The rabbit holes are infinite and eternal. Well, maybe not that bad, but, Lord, it isn’t good.
Trying to get my head around 19th century American Catholicism, in order to have some feel for how Catholics viewed education. Don’t need to become an expert, just know enough that I don’t make obvious and avoidable errors.
The two biggest names in mid-19th century American Catholicism are, it appears, Orestes Brownson and Thomas Hecker. They were friends, both converts from rather rigorous or at least enthusiastic Protestantism, Brownson from Calvinist Presbyterianism, Hecker from Methodism. From my modern perspective, which I am trying to make better informed, I would classify those two origins as pseudo intellectual dogmatic nonsense and mush-headed touchy-feely nonsense. While that’s sort of what they look like today, minus the numerous fractures and branches into other, more trendy (until they aren’t) errors, I suspect but am not yet confident that description more or less holds for the 1820s as much as the 2020s.
I mention the above because, as I read them, these Protestant roots and habits of thought, especially as shaped by the post-Revolutionary and post-Civil War American experiences, seem to color everything. There is an optimism in these writers that appears almost insane from a modern perspective, along with that American distrust of authority that Brownson seems to deal with more realistically than Hecker. The big questions here are how widespread these attitudes were – I’d bet, pretty widespread, given the stature of Hecker and Brownson in 19th century American Catholic intellectual life – and how much these attitudes influenced Catholic thinking on education.
Brownson I’ve discussed much here. He was prolific, meaning I’ve only read a tiny fraction of his output. Fortunately, the Brownson Society has put his publications online, indexed them, and included the topic ‘education’ in that index – reducing the amount of essential Brownson reading to maybe a 100 more pages. Not that reading more would hurt, but must prioritize if I hope to get these books done in this lifetime.
Servant of God Rev. Isaac Thomas Hecker is the real puzzler. He founded both a religious order – the Paulists – and a magazine – The Catholic World. That magazine ran for over 130 years, and published many essays by Brownson, and more by Hecker. (Rabbit Hole Alert: the very first issue, from April of 1865, has an essay entitled The Christian Schools of Alexandria. Too much to read!).
The very first Hecker I’m reading is from The Church and the Age, a set of 12 of his essays taken from The Catholic World. As mentioned in my end of the year recap post, Hecker both praises obedience to the Church and Pope, and claims that an emphasis on obedience in response to Protestant disobedience has lead to the current effeminate state European Catholicism. We Americans can fix this by paying more attention to the Spirit. It’s a case where the rhetorical arrangement of ideas all but forces a conclusion that contradicts what, on the surface, is the argument. In this case, nothing could be more traditional and orthodox than a call to a greater commitment to the life of the Spirit, but by opening with a paen of sorts to obedience, and a rousing defence of the 1st Vatican Council’s declaration of Papal infallibility, such a call comes off as a criticism of obedience. If, instead, the call to a more spiritual life had merely, in the course of things, mentioned that the Spirit necessarily works through the Magisterium, such that there is no possibility that the impulses of the Spirit would ever direct one against obedience to Christ’s Church, and just left it at that, no issues would ever have been raised. But Hecker at the same time discusses the sorry state of European Catholicism and damns with effusive praise, so to speak, obedience. The inescapable conclusion is that less obedience is what is required if we (Americans) are to escape the effeminate state of European Catholicism, even if he tiptoes around actually saying as much.
On the bookshelf, staring down at me, is The Protestant Crusade, which I have barely started, along with biographies of Seton, Barnard, LaSalle, Bosco, and other educators, as well as books on education by Barnard, Piaget, and others, next to many books of criticism from the likes of Gatto. On the Kindle or my laptop are works by Fichte, Pestalozzi, Rousseau, Torrey Harris, etc., as well as various works referenced in Walch’s Parish School , including the indispensable The Catholic School System In The United States: Its Principles, Origin, And Establishment by J. A Burns. And then there’s more general references, such as Plato’s Republic and Marrou’s History of Education in Antiquity. Then comes all the snippets, links, essays, and articles on my laptop.
And I add to this every time I sit down to read: Hecker mentions Schlegel, a German literary critic and philosopher and another convert, who shares Hecker’s conviction that this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius, so to speak:
“We are about to see,” said Schlegel, “a new exposition of Christianity, which will reunite all Christians and even bring back the infidels themselves.”Hecker, the Church and the Age
What we got instead was the oldest of old-school powers doing their thing in the Concert of Europe followed by a century of ideologically-driven global war and genocide, build upon foundations laid by the same group of German philosophers to which Schlegel belonged: Kant, Fichte and Hegel.
So now I’ve dug up some stuff on Schlegel, throw it on the pile. The very next sentence:
“This reunion between science and faith,” says the Protestant historian Ranke, ” will be more important in its spiritual results than was the discovery of a new hemisphere three hundred years ago, or even than that of the true system of the universe, or than any other discovery of any kind whatever.”
So, who’s this Ranke fellow? Leopold von Ranke, 1795 – 1886) was a German philologist, historian, and devout Lutheran. (1) He was appointed to the University of Berlin in 1824 by the Minister of Education – yep, that University of Berlin, the first modern research university, set up by von Humboldt a decade earlier. Von Humboldt, you recall, was a major Fichte fanboy, and, put in charge of Prussian education reform, installed the state-controlled age-segregated graded classroom model proposed by Fichte. He appointing Fichte to be head of the Philosophy faculty at the University; Fichte was elected rector the next year. More materials to read.
Then, reading about Ranke, I run into Julian Nida-Rümelin, a living German public intellectual (I guess they still have those in Germany?). He’s a critic of modern education, although it seems a weak one – he doesn’t advocate burning the whole thing to the ground, as I do. In reading just the brief Wiki article on him, I come across the Bologna Process, which is not only a way to turn scraps of meat into a theoretically edible substance, but is also an EU committee instituted to standardize higher education….
Ah! The dreaded Black Rabbit Hole of Despair! It’s all so interesting…
I’ve been cutting and pasting passages as I go, and will end up with a huge electronic pile of index cards. For the first book, which is directed to a more general audience, I’m not going to need much of it, but for the more scholarly back-up book, I will.
The Education References project, to become a page on this blog, inches forward.
1. Aside: in my ongoing efforts to blame everything on Luther, I note here how many wacky thinkers come out of the Lutheran theological tradition. This would be an effect, I should think, of trying to make sense of the L-Man, whose mythology doesn’t quite comport with the foul-mouthed, petty, scandalously heretical (e.g., asserting Jesus had lots of adulterous sex) and largely incoherent mad man his copious writing reveal. I’ve long wondered if Hegel’s motivation in replacing being with becoming isn’t a result of his noting that, if logic holds and truth is eternal, Luther is a raving lunatic.