This article is an extract from a letter sent in October 1993 to Augustinians involved in education. The author was by Fr Miguel Angel Orcasitas O.S.A. who then was Prior General of the Order of St Augustine and who in 2013 is Provincial of the Espana Province, Spain.
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The specific purpose of our schools is the Christian formation and education of the students. It follows that this apostolate should always be regarded as an essentially pastoral activity, so that we teach the truth with love, and the students acquire, along with a human and scientific culture, a knowledge of the world, of life, and of humanity that is enlightened by faith.” (Constitutions of the Order of Saint Augustine, n. 179)
In using the term education, we speak of a global reality that embraces the whole person and involves the entire educational community. As a global reality it contributes to the development of the multiple dimensions of the human personality. In other words, an education which transmits culture in an honest way, does not neglect the substance of the faith and, as well as that, awakens social responsibility.
In order to make clear the Augustinian purpose in the educational field, it is necessary to have a community that radiates our spirit with its whole heart. Thus education is imparted by the activity of a community which professes and proclaims certain specific values. This community has as its inspiration the bountiful wellspring of Augustine. This is the nourishing source and, at the same time, the ultimate horizon of our education.
The Teacher Within
In contrast to a directive teaching style, which would foster passivity and dependence, St. Augustine imagined the human being as a seed capable of development. “God would like to sow in every soul the seeds of intelligence, of wisdom” (Serm.l17,11). The function of the external master (parents, educators…) must be to channel the release of this hidden potential. That intimate place, which is made up of feelings, restlessness, and search, is precisely where St. Augustine locates the encounter with God (Ena.74,9).
Features of an Augustinian School
As Augustinians, we must offer to society the characteristic features of the Augustinian School, its inspiration and its approach. Teaching communities in different countries are involved in this task today. It would be an enrichment to have a fraternal exchange of those texts which are used as material for study, as well as of the experiences which are born of their application in the classrooms.
Five main features of an Augustinian education are:
1 A COMMITMENT TO LOVE. The process of humanization operates through LOVE, the most profound power of human nature (In Epist.Jo.2,141). St. Augustine describes it in metaphorical language: “God has built a stairway in your heart for you to climb. The more you love, the higher you climb” (8na.83,10). To train in and for LOVE brings us to other central ideas of Augustinian thought. One trains in love by bringing the human person to identify with his own self – INTERIORITY – so that from its depths “one withdraws into oneself and remains apart in the embrace of one’s own being” (De ordine 1,1,3). To train for LOVE leads to COMMUNITY and SOLIDARITY. A love which does not result in sharing freely is a lifeless love.
2 A RESTLESS SEARCH. Whoever carries in the centre of his life the supports of love and of sharing, changes his personal history into a restless search (“We walk behind that which we seek and our search goes in pursuit of our love”: In Epist.ad Gal.54). Love, in the graphic phrase of St. Augustine, is “a restless flame” (Ennar.31,2,5).
3 TRUTH . Another central idea in Augustinian thought is TRUTH. Far from St. Augustine, however, is any cold or static concept of truth. He understands it as a sharing (Ena. 103,2,1 1 ), dwelling in the depths (“springing up from the humble sources in the valley” Serm.104,2,3) and includes INTERIORITY (“One rejects truth when one lives in distraction or dispersal”. (De beata vita,2,9).
Fidelity to the TRUTH – which includes God, humanity itself, life, history in a process of change – the understanding of reality demands new analyses and new syntheses. Fundamentally however, TRUTH is a commitment to live it out rather than merely to discover or speak it: “It is of little value to speak the truth with the lips and not with the heart” (Ena.14,3).
In this time of pessimism, the best service that the Augustinian School can render to the new commitment of the Christian community to bring the good news to humanity is a crystal-clear statement of values. The immediate and reflex effect of this effort will be a renewed Augustinian School, a healthy ferment in the midst of the human family.
4 COMMUNITY. At the heart of the Augustinian School is located the community. No ministry eliminates the basic equality of all the baptised. “All of you form only one family and we, in the end, are only the providers who belong to that same family” (Serm. 101,39). The only Lord and Master of the community is Jesus Christ. Perhaps there are still some of our Centres that need to take that first step: to turn themselves into genuine educational communities. A school of this kind can be brought about only if teachers, parents, and students, are united in one and the same approach to education.
5 PARTICIPATION AND SHARED RESPONSIBILITY. We have a large number of qualified lay people in the teaching staffs of our schools, in parents’ associations, and as catechists. But our acceptance of them may, at times, be only as deputies or substitutes. Without the clear and active participation of the laity, the Church of Jesus Christ and the Augustinian School will not present a complete picture. In this context, participation and shared responsibility are crucial.
Learning through being and doing.
An essential goal is the transformation of the teaching community into a Christian community. The witness of harmony between the life and the teaching of an educator is her or his most powerful lesson (De doc. christ. 4,29,61). As well as this personal modelling, the Augustinian School must offer specific ways for the development of faith experiences. There is a whole range of youth associations, as well as a variety of group activities, liturgical, charitable, and other out-of-school undertakings that can be channels for personal development as well as for the imparting of the Christian message. All of these instruments must be combined in a pastoral plan, where the students themselves become actively involved in their own growth.
The Augustinian School needs to be renewed and recentred in the Good News of Jesus Christ. Like the Church, which is always in need of evangelisation, and “needs to maintain its freshness, its vigour and its strength for proclaiming the Gospel” (Evangelii Nuntiandi,l5), so also the Augustinian School needs to look back, calmly, at its past, and to judge it objectively. Especially it needs to examine itself critically in the context of this present time – which is a time of grace – and to accept the need for the restless search, for CONVERSION.
We must implant the evangelising and pastoral dimension within our educating-teaching activity. This obligation to renew and examine critically the reason for being of our School has today the mark of urgency. Rather than theoretical statements about identity, we need practical translations, plans for action.
The evangelisation of our school calls for the abandoning of all defensiveness, weariness, and evasion. In times past, society itself provided many examples of religious values for children and young people. Today, on the contrary, it is possible that for a considerable number of our students the Catholic School is the only agent of evangelization. Accordingly, the Augustinian School is called on to fulfil this very important mission.
Today’s culture often shows itself oblivious of questions of meaning and value. It is the school that has the entire task of integrating culture and faith, and as such it has a clear evangelising character. That character will afterwards be modified by many other factors within the framework of education. Attention to the transcendent dimension of the human being is demanded by the very concept of integral formation. A school which disregards these attitudes, these ultimate values and questions, does not fulfil its function and is reduced to the mechanical transmission of knowledge. The good of the person and of society itself requires that the school incorporates into humanistic and scientific knowledge the search for meaning. The Augustinian School, being Catholic, is called upon to respond to this need and must include in its search the moral, spiritual, and religious dimension, evaluating the conquests of science and technology within the total perspective of the human person (cfr. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, 15.08.90, n.7).