Skip to content

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >


Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes


In the broadest sense, education includes all those experiences by which intelligence is developed, knowledge acquired, and character formed. In a narrower sense, it is the work done by certain agencies and institutions, the home and the school, for the express purpose of training immature minds. The child is born with latent capacities which must be developed so as to fit him for the activities and duties of life. The meaning of life, therefore, of its purposes and values as understood by the educator, primarily determines the nature of his work. Education aims at an ideal , and this in turn depends on the view that is taken of man and his destiny, of his relations to God, to his fellowmen, and to the physical world. The content of education is furnished by the previous acquisition of mankind in literature, art, and science, in moral, social, and religious principles. The inheritance, however, contains elements that differ greatly in value, both as mental possessions and as means of culture; hence a selection is necessary, and this must be guided largely by the educational ideal. It will also be influenced by the consideration of the educative process. Teaching must be adapted to the needs of the developing mind, and the endeavour to make the adaption more thorough results in theories and methods which are, or should be, based on the findings of biology, physiology, and psychology.

The work of education begins normally in the home; but it is, for obvious reasons, continued in institutions where other teachers stand in place of the parents. To secure efficiency it is necessary that each school be properly organized, that the teachers be qualified and that the subjects of instruction be wisely chosen. Since the school, moreover, is so largely responsible for the intellectual and moral formation of those who will later, as members of society, be useful or harmful, there is evidently needed some higher direction than that of the individual teacher, in order that the purpose of education may be realized. Both the Church and the State, therefore, have interests to safeguard; education is to strive for the true ideal through the obvious that education at any given time expresses while, in its practical control, the existing relations between the temporal power and the spiritual assume concrete form. As, moreover, these ideas and relations have varied considerably in the course of time, it is quite intelligible that a solution of the central educational problems should be sought in history; and it is furthur beyond question that histoical study, in this as in other departments, has a manifold utility. But a mere recital of facts is of little avail unless certain fact of Christian revelation be given its due importance. It is needful, then, to distinguish the constant elements in education from those that are variable; the former including man's nature, destiny, and relations to God, the latter all those changes in theory, conduct of educational work. It is with the first aspect of the subject that the present article is mainly concerned; and from this standpoint education may be defined as that form of social activity whereby, under the direction of mature minds and by the use of adequate means, the physical, intellectual, and moral powers of the immature human being are so developed as to prepare him for the accomplishment of his lifework here and for the attainment of his eternal destiny. Neither this nor any other definition was formulated from the beginning. In primitive times the helplessness and needs of the child were so obvious that his elders by a natural impulse gave him a training in the rude arts that enabled him to procure the necessaries of life, while they taught him to proptitate the hidden powers in each object of nature, and handed on to him the tribal customs and traditions. But of education properly so called the savage knows nothing, and much less does he busy himself with theory or plan. Even civilized peoples carry on the work of education for a long time before they begin to reflect upon its meaning, and such reflection is guided by philosophical speculation and by established social, religious, and political institutions. Often, too, their theorizing is the workof exceptional minds, and presents a higher ideal than might be inferred from their educational practice. Nevertheless, an account of what was done by the principal peoples of antiquity will prove useful by bringing out the profound modification which Christianity wrought.


The invention of writing was of the utmost importance for the developments of language and the keeping of records. The earliest texts, chiefly of a religious nature, became the sources of knowledge and the means of education. Such were in China the writings of Confucius, in India the Vedas, in Egypt the Book of the Dead, in Persia the Avesta. The main purpose in having these books studied by youth was to secure uniformity of thought and custom, and unvarying conformity with the past. In this respect Chinese education is typical. The sacred writings contained minute prescriptions for conduct in every circumstance and station of life. These the pupil was obliged to memorize in a purely mechanical fashion; whether he understood the words as he repeated them was quite indifferent. He simply stored his memory with a multitude of established forms and phrases, which subsequently he employed in the preparation of essays and in passing the governmental examinations. That he should learn to think for himself was of course out of the question.

With such a training, the development of free personality was impossible. In China, the family, with its sacred traditions and its ancestor-worship was controlled by the State; in Egypt by the priesthood ; in India by the different castes. There was, doubtless, in the Oriental mind a consciousness of personality ; but no effort was made to strengthen it and give it value. On the contrary, the Hindu philosophy, which regarded knowledge as the means of redemption from the miseries of life, placed that redemption itself in nirvana, the extinction of the individual through absorption into the being of the world. The position of women was, in general, a degraded one. Though the early training of the child devolved upon the mother, her responsibility brought with it no dignity. But little provision was made for the education of girls; their only vocation was to marry, bear childdren, and render service to the head of the family.

In view of these facts, it cannot be said that education as the Western world conceives it owes any great debt to the East. It is true that some of the sciences, mathematics, astronomy, and chronology, and some of the arts, as sculpture and architecture, were carried to a certain degree of perfection; but the very success of Oriental ability and skill in these lines only emphasizes by contrast the deficiencies of Oriental education. Even in the sphere of morality the same antagonism appears between precept and practice. It cannot and need not be denied that many of the sayings, e.g. of Confucius, evince a high ideal of virtue, while some of the Hindu proverbs, such as those of the "Pantscha-tantra", are full of practical wisdom. Yet these facts only make it more difficult to answer the question: Why was the actual living of these people so far removed from the formally accepted standards of virtue ? Nevertheless, Oriental education has a peculiar significance; it shows quite plainly the consequences of sacrificing the individual to the interests of human institutions, and of reducing education to a machine like process, the aim of which is to mould all minds upon one unchanging pattern; and it further shows how little can be accomplished for real education by despotic authority, which demands, and is satisfied with, an outward observance of custom and law. (See Davidson. A History of Education , New York, 1901.)


If the education of the Oriental peoples was stationary, that of the Greeks exhibits a progressive development which passes from one extreme to another through a variety of movements and reactions, of ideals and practice. What remains constant throughout is the idea that the purpose of education is to train youth for citizenship. This, however, was conceived, and its realization attempted, in different ways by the several City-States. In Sparta, the child, according to the Code of Lycurgus, was the property of the State. From his seventh year onward he received a public training whose one object was to make him a soldier, by developing physical strength, courage, self control, and obedience to law. It was a hard training in gymnastic exercises, with little attention to the intellectual side and less to the æsthetic ; even music and dancing took on a military character. Girls were subjected to the same severe discipline, not so much to emphasize the equality of the sexes as to train the sturdy mothers of a warrior race.

The ideal of Athenian education was the completely developed man. Beauty of mind and body, the cultivaation of every inborn faculty and energy, harmony between thought and life, decorum, temperance, and regularity -- such were the results aimed at in the home and in the school, in social intercourse, and in civic relation. "We are lovers of the beautiful", said Pericles, "yet simple in our tastes, and we cultivate the mind without the loss of manliness" (Thucydides, II, 40). The means of culture were music and gymnastics, the former including history, poetry, the drama, oratory, and science, along with music in the narrower sense; while the latter comprised games, atheltic exercises, and the training for military duty. That music was no mere "accomplishment" and that gymnastics had a higher aim than bodily strength or skill is evident from what Plato tells us in the Protagoras . The Greeks indeed laid stress on courage, temperances, and obedience to law ; and if their theoretical disquisitions could be taken as fair accounts of their actual practice, it would be difficult to find, among the products of human thinking, a more exalted ideal. The essential weakness of their moral education was the failure to provide adequate sanction for the principles they formulated and for the counsels they gave to youth. The practice of religion, whether in public services or in household worship exerted but little influence upon the formation of character. The Greek deities, after all, were no models for imitation; some of them could scarcely have been objects of reverence, since they were endowed with the weaknesses and passions of men. Religion itself was mechanical and external; it did not touch conscience nor awaken the sense of sin. As to the future life, the Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul ; but this belief had little or no practical significance. Thus the motive for virtuous action was found, not in respect for Divine law nor in the hope of eternal reward, but simply in the desire to temper in due proportion the elements of human nature. Virtue is not self-repression for the sake of duty, but, as Plato says, "a kind of health, and beauty and good habit of the soul "; while vice is "a disease and deformity and sickness of it." The just man

will so regulate his own character as to be on good terms with himself, and to set those three principles {reasons, passion, and desire} in tune together, as if they were verily three chords of aharmony, a higher, and a lower, and a middle, and whatever may lie between these; and after he had bound all these together and reduced the many elelments of his nature to a real unity as a temperate and duly harmonized man, he will then at length proceed to do whatever he may have to do. (Republic, IV, 443)

This conception of virtue as a self-balancing was closely bound up with that idea of personal worth which has already been mentioned as the central element in Greek life and education. But the personality referred to was not that of man for the sake of his humanity, nor even that of the Greek for the sake of his nationality; it was the personality of the free citizen, and from citizenship the artisian and the slaves were excluded. The mechanical arts were held in bad repute; and Aristotle declares that "they render the body and soul or intellect of free persons unfit for the exercise and practice of virtue " (Politics, V, 1337). A still more serious limitation, affecting not only their concept of human dignity, but their regard for human life as well, consisted in the exposure of children. This was practised at Sparta by the public authority, which destroyed the child that was unfit for the service of the State; while at Athens the fate of his offspring was committed to the father and might be decided in accordance with purely personal interests. The mother's position was not much better than it had been in the Orient. Women were generally regarded as inferior beings, "impotent for good, but clever contrivers of all evil " (Euripdes, Medea, 406). At best she was a means to an end, the bearing of children and the care of the household; her education consequently was of the scantiest sort. The only exceptions were the hetaerae , i.e. the women who were outside the home circle and who with greater freedom of living combined higher culture than the legitimate wife could hope for. Under such circumstances marriage implied for woman a lowering of personal worth that was in marked contrast with the ideals set up for the education of men.

These ideals, again, underwent a decided change during the fifth century B.C. In one respect at least it was a change for the better; it extended the rights of citizenship. The constitution of Solon was set aside and that of Clisthenes adopted in its stead (509 B.C.) The democratic character of the latter, with the increase in prosperity at home and the widening of foreign relations, afforded new opportunities for individual ability and endeavour. This heightened activity, however, was not put forth in behalf of the common good, but rather for the advancement of personal interests. At the same time morality was deprived of even the outward support it had formerly drawn from religion; philosophy gave way to scepticism ; and education, while it became more intellectual, laid emphasis on form rather than on content. The most influential teachers were the Sophists, who supplied the growing demand for instruction in the art of public discussion and offered information on every sort of subject. Developing in practical directions the principle that "man is the measure of all things", they carried individualism to the extreme of subjectivism alike in the sphere of speculative thought and in that of moral conduct. The purposes of education were correspondingly modified, and new problems arose. Now that the old standards and basis of morality had been rejected, the main question was to replace them by others in which due allowance would be made on the one hand for individuality and on the other for social needs. The answer of Socrates was: "Know thyself" and "Knowledge is virtue ", i.e. a knowledge drawn from personal experience, yet possessing universal validity; and the means prescribed by him for obtaining such knowledge was his maieutics , i.e. the art of giving birth to ideas through the method of question and answer, by which he developed the power of thinking. As an intellectual discipline, this scheme had undoubted value; but it left unsolved the chief problem; how is knowledge, even of the highest kind, to be translated into action? Plato offered a twofold solution. In the Republic , setting out from his general theory that the idea alone is real, and that the good of each thing consists in harmony with the idea when it originated, he reaches the conclusion that knowledge consists in the perception of this harmony. The aim of education, therefore, is to develop knowledge of the good. So far, this scheme contains little more promise of practical results than that of Socrates. But Plato adds that society is to be ruled by those who attain to this knowledge, i.e. by the philosophers ; the other two classes, soldiers, and artisans, are subordinate, yet each individual being asigned to the class for which his abilities fit him, reaches the highest self-development and contributes his share to the social weal. In the Laws , Plato attempts to revise and combine certain elements of the Spartan and of the Athenian system but this reactionary scheme met with no success.

This problem, finally, was taken up by Aristotle in the Ethics and the Politics . As in his philosophy, so in his educational theory, he departs from Plato's teaching. The goal for the individual as well as for society is happiness : "What we have to aim at is for the happiness of each citizen, and happiness consists in a complete activity and practice of virtue " (Politics, IV). More precisely, happiness is "the conscious activity of the highest part of man according to the law of his own excellence, not unaccompanied by adequate, external conditions." Merely to know the good does not constitute virtue ; this knowledge must issue in practice the goodness of the intellect (knowledge of universal truth ) must be combined with goodness of action. The three things which make men good and virtuous -- nature, habit, and reason --

must be in harmony with one another (for they do not always agree); men do many things against habit andnature, ifreason persuades them that they ought. We have already determined what natures are likely to be most easily moulded by the hands of the legislator. All else is the work of education; we learn some things by habit and some by instruction. (Politics, Bk. VII)

Education, however, must always be adapted to the peculiar character of the State: "The citizen should be moulded to suit the form of government under which he lives" (ibid., VIII). And again, "It is right that the citizens should possess a capacity for affairs and for war, but still more for the enjoyment of peace or leisure; right that they should be capable of such actions as are indispensable and salutary, but still more of such as are moral per se . It is with a view to these objects, then, that they should be educated while they are still children, and at all other ages, till they pass beyond the need of education" (ibid., IV). "Neither must we suppose that any one of the citizens belongs to himself, for they all belong to the State, and are each of them a part of the State, and the care of each part is inseperable from the care of the whole" (ibid., VII).

In the theories of Plato and Aristotle are found the highest reaches of hellenic thought regarding the prupose and nature of education. Each of these great thinkers established schools of philosophy, and each has profoundly affected the thought of all subsequent time, yet neither succeeded in providing an education sound and permanent enought to avert the moral and political downfall of the nation. The diffusion of Greek thought and culture throughout the world by conquest and colonization was no remedy for the evils which sprang from an exaggerated individualism. Once the idea was accepted that each man is his own standard of conduct, neither brilliancy of literary production nor fineness of philosophic speculation could prevent the decay of patriotism, and of a virtue which had never looked higher than the State for its sanction. Aristotle himself, at the close of his Ethics , points out the radical difficulty:

Now if arguments and theories were able by themselves to make people good, they would, in the words of Theognis, be entitled to receive high and great rewards, and it is with theories that we should have to provide ourselves. But thetruth apparently is that, though they are strong enough to encourage and stimulate young men of liberal minds, though they are able to inspire with goodness a character that is naurally noble and sincerely loves the beautiful, they are incapable of converting the mass of men to goodness and beauty of character.

No such "conversion" was aimed at by the Sophists. Appealing to the natural tendencies of the individual, they developed a spirit of selfishness which in turn broke out in discord, thus opening the way for the conquest of Greece by Roman arms.


In striking contrast with the Greek character, that of the Romans was practical, utilitarian, grave, austere. Their religion was serious, and it permeated their whole life, hallowing all its relations. The family, especially, was far more sacred than in Sparta or Athens, and the position of woman as wife and mother more exalted and influential. Still, as with the Greeks, the power of the father over the life of his child -- patria potestas -- was absolute, and, in the earlier period at least, the exposure of children was a common practice. In fact the laws of the Twelve Tables provided for the immediate destruction of deformed offspring and gave the father, during the whole life of his children, the right to imprison, sell, or slay them. Subsequently, however, a check was placed on such practices. The ideal at which the Roman aimed was neither harmony nor happiness, but the performance of duty and the maintenance of his rights. Yet this ideal was to be realized through service to the State. Deep as was the family feeling, it was always subordinate to devotion to the public weal. "Parents are dear," said Cicero, "and children and kindred, but all loves are bound up in the love of our common country" (DeOfficiis, I, 17). Education therefore was essentially a preparation for civic duty. "The children of the Romans are brought up that they may one day be able to be of service to the fatherland, and one must accordingly instruct them in the customs of the State and in the institutions of their ancestors. The fatherland has produced and brought us up that we may devote to its use the finest capacitites of our mind, talent, and understanding. Therefore we must learn those arts whereby we may be of greatest service to the State; for that I hold to be the highest wisdom and virtue."

These words express, at any rate, the spirit of the early Roman education. The home was the early school, and the parents the only teachers. Of scientific and æsthetic training there was little or none. To learn the Laws of the Twelve Tables, to become familiar with the lives of the men who had made Rome great and to copy the virtues which he saw in the father were the chief endeavour of the boy and youth. Thus the moral element predominated, and virtues of a practical sort were inculcated: first of all pietas , obedience to parents and to the gods: then prudence, fair dealing, courage, reverence, firmness, and earnestness or philisophical reasoning, but through the imitation of worthy models and, as far as possible, of living and concrete examples. Vitæ discimus , "We learn for life," said Seneca; and this phrase sums up the whole purpose of Roman education. In the course of time, elementary schools ( ludi ) were opened, but they were conducted by private teachers and were supplemented to the home instruction. About the middle of the third century B.C. foreign influence began to make themselves felt. The works of the Greeks translated into Latin, Greek teachers were introduced and schools established in which the educational characteristics of the Greeks reappeared. Under the direction of the literatus and the grammaticus education took on a literary character, while in the school of the rhetor the art of oratory was carefully cultivated. The importance which the Romans attached to eloquence is clearly shown by Cicero in his "De Oratore" and by Quintilian in his "Institutes"; to produce the orator became eventually the chief end of education. Quintilian's work, moreover, is the principal contribution to educational theory produced in Rome. The hellenizing process was a gradual one. The vigorous Roman character yielded but slowly to the intellectualism of the Greeks, and when the latter finally triumphed, far-reaching changes had come about in Roman society government, and life. Whatever the causes of decline -- political, economic, or moral -- they could not be stayed by the imported refinement of Greek thought and practice. Nevertheless, pagan education as a whole, with its ideals, successes, and failures, has a profound significance. It was the practical, that the world has known. It pursued in turn the ideals that appeal most strongly to the human mind. It engaged the thought of the greatest philosophers and the action of the wisest legislators. Art, science, and literature were placed at its service, and the mighty influence of the State was exerted in its behalf. In itself, therefore, and in its results, it shows how much and how little human reason can accomplish when it seeks no guidance higher than itself and strives for no purposes other than those which find, or may find, their realization in the present phase of existence.


Among the pre-Christian peoples the Jews occupy a unique position. As the recipients and custodians of Divine revelation , their conception of life and morality were far above those of the Gentiles. God manifested Himself to them directly as a Person, a Spirit, and an ethical Being, guiding them by His providence, making known to them His will, and prescribing the minutest details of life and religious practice. Throughout the Old Testament, God appears as the teacher of His chosen people. He sets before them a standard of righteousness which in none other than Himself: "You shall be holy, because I am holy " ( Leviticus 11:46 ). Through Moses and the Prophets He gives them His Commandments and the promises of a Messiah to come. But He also placed upon them the duty of instructing their children.

Hear, O Israel, theLord our God is one Lord. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with they whole strength. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart: and thou shalt tell them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7 )

In accordance with this injunction, education, at least in the earlier period, was given chiefly in the home. Jewish family life, indeed, far surpassed that of the Gentiles in the purity of its relations, in the position it secured to woman, and in the care which it bestowed on children, who were regarded as a blessing vouchsafed by God and destined for His service by fidelity to the Divine law. An important function of the synagogue also was the instruction of youth, which was committed to the scribes and the doctors. Schools, as such, came into existence only in the later period, and even then the teaching was permeated by religion. Though the Old Testament, contains no theory of education in the stricter sense, it abounds in maxims and principles which are all the more weighty because they are inspired by Divine wisdom and because they have a practical bearing upon life. God Himself showed the dignity of the teacher's office when he declared: "They that are learned shall shine as the brightness of the firmament : and they that instruct many to justice, as stars for all eternity " (Dan., xii, 3). In the light, however, of a more perfect revelation, it is clear that God's dealings with Israel had an ultimate purpose which was to be realized "in the fullness of time." Not only the utterances of the Prophets, but many signal events in the history of the Jews and many of their ritual observances were types of the Messiah ; as St. Paul says, "All these things happened to them in figure" ( 1 Corinthians 10:11 ), and "The law was our pedagogue in Christ" ( Galatians 3:24 ). As the Supreme Teacher of mankind, God, while imparting to them the truth which they presently needed, also prepared the way for the greater truths of the Gospel.


As in many other respects so for the work of education, the advent of Christianity is the most important epoch in the history of mankind. Not only does the Christian conception of life differ radically from the pagan view, not only does the Christian teaching impart a new sort of knowledge and lay down a new principle of action, but Christianity, moreover, supplies the effectual means of making its ideals actual and of carrying its precepts into practice. Through all vicissitudes of conflict and adjustment, of changing civilizations and varying opinions, in spite even of the shortcomings of its own adherents, Christianity has steadfastly held up before men the life and the lessons of its Divine Founder.

Jesus Christ as Teacher

" God who, at sundry-times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son" ( Hebrews 1:1-2 ). This communication through the God-Man was to reveal the true way of living: "The grace of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men; instructing us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ " (Titus, ii 11, 12). Of Himself and His mission Christ declared, "I am come a light into the world; that whosoever believeth in me, may not remain in darkness" ( John 12:46 ); and again, "For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth " ( John 18:37 ). The knowledge which He came to impart was no mere intellectual possession or theory: "I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly" ( John 10:10 ). He taught therefore, as one "having authority"; He insisted that His heirs should believe the truths which He taught, even though these might seem to be "hard sayings." His doctrines, indeed, made no appeal either to pride of intellect or to selfishness or to passion. For the most part, as in the Sermon on the Mount, they were dramatically opposed to the maxims that had obtained in the pagan world. They were, in the highest sense, supernatural, not only in proposing eternal life as the ultimate goal of man's existence and action, but also in enjoining the denial of self as the chief requisite for attaining that destiny. Service to the neighboor was insisted upon, but this was to be rendered in the spirit of love, the new commandments which Christ gave ( John 13:34 ). Faithfulness also to civic duty was required, but the sanction which imparted force to such obligation was man's elevation to a higher citizenship in the Kindgom of God. To strive after this and to realize it in one's earthly life, so far as possible, was the ideal to which every other good was subordinate; "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you" ( Matthew 6:33 ).

Truths of this kind, so far removed from the natural tendencies of human thought and desire, could be imparted only by one who embodied in himself all the qualifications of a perfect teacher. The philosophers no doubt might, and did, formulate beautiful theories regarding knowledge and virtue ; but Christ alone could say to His disciples : "I am the way, the truth, and the life" ( John 14:6 ). And whatever worth they attached in theory to personality was of far less ideal in Christ's own Person. He could thus rightfully appeal to that imitative tendency which is so deeply rooted in man's nature and from which so much is expected in modern education. The axiom, also, that we learn by doing and that knowledge gets its full value only when it issues in action, finds its best exemplification in Christ's dealings with His disciples. He "began to do and to teach" ( Acts 1:1 ). In His miracles he gave evidence of His power over all nature and therefore of His authority to require faith in His words: "The works themselves which I do give testimony of me, that the Father hath sent me" ( John 5:36 ). To His disciples, when they hesitated or were slow to realize that the Father abided in Him, the answer was given: "Otherwise believe for the very works' sake" (xiv, 12). What He demanded in turn was no mere outward profession of faith or loyalty: "Not every one that saith to me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven ; but he that doth the will of my Father" ( Matthew 7:21 ).

The necessity of manifesting belief through action is constantly pointed out both in the literal teaching of Christ and in His parables. These, again, illustrate His practical wisdom as a teacher. They were drawn from objects and circumstances with which His hearers were familiar. In each instance they were adapted to the manner of thinking suggested by the local surroundings and the customs of the people; and they were often called forth by an incident that seemed unimportant or by a question which was asked now by His followers and again by His tireless enemies. Thus the simplest things of nature -- the vine, the lily, the fig-tree, the birds of the air, and the grass of the field -- were made to yield lessons of the deepest moral significance. His aim was not to adorn His own discourse, but rather to bring its content into the minds of his hearers more vividly, and to secure for it greater permanence by associating in their thought some supernatural truth with the facts of daily experience. Sensory perception, memory, and imagination were thus developed to form a mental setting for the great truths of the Kindgom. The same principle found its appreciation in the institution of the sacraments whereby natural elements are made the outward signs of inward grace. As St. John Chrysostom aptly says,

If you were incorporeal, he would have bestowed on you incorporeal gifts in their bare reality; but because the soul is bound up with the body, he gives you intelligible things under sensible forms. (Homilia, lx, as populum Antioch)

In fact the whole teaching of Christ is the clearest proof of the principle that education must adapt itself in method and practice to the needs of those who are to be taught. In accordance with this principle He prepared the minds of His followers beforehand for the institution of the Holy Eucharist for His own death, and for the coming of the Holy Ghost ( John 6:14-15 ); and he even reserved certain truths to be made known by the Paraclete : "I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth " (xvi, 12, 13). Thus the completion of His work as a teacher is left not to human conjecture or speculation, nor to the theories of philosophical schools, but to the Spirit of God Himself. This of course was best realized by those who were nearest to Him; yet even those of the Jews who were not among the Apostles, but were, like Nicodemus, disposed to judge fairly, confessed His superiority: "We know that thou art come a teacher from God ; for no man can do these signs which thou dost, unless God be with him" ( John 3:2 ).

The Aim of Christian Education

Had Christ's mission ended when He quitted the earth, He would still have been in word and work the ideal teacher, and would have influenced for all time the education of mankind so far as its ultimate aims and basic principles are concerned. But as a matter of fact, He made ample provision for the perpetuatuion of His work by training a select body of men who for three years were constantly under His direction and were thoroughly imbued with His spirit. To these Apostles, moreover He gave the command: "Going therefore, teach ye all nations . . . . and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" ( Matthew 27:19, 20 ). These words are the charter of the Christian Church as a teaching institution. While they refer directly to the doctrine of salvation, and therefore to the imparting of religious truth, they nevertheless, or rather by the very nature of that truth and its consequences for life, carry with them the obligation of insisting on certain principles and maintaining certain characterisitcs which have a decisive bearing on all educational problems.

1. The truth of Christianity is to be made known to all men. It is not confined to any one race or nation or class, nor is it to be the exclusive possession of highly gifted minds. This characteristic of universality is in plain contrast with the highest conceptions of the pagan world. The cultured Greek had only contempt for the barbarian, and the Roman looked upon outside nations a subjects to be governed rather than as people to be taught. But at Athens also and at Rome there was the distinction between free citizens and slaves, in consequence of which the latter were excluded from the benefits of education. As against these narrow limitations Christ charged His apostles to "teach all men"; and St. Paul, in the same spirit, professes himself a debtor to all men, Greeks and barbarians, the wise and the unwise alike. All, in fact, were to be dealt with as children of the same Heavenly Father and heirs of the Kingdom of God. In respect of these supernatural perogatives, the distinctions which had hitherto prevailed were set aside: Christianity appeared as one vast school with mankind at large for its disciples.

2. The commission given to the Apostles was not to expire with them; it was to remain in force "all days, even to the consummation of the world." Perpetuity , therefore, is an essential feature in the educational work of Christianity. The institution of paganism had indeed flourished and advanced from phase to phase of development, but they did not contain the element of enduring vitality. In the higher departments of learning, as in philosophy, school had followed school into vigour and into decay. And in education itself, one ideal after another had been put forward only to be displaced. Christianity, on the contrary, while it could never become a rigid system, held up to mankind certain unchangeable truths which should serve as criteria for determining the value of every fundamental theroy of life and of education. By insisting, especially, that man's destiny was to be attained, not in any form of temporal service or success but in union with God, it proposed an ideal which should be valid for all time and amid all the variations of human thought and endeavour. That such changes would inevitably come to pass, Christ, without doubt, foresaw. In view of these, a merely human teacher would have provided for the stability of his work by devices which would, if successful, have attested his foresight, or shrewdness, or knowledge of human nature. But Christ's guarantee to the Apostles is at once simpler and surer: "Behold I am with you all days." The task of instructing the world in Christian truth would have been impossible but for this permanent abiding of Christ with His appointed teachers. On the other hand, once the force of His promise is realized, the significance of Christianity as a perpetual institution becomes evident: it means that Christ, Himself through a visible agency was to continue for all time the work He began during His earthly life as Teacher of the human race .

3. It has already been pointed out that some of the pagan peoples, and notably the Greeks, had attained a very high conception of personality ; and it has also been shown that this conception was by no means perfect. The teaching of Christianity in this respect is so far superior to any other that if a single element could be designated as fundamental in Christian education it would be the emphasis which it lays on the worth of the individual. In the first place, Christianity had its origin, not in any abstract speculation as to goodness or virtue, but in the actual, concrete life of a Person who was absolutely perfect. It was not, then, obliged to cast about for the ideal man, or to present a theory as to what that ideal might possibly be: it passed the most exalted ideas of human wisdom. In Christ first appeared the full dignity of human nature through its elevation personal union with the Word of God ; and in Him, as never before or since, were manifest those traits which furnish the noblest models for imitation.

Christianity, furthermore, elevated human personality by the value it set upon each human soul as created by God and destined for eternal life. The State is no longer the supreme arbiter, nor is service to the public weal the ultimate standard. These, it is true within their legitimate sphere have just claims upon the individual. Christianity by no means teaches that such claims can be disgregarded or the corresponding duties neglected, but rather that the discharge of all social and civic obligations will be more thorough when subordianted to, and inspired by, fidelity in the duties that man owes to God. While the value of personality is thus enhanced, the sense of responsibility is correspondingly increased; so that the freer development of the person is not allowed to culminate in selfishness nor in that extreme individualism which is a threat to social organization.

4. From these principles Christianity drew consequences which were totally at variance with the thought and practice of paganism. The position of woman was lifted at once to a higher plane; she ceased to be a chattel, or a mere instrument of passion, and became the equal of man, with the same personal worth and the same eternal destiny. Marriage

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Saint of the Day logo
Prayer of the Day logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.