Children learning at our school in France.

Children learning at our school in France.

The fall semester is in full-swing: mid-term exams, school day routines, and hopefully lots of learning.  Education is the question at hand!  Countless studies and programs evaluate the “skill set” needed for students to succeed.  The list of “what they should know” is always shifting.  Often school seems to be merely a place to “get” what you need so that you can “do” what you must.  “Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day-shift.”

Recess time at our school in France.

Recess time at our school in France.

But Christian thinking about education has a deeper foundation, since our faith has a deeper philosophy of the human person (philosophical anthropology) as well as a deeper theology of the origin and end of knowledge and of work.

Middle School

Middle School

Instead of seeing the student as a receptacle for information and conformity to the required behavior, the Christian thinking about education is full of good news and bad news…original sin and the work of restoration, on the one hand, and the capacity to seek and find God by searching for the truth at any cost, on the other.

Portrait of Saint Augustine attributed to Caravaggio in his early period (c. 1600)

Portrait of Saint Augustine attributed to Caravaggio in his early period (c. 1600)

Saint Augustine dedicates a long portion of De doctrina christiana to the healing function of wisdom.   He asserts that the “wisdom of God is learning oriented to the healing of man, [since it is] the doctor himself and the medicine itself” (Sapientia Dei adhibuit ad sanandam, ipsa medicus, ipsa medicina.[I.14])  (See Book I, Chapter 14; as well as previous discussion in chapters 8-14.)


Photo reconstruction of a monastic scriptorium.

For this reason the Christian tradition has always valued study and investigation as a way to draw closer to God, and to restore the imago Dei, the “image of God” in each one of us.  [For more on the recent teaching on humanity being made in imago Dei see “Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created In The Image Of God” (published in 2004, result of working sessions held in Rome 2000-2002) from the International Theological Commission.]


Education is begun in childhood under the care of our parents and subsequently other teachers who collaborate with them.  The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church elaborates on this in section c. “The task of educating” (238-243).

“The commitment to the education and formation of the person has always represented the first concern of Christian social action.” (557)


In Gravissimum Educationis (1965), the Declaration on Education of the Second Vatican Council, we read:

“A Christian education does not merely strive for the maturing of a human person as just now described, 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 (cf. John 4:23) especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth (Eph. 4:22-24);
  • also that they develop into perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13) and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body;
  • moreover, that aware of their calling, they learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them (cf. Peter 3:15) but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society.(Cf. Lumen Gentium, 36)”
Sisters of various congregations share a tour at the Cloisters branch of the Metropolitan Museum, New York

Sisters of various congregations pause in a 12th /early 13th century chapter room while sharing a tour at the Cloisters branch of the Metropolitan Museum, New York

Let us end with the words of some free and deep thinkers at the scenes of their studies:

Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890) [his complete works on-line “The Newman Reader”]

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.

I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.”


Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890) in his study.


Saint Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)

“No one in the world can change Truth!  What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it.”


Saint Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) at his desk.


Nat Hentoff (1925-2017)

“Those who created this country chose freedom. With all of its dangers. And do you know the riskiest part of that choice they made? They actually believed that we could be trusted to make up our own minds in the whirl of differing ideas. That we could be trusted to remain free, even when there were very, very seductive voices – taking advantage of our freedom of speech – who were trying to turn this country into the kind of place where the government could tell you what you can and cannot do.”

(Archives are available of writings from this Jewish intellectual with academic background in Constitutional Law and jazz, who followed truth until he became an unexpected pro-life advocate and critic of abortion’s cultural violence.)

Nat Hentoff in his study (NYT 2009)

Nat Hentoff in his study (NYT 2009)

Saint John Paul II (1920-2005)

“The life of a teacher, as I know from personal experience, is very challenging and demanding, but it is also profoundly satisfying. It is more than a job, for it is rooted in our deepest convictions and values. To be intimately concerned in the development of a young person, of hundreds of young people, is a highly responsible task. As teachers, you kindle in your students a thirst for truth and wisdom. You spark off in them a desire for beauty. You introduce them to their cultural heritage. You help them to discover the treasures of other cultures and peoples. What an awesome responsibility and privilege is yours in the teaching profession.”


Happy learning!  Happy teaching!  Keep full speed ahead to the end of the semester!