Benedict, Poetry, and Education

Professor Raymond Hain offers a reflection and a bit of an update on St. John Henry Newman’s not-famous-enough contrast between St. Benedict as poetic and ancient, St. Dominic as scientific and late-medieval, and St. Ignatius as practical and modern.  Hain points to ways in which the Benedictine approach has already influenced education within the past several decades and could continue to do so.

An excerpt:

“Dominic had a special devotion to Truth, and Ignatius to a life of generous Goodness, but Benedict claims for himself the way of Beauty. Only God knows how Catholic education will continue to develop, but I am convinced that I need to think more poetically and less critically, and read more of Newman, to develop my own contributions. And I know, at the very least, that I should begin and end by asking my students to appreciate, to memorize, and to imitate, and only now and again, rather sparingly, to analyze, to critique, and to replace.”

Confession: when I wear my academic hat, I am much more comfortable with the scientific approach than the poetic, even to the point of being impatient with what I regard as flights of fancy when analytical work needs to be done.  But both Newman and Hain offer the helpful reminder that the Church is not about either the poetic or the scientific (or the practical) but is about all of them together … or should be, anyway.

Also, Hain claims favoring the analytical in education was a characteristic of twentieth-century pedagogy (and that favoring the poetic might be the twenty-first century’s contribution).  Perhaps he is correct.  But I am not sure how widespread could be the claim that those, in our present-day culture, who have been formally educated are truly adept at thinking scientifically and analytically.  It could be, though, that a balanced mixture of the poetic and the scientific in education could be a means of addressing this.  As Hain reminds us, some of the greatest thinkers in human history, such as Plato, presented their thought in forms more literary than not.  There might be something to be said for getting both the right and left sides of the brain working together.

Br. John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.

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