This month, Regina Angelorum Academy students are taking an intensive look at St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body through the perspective of civil rights and civil liberties. Black History Month provides an ideal context for understanding the connection between the Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life and the religious foundation of the Civil Rights Era in the United States.
In February, 5th through 8th grade students will dive into primary source materials to explore the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Students will be reading Martin Luther King’s, “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” They will explore these works through the lens of human dignity and the sanctity of human life. Students will analyze these works in small group seminars. Their conversations will draw from last semester’s study of Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body curriculum.
The Classical Education of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Revered King received a classical education at Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, GA. King was steeped in the classics. He was once asked what book he would take with him to a deserted island (other than the Bible), King replied, “I would have to say Plato’s Republic.” Source The Society for Classical Education notes, “King was not the first Black intellectual interested in the traditions of classical and Christian education. Before him were Phyllis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Maxwell Philip, Alexander Crummell, William Sanders Scarborough, W. E. B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, and many others.”
King went to high school in Atlanta and matriculated at Morehouse College at the age of 15. After graduating in 1948, King attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester County, PA. He then went to Boston University earning his PhD in Theology in 1955.
Marin Luther King, Jr. was inspired by the classics. The writings of Socrates were foundational for King’s philosophy. (Source) He was also particularly moved by the Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. (Source) In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King articulates the classical philosophical underpinnings of the Civil Rights Movement. But more notably, he establishes the moral legitimacy by referencing scripture:
“Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.” (King, Letter from Birmingham Jail. 1963)
Civil Rights and Theology of the Body
As the preeminent leader of the Civil Rights Era, Martin Luther King was, first and foremost, driven by his Christian faith. The Civil Rights Movement he spearheaded was firmly established in the fundamental dignity of each human as a beloved creature of God; made in His image and likeness.
This same foundational principle inspired and motivated Pope John Paul II, The Great’s seminal work, The Theology of the Body. John Paul II grew up knowing unspeakable hardship and oppression. He lost everything to the Nazis. His life as a seminarian was spent underground, hiding from the occupying German forces. This experience of oppression and persecution certainly gave Pope John Paul II a unique perspective on the fundamental dignity of each individual and the sanctity of all human life.
Regina Angelorum Academy uses the Ruah Woods Theology of the Body Curriculum. The goal of this program is to “bring to life Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in the context of our modern world. Through this curriculum, children gain an understanding of who God is, why they are as image-bearers of God, male or female, and how they fit into the world.”
The essence of the Civil Rights Movement is the reality of our God-bearing image. As His beloved creation, each person is entitled to fundamental human rights and civil liberties without discrimination or limitation. This same principle is the foundation for the Theology of the Body.
This month, Regina Angelorum Academy students will look carefully at our fundamental nature as sons and daughters of God and explore the implications for social justice, civil rights, and the cause of the pro-life movement.