Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Pope on Education

My aunt was visiting yesterday and politics happened to come up. She is very much a liberal on many issues. And there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. For the most part, politics should not divide people the way it does. Today, however, politics is entering areas where it shouldn't. Law means legislating morality - but in a culture that rejects morality and a nation which is becoming more secular, some laws and many court rules have become quite opposed to basic morality and the natural law.

Typically the Left argues with the Right over abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and gay marriage. While my aunt is very pro-Life and supportive of the Church, the discussion yesterday focused on just war doctrine and in part on education. My aunt took the typical liberal view that we should spend more money on education and less on the military. I, as a teacher in a Catholic school, had to disagree.

Students at a public high school each receives about $10,000 a year from the tax payer money for their education. Private schools run around $3000-$4,000 per year (obviously not from tax payers!). By looking at the level of education that comes from private school versus a public school shows that money doesn't make a great difference. In other words, raising the amount tax payers spend to $13,000 per student will probably not improve the education of the students. Actually statistics show that more students should be sent to private schools! Hence the need for vouchers.. but that's another topic entirely!

One would wonder what the difference is between a good Catholic school and a public school. I found it interesting that during the discussion the pope was speaking to Catholic educators and I believe he hit the nail on the head on this very question:

"When nothing beyond the individual is recognized as definitive, the ultimate criterion of judgment becomes the self and the satisfaction of the individuals immediate wishes. The objectivity and perspective, which can only come through a recognition of the essential transcendent dimension of the human person, can be lost. Within such a relativistic horizon the goals of education are inevitably curtailed. Slowly, a lowering of standards occurs. We observe today a timidity in the face of the category of the good and an aimless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom. We witness an assumption that every experience is of equal worth and a reluctance to admit imperfection and mistakes. And particularly disturbing, is the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of 'risk', bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love."

In other words: truth, goodness, and beauty are related. We can only subjectivize beauty (especially "the beauty of conjugal love") and relativize morality if we deny any real objective truth. When we say "anything goes" or "different strokes for different folks" we lose the ability to say anything with certainty. Moreover, the very desire for truth within the student is quashed. "What difference does it make?" the student may ask, "All I really want to do is play video games now."

We don't need more money, we need truth, goodness, and beauty. We need God. Unfortunately we won't be finding Him anywhere near a public school these days...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

True Holiness

This summer my parish is going to use a Bible study I wrote on the New Testament. I'm so pumped! Basically it's a ten-week overview of the New Testament using the authors Mathew, Paul (and his disciple Luke), Peter (and his disciple Mark), and John. Between these guys is something like 90% of the New Testament. My first talk is both an introduction to reading and interpreting the Bible (along with which translation to use!) while also an introduction to the Old Testament and how it fits into the New via history and typology. In other words, I aim to refute the "mean" Old Testament God with the "nice" New Testament God. This talk really culminates in the second talk which looks at the Gospel of Matthew and how the Jesus and the Church fulfill Old Testament prophesy and types.

Now when we get into Paul, the students will learn a thing or two about justification, sanctification, and salvation. And what really gets me is when I hear people push the whole faith alone Protestant concept - because it just doesn't fit what the Bible says.

It comes back to what is called "imputed" righteousness. This means that humanity is so injured from the Fall that not even God can repair it. According to Luther our souls are like dunghills. No matter what they will always eternally be dunghills. The most God can do is cover the dung with something that would blind himself from the impurity of our being. That's where Jesus comes in. By faith, we are covered with his righteousness so that when God sees us, he only sees Jesus and Jesus' saving work.

Once Luther took this heretical view, he was quite able to reject indulgences, relics, sacramentals, Purgatory, penance, good works, and many sacraments. Why? Because all of those things are there to truly purify our souls and make us really holy. So when you deny that you can become holy, the tools or means of holiness are no longer necessary. With his theology, we can only become externally or visibly holy - but this is just a docetic holiness; a pseudo-holiness.

I just don't buy it.

And it's not because the Catholic Church condemns it - the Bible does, too. I just re-read Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians today and can't find a bit about external holiness or faith alone without works. Instead I run into Paul thanking God for the Thessalonians's "work of faith and labor [work] of love" - in verse 3 (emphasis mine)! But more importantly, faith and love are connected because faith helps us take the first steps so that the works of love can make us pure and holy. For example, Paul hopes that God will help the Thessalonians to "abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts [that is, your INmost being] to be blameless in holiness before our God..." (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13). So Paul is saying that in coming to God, the people will be truly holy - in their very being!

Chapter four takes the next step: "This is the will of God, your holiness" (verse 3). God's will is also that they should "give thanks" (5:18). Let's see, how might giving thanks tie in with being holy? Could it be that the Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharistia? How about the fact that our primary holiness comes from the reception of this Eucharist?!

But let me conclude this post with the a tad bit from the end of 1 Thessalonians regarding holiness: "May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord..." (5:23, emphasis mine).

Monday, April 7, 2008

Quote of the Day!

"Knowledge may be power but wisdom is humility."

Well I made it up - but I bet Socrates would agree with me if he were alive today! I posted the other day about humanism and its various forms. While secular humanism stresses knowledge and power, classical and theistic humanism would stress wisdom and humility. While Socrates was all about wisdom, Christians are always about humility. And the two are rather linked. Socrates' wisdom was his humility. He knew that he did not know and, unlike the Pharisees of his day, he was humble enough to admit it. His Gospel was: "Know thyself" - and that was what classical humanism was all about. What am I as a human?

Among Christians, there was once a saint who was asked to name the four cardinal virtues. He responded: "humility, humility, humility, and humility." Wisdom and virtue are very important in Christianity - but humility also includes knowing that only in God can we find happiness and only by God's help (via grace) can we find Him.

Secular humanism, beginning especially in Machiavelli, teaches that virtue keeps us from getting what we want. Good guys finish last. Power combined with vice is needed to be successful. Descartes would give us the scientific method to have all the power we want through the knowledge of the world around us. Combine scientific knowledge, vice, and a secular humanist worldview and we have countries like communist Russia, spreading atheism and threatening the world with nuclear war.

While the threat of nuclear war with Russia is no more, the principles of secular humanism have unfortuneately spread. The cold war may be over but the war for men's souls has only begun. The key for victory: the wisdom of humility.

And don't forget for a minute that Jesus Christ is wisdom incarnate...

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Chances are, if you run into someone on the street who calls himself a humanisit, you're talking to an atheist. "Humanism" has thus received a bad reputation among God fearing Christians.

We need to take it back.

The form of humanism above is secular or atheist humanism. The oldest form is aptly called classical humanism. This classical humanism was found in the ancient Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. What these men believed was that the human person was essentially his soul. The soul has two main powers: intellect and will. Perfection would thus naturally come if one perfected the intellect and the will. To do this, classical humanists taught we needed wisdom to perfect the intellect and virtue to perfect the will.

Did Christianity reject this? No way! All we did was add to it by saying that supernatural perfection can only come from God. Only in Him can we find true wisdom (supernatural truths) and virtue (the supernatural theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity). This is called theistic humanism. It was found it's apex in the writings of St Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

The scholastics following St. Thomas in the 14th and 15th centuries, however, began to focus on divine truths, leaving many to wonder about the meaning of our human existence.

Enter the Renaissance.

The Renaissance thinkers began to focus once more on classical humanism. One would suppose this rediscovery of classical thought would lead them back to the theistic humanism of Christianity. Some, however, rejected both classical and theistic humanism in order to deify the human person. To do this, the truths about the human person and about God had to be rejected.

Secular humanism in comparison to classical and theistic humanism is a loss, not a gain. Thus G. K. Chesterton would quip: "Paganism was big, Christianity was bigger. Everything since has been comparatively small."

Through the writings of the nominalist William of Ockham and the political philosopher Machiavelli, spiritual realities (like the soul and God) were rejected. Virtue was seen as an obstacle to success. Power - ultimately divine power - was the new summon bonum. This secular humanism would grow and develop over for hundreds of years, affecting us to this very day.

Freud, the father of modern psychology and secular humanist, would in a sense question secular humanism by asking: "Since we have become gods [through powerful technology] why aren't we happy?"

He forgot the words of St. Augustine: "God has made us for Himself and we are restless until we rest in Him."