From [Alasdair] MacIntyre’s perspective, the fragmentation of the curriculum makes it all the more important that Catholic universities recognize the significance of philosophy for any serious education that has any pretense to inculcate in students the skills necessary for those who would love the truth. According to MacIntyre, philosophy is the discipline committed to the inquiry necessary to understand how the disciplines that make up the university contribute to, but cannot themselves supply, an understanding of the order of things. So a Catholic University cannot be such if it does not require students to study philosophy not only at the beginning of their study but also at the end.
Yet of equal importance, according to MacIntyre, is the study of theology. Catholic teaching rightly maintains that the natural order of things cannot be adequately understood by reason if reason is divorced from the recognition that all that is has been brought into being by God and is directed to the ends to which God orders creation. What is learned from nature about God, MacIntyre notes, will always be meager as well as subject to the human limitations and distortions resulting from our sinfulness. Yet it remains the case that “universities always need both the enlargement of vision and the correction of error that can be provided only from a theological standpoint, one that brings truths of Christian revelation to bear on our studies.”
I am fundamentally in agreement with MacIntyre’s account of the challenges facing us if we are to think seriously about what it means to reclaim education as a Christian enterprise. So I have nothing but sympathy for Giussani’s attempt to help us see why and how Christians must reclaim education as a task of the church.
The story he tells in the introduction to the 1995 edition of The Risk of Education, about his first confrontation with students that did not believe matters of faith had anything to do with reason, is a wonderful example of why education matters and it matters for moral formation (p. XXXVI). I think Giussani, moreover, is right to insist that faith is “the supreme rationality” (p. XL). But to so argue means you have to confront, as Giussani did, the deceits of modernity represented by people like Professor Miccinesi; that is, the teachers of the students who think faith has nothing to do with truth or this world. I fear Professor Miccinesi, moreover, is a prime example of the challenge Christians face in education today. The problem quite simply is that the secular have become so stupid that they do not even recognize they do not and, indeed, cannot understand the commonplaces that make the Christian faith the Christian faith.
So I find myself in profound sympathy not only with the general argument about education Giussani makes, but also with the finer grained arguments he uses to sustain his overall perspective. That may seem strange because I am a Protestant; that is, a representative of that form of Christianity that according to Giussani separates “faith from following.” Yet unfortunately, I fear Giussani’s characterization of Protestantism, at least the Protestantism that now exists, is correct. Put differently: Protestantism now names that form of Christianity that in the name of reform tried to separate the “essentials” of the Christian faith from the contingent. The result was to turn Christianity into a belief system available to the individual without mediation by the church. As a consequence of this separation, Protestants found themselves in modernity without resources to shape a way of life that can resist the forces that threaten to destroy any robust account of Christian “following” necessary for the education of young people as Christians. I fear this is particularly true of the most Protestant country yet founded; that is, the United States of America.
Read it all.