The 50th Anniversary of Gravissimum Educationis (Declaration On Christian Education)

Today, October 28, 2015 we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Gravissimum Educationis (Declaration on Christian Education). Along with this declaration, we also commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Christus Dominus (Decree Concerning the Pastoral Office of Bishops In the Church), Perfectae Caritatis (Decree On Renewal of Religious Life), Optatam Totius, (Decree On Priestly Training), and Nostra Aetate (Declaration On the Relation Of the Church to Non-Christian Religions).

Out of the sixteen documents produced by the Council Fathers, this is one of the shortest, however, just because it’s one of the shortest does not mean its importance is any less. There are two key elements of this declaration: first, it focuses heavily on “the dignity of the human person.” Unlike other papal documents on education as that focused on the family and institutions, this document focuses its attention on the human person. Education should never be just about graduating from an institution of higher learning, getting a job, and making money. Education truly focuses on the importance of the person as well as the common good of society as a whole. The second element of this declaration points out that Christian parents are the principal and primary educators of their children. For a child to have the most solidified education, the parents must be involved and take an active role in both the classical and spiritual formation.

Since parts of this document have not reached fruition yet, it is now our time to assist the Council Fathers in seeing this document bear the fruit it was meant to produce when it was first promulgated. In the latter part of this declaration, the Council Fathers focus on Catholic universities. In a time where most Catholic universities have lost their Catholic identity and focus solely on secular thoughts, we must also read with this document, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Apostolic Constitution promulgated in 1990 by Pope St. John Paul II.

A quick footnote here: we must keep in my mind that most documents from ecumenical councils don’t take hold in the Church for at least 40-50 years after the original council date. We are now at that point.

Source: Liturgical Press (https://www.litpress.org/Home/Index)

Source: Liturgical Press (https://www.litpress.org/Home/Index)

To conclude today’s blog post, I give you ten quotes from the declaration. There are other good quotes from this document, but these stood out to me when I read it –

1. “All men of whatever race, condition or age, in virtue of their dignity as human persons, have an inalienable right to education…True education is directed towards the formation of the human person in view of his final end and the good of that society to which he belongs and in the duties of the which he will, as an adult, have a share.”

2. “All Christians…should learn to adore God the Father in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23), especially through the liturgy. They should be trained to live their own lives in the new self, justified and sanctified through the truth (Eph. 4:22-24). Thus they should come to true manhood, which is proportioned to the completed growth of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13), and make their contribution to the growth of the Mystical Body.”

3. “As it is the parents who have given life to their children, on them lies the gravest obligation of educating their family. They must be therefore be recognized as the being primarily and principally responsible for their education.”

4. “It is therefore above all in the Christian family, inspired by the grace and the responsibility of the sacrament of matrimony, that children should be taught to know and worship God and to love their neighbor, in accordance with the faith which they have received in earliest infancy in the sacrament of Baptism.”

5. “The influence of the Church in the field of education is shown in a special manner by the Catholic school. No less than other schools does the Catholic school pursue cultural goals and the human formation of youth. But its proper function is to create for the school community a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity, to help youth grow according to the new creatures they were made through baptism as they develop their own personalities…”

6. “But let teachers recognize that the Catholic school depends upon them almost entirely for the accomplishment of its goals and programs. They should therefore be very carefully prepared so that both in secular and religious knowledge they are equipped with suitable qualifications and also with a pedagogical skill that is in keeping with the findings of the contemporary world. Intimately linked in charity to one another and to their students and endowed with an apostolic spirit, may teachers by their life as much as by their instruction bear witness to Christ…”

7. “This Sacred Council of the Church earnestly entreats pastors and all the faithful to spare no sacrifice in helping Catholic schools fulfill their function in a continually more perfect way, and especially in caring for the needs of those who are poor in the goods of this world or who are deprived of the assistance and affection of a family or who are strangers to the gift of Faith.”

8. “The Church is concerned also with schools of a higher level, especially colleges and universities. In those schools dependent on her she intends that by their very constitution individual subjects be pursued according to their own principles, method, and liberty of scientific inquiry, in such a way that an ever deeper understanding in these fields may be obtained and that, as questions that are new and current are raised and investigations carefully made according to the example of the doctors of the Church and especially of St. Thomas Aquinas, there may be a deeper realization of the harmony of faith and science.”

9. “Since the destiny of society and of the Church itself is intimately linked with the progress of young people pursuing higher studies, the pastors of the Church are to expend their energies not only on the spiritual life of students who attend Catholic universities, but, solicitous for the spiritual formation of all their children, they must see to it, after consultations between bishops, that even at universities that are not Catholic there should be associations and university centers under Catholic auspices in which priests, religious and laity, carefully selected and prepared, should give abiding spiritual and intellectual assistance to the youth of the university.”

10. “The sacred synod earnestly entreats young people themselves to become aware of the importance of the work of education and to prepare themselves to take it up, especially where because of a shortage of teachers the education of youth is in jeopardy.”

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