What is a Catholic Education?

Today’s Catholic parents face more challenges to properly educating their children than ever before.  It is true that in times past the Church has been under much physical persecution.   However, today’s Catholic families are suffering from even worse.  The enemies of Our Lord Jesus Christ are persecuting and destroying Catholic youth by more insidious ways than physical persecution – namely by the silent and steady corruption of academics, morals, and what now passes for “culture”.   Angelic Doctor Online will zealously help Catholic parents to provide a solid, Traditional Catholic education for their children – academically, and in whatever capacity we are able – culturally and spiritually as well.   Our goal is to provide education which not only exposes them to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, but which also thoroughly inoculates them from modern errors and the very real danger of losing their Catholic Faith!  To achieve these goals, we strive to familiarize the student as much as possible with the timeless teachings of the Catholic Church and certain great teachings of its popes.  We also strive to at least introduce the student to the Church’s greatest and most praised doctor – the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas.

But before we can provide our opinion of what Catholic education is, we have to first ask what education itself is.

What is education?

We will try to be brief in providing our answer to this timeless question.   A true education consists of perfecting as much as possible the student’s natural faculties, especially the highest faculties of the intellect and will.  Perfecting these natural powers provides a solid base for the supernatural gift of God’s grace (i.e. “grace builds on nature”, as the Church teaches).   This beautiful “recipe” of a proper natural formation with grace then added, gives the student that which is needed to reach his end – a supernatural end – the eternal possession of the Infinite Good, God Himself in heaven.  After all, one can know the catechism inside and out, backwards and forward – or even be a master theologian – but, without grace and cooperation with grace, all is in vain.

Although it is finally grace which is required to get man to heaven, yet problems on the natural level can certainly interfere with the proper effects of grace.  Some of the main problems are ignorance, error, and bad will.  For example, a certain man might be ignorant of many beautiful truths of the Catholic Faith.  Can he save his soul?  He can do so if God wills it, in spite of that man’s ignorance; but note that it will be in spite of, not because of.   The same is true of error; a man for instance, may believe something contradictory to the timeless teachings of the Catholic Faith, and yet by God’s mercy, do the right things needed throughout life.  Nevertheless such problems will make it more difficult for that man to save his own soul.  Serious study of great works can be a great natural remedy to clear the ground of these obstacles.

But true education is not just removing dangers and errors.   It also involves forming the mind with great truths – eternal truths.  These truths can pertain to nature (science), mathematics, philosophy, or the greatest of sciences – theology.

In a nutshell then, proper education means forming a man’s soul so that his natural faculties cooperate with God’s grace, in order to save his soul.  

What makes for good education?

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that man’s highest faculty is the intellect.  This knowing power makes man unique.  Thus, the goal of education must involve  forming a man’s mind, so that he can come to know  what is truly the Good and the Beautiful.  This being done, the will, if operating properly and not pulled aside by its own desires and pleasures, should desire / want the true Good presented to it by the intellect. 

What is that Good?  Man is made to know, as Aristotle teaches and St. Thomas Aquinas concurs.  The good for man then, is primarily Truth.  Truth is the conformity of the mind to reality – God’s reality, not some “pseudo-reality” invented by man.  Yes, incomparably greater and more satisfying than bodily goods, it is the Truth that man desires more than anything.  “Our heart is restless until it rests in you”, says St. Augustine in his famous book, Confessions.   God, the Author of our nature, “wired” man this way.  Man cannot change the fact that deep inside, he wants to know the causes of things, although he can certainly distract himself by seeking pleasures, money, etc.  Thus, the good and honest man will keep searching until he finally rests satisfied in heaven, in the Highest Cause of everything – God himself. 

Forming the student’s intellect however means more than simply drilling facts into the child’s memory.  Although a good memory is essential to learning, limiting education to simply “knowing a list of facts” would be to cheat the highest faculties – the intellect and the will – of their full development.   True education includes ensuring the student knows essential truths, but more importantly, the ability to arrive at new truths for himself throughout life.   Although education is a lifelong process, we parents hope that by high school graduation, our children will have acquired the key arts of reading, reasoning, critical thinking, and investigation.   Angelic Doctor Academy’s curriculum is designed to help teach and stress these very arts.

What is a classical Catholic education?

Again, since a true education always involves God and man’s final, eternal end, it is obvious that such an education requires the student to know God’s Revelation.  Those unfortunate students who are not given a God-centered education are not really being given an education at all.  

Yet, not just any education that claims to be “God-centered” will suffice for a true education.  It is only the Catholic Church which God has made the Guardian of Revelation – all of Revelation.  It is thus only the Catholic Church which stresses and teaches both sources of Revelation, which are equal in importance and authority: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  Other religions such as Protestantism may happen to teach some or even many truths about God (e.g. “Jesus is God”, “God is a Trinity”), yet by leaving out other key truths and by even teaching errors, these false religions fail to properly form the student’s mind and will.   These false religions are also divorced from the beautiful scholastic methods of the medieval thinkers such as the great St. Thomas Aquinas.

Again, only the Catholic Church and the Catholic Faith provide the answers, by familiarizing the student with the Deposit of the Faith handed down by the Apostles, through the Fathers, Doctors, and popes through the centuries.  It is only the Catholic Church which really understands reality – the reality of man, the effects of the Fall and Original Sin, true theology, and even true philosophy.   The importance and relevance of this truth for a solid education cannot be understated.  For example, when reading great works of literature, it is only the Catholic Faith which can provide the student the certainly-true framework of Revelation, coupled with the wisdom of saints such as St. Thomas Aquinas, which the student needs to determine truth from error.  It is this safe framework which allows the student to “already have the answers”, and to judge that book’s message, or certain actions and views of its characters.  In scientific works such as biology, the student can see that certain modern errors are condemned by the Church’s teachings (e.g. evolution, certain forms of eugenics).   In history, one can see  even with a brief study that some of the Founding Fathers of the United States (such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson) held views consistently condemned not only by Catholic theology, but even good philosophy.  

A true education is then one which places the consistent teachings of the Church (Faith and Morals) as the final judge and anchor by which one can, and should, judge all other branches of learning.    Without this anchor, all attempts at a ‘classical’ education quickly degenerate into something less, or even dangerous.

Elements of a Classical Catholic education

What makes an education “classical”? Catholic educators will answer this in different ways, but we think the following ingredients are essential:

  • Exposes the student to at least some of the truly greatest books of Western Civilization.  When we say greatest, we do not mean those book which pass today for ‘great’ simply because they happen to be in vogue.   Rather, we mean timeless books which touch on questions that should matter to all men at all times in all places:  What makes a good man?   What is the purpose of man?    What is virtue?   What is the life of virtue?   Why does a man have two eyes, two hands, other organs – why is it good for him?    Is there a purpose in nature?     Books that deal with such questions are our common inheritance, and to skip them because they are difficult, or from long ago, would be even more silly than to throw one’s monetary inheritance to the winds!
  • Exposes the student to speculative truths – things that are useful for their own sake and which are not concerned with practical goals.
  • Exposes the student to Latin – the language of learning throughout the ages.  Such an education does so not only so that the student can read at least some excellent literature in the native tongue, but even more importantly – because it is critical to learn and study (not just to be immersed in) a second language, in order to understand one’s own language, and one’s own way of understanding reality through words.

The opposite of good education

Unfortunately many schools today have a very modern and, frankly, corrupted view of education.  In such schools, behind everything is the belief that the primary purpose of education is to ensure that the student succeeds with practical and temporal (as opposed to speculative and eternal) goals and needs.  For example, such practical concerns might include getting a good-paying job, passing the SAT / ACT, and getting accepted into a good college.   These are all fine and very necessary goals, which of course, Angelic Doctor Academy’s curriculum helps the student to achieveBut such goals are not, never have been, and never will be the primary goals of a true education.   

This insufficient goal of modern education is a fairly recent corruption – in fact, it came to be vogue in the 1900’s, especially thanks to philosophically-corrupt atheists such as John Dewey.   The ultimate result of such modern “Dewey style” schools is to teach the student to be a good worker, to “do”, to “achieve”, to “make”, to “problem solve”, etc.  But we would like to ask Mr. Dewey:  Let it be that such a student gets a high paying job.  Let it even be he invents great things, and solves many problems.  Then what?  How does such a student fare through life’s difficult questions, situations, and constant moral dilemmas?  Do Dewey-disciples ever ask themselves questions such as: why they are on earth, what life is about, and where does it all end?  Is there a God?  How do we know?  Is there an  eternity?

Further, you have probably heard of some new fads and systems being used in modern schools such as “Outcome Based Education”  and  “Common Core”.  These miserable, failing systems are like John Dewey’s goals on steroids, but add an element of political correctness and immorality which even Dewey himself may not have imagined.  These systems have at best produced ignorant and shallow minds, but more likely, immoral and atheist-leaning leftists.  The final goal of such methodologies is to not only implement the above Dewey goals of making the child “fit into” whatever world he happens to live in – but to make that child feel and even desire that the goals of that world are good – no matter how morally corrupt, ignorant, erroneous, and anti-Catholic that world may happen to be.