Opening Toward the World
Education has been an integral part of our church for a very long time, and in ways we have not talked about or fully appreciated in conversations for a long time, either.
Earlier, perhaps, but most certainly in the early middle ages, monasteries played many roles. Images of monks laboring over manuscripts come easily to mind, but that is a limited picture. A most significant role was as keepers of knowledge. Monasteries became repositories of books. Histories, biographies, epic poetry, science and mathematics as well as religious texts were collected. Monasteries also produced scholars. As an example, the monk-botanist Gregor Mendel is credited as the founder of genetics. Another monk, Gerbert - later to become Pope Sylvester II - introduced the study of astronomy (necessary for calculating time and dates), mathematics and Arabic numerals (much easier to use in multiplication than Roman numerals) into monastic studies.
Monasteries of women religious produced scholars as well. The best known, Hildegard van Bergen, was an author, musical composer, natural scientist, encyclopedist and reformer.
Eventually these centers of scholarship expanded to schools outside the cloisters. These schools became the foundation for the development of cathedral schools in major cities. Here, studies ranged from theology and literature to mathematics and science. From some of the cathedral schools, universities came to be. These institutions, based in a spiritual way of living, wove the knowledge of theology and secular subjects into a whole. This is our heritage, one that is ancient and exemplary.
Today, Catholic education carries on the tradition of holistic education, open to exploring all areas of learning. We learn of art, history, literature, science and God, learning more about the enormousness of the world God gave to us. Catholic education is not to be narrow, limited or bound by a straightjacket. Thomas Aquinas has been quoted as saying "Beware of the man with only one book." Catholic education does not hold a tradition with one book - but many.
Cardinal Grocholewski, the prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, echoed the same sentiment when he wrote in 2007:
Education means directing persons who gradually learn to open themselves up to life as it is, and to create in themselves a definite attitude to life. …