I, like many of my readers, grew up in a generally evangelical, Protestant household. In the circles I ran in, the question was often asked, “how do we stop the mass apostasy of our children?“ The answer which was often given was to make sure they went to church on Sunday and youth group on Wednesday. This was so that they would form certain communities of Christian friends, learn the contents of scripture, and grow in the spiritual life. While this all is certainly true and good, still, most of my friends do not practice anything like orthodox Christianity. What was missing? Why do many, who may seem to be strongly Christian, almost instantaneously apostatize upon leaving their parents house?
Fr. Louage, in his introduction to his course of philosophy, answers the question of how a Catholic can more readily prepare their children for defending and retaining the faith. Much of the issue that he found had to do with the lack of philosophical education.
As St. Thomas Aquinas writes “A small mistake in the beginning is a big one in the end.” Errors in the basic principles of philosophy do not remain there (as Fr. Louage notes), but war against the entirety of man, eventually leading to Atheism.
It is important to note that in his day, late 19th century America, there were fewer social pressures to apostatize, a more robust education in the faith, and more frequent spiritual practices. Yet, many people still apostatized. He speaks as a voice from the past, a past that none of us have had the pleasure of growing up in, one which was generally Christian. Yet, there were still apostates. We do well to listen to Fr. Louage’s diagnosis of the problem for our day. I pray that it is as convincing to you as it was to me.
Fr. Louage’s Introduction
It is the unanimous opinion of those best qualified to judge, that a knowledge of the first principles of philosophy is necessary to complete any course of classical or scientific studies. Experience as well as reason teaches that those who complete their education with a course of sound philosophy, thus acquire an accurate method for the continuation of their studies, for the instruction of others, or for the pursuits of any calling to which they may devote their talents.￼
The man who learns what truth is, learns also to love it; and will not be easily led astray by the systems of error which were everywhere paraded before him, labeled with the false appellation of philosophy: he despises the contradictions of pseudo-philosophers, he abhors the repulsive doctrines of the wicked, and avoid with care of the corruption of morals which always accompany them. Everywhere in all ways he perceives the presence of the divinity, he is accordingly filled with awe in reference: he sees also, with consolation, the excellence of his own soul and his future destiny, and not only preserved it from the contamination of vice, but also adorns it with every virtue; does conscientiously discharging all the duties of a station in life, he must ascend higher and higher in the scale of being.￼￼￼
When we thus point out the abundant and inestimable fruits of philosophy, it is evident that we do not speak of that so-called philosophy which ignores the light of divine revelation, but of that true Catholic philosophy which is guided as far as possible by reason, but which freely admits the light of faith without that of reason fails: for, as we shall see, reason alone is not capable of completely solving some of the most serious problems which concern the salvation of man.￼
The young man who, while at college, has either wholly neglected to study the rules of judging and knowing or who has not engraved them deeply on his mind, wanders without a guide through dark and devious ways, and is “carried about by every wind of doctrine.“ He reads indiscriminately every book, good or bad, that chance throws in his way, and peruses them with little attention or reflection. Hence he fills his mind with imperfect notions of things, without any order; everywhere he sees contradictory systems, and in the midst of this great darkness he remains uncertain of the truth, and even becomes doubtful of very existence of certainty. Soon the truth of religion appears to him as not sufficiently proven; and, owing to the prejudices to which he has yielded, he begins to deny that there is any excellence in virtue or any turpitude in vice. Passions rise in his heart, which, not being restrained, but rather flattered and excited by many causes, soon lead to deplorable results; they shake his reason, which is already weak and deprived of its natural support, they destroy the vigor of his physical system, they deprive his nature, and finally carry the unfortunate youth to utter destruction.￼
That this is not an overdrawn picture is plain to anyone who chooses to look around him with any unprejudiced eyes; and it shows conclusively the importance of a knowledge of the primary principles of philosophy. On this knowledge, in truth, depends the progress which we shall make in science, the solidity of our minds, our love of truth and detestation of falsehood, our sagacity and choosing what is best, the integrity of our morals, the peace of families, the well-being of society, in a word, our happiness both in public and private life.￼
The teacher, therefore, who is incompetent, negligent or dishonest, is the cause of an irreparable loss to those under his care; while he who is learned, diligent, and consistent in his instruction, sows in the minds of those committed to his charge the seeds of truth and virtue which will bring forth an abundant harvest of the richest fruits of a good education. To attain so desirable an end, the people should be guided, not by obscure and uncertain precepts, but by those which are established upon the clearest principles of reasons: even as a child who is yet unacquainted with the way is guided, not by the hand of an ignorant or a dangerous man, but by that of his father.