Letter of Benedict XVI on “The Urgent Task of Education”

Source: FSSPX News

Signed on January 21, 2008, the pope’s letter to educators invites them not to give up in the face of the “crisis of education.” The pope returned to the subject on February 23: “Educating has never been an easy undertaking and seems to be becoming increasingly difficult today; thus, many parents and teachers are tempted to give up their task and do not even succeed in understanding what the mission entrusted to them truly is,” Benedict XVI declared. 

“Indeed, too many uncertainties, too many doubts are circulating in our society and our culture, too many distorted images are transmitted by the media. It thus becomes difficult to propose to the new generations something valid and reliable, rules of conduct and worthwhile objectives to which to devote one’s life,” he continued. Nevertheless, “it is possible to teach goodness in our time; it is a passion we must carry in our hearts, a common enterprise to which each one is called to make his own contribution.” Addressing parents, Benedict XVI invited them to “remain firm for ever in [their] reciprocal love: this is the first great gift your children need if they are to grow up serene, acquire self-confidence and thus learn to be capable in turn of authentic and generous love.” Next the pope underlined the importance of helping new generations “to distinguish clearly between good and evil, (…)  for solid rules of life that will sustain them in future trials.”

Next, Benedict XVI exhorted teachers “to have a lofty and great conception of [their] demanding work despite the difficulties, misunderstandings and disappointments that [they] meet with all too often.” “Your task (…) cannot be limited to providing notions and information, leaving aside the important question concerning truth, above all that truth which can serve as one’s guide in life,” the pope added.

But education is not only the work of educators. So he turned to young people asking them to remember that they are “the architects of your own moral, cultural and spiritual growth.” “It is up to you, therefore, to freely accept in your heart, your minds and your lives, the patrimony of truth, goodness and beauty (…) liberating it from the many falsehoods and ugly things that often make it unrecognizable.”

The pope’s letter had been released on January 23 by the Press Office of the Holy See. On January 27, after the Sunday Angelus, Benedict XVI had introduced it in the following terms: “Last Monday,  January 21, I addressed a Letter on the Urgent Task of Education to the diocese and the city of Rome. I desired thus to offer my special contribution to the formation of new generations, a difficult task which is crucial for the future of our city.”

In the letter, the Holy Father acknowledges that education is becoming increasingly more difficult. “Hence, there is talk of a great ‘educational emergency’, confirmed by the failures we encounter all too often in our efforts… Thus, it is natural to think of laying the blame on the new generations, as though children born today were different from those born in the past. There is also talk of a ‘generation gap’ which certainly exists and is making itself felt, but is the effect rather than the cause of the failure to transmit certainties and values.”

The pope goes on to explain that what is called into question is “also a widespread atmosphere, a mindset and form of culture which induce one to have doubt about the value of the human person, about the very meaning of truth and good, and ultimately about the goodness of life.”

Confronted with these difficulties which are not insurmountable, the pope said that we should not be afraid. “Not even the greatest values of the past can be simply inherited; they must be claimed by us and renewed through an often anguishing personal option.” But he added that “those who believe in Jesus Christ, moreover, have a further and stronger reason for not being afraid: they know in fact that God does not abandon us, that his love reaches us wherever we are and just as we are, in our wretchedness and weakness, in order to offer us a new possibility of good.”

“However,” the pope continued, “when the foundations are shaken, and essentials certainties are lacking, the impelling need for those values once again makes itself felt: thus today, the request for an education which is truly such is in fact increasing.”

Then the Sovereign Pontiff gave some practical advice:

“It might be useful to identify several common requirements of an authentic education. It needs first of all that closeness and trust which are born from love: I am thinking of the first and fundamental experience of love which children have, or at least should have, from their parents.”

“Suffering is also part of the truth of our life. So, by seeking to shield the youngest from every difficulty and experience of suffering, we risk raising brittle and ungenerous people, despite our good intentions: indeed, the capacity for loving corresponds to the capacity for suffering and for suffering together.”

“We thus arrive at what is perhaps the most delicate point in the task of education: finding the right balance between freedom and discipline. If no standard of behaviour and rule of life is applied even in small daily matters, the character is not formed and the person will not be ready to face the trials that will come in the future.”

Concerning this last point, Benedict XVI invited them to “accept the risk of freedom” in the education of a young person “and be constantly attentive in order to help him to correct wrong ideas and choices. However, what we must never do is to support him when he errs, to pretend we do not see the errors or worse, that we share them as if they were the new boundaries of human progress.”

“From these simple observations it becomes clear that in education a sense of responsibility is crucial: the responsibility of the educator, of course, but also, as he grows up, the responsibility of the child, the student, the young person who enters the world of work.”

Next, Benedict XVI observed that “the orientations in general of the society in which we live and the image it has of itself through the mass media exercise a great influence on the formation of the new generations, for good but often also for evil.” And he recalled that society is not an abstraction but that we form it.

As a conclusion, the pope denounced the evil of our time: “Today, our hope is threatened on many sides and we even risk becoming, like the ancient pagans, people "having no hope and without God in the world", as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Ephesus (Eph 2: 12). What may be the deepest difficulty for a true educational endeavour consists precisely in this: the fact that at the root of the crisis of education lies a crisis of trust in life. I cannot finish this Letter, therefore, without a warm invitation to place our hope in God. He alone is the hope that withstands every disappointment.”