Classical Catholic Education

Catholic Education

The Church’s vision of education has been articulated through a variety of magisterial documents. The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools, by Archbishop Michael Miller, CSB, former Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, faithfully summarizes the last fifty years of Magisterial documents on the Catholic school.

The following summaries illustrate these five marks.

Catholic Education is:

  1. Inspired by a Supernatural Vision – The enduring foundation on which the Church builds her educational philosophy is the conviction that it is a process which forms the whole child, especially with his or her eyes fixed on the vision of God. The specific purpose of a Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of this world, enriching society with the leaven of the Gospel, but who will also be citizens of the world to come. Catholic schools have a straightforward goal: to foster the growth of good Catholic human beings who love God and neighbor and thus fulfill their destiny of becoming saints.
  2. Founded on a Christian Anthropology – The Holy See’s documents insist that, to be worthy of its name, a Catholic school must be founded on Jesus Christ the Redeemer who, through his Incarnation, is united with each student. Christ is not an after-thought or an add-on to Catholic educational philosophy but the center and fulcrum of the entire enterprise, the light enlightening every pupil who comes into our schools (cf. Jn 1:9).
  3. Animated by Communion and Community – A third important teaching on Catholic schools that has emerged in the Holy See’s documents in recent years is its emphasis on the community aspect of the Catholic school, a dimension rooted both in the social nature of the human person and the reality of the Church as “the home and the school of communion.” That the Catholic school is an educational community “is one of the most enriching developments for the contemporary school.”
  4. Imbued with a Catholic Worldview – Catholicism should permeate not just the class period of catechism or religious education, or the school’s pastoral activities, but the entire curriculum. The Vatican documents speak of “an integral education, an education which responds to all the needs of the human person.”
    1. Search for Wisdom and Truth – In an age of information overload, Catholic schools must be especially attentive to the delicate balance between human experience and understanding. In the words of T.S. Eliot, we do not want our students to say: “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” The greatest challenge to Catholic education in the United States today, and the greatest contribution that authentically Catholic education can make to American culture, is to restore to that culture the conviction that human beings can grasp the truth of things, and in grasping that truth can know their duties to God, to themselves and to their neighbors.
    2. Faith, Culture and Life – From the nature of the Catholic school also stems one of the most significant elements of its educational project: the synthesis of culture and faith. The endeavor to interweave reason and faith, which has become the heart of individual subjects, makes for unity, articulation and coordination, bringing forth within what is learnt in a school a Christian vision of the world, of life, of culture and of history.
  5. Sustained by the Witness of Teaching – The careful hiring of men and women who enthusiastically endorse a Catholic ethos is, [I would maintain,] the primary way to foster a school’s catholicity. The reason for such concern about teachers is straightforward. Catholic education is strengthened by its “martyrs.”

Source: Catholic Liberal Education

Classical Education

When you ask what it is, people reply, “Classical Education helps children learn how to think and teaches them truth, beauty and goodness,” or, “We teach Latin or classical history. We study the great books.” But how and why?


“Truth is defined by the conformity of intellect and thing; and hence to know this conformity is to know truth.”

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Thoelogica I Q. 16 Art. 2 co.

The mind is aided in knowing this conformity through language’s ability to capture ideas, which language further leads the mind in comprehending and retaining truth.

Classical education continually enhances the student’s capacity to think as it exposes the student to increasingly complex learning and application thereof (i.e., grammar → logic → rhetoric). Eventually, students learn more of language’s ability to capture and express various ideas through the works of great writers and thinkers. Further study of classical languages (i.e., Latin, Greek) augments this interplay between language and ideas when the coinciding interplay between English and its roots in these languages, enriches the form and content of the ideas themselves, and of language’s ability to express them.

Furthermore, language is not only reading, writing, speaking – language is any form of communication. Art, Music, Math, History, and even Geography are forms of communication. For this reason, classical education does not present what are considered elective subjects – every subject is important in a classical education.


Beauty is the mind’s perception of God’s reflection in created things. Though proper to the mind’s perception thereof, beauty is still objective as its elements are of God, and are based upon the actuality of a thing’s being and existence in Him. These three elements are:

  1. Integritas (wholeness) – a thing’s capacity to present the essence of its nature, or of what it is;
  2. Consonantia (proportionality) – a thing’s dimensions as they correspond to other physical objects as well as to a thing’s proper end of God’s purpose for it;
  3. Claritas (clarity) – a thing’s capacity to clearly radiate its inherent intelligibility and impress this upon the mind of the perceiver

(See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I Q. 39 Art. 8 ad. 1)

Classical Education shapes the minds and souls of students as it leads them to wonder about and make connections to reality and creation/cosmos.

The ancient Greeks, though unknowing of God’s full revelation of Himself, were compelled to wonder about, ponder, and contemplate creation.

A school which does not give time and direction to students to contemplate and to be in awe is not classical at all. “Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.” (Pope St. John Paul II, Letter to Artists, 16)


“Goodness signifies perfection which is desirable; and consequently of ultimate perfection…goodness is spoken of as more or less according to a thing’s superadded actuality, for example, as to knowledge or virtue.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I Q. 5 Art. 1 ad. 1, 3). A thing is good insofar as its being is ordered toward God.

Through good literature students are exposed to language (thinking) and virtues. Virtue education inspires students to pursue goodness in their own lives’ connection with God.

Moral virtue then augments the intellect as the mind is often blinded by “personal moral disorder” which prevents us from perceiving truth.

Self-discipline is the first step in the pursuit of truth. “The person who is most free is the one who has control over himself”

(James Schall, S.J., Liberal Learning)

Catholic Classical Education

Because Catholic schools have an intimate relationship with Christ—who is the Logos, who is Truth, Beauty and Goodness (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I Q. 39 Art. 8 ad. 1, 3, 4, 5) —they are uniquely equipped to lead students to the fullness of truth. If truths are cut off from their divine source, they are no more than shadows, according to Pope Pius XII.

Pope Leo XIII in MILITANTIS ECCLESIAE counsels that science, literature, history and other disciplines must be permeated with religion because, “If it is otherwise, if this sacred inspiration does not penetrate the spirits of the teachers and of the students, the instruction will produce only little fruit and will often even have seriously harmful consequences.

By design, most schools are limited to using human will and man-made standards to attempt to inspire students. Typically, a self-selected list of virtues is introduced and then highlighted in literature, lived example and morning character development sessions. Such communal gatherings and focus may be helpful, but they lack the power and potentiality of instilling human excellence modeled on the most excellent human, Christ, and calling on the direct, real and real-time assistance of His grace through prayer and sacrament. Perfect men cannot be raised without the model and grace of THE perfect man.

The strategy of simply reading great books to combat this crisis is also insufficient. There have been plenty of people, good and evil, who have read the same great texts through the years with differing results. Reading them does not of itself confer virtue or wisdom. Under the guidance of a master Catholic educator, they can indeed be instruments to raise questions and concerns about ultimate nature and meaning of things.

Classical Catholic Education is in a unique and powerful position to serve our youth and lead them to fulfilling lives of joy and meaning. In this regard, secular schools will always fall short.

The Church understands the challenges facing modern man better than any other entity, and it has both the keys and access to the necessary graces to meet those challenges head-on. Its homes and schools can provide for the integration of culture, faith and life and best equip students to attain and practice heroic virtue in a troubled world.

Source: Dr. Daniel Guernsey, the Director of K-12 Programs for The Cardinal Newman Society