Vatican II’s Declaration on Christian Education

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican is known for producing several documents on various aspects of the Church and Christian life. In total, there are sixteen documents, among which is the Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum educationis, promulgated in October 1965.

In a study and discussion guide on the declaration, Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee states: “This is the seminal document for all subsequent documents on Catholic education, whether considering that topic in general or considering Catholic schools, in particular.” Thus, it is a crucial text for anyone involved in Catholic education.

Universal Right to Education
The Declaration notes: “the circumstances of our time have made it easier and at once more urgent to educate young people and, what is more, to continue the education of adults.”

Illiteracy was common across the world just a few generations ago, particularly in pre-industrial societies where the majority lived as subsistence farmers. As demographic researcher William Hung writes, the pioneers of Singapore were mainly “peasants, jungle villagers and manual labourers from southern China, the Malay peninsula and the Indian subcontinent. Many of them were illiterate and yet their grandsons and granddaughters built the most modern city in Southeast Asia.”

Today, however, the skills of reading and writing (or at least typing) are necessary for survival, where smartphones are widely considered a necessity to function as a member of society. With knowledge-based economies, adults must regularly upskill to stay relevant in their professions. For example, teachers usually spend school holidays attending training seminars. Lifelong education is vital for personal and professional growth.

The Goal of Education
The Declaration continues: “All men of every race, condition and age, since they enjoy the dignity of a human being, have an inalienable right to an education that is in keeping with their ultimate goal… For a true education aims at the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as man, he is a member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share.”

The Vatican Council promoted holistic education, where children and youth may “develop harmoniously their physical, moral and intellectual endowments”. Indeed, as we are body and soul united, and are members of the Body of Christ as well as the general community, it is critical to receive basic human formation as well as spiritual formation in order to flourish. Those who neglect one aspect of their education will find themselves developmentally lopsided.

Parents as Primary Educators
The Council averred: “Since parents have given children their life, they are bound by the most serious obligation to educate their offspring and therefore must be recognised as the primary and principal educators.”

In today’s busy, hyperconnected world, it can be difficult for overworked parents to uphold this responsibility. It can be tempting to leave it all to schoolteachers and tutors. However, children learn best when their parents model to them the importance and joy of learning. Taking the time and effort to teach your child also enables you to have quality time bonding over beloved books or educational puzzles and games. Even if you are not naturally adept at the subject, the mere effort of trying to find answers with your child will demonstrate how much you cherish your offspring, setting aside your own pursuits to help him. It also teaches the child that we ought to do our best, even though it may not be perfect.

Gravissimum educationis goes on to extol the importance of schools in partnering with parents to educate their children. The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of education in the world, with many mission schools founded for the purpose of lifting children and their families out of poverty, besides introducing them to the Gospel. The Declaration exhorts young adults to consider the noble profession of teaching, passing on the treasures of the faith and the wonders of human knowledge to future generations.