – found here: ‘A few generations ago, adults encouraged teenagers to behave morally. Adults attempted, as it were, to organise society as a kind of ordered garden in which children could grow up and flourish. Today, however, many adults have broken down the gates and walls of this garden, which is rapidly becoming a jungle.’

    Again, it seems simple, but a lot can grow from it.

    Also, I read ‘the circumstances of our time have made it easier and at once more urgent to educate young people’ and immediately thought: Twitter. 😉

  4. Lazarus says:

    Just to pick up section 10 on Catholic universities, one of the problems in the UK is an (almost) complete lack of such institutions. Thinking for example of Heythrop, the following is from their online history:

    “It was decided that Heythrop College – the name was to be kept – should open for business as a constituent college of the University of London in October 1970 with Frederick Copleston SJ, the author of the standard English-language history of philosophy and many other philosophical works, as Principal. The fact that the Principal was a Jesuit disguised a fundamental change in the nature of the institution. It now had its own board of governors on which the Jesuits and their nominees were a minority: the College was self-governing and no longer a Jesuit institution. Nor was it any longer Roman Catholic.”

    That passage really ought to be stained with tears rather than a source of pride. Unless engagement with non-Catholic thought is done from the sort of integrated foundation focused on our ultimate end which is envisaged in GE, the sort of incoherence and bricolage evident in modern Catholic life is inevitable.

  5. cumlazaro says:

    I’ve awarded this blog a Liebster Award – see here Probably utterly pointless, Ben, since I don’t expect the conditions to be fulfilled give the nature of the blog! But it might get some extra traffic.

    Anyway, I think the blog deserves it! It’s an excellent idea.

  6. Thanks all for your interesting comments. I have just been reading about St Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, the father of Catholic Schooling in France in the 17th Century. Not only is there nothing here that would have surprised him (I think) it seems likely that some of his legacy informs this Declaration.

    I think Lazarus is right in highlighting that a Catholic education is about seeking the narrative of Salvation history in all subjects; and also that any school that is led by a secular National Curriculum will struggle to do that…

    So what to do?

    In the first instance, I think we should do what we can to re-evangelise our existing Catholic schools: enthusing and encouraging teachers to take their Catholicism ever more seriously and allow it to enlighten their teaching (as well as living it, so that their lives are themselves testimony to the Faith, which was one of St Jean-Baptiste’s founding principles).

    If we could make some progress there, that would be a good start. Beyond that, I think there are more difficult questions about the status of Catholic schools in an increasingly secular and anti-Catholic system…

  7. Thanks to Lazarus for awarding this blog a Liebster Award! As it is a team blog, I am not quite sure how to proceed. Any ideas, anyone?

    • Lazarus says:

      I don’t think we need to do anything else! My intention was simply to provide an excuse for sticking a link up to the group on my blog. Any moral opprobrium for failing to fulfil the further conditions of the award should be mine alone as I have waived the conditions in making it.

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