The Privilege and Eminence of Teaching


Because teaching is holy, the identity of the teacher can best be understood in the context of the threefold division of Christ's identity, namely that of priest, prophet and king; for the revelation of this threefold identity is the revelation of our identity, that is, the revelation of the fundamental truth about humanity.

Keep safe what has been entrusted to thee (1 Tim. 6. 20)
 "...for the right way to begin is to pay attention to the young, and make them just as good as possible — precisely as the able farmer will give his attention to the young plants first, and afterward care for the rest." Plato, Euthyphro
St. Thomas More
My favorite part of my favorite play, A Man for All Seasons, has always been the scene in which Thomas More offers Richard Riche a teaching position "at the new school" (St. Paul's, through John Colet). There is more that is historically accurate than inaccurate in this scene. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that More, who was from the same parish as Riche and who knew him to be a notorious liar, to have had a "light tongue", and to have been a man unworthy of confidence [1], would offer to make him a teacher, the eminence and importance of which More very much appreciated. Much less would he have been inclined to offer Riche a position of tutor of his own household.

In a letter to William Gonell, one of More's hired tutors, he writes:

Though I prefer learning joined with virtue to all the treasures of kings, yet renown for learning, when it is not united to a good life, is nothing else than splendid and notorious infamy...warn my children to avoid the precipices of pride and haughtiness, and to walk in the pleasant meadows of modesty; not to be dazzled at the sight of gold; not to lament that they do not possess what they erroneously admire in others; not to think more of themselves for gaudy trappings, nor less for the want of them; neither to deform the beauty that nature has given them by neglect, nor to try to heighten it by artifice; to put virtue in the first place, learning in the second; and in their studies to esteem most whatever may teach them piety towards God, charity to all, and Christian humility in themselves.[2]

Richard Riche, even in his youth, would not have been up to the task. But the dialogue between More and Riche faithfully depicts More's regard for the holiness of the vocation of teacher. Erasmus assures us that haughtiness was absent in More,[3] who in the above letter refers to it as a precipice. Bolt has More giving counsel: "A man should go where he won't be tempted." More knew that to devote oneself to teaching was to commit to a relatively hidden and secluded life.

More: Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher. Perhaps a great one.
Riche: And if I was, who would know it?
More: You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public...

For who has ever heard of William Gonell or John Clement? And yet these two were very dear to More and played a very important role in assisting him in the educational upbringing of his children. More entrusted the souls of his children to these two men — and it was his children's souls that he prized above all else. As Bossuet tells us, there is something holy about a trust (in the sense of a thing entrusted to somebody's care). He writes, "...our obligation to take care of it for him who has entrusted it to us is a matter not only of faithfulness but also in a sense of religion."[4] Gonell and Clement must have been eminently trustworthy human beings, not to mention learned.

More was acutely aware of life's brevity, and so he knew that the end of education is not entirely limited to this world. Education is to be ordered to man's ultimate end (union with God). For this reason he urged Gonell to introduce his children to St. Jerome and St. Augustine.

From them they will learn in particular what end they should propose to themselves in their studies and what is the fruit of their endeavours, namely the testimony of God and a good conscience. Thus peace and calm will abide in their hearts and they will be disturbed neither by fulsome flattery nor by the stupidity of those illiterate men who despise learning...If you teach something of this will bind me and them still more to you. And thus you will bring about that my children, who are dear to me by nature, and still more dear by learning and virtue, will become most dear by that advance in knowledge and good conduct.[5]

From these two letters to the family tutor we see rather plainly that the teacher is primarily a servant. He assists or serves the parents of his students. In short, the teacher is engaged in a work of love. For the parents love their children and wish what is best for them. The teacher cooperates with that parental solicitude and becomes an extension of their love by helping to bring about the good that the parents will for their children. And so the teacher must genuinely love his students as their second parent. Such a work of love is holy; for just as the good teacher becomes dear to the parent as Gonell became dear to More, and since parents do not love their children as much as God loves them — "Even should she forget, I will never forget you" (Is 49, 15) — the teacher who is faithful to his task and honours that sacred trust can only become holy and dear in the sight of God.

Because teaching is holy, the identity of the teacher can best be understood in the context of the threefold division of Christ's identity, namely that of priest, prophet and king; for the revelation of this threefold identity is the revelation of our identity, that is, the revelation of the fundamental truth about humanity. These identities, as William Cardinal Baum puts it, "are constitutive of the human person"[6] It is this division as it relates to and takes shape in the life of the teacher that I would like to explore more deeply for the remainder of this essay.


A priest is one who offers sacrifice. A teacher is a priest (1 Pt 2, 9). The love with which a teacher relates to his/her students must be a sacrificial love — a priestly love. Christ alone is both priest and victim who offers himself eternally to the Father, an offering which was made visible in history on the altar of the cross, on Good Friday. The teacher, inasmuch as he is priest, must live his life out of the reservoir of Christ's Eucharistic self-offering, the visible offering of which was preceded by a descent. For the Person of the Son entered into the darkness of human suffering, for he was "a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower" (Jn 1, 5; cf. Phil 2, 6-8). Jesus redeemed the human race first by entering into our darkness and tasting human suffering. The teacher, as priest, has the task of doing the same (2 Co 5, 18). We really only "buy back" others from a life of ignorance and sin in the same way that we were redeemed. In other words, the teacher has to be willing to enter into the suffering lives of his young students. For there is tremendous suffering among our young people today and far too many teachers have decided to remain on the outskirts of the personal darkness of these students.

Teaching is a cooperative art, like the healing arts. As Adler says, like the physician "the teacher must be sensitive to the natural process that his art should help bring to its fullest fruition."[7] Now if this is true, how much more so is the teacher required to be sensitive to the conditions that work to impede the natural process that his art should help bring to fruition, such as painful emotional wounds that reside in the depths of so many young people. Education is communication, and communication involves communion and dialogue. As the etymology of the word indicates, dialogue is an upward movement, or ascent, of at least two persons (community) towards the 'Logos'[8] But within the order of the Incarnation, ascension towards the "Word" occurs precisely to the degree that we willingly enter, with the mind and heart of Christ, into his descent (Cf. Phil 2, 1-5).

But the Person of the Son descended in order to ascend, that is, to lift humanity, to restore the integrity and dignity of humanity, which lies in its capacity to offer, on behalf of all of creation, the sacrifice of praise that is natural to the created world (Dn 3, 52-90; Ps 50, 14-23). Thus may a person become a living expression of the divine glory. Thus may he become a priest. And that is the reason for entering into the sufferings of young people, namely to witness to Him who alone can restore them to their integrity and dignity, and who alone can bring them the happiness that they desperately seek.

This attitude of the 'mind of Christ' translates into very identifiable patterns of behaviour with respect to colleagues, administrators, and students. The teacher who loves and thinks with the sacrificial mind of Christ is not, among other things, a chronic "bellyacher". Every staff has its share of perpetual complainers, and perhaps we have only to accept this as an unavoidable fact of life. But cancer is one such inevitable fact, and such a reality has stopped very few people from fighting the cancer that has begun to spread within their own bodies. So too must teachers, in particular young teachers who are new to the profession, guard themselves against the poisonous and subtle influences of miserable teachers. Prolonged exposure to a miserable and cynical frame of mind will adversely affect the way we see and relate to our work and our students. The very word 'Eucharist' means 'thanksgiving'; for the Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving. The habitual complainer lacks a spirit of thanksgiving, that is, a spirit of gratitude (for the word "gratitude", from "gratia", means: agreeableness, or pleasantness. A miserable person lacks gratia, that is, he is unpleasant and disagreeable, primarily because he is generally unthankful). Such low-minded demeanor is incompatible with the Eucharistic attitude that ought to characterize the teacher, who is priest.

The teacher, moreover, has to be an active listener, who listens to those entrusted to him in order to meet them at that point where they will begin the journey on which he is preparing to lead and accompany them. For the Latin origin of the word 'question' (quaerere) means 'to journey', or 'quest'. The educational enterprise is a journey, a quest, and the teacher does not merely lead his students from a distance, but actually makes that journey with his students and does so repeatedly.[9]. This too involves a kind of descent: for one has to leave what one is presently learning and descend to a level that is not at all new and exciting in order to lift and elevate the student. After a time, this can become a very tedious affair. But the teacher is not a teacher for himself or his own "self-actualization" any more than a mother is a mother for herself. The life of a teacher is ordered first towards the perfection of the young. That is why the genuine teacher must love and labor for his students with a love that is priestly and sacrificial. Such love and labor is not possible outside of a fervent devotion to the Eucharist; for the Eucharist is the perfect sacrifice of the eternal Person of the Son, offered to the eternal Father on our behalf.


The identities of priest and prophet cannot be separated, for they are found inseparable in the Person of Christ himself. A teacher is a priest because he is a prophet and, like a candle, is consumed by a passion to shed light. He is a prophet because he is a priest who pours himself out like drops of molten wax, spending and extinguishing himself, which is nothing less than the price he pays for illuminating the world of his young students.[10] The genuine teacher is a lover of learning, and he is a lover of truth. The Holy Father writes:

We have become sharers in this mission of the prophet Christ, and in virtue of that mission we together with Him are serving divine truth in the Church. Being responsible for that truth also means loving it and seeking the most exact understanding of it, in order to bring it to others in all its saving power, its splendor and its profundity joined with simplicity.[11]

But loving truth is not essentially different than loving God; for God is Truth. The one who loves truth loves God, and conversely, those indifferent to truth are indifferent to God. To the degree that a person loves truth, he will suffer inasmuch as he will be forced to endure the world's complete indifference to the truth. The world hates the truth: "I am the way, the truth, and the life...If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you" (Jn 14, 6; 15, 18-20).

The young people we teach have been molded, in part, by this world that has learned to remain indifferent to truth. The most painful part of teaching — for those in love with truth — is coming up against such indifference. It is the task of the teacher to labor to instill a love of learning. There is no easy way around this difficult labor, for it is part and parcel of any work that can truly be called the Lord's work: "My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!" (Gal 4, 19).

Certainly one must distinguish between the difficulties that arise out of incompetent teaching and those that arise from doing the Lord's work. The former are not 'labor pains', and for that reason they are not life-giving. They are a signal to the educator (whether teacher or administrator) that beckons him to reflect upon what it is that he might be doing or failing to do and change his approach. Perhaps the teacher has no rapport with his students, or perhaps he is teaching what is more suited to his own personal needs rather than the real needs of his students, or perhaps he doesn't love what he's required to teach. Or, perhaps he simply does not love his students, and his students know it. Every good teacher will willingly engage in such reflection during and at the end of every teaching year. But the suffering that stems from sharing in the life of the Son of God is a sign that things are exactly as they should be. It is a mistake to identify a good day with a "smooth" and easy day and to regard a difficult day as a bad day. Such attitude reveals a lack of theological vision — not to mention downright selfishness. In the context of the gospel and the spiritual life, it is usually the other way around; a difficult day can be a very good and fruitful day indeed.

There are degrees of participation in the prophetic mission of Christ. The particular share that the teacher has in this office is not the same as that of a pastor, for instance. There is an order to be observed, and it is the observation of this order that determines whether a teacher is a genuine prophet, as opposed to the false prophet. As was said above, the teacher is given a trust. The Catholic teacher assists and serves parents who have a fundamental obligation to teach the Catholic faith to their baptized children. It is for this reason that their rights are primary. In paragraph 12 of the Post-Conciliar document Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith, we read:

While it is true that parents are the first and principal educators of their children and that their rights and duties in this regard are "original and primary with respect to the educational role of others", it is also true that the school enjoys a fundamental value and importance among the means which assist and complement the exercise of the educational rights and duties of the family.

It follows that a teacher who sows seeds of ecclesial dissent into the minds of his students quite simply betrays a trust. The Catholic teacher is obligated to be faithful to the express teachings of the Church, formulated by that part of Christ's Mystical Body that is the Magisterium. The truth lives in the Church, for Christ is truth, and the Church is his body. Furthermore, it is the Magisterium that shares most fully in this prophetic mission and who is principally responsible for serving and teaching the divine truth. Many Catholic educators seem to have forgotten that a Catholic teacher is not an official teacher of the Church. The bishops alone, in union with the Holy Father, are the official teachers of the Church, and the Catholic teacher is a channel of this more original teacher. This is how the teacher assists and serves Catholic parents in the carrying out of their duty to their baptized children. It is not up to the teacher to usurp this more primary teaching office — which to do so would amount to nothing less than arrogance. For the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, is also the Spirit of Christ's Mystical Body, which is why faith in Christ cannot be separated from faith in the Church. The submission and humility involved in the act of faith in the Person of Christ becomes, at the same time, a humble submission to the teaching office established by Christ (Mt 16, 18-20) and guided by the Spirit of Truth (Jn 16, 7-13).[12]

Finally, every teacher shares in this prophetic mission, not just those who teach Religion. Each teacher ought to see his own discipline in the light of faith and be able to habituate his students to such a distinctive way of seeing the world. But this cannot happen if there is no distinctive way of seeing the world. It cannot happen if the teacher does not have a living faith. A living and active faith is a basic condition for the possibility of participating, in any degree, in the prophetic mission of Christ, especially the particular share that belongs to the life of the Catholic teacher.


A king is one who governs. But the special eminence and dignity of our vocation as teacher — which can be described as "kingship" — is expressed in a readiness to serve (i.e., parents), after the example of Christ who "came not to be served but to serve" (Mt 20, 28). As the Holy Father has said, it is only by being a servant that "being a king" is possible at all [13]. There is a threefold object and beneficiary of this service of teachers, namely, the family, the Church, and the civil community. The teacher serves and assists parents, whose rights, as was said above, are primary in the sphere of education; and he serves the family by serving the Church and sharing in her prophetic mission. Finally, he serves the civil community by producing habits and dispositions in the learner that make it possible for him to serve and promote the common good. Such kingship demands an ability to govern oneself above all. The Holy Father writes:

..."being a servant" also demands so much spiritual maturity that it must really be described as "being a king". In order to be able to serve others worthily and effectively we must be able to master ourselves, possess the virtues that make this mastery possible. Our sharing in Christ's kingly mission — His "kingly function" (munus) — is of both Christian and human morality.[14]

This self-mastery is the condition for good government, whether in the classroom or of the school at large. There are a number of virtues that stand out in importance in this context, for instance certain parts of temperance (meekness and gentleness) and parts of justice. But the parts of fortitude seem to be especially important today, in particular patience, endurance, and magnanimity or high-mindedness.

In the classroom, there are easy days and there are difficult days. Such is the nature of the work. But the adolescent teen requires our patience to a much higher degree than those of other grade levels — for they are at times far more obnoxious than those of other grade levels. The goal of the teacher is to produce certain habits in the soul of the learner.[15] But good habits are difficult to acquire. Producing them in others isn't any less difficult. It requires a tremendous amount of goading and effort among other things in motivating the young. Many students today suffer from a listening disability, not to mention an involuntarily appropriated indifference to truth. This is where the teacher must patiently endure and maintain a cheerful disposition — a mark of selflessness, to be sure. For a loss of patience can quickly lead to remarks that only humiliate the student and add to his or her already overstocked inventory of emotional wounds that will likely remain hidden — but quietly detrimental — for a lifetime.

Because teaching is a cooperative art, the teacher works with, or better yet learns alongside of his students. And so it isn't enough that a teacher knows how to speak a language. He must know how to communicate, and communication implies the ability to enter into communion. There may or may not be methods available by which a person might learn how to communicate, especially with young people, but communion implies love, because love is unitive. Communication will depend, in large part, on the way the teacher or administrator regards his students. Will the student see his own goodness mirrored in the eyes of his teachers? He will, but only in the eyes of those teachers who really see that goodness in him, in the eyes of those teachers for whom he is an end, and not a means to an end. As was said above, the end of the teaching art is not the teacher's own personal realization, much less his own comfort. The end is the student himself; for habits and dispositions exist in the student. This is not at all as obvious as it might seem at first glance. On the practical level the student can easily become a means to an end, especially if he is a difficult case. After many such cases it is often forgotten that our primary purpose is to serve this person for his own sake, not for our sake. When this happens, cynicism can begin to germinate and find a permanent place in the heart of the teacher, after which point he is no longer fit to teach in a Catholic school; for bitterness of spirit and resentment, as Josef Pieper remarks, "close the ears to the language of truth and love."[16]

Such bitterness and resentment poison the heart, and such poison cannot stay self-contained for long, but eventually pours itself out in an unmagnanimous torrent of complaining, gossip, and finger pointing, usually directed towards colleagues in administration.[17] The usual lack of awareness into the evident injustice of such posture reveals the intellectual blindness that is the result of such vice. For under current political circumstances, the requisite attitude with respect to apparently incompetent teachers is one of encouragement, as opposed to gossip and complaining. Who would argue that the same principle should not apply to teachers? The golden rule runs: "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you." According to Scripture, this is the Law and the Prophets (Mt 7, 12). This positive formulation is far more demanding than its negative counterpart (don't do to others...). For it means that we have to stop and think — which for many people, even some teachers, can be a very taxing ordeal — and consider what it is that we would like to happen to us. Most of us resent gossip about ourselves, and much less are we delighted when others shake their heads at our own personal shortcomings. But we are pleased and encouraged when others recognize the good we do, however limited, and make that recognition known to us by an occasional expression of gratitude.

The next step in the fulfillment of the above precept is to take the initiative and recognize the good that others do — either our own teaching colleagues or our administration — and actually tell them. It means choosing not to participate in conversation that centers on the shortcomings of an administration team or colleague, for instance. For just as we would want a principal or vice-principal to approach us personally to gently point out a fault, weakness, or mistake we might be making in our approach to our students, rather than gossip about us behind closed doors, so too then must we resolve to approach them on an individual basis and, open to having our perspective enlarged, gently share our point of view. We ought not to say anything about anybody that we wouldn't say were that person present in the room right next to us. Now this is very easy to agree with, but it seems to be far more difficult to actually live by. For we've heard much in recent years about teacher support, put forth as an absolute moral requirement — especially by teachers who reject the very notion of moral absolutes — and yet these very teachers can turn around and spend an entire lunch period engaged in an orgy of backbiting and gossip that would drive them to litigation should the tables ever be turned on them.

But a teacher who complains about his students, or cynically gossips about them can hardly be expected to draw the best out of them. Such a teacher is no longer in a position to educate them, for education, according to the etymology of the word, is precisely a "drawing out", that is, an educing. A teacher who sees the best in his students can draw out the best in them. But having eyes for the best in people is a grace, and the teacher has to pray for that grace, that is, the grace to see others as God sees them. A teacher who sees the good in his students does so because he wills the good of his students (love). He looks to find the good that is already present in order to draw it out and help perfect it. This involves an active exiting-of-self. The teacher who is preoccupied first and foremost with his standard of living operates in a different posture — one not at all self-forgetting. As a result, many students, with the exception of the very gifted, are soon discovered to be "in the way", for they have become a means to an end.

To begin looking upon our students with a sincerely joyful countenance, one that genuinely beholds something unique and good in the depths of each one of them, it is necessary to understand that: "a human person is always more than what he determines himself to be by his choices," especially a young person. Existence does not precede essence, as Sartre would have it. The person does not entirely determine "what he is" by the free exercise of his power to choose. He is always more than his choices. We know this is true theologically because the most difficult student in our school has been bought at a price — the blood of God's own Son. And if we can only experience disgust when looking at him/her, there is indeed something terribly wrong with us. For it is our task to awaken the students in our classrooms to the profound truth that each of them is forever more than what he makes himself to be by his choices. Their choices indeed shape and determine their moral identity, but they are more than their sins. This truth will set them free, and we awaken them to it by the way we gaze at them and by the way we relate to them. The word that best describes this way of relating to the young is reverence. We have to revere them, that is, look at them with reverence. Before we enter into a classroom full of young teenagers, we must be aware that we are about to tread upon holy ground. It is from this way of beholding our students, that is, from reverence, that a spirit of kindness and gentleness is born — and it is gentleness that is the virtue of "kingship"; for gentleness makes a person master of himself (self-possessed).[18]

These virtues on the part of the teacher are conditions without which the student will learn very little, for our students learn above all by example. There is no exaggeration in the claim that in years to come our students will remember very little of the curriculum they were taught, yet they will never forget who we were to them. Good curriculum is very important, and this cannot be emphasized enough. But curriculum will forever rank second in importance. Who we are to our students will remain first. Of course the two are not separated in good education. But the goal of the teacher's "kingship" is to impart this "self-mastery", that is, to render the student as independent of the teacher as possible, that is, free in the true and personalist sense of the term. Words alone do not bring this about.

But when considering the subject of the art of teaching it is easy to omit a realistic consideration of the disposition of the students and simply presuppose that they are but freshly tilled soil ready and waiting to receive and nourish the seed sown by the skilled and enthusiastic teacher. But this is a mistake, in part rooted in the laziness of the human intellect that seeks to raise the discussion to an ideal level that need not consider the many and unexpected variables that every teacher eventually runs up against. As was said above, education is communication. Education is dialogue. Hence, there are conditions for learning, psychological, emotional, and moral conditions, for example, and sometimes these conditions are not yet present in the student. It is a condition for learning that a student not be so emotionally disturbed as to be unable to concentrate his attention for more than a few minutes at a time. He or she must have the ability to sit still and show some evidence of a desire to learn. These dispositions are initially produced within the environment of the family, but considering the state of the family today, it is not surprising that such conditions, in many cases, are missing and in other cases are only imperfectly realized. Such a state of affairs renders teaching a far more difficult enterprise today than it was in the past.

That is why those who would like to see teachers evaluated on the basis of the performance of their students are operating under a mistaken understanding of the art of teaching and what this art involves. In fact, such a notion is, I contend, rooted in a confusion between what is a cooperative art (such as medicine and farming) and the operative arts (such as sculpture and painting). A student is not like a passive piece of Playdoh or soapstone that is always ready and open to being molded and shaped according to the will of the artist. The work of a teacher cannot be evaluated on the basis of the "product" any more than a doctor can be evaluated on the basis of his patient's health, or a farmer on the basis of his crops. The doctor's patient might have terminal cancer and remain profoundly sick despite excellent and competent medical care. So too the farmer might very well do everything required and more, and yet end up with a poor crop at harvest. For there is a great deal in farming that is beyond the farmer's ability to control, such as the weather. If this is true with respect to the physiology of the body and the nature of plant life, how much more so with respect to the human being, who on the whole is far more complex than his own physiology or the biochemistry of a plant. Nevertheless, the teacher assumes he has the best before him. By doing so he expects the best out of them and can begin to draw the best out of them as well.


There is great dignity in being an ordinary teacher, and an even greater eminence and dignity in the kind of teaching that is a sharing in the identity of Christ himself; for in him our teaching becomes a priesthood, a prophetic ministry, and a kingship. But such a vocation, to be fully lived, requires more than baptism. It requires great effort; for it is a lifetime of labor to acquire the virtues that belong to Christ's kingship as it pertains to life in the classroom. But the principal condition for this acquisition is a vision, one that arises from a genuine and living faith, kept alive by a life of prayer and devotion to the Eucharist. When our duties and the many things we have to do throughout an ordinary day are looked upon from a higher perspective, that is, from the perspective of the cross and resurrection, it should soon dawn on us that these duties are, on a more fundamental level, privileges. The vocation of teacher is not a burden, but a gift. The recognition of this very important truth is at the root of this shift from the very unmagnanimous attitude of a "gotta do" mentality towards teaching to the more magnanimous "get to do" mentality. It is true that we've 'got to do' on-call supervision, mark papers, prepare lessons, give tests, repeatedly go over certain ideas, phone this student or that parent, etc. But when a teacher stops feeling sorry for himself and begins to regard his work from a much larger perspective, one that includes the shortness and fleeting nature of human life (death), he just might see that fundamentally, he 'gets to do' these things. As the late Monsignor Thomas Wells writes:

Even in tough times, we Christians "get to" be Christ in our world: Jesus who forgives; Jesus who is patient; Jesus who tries one more time with a stubborn spouse or Jesus who simply waits for the prodigal.[19]

If this distinction appears unrealistic to a person, it just might be that such a one has yet to acquire a living faith, one that results in a regeneration, a transformation effected by an authentic receiving of the evaggelizomai (good news) of our gratuitous redemption.

Despite the likely inaccuracy of the scene depicting More offering Riche a position, or offering to recommend him to Colet, still one cannot help but lament the fact that Riche allowed the opportunity to pass him by. How different his life would have been and how much more honorable had he not done so. He would have remained entirely unknown, but assuming the exchange to have been historically accurate, Riche would have had a hidden but incalculable effect upon his students, for he would have been a good teacher, perhaps a great one. He would have been a great man in the eyes of his pupils, his friends, and God — not a bad public indeed.

But there are a great many teachers who have not allowed the opportunity to pass them by, and yet at the same time that is precisely what they are doing. They are "teachers", but they have little appreciation of the dignity and eminence of their profession, and each year they allow countless opportunities to pass them by, never again to be recovered, for an ordinary teacher will have the opportunity to touch the hearts of hundreds, indeed thousands of students. But I think the greatest pain in store for such teachers will be to look back, at the end of their teaching careers, only to realize that most of their teaching lives were little more than wasted opportunities. Alone and retired, without the distraction of conversation between those of similar character and ourselves, we will know in the depth of our conscience that we simply didn't love enough. If we are able, by God's grace, to drink this bitter draft and take the next step, which is to place ourselves at the disposal of God's mercy, we just might be ready to learn, for the first time in our lives, what God's love and mercy really are. But at that point — if we are lucky — we will long to give anything to return to the beginning of our teaching lives so as to have, once again, the opportunity to proclaim and witness to the Lord's goodness and His inexhaustible love. But it will remain only that — a longing and nothing more, for the opportunity will never come again.


  1. Richard Marius, Thomas More, (N.Y.: Knopf, 1984), 509.
  2. Quoted in E. E. Reynolds, St. Thomas More, (N.Y.: Image Books, 1958), 110.
  3. "Letter of Erasmus to Ulrich von Hutten," The Essential Thomas More, trans. J. Greene and J. Dolan (Toronto: The New American Library of Canada, 1967), 292.
  4. Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, "First Panegyric upon St. Joseph," Saint Joseph, ed. and trans. By D. Attwater (N.Y.: P. J. Kenedy and Sons, 1956), 95. Bossuet continues: "We learn from the second book De officiis of the great St. Ambrose that in his day it was the religious custom of the faithful to bring anything they wanted specially looked after to the bishops or their clergy, so that it could be deposited near the altar: they had a holy conviction that there could be no better place to put their treasures than where God keeps the treasures of His sacred Mysteries." Ibid.
  5. Op.cit., Reynolds, 111.
  6. "The Distinctiveness of Catholic Moral Teaching," Principles of Catholic Moral Life, (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1981), p. 11. Our Holy Father Pope John Paul II teaches that in the Person of Christ, humanity has a prophetic ministry in which persons can participate in varying degrees. Redeemed humanity also shares in the priesthood of Christ, and finally the faithful have a real share in Christ's kingly mission. Cf. Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), 19, 20, 21: AAS 71 (1971), 295-300. For these three characters are not merely metaphors, but analogies; for the human person, in the Person of Christ, really is a priest in that he really has the capacity to offer "'the sacrifice of praise' that defines the relation between creation and the creator." Ibid., William Cardinal Baum, p. 12. So too with regard to the other two identities. We really participate in the likeness of Christ, and thus we really participate in his prophetic mission and kingly character.

  7. Mortimer J. Adler, Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1977), 169.
  8. I have found no better explanation of the rich etymological meaning of the word 'dialogue' than that given to me by Dr. Gerard T. Campbell of St. Jerome's College. In our personal correspondence he wrote: " Dialogue is really a two-ness of words i.e. two people who are speaking with reference to the same thing. Hence, the measure of what each has to say is the logos. Logos means first 'the word'; next in the analogy of naming, it means 'the concept' or 'the notion' or 'the idea' i.e., that which the word signifies. (Hence, the study of logic is intended to deal with 'the ordering of our words and our concepts' - but ordering them to what end?) ... Thus, a third and more important meaning of 'logos' is 'the intelligible structure in things themselves' which our reason dis-covers or un-covers: this intelligible reality is the measure of both our concepts and of what we say about things. We see this aspect in the "ologies" of the sciences. Anthropology (anthropos + logos), for example, is the study of or discovering of the intelligible effects caused by man; psychology (psyche + logos) is the study of the activities of living things (whose activity follows upon what they are) etc. But... this real world is already a work of Reason - but not of our reason, for our reason is the measured, is brought into con-form-ity with the intelligibility of the real. Hence, the last meaning of logos is Logos (capital "L") or the Word, for this Reason is the cause of the intelligible effect in things, which our reason comes to know, etc. etc. Hence, the only way our reason gets to God (as Divine Reason) is via things themselves. To succeed in pursuing this perfection, however, we need to approach the world of experience with reverence and humility (as did the Greeks). Is not the opening of the Gospel of John amazing? "In arche erin Logon" ('arche' is the foundation of things, the source and origin of things, their first principle... what all of the Greek natural philosophers were seeking; in other words, it means a lot more than the English translation "In the beginning..." which casts the notion into a temporal context. The Greek is not talking about the temporal; for that matter, neither is the Latin: "In principio erat Verbum" for a principle is not only what comes first, it is also that upon which all else depends. So, "the reason behind all that is, is the Word, and the Word is in God, and the Word is God ... and the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us."
  9. "In order to cause his pupil to invent learning, he himself must invent again what he is teaching, or, rather, he must go again, before his pupils, through the whole process, now familiar to him, of the invention of each and every truth...unless he is actually thinking aloud and engaging his own intellectual activity in his lecture, the teacher does not really teach. Incidentally, this is one reason why it is doubtful that any mechanical device will ever replace the actual presence of the real teacher. Only a living intellect, patiently preceding us on the way to truth, can effectively teach us how to think." E. Gilson, "The Eminence of Teaching," A Gilson Reader (N.Y.: Image Books, 1957). 306.

  10. 10.This imagery is taken from a poem entitled "Sacrifice", by Dr. Donald Demarco, and the Illusion of Freedom (Toronto: Mission Press, 1981), 116.

    This slender stem — the wax-imprisoned soul of candle's being —
    Ignited, starts the slow descent toward death; Converting its encasing flesh
    to molten drops that hang like tears upon a cheek, the painful price of making life more luminous,
    Until — substance spent, cylindrical shell dissolved — it makes its final peace with night,
    consumed by its own passion to shed light.

    11. Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), 20: AAS 71 (1971), 295-300.

    12. By 'dissent' I refer to the radical kind of dissent, which involves a rejection of Catholic principles. This is to be distinguished from a withholding of assent that is firmly based on Catholic principles themselves. The Catholic teacher who engages in radical dissent — and there are many today — is a false prophet, or liar. He lies not only in that he willingly puts forth as true what is at odds with the truth of the Catholic faith, but he lies also in that he teaches at a school that advertises itself as Catholic, which in doing so makes a claim, namely, to be able to assist and serve Catholic parents in what is their duty to teach the ecclesial faith their children received in baptism. The dissenting teacher or teachers, and the principal that cooperates with such dissent engage in a kind of false advertising.

    13. Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), 21: AAS 71 (1971), 295-300.

    14. Ibid., 21

    15. "Like every art, teaching succeeds by producing; its goal is to produce dispositions or habits in the soul of the learner. But there is a crucial difference between the ways in which various productive arts reach their respective ends. In some, the matter to be formed is merely passive with respect to the agent, while in others, such as medicine, there is an active principle in the matter tending toward the end that the art helps to engender. Teaching is the latter sort of art; it cooperates with, and depends upon, the active powers of the student." Thomas S. Hibbs, Dialectic and Narrative in Aquinas: An Interpretation of the Summa Contra Gentiles, (Notre Dame, Ind.: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1995) 5.

    16. Josef Pieper, Fortitude and Temperance, (N.Y.: Pantheon Books, 1954) 105. St. Thomas writes: Meekness disposes man to the knowledge of God, by removing an obstacle; and this in two ways. First, because it makes man self-possessed by mitigating his anger, ... secondly, because it pertains to meekness that a man does not contradict the words of truth, which many do through being disturbed by anger." Summa II-II: 157, 4, 1.

    17. Pieper writes: "The high-minded man does not complain; for his heart is impervious to external evil. High-mindedness implies an unshakable firmness of hope, an actually challenging assurance, and the perfect peace of a fearless heart." Ibid., p. 99-100. Cf. Summa II-II: 129, 4, 2.

    18. "For anger, which is mitigated by meekness, is, on account of its impetuousness, a very great obstacle to man's free judgment of truth: wherefore meekness above all makes a man self-possessed." Summa II-II: 157, 4.

    19. Monsignor Thomas Wells. "Obligation vs. Privilege." (9 Jun. 2000).


McManaman, Douglas. "The Privilege and Eminence of Teaching." Catholic Insight Vol IX No. 10 (December, 2001).

Reprinted with permission of Douglas McManaman.


Doug McManaman is a high school religion teacher with the York Catholic District School Board in Ontario. He is currently teaching at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ontario and maintains a web site, A Catholic Philosophy and Theology Resource Page, in support of his students. He studied Philosophy at St. Jerome's College in Waterloo, and Theology at the University of Montreal. Mr. McManaman is currently the President of the Canadian Chapter of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.

Copyright 2001 Douglas McManaman

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