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Third.—As regards the means and the methods of religious education, the Church claims that they must be adapted to the needs of the human mind, and must therefore be in harmony with the established principles of psychology. .
Our present purpose is to select the more essential of these principles and to show that they find their application in our Catholic system.
A leading characteristic of modern psychology is the importance which it attaches to the sensory processes of mind. We are no longer satisfied with the general statement that all knowledge takes its rise in sensation; nor even with the accurate description of the various sensory functions. By means of careful experiment, we have discovered the laws which govern these functions and the part which they play in the higher mental activities. The more we search into the nature of sensation, the more are we convinced that the entire life of the mind-intellectual, emotional, and volitional-is closely bound up with the elementary processes that take place in the organs of sense.
In the earlier years, the role of sensation is especially conspicuous. With its intellect and will scarcely awakened, the child is literally a "bundle of sensations." With its brain yet plastic, it is receiving impressions and storing up images that will persist during life. The whole future of the mind is largely determined by what is seen and heard in this period. The attitude of the boy or girl towards things spiritual depends to a great extent upon the training that is given to eye and ear. If we hold that reason must govern conduct, and that will is the keystone of character, we should not forget that both reason and will are aroused and directed by perception, by the commerce of the mind with the external, material world. And in the same way are called forth those affective states—feeling and emotion and the beginnings of passion-which tend to become, and often do become, the main springs of action.
Clearly, then, it is of the utmost consequence that the development of the sensory activities should take place in such a way as to safeguard the moral nature of the child. As far as possible, those impressions should be multiplied which fill the mind with images of things high and pure and beautiful. As far as possible, also, whatever contains the germ of corruption, whatever leaves upon the brain an impression that will fester and become a moral taint, must be kept beyond the reach of the growing sense. The need of such caution is the more urgent when we remember that one great purpose of modern teaching is to build up the power of observation. The training of the senses, we are told, must not be left to chance; it must follow psychological methods. Vision must be sharpened to detect the slightest variations in color and form. Hearing must be quickened to catch the faintest of sounds and the barely perceptible changes in tone. And so of all the senses; they are to be educated just as far as the structure and normal function of the organs will permit. This undoubtedly is the correct view; and, so far as it is realized in our educational practice, its results must certainly be beneficial. Keener perception means richer imagination, wider range of ideas, finer analytical thinking, and, above all, the ability to appreciate the marvels of nature in delicate structure and subtle, scarce noticeable, function. But it also means that the avenues of the mind are thrown open, with greater freedom of access, to a thousand impressions which may quicken or deaden the moral perception, may lift up the will to the highest plane of endeavor, or cast it down to the level of emotion and impulse. If, therefore, we insist on the training of the senses, we must further insist that the impressions they receive shall be of the right sort. If we provide the mind with better instruments of perception, we must see to it that these instruments are rightly employed. And if, with its heightened powers of observation, the child gets a closer view of nature in the physical world, it should also be inspired with a deeper regard for the spiritual nature that is growing up within itself. Now this is precisely what the Church has all along endeavored to do. Whatever philosophers and psychologists may have taught regarding the value of sense perception, the Church has always recognized the importance of these processes for the development of intellectual and moral activity. We have only to look at her liturgy. What more forcible appeal could be made to the senses than that which she makes in her ceremonial, in the administration of the sacraments, in the adornment of her temples, in every prescription of her ritual 2 Light and color, movement and harmony, stately forms and graceful lines are all combined to impress the eye and ear of him who worships in her sanctuary. The art of the builder, the painter, the sculptor, and the musician is pressed into the service of religion. And religion itself—as doctrine, as historical fact, and as moral precept—is brought home to the mind through the portals of sense.
The Church, indeed, has often been accused of excess in this respect. Her outer forms are criticised as “sensuous," “ external,” “realistic,” lacking in spiritual force, and setting appearances in the place of substance. Much is said of the “ pageantry of her worship" and the “pomp of her ritual.” And even when her services are described as solemn or beautiful, the insinuation too often is that she makes no attempt to reach mind and heart, to stir up those deeper activities of the soul which are needful for conduct and life.
Let us suppose for a moment that this criticism is just; let us suppose that the Church really aims at nothing more than the stimulation of sense and the pleasurable feelings which thence result. It would still be true that she is doing important educational work. She would be cultivating and refining, imparting the power to discriminate what is fair from what is coarse, developing the appreciation of beauty, arousing the artistic sense. In a word, she would be laying the foundation of that æsthetic culture which means so much for the growth of all the faculties.
As a matter of fact, however, the purpose of the Church is far higher. If she strives to impress the cuter sense, it is because she would make sense the bearer of meaning to spirit. It is because she would enlighten the mind and enable it to discern through the visible forms of her ritual the invisible things of God. Everywhere in her worship she greets us with symbols, with sacramental forms, with outward signs of inward grace.
What these are, and what their meanings, the instructed fully understand. Every Catholic has learned to read in the exter. nals of the Church those lessons which are beyond the grasp of sense-lessons of faith and reverence and love. He has learned to interpret the symbols, so that while these affect his senses, their deeper significance fills his thoughts.
But our present concern is to discover the psychological import of symbolism. Is this practice of the Church purely arbitrary, or is it in keeping with the laws of the mind ?
We know that each sensory impression leaves its trace upon the brain. We know further that every idea is in some way connected with a cerebral process. And when a certain idea has been linked in our experience with a certain sensory impression, the recurrence of that impression involves the revival of that idea.
Now this principle of association, on which modern psychology lays so much stress, is just what explains all symbolism. Once we have been taught that what we see has a definite meaning-that it represents something beyond the material thing before us—the sight of that object tends to recall that other object for which it stands. Once we have learned that our country's flag means more than a combination of colors—that it is a symbol—the sight of those colors brings to mind thoughts of a higher order. And when we have heard the story of the Cross, a single glance at that sacred symbol recalls to consciousness the mystery of our redemption. : The Church, therefore, in employing external signs, simply applies, in a practical way, the law of association. She is not content to set forth the truths of morality and religion in spoken word or printed page. She seeks to make her teaching more vivid, more concrete, and therefore more vital, by impressions and images, chosen from all the departments of sense. What comes through the ear is reinforced by what passes through the eye. Complex groups of mental images are thus formed as the basis of the spiritual ideas which she seeks to impress upon the mind. And these groups, bound together by association, strengthened by repetition, enriched, as time goes on, by wider relations and deeper ineanings, become the psychophysical basis of the highest religious thought.
But now remark a consequence which is of great importance in educational theory and practice. What we call the association of ideas implies not only the opening of paths within the brain and the establishing of connection between ideas; but also the gradual turning of the mental life in a given direction. As a result of association, the mind takes on a definite set or attitude-grows into a certain position, from which it views and appreciates whatever is presented. If, then, by means of association, the mind is filled with images and ideas of the brighter and purer sort, the whole mental attitude will be such that the opposite kind of ideas and images will be entirely barred out or easily excluded. The will to resist evil suggestion is all the stronger because whole areas of the brain have been placed at its disposal. If, on the contrary, association has warped the mind by filling it with the wrong sort of images, any appeal to the moral sense encounters a serious obstacle. It is not only that the will is weak in regard to moral goodness, but also that the brain is engaged in the service of evil. Exhort as we may, promise or threaten, appeal to reason or hold up fair ideals, our efforts must count for little if the organic processes are against us; if, in other words, the habitual trend of thought has established the wrong kind of connections in the brain. It is to forestall such consequences that the Church makes use of symbols, that she surrounds the child with the emblems of things divine, and that, while quickening the imagination, she stores it with forms that are purest and fairest.
But there is a further reason for this method—a reason which is supplied by psychology and justified by experience. For we know that an idea is not merely the representation of an object; it is a source of action. Every mental process tends, in its own degree, to manifest itself. Whether this manifestation shall amount to a perceptible bodily resonance, as in the case of certain emotions, or limit its effects to a central brain disturbance with no appreciable external effect, as in the case of abstract thinking, the statement in the main is true that the mind naturally seeks an outlet for its content. Impression calls forth expression. In the language of physiology, the stimulation that comes in over sensory paths makes its way to motor centres and through them to motor paths, the apparatus of movement and speech.
These, if you choose, are organic connections between organic processes. But now observe an important consequence for the mental life. In proportion as an idea gets itself expressed in action, it becomes more vivid and more vigorous. It means more for the development of the mind, because it is more completely the possession of the mind. And it is more influential in determining mental habit and attitude because its expression involves new conscious states which tend to reinforce it.