Teaching literature in Catholic schools ~ Card. Newman

Newman concedes that education of students is for the sake of preparing them for the world, and this must be kept in mind when deciding what subjects to teach them and them and how to do so. In the mid 1800’s Catholic schools in England had seminarians and non-seminarians studying in the same school. Newman presented a vision for education of laymen in schools and colleges.

“If then a University is a direct preparation for this world, let it be what it professes. It is not a Convent, it is not a Seminary; it is a place to fit men of the world for the world. We cannot possibly keep them from plunging into the world, with all its ways and principles and maxims, when their time comes; but we can prepare them against what is inevitable; and it is not the way to learn to swim in troubled waters, never to have gone into them.”

Newman thinks that particular passages and particular authors can be proscribed, but literature in general should not. Otherwise a student can easily find literature on his own and will not be able to distinguish between beauty from sin or truth from sophistry if he does not read literature.

He writes: “You have refused him the masters of human thought, who would in some sense have educated him, because of their incidental corruption.” He insists that students must read great authors like Homer, Ariosto, Cervantes, Shakespeare who spoke proverbs even though in their works man’s sinfulness is unveiled. If students do not study the classics then their university will be newspapers, controversial pamphlets, parliamentary speeches and contemporary theater. Therefore the Church should not exclude literature from her schools. Instead “Let her do for Literature in one way what she does for Science in another; each has its imperfection, and she has her remedy for each. She fears no knowledge, but she purifies all; she represses no element of our nature, but cultivates the whole.”

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