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Reading, Writing, & Arithmetic by Fr. George W. Rutler

Vice-Admiral_Sir_Roger_Curtis_(1746-1816),_by_British_school_of_the_18th_centuryFROM THE PASTOR
October 5, 2014
by Fr. George W. Rutler

The first part of the academic year of many schools in the English-speaking world is called “Michaelmas Term.” The opening day of the term has not changed much since Shakespeare’s time, with “the whining school-boy with his satchel / And shining morning face, creeping like snail / Unwillingly to school.” (As You Like It)

In 1825, Sir William Curtis (MP) coined the phrase “reading, writing and arithmetic,” which harkens back to the classical Greek and Latin curricula of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric and logic) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy).” Pope Sylvester II, who died in 1003, had his own “Three R’s,” having been bishop sequentially of Reims, Ravenna and Rome. He was one of the most learned popes ever, as well as being the first French one: he invented the pendulum clock and the hydraulic organ, wrote on mathematics, natural science, music, theology and philosophy, and introduced to Europe the decimal system of Arabic numerals. Superstitious folk (including those who resented his strictures against simony and clerical marriage) read into his three R’s some sign that he had sold his soul to the Devil to get his phenomenal IQ.

The Liberal Arts, as the classical curriculum is known, are called that because they are meant to liberate man from ignorance and indecent slavery to falsehood. This is why tyrants and schemers hate classical learning. In Nazi Germany, Archbishop Josef Frings of Cologne lamented: “The clergy are no longer allowed to give instruction in the elementary schools, and religious instruction has been reduced to a minimum, if not cut altogether.” This was not a threat exclusive to Germany or occupied Belgium or Vichy France. In neutral Ireland the bishops opposed a “School Attendance Bill,” eventually ruled unconstitutional by the highest judiciary bench, the Cúirt Uachtaracha, which would have required parents to send children only to state-approved schools.

Pope Pius XII called the Catholic schools in the United States our Church’s greatest treasure. The encroaching Servile State compromises that. Already debilitated by attrition (in fifty years, enrollment in the Archdiocese of New York has dropped by nearly 150,000), there is a danger that the state will structure the curriculum in ways that contradict the liberating philosophy of classical education, and do so without consulting pastors and parents. A government-sponsored “universal pre-Kindergarten” program requires that Catholicism be taught only in a syncretistic sense, and that religious objects in our classrooms be concealed. This disdains the fact that frees the mind from servility to the state: the Three R’s need the great R of religion.

Archbishop Frings later became a Cardinal (and his theological advisor would become Pope Benedict XVI). He told the civil government, in words broadcast over the Vatican Radio: “It is the parents’ duty to see that the children learn the truth, the more so since everything is done on the other side to imbue our children with an un-Christian spirit and to prejudice them against the Church of Christ.”

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