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Courage to Live a Tradition Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell, OMI   
Sunday, 27 October 2013

The well-known philosopher Robert Spaemann, referring to the failings in education in Germany, has argued that one could “lay the blame at the doors of destabilization and intimidation campaign that we have experienced in the last decade (1968-1978). This campaign was in many respects the continuation of the revolutionary cultural one that took place in German after 1933 that the National Socialist Student Union had already unleashed at the universities.”  

In a sort of parallel, at the time of the Palmer raids (1919), in New York City alone there were seventy-three district offices of the Communist Party. It goes without saying that they, too, carried out extensive student organizing. They may have proposed slightly different socialisms among themselves, but in values, methods and results they were all basically united. And just to be cover all the bases, the right’s reduction of things to the pursuit of profit has also had bad effects on education.

In both Germany and the United States, the normal expectation about education used to be “to have the child share in what we ourselves, those who are grown, consider good, beautiful, valuable, meaningful or useful.” (Spaemann) This was disrupted in Germany, however, by the a “intimidation campaign.” We have a similar phenomenon here. The mocking of values has become a regular ritual – the unreasoned “how can you believe that” approach that is supposed to stop analysis or the presentation of the truth, even before it gets started.

Spaemann recalls the “youth can only be led by youth” slogan of the thirties, which came back in the sixties and continues today in Germany and in America. Under this dispensation, young people aren’t introduced to a tradition. Whether it is the Hitler Youth being separated from their German traditions, or students at Columbia University hating the culture that paid for their studies, disconnecting the young from their traditions has created a sequence of “fatherless” generations.

Men and women from those generations, even thirty or forty years later, are still fatherless. Whether they are university professors passing on the counterfeit currency of their radical years, or people at conferences speaking of the Church as if it did not exist until they walked into the room. The perpetually juvenile mentality created by denying the past means they can only pass on how to be disconnected and homeless. What a putrid gift to the young. Here’s how you can be fatherless too! “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?” (Luke 11:11-12)

Spaemann does not refer to the ubiquitous commercial component of this ideology. The media have opened a vast new arena for reaching young people and selling them products, services, and materialist values. All of these are tied to the present moment (“new,” “latest”) and so by their very nature bypass what parents might be trying to do for their still unformed offspring.

                       Robert Spaemann

In Spaemann’s view, education is “for the most part, a side effect of living together, of intimacy with one another in the family, a side effect also of school instruction.” We seek being at home in the midst of all of these relationships in a deeply human and humane sense. The young are thus embedded into the matrix of time so that they too might have a complete humanity, or as he puts it “the identity of a civilization.”

The return of the Prodigal Son, when it is not understood as a merely individual instance, involves the son’s return to his ancestral home. At home he is connected to his father and mother and the rest of his family.

That temporal connectedness is a profoundly human characteristic. It is the “fundamental assent to reality.” It is the rejection of arbitrariness, of “neopagan barbarism.” Recognizing the debt owed to the temporal nature of the human being is an essential part of a real education.. Tradition is not a dirty word. It is tradition that brings the human being to full stature in the temporal realm.

The tradition, inspired by the Spirit, also forms the Church, even though many Catholics rejected it in the 1500s during the so-called Reformation. It is the reason that we read Scripture from within the tradition. As Vatican II said: “there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture.”

The Church does its part to protect and defend the temporality of human beings. Along with passing on the truth of Scripture and tradition, there is a need for “fathering” in the Church. The father of a family helps his children find their place in time. A mother does this through maternal relationships. The priest “fathers” a parish depending on how richly the fathering of tradition is part of his own natural gifts and training.

In our time, the arbitrariness and paganism of anti-traditionalism seeks to sweep all this away. It takes courage and dedication to stand against this pressure, to make tradition and our full humanity truly present.

Fr. Bevil Bramwell is retired, a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. He has published Laity: Beautiful, Good and True and The World of the Sacraments.
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Comments (11)Add Comment
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, October 27, 2013
The problem with education today - whether it is carried out in government operated schools, by some private entity or by the Church - is that all have adopted the secular paradigm for education. I continue to take issue with far too many Catholic schools that seem ignorant of what I believe the true mission of Catholic schools should be: preparing young minds for the work of the Church which is to evangelize the culture. In this sense, education is not at all distinct from other aspects of what it means to be Catholic - whether it be that which pertains to family life, community life, engagement in the political arena, etc. One the problems for Catholics in America is that we in fact have been far too successful in integrating into the larger secular culture and have pretty much lost sight of what our mission is in the world.

We are building a new Catholic high school in our diocese and every time some fundraising blurb comes out, I search in vain for any mention of how this Catholic school will educate its students to become effective evangelizers for Christ. I just look at it as an expensive private school with a cross affixed to the facade.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, October 27, 2013
Ever since the French Revolution, the leading schools of history have taught us that the past was an unbroken record of the defeat and frustration of freedom, bequeathing us nothing but tyranny and slavery as an inheritance. Small wonder, then, that the mass of people came to believe that the future would be unlike the past, that it would be better, and that the experience of ages may instruct and warn, but cannot guide or control.
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, October 27, 2013
Good point Deacon.
Yes Michael. Ignorance of history cuts us off from the roots that establish the meaning of our lives. The Church's protection of tradition is not off base at all.
written by Rich in MN, October 27, 2013
I had to laugh last night. I was channel surfing and was checking out the "Producing Better Socialists" (or "PBS") network to see what was on. (Maybe I could watch Bill Moyers talking about the evils of Capitalism and "fundamentalist" Christianity, or that guy with all the ear piercings talking about the wonderful gay lifestyle, or Wayne Dyer and Deepak Chopra talking about eastern spirituality, or a POV program on the evils of the Catholic Church. After all, it does not get any more unbiasedly "public" than that! Anyways, I doth digress....) They were advertising their upcoming "American Masters" profile on Jimi Hendrix and they described Hendrix as the most influential musician of the 20th Century. It was all I could do to stop the knee-jerk reaction of saying, "OH, REALLY???"
written by Briana, October 27, 2013
I can relate. This past week, I stumbled across an article online with the premise that teaching teenagers to be chaste (particularly teenage girls) increases the risk of said teenaged girls being raped later in life. I commented that this is not the case at all, that the Church is against rape, talked about the good things that can come from chastity, etc. And I got bombarded with all sorts of ad-hominem attacks! "You're stupid! You're ignorant!" As if Catholics are somehow not allowed to have intellects. It was quite frustrating.
written by Mack Hall, HSG, October 27, 2013
Yes, but did any of you vote in your last school board election?
written by Chris in Maryland, October 27, 2013
Fr. Bramwell:

What a superb essay. I especially love the line: "The perpetually juvenile mentality created by denying the past...."

As Catholic Dioceses increasingly collaborate with the federal Dept of Education (our parish is a federal "Blue Ribbon School," and the bulletin sings the praise of pro-abortion Sonya Sotamayor as one of the great products of "Catholic" schools), and the "catholic education establishment" in the USA prepares to cooperate with the "federal core curriculum" in exchange for their "30 pieces of silver, I am drawn to find a way to educate my poor children in a classical mode, lest their souls whither and die in the emerging "counterfeit Catholicism" of "progress."
written by Bangwell Putt, October 27, 2013
In his "Basic Moral Concepts" Dr. Spaemann has a chapter entitled, "Education". It is very fine but does not contain the passages quoted in this article.

I request that Fr. Bramwell kindly post his source for these quotations and thank him for this article and the photograph of Dr. Spaemann.
written by schm0e, October 27, 2013
I gather from this that the war on fathers and fatherhood that I have had the pleasure of enduring in my lifetime is not merely a temporal one.
written by Fr. Bevil Bramwell OMI, October 27, 2013
The Courage to Educate is a 1978 paper of his republished in Communio Spring 2013.
written by Beth, October 30, 2013
Chris in Maryland: Homeschool. Mother of Divine Grace. Classical Curriculum centered around Goodness, Truth and Beauty.

Thank you, Fr. Bramwell for this article.

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