The Third Annual Catholic Congress: Addresses and Papers
Albany, New York, October 25, 26, 27, A.D. 1927
Philadelphia: The Catholic Congress Committee, 1927.
The Church and Education
PRESIDENT KENNETH C. M. SILLS, LL.D.
Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine
THE American people as a whole are frankly more interested in education than they are in the church. "What shall I do to be saved?" "Repent and be baptized," said Philip. "Go to Church," said the medievalist. "Go to the public school," says the American of the day. Only last week I read an address by the Dean of the Harvard Law School, a very eminent scholar, in which he endeavored to point out that organized education was taking the place of organized religion as a factor in binding, not only the people of this country, but the people of other countries together. Not so many years ago a brilliant essayist wrote that the faith of the American in the efficacy of public education was as fervent as the faith of the medievalist in the efficacy of the Church. In other words, if a boy or girl succeeded in going through the high school the very process would work in itself a magical sort of transformation.
Now, such interest and such faith in education is a very wonderful thing; it has great spiritual possibilities. Unintelligent as in some of its phases it undoubtedly is, it is an indication of an almost pathetic desire to improve the standards and conditions of life and to secure for the coming generations the advantages that the present has not enjoyed. Such a desire is by no means confined to material things, or associated purely with material success. [124/125] One who has occasion to see very often at first hand something of the sacrifices of parents and elder brothers and sisters for the education of others, realizes that often that ambition is wholly laudatory, concerned very largely with the higher things of life. In a word, although the Church often ignores it, the great interest of the American people in education is not without profound religious significance. It needs only to be diverted into the proper channels to be rightly interpreted, to be supplemented by emphasis on the equal necessity of religious training in order that it may become an asset and an ideal of incalculable value. If we could only inculcate in the public mind and heart an equally strong belief that knowledge is not to be confused with wisdom, that training without emphasis on character is dangerous, that education in a Christian democracy must have religion as its inseparable companion; we might be able to get to the heart of the problem. How this can be done has been endlessly and it must be admitted often fruitlessly discussed. Perhaps I shall add that latter adverb today. And yet if we recall some fundamental principles we may proceed with more clarity. By and large the Church does not succeed very well when it invades the field of secular education; nor does the school do much better when it tries to teach religion. Under the American Constitution, of course, there is and must be complete separation of Church and state. Consequently, it is impossible that our public schools should in any way take the place of the Church or should be concerned with the teaching of religion. Nevertheless, Education without religion is a menace to civilization, and it is, I think, by the sober educational leaders of this country today so regarded. Constitutional objections waived, there are many grave objections to teaching religion in the public school. Either such instruction would [125/126] have to be so definite as to make the school a place of propaganda for various forms of religious faith, or so indefinite as to be without value. The Church makes a great mistake when it refuses to recognize the public school as its ally. The public school is often called the melting pot. More properly it is the alchemist's bowl, for the changes and transformation it effects are often marvelous. Such changes could not so constantly take place if there were anything fundamentally wrong with the public schools. Nor could they take place if the school were antagonistic to religion. We should, I think, keep clearly in mind that the functions of Church and school are not opposed to one another but complementary. There is very little irreverence in our public schools. The great majority, I believe, of American public school teachers are earnest, God-fearing people. Let us not forget also that in a very large majority of cases the public school furnishes the intelligence on which the Church must build.
But how shall it build? That is the question. In the first place, it should be more clearly recognized than it is that youth needs the Church even more than the Church needs youth. In too many circles, ecclesiastical and others, we have been wondering what the Church will do without youth, while it is much more important to wonder what youth will do without the Church.
Last evening in Boston I heard the Provincial Secretary of the First Province make the statement that a very careful study of religious education in this country shows that at the present time seven out of every ten American children are getting no religious instruction or education of any sort, and that the three out of ten who are so receiving instruction include those in the parochial schools as well as in the Protestant Sunday Schools and in Church Schools of every form. Seven out of ten children [126/127] in this country growing up without any form of religious education, and we often say, "What is our Church going to do without the young people?"
Is it not well that we should put the emphasis on the other side and wonder what youth is going to do without the discipline and the learning that comes and should come from the Church?
Now, youth, to be sure, has never been greatly interested in the Church and I don't think it is greatly interested in the Church today. Youth is, however, not indifferent to religion, although I believe we should face the fact frankly that youth is very often indifferent to organized religion. I have recently had occasion to see some essays written by typical undergraduates on the question—what do I think of the Bible? I realize the futility of partial quotation; but I should like to read to you a few sentences from these essays because they come from youth itself, and are significant because of their complete candor. "From observation," one young man writes, "I have gathered that the average young person has other things to comfort him, his hopes, ambitions and his loves; it is only when these are killed or in the past and he himself is getting along in years that he turns to the Bible and to the Church. Human nature being what it is, it must always have something to lean on." Another boy writes, "I cannot help feeling that my case is that of several millions of people who go through their everyday lives influenced both in their ideas and conversations by this wonderful book and yet, having but a hazy knowledge of it. It may be wrong, but I think it is not natural for an average young person to think much about the Bible. It is there as a standard and a guide to follow and cherish as one would the flag . . . yet I know that if it were threatened I would fight for it in a blind sort of way and rather die than [127/128] give up my religion of which it is the basis. So I shall go on thinking of it as one does a familiar loved person, only when you or they are in trouble—and then passionately." These expressions of opinion from two very ordinary undergraduates I cite here to show that youth today in its thinking about religion and the Church can rather easily be brought to a realization of the service which the Church can render to youth if the approach is made in the right way.
For surely, all of us here would agree and I think the great majority of clear-thinking people would agree that youth needs today as it always has needed some sort of spiritual discipline and in this age of individualism and of lack of reverence for authority such discipline is at least as salutary as in the past. Ideally the young person may think, as too often he does think, that he can be religious without association with others. Practically, as I presume nearly everyone in this room would agree, that is impossible; and if, as an individual youth feels that he really has a deep religious spirit, that spirit is almost bound to expand as it is associated with others. But it does small good to scold youth because he believes that he can seek and find God in nature, in music, in art, in beauty. He must be taught not to confuse means with the end, nor roads with the goal.
After all, human nature is a pretty constant factor. On the surface, of course, there are from generation to generation differences that seem more important than they really are. Youth today is more frank, more free, more sure of itself than ever. American youth comes from Missouri and in religion as in morals and as in nearly every other phase of life it wants to be shown. Youth today wants to be shown rather than to be taught, and there is rather an important difference in those methods. But youth like age, needs to exercise the mystery of worship [128/129] and today as in the centuries past the best means of such nurture is through the Church. But to enlist the support of youth the Church must demonstrate that youth needs the Church and that youth will be better for contact with the Church, and must demonstrate in such a way that youth will see and understand.
When we come to definite ways and means of providing religious education, we must start with the promise that the responsibility rests upon the Church and with the frank facing of facts that probably, in the Episcopal Church at least, our weakest point is dealing with the religious training of the young. Seven out of ten American boys and girls without any form of religious instruction in home or church! Personally, I believe there is good ground for hope in the religious day school, although I realize full well that the whole matter is still one for earnest debate and discussion. That movement seems to me actually to make the work of religious instruction complimentary to that given in other subjects in the public school. The plan of church schools meeting one hour a week under the auspices of the various churches at a time given by the public school gives a place in our system of education to religion; makes the Church pay more attention to the need of providing better teachers; more important still, makes the children realize that the community, the public, is interested in religious education; and is in itself a community symbol of such interest. One point here I think needs special emphasis; and that is that most of the responsibility must rest with the clergy. I know of one priest who has most successfully conducted such a school for the last three or four years past. He realizes that it requires much sacrifice of time and effort and is very confining; but he tells me that no part of his parochial duty brings better results; and that other duties may well be subordinated, especially if he [129/130] looks forward twenty-five or thirty years into the future. Of course, this whole plan is still experimental; in many places there are legal and practical difficulties to be overcome. To some people it seems like a dodging of responsibility on the part of the Church, if we cannot get our young people without asking the public school to let us have part of the time given to schools, but, as I have said, it seems to me rather a sensible device for having a community get behind religious instruction, and better still in principle it conforms to the American way of doing things.
When we pass to a consideration of the private and church schools we have a different problem. Here again we must keep constantly in mind certain fundamental facts in our system of government—facts on which most of our greatness as a country depends. In providing a system of public education we do not preclude parents from sending their children to other schools if they so desire. The attempts in certain States to get rid of the parochial school always seem to me thoroughly vicious and un-American. The State has an inherent right to compel children to receive a certain amount of training in school; that is in the interests of democracy. It has a right also to make certain regulations requiring, for example, that all children should be taught English and the principles of the American Constitution in the interests of patriotism and of proper Americanism. The State can also insist upon instruction along certain ethical lines, but I think their experiments so far have not been crowned with great success. Otherwise the private school has rights of its own and ought to have a clear field.
But neither private nor parochial schools have any right to ask for any aid from the State or city. If the great Roman Catholic Church, for example, or any other church desires to support schools for the instruction of its [130/131] children it has a perfect right to do so, and it may be performing and in many cases it is performing a very real community service by so doing. But except in those schools over which the State has complete direction and control, it is not logical nor right nor wise to demand or to expect aid. The State should within proper limits give the church school freedom, and church schools of all kinds should keep hands absolutely off the treasury of the State.
So far as our own Communion is concerned, there are many excellent schools conducted under Church auspices. It is no slight contribution that the Episcopal Church has made to American education, through such schools as St. Mark's, Groton, St. Paul's, St. George's and the Kent School, to mention only those in one part of the country alone. Such schools rightly appeal to very many of our own people. They have done much to nurture proper churchly feeling. They also show the community which they serve some of the lovely fruits of church discipline and church influence on youth. It is an interesting educational fact that our Church has found a very special field in the private school for boys. These are very excellent schools, but it should be remembered that they reach a very limited class of people. I have been told that in one of the largest endowed schools of the United States, not more than three-tenths of one per cent of the school population came from the homes of working men. I presume the percentage in our church schools is even smaller. Personally, I believe that our church schools would all do better work if they enlarged their constituency.
I am not going to speak of our Church colleges, for Dr. Bell is here and will speak for them, no doubt, himself. But I do ask in their behalf your interest and your sympathy; for the Church colleges for a long time in this [131/132] country have been distinguished for graduating men of real culture and they are the homes of much, and very often high, scholarship.
When we turn to the colleges and universities of the land we all recognize at once that they are places of great strategic importance to the Church. Here again as in the place of the public schools we should not make the mistake of thinking the American college is a den of iniquity where irreligion flourishes. Colleges are sometimes called homes of paganism, places where faith is lost. But in my experience the college, the American college, is vitally interested in the religious life of the students.
Every college that I know of is eager for the cooperation of the Church, and the American undergraduate is by no means without interest in religion, although I think it is true that he has no very great interest in organized religion. I agree heartily with the recent statement that it is doubtful if there is anywhere in America, more idealism than is found among our student population at the present time, and I say this because I have no patience or sympathy with those people who think the younger generation is going to the dogs.
It is our problem how to build on that interest and idealism. More and more I am coming to the belief that there is no better way to do this than by having in every college community a strong college pastor. Conferences and clubs and visitations are all very well and no doubt do some good. There is altogether too much organization in our college life as in American life in general—too many societies—too many clubs. Life is far too busy and far too over-organized. The college student needs the Church for exactly the same reasons we all need it. Some boys want very definite things from the Church, the Faith, the Creed, the Sacraments, the Worship to which they can cling. Others are influenced at that particular [132/133] time of life by the ideal of Christian service. It is a mistake to treat the college student as a type, not as an individual.
In addition to seeing to it that the priests that deal with college students are strong men with a real sympathy for youth and for their problems, there are certain other definite things that as Churchmen we can do to retain the loyalty of our Church boys and Church girls. In the first place, our young people should be so soundly and so liberally trained in the foundations of the Church's faith that the transition from school to college and the varying attitude there should be easy and natural. Some of the doubts and difficulties should be anticipated. It is very often, not, of course, always, but very often the fault of the Church and not of the college when faith is upset by the experiences so many boys and girls have to go through.
Secondly, clergy and laity alike should try to keep more in touch with the religious life of boys and girls at college. Friendly interest on the part of laymen and laywomen can do much. If a Church boy at home for his vacation is asked all manner of questions about his college life without a hint that Church people take the slightest interest in his Church relations, is it any wonder that the college boy should feel that after all religion is not of any particular importance? When boys come back to your parish after having been in college how many of you right here in this room ever ask them a single word about their religious life or the Church in their college town?
May I, in conclusion, call your attention to the great need also, the perennial need of better training for the Christian ministry. Speaking generally, I suppose it is true that in many communities the clergy have of late years been losing the intellectual and civic leadership which [133/134] they exercised in earlier generations. The Church will sink to a second or third rate position if it does not continually emphasize the necessity of a well trained ministry. In the complexity of modern social conditions we sometimes hear lamentations because the family physician, the Red Cross nurse, the social worker have assumed many of the duties and privileges which in old times belonged to the clergy. But that very fact is a challenge to the Church. We must as a Church train candidates for the ministry so that they shall be better able to meet the intellectual and social problems of our day. We ought to strive, all of us, to make the theological seminary in every respect equal to other graduate schools—graduate schools in law, in medicine, in business administration, in every respect equal both professionally and in the regard of the public. It is a sad fact that we always have had with us the lament that the strongest men in any of our colleges very seldom seek the ministry. If you want a concrete example of that go to one of our great universities and observe there the boys who are studying law or medicine or business, and then go and observe those who are studying theology. I think there is some ground of hope. This summer at Lausanne where I happened to see representatives of three of our theological seminaries, Alexandria, Cambridge and the General, all three told me in the last half dozen years the quality of men going into the ministry was constantly improving. I think that is hopeful. But what I am pleading for is to have more of a public interest in our seminaries and more of an interest on the part of the ordinary layman and laywoman in the work that the seminaries are doing. Some of the leaders of the Church, notably bishops, have seen that one remedy for a better ministry, I am speaking simply of the ministry, now, on the intellectual side, lies in the strengthening of the seminary. Another remedy, [134/135] it seems to me, lies in the agitation to put scholarship aid in our seminaries on a better basis. Men ought not to be encouraged to go to theological seminaries simply by the promise of large scholarships. Such aid should be given as in other professional schools, only after satisfactory scholastic performance. There is no real parallel between the customary scholarship aid now given in the seminaries and in the maintenance by our government of cadets at West Point and Annapolis. If the General Church had the power to send graduates of our seminaries wherever the needs of the Church were the greatest, it might be entirely logical to supply the most generous scholarship aid. But that is not the case today.
Another point to emphasize is the need, as Dr. Vernon has said today and before today in this Congress, of paying more attention to the nurture of scholarship and the training of professors and teachers for our seminaries. The American Church, with some very notable exceptions, is woefully weak in productive scholarship. Outside of the seminaries where much excellent scholarly work is being done, there are very few men in the Church who are devoting even a small portion of their time to scholarship. That is not their fault, but the fault of the Church in not providing better means for a few scholars to live the scholarly life. Now, in these days of intellectual uncertainty the Church cannot hold its own without scholarly leadership. We must not only have bishops, priests and deacons doing the work of the Church on the streets and in the busy market places, the pastors and ministers of souls; but we must also have, if the Church is to attain the full strength that we all desire, scholars and writers studying the problems of the day, training and inspiring the younger clergy, supplying the energy and the ideas and the interpretations that keep the Church alive. What would the Church have been in the past [135/136] without a St. Paul, a St. Chrysostrom, a St. Jerome, a St. Augustine, a St. Thomas Aquinas, a Pusey or a Wordsworth. At the great world conference at Lausanne last August I was very greatly impressed with the scholarship and intellectual leadership of the delegation from the Church of England. Such men as Bishop Gore, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr. Temple, the Bishop of Gloucester, Dr. Headlam, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. D'Arcy, are recognized throughout the Christian world not only as being great administrators, but as being real scholars. And, of course, I suppose for a few years yet we can turn to the mother Church in England for such intellectual leadership. Yet it is high time we were girding our loins and doing our own work and contributing to the great cause of Christian scholarship ourselves more fully than as a Church we are now doing.
In conclusion, let me picture what would be gained for the Church if we all should keep clearly in mind these very simple principles on which are based the proper relations between the Church and Education as one layman conceives them. Religious education is complimentary to secular education. In this as other phases of life there should be clear separation of State and Church. When the American people come to realize that they owe as much to the Church for the religious instruction of their children as to the State for their secular education, and display as much interest in such religious education as they do in the work of the public schools, there need be no fear of their land being cursed with an irreligious generation. We should strengthen our Church schools and colleges by making sure that more of their privileges are open to boys and girls from the homes of limited means. As a Church we should all of us, laity and clergy alike, take more interest in the work of our theological schools and seminaries and especially realize the vital importance [136/137] to a living church of furthering scholarship and sound and Godly learning. Above all, we should emphasize education so that the Church may speak to the heedless generation of our own times in terms of authority, the authority not that of the scribes, but of the Master Himself. For the Church, thrilling with life and zeal, awake not only socially and ecclesiastically, but intellectually, will go forward with renewed power; and allying itself with those forces that make for a right education will again, as in the past, redeem the times.
At the request of Dr. Bell, his address on "The Church, the College Student and Morals" is not included in this Report, since it is to appear shortly as an article in one of the magazines.