Christmas 2017: Feast Edition!

Although Christmas day itself has passed, nonetheless the Church insists that we keep up the celebration! As obedient sons and daughters, ours is the task to celebrate the feast as heartily as possible for as long as we can – or at least until Epiphany and even to the Baptism of The Lord. I do not think I will keep up the tree until February 2nd (i.e. the Feast of the Purification of Mary). The pine needles just get too dry and the city has long ceased its free curbside collection of trees by then.

Part of my celebration includes reflecting on Christmas day itself which again flew by too quickly!

This year we opted for a somewhat slimmer tree.

As I am a church organist, my family graciously agreed to wait for brunch until all the Masses were complete for the day. But the wait was worth it!

I have no idea how my daughter made this. Or what it is called. But this photo should demonstrate to everyone, once again, that liberal education works!

This year’s fruit salad was better than ever. For some reason, every blueberry was sweet but not mushy, and yet ever so tart. The pineapple was plump and juicy and the strawberries were luscious.

The photos make everything seem just a little more peaceful than I remember- they certainly do not reveal how excited I was nor how ravenous was my appetite!

Eggs Blackstone! (on sourdough)

 

 

As a sort of culmination to breakfast, my chefs made the annual Baby Jesus rolls. A soft roll swaddling the Christ Child with a sweet cream cheese filling.  Our Lord who said, “I am the bread of life” certainly would not object to such a breakfast roll!

Taste and see how sweet the Lord is! (and make certain to listen to the Cambridge Singers while eating!)

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Brunch completed, I had to take a two-hour nap, but when I awoke, my daughters Mary and Anna had already long since begun dinner preparations.

After “butterflying” the roast and submitting it to the tenderizing process for what seemed like a full forty-five minutes, Anna somehow magically wrapped it around a special stuffing that included mushrooms and a pound of Gorgonzola. Then she lovingly wrapped it in bacon.

After several unsuccessful attempts to locate cooking twine, I finally asked a helpful butcher at Zagara’s Marketplace. He promptly went to his loom and cut off two or three feet which I immediately and gratefully pocketed.

On Friday, my daughter Mary and I spent a wonderful hour at Cleveland’s famous Italian Supermarket on Euclid Boulevard, Gallucci’s! This is where I obtained my Gorgonzola as well as a half pound of Pancetta to mix with the Brussells Sprouts. Gallucci’s also has an incredible array of every other Italian food – and a fantastic sandwich and pizza bar.  Mary and I each chose the Italian sausage sub of the day!

Now for the twice baked potatoes! No photo is able to capture twice baked potatoes properly. But imagine a mixture of Gruyère, chives, bacon, sour-cream, salt and pepper.

Then, of course no dinner is complete with out the soft over-night buttery rolls.

Every year, my father sends each of his children a box of Enstrom’s Almond Toffee. In my opinion, Enstrom’s Toffee is simply the best toffee that money can buy. But that might be an opinion based on custom which the Poet Pindar says “is king.”

Merry Christmas!

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Posted in beauty, breakfast, Christmas, Custom, Dinner, Feasts, Fine Arts, liberal education works, Music | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Make Your House Fair as You are Able!

What is Christmas about? What is Advent about except to prepare for and celebrate the arrival of Wisdom Himself, in the form of a little baby, into the warm hospitable stables of our own hearts!

Old Stables of the 'Dolpinn' Inn, Lincoln

We have been doing our best to prepare for His arrival by making our house fair, so to speak. We have been engaging in penances and spiritual practices and prayers and songs, all of which are ultimately directed at welcoming Wisdom!

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And so Christmastide provides us with an excellent opportunity to reflect on many things surrounding the birth of Our Lord, not the least of which is Catholic education.

It is, of course, through education that the mind is disposed towards grace. It is specifically through a liberal education that the minds and hearts of the young are formed into more fitting homes for the arrival of Wisdom Himself.

I suppose some might use the fact that our Lord arrived in a stable to play down the importance of making a suitable home, in their own souls, for the arrival of Jesus. But this is not a good interpretation of the stable. One would not want to say,

Jesus was born in a stable, so certainly he will also not hesitate to be ‘born in my mind’ even if is a veritable intellectual pig pen!

No, it would be far better for us to say,

Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table!

Granted of course that Jesus, on His part, is ready to meet each of us wherever we happen to be, but that doesn’t mean that we, on our part, should not try to the best of our ability to give Him a fitting reception.

And that is the point of a Catholic liberal education-to do what we can on our part to give Jesus a fitting reception into our hearts. And by “on our part” we might say in virtue of those gifts that we have received through our human nature, as opposed to the gifts that we have received through our participation in the sacramental life of Christians.

And everyone is capable of engaging in a Catholic liberal education to a greater or lesser extent. As a matter of fact, although it pains me to have to point this out, I think we have to admit that acquiring a Catholic liberal education is a requirement of our nature.

It is an obligation placed on all.

This is what Robert Maynard Hutchins was getting at when he said,

The liberal arts are not merely indispensable; they are unavoidable, Nobody can decide for himself whether he is going to be a human being. The only question open to him is whether he will be an ignorant, undeveloped one or one who has sought to reach the highest point he is capable of attaining. The question, in short, is whether he will be a poor liberal artist or a good one.

Now there are some who perhaps still think that I am saying that Jesus prefers the company of the educated and the intellectually gifted. As if to say He only came for the wise men and not the shepherds.

But don’t tell me that those shepherds were hell-bent on avoiding liberal education like so many of our contemporaries. It wasn’t as if they were keeping watch in the fields by night completely distracted, “wired” and engrossed in the ugly music or “social media” of their day!

The angel who said “fear not” would not have said “fear not” if they were, in fact, actively engaged in pursuits which were adverse towards the arrival of Wisdom! The shepherds did not reject liberal education and substitute the pursuit of temporal goods in its place.

I take it as a self-evident matter that those shepherds were practicing liberal education to the utmost of their ability! When they were not looking in awe at the stars they were probably soothing their souls with beautiful music on their pipes. They lived the  Quadrivium!

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You laugh and say I stretch the point.

No, listen to the wise Duke  in As You Like It as he describes the education of those who, like the shepherds, might be said to be in a certain kind of “exile” but who manage to find “tongues in trees,” and  “books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything”!

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference; as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
‘This is no flattery; these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.’
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
I would not change it.

Those shepherds were following the advice of Heraclitus better than most when he said,

Wisdom is to speak the truth and to act, according to nature, giving ear thereto.

The shepherds were doing the best they could in developing their hearts and minds and the gifts of human nature in the circumstances in which they were placed, and consequently they were rewarded with Wisdom.

All the more should we!

Merry Christmas!

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The Lord’s Prayer: What Does “Lead Us Not Into Temptation” Mean?

The Lord’s Prayer is, of course, the perfect prayer. I don’t know that we have to offer any sort of proof for this other than the fact that it is the prayer given by Our Lord Himself. In St. Luke’s Gospel we read,

And it came to pass, that as he was in a certain place praying, when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him: Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.

And he said to them: When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.

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St Luke’s version seems just a little scaled down, and I’m sure there is a good reason for this. Fortunately, though, we have more than one Gospel from which to get the whole story!

St. Matthew records the words of the prayer at greater length!

Thus therefore shall you pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our supersubstantial bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen.

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That this is the perfect prayer is attested to by St Augustine, who said,

if we pray rightly and fittingly, we can say nothing else but what is contained in this prayer of Our Lord.

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Since it has come up in the news recently, I have been thinking particularly of the sixth petition  in the prayer: “And lead us not into temptation.”

It has been suggested that perhaps this particular formation of words in English is the result of a bad or faulty translation.

Well, I suppose those of us who don’t know any Greek or Latin will just have to let the experts tell us what to think when it comes to the translation. Ignorance of the classic languages often results in one having to simply bow in deference to the experts.

Now, I happen to know just enough Greek to make my way around a first or second year Greek textbook, and even to read bits and pieces, fragments, of classical literature. Perhaps a little Xenophon, snippets of Aristotle, a little Herodotus – but better than any of these, I am able to make my way through the New Testament in Greek – although slowly.  Especially when I am reading from a Greek – English interlinear translation!

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When it comes to the Lord’s Prayer, I suppose we have to consider the fact that Our Lord spoke Aramaic. Nonetheless, I think we have to also accept the fact that the only authoritative versions of the prayer were written by the Evangelists in Greek.

As far as I know, there is no official Aramaic text of The Lord’s Prayer.

The sixth petition of the Lord’s prayer,  “Lead us not into temptation,” is written,

“καὶ μὴ  εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν” 

and in CAPS,

“ΚΑΙ ΜΗ ΕΙΣΕΝΕΓΚΗΣ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΙΣ ΠΕΙΡΑΣΜΟΝ”

Now if I were to translate this I would render it thus:

and (καὶ) do not (μὴ)  lead in (εἰσενέγκῃς) us (ἡμᾶς) into (εἰς) the trial/temptation (πειρασμόν)

The word “εἰσενέγκῃς” is the aorist subjunctive active of the verb “εἰσφέρω“. Which means  “I lead into, bring in, announce.”

So to translate εἰσενέγκῃς as Do not lead us into is an excellent translation of the Greek -speaking as a tertiary level Greek teacher. And the word “Πειρασμοσ” (peirasmos) is rendered by “experiment,” “trial,” or “temptation.”

Thus the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer seems to be excellently translated as Do not lead us into temptation or Lead us not into temptation.

What does this mean?

Well, here we must go to St. Thomas just as the ancient Israelites went to Joseph in Egypt. And,of course, St. Thomas never disappoints. Speaking about the last three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer he says,

We are directed to beatitude accidentally by the removal of obstacles. Now there are three obstacles to our attainment of beatitude. First, there is sin, which directly excludes a man from the kingdom, according to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, etc., shall possess the kingdom of God“; and to this refer the words, “Forgive us our trespasses.”

And here is the crux!

Secondly, there is temptation which hinders us from keeping God’s will, and to this we refer when we say: “And lead us not into temptation,” whereby we do not ask not to be tempted, but not to be conquered by temptation, which is to be led into temptation.

He finishes,

Thirdly, there is the present penal state which is a kind of obstacle to a sufficiency of life, and to this we refer in the words, “Deliver us from evil.”

I must confess that I found it revealing when St Thomas said that when we say lead us not into temptation, “we do not ask not to be tempted.” 

That is precisely what I used to think the prayer meant. Don’t let me be tempted.

Whether Oscar Wilde actually said “I can resist anything but temptation,” I think the sentiment is shared by many. And so we might pray lead us not into temptation!

But, if we reflect further on the word temptation (πειρασμόν- peirasmon) we see that it appears first to mean experiment or attempt or trial and then temptation. In other words suppose we compared ourselves to olympic athletes- what is it that we are practicing for? What are all those long training sessions for? Why all the painstaking exercise and long hours spent listening to coaches? Isn’t it all so that we can compete in a trial? Doesn’t every Olympic athlete want to have an opportunity to prove himself?

In other words the contest or competition is the trial.

The actual race is the trial or experiment of strength and endurance. And such is a temptation.

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Christians are just like athletes. St. Paul is thinking along the same lines when he addresses Timothy,

But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry. Be sober.

For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming. Make haste to come to me quickly.

Perhaps the Christian will always avoid the near occasion of sin. But this does not mean that the Christian will pray that God will remove every trial of his strength, every temptation. As a matter of fact, it could be that this is God’s very plan by which he helps souls to gain strength and merit- that is, by allowing for temptations to enter into our paths that, with His grace, we can overcome.

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“Lead us not into temptation” is an excellent way to express these things. Of course God is not the cause of evil. Nonetheless, don’t we pray that God will provide for our spiritual growth in holiness by allowing us to undergo trials that are within our power to overcome?

So how can we express all of these things? What words can we come up with that say:

  1. “Please God, provide us with the contests, trials, and temptations that by your grace we will overcome and grow in your love.”
  2. “Do not let us go untried”
  3. “Let us not fall when we are tempted”

If we were to say, “Do not let us be tempted,” this would be against our own spiritual good.  If we were to say “Let us not fall in temptation,” this would exclude the notion that we ought, as “Christian Athletes” pray for contests of our strength that are proportionate to our ability.

Thus, by the words Lead us not into temptation”, we should understand, “O Lord, let us be tested in the contests of life that You, O Lord, mercifully and lovingly allow to be placed on our paths. But we beg you, Gracious Lord, to not let us perish or fall in those trials.”

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Posted in Aquinas, Lord's Prayer, The Passion | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Celebrating Christ The King Sunday In A Democratic Republic

Can we all just admit it? The chief disadvantage of living in the “greatest nation on God’s green earth” is that we Americans find it just a little tougher to sympathize with and even celebrate Monarchy.

I mean, wouldn’t we rather celebrate “Christ the President of the Universe?” This idea of Christ as the king is practically a frontal assault on all of our inclinations as patriotic Americans!

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In other words, if we all know that the democratic republican form of government under which we live is the most suitable government for mankind, doesn’t this realization dampen our enthusiasm a wee bit for celebrating monarchy and kingship- and therefore, all that is entailed by theme of the last Sunday of the liturgical year?

The fact that Pope Pius XI added this feast to the Roman calendar fairly recently (1925) makes me think that he knew it would come as a little bit of a shock to free thinking and independent Americans. I am sure he meant to give a slap in the face to  the rising and militant secularism of the time – and certainly he was thinking about the aggressive and violent assault on religious liberty in Mexico. Is there a greater antithesis to the mind of the secularist than the concept of Christ as the king of the universe?

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As a High-School teacher, it often befalls my lot to read Herodotus,’ The Histories, his legendary and not so succinct account of the “Persian War.” Herodotus details the rise and “worldwide” dominance of Persia, until it was thwarted in its inexorable western expansion by a relatively small group of democratic free thinking Greeks, at such places as Marathon and Thermopylae.

If there is a lesson to be learned from Herodotus, it is certainly this: As mighty as the Persian monarchs were, as massive as their armies grew, as multitudinous as were their servile and oftentimes sycophantic minions, they were nonetheless no match for the wits and bravery of a free thinking democratic people. For heaven’s sake, Athens was the very cradle of democracy and yet according to Herodotus, Athens very nearly single-handedly put a stop to the seemingly all-powerful and haughty King Xerxes!

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One cannot read Herodotus without feeling a twitch of exultation about the wit and resourcefulness and spunk that seems to arise when men think for themselves and agree by mutual compact to band together in a great cause. One cannot refrain from thinking that there is something beautiful about men who rule themselves democratically!

And so how is an American Catholic supposed to feel this Sunday? The very fabric of our society, our notions of law and reason and science and culture were bequeathed to us by the Greeks. Americans pride themselves on self direction. If I remember correctly our War of Independence was directed against overthrowing the rule of a monarch.

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And although the French were exceedingly helpful to us in our efforts, we have never been quite comfortable with them either for all of their aristocratic leanings. Many Americans like Thomas Jefferson were at first quite sympathetic about the overthrow of the Catholic monarchy in France during their so-called “Revolution.”

But again here we are, patriotic Americans confronted with celebrating the very thing, the defeat of which, provided a foundation for the American Republic- Monarchy!

As a church organist and the “official four hymn selector” for my parish, I will choose the following hymns:

  1. Alleluia Sing To Jesus, His The Scepter His The Throne!
  2. Crown Him With Many Crowns!
  3. The King of Love My Shepherd Is.
  4. To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King.

I like these hymns and given the fact that I am not singing the “Gregorian Propers” as I think I should be, these hymns are the next best thing. But notice the unfamiliar-to-Americans trappings of monarchy!

We have sceptres!

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And (gasp!) Crowns!

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And thrones!

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Oh the horror! How can Catholics celebrate such things if Monarchy is an unsuitable form of government?

I wonder if many Christians simply take in “Christ the King of the Universe” Sunday like many other things that the Faith proposes. After all the Church proposes all sorts of things for our belief which are simply not consonant with sound science and ordinary reason. So it’s perhaps best not to think about such things.

As if to say, perhaps there is a very real divide between faith and reason. When one goes to church or to worship, it is best to simply hang up one’s coat and hat and intellect on the rack outside the church to be donned only upon exit.

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Could it be that Kingship or Monarchy is indeed the fitting rule for mankind? This is not to say that this or that specific group of humanity should adopt a monarchical form of rule immediately. This is not to say that the American representative form of government by which we govern ourselves is not in fact the very best form of government available to us right now on our own time and place. Perhaps that form of rule is best relative to the manners customs and mores of this or that people.

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But if one had to choose the form of government that is simply best without qualification, what would one choose? What form of government did God Himself choose to rule his universe? Did he choose the best government? Is it relevant to our eternal happiness that He is a monarch? I guess the answer is obvious.

It is a fundamental rule of Christian living that the habits and affections that we develop on earth are significant in disposing our hearts towards heaven. As St. Thomas Aquinas was fond of saying “Grace perfects nature.” We are disposed towards the things of grace by the things of nature. Faith and reason are not opposed but rather the more we strive to reason aright, the more we provide an intellectual disposition for the gift of God’s grace.

That Christ is a monarch is a significant part of our faith. Insofar as we might identify various Christian monarchs that did not overstep their authority or abuse their power, perhaps every Christian might gather some lessons concerning how we ought to think, behave and feel in the presence of a monarch? Perhaps there are minor and major points of reverence and courtly behavior that are lost on the disciples of Democracy? Most importantly, perhaps there is a lesson to be learned about humbly and immediately adapting our will to that of his sovereign majesty, Christ the King; deference to a king is something a little more difficult for we rugged American individualists, who are accustomed to think it always right to have a say in our own affairs.

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Notwithstanding any obstacles in our path ascribable to our own political custom, I suspect that our celebration of Christ The King of the Universe this weekend will strike most Christians with the fitting annual realization that “Yes! Christ is the King! Christ should be enthroned in the very center and principal place in our hearts. Every Christian will undoubtedly be struck with the fitting thought that inasmuch as we have earthly concerns and earthly rulers, nonetheless Christ is ultimately in charge and we are to do nothing except it be his will!

Viva Christo Rey!

 

 

Posted in Aquinas, Sacred Music | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Did You Know That Drinking Milk Is An Excellent Preparation For Eating Meat?

Sometimes St. Paul seems downright condescending!

For whereas for the time you ought to be masters, you have need to be taught again what are the first elements of the words of God: and you are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. (Hebrews 5:12)

There are some things in scripture which are like “strong meat”;

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the prologue of Saint John’s Gospel for example, or when Saint Paul says,

Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Strong meat indeed. He continues,

About this we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

Now, I know that in comparison to these passages there are others in scripture which are much easier to understand. These passages are “milk.”

A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you…

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A passage much more readily understandable, though still inexhaustible in its depth.

So I can understand that St. Paul’s use of the meat and milk metaphor is primarily referring to the relative accessibility of various teachings in Scripture. Some teachings are meat and others milk.

But with the “rule of charity” with which St. Augustine bids we interpret all Scripture, I would  like to extend the metaphor.

Before doing so, we might pause just a little to appreciate Saint Paul’s use of the food metaphor in his teaching. I find this comparison absolutely spot on, compelling, delightful and persuasive.  I count myself among the Hebrews whom St. Paul justly rebuked for their slowness and dullness, but when St. Paul talks food, I am completely on board. To my way of thinking, he could not be any clearer!

In other words, to those of us who are ‘not quite there’ yet with respect to our spiritual understanding, to those of us who are not intellectually mature, St Paul says,

You need milk, not solid food; for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature…

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And this brings me to my point.

In comparison to scripture, which in its transcendent wisdom is all meat, even the very best of Greek literature and philosophy might certainly be compared to milk!

Ordinarily, I would prefer to compare the literature of Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides to a fine Bordeaux. Among the pagan authors, Homer would be the Chateau Margaux!Image result for margaux chateau

The literature of the Greeks is wine in contrast to the tasteless literature of our own contemporaries, which could only be compared to water. ( Although I hate to insult water by the comparison – would Diet Soda work better?)

I would be remiss not to treat my readers with a few sips of this wine!

Through the Greeks we learn that the meaning of our suffering is not suffering, but the meaning of suffering is truth! As the watchmen says in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon

Zeus has led us on to know, the Helmsman lays it down as law that we must suffer, suffer into truth.

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And similarly, his chorus of elderly Athenians teach us that no matter how much grief there is in the world, the good will win out in the end!

Sing a  song of sorrow, a song of sorrow, but the good prevails!

And what better encomium of marriage could you find than what Homer teaches us through the mouth of Odysseus,

for there is nothing better in this world than that man and wife should be of one mind in a house. It discomfits their enemies, makes the hearts of their friends glad, and they themselves know more about it than any one.

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Or who can not be moved by Sophocles’ denunciation of the root of all sin, Pride, when through the mouth of the prophet Tiresias he says,

All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.

Nonetheless, as wise as the Greeks are, the wisdom of man is, comparatively speaking, childish in comparison to the wisdom of God.

A man is called childish compared to God; just as a boy, in comparison to a man. (Heraclitus, DK 79)

And so it seems to me that the wisdom of man, found predominantly in Greek literature, is aptly compared to milk, the stuff of which children are made.

I don’t mean to disparage the wisdom of man by calling it milk. Every child needs milk and so every intellectual child needs Greek literature.

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I don’t know much about milk except that, somehow, if a child drinks enough of it and for a long time, he will soon be ready for meat and other solid food. Don’t ask me how. Milk is wonderful, there is evidently something incredibly nourishing about it. The point is that the literature of the great pagans stands in just the same way to the developing souls of men as does milk to the bodies of children.

And so, as St. Thomas points out,

…it should be noted that sacred doctrine is, as it were, the food of the soul: ‘With the bread of life and understanding she shall feed him’ (Sir. 15:3) and in (24:29): ‘They that eat me shall yet hunger, and they that drink me shall yet thirst.’ Sacred doctrine, therefore, is food and drink, because it nourishes the soul.

And so we might ask:

Do you wish to dispose yourself towards the nourishment of the solid food that is Sacred Doctrine?

Do you wish to feast on the meat of Holy Scripture?

If your answer is yes to both these questions, then by all means imbibe at length, and in great quantity, the milk that is pagan Greek literature!

Posted in aeschylus, Aquinas, Augustine, catholic education, Heraclitus, Homer, Sacred Doctrine, Socrates | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Do Not Be Called Teachers.” Why Not?

As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.

Now it is not only clear from this text, but I have had it on authority from multiple sources that the word ‘rabbi’ means ‘teacher.’

Hence the King James version of this same passage reads,

And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.

Now what exactly is Our Lord saying here? Is this a case of Our Lord using hyperbole as he was sometimes known to do (e.g. “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee”). So under this interpretation he might be saying,

Don’t get puffed up and arrogant because of your various titles, especially those that indicate that you might have some kind of wisdom!

Or perhaps, along the same lines, our Lord is simply exhorting us to humility? As if he is saying,

Given that teachers and instructors tend to be intellectually proud, do not be called teachers!

I am not a professor at an Ivy League school. Nor am I a professor at a tier 2 school, nor a professor at a tier 3 school. As a matter of fact I am not really a professor at all!

No, I am a ‘teacher’ at a relatively small unknown (and unknown unfairly!) high-school. Nonetheless, even I know what it feels like to be intellectually proud! So I can imagine that our Lord might say “do not be called teacher” to me.

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But could He have also been saying something else?

For example could Our Lord have been saying,

Do not be called teachers, because guess what? There are no teachers among you!

Could it be that our Lord is not just using hyperbole, but is rather pointing out that, in the strict sense of the term, there are precisely no teachers among men? In other words, He is saying,

Call no man teacher, because God alone has claim to this title.

God alone is a teacher in the most interior and prime way. And therefore our Lord is reminding us that God alone is to be thanked and praised for being the cause of every good thing we have including our most prized possession, to wit, any small wisdom that we might have?

Why is this?

Well, just think about it for a minute. Think about what a teacher is. Isn’t a teacher supposed to be someone who teaches? And if someone teaches, doesn’t that mean that he has some sort of knowledge which he transfers from himself to a student?

In other words, since he knows something he is able to cause his students to know those same things through a process which we call “teaching.”

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But wait a moment! Is this really possible?

Is a teacher really able to cause knowledge in his students?

Interestingly the Latin word for teacher is ‘doctor, doctoris’ and it is no wonder, because we might ask the exact same questions about doctors. Our Lord might just as well have said,

Do not be called doctors.

This is because, as we all know, a doctor is not someone who makes sick people healthy. A doctor is rather someone who supposedly knows how to work with nature so that the sick will heal themselves!

As the great Heraclitus said,

Wisdom is to speak the truth and act, according to nature, giving ear thereto.

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The wise doctor is, thus, someone who ‘listens to nature’ and ‘speaks’ and ‘acts’ according to what nature herself proposes in bringing a sick person to health.

But the important thing to remember is that the principles of health are already in the sick person! The doctor did not implant these seeds of health in his patient.

The seeds of his health are already there and the doctor merely knows how to aid those seeds to flourish and restore the sick person to health. He does this by either removing impediments or supplementing what nature herself needs in order to restore health.

And therefore, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that, just as the seeds of health are in the sick, so are the seeds of knowledge already in the ignorant. The teacher is one who aids and abets nature in bringing those ‘active’ seeds of knowledge to full flower.

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Therefore, just as the doctor is said to cause health in the sick man with nature working, so also one is said to cause knowledge in another by the activity of the power of reasoning in that person, and this is called teaching. In this way one person is said to teach another and to be his teacher.

And he further distinguishes two ways that the mind might come to know,

Therefore, just as someone can be healed in two ways — first by the action of nature only, second by the collaboration of nature and medicine — so also there are two ways of acquiring knowledge. First, when the mind moves by its own natural power to an understanding of things previously unknown to it. This is called discovery (inventio). Second, when the mind is helped by an outside power of reason. This is called teaching (disciplina).

But the incipient causes of all of our knowledge have been implanted in us by God Himself. The wise teacher, like the wise doctor, is one who merely knows how to water and nourish those incipient causes of our knowledge. The teacher can not cause knowledge in a student except as a sort of secondary cause; the teacher might facilitate the growth of knowledge in his student from the active seeds of knowledge that were implanted in the student by God Himself!

It was He alone who planted in us the ability to understand. It was God who sowed the first principles in us and the light of intelligence by which those principles are known and in which all of our subsequent knowledge is rooted.

God alone is the primary and interior cause of our knowledge. God alone can be called teacher.

Now you dear reader, if you see for yourself what I am saying, and if this has provoked you to understand something new, may call me ‘teacher.’

But you may only call me ‘teacher’ in a secondary way. Because I have only enabled you to see something that you ‘knew all along’ in a seminal way.

Posted in Aquinas, catholic education, Heraclitus | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Five Good Reasons to Avoid Being Educated

Sometimes in life we need to face difficult truths.  If we have been on the wrong side of an issue, we need to be open to change, and open to declaring an “about-face.” Even if it hurts!

And so, after thirty years of teaching and promoting education, after thirty years of giving largely unsolicited advice to parents about educating their children, after thirty years fighting an uphill battle to help market education for struggling schools that purport to “educate,” I think it is now time to consider a different point of view. Do we really need to educate our children?

Why not just baptize them and give them a good training?

There is no need to pull down the current institutions of learning – our current schools colleges and universities. No need whatsoever, because they have all already abandoned education for at least a century now…that is, they have abandoned everything that the word stands for but have kept the word itself. And so there is no need to change marketing materials. We just need to understand that every time we hear the word ‘education’ nowadays, we should simply understand that what is really meant is “training.”

I wish to provide five excellent reasons why parents should avoid giving their children an education and should, rather, do all they can to give them a proper training– but before beginning, let us distinguish our terms just a little.

Education concerns itself with the refinement of the intellect so that it might bring all things to bear on the truth. Education is about forming the mind so that it can look throughout the world and the cosmos and see the various orders that exist.

To gaze upon the orders that exist – whether the orderly beauty amidst the ranks of the humblest creatures’ (even inanimate!) spheres of existence, or whether it is to gaze upon the order that exists among the sphere in which man himself lives – in society and in his own soul, or whether it is to marvel at the order that exists in the spheres above him-

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the starry heavens and even among the separated substances – and perhaps whether it is, at last, to gaze upon the Divine cause of all this order Himself, God.

This is, roughly, what education is about.

Training has to do with adapting the mind and making it excellent at special works; making the mind, and the hands, adept at the performance of specific and productive tasks.

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Training involves developing a single-minded focus on a limited sphere of activity and developing the habits that belong to performing that activity with excellence! Whether managing a portfolio, or performing heart surgery, or installing fiber optic cables,

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or designing efficient systems for selling anything on the internet! What a wonderful thing training is! Thank goodness we have schools colleges and universities which are “doing first-class work as training-schools.” Really, we can’t have too many of them.

In 1937, the American Libertarian Albert Jay Nock  had already noticed a confusion of these terms (i.e. Education and Training) and wrote about it in his famous essay “The Disadvantages of Being Educated”. When examining what was going on in the colleges and universities at the time, he said that the ‘education’ they purported to impart,

aimed at what we used to call training rather than education; and it not only did very little with education, but seemed to assume that training was education, thus overriding a distinction that formerly was quite clear. Forty years ago a man trained to proficiency in anything was respected accordingly, but was not regarded as an educated man, or “just as good,” on the strength of it. A trained mechanic, banker, dentist or man of business got all due credit for his proficiency, but his education, if he had any, lay behind that and was not confused with it.

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In other words, if a man is educated, that is something quite apart from whether he is trained to be ‘successful’ in the world. Education does not have a direct bearing on what is meant by success. If anything, education is something that lies further back in the soul. It is something “behind” training, without being necessary at all to training.

An interesting pastime for every teacher is following the path and careers of his former students. Teachers of course are naturally interested in what happens to their students after they leave their charge and make their path off to college or simply dive directly into the world.

It has often struck me, although I am not yet ready to make a sweeping generalization, that very often the students that appear to have the most intellectual talent and are perhaps the most industrious in their studies, do not, surprisingly, appear to be identical with the students that appear to make their way in the world in a manner that would be recognized as being the most “successful.”

Education, says Albert J. Nock,

“…leads a person on to ask a great deal more from life than life, as at present organized, is willing to give him; and it begets dissatisfaction with the rewards that life holds out.”

Whereas,

“Training tends to satisfy him with very moderate and simple returns. A good income, a home and family, the usual run of comforts and conveniences, diversions addressed only to the competitive or sporting spirit or else to raw sensation – training not only makes directly for getting these, but also for an inert and comfortable contentment with them.”

I hate to say it, but could it be that education might actually be counterproductive? Suppose you would like to have a successful son, could it be that insisting that he obtain an education might be to do nothing other than to place a sizable obstacle in his path?

I think so, and here are five excellent reasons why everyone should avoid being educated:

  1. Education instills in the mind of its suitors an interest in things that are of very little interest to most people.

This is easy to understand. Just go ahead and pick up a book of Euclid’s’ Elements. Here is  how it begins:

“A Point is that which has no part.”

What does that mean? And suppose we try to find out? Where will that leave us? Who really cares about what a point is anyway? What does this have to do with the price of a loaf of bread and a gallon of gasoline? Nothing really.  Can you blame anyone for not really caring about what a point and a line are?

Anyone who studies Euclid’s Geometry will quickly develop a taste for theoretical truth and, sometimes, a corresponding distaste for anything that smacks of the practical. And this leads to our second excellent reason.

2. Education fosters a distaste for practical things.

This point is again illustrated very well by the story told by the fifth century compiler of Greek manuscripts, Stobaeus:

… someone who had begun to learn geometry with Euclid, when he had learnt the first theorem, asked Euclid, “What shall I get by learning these things?” Euclid called his slave and said, “Give him threepence since he must make gain out of what he learns”.

A proper education, that is a liberal education, is called liberal precisely because it is not at the service of things practical. That is why it appears to have been only an education that the wealthy of aristocratic could afford to obtain. They had what they needed already for living well – at least as regards food, shelter and clothing.

3. Education tends to be divisive and isolates the one who receives it.

This reason was clarified for me by Mr. Nock. He says,

Education deprives a young person of one of his most precious possessions, the sense of co-operation with his fellows. He is like a pacifist in 1917, alone in spirit – a depressing situation, and especially, almost unbearably, depressing to youth. “After all,” says Dumas’s hero, “man is man’s brother,” and youth especially needs a free play of the fraternal sense; it needs the stimulus and support of association in common endeavour.

The student who makes the ill-fated decision to become educated will in that decision unknowingly cause the separation between himself and all of his peers, and indeed, perhaps even the greater part of humanity.

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Why is education divisive? Well, just think about Socrates for a moment. He was a gadfly! In his relentless pursuit of truth he could not help but to uncover and expose the lack of wisdom in anyone else who claimed to have wisdom. I am afraid that this is an inescapable characteristic of anyone who wishes to be educated or wise, he must walk in the footsteps of Socrates.

Training, on the other hand, brings one into society and helps one to fit in as a normal participant in the human race. Mr. Nock remarks,

At present one can afford only to be trained. The young person’s fellows are turning all their energy into a single narrow channel of interest; they have set the whole current of their being in one direction. Education is all against his doing that, while training is all for it; hence training puts him in step with his fellows, while education tends to leave him a solitary figure, spiritually disqualified.

4. Education creates a distaste for barter and exchange.

Now this is a real disadvantage for anyone who happens to live in this world. Liberal education, as was mentioned, arose out of man’s desire to know for its own sake. Liberal education arose out of the divine instinct for knowledge,  implanted by the Creator in our souls, an instinct that we call ‘wonder.’ Wonder is the desire to know something in its causes, and for its own sake. The person who wonders about something does not wonder because he wishes to make money or do something with the knowledge. He simply wishes to know. He is like a child in this regard.  Like a child he chants in his best Trochaic meter,

Twinkle twinkle little star,

How I wonder what you are!

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The child does not wish to sell the star. Socrates was poor. He did not sell his knowledge to students like the sophists of his day. Wisdom is not for sale. Like a beautiful lady, one does not court her for her wealth or for her connections or for some other advantage. She demands of her suitors that she be loved for her own sake. And just so does Lady Philosophy appear to Boethius in his prison cell after he has suffered the terrible ups and downs of fortune’s wheel.

By a liberal education, the mind of the student is habituated towards a love of things that cannot be bought or sold. Unfortunately, those who develop this love cannot help but develop a corresponding clumsiness and even distaste for things that are measured in terms of dollars and cents.

This leads us to the fifth reason why education should be avoided.

5. Education tends to produce the gentleman, and the gentleman no longer has a place in society.

Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman famously said,

Liberal Education makes not the Christian, not the Catholic, but the gentleman.  

Newman did not mean that liberal education produces a man who dresses and adopts the fashions of the day as they are set forth in say Gentleman’s Quarterly or some-such other worldly standard.  No, he meant that liberal education produces a refinement of mind, manners, speech, and bearing such that the man becomes properly responsive to beauty, goodness and truth!

Here are some highlights of the gentleman according to Newman:

Hence it is that it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain…He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him;  … The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast;… He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; …he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. … He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort…

 

In this world we are taught that a person must “market” himself, and do what one may to make himself desirable over others in order to “get ahead.”

In the words of Mr. Nock,

Again, education tends towards a certain reluctance about pushing oneself forward; and in a society so notoriously based on the principle of each man for himself, this is a disadvantage.

And so it is clear that those who seek an education thereby seek at least the five disadvantages that I have enumerated. There are undoubtedly more, but these alone are enough to demonstrate how difficult life will be for the educated person.

Therefore, parents take note!

Do you desire successful children?

Do you hope that your children will fit in as normal and ‘happy’ participants in society?

Do you love your children to the extent that you hope they will live comfortably and harmoniously in this world?

Well then, if your answer was “yes” to these questions, then by all means, don’t educate them!

Posted in catholic education, classical education, college, education, liberal education, Newman, Socrates, truth for its own sake | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

The Elective System in Education: “You Cannot Train Everybody For Everything”

Whatever one may say about our twenty-eighth president’s views about The United States role as promoter of democracy and capitalism and interventionism throughout the world, I think we have to give him full-hearted applause for his views on authentic liberal education.Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Harris & Ewing bw photo portrait, 1919.jpg

Take this for example,

When you say a young person must be prepared for his life-work, are you prepared, is he prepared, are his parents prepared, to say what that life-work is going to be?

The answer to this is NO!

He proceeds,

Do you know a boy is going to be a mechanic by the color of his hair? Do you know that he is going to be a lawyer by the fact that his father was a lawyer? Does any average and representative modern parent dare to say what his children are going to be?

Again the answer to the first two questions is “no” and “no,” but there certainly are more than a few average modern parents who do in fact dare say what their children are going to be, or at least dare to say what their children wont be. Witness the shortage in religious vocations for example.

Wilson hits the nail on the head when he says,

My chief quarrel with the modern parent is that he does not know, and that he hands that question over to the youngster whom he is supposed to be advising and training.

The elective system of education which began in the university (where it properly belongs), and crept back into the college and has now permeated most high schools and is even seeping into (if you can believe it!) the primary school, is an exact exemplification of what Wilson is saying.

These days parents say to their children,

“Son, daughter, you must be successful in life. I don’t know what you are going to be or how you are going to accomplish this. I who am older and wiser than you don’t know how you should be educated. I don’t know what precise path you should take. I will not prescribe a certain path for you to follow. No… making these important decisions  about your life and your success must all be left up to you who are relatively ignorant about all things. Every choice about your intellectual formation must be made by you according to your own whims and passing fancies.

That is what the elective system is isn’t it? I just can’t get over how silly it is on the face of it. It represents a complete abdication of responsibility  on the part of those who are supposed to know better.

It would be like a pediatrician saying to a child ,

As your doctor I recommend health to you. But what health is and how you should acquire it is completely up to you. You must make your own diagnoses and choose your own prescriptions.

You might think that this comparison is too strong.

You say,

Yes- that would be ridiculous for doctors to let their patients diagnose themselves and write their own prescriptions. But the health of the body is a very delicate and important thing. There are very precise methods, rules, and best practices that must be adhered to in order to obtain and maintain health.

But Socrates would reply,

What is more important, the health of the body or the health of the soul? Which is more easy to achieve? If the health of the body requires certain precise methods and practices, how much more would the health of the soul require these!

It is not difficult to understand why parents abdicate their responsibilities as primary educators and why as a consequence, the children themselves, or rather the passions, whims and fancies of the children, become the primary architect of their own intellectual formation. The reason is that many parents no longer know what an education is. And so they substitute the imagined idea of their child’s success in a career, a career which they know not, for education.

This unknown career becomes the child’s purpose in life, and the school is asked to educate the child in order to make him “college and career ready.”

As Wilson says

“…when he says he wants his son’s training suited to his purpose of life he must admit his son has no purpose in life. Then we are asked to suit our processes to this undestined youth.”

Now this is a predicament. The school must educate children to be successful for a myriad unknown careers. Wilson write about the state of education in the early part of the twentieth century,

“With this complexity, what has the modern school attempted to do? It has attempted to do everything at once. It has said: Here are a lot of boys and girls whose future occupations we do not know and they do not know. They must be prepared for life. Therefore we must prepare everybody for everything that is in that life. We haven’t found it amusing. We haven’t found it possible. We have attempted it and we know we have failed at it. You cannot train everybody for everything. Moreover you are not competent to teach everything. There is not any body of teachers suited in gifts or training to do this impossible thing. Neither the schools nor those who guide them have attempted to make any discrimination with regard to purpose or to settle upon methods which will promise some degree of substantial success. That is the situation we are in.”

Wilson said this in 1909 speaking to the New York City High School Teachers Association.

More than a century later …. progress?

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In Education, The End Depends On The Beginning.

Incidentally, I haven’t read much of the Roman poet Manlius who “flourished” in the first century AD. But his famous line “Finisque ab origine pendet” from the fourth book of his Astronomicon appears to have been adopted by Phillips Exeter Academy as its motto.

John Phillips who founded the school wrote:

“Above all, it is expected that the attention of instructors to the disposition of the minds and morals of the youth under their charge will exceed every other care; well considering that though goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous, and that both united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.”

Phillips Exeter, founded in 1781, is now, I would say, a fairly prestigious Academy claiming everyone from Daniel Webster to Pierre S. du Pont to Joseph Coors to Mark Zuckerberg as alumni. And no one would argue that these gentlemen haven’t been very useful to mankind.

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John Phillips, banker and merchant that he was, stresses knowledge and goodness as things to be pursued because of their “usefulness to mankind.” Now just imagine for a moment, per impossibile,  that knowledge and goodness were not useful! Surely we would all be in big trouble!

If knowledge and goodness were only valuable as things to be pursued for their own sake, would John Phillips have laid the foundations of his school? I doubt it.

I suppose Phillips Exeter and its veritable “galaxy of names” of famous alumni is itself fulfilling its own motto “finis origine pendet.” The origins of the school are rooted in a fundamental utilitarian view of human life, and its entire 200 plus years of existence have born this philosophy out through the production of men whose names would supply almost a complete litany of worldly success.

But certainly, “the end does” in fact “hang from the beginning” to a great extent. Parents, schools, and indeed all who concern themselves with the formation of the young know the importance of a good beginning. The path of an arrow, its precise trajectory, velocity, and force can be determined by examining its beginning movement, so too, human life seems to have a trajectory that can almost be wholly predicted by what happens in the beginning.

But rather than fit man from the very beginning to be useful to himself and to others- (which at first glance appears like a very laudable goal!) genuine Catholic education seeks to dispose each person to be a fitting vessel for Divine Grace. Following the maxim that “grace builds on nature,” genuine Catholic education proposes that by acquiring the intellectual habits of truth, the mind of the student is more apt for Divine Truth.

And further, by acquiring habits of goodness, students are more disposed to living a life of the Theological Virtues.

And by acquiring virtues that allow us to see and respond to beauty, students are disposed to the appreciation of Him who is Beauty itself!

Habits that enable us to see order, unity, symmetry, harmony, and proportion, enable the young to see and respond to beauty in the world.

Developing these habits are “the beginnings” that we all want for our children, for then they are disposed to see the beauty of the Creator.

St. Bonaventure writes,

“In beautiful things St. Francis saw Beauty itself, and through His vestiges imprinted on creation he followed his Beloved everywhere, making all things a ladder by which he could climb up and embrace Him who is utterly desirable.”

One would hope that after 12 years of schooling, every student would be well on his way to having acquired the habits of truth, goodness and beauty. We even ask him to start a somewhat more independent life in college supposing that he will then pursue goodness, truth, and beauty on his own. One would hope that a student entering college would have the internal motivation, the habits, or at least the beginnings of these habits, to pursue the things that lead to his highest end.

Finisque ab origine pendet.

Catholic education ought to focus on good beginnings; the formation of the intellectual, moral and aesthetic virtues .

In this way, we pray that our students will all someday find Him Who is the beginning and end of all Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

Posted in beauty, catholic education, classical education, education, liberal education, truth for its own sake | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

A Third Reason Why Philosophy is The Best and Most Noble Music

Let’s see if we can make this argument quickly and effectively!

We have given two reasons why Socrates said that “Philosophy Is The Best And Most Noble Music.”

We now present a third. Maybe there are more than three? But Three is enough!

(Drum-roll)

Philosophy is the best and most noble music in so far as it shares the very purpose of music- that is to aid man in bringing his soul into harmony with reason. But, we hasten to add, philosophy aims at this purpose in a higher and even more sublime way than does music!

Therefore, in comparison with music, Philosophy is “the best and most noble music.”

A brief defense:

Music like the other fine arts aims at a catharsis of the passions, as Aristotle points out in his Poetics. (Granted that the Poetics is about Tragedy specifically- it is clear that the same argument could be made about the other fine arts as well) The fine arts are various arts by which we are able to make our senses and imagination and the passions more reasonable.

Music has an obvious relationship to our passions. And so it is very easy to see that when we listen to beautiful music we are bringing our interior life (at least partly) into a more orderly and reasonable state.

But isn’t it obvious that this is what the philosopher aims to achieve?

We could probably do a better job making this reason clearer- but let’s avoid pedantry, for a change, and be done with it!

Thus we have three reasons why Philosophy is the best and most noble music:

  1. Philosophy really knows nature whereas music only imitates it (imitation being loosely a sort of “knowing”)
  2. Philosophy brings our souls into harmony with the truth. It brings the whole of our interior life into agreement with itself and with God whereas music brings about a harmony of sound.
  3. Philosophy aims to perfect man by bringing his whole soul into the service of reason whereas music aims, more specifically, at bringing mans passions into the service of reason.

Philosophy is The Best and Most Noble Music.

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