Education is either religious or is not education at all (Antonio Rosmini)

There is a story in the life of St. Philip Neri which goes like this. A young man presented himself to him, soon after Mass, and said to St. Philip: “Father Philip I am pleased to tell you that I have now qualified as a doctor”. “Congratulations, my son, and well done. What will you be doing now?” “I will open a surgery somewhere here in Rome and begin my active life as a doctor”. “And then?” “Then, I think, after a few years, I will be in a position of buying my own house, get married, and have children”. “Very well, my son, and then?” “Then, after the children have grown up, I will retire with my wife in a nice estate, for my old age”. “And then?” “Then, Fr Philip, I think that, like everyone else, I will die!” “And then?”, said again St. Philip, with a smile on his face, “And then?”. The young man understood, and never forgot the lesson!

In a sense, this story, is a little comment on JESUS’ own words: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, if he loses his soul?”. What is the meaning of our life here on earth? When people wish to climb a mountain, it is important for them to keep on looking to the summit, to make sure that they are not going to get lost on the journey. “Respice Finem”: Look to the end, if you wish to understand the present, if you wish to direct your life to its beautiful, everlasting end.

Rosmini believed that faith and reason are the two wings which lift man up towards its end. Both wings are necessary. We cannot understand life without looking to the end, without God, who alone can provide the full meaning of our present life, and of our death. Philosophy, lead by reason, needs God to reach a full explanation of all its problems. Reason can go, unaided, only for a while on the journey; it then reaches a point which opens up in two opposite directions: either to abysmal despair and scepticism or to God as the only intelligent, rational, joyful solution to all great last questions in philosophy.

Education, for Rosmini, cannot be properly directed and accomplished without God. Education is centred on the person, on the betterment of the person, and of his will in particular. It has to be distinguished from training or the learning of various skills. A good doctor may well be a rotten individual whose moral life is utterly evil; a good player may well have a will constantly inclined to evil. Rosmini distinguishes in man the person from his nature. Education, often, in our modern world, is simply “training”, acquisition of skills, development of natural talents, with no regard for the moral openness to truth and the betterment of the will. Even Nations pursue this false concept of education, with little regard for the betterment of the will. Morality, goodness, and perfection have to do with the person; hence, education has to do with making the will good, with drawing children to beauty, truth, love, and, ultimately, to God, the source of all goodness and truth.