The School of Sanctification

John Joseph Haldane, a noted contemporary philosopher and author of Faithful Reason (2004) and Reasonable Faith (2010), had an article in First Things back in 1998 entitled The School of Sanctification on Christian education. Here’s a brief excerpt:

G. K. Chesterton said of philosophy that it is “merely thought that has been thought out” and added that “man has no alternative, except between influence by thought that has been thought out and being influenced by thought that has not been thought out.” Holy Scripture–and the Creeds and biblical spirituality it inspired–is religious experience that has been thought out. Nothing less would be worth transmitting across the centuries, and the religiously disposed should not settle for anything else. The spiritual, the historical, and the philosophical are no more separable in reality than are the three sides of a triangle–or the three persons of the Trinity.

One consequence of all this is that Christian education needs to attend to the integration of these three aspects of faith, and my sense is that we are failing in our educational task with regard to them. It used to be the case that Catholics knew that the Church placed great emphasis on reason, and that theology was closely identified with philosophy. They were aware of the great figures of the Middle Ages such as Aquinas and Bonaventure; and they knew in very broad terms the two main styles of argument for the existence of God: from the contingency of the world and from the order within it.

Of course their knowledge in these matters was from testimony and they deferred to the expertise of others. But that is no disqualification. Just as my scientific knowledge rests on the say of others whom I take to be expert, so my knowledge of dogma is based on the word of those who have it from those who know. Certainly this assumes that someone somewhere does know or that the knowledge is set down and may be recovered. I would recommend the following counsel of prudence to all Catholics: you should cultivate the habit of thinking that if the Church teaches it as a matter of faith and morals then somewhere there is a good case for it drawn from revelation, tradition, or natural reason. This may seem obvious, but there are many who would regard what I have said as intellectually naive and as encouraging an attitude of docility.

Similar points of contrast may be drawn in relation to historic practice. It once was the case that Catholic children were taught a reverence for the sacraments and the liturgy. This effect was produced by pious devotions, modes of dress and behavior, stories of heroic devotion, and so on. One benefit of these efforts was to prepare children for the idea that amidst the ordinariness of life there are channels of transcendence. . . .

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