Welcome to one of the series of blogs on the Second Vatican Council. Each piece reviews one of the 16 documents produced by the Council Fathers during the extraordinary occasion in Church history. Vatican II, which drew together the world’s bishops, opened fifty years ago in St. Peter’s Basilica, October 11, 1962.
|(Photo courtesy of Catholic News Service)|
The Second Vatican Council spoke to the entire world and the Council Father’s document Gravissimum Educationis (The Importance of Education), made that clear in the “Declaration on Christian Education.” Published October 28, 1965, the brief declaration came during the fourth and final session of Vatican II. It addressed education in general but focused primarily on Christian education. Three of its themes hold critical importance today.
1) Christian education is to help a person get to heaven. The Council Fathers wrote that “true education aims at the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as man, he is a member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share.” (GE, 1) Living a good Christian life, the Fathers noted, enhances order, natural democratic virtues, and the common good but, more importantly, by grace, it is a path to live a holy life. Today when technology and media bombard the senses with positive and negative images, sounds and words, the need for sound Christian education that teaches intelligent discernment in a pluralistic world is critical.
2) Parents are the first educators of their children and have the duty and fundamental right to choose an education in keeping with their beliefs. The declaration recognizes the fundamental role of parents and thus of the family in our society. “The family is the first school of social virtues that every society needs” (GE, 3), the Fathers said. Children meet God, neighbor, and community through the family. Through the family they learn the elements of social justice, sharing with the less fortunate and experiencing how to give of themselves. “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognized as the primary and principal educators.” (GE, 3)
The Fathers pointed out that “among all educational instruments the school has special importance. It is designed not only to develop with special care the intellectual faculties but also to form the ability to judge rightly, to hand on the cultural legacy of previous generations, to foster a sense of values, to prepare for professional life.” (GE, 5) As a result parents must have the option of providing an education that supports the positive values of family life and their beliefs.
3) Through the principle of subsidiarity, the Church and state should support parents in their exercise as primary educators of their children. It is critically important that parents find support from civil society and the Church community to fulfill this fundamental right and duty. The Church has the obligation to establish schools that provide for a Christian education by which the whole child – body, mind and soul – develops in a Gospel environment. Financial support for Catholic education is an increasing concern; and it is important for the entire Church to support its educational mission to the young. The Fathers also pointed out that civil society has an obligation to provide a proper education for all children to promote the welfare of its citizens. These two obligations, of the Church and state, do not need to be in conflict. A respectful recognition on the part of both creates a setting in which education for many can flourish. Both the Church and civil society must work together to provide educational options for the young and the options should include Christian schools.
Fifty years ago the Church began a dialogue about the proper role of education. Times have changed but the need for the dialogue has not.
---Bishop Joseph McFadden of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Education.