Photo by Elizabeth Pack Photography
St. Thomas Aquinas began his Summa Theologiæ with a question so intrinsic to the purpose and meaning of education I think it should be taught to every child at a young age.
The question: St. Thomas asks whether we need any more knowledge than we can reason ourselves, whether we need theology, the study of the truths divinely revealed from God. To the modern mind that might sound like asking whether scientific knowledge is all we need, but the classical definition of science was much broader than the quantities-based definition we use today. Science included practical sciences and speculative sciences, any systematic body of knowledge.
The objections: And the objections were just as they are today—that we can know everything we need to know through reason. No God needed in education.
The response: St. Thomas, of course, replied to the contrary. We need to study the truths of faith so we can articulate them and live by them. Why? For our salvation. Certain truths had to be revealed because the human mind cannot discover those truths on its own. “Man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth,” a “sacred science learned through revelation.”
The explanation: Astronomy may prove the earth is round. Physics may discover subatomic particles unimaginable to the human mind. But all of these things are of the universe, and they end there. Philosophy may have logical proofs of God, but philosophy never would have discovered the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity. Those mysteries are beyond reason and had to be revealed.
What does this have to do with educating children? Am I saying that we need to teach children theology? Well, yes kids need catechism class as many parents already do, but not just that. We need, I think, to teach them why they need to learn about their faith so as to instill in them the correct view about learning in general. If children are told from the very beginning that they do math, science, grammar, and reading because they are made to search for truth and that all of our pursuits are really a search for God and salvation, then education has purpose and meaning beyond them, to guide them.
Without this view, sure a kid could still love learning and still seek knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but without God, ultimately learning is reduced to a mere journey to the end of life. Even kids who are raised in faith are at risk of falling into a flattened view of learning if they are not told from the beginning that their education is a devotion to God. They may merely view religion as a side thought, a lesser subject than the others.
What I’m saying is, if we are truly going to prepare our kids to be leaders and innovators of the future, then their education needs to start with the highest science, sacred science, whose object is God. Just like St. Thomas began his teaching.
“All Scripture, inspired of God is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice.” (2 Timothy 3:16)