The goal of education: A timeless message for parents from the Lion of Münster
By John Smeaton | 18 January 2023
This is the first in a new series of articles, rooted in the teaching of Divini Illius Magistri, which seeks to assist parents in preparing their children to live as mature Christians in dangerous times. Today, a toxic world environment — including, sadly, within the institutional Church — sees Catholic teaching on marriage and the sanctity of human life constantly undermined. We begin by exploring Catholic teaching on the goal of education.
On 20 July 1941, at the height Hitler’s power, Archbishop Clemens August von Galen delivered one of three historic sermons, in the Church of Our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche) in Münster, denouncing the injustices “crying out to heaven” on the part of the Reich. In words which will reverberate down the centuries, the archbishop urged parents not to neglect their “most sacred duty” to resist the “false teachings and morals” to which the German youth were being subjected. He instructed them to keep their minds firmly on the eternal goal of their educational efforts as parents, to show their children “the way to heaven” and to confirm in their children “the holy will never to stray from the path that leads to God”.
With stunning eloquence, he told parents:
“… Be tough! Keep steadfast …
“… We are the anvil and not the hammer! But take a look in the blacksmith’s shop! Ask the smith and let him tell you: what is formed on the anvil takes its shape not only from the hammer, but from the anvil. It doesn’t hit back and doesn’t have to; it only has to be firm and hard …
“… What are being forged at this time between the hammer and the anvil, are our youth: the growing, as yet unfinished youth, soft and still capable of being formed. We cannot protect them from the hammer strokes of unbelief, of hatred of Christendom, of false teachings and morals.
“What is being preached to them and forced upon them in the club nights and service of the youth groups … What do they hear in schools … What do they read in the new schoolbooks? Christian parents, have a look at the books … You will be furious at how they seek to instil mistrust of Christianity and the Church, even hatred against the Christian faith, into the minds of inexperienced children …”
Archbishop von Galen’s words apply entirely to parents today, not least those sending their children to Catholic schools.
Last week (12 January 2023), an opinion piece in the Catholic Herald drew attention to the onslaught of spiritual propaganda from Disney, “a brand synonymous with children’s entertainment”, targeting children with the message, “Down with traditional values, down with the patriarchy, down with gender norms”. Katherine Bennett, the author of the piece, writes:
“Increasingly, in schools, libraries, bookshops, films and on television our children are presented with material that strips them of their innocence and teaches them lies about who they are.”
What needs to be added is that exactly the same thing is happening in Catholic schools. For example, St Peter’s Catholic Primary School, in Warrington, Cheshire, England, boasts to visitors of its website:
“St. Peter’s has achieved the Rainbow Flag Award. We have undertaken a variety of tasks to ensure LGBT inclusion in our school. The award focuses on LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, plus other related identities) inclusion and visibility, as well as developing strategies to combat LGBT-phobic bullying.”
Photographs on the website include one of a little girl at foundation stage (which covers the period up to 5 years old) carrying her drawing of a rainbow flag, two hearts, and her handwritten message “Everyone is included”. The website also explains to visitors:
“One of our children in Foundation Stage shared this wonderful message of inclusion with Mrs Lea. She chose to write this at the writing table during explore time.”
(We at Voice of the Family very much hope and pray that St Peter’s school takes down this photograph quickly, along with other pictures of children imbibing “spiritual propaganda” — the phrase used by Katherine Bennett in another context in her Catholic Herald article — including one of a T-shirt proclaiming, “Love has no gender,” in childlike script, before they do any more damage.)
Just in case visitors to St Peter’s Primary School website should be in any doubt of the take-home message from the school about their education of children, one of the 24 educational “children’s” books that they exhibit includes And Tango Makes Three, about which Amazon Books says:
“Roy and Silo are just like the other penguin couples at the zoo — they bow to each other, walk together and swim together. But Roy and Silo are a little bit different — they’re both boys. Then, one day, when Mr Gramzay the zookeeper finds them trying to hatch a stone, he realises that it may be time for Roy and Silo to become parents for real.”
Amazon lists this book as suitable for five-year-olds. It also appears on the website of the Archdiocese of Liverpool alongside many other books promoting gender ideology which, in their turn, are to be found on St Peter’s Primary School website.
Another book which appears on St Peter’s website is Are you a boy or are you a girl?, the theme of which Amazon summarises as follows:
“This brightly illustrated book will open a dialogue with children aged 3+ about gender diversity in a fun and creative way. Featuring a gender neutral protagonist, the book imparts an important message about identity and being who you want to be. Tiny’s story will assist parents, family and teachers in giving children the space to express themselves fully, explore different identities and have fun at the same time.”
In 1941, Archbishop von Galen gave a number of unambiguous commands to parents in Münster, whose children, he said, could not be protected “from the hammer strokes of unbelief, of hatred of Christendom, of false teachings and morals” coming from Germany’s secular authorities.
His message to Münster’s Catholic parents could not be more relevant for Catholic parents today whose children are facing such poisonous “spiritual propaganda” both in the secular world and within the environment of Catholic Church institutions around the world.
“… Christian parents, you must keep an eye on all these things, or else you will be neglecting your most sacred duty; you will not be able to be justified before your conscience and before Him who entrusted those children to you so that you would show them the way to heaven!
“… Sadly, you cannot spare your children, that noble but as yet unhardened and unformed raw metal, from the hammer strokes of hatred of the faith, hatred of the Church. But the anvil also does its work in forming the metal: let your parental home, your parental love and loyalty, let your exemplary Christian life be the hard, tenacious, firm, immovable anvil, which parries the weight of the enemy’s blows, which continually strengthens the as yet weak power of the young people and confirms in them the holy will never to stray from the path that leads to God …”
In summary, therefore, Archbishop von Galen, known to history as “The Lion of Münster”, has the following messages for parents today:
- Firstly, our sacred duty, the goal of all our formative work as the primary educators of our children, is to show our children the way to heaven.
- Secondly, in carrying out our sacred duty, parents must be “tough” and “steadfast”. We must live exemplary Christian lives so that the formation of our children is like the “hard tenacious, immovable anvil” resisting the “hammer strokes” of false teachings outside our homes.
- Thirdly, we must keep a close eye on the “false teachings” that our children are hearing in school, what they are reading in the “new schoolbooks”, and what is being preached to them by teachers and in “libraries, bookshops, films and on television” as Katherine Bennett also reminds us.
The archbishop’s teaching was firmly rooted in the doctrine contained in Divini Illius Magistri, Pope Pius XI’s encyclical on the Christian education of youth, which has been described as the real “Magna Carta” of Christian education, “outside which,” Pius XI makes clear, “no education is complete and perfect” (DIM, 7).
Part two of this series will explore the teaching of Pope Pius XI more deeply.