Cardinal Burke: Catholic education must transmit the unbroken Tradition

The following address was delivered by His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke at the Voice of the Family press conference in Rome on 15 October. All presentations at the press conference were on the subject of parents as the primary educators of their children.

It pleases me very much to offer these brief words to assist Voice of the Family in its noble work of promoting the sound doctrine and discipline of the Church regarding marriage and its incomparable fruit: the family. I commend Voice of the Family and the members of the 26 pro-life and pro-family organizations who participate in its critical work of assisting the assemblies of the Synod of Bishops of last October and this October, both dedicated to marriage and the family.

Catholic education of children and youth is a complete education, that is, the development of reason through the competent imparting of knowledge and skills within the context of the faith through the study of God and of His plan for us and our world, as He has revealed Himself and His plan to us. Pope Pius XI, in his Encyclical Letter Divini Illius Magistri, described a Catholic or Christian education with these words:

The proper and immediate end of Christian education is to cooperate with divine grace in forming the true and perfect Christian, that is, to form Christ Himself in those regenerated by baptism, according to the emphatic expression of the Apostle: “My little children, of whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you.” For the true Christian must live a supernatural life in Christ: “Christ who is your life,” and display it in all his actions: “That the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”

For precisely this reason, Christian education takes in the whole aggregate of human life, physical and spiritual, intellectual and moral, individual, domestic and social, not with a view of reducing it in any way, but in order to elevate, regulate and perfect it, in according with the example and teaching of Christ.

Hence the true Christian, product of Christian education, is the supernatural man who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatual light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the current term, the true and finished man of character. For, it is not every kind of consistency and firmness of conduct based on subjective principles that makes true character, but only constancy in following the eternal principles of justice, as it is admitted even by the pagan poet when he praises as one and the same “the man who is just and firm of purpose.” And on the other hand, there cannot be full justice except in giving to God what is due to God, as the true Christian does.[1]

It is only such a complete education which can guide our children and young people on the way of the happiness for which God has created each of us. With the help of a sound education at home and in school, children know happiness both during the days of their earthly pilgrimage and eternally at the goal of their pilgrimage which is Heaven. It is only such an education which can transform our culture.

Today, I address the family as the first place of education and its relationship with the school. Regarding Christian marriage and the family, and the call to evangelization, Pope Saint John Paul, in his 1981 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the family, Familiaris Consortio, declared that “the Christian family, in fact, is the first community called to announce the Gospel to the human person during growth and to bring him or her, through a progressive education and catechesis, to full human and Christian maturity.”[2] Christian education in the family and in the school introduces children and young people, in an ever more profound way, into the Tradition, into the great gift of our life in Christ in the Church handed down to us faithfully, in an unbroken line, through the Apostles and their successors. Education, if it is to be sound, that is, for the good of the individual and society, must be especially attentive to arm itself against the errors of secularism and relativism, lest it fail to communicate to the succeeding generations the truth, beauty and goodness of our life and of our world, as they are expressed in the unchanging teaching of the faith, in its highest expression through prayer, devotion and divine worship, and in the holiness of life of those who profess the faith and worship God “in spirit and in truth.”[3]

The Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis, of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, made clear that the primary responsibility for the education of children belongs to parents who rely upon sound schools to assist them in providing any part of the total education of their children which they are not able to impart in the home. The essential good of marriage which is the gift of children includes both the procreation and the education of the child. I quote from Gravissimum Educationis:

As it is the parents who have given life to their children, on them lies the gravest obligation of educating their family. They must therefore be recognized as being primarily and principally responsible for their education. The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute. It is therefore the duty of parents to create a family atmosphere inspired by love and devotion to God and their fellow-men which will promote an integrated, personal and social education of their children. The family is therefore the principal school of the social virtues which are necessary to every society. It is therefore above all in the Christian family, inspired by the grace and the responsibility of the sacrament of matrimony, that children should be taught to know and worship God and to love their neighbor, in accordance with the faith which they have received in earliest infancy in the sacrament of Baptism.[4]

Certainly, society, in general, and the Church, in a particular way, also have a responsibility for the education of children and young people, but that responsibility must always be exercised with respect for the primary responsibility of parents.

Parents, for their part, should be fully engaged in whatever service of education is provided by society and the Church. Children and young people should not be confused or led into error by an education outside of the home which conflicts with the education given in the home. Today, parents must be especially vigilant, for sadly, in some places, schools have become the tools of a secular agenda inimical to the Christian life. One thinks, for example, of the compulsory so-called “gender education” in some schools, which is a direct attack on marriage at its foundation and, therefore, on the family.

For the sake of our young people, we all must give particular attention to the fundamental expression of our culture which is education. Good parents and good citizens must be attentive to the curriculum which schools are following and to the life in the schools, in order to assure that our children are being formed in the human and Christian virtues and are not being deformed by indoctrination in the confusion and error concerning the most fundamental truths of human life and of the family, which will lead to their slavery to sin and, therefore, profound unhappiness, and to the destruction of culture. Today, for example, we sadly find the need to speak about “traditional marriage,” as if there were another kind of marriage. There is only one kind of marriage as God has given it to us at the Creation and as Christ has redeemed it by His saving Passion and Death.

At the heart of a solid curriculum is both respect for the dignity of the human person and for the tradition of beauty, truth and goodness in the arts and the sciences. So often, today, a notion of tolerance of ways of thinking and acting contrary to the moral law seems to be the interpretative key for many Christians. According to this approach, one can no longer distinguish between the beautiful and the ugly, the true and the false, and the good and the evil. The approach is not securely grounded in the moral tradition, yet it tends to dominate our approach to the extent that we end up claiming to be Christian while tolerating ways of thinking and acting which are diametrically opposed to the moral law revealed to us in nature and in the Sacred Scriptures. The approach, at times, becomes so relativistic and subjective that we do not even observe the fundamental logical principle of non-contradiction, that is, that a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time. In other words, certain actions cannot at the same time be both true to the moral law and not true to it.

In fact, charity alone must be the interpretative key of our thoughts and actions. In the context of charity, tolerance means unconditional love of the person who is involved in evil but firm abhorrence of the evil into which the person has fallen. All education should be directed to forming the students in the charity by which the mind and heart respond to the beautiful, the true, and the good, as God has created us to do.

Education which takes place first in the home and is enriched and supplemented by schools and, above all, by truly Catholic schools is directed fundamentally to the formation of good citizens and good members of the Church. Ultimately it is directed to the happiness of the individual which is found in right relationships and has its fulfillment in eternal life. It presupposes the objective nature of things to which the human heart is directed, if it is trained to be a “listening heart,”[5] that is, to follow a correctly formed conscience. It seeks an ever deeper knowledge and love of the true, the good, and the beautiful. It forms the individual to this fundamental pursuit throughout his or her lifetime.

May God inspire and strengthen parents and all of us in the work of forming “listening hearts” in our children and young people for their salvation and for the transformation of our culture. In a particular way, may God inspire and strengthen the work of the Synod of Bishops, so that, in accord with the nature and purpose of the Synod,[6] it may assist the Holy Father in safeguarding and promoting the constant teaching and practice of the Church regarding marriage and the family.

Thank you for your kind attention. May God bless you.


[1] “Eo proprie ac proxime intendit christiana educatio, ut, divina cum gratia conspirando, germanum atque perfectum christianum efficiat hominem: ut Christum scilicet ipsum exprimat atque effingat in illis qui sint Baptismate renati, ad illud Apostoli vividum: «Filioli mei, quos iterum parturio, donec formetur Christus in vobis». Vitam enim supernaturalem germanus christianus vivere debet in Christo: «Christus, vita vestra», eandemque in omnibus rebus gerendis manifestare «ut et vita Iesu manifestetur in carne nostra mortali».

Quae cum ita sint, summam ipsam humanorum actuum, quod attinet ad efficentiam sensuum et spiritus, ad intellectum et ad mores, ad singulos et ad societatem domesticam atque civilem, christiana educatio totam complectitur, non autem ut vel minime exenuet, verum ut secundum Iesu Christi exempla et doctrinam extollat, regat, perficiat.

Itaque verus christianus, christiana educatione conformatus, alius non est ac supernaturalis homo, qui sentit, iudicat, constanter sibique congruenter operatur, ad rectam rationem, exemplis doctrinaque Iesu Christi supernaturaliter collustratam: siclicet, homo germana animi firmitate insignis. Neque enim quisquis sibi consentitit et sui propriique tenax propositi agit, is solido ingenio est, sed unus ille qui aeternas iustitiae rationes sequitur, ut agnovit ethnicus ipse poëta, «iustum» una simul «et tenacem propositi virum» extollens; quae, ceterum, iustitiae rationes integre servari nequeunt, nisi Deo tribuatur – ut fit a vero christiano – quidquid Deo debetur.” Pius PP. XI, Litterae Encyclicae Divini Illius Magistri, “De Christiana iuventutis educatione,” 31 Decembris 1929, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 22 (1930), 83. English translation: Five Great Encyclicals, ed. Gerald G. Treacy (New York: The Paulist Press, 1939), pp. 64-65.

[2] “… christiana enim familia est prima communitas, cuius est Evangelium personae humanae crescent annuntiare eamque progrediente education et catechesis ad plenam maturitatem humanam et christianam perducere.” Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Adhortatio Apostolica Familiaris Consortio, “De Familiae Christianae muneribus in mundo huius temporis,” 22 Novembris 1981, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 74 (1982), 823, n. 2. English translation: Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familaris Consortio, “Regarding the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World,” 22 November 1981 (Vatican City State: Vatican Polyglot Press, 1981), p. 4, no. 2.

[3] Jn 4, 24.

[4] “Parentes, cum vitam filiis contulerint, prolem educandi gravissima obligatione tenentur et ideo primi et praecipui eorum educatores agnoscendi sunt. Quod munus educationist anti ponderis est ut, ubi desit, aegre suppleri possit. Parentum enim est talem familiae ambitum amore, pietate erga Deum et homines animatum creare qui integrae filiorum educationi personali et sociali faveat. Familia proinde est prima schola virtutum socialium quibus indigent omnes societates. Maxime vero in christiana familia, matrimonii sacramenti gratia et officio ditata, filii iam a prima aetate secundum fidem in baptismo receptam Deum percipere et colere atque proximum diligere doceantur oportet; …” Sacrosanctum Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum II, Declarato Gravissimum educationis, “De Educatione Christiana,” 28 Octobris 1965, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 58 (1966), 731, n. 3. GE, n. 3. English translation: Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, new rev. ed. (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1992), pp. 728-729, no. 3.

[5] 1 Kgs 3, 9.

[6] Cf. can. 342.