The Church is currently living in the rhythm of preparations for two synods: the Episcopal Synod for the Amazon whose preparatory document, Instrumentum laboris, is the daily target of criticism; and the synod, or synodal path, of the Church of Germany, which is causing a stir between Rome and the German bishops.
In the midst of the ongoing turmoil, Pope Francis has announced the holding of a major new event for the Church. In a message published on September 12, 2019, “on the occasion of the launch of an education pact,” he has invited all those who work “in the field of education at all levels” to meet in Rome on May 14, 2020. The goal is to “promote and implement...the forward-looking initiatives that give direction to history.” The date of the meeting will correspond to the fourth anniversary of the promulgation of the encyclical Laudato si’.
The Pope’s Message Encourages an Educational Alliance
In his message, the sovereign pontiff announced that he wants to establish an “educational path” with the aim of “developing a new universal solidarity” for a “more fraternal humanity.” To do this, he proposes “a vast educational alliance” aimed at training individuals capable of “building the future of the planet by...protecting our common home.” That very one about which the above-mentioned encyclical describes the dangers threatening it and prescribes integral ecology to save it.
Francis starts from the observation that the profound transformation of the contemporary world has cultural and anthropological consequences that lead to a kind of psychological disintegration of individuals, especially those who are in formation. The Pope intends to remedy it.
The solution consists the building an “educational village,” to include an “educational path involving everyone,” and establishing the conditions for a valid education. Distinctions, supposed to be in contradiction to it, are considered to have been resolved by the Document on Human Fraternity, signed on February 4 in Abu Dhabi.
It is then a question of finding a “world convergence” for an education respecting all the components of the person, “that generates peace, justice and hospitality among all peoples of the human family, as well as dialogue between religions.” He indicates three necessary steps.
First, “place the human person at the center" because “everything is linked.” This is one of the Pope’s favorite themes and he addresses it a dozen times in the encyclical Laudato si’. This is the central point of his “integral ecology.” For this, it is necessary “to find other ways, based on a sound anthropology, of envisioning economics, politics, growth and progress.”
A second step invites us to “to capitalize on our best energies,” that is to have long-term education projects, to train “men and women who are open, responsible,” who will be the actors of “a new humanism.”
Finally, the third step is “to train individuals who are ready to offer themselves in service to the community,” serving others. It is about training in altruism, especially towards the poor.
The Pope concludes with an invitation to all “to be committed, individually and within our communities, to nurturing the dream of a humanism rooted in solidarity.”
It is clear that this message hardly rises above the level of a vague educational program of the United Nations or Unesco. Jesus Christ is mentioned only as an example of “service” by the washing of the feet, and God only appears as the author of a design that would be accomplished by this “humanism rooted in solidarity.”
The Doctrine of Catholic Education
Reading the Pope’s message provokes astonishment at its banality and the absence of any transcendence. The global education pact that Francis wants to promote has nothing in common with the Catholic education that Church leaders have consistently defended and encouraged.
Among the magisterial documents, one that shines with particular brilliance is Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Divinus Illius Magistri (December 31, 1929), which is entirely devoted to education. The following excerpts convey the faith’s view that is necessary for any Catholic discourse on the subject.
Perfect Education is Catholic Education
“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. In fact, since education consists essentially in preparing man for what he must be and for what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created, it is clear that there can be no true education which is not wholly directed to man's last end, and that in the present order of Providence, since God has revealed Himself to us in the Person of His Only Begotten Son, who alone is ‘the way, the truth and the life,’ there can be no ideally perfect education which is not Christian education.”
Education Belongs Very Specifically to the Church
“And first of all education belongs preeminently to the Church, by reason of a double title in the supernatural order, conferred exclusively upon her by God Himself…The first title is founded upon the express mission and supreme authority to teach, given her by her divine Founder: ‘All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world’ (Mt 28:18-20)...The second title is the supernatural motherhood, in virtue of which the Church, spotless spouse of Christ, generates, nurtures and educates souls in the divine life of grace, with her Sacraments and her doctrine… It is therefore obvious, rightly and in fact, that the educational mission belongs to the Church in an outstanding way.”
We Must Flee Naturalism in Education
“In fact it must never be forgotten that the subject of Christian education is man whole and entire, soul united to body in unity of nature, with all his faculties natural and supernatural, such as right reason and revelation show him to be; man, therefore, fallen from his original estate, but redeemed by Christ and restored to the supernatural condition of adopted son of God, though without the preternatural privileges of bodily immortality or perfect control of appetite. There remain therefore, in human nature the effects of original sin, the chief of which are weakness of will and disorderly inclinations.”
“Hence every form of pedagogic naturalism which in any way excludes or weakens supernatural Christian formation in the teaching of youth, is false. Every method of education founded, wholly or in part, on the denial or forgetfulness of original sin and of grace, and relying on the sole powers of human nature, is unsound.”
This pontifical teaching can easily be completed by the many speeches of Pope Pius XII, and by the Apostolic Constitution Sedes Sapientiae of May 31, 1956.
Where the Dream Turns Into a Nightmare
This reminder makes it possible to measure the depth of the abyss dug since Vatican II that accentuates the current pontificate. This “dream of a humanism rooted in solidarity” is not Catholic but naturalist. It is totally utopian.
Pope Francis’s project does not take into account the supernatural dimension which is an integral part of Catholic education. An objection may be that the pope’s intention is to address all educators, Catholic or not, and that he does not have to mention this dimension.
But what is expected of the pope, as pope, is a teaching for the Church, and not a speech worthy of any international body, whose horizon remains purely terrestrial. Is this his mission? Is he, the Vicar of Christ, the successor of Peter, in competition with the offices of the United Nations? And even if he were to speak to all men, should it not be to evangelize them? To show them how Catholic education alone is able to solve the crisis of modern man by teaching him about heaven and the virtues that lead to it?
The global alliance promoted by the Pope does not rely on the complete, natural and supernatural teaching of the Church in education, since it has forgotten the wounds of original sin. This alliance sets itself very high goals as it aims for a “healthy anthropology” that would find other ways of understanding economics, politics, growth, progress, etc. But these goals are really attainable only by a Christian civilization. It is the immortal teaching of Saint Pius X: “No, Venerable Brethren, We must repeat with the utmost energy in these times of social and intellectual anarchy when everyone takes it upon himself to teach as a teacher and lawmaker – the City cannot be built otherwise than as God has built it; society cannot be built up unless the Church lays the foundations and supervises the work; no, civilization is not something yet to be found, nor is the New City to be built on hazy notions; it has been in existence and still is: it is Christian civilization, it is the Catholic City. It has only to be set up and restored continually against the unremitting attacks of insane dreamers, rebels and miscreants. Restore all things in Christ!” (Letter Our Apostolic Charge on the Sillon, August 25, 1910)
On what basis does the pope intend to build his “educating village”? The ground on which he claims to build is that of human fraternity. It is the Abu Dhabi document, which had already been answered by St. Pius X: “No, Venerable Brethren, there is no genuine fraternity outside Christian charity. Through the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ Our Saviour, Christian charity embraces all men, comforts all, and leads all to the same faith and same heavenly happiness.
By separating fraternity from Christian charity thus understood, Democracy [or education], far from being a progress, would mean a disastrous step backwards for civilization.”
How does Francis intend to establish a “sound anthropology” today? Through “planetary ethics” as proposed by Hans Küng, a kind of lowest common denominator of religions? But this is only an empty dream. Or through communism, anti-Christian Hinduism, sharia law, unbridled liberalism, or gender theory, LGBT propaganda, practices that harm the beginning or the end of life, or transhumanism? What would an educational foundation look like that would take into account all the religious, intellectual, and moral deviations that animate our contemporaries? A real monster: the impossible union or marriage between nature and the unnatural. Without faith, one builds only on sand.
The “dream of a humanism rooted in solidarity” thus conceived would quickly become a nightmare.