How to Get a Solid Catholic Formation … in Paris!
Could you tell us a little about the IUSPX?
The Institut Universitaire Saint-Pie X, or IUSPX, is located in the heart of Paris, near the Rue du Bac and Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, in a land which was part of Christendom for centuries and whose history is full of memories of St. Thomas, St. Louis, St. Francis de Sales, as well as Abelard, La Fayette, and Napoleon.
The IUSPX was founded in 1980 by university professors desirous of founding a truly Catholic university, one that would guarantee reliable teaching free of modern errors. After the riots of May 1968 (in France but also elsewhere), they wished to create a college where they could pass on the cultural, intellectual, and spiritual heritage of our Greco-Roman and Christian civilization to the young people who desired to receive it.
From the outset the Institut was entrusted to the Society of St. Pius X at the request of its founders, who went to Archbishop Lefebvre in February 1980.
What degrees does the IUSPX offer?
Classical Literature (now officially known as Humanities), History, and Philosophy.
Why these three majors?
Because they are particularly conducive to ennobling the minds of our students, and what we seek first and foremost is to form the minds and souls of our youth before they set out into the practical and often utilitarian universe of professional life.
Jacqueline de Romilly, a great French Hellenist and member of the Académie Française, once said, “It is a mistake to imagine that the more important thing to think about is career opportunities, without necessarily considering what will be truly useful for the formation of the youth..”1
And no one can deny that history, philosophy, and literature are excellent means for uplifting minds.
Furthermore, they truly deserve to be known as Humanities, not in the pagan sense of an elevation of a man without original sin or grace, but in the classical sense of the Humaniores Litterae, the formation of the highest human faculties through the study of literary subjects; these studies ennoble the loftiest part of man: his intelligence, his will, his memory, his sensitivity.
“Indeed,” wrote Monsignor Dupanloup, “when we say a child is doing his Humanities or that he has to do his Humanities, it is a very commonplace expression, but it has a very profound meaning and expresses something admirable. What does it mean? That he has to become a man… Where do a nation’s schools get their dignity and sovereign importance? From the fact that they are where the Humanities are studied, where men are made…
Who preserved European society from barbarianism in the Middle Ages? The popes, Charlemagne, the bishops and monks, by means of the Humanities.
Who raised modern Europe up to be the greatest civilization? Who made the 16th century in Italy and Spain? Who made the 17th century in France and Europe? Again, it was the Church, the teaching religious congregations and the Catholic universities, by means of the strongest, most brilliant and most religious Humanities ever.”2
“They are not only a country’s inner need,” added Guizot, minister to the French king Louis-Philippe in the 19th century, “they are its dignity, its credit in the world. Without the cultivation of greatness of mind, there can be no lasting depth, and minds only become great by being formed in classic masterworks from childhood so that they can glean the treasures of the past.”3
The same spirit is expressed in Archbishop Lefebvre’s charter for the schools of the Society of St. Pius X: “These schools… respect the hierarchy of the sciences, attributing the priority to realist philosophy, the Humanities and history, in order to form an upright judgment with a classical formation of the mind” (§5).
More precisely, these subject matters accomplish the cultura animi (culture of the mind) spoken of by Cicero. They form both its contents and its form.
First of all, they nourish the mind by transmitting to it the best and most profound part of what the past has bequeathed to us. Entering into history, literature or philosophy means coming into contact with the great men of the past and their heritage.
The study of these monuments of the past offers a true school of truth, goodness, and beauty, and the teachings of the past shed light on the present.
When Tocqueville wrote about American democracy, he developed an extremely subtle analysis that enlightens us as to the current development of the Western countries.
When one opens Plato’s dialogues that relate Socrates’ debates with the Sophists, one sees how infected our society is with the gangrene of their same intellectual diseases.
As for literature, it plunges one into the heart of the timeless man, it gives an understanding of human psychology and its intricacies, allowing for exceptionally lofty perspective.
These subject matters also refine the moral sense. Forming a conscience is a long, delicate, and difficult undertaking. It requires intelligence, moral virtue, and sensitivity, all qualities that are excellently formed by the Humanities. Mathematics enrich the mind, but not the heart, and certainly not moral virtue, which is completely foreign to mathematics.
“I have seen classes laugh at Socratic irony,” remarks Jacqueline de Romilly. “They were for Socrates and against his ignorant or conceited adversary. That means that they were for the desire for truth, for intelligence, for patience, for courtesy… Perhaps only for as long as it took to read the passage; but in a young person, that spontaneously builds a lasting taste for truth, intelligence, patience, courtesy. Do you not desire that for your children?” “I have also seen classes moved at Socrates’ death—filled with admiration, indignation, wonder. For a moment, these classes were possessed by a horror for injustice, in love with strength of soul, tempted to share a certain faith in the afterlife. Do not worry, it was not about teaching them to die well. But a certain taste for ideals can also help in living life; and through those ancient arguments, that taste passed through them and left its mark.”4
In a word, what the Humanities progressively develop is wisdom, a wisdom that leads straight to God.
For how can one reflect upon the causes of historical events or the causes of realities without going back to the first cause? How can one scrutinize the human heart and the boundary between good and evil that runs through it without thinking of the Sovereign Good, the source of all good and without reflecting upon the mystery of iniquity? How can one search for the truth in all things without recognizing the Truth? The heights of knowledge are like mountain trails: they all lead to the same summit.
When the Faith is there, too, to shed light on the human heart with the concepts of grace and original sin, on the world with the idea of creation and on history with the sense of the Cross, then the intelligence attains unsuspected heights and depths. We must not forget that the worst enemies of the Humanities are often God’s worst enemies! “I do not like books,” Rousseau used to say.
As for the form, these subject matters teach students to read, think, speak, and write.
To read, for they teach the art of reading a text in depth. When a student studies a historical document, he learns to place the extract in its context, to see what is left unsaid; he has to draw from it the essential and the major points of the argument, all qualities that avoid the all too common and modern tendency to superficial reading.
To think, for they cultivate a spirit of precision and subtlety. Philosophy expresses itself with arguments and distinctions, that is to say, with logic and nuances, the sovereign virtues of the intellect.
To speak, for the Institut requires regular oral exercises. For the past six years, we have been organizing for the feast of St. Thomas a disputatio between two teams of students who debate in front of their classmates and a jury of professors on a chosen question. This year they had to decide which of the two subjects was better, history or literature. Naturally, this helps them practice the art of public speaking.
To write, for all these subjects require essays, commentaries, and short theses that offer the student the opportunity to develop his personal reflection and work on his style. Naturally, literature students have the advantage of studying the great literary authors.
Could you briefly present these three majors?
Our Humanities degree has two options: Classical Literature, and Literature, Culture and Heritage. The first offers courses in French language and literature, Greek and Latin, along with courses on cultural history, etc.
The second is an advanced option, including philosophy and art history or geography courses along with the Classical Literature courses.
Our History degree offers courses on the four major historical periods (ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary). This degree offers four options: art history, philosophy, geography and political sciences.
Our Philosophy degree forms students in the different philosophy subjects according to St. Thomas Aquinas (logic, metaphysics, moral philosophy and political philosophy, etc.) along with courses on the history of philosophy and the great philosophers.
The Teaching Formation involves four class hours a week for two years, and aims to give future elementary or high school teachers a theoretical and practical knowledge of teaching.
What benefits does the IUSPX offer in this work of forming Catholic youth?
The IUSPX offers truly Catholic teaching, free from liberal or progressivist spirit. As its charter declares, the IUSPX particularly decries the modern errors of naturalism, secularism, and liberalism, and defends the Church’s past as well as her beneficial action on society.
The IUSPX recalls that the keystone to all knowledge and to all things is God, the first cause, Jesus Christ. A teaching that concretely ignores Jesus Christ and His doctrine in history, philosophy, or the study of literature is a mutilated teaching that tends to disperse knowledge due to the lack of a principle of unity.
Every year, students who have spent a year or two at other universities are delighted and astonished at the depth and quality of the courses delivered by the Institut. Two former students wrote to me that “what undeniably constitutes the superiority of the Institut… is the possibility of taking courses in Thomistic philosophy no matter what your major, as a minor, or just to sit in on the class. It is the only university where the teaching is entirely and uncompromisingly Thomistic… What we learn at the Institut through philosophy are strong and immutable principles that are worth far more than a degree or the official prestige of a renowned school.”
Could you describe the atmosphere in your Institut?
This is a very relevant question, for it is not enough to nourish the mind; the entire man needs to be formed. And a student should certainly not become a walking encyclopedia!
As I often tell the students, their three years at the Institut should be an intellectual ascent, yes, but also a spiritual and human one.
On the supernatural level, a truly Catholic atmosphere, a realistic and Catholic college formation, contact with other young people who share the same essential ideas and the same way of life, and the presence of priests are powerful means of protection, perseverance, and above all progress in the Christian life. Every year we see young men and women mature, progress, and blossom in their studies and in the Catholic atmosphere of the IUSPX.
On the human level, the Christian spirit, the common principles, a human-sized structure, and a personal accompaniment for each student create a familial, convivial, and Christian atmosphere, as can be seen from the solid friendships formed, the meals shared, the outings together to museums or trips to Pontmain, Venice or Rome.
Studying at the Institut also means having Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet nearby, 15 minutes from the IUSPX, with its youth groups, spiritual assistance, and all the Traditional youth among whom one can find good friends and mutual assistance. A student at the IUSPX, even an American student, is not alone—far from it!
What are the professional prospects coming out of the IUSPX?
Horace said, “Primum vivere, deinde philosophari.” This is true, but we prefer the Gospel’s “Seek first the kingdom of God and the rest will be given to you.”
It is exactly the same for our students. Their apparently useless studies actually open up innumerable opportunities for them. In France, with a “licence” degree, a student can go on to many different professional Masters degrees, or enter business schools or many other grad schools. There is a very wide variety of choices, including teaching, journalism, communications, human resources, marketing, management, finance, or publishing.
In management, for example, there are hard skills and soft skills, and the most important are the latter.
Someone who knows how to analyze a situation, put things into perspective, summarize an issue, coherently present a project, find the right words in a tense situation, and be subtle, has major assets for success. And these are qualities developed by these literary majors.
What is more, these virtues enable a Catholic to have an impact on society, as Pius XII said, “The students of a Catholic institution should never consider their future career as a simple social function, necessary for themselves and for those around them, but without any immediate relation to their condition as baptized souls. Let them rather always consider it as a responsibility in the work of saving the world through which, by committing themselves seriously as Christians on the temporal level, they realize their highest spiritual destiny.”5
Does your Institut offer other activities?
Yes, there are conferences on Monday evenings, an annual congress, and evening classes (Biblical exegesis, Hebrew).
Why would an American student be interested in the IUSPX?
First of all, for the quality of our teaching and our professors, the specificity of our teachings, the attention given to our students, and the great variety of professional opportunities that are offered.
When it comes to intellectual formation, it is important to go with the surest option. In order to be real and fruitful, intellectual freedom has to be grounded in a rich and solid formation. And that is precisely the role of the formation we give: to provide indispensable knowledge and form a grounded judgment. What is more, ever since 2001, the Institut offers both its own diplomas and State diplomas for its History and Humanities degrees, and possibly for its Philosophy degrees as well beginning in 2023.
For an American, a Catholic and intellectual formation in Europe is a unique experience. It is a discovery of the best of what old Europe has to offer. And the IUSPX is delighted to have students from the New World!
How to enroll?
An American has to apply to the IUSPX and go through Campus France. The process must be started the year before entering the IUSPX.
The IUSPX does not have student lodging, but it does have a network that often helps to find a place to live. We currently have three Americans at the IUSPX. So it is possible!
A word to conclude?
Youth is a unique and extraordinary period in life that determines so many things; it is so important for our natural and supernatural life to aim for the best. Why wait until the end of life to strive for wisdom? “Quæ in juventute tua non congregasti, quomodo in senectute tua invenies?” “The things that thou hast not gathered in thy youth, how shalt thou find them in thy old age?” (Ecclus. 25:5)
1 Jacqueline de Romilly, Lettre aux parents sur les choix scolaires, Editions de Fallois, 1994, p. 14.
2 Dupanloup, De la haute éducation intellectuelle, p. 10-12.
3 Guizot quoted by Dupanloup, p. 12-13.
4 Jacqueline de Romilly, Lettre aux parents sur les choix scolaires, Editions de Fallois, 1994, p. 108.
5 Pius XII, Speech to the members of Catholic Teaching, Sept. 14, 1958. Les enseignements pontificaux, Consignes aux militants, Desclée, 1958, p. 303.