Learning is among the most basic human acts. We see this observing the very young. Parents see their babies change dramatically as they learn new skills set for communication and movement.
God endows individuals with the ability to reason. Upon this foundation, people develop their physical appearances, strengths, qualities, interests and talents.
The Abdication of Education
Individual abilities are enhanced when we receive instruction. To facilitate such learning, the Church developed schools during the Middle Ages. Modernity tragically usurped this role by giving it to the state. The disastrous results of that egregious error are the basis of this essay.
Modern Western culture has turned education into a secular endeavor. Even Catholic schools have adopted curricula that enshrine the secular worldview taught at most public schools. Religious education is compartmentalized and shunted off to the side.
In contrast, religion formed the core of medieval education.
A Search for God
Medieval scholars searched for insights into nature as a means of obtaining a greater knowledge of God. By understanding creation better, we come to know the Creator. Discovering how a seed obliterates itself to become a plant provides insight and spiritual analogies into how dying to self can be fruitful. Charting the movements of stars and planets helps humans know of God’s infinite nature and the order of the universe.
Indeed, Catholicism always depended upon the efforts of educated and literate leaders. They had the task of resolving controversies over doctrine, rooting out heresy, and preserving the work of previous generations. These efforts required great insight, erudition and discernment. The survival of the Church required the training of future leaders.
The Church and the University
With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Church was left as the only international organization in Europe. First, monasteries and then cathedrals set up schools to train young clerics. Over time, these schools attracted the sons of local noblemen and merchants searching for a good education. Soon, older priests and monks specialize in areas of study. Around these men, the first universities formed. To facilitate the creation of new universities, the schools developed academic programs awarding bachelor, master and doctorate degrees—so that scholars could present credentials that were accepted throughout Christendom.
By 1300, most major cities, and many minor ones, possessed at least one university.
Teaching was the primary purpose of the university. However, some faculty members did original research, thus furthering the understanding of God by plumbing the mysteries of His creation.
Therefore, we should not be surprised to see medieval priests and monks making many fundamental scientific discoveries. For example, the German Fr. Theodoric of Freiberg (c. 1250-c. 1310) was the first to explain the rainbow correctly. The Italian bishop Theodoric Borgognoni (1205-1298) invented anesthesia that was in use until the discovery of ether.
Scholars likewise studied religious topics. Medieval historian Lynn White, Jr. notes: “Every major scientist from about 1250 to about 1650, four hundred years during which our present scientific movement was taking form, considered himself also a theologian: Leibnitz and Newton are notable examples. The importance to science of the religious devotion which these men gave their work cannot be exaggerated.”
However, do not expect to find a list of these devoted scientists in most modern science textbooks, devoted as they are to the fallacy that religion and science are mutually exclusive.
Unfortunately, during the Renaissance, pseudo-Reformation and Enlightenment, increasing numbers of well-educated but unwise scholars turned knowledge and reason into gods.
The development of empiricism was the foundation of the modern education system. The best way to explain empiricism is an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude. By this standard, no reality can be expressed outside a physical existence. This is the root of many modern errors, including materialism and utilitarianism.
Any truth that does not have a physical basis is either discarded or treated as a relative or subjective concept. In such a world, people who believe in spiritual and religious things that cannot be proven scientifically are labeled sentimental, weak-minded, or delusional.
Merriam-Webster defines empiricism as “a theory that all knowledge originates in experience.” Such ideas have their place in science, but they cannot be the basis of all reality.
Defeating the Post-Modern World
Today, empiricism in education is being replaced with a far worse attitude. Empiricists, at least, acknowledged proven facts backed up by physical evidence. Today “scholars,” calling themselves “postmodernists,” have infiltrated the education establishment. They refer to facts as mere “constructs,” which means self-constructed concepts that may be true for some people but not others.
This postmodern perspective proposes an anarchical universe that detaches humanity from all moral, philosophical and scientific moorings. This hellish world of constant contradiction and uncertainty threatens to destroy civilization itself.
While many decry postmodernism, their “cure” would be to return to the world of reason and empiricism. This would be insufficient and ineffective.
The only way to save education from disaster is to fight energetically to return to the standards of the good, true and beautiful, which modernity abandoned.
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