The goal of education: Archbishop von Galen’s championship of Catholic teaching
By John Smeaton | 25 January 2023
This is the second in a 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. This series began on 18 January 2023 with The goal of education: A timeless message for parents from the Lion of Münster.
The great episcopal champion of the sacred right of parents to resist “false teachings and morals” was Archbishop von Galen. His guidance to parents was firmly rooted in the doctrines contained in Divini Illius Magistri, Pope Pius XI’s 1929 encyclical letter on Christian education.
The Lion of Münster, as he became known, vigilantly monitored the incursions of the Nazi authorities into religious instruction in Catholic schools in his diocese. Fr Daniel Utrecht writes in his excellent biography of Archbishop (later Cardinal) von Galen that, on 22 January 1939, he wrote to warn Cardinal Bertram, chairman of the German Episcopal Conference, about plans under way to establish an “anti-Christian-Jewish” educational curriculum, saying:
“If things continue in this way, Christian parents will eventually be obliged in conscience to keep their children away from school in order to protect them from a loss of faith.”1
A month later, in a last-ditch effort to save Catholic schools, the archbishop published a pastoral letter, to be read at all Masses on 26 February 1939, in which he stressed that the state must respect the natural right of the Church and of parents to see that their children receive a Christian education — a principle set forth in Divini Illius Magistri. In a dramatic gesture, worthy of the Lion of Münster, the reading of the pastoral letter was followed by a show of hands by all the adults in each church as to whether they desired to keep Catholic confessional schools.
Fr Utrecht explains what happened next:
“After the totals had been communicated to his chancery, the bishop wrote letters to various government officials, including Adolf Hitler himself. In his letter to Hitler, dated 8 March 1939, he stressed his duty to work against any danger to the German state…”2
According to von Galen, the closing of confessional schools against the wishes of loyal German citizens was just such a danger. In boldly asserting this position, the archbishop was being completely true to the teaching of Divini Illius Magistri.
Again and again in his encyclical, Pope Pius XI emphasises that, in the matter of education, as with all human conduct, there can be no conflict between Christian education and being a good citizen of one’s country:
“It is therefore as important to make no mistake in education … since education consists essentially in preparing man for what he must be and for what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created… we see the supreme importance of Christian education, not merely for each individual, but for families and for the whole of human society, whose perfection comes from the perfection of the elements that compose it.”3
Pope Pius XI declares that his teaching is based on the “solid and immovable foundation” of “our predecessor Leo XIII” who, in his turn, in Sapientiae Christianae, an encyclical on Christians as citizens, writes:
“If in their early years they find within the walls of their homes the rule of an upright life and the discipline of Christian virtues, the future welfare of society will in great measure be guaranteed.”4
Pope Pius XI repeatedly emphasises Pope Leo XIII’s teaching by citing earlier ecclesiastical authors, such as Tertullian in the early third century:
“Let those who declare the teaching of Christ to be opposed to the welfare of the state, furnish us with an army of soldiers such as Christ says soldiers ought to be; let them give us subjects, husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, servants, kings, judges, taxpayers and tax gatherers who live up to the teachings of Christ; and then let them dare assert that Christian doctrine is harmful to the state. Rather let them not hesitate one moment to acclaim that doctrine, rightly observed, the greatest safeguard of the state.”5
Returning to the Lion of Munster and his letter to Hitler regarding the “anti-Christian-Jewish” educational curriculum being forced on Catholic schools, Fr Utrecht writes:
“He informed Hitler of the opportunity he had given to his people to indicate their wishes on the question of Catholic schools, as Cardinal Schulte of Cologne had done earlier. Then he gave the results: ‘On Sunday, 26 February 1939, 824,122 adults were in church for the morning Masses in the Diocese of Münster. Of these, 813,471 indicated their support for Catholic confessional schools for the education of the young by raising their hand: expressed as a percentage, that comes to 98.70% of those in church.”6
Leadership of the kind given by the Lion of Munster is badly needed in the Church today. The “spiritual onslaught” of gender ideology in Catholic schools, described in the first part of this series, certainly constitutes a danger to “the whole of human society” the term used frequently by Pope Pius XI in Divini Illius Magistri to refer to the state. However, much more importantly, gender ideology endangers the souls of young people.
Part three of this series will look at how the teaching of gender ideology threatens the “peace and happiness of eternity”7 of the young people whom it targets
- Daniel Utrecht, The Lion of Munster: The Bishop Who Roared Against the Nazis (TAN, 2016), p 180.
- Ibid, p 186.
- Pius XI, encyclical Divini Illius Magistri (1929), §7–8.
- Leo XIII, encyclical Sapientiae Christianae (1890), §42.
- Pius XI, §53.
- Daniel Utrecht, p 186.
- Pius XI, §54.