One of my favorite things about my mentor is how he sheds light on the importance of the classics in the life of the believer. Today, he sent my husband and I a note that spoke to this beautifully and so naturally I had to share it with you.
“In the book of Mark, Peter refers to getting up early, before any thing else is placed on their plates, to meet with Jesus for breakfast, to fellowship and pray, to ask him intimate questions about Himself (the Word), his purposes as well as theirs. The Greek words are translated the “deep dawn.” The darkest part of any night just before the son (intentional metaphor) comes up to break the light of day. In the growing darkness we face daily, our nature of being chief of sinners as Paul says, we face the war of our own flesh and as we discussed the “demons” that own our idols, the enemies of the family of men who would destroy Christ’s intimate loved ones. …May God’s grace, His hesed (Hebrew word meaning the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of our Father God) fill your hearts with urgency.
You’ll need everything that helps you see with the eyes of your heart, including those epic myths, Lord of the Rings, Unbroken, etc, and the way they illumine for us the words God has given in Scripture, to which “you will do well to pay attention . . .”, reference to the deep dawn, “..as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19)
Love in Christ”
“You’ll need everything that helps you see with the eyes of your heart…”
This statement is the beating heart of the liberal arts. The classical liberal arts are not about mere subjects, rather, they are an enduring call that awakens the dead organs of the ‘Men Without Chests’ ( referenced from C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man). The more we embrace the liberal arts, the more those organs function and in turn the more free we become. Not because the liberal arts, in and of themselves, are some sort of Holy Grail, but because the liberal arts are the vehicle in which we can make progress towards ordo amoris, the ordering of the affections.
[box] The classical liberal arts are not about mere subjects, rather, they are an enduring call that awakens the dead organs of the ‘Men Without Chests’.[/box]
Clark & Jain in their book ‘The Liberal Arts tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education’ says it this way.
“The ancients believed that these seven “arts” were not merely subjects to be mastered, but sure and certain ways of forming in the soul the intellectual virtue necessary for acquiring true wisdom.”
The ancients observed truths about reality that translated into traditions for educating, thinking, and living. The ancients thought philosophically about and closely observed nature. These conclusions and observations built a foundation and tradition for their civilization and culture. This was normal life for them.
The trouble is that today we have lost the practice of careful thought and observation of nature and other things that enables us to “see with the eyes of our heart.” Because of this we face extra difficulties in discerning what the liberal arts are about and why we ought to attend. I think Simone Weil may have been observing this reality when she wrote the following statement.
“Certainties of this kind (referring to being certain about the reality of ordo amoris as a result of a Christian education) are experimental. But if we do not believe in them before experiencing them, if at least we do not behave as though we believed in them, we shall never have the experience that leads to such certainties. There is a kind of contradiction here. Above a given level this is the case with all useful knowledge concerning spiritual progress. If we do not regulate our conduct by it before having proved it, if we do not hold on to it for a long time by faith alone, a faith at first stormy and without light, we shall never transform it into certainty. Faith is the indispensable condition.” – Simone Weil, ‘Reflections on the Right use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God’ in The Great Tradition: Classic Readings what it Means to be an Educated Human Being, by Richard Gamble.”
Clark & Jain echo this when they quote St. Anselm “Credo ut intelligam’ “I believe that I may understand.”
The ancients saw the proof and the fruit and it permeated throughout the entire culture. While this could lead us into a elongated and detailed look at history, what I will say is that those cultures and times that sought to rediscover what the Greeks had discovered, flourished like never before. Maybe the best example is Medieval Christendom. Hosts of scholars poured through the pages of the ancient texts seeking to rediscover these ideas, but through the lens of Christ crucified and risen.
“This theology was not supposed to intrude upon the lower disciples from without but to offer nourishment to their basic principles from within, allowing each subject to explore the artistry of a creative God. Education in this manner, coupled with the grace of Christ, was not a matter of indoctrination, but about bringing each nature to its fullest potential in a living an vibrant community.” -Clark & Jain, The Liberal Arts Tradition
So here we are in the 21st century trying to grasp at this tradition, but we are in a very different time. Everything in our culture seems to set its self up against the ideals of the classical tradition, but at the same time everything our world is crying out for can be found this tradition, of course I mean Christ. Christ in grammar, Christ in literature, Christ in reasoning, Christ in speaking, Christ in music, Christ in the stars and the very movement of the earth. This is exactly what the liberal arts allow for in teacher and student, but we need a paradigm shift, we need to be oriented to a new way of viewing reality. This is one reason why I appreciate Clark & Jain’s book so much. They lay out the whole vision and show us how to enter in. They show us how to think about the liberal arts, the sciences, gymnastic, and music with greater accuracy. Therefore, we are going to take the next several posts to explore the seven liberal arts more closely. Of course we recognized this is only part of the tradition that Clark & Jain present, but we will leave the rest for a future series. For now let me place us in our discussion.
Clark & Jain give Christian classical education the following definition:
[box] “Grounded in piety, Christian classical education cultivates the virtue of the student in body, heart, and mind, while nurturing a love for wisdom under the lordship of Christ.”[/box]
They give four points that help us being to explore this more.
1. “Grounded in Piety, Governed by Theology”
This is the starting point and the fence. By starting point, I mean that without a humble spirit who is making some attempt to relate rightly to authority, you will find this tradition very difficult. A correct view of earthly and heavenly authority is foundational in this pursuit. By fence, I mean what C.S. Lewis was talking about in Abolition of Man. He refers to this transcendent idea that hold all of reality in check. This, of course, is Christian Theology. It governs us and helps us not wander off and outside of the Tau (Lewis’ word for Christian theology/Natural Law.)This must be developed in ourselves and our students to move forward in the tradition.
2. “Gymnastic & Music: The training of the Bodies, the tuning of the Hearts”
This is all about developing a physical health and imaginative wonder. It tunes the heart to reality. This is what Dr James Taylor discusses in his book Poetic Knowledge. It is also running through all the fibers of Charlotte Mason’s writings as well.
3. “The Liberal Arts are the Tools of Learning, both Linguistic and Mathematical”
I won’t day much about these here because we are writing about these over the next several post, but I will day this part of the tradition is all about the intellectual virtues. The intellectual virtues are what I was describing earlier as organs for viewing reality. The liberal arts are an intricate part of cultivating the whole and free man.
4. “Philosophy is the Love of Wisdom in Natural, Moral, and Divine Reality”
I have to say, I love looking at the sciences this way. This part of the tradition thrives from observing nature. At each level, first natural philosophy (biology, physics, and chemistry), second, moral philosophy (history, ethics, and politics), and third, Metaphysics (theology), the observations and ideas become more complex and require more experience with reality to make accurate judgments. That is why they were never traditionally studied until a certain age. It wasn’t until a certain time in life that a person had enough learning and experience to think about these areas rightly.
I do hope you join me on this journey of learning and thinking about the liberal arts and the Christian classical tradition. Return to the ‘Contemplating the Liberal Arts’ series page here.
What do you most want to learn about regarding the liberal arts?
Expanding wisdom, extending grace,
Resources Used in Writing this Article
The Liberal Arts tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education by Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain
The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
This post is linking up with Trivium Tuesdays, A Classical Homeschool Link-UP at Living & Learning at Home.