Discover Chesterton Series: The Joy of Growing in Intellectual and Moral Maturity

My freshman philosophy class argued for days about whether or not certain evolution theories are compatible with the Catholic Church’s teaching … whether or not the universe is ordered, and if it is true that man naturally desires to know the truth.”

By MADELINE STEIGERWALD, history and philosophy teacher, Chesterton Academy of Milwaukee

The Discover Chesterton Series offers perspectives from students, parents, and teachers on the culture of life being cultivated at Chesterton Academy of Milwaukee.

Over the past few months, I have been pleasantly surprised by the types of conversations I have overheard from the students at Chesterton Academy. One group of students was arguing about whether or not the existence of God is knowable by reason. My freshman philosophy class argued for days about whether or not certain evolution theories are compatible with the Catholic Church’s teaching on the human person, whether or not the universe is ordered, and if it is true that man naturally desires to know the truth. Hearing these types of discussions is one of the most enjoyable experiences for me as a teacher because it shows that the students are truly breathing the air of Chesterton Academy; they are beginning to desire knowledge and wisdom, and to seek it diligently. I have noticed, as a result, that the students are becoming more intellectually and morally mature.

This intellectual and moral maturity reminds me of an iconic line in Plato’s Apology, which we read in sophomore philosophy. In this dialogue, Socrates must defend himself against accusations of impiety and corruption of the youth. He defends his life as a philosopher who goes about the city to converse with people, one by one, in order to show them their own ignorance and urge them to seek what is truly important. He says to one, “Good Sir, are you an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power? Are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation and honors as possible, while you do not care for, nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul?

Surely, giving thought to wisdom, truth, and the best possible state of one’s soul is a sign of intellectual maturity, and that intellectual growth only helps to guide one towards living a moral life. Josef Pieper, a prophetic German philosopher of the last century, says that whoever wants to know and do the good must direct his gaze toward the objective world of being, thus, “the realization of goodness presumes knowledge of reality.” One must gaze upon reality and strive to understand it better, for it is that knowledge of reality which guides one’s actions towards the good, and therefore to profound fulfillment and joy.

It is my greatest hope as a teacher that my students never cease to contemplate reality, and that they never think they have understood it well enough.