M. Chagall, Paris Through the Window (1913),
Guggenheim Gallery, New York
To Educate in Christian perspective is to help
discover life as a gift provided by God the Father
What is, in the Christian perspective, to educate? What does it require in terms of projects and contents, attitudes and methods? In his Message to the Educational Communities, 2007, Cardinal Jorge M. Bergoglio outlines the Christian educational task as a commitment shared by all, which today a decided boost is required.
Educating in Christian perspective
To Educate in Christian perspective is to help discover life as a gift provided by God the Father. This includes learning and teaching on how to appreciate life as gift that promotes true freedom, which in turn is configured by love.
This task has an essentially Paschal character, because the risen Christ is the one who makes possible this fascinating task of promoting responsible freedoms, as a gift and a duty for everyone. Nowadays in which this duty faces especial difficulties and temptations of tiredness, we take into account the greeting of the risen Lord to his disciples: “Do not be afraid”; for indeed, the stone that was intended to obstruct the life and message of the son of God made flesh has been removed: the manifestation of God´s love which is light and full life for each person and for the world; and this demonstration continue throughout history through the family of God which is the Church.
Christian educative task is hopeful in a new humanity, according to the divine plan: “It is the hope that springs from Christian wisdom, which, in the risen Jesus, reveals the divine stature, to which we are called” (translations are mine).
An anthropology of transcendence
Jorge Bergoglio quoting Benedicto XVI says, Christian anthropology is an anthropology of transcendence (cf. “The human person, the heart of peace”, Message for the World Day of Peace, January 1st, 2007). It is -in an expression that comes from Cardinal Newman- a kind of natural "grammar" that emerges from the divine project, whereby we are not simply a part of the world but the culmination of the creation.
The argentinean Cardinal, today Pope Francis, writes: "Creation 'transcends' itself in man, image and likeness of God. Because man is not only Adam; he is Christ in first place, in whom all things were created, he is first in the divine plan".
He notes that, according to this, Christianity leads to a peculiar conception of what is "transcendence": Christian transcendence is not an area that it is "outside" the world, separated or above created things. Instead, “it consists in recognizing and living that true depth which is proper to creation”. And he clearly points out where it is found that depth: "The mystery of the incarnation is what marks the dividing line between the Christian transcendence and any form of spiritualism or Gnostic transcendentalism".
In that sense –says Cardenal Bergoglio- "what it is opposite to a transcendent conception of man would not be only an 'immanent' vision of him, but an 'irrelevant' one", i.e., a vision that has no importance or relevance. It is not a play on words, for when man loses its divine basis its existence becomes blurred, loses its basis, becomes a piece of a puzzle, a pawn of chess, a number of statistics or an insignificant element of a production process.
In this "anthropology of the meaninglessness"-which we daily see: boys or girls living in the streets, women enslaved, etc. – the sight of the infinite or transcendent dignity of the people is lost, that is to say, it is lost that dignity of man, of those who are related to Christ, to God himself; that which makes people not to be considered as mere numbers all of them equal to each other.
To create culture, with wisdom and responsibility
The fact that human dignity transcends the world does not mean its separation from nature-that would be "denatured-transcendence”-, it means instead to have the ability to create culture, not destroying nature, but asking ourselves about our participation in nature, with wisdom and responsibility. This should be reflected in education, teaching the meaning of science and technology, of production and consumption, of the body and sexuality, of transformation of the world, beyond the dictatorship of consumerism and image; the value of free giving, of time and job sharing, the diverse beauty of people.
Christian anthropology is also important regarding oneself, because of our constitutive openness towards others. And this is contrary to what has been called "competitive individualism", a resulting ideology from modernity in the West. Happiness of people includes others, it needs language, history, and community. So we should not accept a negative definition of freedom, such as "your freedom ends where that of the others begins". Rather, something else happens, "Freedom, from this point of view, says Jorge M. Bergoglio- does not end but it 'starts' where the 'others' begin. As all spiritual goods, the more shared they are the greater.
And this is reflected in the meaning of human work and human freedom, in that relationships with other people and with things: "What for do I want to build a world if I will be there alone in a luxury prison?". A positive conception of freedom leads to understanding people not as objects to possess, but as subjects to be promoted and to be loved, not because of their belongings, but because of what they are. According to the ideology, or rather the idolatry of the market, someone who has not material goods, does not exist and therefore is excluded and excludes himself or herself. The key of Christian anthropology goes in the opposite direction to that of this individualistic irrelevance, this competitive individualism. It has to do with citizenship, solidarity and ultimately love.
One carnal eye and one glass eye
Therefore, it is not enough to recognize a new ecological awareness that overcomes the deterministic reduction to the natural-biological aspect; it is not enough either to have a new humanistic consciousness and solidarity that opposes the individualistic and economic selfishness. We need to maintain the ability to dream. Bergoglio presents this with a plastic picture: "A Latin American writer said that we have two eyes, one carnal and one glass eye. With the carnal eye we look at what we see, with the glass eye we look at what we dream. "Well, this can only certainly happen through the freedom and openness of the faith that saves us from sclerosis and conformity, and at the same time frees us from relativism, to give everything we do a sense and a goal, in relation to the "personal and communal encounter with the God of love, even beyond death".
New attitudes, contents and methods
How to educate this new humanity that must begin in each school (one might also say, in every family)? Jorge Bergoglio notes that the last thing we should do as educators, is to entrench ourselves in lamentations: "Nor should we become “distrustful“ a priori (...) and congratulate ourselves in our closed world, our doctrinal clarity and our uncompromising defense of the truths ... defenses that will end up serving only for our own satisfaction”. We have to convince ourselves that things can change.
For this we must first convert, like Jonah, in order to stop running, and to be able to serve God's plans. Jonah´s thought on how God works and what He wants at all times was "too clear"; then God asked him to leave his safe and comfort zone and to go to the "periphery". “We too, suggests the Cardinal, should accept the risk of staging a new education, so that we could go out and meet those who are still inquiring about the meaning of life”.
In order to do so, he offers concrete guidelines: to give priority to non-quantifiable values such as friendship, personal encounter and sharing; to present the testimony of many who have dreamed of a different humanity, as "models" that allowed entire generations to keep their heads up and who became conspicuous for their virtues and happiness; to promote a "culture of transcendence and to, and to "awake dreams and hopes, helping them to mature and to prevail”.
Indeed, one might say now with Pope Francis: it is time for an education integrally human. At school this project can be undertaken with the collaboration between families and teachers. This project involves not only a review of the "contents" of education, but also and above all, of the dispositions and attitudes, first the ones of the educators. And this has to do with our expectations and horizons. This project involves, as we have seen, the methods. Jorge Bergoglio ends up talking about revaluing words: the word of the teachers, of youth, and especially revaluing the Word of God, through the practice and the teaching on prayer.