If you are ever asked why the Catholic Church insists upon a Catholic education, you may answer in this way: We have three spiritual faculties: mind, memory and will. Unless we are satisfied to roam in the woods like wild beasts we must develop the faculties that distinguish us from the brute creation. These spiritual or mental faculties, then, must be developed by means of education. An educational system may be ever so elaborate, but if it confines its efforts to only one or two of these faculties it cannot be called a complete education, no more than four walls without a roof can be called a house. It stands to reason, then, that a complete education must develop not just one or two, but all three of the faculties of the soul. Moreover, this development must be proportionate, so that one of these faculties may not be advanced to the detriment of the other two. If, for example, we would develop the memory only, mind and will would suffer; if we educate only mind and memory, the will remains without the least training. An education can never be called a complete education if it leaves one of the spiritual faculties to shift for itself, without any training. For that reason the Catholic system of education is really perfect, because it insists upon a uniform development of all three faculties of the soul. It stands forth as the best education throughout all times, because it considers all the needs of our spiritual being.
The proper training of the will is, however, completely neglected by our public school training, notwithstanding the various ludicrous efforts to guide the inclination of the children by means of talking machines, playgrounds, and other such fads and fancies. The question now arises: how can, or how should, the will be trained? From the experience we are able to gather we come to understand that the modern methods of our public school system do not reach the will.
Whereas the training of the memory is more or less mechanical, both mind and will require the control of a real master. Truth is the master over the mind, the divine law the master of the will. The mind may be ever so brilliant, if it does not follow the path of truth it will go astray. Our greatest thinkers, like a St. Thomas or a St. Augustine, show us to what heights of knowledge the human mind can soar if it follows the path of truth, and so we have examples of other brilliant men, like Darwin, Spencer, Huxley, Kant, Fichte, and others, to show us in what labyrinths of desultory reasoning a mind can be lost when it despises the guidance of truth.
As truth is the guide of the mind, so is divine law the guide of the will. As the mind is led astray if it fails to follow the light of truth, so the will is misled if it fails to recognize the force of the law of God.
There can, then, be not other true guide of the will than the will that is superior to it, the will and law of God. Hence the necessity of making religion an indispensable part of education ; for there is but one power that can effectively control and shape the will of man—religion. Not even the "reading" of the Bible can exert that power, because this holy book needs to be explained by one who has studied it, like the text-book of any other science.
Here, then, is the reason why we Catholics establish our own schools for the children of our faith. Let us look at this subject from another angle. Which of the three spiritual faculties is the greatest? At the present time, owing to our perverted idea of education, much is being said in praise of the mind. We admire people for their wonderful achievements in their mastery over the forces of nature; but is the mind really the greatest of our faculties ? What of the man who has a well trained and strong will? The man who has a strong will and uses that strong will in conformity with the divine laws, by doing what God commands and avoiding what God forbids, because God has made those laws, is a far greater man than he who can read the mysteries of the sky and the secrets of the deep. In all the world there is no sadder sight than that of a brilliant mind that has gone astray; a great mind, dragged down by a poor, weak will. For that reason our public school education, because it utterly neglects the will, is found wanting, and all the frills and innovations a Godless age uses to enhance its Godless system of education only add burdens that bewilder the mind, but they leave the will untouched.
Even considered from a merely worldly aspect, our public school education is a dismal failure, because we expect from it what it is unable to give complete or thorough education. Looked at from a spiritual standpoint, the public school education is even more of a failure, because the salvation of our immortal souls does not depend upon brilliancy of mind but upon strength of will. The performance of every act upon which our eternal salvation depends must come from the will, aided by grace. Where the good will is lacking, meritorious work for heaven will not be undertaken. In that case grace lacks the cooperation of the will, and thus is rejected.
We must then conclude that our much boasted secular education is found wanting, because the all-important faculty of the soul, the will, is utterly neglected. It is one thing to teach a man to be wise and another to teach him to be good. Wisdom and goodness are not words that mean the same thing. Hence the religious education, that not only enriches mind and memory but also strengthens and moulds the will to act in conformity with the holy Will of God, must be considered the ideal education, the only education that is worth having.
Hence the Catholic Church insists upon a complete education, one that trains all the faculties of the soul equally and uniformly. The holy Apostles were sent by their Divine Master to "teach" all nations. Mark the words, "teach all nations." It was their God-given task to teach mankind, not so much brilliancy of mind as goodness of will. In apostolic times there were standards of education similar to those of our day. Culture was at its height, but at the same time there was such a general depravity of morals that mankind was reduced to the level of the beast. To this degraded humanity Christ sent His Apostles as "teachers." "Teach ye all nations," was His Divine command. The Apostles were the real teachers of mankind for all ages to come. They did not set about starting schools for languages, the arts, or sciences, yet they were truly teachers. Guided by the light of the Holy Ghost, who was to teach them all truth, they set about, not to make people brilliant according to worldly standards, but to lead and train their wills and thus to make them good.
And now, the same as in those apostolic days, we find the world opposed to the real teaching of Christ, The world puts up an elaborate system of education, adding new devices and new methods every year, and yet it has to admit its utter failure when it begins to compare efforts with results, and theories with facts. The world knows perfectly well that religion is the only power that can successfully form and direct the will of man, but it purposely neglects to make use of that power because seeing it does not see, and hearing it does not hear. To-day, as then, it would never do for the world to acknowledge its error; it must persevere in willful blindness in its antagonism to Christ, no matter how unreasonable or even disastrous its attitude may be.
- Conferences for Men, Imprimatur 1917 -