Some First Principles of Catholic Education


The purpose of this paper is to outline some of the perennial and invariable principles of Catholic education in the hope that they will be of benefit to those who are entrusted with the responsibility of relating them to the contemporary situation.

Certain areas of human endeavour touch intimately the lives of each of us because they are rooted in the human condition itself. Although the particular social circumstances in which human life is lived vary from age to age, from generation to generation and from country to country, the essential nature of human life, the basic human activities which we perform and the goal to which those activities are ordered, transcend the specific circumstances of time and place. Hence, there are two orders of considerations which prudence demands that we take into account in conducting our lives: the first involves the consideration of what is perennial, of principles which transcend particular circumstances and are invariable because they are attached to the human condition itself; the second involves the incorporation of these principles in the here-and-now situation through which we try to achieve our fulfilment.2 The purpose of this paper is to outline some of these perennial and invariable principles of Catholic education in the hope that they will be of benefit to those who are entrusted with the responsibility of relating them to the contemporary situation.

Because of "the paramount importance of education in the life of man",3 the topic of the work of Catholic education demands our greatest respect. It is as important as life itself. Now the good of education is relatively easy to state: its essential nature is to prepare us for what we must be and for what we must do in this life in order to attain the sublime end for which we were created.4 But because of the complexity of the work of education, we must exercise great caution and attentiveness in all of our considerations. Such complexity derives from the fact that Catholic education is essentially a social, rather than an individual activity, and it falls within the jurisdiction of three societies, each necessary and distinct — the family, civil society and the Church. And since the work of Catholic education belongs in a proper way to each of these societies, our task will be to discern, on the one hand, the due proportion in the distinctive roles and offices of each and, on the other, how the necessary activity of all three is interrelated and harmoniously combined in the grand task of preparing us for life. Such a task is not an easy one. Throughout history, the failure to respect the proper and due proportions in the responsibility of each distinct society has given rise to "turf wars" in both the theory and the practice of education.5

But here we must not be dismayed by the perennial conflicts which surround the domain of education. If the problems seem to be constant within the human condition, then so too are the universal solutions, even if each generation must rediscover them. We have the good fortune of being able to profit from the careful insights of those who have gone before us in grappling with the same difficulties, from the Creek philosophers to the most recent Royal commissions, from the Fathers of the Church to contemporary Church teaching. And since the Church has repeatedly advised us to have recourse to the perennial wisdom of one of Her greatest and most illustrious teachers, St. Thomas Aquinas,6 it is from that Thomistic tradition that the following consideration of some first principles of Catholic education is made — not with the intention of elaborating something which is new, but rather, of something which is ever-new.

Education, as the etymology of the word tells us, involves human upbringing, an education, that is, an assisting in drawing out the form of our humanity from what is present in an imperfect way to what is present in its full being, such that we are made capable of living and actively participating in community in a more fully human way. To accomplish this noble work, Catholic education, as a specific instrument in human formation, demands that the different partners in this enterprise maintain a focus on the whole Catholic weltanschauung, a term which I will use for mere economy of language, and which I will now define as a specific attitude to life which is rooted in an intellectual and spiritual vision of what is real.7 When speaking of education, St. Thomas never loses sight either of its root meaning as education of the full form of our humanity or of the Catholic weltanschauung which is the terminus of that formation.8

It is worth noting carefully, in fact, the context in which St. Thomas employs the term educatio. Although he treats of teaching and learning in a rich variety of contexts, when he speaks specifically of "education" he relates this to the goods or ends of marriage.9 I intend to explore this fundamental context because these considerations will smooth the way for our understanding of the contributions of the other two societies into which we are born — the civil community and the Church.


It is "clearly a necessity of man's nature",10 says St. Thomas, that he live in society in order to achieve "the end to which his whole life and all his actions are ordered."11 Every society, as the etymology of the word suggests, originates from the activity of associating. Now the most natural association is of a this man and a this woman who commit themselves to share their lives and their gifts in order to realize their good — a common good, a more human good, which transcends the individuality of each and which is achievable only through their conjoined efforts. It is only in this conjunction by the gift of themselves to each other that they are made naturally whole.

Now there are two primary ends to this most natural association of the spouses (so named because of their espousal of the same good for each other). In Latin, these two ends are designated as the proles and the fides, and again, for economy of language, I will keep the Latin terms. The first of these, the proles, is a primary good in the order of nature herself. As we can see immediately, proles has to do with being prolific — that is, with the begetting of offspring. "The most natural act of any living thing", says Aristotle,

... is to beget another like itself.., in order that, as far its nature permits, it may participate in what is eternal and divine. That is the goal to which all things direct their activities, that for the sake of which they do whatever their natures makes possible. 12

Since the primary purpose of nature is the perpetuation of the species (for it is through repetition that the temporal participates in what is eternal), it belongs to us, as an office of nature, to participate in the Divine Plan by our physical and sexual bodies through the begetting of children. But human begetting of children involves far more than just the good of perpetuating the human species. There is a reason why it is named procreation "On the part of the soul, which is incorruptible", says St. Thomas,

it is fitting that the multitude of individuals should be the direct purpose of nature, or rather of the Author of nature, Who alone is the Creator of the human soul. Wherefore, to provide for the multiplication of the human race, He established the begetting of offspring even in the state of innocence.13

In this context of the proles as one of the primary goods of marriage, there are three proper activities which belong to husband and wife, mother and father (names all related to their performance of these activities). The first of these is generation, of whose great ramifications we have just spoken; the second is conservation, a more noble activity, a more noble participation in what is eternal and divine whereby, through parental caring (caritas), what was begun by them in generation is brought to its physical completion; the third activity, more noble still, is education which concerns the education or full development of the human soul of their offspring. Here, their generative act achieves its fulfilment in the measure that their offspring become truly capable of their own self-activity and participation in the life of the community. We must make no mistake, therefore, about what belongs properly to the parents in education. Because education is the natural completion of their activity of generation, their obligation and their right to educate their offspring is essential to them. It is also a primary right and obligation vis-a-vis other educators who will assist them because of that unique loving relation which bonds parents and their children, and it is an inalienable right incapable of being either entirely delegated to others or usurped by others because it is essential to the parents, as parents.14 "Since parents have conferred life on their children", states Vatican II's Declaration on Christian Education,

they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and man that a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among the children. Hence, the family is the first school of those social virtues which every society needs.15

Having established parents' primacy in education, let us explore next its dimensions and the relationships of the partners who cooperate in bringing it to its fulfilment.

First of all, what is the relation of the proles to the other primary natural good of marriage, the fides? Although fides has to do with fidelity, it deals with a much greater issue than the prohibition of adultery. This second primary good of marriage focuses on the good of our specifically human nature. Named from fiant dicta, the fides consists essentially in keeping one's word, in fulfilling what we have promised.16 What we freely commit ourselves to do by our consent is to share our life with our spouse without reservation and without guarantees, to serve each other unconditionally — "for better or for worse, In good times and in bad times, in sickness and in health" — until death shall dissolve the union.17

Although both the proles and the fides are primary ends of marriage, they are primary in different orders. The fides directs the proles. The openness of the spouses to the begetting of children as well as the kind of care and generosity expended in their nurture and education will be determined by that weltanschauung underlying the promises they make to each other to share their lives. Hence, all the essential activities of the proles paricipate in the fides.l8 In fact, it is in the lifelong constancy of their promises that parents create the family atmosphere and the sense of belonging which is required for the development of their children to the state of virtue, and it is in this virtuous formation that education consists.19

To achieve such formation in virtue, parents must train their children in the essential values of human life. For their offspring to grow in human dignity and in freedom, children a proper respect for material and corporal goods, learning that "man is more precious for what he is than for what he has."20 As well, the good of the soul requires that their children be enriched with a sense of justice, not only to respect others, but also to be solicitous for the welfare of others, especially of those most in need.

The family is the first and fundamental school of social living: as a community of love, it finds in self-giving the law that guides it and makes it grow. The self-giving that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm for the self-giving that must be practiced in the relationships between brothers and sisters and the different generations living together in the family.21

The sharing of life by the spouses, then, extends to the whole family. Living out the fides, keeping the promise in the everyday life of the home — in good times and in bad times — is a most precious and effective formation which parents can give to their children, preparing them for fruitful inclusion and active participation in the life of the community.

There is a third primary good of marriage which is called the sacramentum, but this good pertains uniquely to Christian marriage. What is not a marriage in the natural order cannot attain to Christian marriage — hence, calling a marriage Christian does not indicate some limitation in a particular form of marriage but, on the contrary, a perfection of marriage itself whereby an office of nature is elevated and transformed by an infusion of grace.22 As the proles participates in the fides, so both of these natural goods now can participate in the sacramentum, whereby those activities which follow from the conjugal sharing of life, image God's eternal love for His people and Christ's love for His Church (about which we will speak in a moment). This office of grace which flows from the sacramentum makes possible in marriage aqualitatively different human participation in the divine life itself, "for grace is nothing other than a certain beginning of glory in us."23A Christian marriage, then, and all of the transformation which it brings to human activity, to our participation in the life of community and, specifically, to the work of education, is supported by a weltanschauung different from that of the natural order. Here we must ask "how does it differ?" In what does this Catholic weltanschauung consist?


This specific attitude to life is rooted in a vision of reality in which each and every person is seen as created in love by God, in His very image, and for the purpose of sharing the fullness of life in intimate association with Him in the Life of Glory. As children of God, we are called to participate in a special way in what is eternal and divine — to an association of companionship, to a sharing of life with God Himself. This is the root of all our other associations. This is our human vocation — our longing for wholeness.

Man enjoyed such companionship with God "in the beginning"; he "walked with" God. God created man, male and female, in His very image and likeness so that we could share both in God's nature and in the activity of His creation. We were made partners both in procreation and in the loving governance of the natural world. And to make this association a union of equals, to enable us freely to unite ourselves with Him and share the fullness of life, God gave His commandment: not to eat of the trees in the centre of the garden — the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Eternal Life. In breaking the commandment and in choosing Eve over God, the human over the divine, Adam perverted the whole work of creation, flawed it, and separated mankind from the destiny for which Adam and all his descendants were created — intimate union with God in the Life of Glory. This separation was (and is) the effect of Original Sin.

But God does not destroy His creation. He is Love. His love is faithful, merciful, eternal. Barring the way to the garden's Tree of Eternal Life (so that we would not have to live this life eternally), God promises us a Saviour Who will redeem us, Who will mend that which is broken and renew the face of His creation. The Old Testament shows us how He invites His people, again and again, to "walk with" Him once more, by obeying His commandments.

Through the new Eve, the Blessed Virgin Mary, she who was conceived free from the stain of original sin, God fulfils His promise and renews His creation. Her uniting with God (Fiat mihi secundum Verbum Tuum-Let it be to me according to Your Word) is the perfect response to the loving gift of the Creator (Fiat — Let it be).24 Here is the new model of fiant dicta, of faithfulness in "keeping one's word", imaged in marriage by the fides in the lifelong union of the spouses. Mary, Queen of Heaven, is the model for the community of the faithful, the Church, the Bride of Christ. Through her fiat, her participation in perfect communion with God the Father, the new Adam is begotten (not made), Jesus (God saves) Christ (Messiah, Promised One), true God and true man — Emmanuel (God With Us), like us in all things but sin, Who shows us the Way, the Truth, and the Life — and after Whom no one comes to the Father except through Him.

As Adam perverted God's creation through his disobedience, Christ, by His perfect obedience in His Passion and Death ("for He was obedient for us unto death, even unto death on a cross"), makes possible our reconciliation and union with God, meriting for us the fruit of the Tree of Eternal Life.

Now just as the concrete sin (both Adam's and ours) of choosing ourselves over God has continuing repercussions, so does Christ's salvation or healing. Christ promises to "walk with" us until the very end of time. To accomplish this, He establishes His Church, the society of the faithful, His Mystical Body into which we are born through Baptism, upon Peter, His vicar on earth, giving to him and to his successors the Power of the Keys (to bind and to loose), the power to make Him perpetually present in the Eucharistic Sacrament of the altar, and the commission to teach the Good News of salvation to all nations so that the temporal can again truly participate in the eternal and divine "through Him, with Him and in Him." Separated from union with God, we can never exercise properly the dominion with which we are entrusted.

Let this be sufficient as a brief overview of the Catholic weltanschauung. What is important for our purposes is that in living within it, a Christian marriage elevates and transforms those offices of nature which we call the fides and the proles to a renewed participation in the Life of Glory. This applies in a special way to the activity of parents in educating those whom they have begotten, precious images of God as well as of them.25 In the light of the sacramentum, the educating activity of Catholic parents now assumes a new dignity and vocation as a partnership in the salvific mission of the Church, firmly rooted in a sharing of God's creative activity and the magnificent end to which it is ordered. From the specific graces that flow from the Sacrament of marriage, parents are consecrated for the Christian education of their children, ready "to share in the very authority and love of God the Father and of Christ the Shepherd, and the motherly love of the Church.26 And enriched in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they are empowered to help their offspring grow as human beings and as Christians. The service of parents, then, plays a special role in the priesthood of the laity. When speaking of the efficacy of the sacraments for salvation, St. Thomas compares the priesthood of the parents to that of the other social sacrament, the sacerdotal priesthood:

Some [priests] are generators and nurturers of the spiritual life by a spiritual ministry alone, and this belongs to the Sacrament of Orders; others [parents] perform these ministries in both the physical and the spiritual life at the same time, and this is accomplished through the Sacrament of Marriage, by which a man and a woman come together for the begetting of offspring and for bringing them up to worship God.27

Through being attentive to the mission with which they have been entrusted in the Sacrament of Marriage, sacred sign of the intimate union of Christ with His Church, Christian parents will be helped greatly in the work of educating and in fulfilling their responsibility of building up the Church in their children. If education of their offspring, viewed as an office of nature, engenders the family as the first school of virtue, then all of this is elevated and transformed as an office of grace into a school of modelling Christ, into a Church of the home, an ecclesia domestica.28 In this cradle of the Church, parents must endeavour to participate in its mission of salvation by a gradual training and instruction of their children from a Christian and ecclesial point of view. And since our primary mode of learning is by imitation, parents must strive to model the faithfulness and love of Jesus Christ in what they do for and especially what they do with their children;29 by initiating dialogue with God through family prayer," by proclaiming the Gospel for their children in their daily living, and by bringing them into the Mystical Body of Christ and worship of God by frequenting the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. Catholic parents are called upon, in short, to make their family their child's first experience of Church — and what their children will receive subsequently will be received in terms of the form which they have educed.


But the family, even though it is the most natural association, is still the least perfect community for accomplishing all that is needed in sustaining and developing human life. Parents can be truly self-sufficient only with respect to generation. To accomplish well the other activities of nurturing and educating, the school of the family requires the assistance of the more perfect societies.31

Schools to which parents entrust their offspring, then, both continue and further the education of the child's humanity by providing an environment which encourages understanding of their familiar experience through a living encounter with the universal values of their culture. By sustaining this context of universal values, the school enables its pupils to integrate their own experience into a framework in which they find a belonging. This is what develops true self-activity. Parents should be wary, therefore, of school systems that promote "child-centred learning", if this encourages and promotes individual expression above development of specifically human gifts. It is by means of a gradual, systematic and critical assimilation of their culture, with the common attitude to life and the common values which support it, that children integrate the richness of the societal weltanschauung into their own person. As they grow into full membership in the civil community, their formation makes them prompt to participate in its good and share in its responsibilities.32 Growth and development through a systematic and critical assimilation of the societal weltanschauung requires a real social community within the school. Instruction and formation will be at cross-purposes in the measure that a common intellectual and moral vision is lacking in the classrooms. In fact, it is only the shared scale of values which even gives teachers, who stand in loco parentis, the authority to educate.33 Without such a clear and common focus on the end, the efforts of individual teachers produce only a cacophony of conflicting emotions and opinions instead of a harmonious development of character in the students. By contrast, when a true social community does exist within a school, it will permeate the presentations of all the subject matters, order them to the same end, and permit students to form themselves in their humanity by incorporating what is properly human in all the academic disciplines.

While development in virtue and character is the primary educational role of the school, the extension of being into doing is also encompassed in its purpose. It is fitting, therefore, that the school also should provide training for taking part in social living,

so that by proper instruction in necessary and useful skills, [their charges] can become actively involved in various community organizations, be ready for dialogue with others, and be willing to act energetically on behalf of the common good.34

The very raison d'etre of a Catholic school derives from its educational value within the Catholic weltanschauung and the role it is called upon to assume in furthering the salvific mission of the Church and the formation of its students to live knowingly as children of God. As the office of grace elevates and transforms the office of nature in marriage, so a Catholic school must elevate and transform the civil office of education. A Catholic school, then, as a school, must have all of the same responsibilities of assisting in the formation of civic and human virtues, of promoting and educing all that is human in its own legitimate right, because this is in keeping with its mission to serve all men, in imitation of Jesus Christ, the model which it proposes to its students. To fulfill its raison d'etre it must maintain the focus of its mission on human living in relation to the City of God. A Catholic school cannot be merely a secular school which also provides religious instruction. If the weltanschauung is secular, then the school is secular, and any cover-up with a "fig leaf' is simply a lie, a pretence rather than a camouflage, which only worsens the situation by reducing religion to an aspect of mere cultural pluralism.36

Rather, formation in the Catholic weltanschauung demands that the school community, in order to partake in the Church's mission of evangelization, must share Gospel principles both as its interior motivation and as its educational norm. By doing so, it brings the presence of the Christian mentality's positive and dynamic contribution to the total formation of man into dialogue with contemporary culture, thus contributing to the growth and transformation of its students and, through them as leaven, of society.36 This is the mode of evangelization envisaged and promoted by Vatican II.

In fulfilling its mission, then, the Catholic school is called upon to advance what has been begun in the Christian family. According to the principle of subsidiarity it has an obligation to respect the fact that primacy in the role of education belongs first and foremost to the parents for whose service the school exists. Christian parents choose to entrust the continuing development of their offspring to a Catholic school with the legitimate expectation that it will be faithful to the Church's salvific mission. Reciprocally, however, the principle of subsidiarity also obliges parents to cooperate with the school in the realization of that mission. Parents are partners with the school in education — but not silent partners! Parental responsibility to God in educating does not stop when they enroll their child in school; they must continue to advance the work begun in generation with the assistance of the school. On the other hand, if the Catholic school is not animated by the Catholic weltanschauung or, worse still, if what is taught is opposed to the faithfulness of the Church, then Catholic families must join together and even seek assistance from the greater ecclesial community to effect required changes that will permit them to fulfil their mission conscientiously.

When the Catholic school is the partner that it is called to be, it provides the richness of a social dimension beyond what the family can offer. Its special contribution is its endeavour to effect a twofold integration in the hearts and minds of its students.37 The first of these is a synthesis of societal culture with the Catholic faith so that the student is made ready to participate in the life of the civil community as a Christian. As the secular school strives to bring about a critical assimilation of societal culture in its students, so a Catholic school elevates and transforms this objective by seeking a further critical assimilation which integrates all of these values of societal and human wisdom into Christian wisdom. By creating a privileged milieu, animated by the light of the Gospel, all academic disciplines can contribute to the formation of the child's humanity in the image of the New Man, Jesus Christ, the heart of Catholic education. Catholic schools cannot assist their students in achieving this Christian synthesis, however, unless they present a program of religious instruction in conformity with the magisterium which Christ has invested in His Church — an instruction which is explicit and systematic, an instruction which dispels confusion in the student's mind between general culture and religious culture. The goal of all academic instruction, including catechetical instruction, is not merely the well-filled head, as Montaigne would say, but the well-formed head that incorporates these critical assimilations in a way that leads to the personal discovery of Truth. The Catholic teacher, who performs his teaching ministry in the light of Christian wisdom, leads the student gradually to an understanding, appreciation and assimilation of what is absolute as the student moves towards the discernment of those eternal realities of the Catholic weltanschauung which he will make his own.

The second integration belonging to the mission of a Catholic school is the duty to help bring about the synthesis of this Catholic weltanschauung in everyday Christian living. In developing the humanity of its students, in educing the Christian personality, Catholic education is even more an affair of the heart than it is of the head. Its great task is rendered even more difficult, then, when there is a widespread breakdown in both the domestic and the civil communities. In all circumstances, however, a Catholic school has the vocation to foster the development of Christian virtues in its students, helping them, by example as well as by word, to be living witnesses of God's faithful love for man by the way that they act. This formation in Christian virtue should differentiate the Catholic school from its secular counterpart. Not only must it promote development in human virtue but, more importantly, in the theological virtues of faith, hope and especially charity "which transforms a man of virtue into a man of Christ."38

Nemo dat quod non habet-no one gives what he does not have — and neither does a Catholic school. It seems impossible to overemphasize the importance of good Catholic teachers in a Catholic school. The Catholic teacher is called to be a living witness to the mission of the Church in the classroom, modelling the Catholic weltanschauung in his person and in his teaching. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Community makes all the difference. Without a real community of Catholic teachers, there is no complementarity from one classroom to the next.

An appreciation of difference in both disciplines and teaching gifts is necessarily diminished in such circumstances because the differences are no longer valued in relation to the same end. Even more seriously, the lack of real solidarity calls into question the credibility of all that is taught and even the very raison d'e^tre of the Catholic school itself. Such a school fails in its duty to its students, to the parents, and to the whole people of God. In a real community of Catholic teachers, however, a school can image and develop the richness of participation in the life of the Church. A true Catholic school will faithfully endeavour to discharge its duty to parents and their children by preparing its students for active involvement as Christians in the life of the civil community and its duty to the whole people of God by building up and strengthening Christ's Church so that each community is enriched and enabled to share in the life of God Himself.

What is distinctive about Catholic education, then, is the integral formation which it strives to instill through its distinctive weltanschauung· This Catholic weltanschauung is not simply otherworldly in its focus; it is rooted in a vision of reality which embraces this world and the next, even though it is for this life. If we are to "walk with" the Father Who has begotten all of us, we must do so in the here-and-now situation, sharing and participating in the life of God and contributing to and sharing with the whole family of God of which we are an inseparable part.

At the beginning of these considerations, we noted the need for caution and attentiveness both because of the greatness of the work of Catholic education and especially because of the complex associations needed for its realization. For both of these reasons the work of education, like any other enterprise of fallen man, is inclined to failure. It would be most discouraging to have the responsibility for achieving its greatness rest solely on our shoulders. But we must not confuse what is relative with what is absolute. Therefore, we must not lose heart by our apparent or even real failures.39 We are not alone; God has not abandoned us. Rather, Christ has promised to "walk with" us. We need always to hope and to trust in the formative work of that Most Excellent of teachers. God's love is ever faithful, and wondrous are His ways of teaching His children whom He cherishes.


  1. An abbreviated version of these considerations was delivered at the annual meeting of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars held at Toronto, Ontario in October, 1995.

  2. Throughout this paper, in varied contexts, we need bear in mind St. Thomas' admonition that what is proper and what is common are not identical. What is proper to each dictates differences in activity, whereas united activity depends on what the many who are different have in common. Cf. for example, De Regime Principium, n.9. This would seem to be the basis, according to the due proportion of distributive justice, for the principle of subsidiarity.

  3. It is from these opening words that Gravissimum Educationis, Vatican II's Declaration On Christian Education (28 October, 1965), derives its title.

  4. "It is therefore as important to make no mistake in education as it is to make no mistake in the pursuit of the last end, with which the whole work of education is intimately and necessarily connected." Plus XI, Divini Illius Magistri (31 December, 1929), n.7. The official English translation is titled Christian Education Of Youth. Paragraph numbering is mine.

  5. Jacques de Monleon adroitly employs the wonderful political metaphor of the repetitious battles for the Gran Chaco in South America. See Petites Notes Autour de la Famille et de la Cite', Laval Theologique Et Philosophique Vol.III, No.2, p.270.

  6. For example, see Gravissimum Educationis, n.10.

  7. The Catholic School (19 March, 1977) from the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, uses weltanschauung as "a determined attitude to life." (Cf. n.29). Earlier, this document speaks of the school as "a centre in which a specific concept of the world, of man, and of history is developed and conveyed." (n.8).

  8. "They are to be called wise who order things rightly and govern them well." Summa Contra Gentiles, I, Ch.l, [1]. Cf. also, Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk.l, Ch.2, 928a18. As he undertakes the work of ordering, which belongs to the office of wisdom, St. Thomas, in all humility, takes to himself the words of St. Hilary, "I am aware that I owe this to God as the primary duty of my life, that my every word and sense may speak of Him." Summa Contra Gentiles, I, Ch.2, [2].

  9. Cf In IV Sententiis, d.26, q.l, a.l; Summa Theologiae, IIaIIae, q.102, a.l, c; q.106, a.l, c; q.154, a.2, c; IIIa, q.29, a.2,c; Supp., q.29, aa.2-3; Summa Contra Gentiles, III, cc.122-124.

  10. De Regime Principium, n.5.

  11. Ibid. , n.3.

  12. De Anima, Bk.II,Ch.4, 416a26-415b3.

  13. Summa Theologiae, Ia, q.98, a..l, c.

  14. Cf. John-Paul II, Familiaris Consortio (22 November, 1981), n.36. Obviously, we are assuming normal circumstances. In truly exceptional circumstances, when the parents are either incapacitated or unwilling to assume their obligations, then this obligation must be assumed by others in the extended community.

  15. Gravissimum Educationis, n.3. Also see Divini Illius Magistri, par.l0 and par.30-35.

  16. Cf. Summa Theologiae, Supp., q.49, a.2, ad 2um.

  17. The joining together to the one end constitutes the essence of matrimony (Cf. Ibid., Supp., q.44, a. 1, c.) and the consent or giving of one's word causes the marriage (Cf. Ibid., q.45, a.l, c).

  18. Contraception and other sexual aberrations violate all of the goods of marriage — not only the proles, but also the fides and the sacramentum (of which we will speak next). Every sexual act, divorced from the ends to which it is ordained intrinsically, is properly characterized by Freud as a perversion even if, at certain times in history, such perversions have succeeded in attaining to toleration and general prevalence. "...[I]t is a characteristic common to all the perversions that in them reproduction as an aim is put aside. This is actually the criterion by which we judge whether a sexual activity is perverse — if it departs from reproduction in its aims and pursues the attainment of gratification independently." Sigmund Freud, A General Introduction To PsychoAnalysis, tr. Joan Riviere (New York, 1935), p.277. In addressing such perversions and their affront to the goods of marriage, St. Thomas distinguishes the natural vices from the unnatural vices opposed to the virtue of temperance. Cf. Summa Theologiae, IIaIIae, q.154. The linkage of sexual activity to all of the goods of marriage is reaffirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 2366-2371. Of course, not only will the openness to begetting offspring be affected by the weltanschauung which the partners share, so also will be the caring activity in nurturing and educating those whom they have begotten. Parental love achieves its fulfilment in the act of educating where it completes and perfects its service of life. "...[A]s well as being a source, the parents' love is also the animating principle and therefore the norm inspiring and guiding all concrete educational activity, enriching it with the values of kindness, constancy, goodness, service, disinterestedness and self-sacrifice that are the most precious fruits of love." Familiaris Consortio, n.36.

  19. Cf. Summa Theologiae, Supp., q.41, a.l, c.

  20. Gaudium et Spes, n.35.

  21. Familiaris Consortio, n.37.

  22. "Grace does not destroy nature, it perfects it." Ibid., Ia, q.l,a.8, ad 2um; q.2, a.2, ad lum. Grace, therefore, perfects both our being and our doing. Cf. Ibid., IaIIae, q. 111, a.2, c.

  23. Ibid., IIaIIae, q.24, a.3, ad 2um.

  24. In this dialogue of Mary with God's messenger we behold the component parts of love: order and obedience. Both Testaments show us the necessity of both freedoms to effect union. "Everything, the entire tortuous plot of Salvation, has to fit in between these two tableaux, and it does. At the central point of the drama, equidistant from the two points, occurs the fiat, the second fiat, the creaturely one which complements the fiat of creation. The "Thy Will be done", [Amen] that unconditional Yes which we pronounce everyday in prayer and which leads to a thousand little incarnations, at one central moment of history, as a unique manifestation of freedom, led to the Incarnation.... And yet, the stillness in the nod of assent was equalled in freedom only by the original freedom of the creative act....
    The fiat of creation is infinitely manifest. All you have to do is look around. The fiat of assent is infinitely hidden. Their complementariness is, as we have said, the foundation of freedom. Man is invited to borrow, as it were, the fiat of creation in his activity but the fiat of assent is the gesture which keeps human creativeness from the abyss of the demoniacal....
    All this found its highest expression in the person of the Blessed Virgin. And with a strange fiat of God-likeness marking the crisis of history then, it was the fiat of littleness which opened the curtain to the drama of the Redemption." Karl Stern, The Flight From Woman (New York, 1965), pp. 274-277 and p.302. But the wonderful implications of this belong to another discourse.

  25. Cf . St. Augustine, Eighty-three Disputed Questions, q. 74; St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, q.35, a.l, c; a.2, ad 3um; q.93, aa.1,2,4. Not only are the offspring images of God and of each of the parents, but by imitation their children become active learners. "To imitate is instinctive in man from infancy. By this he is distinguished from other animals, that he is, of all, the most imitative, and through this instinct receives his earliest education." Aristotle, Poetics, tr. Thomas Twining, Bk. 1, Ch.4, 1148b5-9.

  26. Familiaris Consortio, n.38.

  27. Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, c.58, n.3974. Lest any confusion arise about the primacy of priesthood, we must bear in mind that the analogy of naming is the reverse of the analogy of perfection in being. Also see Ibid., c.78, n.4120 where St. Thomas will remark that since education is ordered to different ends (and since the end must direct the activity), education must be ordered differently by the ends of the different communities of which we are members.

  28. Cf. Lumen Gentium, n.11.

  29. Cf. Gravissimum Educationis, n.2; Familiaris Consortio, n.39.

  30. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.2685.

  31. Cf. Aristotle, Politics, Bk.l, Ch.2; Saint Thomas, In Libros Politicorum Expositio, I, lect.l, nn.38-39.

  32. Cf. The Catholic School, nn.26-30.

  33. Cf. Ibid., n.29.

  34. Gravissimus Educationis, n.l.

  35. On the other hand, the Catholic school also must teach academic disciplines according to their proper methods. It would be wrong to consider subjects as mere adjuncts to faith or as a useful means of teaching apologetics. The Catholic School, n.39.

  36. "If, like every other school, the Catholic school has as its aim the critical communication of human culture and the total formation of the individual, it works towards this goal guided by its Christian vision of reality 'through which our cultural heritage acquires its special place in the total vocational life of man.' [Gaudium et Spes, n.57.] Mindful of the fact that man has been redeemed by Christ, the Catholic school aims at forming in the Christian those particular virtues which will enable him to live a new life in Christ and help him to play faithfully his part in building up the Kingdom of God." Ibid, n.36.

  37. Cf. The Catholic School, nn.38-42.

  38. Ibid., n.47.

  39. In the self-centred secular weltanschauung of contemporary Western culture, individualism has wreaked havoc on the domestic community as evidenced in the breakdown of marriage and family life. The goals of the civil community, in its turn, seldom seem to rise above a confused materialism. Such diminished caring makes the education of our humanity increasingly difficult to achieve. Recalling William Hazlitt's definition of man as "the only animal who laughs and weeps, for he is the only animal struck by the difference between the way things are and the way things ought to be", those involved in Catholic education need to make a special effort to model Christ's compassion in the heart of their participation in the great work of teaching.


Campbell, Gerard T. "Some First Principles of Catholic Education." Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (Canada) 'Catholic Scholarship in Action' 1994/1995/1996)[ISBN 0-9699134-1-9] pp.133-152.

This paper was originally given at the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars annual meeting held in Toronto, Ontario in October, 1995.

Reprinted with permission of the author.


Gerard T. Campbell received his Ph.L and Ph.D from L'Université Laval in Quebec City. He began to teach at St. Jerome's University in 1967 and was awarded the University of Waterloo's "Distinguished Teacher Award" in 1980.

Copyright © Gerard T. Campbell

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