“Education A Divine Thing”: George Washington Doane and the Divine Foundations of Education, 1854

In 1854, George Washington Doane, Episcopal bishop of New Jersey, addressed the students, faculty, and friends of Burlington College, adjacent to the Episcopal parish church in Burlington, New Jersey. He took as his subject the divine roots of education. “Education” he told the audience, “is a divine thing. It is the rescue and restoration of an immortal, fallen, nature. It contemplates its redemption, first; then, its renewal, in the divine image; then, its re-union with God. Its standpoint is the Cross.” The channel of education’s influence, said the Bishop, was the Church and its “agent is the Holy Spirit.” Education was “a divine thing. It is from GOD. It is through GOD. It is for GOD.” The authority, to educate a human soul, must come from GOD. Doane stated that the “the means, to educate a human soul, must come through GOD. The motives “to educate a human soul is, that it may be fitted, for God.”

The establishment and application of those three propositions occupied Doane’s thoughts on the divine foundations of education. “On them, as on an arch of living rock, this College has been founded. In them, alone, do we desire that it should stand.” Through those same propositions, Doane hoped, these young men…will be its glory and its crown. That, such, they may approve themselves, we ask the charity of your prayers.”

Even the “authority, to educate a human soul,” Doane declared, “must come, from God.” He warned that men reasoned too loosely on the subject of who had the authority to educate in antebellum American society. “They take, for granted, a dominion over human thought, human desire, and human will, which in no other realm of the Creation, is assumed.”  Even worse than assuming human dominion over the human intellect was the “seduction of the Devil has so won, with human hearts, made the heart, as to divorce the soul, from God. The Devil seduced human hearts and made them leave God “out of that most gracious work, for which He gave His blessed Son, and sends His Holy Spirit.”

“Education, without the Church; education, without the ministry; education, without the sacraments; education, without prayer; education, without the Bible: in one word, godless education, is the order of the day. And the physical powers of men are educated, and their intellectual faculties, and their social nature, just as a monkey or a parrot might be trained; and all, that God cares most for, and all that is immortal, in its essence, left, to run its own wild way, and do its own wild will. Against all this, we set ourselves, immovably. We have been taught, of holy Paul, as he had learned, from Jesus Christ, our Lord: “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ: for, in Him, dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead, bodily; and ye are complete, in Him.” The education, which we undertake, is Christian education.”

George Washington Doane, “Education a Divine Thing,” in The Life and Writings of George Washington Doane Volume 4, 53

Doane made clear he was not disparaging completely modern notions of education. He meant “no disparagement of physical development and “no disparagement of intellectual training” or “of social cultivation.” But the fullest education that led to the furtherance “of them all, in that, which God designed, should comprehend them all, and give them value, beauty, glory, power and immortality,” was “the nurture and the culture of the heart; that, so, the child of God, redeemed, regenerated and renewed, in Jesus Christ, may be ‘complete, in Him.’”


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