GLASGOW, Scotland — Speaking at the launch of a foundation at the University of Glasgow, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stressed the importance of upholding human dignity in education.
Archbishop Gerhard Müller delivered the Cardinal Winning Lecture on June 15 at the Scottish university.
The lecture marks the launch of the St. Andrew’s Foundation for Catholic Education, a new venture to form Catholic educators. It is the fruit of a partnership among the Church, the University of Glasgow and the Scottish government.
Archbishop Müller’s talk focused on the nature and distinctiveness of Catholic education, as well as the challenges it both faces and presents in today's world.
Catholic education, he said, arises out of the encounter between the Church and cultures. He recalled St. Augustine's vision of his own culture, the best of which he thought “had its roots in Plato and Aristotle … who had articulated the truth of the supreme Good.”
This supreme Good, for those thinkers, was “the development of the rational mind in conformity with the truth and the nourishing of the will through the attainment and practice of the virtues.” The basis for this vision was the human person and his natural drive for the good and the true.
St. Augustine added to this foundation the theological virtues which, “in addition to the natural goods and virtues of the human person, are the heart of education.”
Archbishop Müller advocated for an understanding of “catholic” which includes the breadth of “all that is good in the philosophies of societies and human culture.”
“To equip Catholic teachers with this broad philosophy of life is the key to the mission of the new St. Andrew’s Foundation. This will serve the self-confidence of Catholic teachers in their work in schools and provide a contribution to society as a whole.”
Focusing on education, the archbishop spoke of relativism as a threat, because the objects of education, the true and the good, “stand in some way outside the person” and are transcendent.
“A danger in the relativism of modern society is the assumption that human freedom essentially entails creating one’s own truth and moral good.”
The implications of relativism, he said, “would lead to the breakdown of society ... if pursued to their logical conclusion.”
Archbishop Müller examined the underlying purpose of education, saying, “It is surely part of the enterprise of higher education that it not simply mirror back the values of the society at large, nor simply that it produce those who will serve the economy through excellence in business or industry, science or the arts.”
“An important element is also the ability to take a critical stance and examine the underlying assumptions, philosophies and ideologies in society today and especially those underlying the very disciplines that higher education pursues.”
He encouraged the St. Andrew's Foundation to be a place for “critical engagement” with the philosophies underpinning education, suggesting that many academic disciplines are value-laden, contrary to popular belief.
Archbishop Müller said that education has a “central place” in proclaiming the dignity of the human person. He lauded the vision of Blessed John Henry Newman, whom he said was “firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach” to education.
“He sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together,” reflected the archbishop.
This holistic approach must take into account the communal aspects of the person, as well as his overall dignity, he explained.
“The Church is almost alone, it seems, in being prepared to assert the dignity of the human person as bearing the image of God — a vision available to reasonm and once deep at the heart of Western culture but which is now so generally denied,” he said.
He lamented that the youth are growing up in a culture of relativism, individualism, utilitarianism and “a lack of interest in the fundamental truths of human life.”
In such an atmosphere that denies the dignity of the human person, “freedom is reduced to mere arbitrary whim, and the pursuit of true value is reduced to a consumerism that never satisfies,” he said.
“The Church must give back to young people the true understanding of their own value that has been taken from them,” through communication of the faith and our destiny in Christ in Catholic education.
“This re-proclamation and defense of humanity and its true worth lies at the center of the Church's mission,” Archbishop Müller said.
He added that he hopes the St. Andrew Foundation will study this vision, form teachers according to it and support the schools “in which this vision becomes realized.”
During his visit to Scotland, the congregation head also visited a primary school, addressed clergy at the cathedral of the Motherwell Diocese and delivered a message from Pope Francis to the Catholics of Scotland.
Pope Francis, said the message, hopes the St. Andrew Foundation “will help promote and improve the quality of instruction … given to future educators in the country’s Catholic schools.”