Friday, April 18, 2008

The Vocation of Teaching as a "Diakonia of Truth" and an "intellectual charity."

Benedict XVI addressed the heads of Catholic education last night in Washington. What he said disappointed the secular press hoping to hear a Jeremiad that would make “good copy.” The assembled administrators, a large assembly of busy people in some large stuffy room, no doubt found their minds wandering. Newman’s president sew it as a call to serve the poor through Catholic schools (and it was.)

I found it to be a meditation on our calling, the vocation of teaching, of educating, i.e., leading students and ourselves to the freedom of the truth as a work of love. What he said speaks to heart of what we do, transcending denominational boundaries. It is an apt sequel to our discussion with George Marsden last year.

Benedict’s talk is best read in the quiet. As Proverbs and Ecclesiaticus warn, we sometimes have to meet Wisdom as she creeps in during those tender hours before dawn.

Benedict calls us to a “diakonia of truth.” Leaving the word in Greek, he implies more than the English word, “service,” fully conveys. My mind associates it with an English cognate, “deacon.” Deacons played a large part in the stories of the Roman martyrs, particularly during the Decian and Diocletian persecutions. They guarded the doors, gave the first warnings when the magistrate came to the churches, and they had the task of defending the holy books: the books of the liturgy and sacred scripture. Many joined their blood to that of the Lamb, the Divine Fuller who washed their robes in His own blood. Theirs was a courage animated by love of the truth and Him who is Truth. They exemplify the service we are called to.

Our service should also be one of love. Benedict describes the fragmentation and pointlessness of modern secular education. Against this, our calling must have that “particular urgency of what we might call ‘intellectual charity.’ [Where you read “charity,” think of “agape” in the New Testament or in C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves.] This aspect of charity calls the educator to recognize that the profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love. Indeed, the dignity of education lies in fostering the true perfection and happiness of those to be educated. In practice “intellectual charity” upholds the essential unity of knowledge against the fragmentation which ensues when reason is detached from the pursuit of truth. It guides the young towards the deep satisfaction of exercising freedom in relation to truth, and it strives to articulate the relationship between faith and all aspects of family and civic life. Once their passion for the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, young people will surely relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of what they ought to do. Here they will experience ‘in what’ and ‘in whom’ it is possible to hope, and be inspired to contribute to society in a way that engenders hope in others.”

Much as it is difficult to indulge in quiet reflective reading while we stumble down this death march toward semester’s end, you would find the entire address worth reading. You can find it at:

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