By H. Boone Porter
The education enterprise of the Christian Church has a long and glorious history. It has taken many forms in many places. A distinctly Anglican form has been the church-affiliated primary or secondary school in which the liberal arts are taught with excellence and the Christian community of teachers and learners is emphasized, such community being formed, in part at least, by regular prayer together. These have been the characteristics of the world-famous British schools on which so many American private or independent schools have been patterned.
Much has been said in criticism of this kind of school. On the other hand, some very good things need to be said about the underlying principles which have historically motivated Anglican schools, in America, Canada, and elsewhere.
This sort of school seems to have emerged as a distinct type in the sixteenth century. It was notably embodied in St. Paul’s School, founded in London during the second decade of the century, by John Colet, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in that city. Colet, like his close friends Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, is generally described as a Christian humanist, or more specifically as a Catholic humanist. The Catholic humanism of that era was characterized by a gentle and enlightened piety, and a commitment to the improvement of the human mind, especially by the study of the Holy Scriptures and of classical literature. Such Catholic humanism was a major force (though not the only force) in the English Reformation, and it was an important part of the heritage of such Anglican luminaries as Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, George Herbert, and Jeremy Taylor. In the present century, such well-known Anglican spokesmen as T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, and Dorothy L. Sayers have been exponents of this outlook.
Authentic Christian humanism, or more specifically, Catholic humanism, or still more precisely, the Anglican form of Catholic Christian humanism, is very different from what is sometimes called secular humanism. The Christian view does indeed affirm the value of the natural world about us, and the value of studying it. Even more, it affirms the value of human beings, their bodies, their minds, their culture and arts, and their souls. Christians know, however, that men and women and boys and girls can only attain their full humanity through faith, obedience, and the love of God.
In the intellectual confusion of today, this Anglican humanism, based on the Bible and classical philosophic insights, has much to teach us. We believe the time is ripe for Episcopal schools to “look to the rock from which they were hewn.” Such an outlook affirms the tremendous importance of a full, well-rounded, human education vehicle delivering education from the folly of supposing that it alone can or should save the world. Such an outlook affirms the value of the pupil, of the teacher, of the material learned, and of the way in which it is learned. As students and faculty everywhere seek an adequate philosophy for education today, we believe that the original spiritual and intellectual foundations of our Anglican and Episcopal schools deserve to be articulated and communicated. We wish our church-related schools well, and we salute their students, their faculties, and the many others who make their continued operation possible.
The Rev. Dr. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977-1990. This article was published in our October 23, 1977 issue.