A Remedy for Young Turks and Old Fools

There is an excellent fourteen-minute sermon called “The Error of Juvenilism” available online for the hearing. It is much worth a careful listen.

The observations of the preacher, and the questions that arise in his wake, provide us with a matrix within which to explore a variety of subjects: the effects of original sin, the nature and purpose of education, the mutual relations between young and old, and the value of Wisdom and its tradition (that is, literally, its “handing down”) to us through our elders.

The priest who speaks in the video has derived his material, in part, from that masterpiece by Romano Amerio, Iota Unum. While all of what Prof. Amerio has to say on the issue is worth reading, I reproduce only the following section, which contains the central idea:

From ancient times down to our own, youth has been regarded by philosophy, ethics, art and common sense as a time of natural and moral imperfection, that is, incompleteness. St Augustine goes so far as to call the desire to return to childhood stupidity and folly, and writes in this sermon Ad iuvenes: flos aetatis, periculum tentationis [the flow of youth involves the danger of temptation], insisting on youth’s moral immaturity. Because his reason is not yet settled and is liable to go awry, a young man is cereus in vitium flecti [as flexible as wax], and in his youth needs a ruler, adviser and teacher. He needs a light to see that life has a moral goal, and practical help to mold and transform his natural inclinations in accordance with the rational order of things. All the great Catholic educators from Benedict of Nursia to Ignatius of Loyola, Joseph Calasanz, John Baptist de la Salle and John Bosco made this idea the basis of Catholic education. The young person is a subject possessing freedom and must be trained to use his freedom in such a way that he himself chooses that one thing for the choosing of which our freedom has been given us; namely, to choose to do our duty, since religion sees no other end to life than this. The delicacy of the educator’s task come from the fact that its object is a being who is a subject, and that its goal is the perfecting of that subject. It is acting upon human freedom not in order to limit it but to make it really free. In this respect the act of educating is an imitation of divine causality, which according to Thomistic theory, produces a man’s free actions in their very freedom. [More of this section of Iota Unum may be read at the Lud Stone.]

Given the times in which we live, with the penchant that so many have to be offended by what they read, let us be attentive to what was not said. What was not said is that all youth are evil and stupid, while all elders are wise and good. Certainly, the story of Susanna and the two elders would debunk that. The saying is true, that “there’s no fool like and old fool,” but that actually proves the point Amerio is making. If the “folly of youth” is pardonable in one who is young — and is expected as something to be remedied by education and formation in virtue — such folly really is inexcusable in one who is old and who should know better.

What is being said is that youth are not yet finished, and they need to be finished, as in perfected, by education and the acquisition of virtue. If they are not, they are in danger of growing up to be “old fools.”

Holy scripture encourages the sanctification of youth: “It is good for a man, when he hath borne the yoke from his youth” (Lam. 3:26). King David says, “I have understood more than all my teachers: because thy testimonies are my meditation (Ps. 118:99). But we know that, all other things being equal, the elders will be greater in virtue and wisdom: “But Remember the days of old, think upon every generation: ask thy father, and he will declare to thee: thy elders and they will tell thee” (Deut. 32:7); “In the ancient is wisdom, and in length of days prudence” (Job 12:12); “Pass not beyond the ancient bounds which thy fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28). Our Lord showed respect, as a child, to his (temporal) elders in the Temple.

Let us quickly review the effects of the fall and what they imply regarding education. Before Original Sin, Adam enjoyed infused knowledge in his intellect, loving obedience in his will, spontaneous virtue in his emotions, and no sickness or death in the body; after the fall, he is punished with ignorance in the intellect, malice in the will, concupiscence in the emotions, and suffering and death in the body. God Himself had to grant the remedies, which are principally two: The Divine Law and grace. These heal ignorance and malice, but do not remove concupiscence; nor do they do away with death. Our way back to God must therefore, include the suffering consequent upon resisting temptation and being resigned in the face of death. We must — to use the Ignatian phrase — agere contra, act against our sinful inclinations.

Not only does all that take effort, sometimes painful effort, but it also implies instruction and guidance from outside. Hence the need of parents, teachers, mentors, and other authority figures to form and mould youth. Hence the need of education.

In the passage quoted above, Prof. Amerio says some things about freedom that might seem difficult to moderns. We are free so that we might pursue the true and the good. We are not free to pursue falsehood or evil. The pursuit of the false and the evil is actually enslaving and impairs our freedom. As a remedy, God’s supernatural grace is profoundly liberating.

The very notion of “liberal education” is the education of a free man, i.e., one who is not a servant. But the concept goes further. In the words of Dr. William Fahey, “A liberal education aims to free men and women from the constraints of error, false opinion, and — as much as possible — the flux and change of the age. This was at the heart of the great Greek educational system — paideia — the education that freed the minds of the young by giving them a sense of the order that the mind could attain and the principles by which ideas could be presented and shared.”

As Romano Amerio later goes on to explain in his book, the matter of instructing and disciplining youth can be seen clearly in light of the scholastic philosophical concept of act and potency.

All of which implies the benefit of receiving wisdom from another, one older and more experienced, who himself has learned this from masters in his youth. We call this tradition. It, too, is liberating.

This program of good, traditional common sense flies in the face of J.J. Rousseau’s absurd notion of the “noble savage” — something well worth flying in the face of.

Yet, how many of us approach the delicate art of child-rearing or education as if we were disciples of Rousseau’s and, like him, do not believe in Original Sin?

Noting the connection between juvenilism and the current pandemic of an excessively prolonged adolescence that afflicts society is but an exercise in common sense, as is fingering it as one of the causes of our man crisis.

Regarding the current doings with seventeen-year-olds instructing us about how bad guns are, and how grown-ups are too stupid to run a democracy, I do believe that the Reverend Father makes a good point. Something more insidious is at work. These young people are being used by cynical oldsters (you know, the George Soros types) to push an agenda. The arrogant little ignoramuses are functioning as handheld tools for the “Cultural Marxists.”

The old fashioned Marxists, driven principally by economic theory and dialectical materialism, reduced history to a monism: the conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeois. By violent world revolution, they would overthrow the capitalist bourgeois and create their classless society — a goal they never even partially fulfilled as the only Communist societies in the world have not at all been “classless.” Their Cultural Marxist offspring differ from the old timers not only in opposing violent revolution, but also in how they apply the Marxist dialectic. For the cultural Marxist, the dialectic is broadened to include a variety of victim groups and oppressor classes, e.g, the rich vs. the poor, women vs. the patriarchy, the (“white”) European American vs. the (“black”) African American, Christians vs. minority religions, heterosexuals vs. “sexual minorities,” etc. For the Cultural Marxist, identifying “young people” as a victim class and their elders as oppressors is sometimes useful — only, of course, if the altruistic youth are playing the part of the progressivist with the oppressive elders being backward old Christian folk who believe in the natural law.

But we must rise above the false dialectic.

To combat the error of juvenilism, we have very much work to do. Among other things, we must work to reinstitute a culture of honor. Parents, teachers, clergy, religious, etc., must strive to be both honorable and honored, and to instill a sense of honor in their charges, striving to be worthy conduits of Catholic tradition.

Despise not the discourse of them that are ancient and wise, but acquaint thyself with their proverbs. For of them thou shalt learn wisdom, and instruction of understanding, and to serve great men without blame. Let not the discourse of the ancients escape thee, for they have learned of their fathers: For of them thou shalt learn understanding, and to give an answer in time of need. (Ecclus. 8:9-12)