Consists in developing intelligence, acquiring knowledge, and forming character.
This is done by the three agencies most competent to do it, the home, the school, and the Church.
Its object is to train the child or immature mind for life here and hereafter, for the destiny allotted to each, and for the relations which each one has to God, to the neighbor, and to the world at large.
Literature, art, science, and moral, social, and religious principle are the means of this training, and no education is complete without some knowledge and practise in all of them.
Practise is the special element which Christianity introduced in education.
Besides a new conception of life, and new sources of knowledge, it brought new principles of action and inculcated the necessity of reducing its ideals and principles into action.
Christ taught truth as a way of life; the new things He insisted on, self-denial, love of neighbor, civic fidelity, were not matters of speculation merely, but of conduct.
What He taught He bade His Apostles and their followers to teach all nations, even to the consummation of the world.
All this was wholly different from the speculative and uncertain maxims of morality taught by paganism.
He laid stress on the work and worth of the individual, and gave men a new sense of personality.
He brought about respect for womanhood, for the sanctity of marriage, and for the ties of home life.
He spoke with authority and with finality on the truths which had perplexed the pagan world, the existence of God, the moral order, immortality, the value of the present and of the future life.
The Apostles were real teachers; witness the Acts.
Their followers imitated them and made use of the literatures, the philosophy, history, and science of the day when instructing catechumens or candidates for the priesthood, preaching, writing, and setting forth for the world the reasonableness of Christianity.
The ritual of the Church, by its ceremonial and symbolism, appealed to sense, imagination, memory, and feeling.
It too is knowledge in action since the faithful actually take part in it.
So also is the study of history, of the types and ideals in the Old and New Testament, of the leaders and heroes of Christianity and its saints.
The Church gave civilization and culture to the rude people from the North.
It was the chief educational agency during the Middle Ages, and the home and the State cooperated with it in this function.
With barbarism invading and the old civilization disappearing, the work of the Church in education had to be creative as well as constructive.
The monasteries first were its centers, preserving ancient texts, and forming an organized body of teachers dedicated to their tasks.
The schools followed, developing into the universities.
In them Greek culture was harmonized with Christianity.
Popes and secular rulers chartered and helped in many instances to found them.
They aimed at maintaining complete faculties for the study of religion and science.
With the Reformation came the rupture between the two, the separation of morals and religion from philosophy and science generally.
Then followed the sequestration of the universities, the confiscation of the monasteries, the opposition of governments, the ostracism of Catholics in many countries, in a word, the devastation of the work of the Church for centuries.
It is only within the past 25 years that scholars, led by men like Denifle, Rashdall, and by Haskins and Rand, in the United States, and the Mediaeval Society, have begun to show what the Church had done to save and promote learning and develop civilization and culture.
The story of the gradual recovery, by the Church, of its proper position in this respect will some day read like an epic of education.
Beginning with the establishment of seminaries after the plan of the Council of Trent, of the academies and colleges of the religious orders, notably of the Jesuits and Benedictines, of the elementary schools in parishes and other centers, the Church today has a vast system of education in almost every country.
This it maintains not only for teaching religion, but for teaching the entire cycle of human science, and for restoring the union which should exist between both.
Gradually the schools founded under the control of various Protestant sects have become secularized.
Religion has little or no place in them.
On the contrary, besides being excluded, it is made little of, if not dismissed as a superstition.
Leaders of the various churches are becoming alive to this situation and attempting to remedy it.
Religion, not speculation only, but practical also, is more and more recognized as an essential of any education that prepares men and women for life.
On the necessity of the study of morals in education all agree, but that is impossible without religion.
This is why the Church insists on parents providing for the education of their children in religion, and, as a rule, in Catholic schools.
New Catholic Dictionary