Friday, January 2, 2009

Pope Benedict's Classical Education

Pope Benedict XVI had a solid elementary formation in the classics (in the ancient languages) and he largely credits that for his keen mind, and says how that type of formation is able to resist totalitarian ideologies, which explains why they take control of education and eliminate the fundamental training in Greek and Latin. Below I quote the relevant passage from Ratzinger's autobiography. But his most scholarly treatment of the theme was his prize winning and world famous "Regensburg Address"._

"With our move to and serious concerns entered my life. [The year is 1937, he is ten years old] A few days after our arrival the school opened its doors. I now entered the first class in the 'humanistic gymnasium', what today would be called the 'gymnasium for classical languages'. I had to walk about a half hour to get to school, which gave me ample time for looking about and reflecting, but also for reviewing what I had learned it school. Toward the end, the elementary shcool in Aschau [his previous school] had had little to offer, but now I found myself subject to a new discipline and new demands, especially since I was the youngest and one of the smallest in the whole class. Latin, as the foundation of one's whole education, was then still taught with old-fashioned rigor and thoroughness, something I have remained grateful for all my life. As a student of theology later on, I had no difficulty in studying the sources in Latin and Greek, and, at the time of the Council in Rome [The Second Vatican Council], although I had never attended lectures in Latin, I was quickly able to take part in the discussions conducted in the theological Latin then spoken.

"In the meantime, National Socialism had not yet been able to change any more in the Traunstein gymnasium that it had in my school in Aschau. Not one of the professors of classical studies who belonged to the old guard had joined the Party, despite the considerable pressure exerted on government employees. Soon after I arrived at the gymnasium the second headmaster was removed from his post because he did not bend to the new masters. In retrospect it seems to me that an education in Greek and Latin antiquity created a mental attitude that resisted seduction by a totalitarian ideology. Recently I thumbed through the songbook we then used, which already contained a number of Nazi songs, or old songs with Nazi words inserted, alongside valuable old songs. And I saw how our music teacher, a convinced Catholic, had had us cross out the phrase 'Juda den Ton' (to Judah death) and write instead 'Wende die Not' (dispel our plight). But within a year of my arrival in the gymnasium, an emphatic 'reform' began. Until then the humanistic gymnasium and the scientific school (Realschule) had existed side by side as two separate institutions. Now they became blended into a new type of school, the so-called Oberschule, in which the study of Greek completely disappeared, Latin was greatly diminished, with instruction beginning only in the third year, and in which modern languages, especially English, and the natural sciences instead received much greater weight. With the new type of school also came a new and younger generation of teachers, among whom one could certainly find many with excellent talents but also many who were now decided defenders of the new regime. Three years later religious instruction was banned from the schools, with its place taken by physical education and sports. but thank God that a concession was made: whoever had already begun under the old system of the humanistic gymnasium could conclude his studies by and large according to that model, the plan being of course that this form of education would die out on its own." Milestones, pp. 23-24

So, Ratzinger was among the last ones who received the classical elementary education!

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