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.

File:Portrait of John Phillips.jpeg

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.

Advertisements
Posted in beauty, catholic education, classical education, education, liberal education, truth for its own sake | Tagged , , , , | 2 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.

Posted in Fine Arts, Music, philosophy, Socrates, Uncategorized, Wisdom | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Philosophy Is The Best And Most Noble Music: A Second Reason

Well, its time to give one more reason to support Socrates when he said that

Philosophy Is The Best And Most Noble Music

Otherwise I might forget it and then where will we be?

As we mentioned, one reason that “Philosophy Is The Best And Most Noble Music” stems from what a fine art is.

The fine arts imitate nature.  Whereas Philosophy does something that is even more than this- it does not just imitate nature, it knows nature! Therefore, comparatively speaking, philosophy is  “the best music.”

Here is a second reason:

Philosophy Is The Best And Most Noble Music (which seems to be a kind of free translation of “ὡς φιλοσοφίας μὲν οὔσης μεγίστης μουσικῆς”) because of what music is.

Another word for music is harmony. And harmony refers to, if nothing else, the bringing together in pleasant agreement various and different sounds.

To harmonize means to make agreeable sounds. To blend notes such that when heard together one hears “agreement.”

Thus to make harmony, or to make music, means to make agreement.

This agreement might be between one note and the next in a melody (horizontally). Or the agreement could be between all the notes among the chords (vertically).  Or both hopefully.

To make music mean to make agreement!

Now do you see how Music is like philosophy? Socrates devoted a life time to talking with people in an attempt to bring them to an interior agreement.

The Dialogues are all examples of this.

Someone claims to know something. Socrates, always interested in learning, engages him in a discussion in which Socrates ‘tests’ whether the claim to knowledge is really authentic.

In most cases Socrates discovers that those who claim to know something do not in fact know what they claimed. And Socrates attempts, with patience and charity, to show each of these pretenders to knowledge that they really don’t know.

How do you show someone who falsely claims to know something that he doesn’t know?

The best way to do this, as Socrates teaches us, is to show a person that if he asserts one thing which contradicts other things about which he is more certain, then the assertion cannot be true.

In other words, if someone has the truth then  all of his ideas must be in agreement with one another.

With the truth all things harmonize. With the truth all things are in harmony. With truth there is Music!

And so what could be clearer?

Music is the art which brings various sounds into harmony or agreement, Philosophy is the science in which our ideas and thoughts are brought into harmony; the method by which the entire intellectual life of man is brought into a beautiful agreement.

Therefore Philosophy, as Socrates maintains, is the best and most noble music!

Image result for greek playing lyre

Posted in Music, Philosophy of Nature, Seven Fine Arts, Socrates | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The First Reason Why Philosophy Is The Best And Noblest Music

The first reason why philosophy is the best and noblest music is taken from what music shares with all the fine arts but has in a preeminent degree. All the fine arts are works of reason. (I prefer to say that they are discoveries by reason instead of products of reason.)

In other words the fine arts imitate nature. They are not mental constructs as say “Lobachevskian Geometry.”

Image result for lobachevsky

Doesn’t Lobachevsky look kind of haunted?

Датотека:Sferni-trougao.gif

An equilateral triangle with three right angles…NOT!

The fine arts imitate the order in nature, they do not attempt to impose some new kind of order. The works of science fiction might be thought of as impositions of man’s imagination upon nature- or against nature, but the fine artist finds beauty in bringing out the order that is already in nature, and making it even more manifest to our senses.Image result for carl schmitt eggs painterMy wife’s grandfather (the “American Painter” Carl Schmitt) knew about the order in things – especially eggs!

The point here is that the fine arts are works or discoveries of reason that bring forth the order that is in nature. It is not the job of the fine arts to be “creative” as if the order that man creates is something that merits to be called ‘divinely inspired.’ The fine arts are gifts of the muses to man- not gifts of one man to another. This is why the fine arts are able to uplift men. They stem from principles which are above man, and therefore have the capacity to lift man above himself.

Music, preeminent among all the fine arts as a work of reason, is orderly and imitative of the order that is in nature.

This is easy to see if one considers that among the fine arts (e.g. sculpting, dancing, painting, architecture, etc) music is the art which is most directly related to mathematics.

This is not to say that the other arts, like architecture (which is obviously related directly to Geometry) are not related to mathematics. I am merely asserting that music is the art most directly related to mathematics. The very sounds that produce music are all products of various mathematical ratios, like the octave and the fifth, as the immortal Pythagoras discovered. And of course, tempo and rhythm are obviously governed by mathematical principles as well.

Image result for pythagoras

The fact that music is the most imitative of the mathematical order that reason knows, is certainly a reason why music is the only fine art that made its way into the sacred seven liberal arts of the quadrivium and the Trivium.

Now Mathematics itself is a beginning part of philosophy and the study of mathematics is necessary for anyone who wants to pursue philosophy.

But the point here is that Music is a work or discovery of man’s reason about the order in the world (i.e. particularly about the order that is found in man’s soul with regard to his passions).

This is also, loosely speaking  a definition of philosophy. Philosophy, if nothing else, is a work of man’s reason in its attempt to know the various orders that are found in the world.

So – and again not trying to be too strict here – the last two sentences amount to two premises in a syllogism the result of which is that

Philosophy is Music or  Music is Philosophy.

But the art of music does not really know the order that it imitates. Imitation is, broadly speaking, a sort of knowing – but it is not knowing in the strict sense of knowing. So given the fact that philosophy aims at really knowing we might say that Philosophy is better than music in this regard – and perhaps even say that “Philosophy is the best music.”

And whereas Music attempts to imitate the passions individually as they exist in the souls of men, philosophy attempts to know the passions simply. Philosophy knows what the passions are with precision and it knows their excesses and defects. And finally philosophy knows how many passions there are and how they relate to one another as well as how the passions relate to man himself and his final end.

Therefore we might agree with Socrates that Philosophy is Music and it might very well be figured under the name of music especially if we call philosophy the best and most noble music.

That is the first reason but I like the next two reasons even more!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In the Gospel, Punctuation Makes All the Difference.

But He turned, and said unto Peter, “Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me”

Ouch!

Talk about a slightly awkward moment!

How did Peter recover from this “dressing down”  from his boss?

In today’s idiom I suppose we would say that this is the passage where Our Lord “read the riot act” to St. Peter.

If I was standing in St Peter’s shoes at the time, I think I would have simply melted into a little quivering blue puddle of shame.

And I think we all know how much St. Peter loved our Lord. For heaven’s sake, Peter had just made his extraordinary confession,

Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

We know that Peter is on the impulsive side. He leaps out of boats to walk on the water to Our Lord. He is quick to cut the ear off of Malchus, the servant of the high priest Caiaphas, when they came to arrest Jesus.

Image result for which apostle cut off the ear

Our Lord knew perfectly well how much Peter loved him. And, even more, Our Lord had just said after Peter’s confession,

Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

I’ve heard of managers and bosses that are perhaps a bit, shall we say,  “mercurial,” but “Get thee behind me, Satan” just seems a little “over the top” doesn’t it?

Related image

But maybe St. Peter, although rebuked, did not take the words of Our Lord in this sense. Can they be understood in any other?

Well, as readers of this blog probably know, whenever one has trouble with Scripture, help is not far off, a trusty resource is available with most of the answers, and it is called the Catena Aurea (the “Golden Chain”). And this is nothing other than St. Thomas Aquinas’ own compilation of the writings of all the Fathers, Doctors, Saints and exegetes who had anything interesting to say about every passage in the four Gospels!

Image result for Catena aurea

Now what does the Catena Aurea have to say about this mysterious passage? Is Our Lord really angry with St. Peter to the extent that he calls him by the name of everybody’s worst enemy?

Well among the various commentators on this passage is one of my favorites, St Hillary! And this is what he says:

The Lord, knowing the suggestion of the craft of the devil, says to Peter, “Get thee behind me;” that is, that he should follow the example of His [Our Lord’s] passion; but to him by whom this expression was suggested, He turns and says, “Satan, thou art an offence unto me.” For we cannot suppose that the name of Satan, and the sin of being an offence, would be imputed to Peter after those so great declarations of blessedness and power that had been granted him.

There! Isn’t that fantastic?

In other words, we have an issue of grammar and syntax here ripe for the teeming and alert intellects of Greek and Latin students everywhere!

Is the epithet “Satan” in apposition to “Get thee behind me”? Or is it the direct address (vocative Case) of a person who is not present (e.g. is our Lord apostrophizing?) Or perhaps Satan is present unseen to everyone but Our Lord? For as St. Hillary says, it was surely by Satan’s suggestion that Peter said what he did.

Our Lord, the Good Shepherd who loves his sheep, is ever gentle and courteous. He is ever temperate and moderate in his speech. He is never one to utter an unfit or overly harsh word.

He says to Peter, “Get behind me.” That is, “Get behind and follow me, for you too must lay down your life, suffer and die and rise just as I”

And then He addresses Satan whose temporary kingdom and reign will shortly be overturned,

“Satan, thou art an offense to me!”

which is actually sort of an understatement. Even here Our Lord does not speak with undue harshness to the one who represents the greatest obstacle in his mission.

The early manuscripts of Sacred Scripture do not contain punctuation. Thus St. Hillary’s account of this passage is possible.

Peter, come behind Me and follow Me. Satan thou art an offense to me!

Posted in Aquinas, Catena Aurea | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Other Statues to Pull Down

While we are busily engaged in the sanctimonious and largely symbolic act of pulling down statues of various confederate generals and others who promoted slavery directly or indirectly, I have a few suggestions for some other “statues” that need pulling down as well.

For, as Aristotle pointed out, “Human nature is enslaved in many ways.”

And don’t get me wrong. All slavery is bad. My understanding is that there will be no slavery in heaven where God

shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.

The bad news is that the Civil War did not put an end to Slavery.

Sure the Civil War did end the apparent and visible slavery that made legal the ownership of human beings by other human beings, whereby the owners could wring

their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces.

Image result for slavery america plantation

And whatever one thinks about the causes of the North and the South, and the means employed, and the tremendous and appalling loss of life that ensued, every thinking American is just glad that the institution of slavery was abolished.

Thankfully, the Civil War was able to accomplish the eradication of such a sensible injustice, but, unfortunately, it was not able to put an end to some other forms of slavery, arguably even more deleterious, which degrade human dignity even more than the physical subjection of one person to another.

For, although the physical form of slavery (that has marred human history from seemingly the beginning) is a degradation of the person, this physical form of slavery nonetheless does not lay claim to the inner life of the human being. The human spirit is not able to be coerced by chains or whips no matter how brutal – at least if we are to believe the testimony of the those that have lived through such treatment.

The more invisible forms of slavery, however, of which I speak are far more destructive to the dignity of the human person, because they do touch the human person precisely in his inmost soul.

As Our Lord says in Matthew,

And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.

The slaveries about which I speak are so subtle that even those who are enslaved might not even recognize the fact. Like the spectators chained to their chairs in Socrates’ famous allegorical cave, who wished for nothing more than to be left alone staring at the flickering shadows on the cave wall, might there be countless millions today among us who are similarly enslaved to a shadow world? I speak of those who ‘live’ life but are seemingly ignorant of many, if not all, of the most significant realities; those who live in the shadow world of materialism and are devoid of any knowledge of the soul, or the angels or of God.

Image result for cave socrates

Or what about the countless millions who are enslaved by their passions?

To encourage and promote slavery to the passions is to encourage human beings to a life which is no better than that of the beast.  Hamlet soliloquized,

What is a man, If his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.

Image result for hollywood blvd

Or what about those who live their lives enslaved by fashion? Aren’t there a great many who appear to be directed by others in the clothing they wear, the thoughts they think, the music they listen to, and the cultural norms they follow? Far from acting freely or thinking for themselves, it would appear that for many people, the principle of their activity is nothing more than to appear to be “with it,” to appear to be au courant with whatever is the latest trend– moral, intellectual, or otherwise.

Image result for madison avenue

And perhaps most pernicious (although I am not sure), what about the vast majority of our fellow countrymen who appear to subscribe to the Baconian philosophy that man himself is ordered to some utilitarian end? In other words, that all of our efforts in the education and formation of the young should be to train them up towards utility? That they should think of nothing more than a career? That their lives have value only insofar as they are productive?

That those who are unable to “produce” or are not actually “producing” have no voice or value.

Image result for old lady in wheelchair

Is not this abhorrent? And yet the philosophy of utilitarianism is proposed by none other than all of our leading educational institutions. This is the assumption upon which the modern university is founded. The dignity of the human person is measured by his usefulness to society. If a person is not useful then he is worthless.

If there is anything that promotes slavery more than the philosophy of utilitarianism, I am not certain just what that would be.

Image result for harvard university

Then there is the slavery to custom and error and, of course, to sin itself. But we have enough work in front of us already.

We need to start marching and we need to pull down or re-purpose every institution that promotes slavery.  Here is my short list:

  1. Every educational institution that teaches our youth that the value of human life depends upon its utility – that man is ordered to a utilitarian end. (e.g. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc)
  2. Every institution that promotes the unbridled exercise of passions. (e.g. Hollywood, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, etc)
  3. Every institution that encourages people to follow fashion as the chief principle of life (Madison Avenue, The New York Times, National Public Radio, etc)

There, I think that is a good start.

In other words, let’s not stop with the largely symbolic act of marching through cities and pulling down the statues of those who promoted slavery in the nineteenth century. Let’s gather and march through the cities and “pull down” the statues and institutions of those who promote slavery right now in the twenty-first century.

And far from being merely symbolic in its consequences like the disposal of a few old statues of Robert E. Lee, our actions in re-purposing, (or recycling) of, say, just the Ivy League schools and universities, those elite bastions of utilitarianism, will in itself have far-reaching beneficial consequences for all Americans and even people throughout the world.

In the place of these schools let us erect new institutions of learning dedicated to authentic, genuine liberal education – glorious liberal education, which, as its name signifies, is uniquely ordered to the production of free human beings!

Posted in education, liberal education, Modernists, Shakespeare, slavery | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

How Do You Restore Sacred Music? A Diocesan Directive Would Help.

I have no idea how his pastoral directive was received, but a belated bravo to Bishop John F. Doerfler of the Diocese of Marquette! Although given on January 26, 2016, I had only become aware of his pastoral directive  on sacred music today.

624 Bishop John F. Doerfler of Marquette, Michigan

Bishop Doerfler’s letter is bold and stunning.

And as the Director of Music at my parish I think his pastoral instruction represents the only effective method for ensuring that ordinary Catholics will receive the benefit of the Church’s teaching on sacred music. (e.g. the teachings contained in  Sacrosanctum Concilium and Tra Le Solecitudini)

Here, in summary, are the five directives from Bishop Doerfler’s instruction Sing to the Lord, All the Earth:

1. All parishes and schools will learn to chant the Ordinary parts of the Mass in English that are found in the Roman Missal, and they will be sung by the congregation some of the time throughout the year.

2. All parishes and schools will learn to chant the KYRIE, SANCTUS and AGNUS DEI from the Missa lubilate Deo, and they will be sung by the congregation some of the time throughout the year.

3. All parishes and schools will learn to chant the Communion Antiphon in English to a very simple tone that everyone can sing, and the Communion Antiphon will be sung at every Sunday Mass….

4. A Diocesan Hymnal will be used to ensure the musical quality and doctrinal integrity of the Sacred Music….

5. The Diocesan Director of Sacred Music will provide annual, regional workshops for parish musicians to assist them in the implementation of these directives. He will also assist music teachers in Catholic schools to implement Sacred Music in the school curriculum and at school Masses…

How else can the ordinary parish expect to foster a return to authentic sacred music?

Image result for tra le sollecitudini

Before you answer this, consider that the vast majority of Catholics, through no fault of their own, have a deeply ingrained musical custom that has acclimated their ears and musical affections to a type of “religious music” that is significantly other than, say, Gregorian chant.

As the fifth century BC Greek poet Pindar asserted,

Custom, the king of all, of mortals and immortals, leads … by its very powerful hand.

At best, lacking the kind of Diocesan leadership that Bishop Doerfler exemplifies, a maverick pastor might attempt to implement a return to authentic sacred music on his own initiative. But for a pastor to do so is most certainly to ask for trouble. Sure, one does hear anecdotes from time to time about how this or that parish successfully changed its music program to one that resembles actual church teaching on sacred music. But more often than not, the individual parish that implements a sacred music program that includes an emphasis on Gregorian chant, for example, is bound to be viewed by most parishioners as something of an oddity.

“Oh, Father X is sort of a throw-back” or “Father is traditional and likes old stuff.”

Image result for old liturgical stuff

Or perhaps the music will be attributed to the quirky tastes of the music director.

“Our Director of Music likes gregorian chant, but I do wish that he could choose some happier more upbeat music.”

Image result for go make a difference music

And when Father X is transferred, Father Y will either continue to implement the sacred music program already in place, or, what is more likely, he will simply begin to implement a program that is more in tune with the customs and affections of his congregation.

It is improbable that individual pastors or music directors can succeed singlehandedly in implementing a sacred music program in their parishes.

Image result for lone ranger

Without a mandate from the diocese any such program will be seen as emanating from personal taste or idiosyncratic preferences of the pastor or music director.

True, perhaps theoretically, through a very careful and cunning long-term plan, coupled with a strategic parish music education program, a pastor or music director might gradually acclimate parishioner’s ears, hearts and affections to Renaissance polyphony and chant, but realistically, the chances of success are slim at best.  Individual efforts simply lack authoritative force.

As I spend another weekend in the choir loft, I am not going to give up trying to make our own parish music program prayerful and noble. But without a mandate from above, I will not be singing the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus or Agnus Dei.

Image result for agnus dei chant

In the mean time, I will pray that Bishop Doerfler’s pastoral instruction will meet with great success. And I will pray that the successful return to Sacred Music in the Diocese of Marquette will foster and inspire many other bishops to implement similar directives in their own dioceses.

Posted in beauty, Custom, Sacred Music, Sacrosanctum Consilium, The Mass | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Why Does Christ Say His Yoke Is Easy?

Every couple of years I ask my students:

Can any of you think of a set of rules or instructions about how to live that would make life easier than those which are embodied under the name of Christianity?

Related image

And if that doesn’t register I try to ask the same question in a number of different ways:

Is Christ’s “yoke” really easy? Is it an easier yoke than, say, that which another religion might propose?

or,

Is there a way of life that is easier to live than the one which Christ proposes?

Image result for code of hammurabi

Does Our Lord really offer an easy yoke and a light burden? Far be it from me to suggest that He, in what some might call praiseworthy marketing of an absolutely divine product, might have succumbed to the temptation that besets some salesmen – that is, to exaggerate the advantages of the product while remaining silent about the disadvantages.

Image result for salesman

One could hardly blame Our Lord for a little hyperbole about selling the path to salvation. And, if I remember correctly, He did in fact hyperbolize on at least one other occasion.

But so far, based on the many discussions with my students over the years, I am still convinced that the precepts and instructions that Jesus offers for living life do, in fact, instruct us how to live life most easily.

That is to say, that should we ever conduct a longitudinal study with charts, tables and graphs, the empirical evidence will bear out this claim. Christianity offers the very easiest way to live.

As a matter of fact, I think Our Lord could have said something like this,

Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you…. for My yoke is the easiest, and My burden is the lightest!

There! I think Our Lord could have said that if he wanted to.

But then, perhaps people would have dismissed it as being nothing other than the regular salesman’s pitch to which I have already alluded.

Three Reasons Why the Christian Yoke is Easiest

I can think of at least three reasons why the yoke and burden that signifies the Christian life is easier and lighter than that offered by any other kind of life.

The first reason is a negative reason. The non-Christian life involves becoming a slave to any one of four things. What are these four types of slavery? Succinctly and directly stated they are:

  1. the slavery to passion
  2. the slavery to fashion
  3. the slavery to custom
  4. the slavery to error

Now we will not discuss each of these (as we have done here, here, here, and here) but let’s just take the slavery to passion for a clear example of our point.

Suppose we decide that rather than following Our Lord’s commands of charity we think it easier to simply follow our passions. Those who view the Christian life as a heavy yoke and a heavy burden are probably inclined to view it this way because such are already enslaved to some extent by their passions. The passions appear to be the most popular among yoke alternatives.

Image result for give me that man who is not passions slave

Whether we have a difficult time fighting the passions that impel us towards delicious food and drink (e.g. see my Easter feast) or a difficult time fighting the concupiscible passions that would appear to be almost universal according to the media and Hollywood, I would dare say that the slavery to these passions alone are enough to incline anyone to take a dim view of Our Lord’s injunctions.

History and Literature and our own experience provide us with ample evidence of the heartbreak, suffering, and catastrophe that is brought about by those who are enslaved by their passions. If I remember correctly, the first great work of literature (to which every other imaginative work stands as a sort of footnote) had something to do with the passion for a very beautiful woman.

Image result for abduction of helen greek art

Not to dwell excessively on the difficulties that the slavery to passion entails, but is there any one who would say that Henry VIII had an easy life?

Image result for henry viii

Those who follow their passions not only bring a great deal of difficulty upon themselves but also upon the rest of us. It would have been a great deal simpler and much easier for everyone if we could have avoided the whole split-up of the church in England and the attendant turmoil, civil war and death that it incurred.

The second reason why the Christian yoke is the easiest stems from the principle precept of Christianity which is Charity. It’s clear to me that, as difficult as it is to find charity in my heart for everyone (especially my enemies), the alternative is more difficult.

Friendship and charity are key pillars which sustain every society. Some level of trust and good will is necessary to accomplish any kind of transaction. And to the extent that charity abounds in a society, to that extent will it exist in peace. Even a band of theives or pirates will have a cohesion in some sort of fraternal feeling.

I suppose the alternatives to living a life of charity are at best living a life according to pure self-interest, and at worst living according to hate. Let him who would defend these as easier principles to live by step forward and defend them.

Frank Capra did an excellent job promoting the principles of charity and friendship as the basis for a happy society. No one really wants to be Mr. Potter!

Image result for judge potter capra

The third reason why Our Lord’s yoke is the easiest is that Christianity appears to be the only religion which is grounded upon principles that are perfectly suited to human nature. As St. Thomas Aquinas continuously teaches, grace builds on nature. Not only that, but grace even perfects nature! (Gratia naturam perficit.)

Rather like an ill fitting suit of clothes for the body, I think it must become unbearably tiring to belong to a religion which is inconsistent with human nature. Particularly to belong to one of those religions which propose something other than the knowledge of God as the supreme end to which man is directed.

Aristotle, the oracle of nature and of truth, begins his Metaphysics with the immortal words,

All men by nature desire to know

How wonderful it is to realize that our last end is nothing other than the sublime fulfillment of our most fundamental natural desire!

As St John confirms,

Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Is there any religion which proposes an end which is on the one hand so entirely consistent with man’s intellectual nature, and on the other so sublimely transcendent?

Image result for trinity sacred art beatific vision

I think not. And I would propose that deep within the heart of everyone who does not live according to the precepts of the Christian religion there must necessarily exist a fundamental tension- some kind of ontological cognitive dissonance – that would make life difficult to live.

Our Lord’s yoke is easy and his burden is light because as the divine artisan he has fashioned and designed them to perfectly fit our human nature. He, through Whom, and with Whom, and in Whom all things came to be, is the one through, with, and in Whom our lives will be most joyfully lived.

Posted in Homer Sightings, Metaphysics, Shakespeare, slavery | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Three Reasons Why Catholic Classical Education is a Tough Sell

Genuine Catholic education appears to be a product which doesn’t sell itself.

That was a bit of a surprise for me when I was a freshly minted teacher. Naturally, I thought that an excellent school would flourish immediately. Word about the school would spread like an uncontrollable grass fire in the American South West or a brush fire through the Gamba grass in Australia! Before long the only problem such a school would face would be that of managing a lengthy waiting list of future students.

Image result for waiting list

In my role as an admissions officer, I still daydream about contemptuously swatting away envelopes stuffed with cash from desperate parents seeking preferment for their dear children!

Image result for envelope stuffed with cash

Someday I want to demonstrate my contempt for these paltry monetary seductions like Sir Thomas More did in Robert Bolt’s play A Man For all Seasons. So far I have never had the opportunity to prove my virtue in the same way.

Related image

I remember the naive optimism that a generous benefactor inspired in my breast when he enthusiastically endorsed me in building a small school devoted to Catholic classical education. He exclaimed,

Build it and they will come!

Well, I suppose “they” did come. But not quite with the force of the plural in that personal pronoun. It was more like “Build it and he will come” and “Build it and she will come.” “Build it and over the course of many, many years they will continuously trickle in.”

I have never seen a stampede.

Image result for stampede

Now I want to disavow any feeling of resentment or sour grapes here. I am not the least bit bitter. Sure, I will admit just a snippet of disappointment when I reflect on various schools that appear to offer an excellent Catholic classical education and yet appear to meet with something less than the kind of viral success that I think they deserve. But this mere smidgen of disappointment does not stymie my continued zeal for the cause.

No sir! I am still perfectly ready to entertain the illusion that we are at the very springtime of a new era in education.

Soon there will be a small Catholic classical school in every neighborhood!

But in the meantime, I have carefully reflected upon the causes that make Catholic classical education a tough sell in today’s educational market. Not surprisingly there appear to be only three!

1. Catholic education is a tough sell because it is Catholic.

The first reason why Catholic classical education is a tough sell is precisely because it is Catholic.  And to the extent that a school is Catholic, to that same extent it is a tough sell.

What is it about Catholicism that doesn’t appeal to people?

Maybe the cross?

Image result for cross

No matter which way you slice it, Catholicism is about the cross. And the cross is a sign of contradiction. Evidently, Catholics are supposed to concern themselves with building the City of God. Catholics are supposed to live in the world without being of the world.

Now if this is not a tough sell then what is?

Sure, you might argue that students at a Catholic school will be more joyful should they embrace this vision, but being counter-cultural is always a little tough, especially for youngsters.

So good luck trying to keep all those kids smiling as you enforce a reasonably modest dress code and yank away their Smartphones and iPods during school hours.

2. Catholic Classical Education is a tough sell because it is Classical

Classical education is code for liberal education.

Liberal education has always been a tough sell because it is about timeless perennial truth which  does not appear to be good for much in the short run.

Liberal education is about perfecting the person as a human being. It is not about producing a doctor or an electrician or someone who will be an efficient and productive addition to the workforce.

Image result for productive person workforce

“But it does produce good workers!” you respond.

Nonetheless, producing good workers is not the goal at which liberal education primarily aims.

Liberal education considers all else secondary to the goal of first perfecting the student as a human being.

In short, if one views education as primarily serving a practical or utilitarian end, then liberal education just doesn’t have an appeal.

Image result for career education

3. Catholic classical education is a tough sell because it is education.

The third reason why Catholic classical education is a tough sell is because it is education.

Education is a long incremental process in which the results may not be seen for years.

Education is a mysterious inward spiritual thing and is often quite expensive.

There is no guaranteed product. Sometimes education does not seem “to take” in this or that student.

Education depends largely on the one that is being educated and to a lesser extent on those imparting the education – although the latter are enormously significant.

As a teacher, I will not denigrate or minimize my own significance in the formation of the minds of students. But experience has taught me too well the words of Our Lord when he says in Matthew,

and do not be called teachers…

No matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to make the students think or make them learn. To my endless frustration, the student’s own free will appears to have something to do with his learning.

It follows that the students themselves must be sold on the concept of genuine Catholic education before they learn.

Imagine that! Not only do we need to sell the idea of Catholic classical education to intelligent and experienced parents but we also need to sell it to their relatively uneducated children!

Image result for unmotivated student

So there you have it. No wonder schools that concern themselves with Catholic classical education are ordinarily so small.

But when we consider the value of the product we understand how worthwhile the enterprise is.

The real effect of a Catholic liberal education is seen only in the long run. It is seen in those who hold on to their Faith over a lifetime. It is seen in the future children of our present students. It is seen after twenty and thirty years when our students have settled down as active citizens in a free republic. Or perhaps it is seen when they are serving the Church as ordained priests or consecrated religious.

The value of a genuine Catholic liberal education is seen in the interior beauty of those who have devoted a relatively small part of their lives to the formation of their souls in beauty, goodness, and truth. No matter how few there are who undertake such a pursuit, they are the leaven that the world needs.

Posted in catholic education, classical education, liberal education | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

How to Choose the Right Catholic High School for Your Children

I suppose twenty-eight years involved in small Catholic schools qualifies me as an experienced educator. Or at least it has provided me with plenty of experience in listening to parents and their children on the subject of “How to Choose a School.” Or perhaps “How Not to Choose a School.”

Related image

Experience might bring some wisdom about things but it sure does bring a great deal of pain. Like Agamemnon’s war prize, Cassandra, I find myself similarly cursed with a sort of knowledge of the future which brings no good because it is not believed until the events themselves have come to pass.

Image result for greek cassandra classical art

As we learn from Herodotus,

It is the most hateful thing for a person to have much knowledge and no power.

How often do I hear the words of a parent regretting this or that educational choice made ten years earlier, but the unfortunate consequences of which have only recently played out. One parent laments,

I wish I had not sent her to that school.

And another,

I only wish I had known about a better school when my kids were still young enough to attend.

or,

The school was so good when I attended it, I assumed it was the same now!

Image result for confused parent

The correct choice of a school is difficult. And, unfortunately,  the consequences of a bad choice are difficult to undo.

The most common criteria that I hear from parents for choosing a school are something like the following (divided into spoken and unspoken criteria):

Common Spoken Criteria for Choosing a High School

1. I want my child to be happy, so I want her to make the choice of where to attend school.

Image result for parents choosing a school for their child

2. My child likes sports, so we are looking for a school with a wide variety of athletic offerings.

Image result for teen athlete

3. My child wants to be an artist so we are looking for a school with a strong graphic arts program.

Image result for teen artist circles

4. My child wants to be a doctor so she is particularly interested in AP chemistry and Biology offerings.

Image result for teen doctor steth

5. My husband went to St. John’s (which has a proud tradition of over 120 years!) and I went to St. Gertrude’s, so our sons will go to St. John’s and our daughters will attend St. Gertrude’s.

6. We think that technology in the classroom is important.

Image result for technology in the classroom

7. My child learns in his own special way, so we are seeking a school which is able to accommodate his way of learning.

Common Unspoken Criteria for Choosing a High School

1. I want my child to attend a school which will benefit my own self image among my own colleagues and social peer groups.

Image result for affluence wealthy high school

2. I want my child to attend a school which either reflects my own socio-economic class or which might even place my child in contact with a more affluent class.

3. Although being a Catholic is important to me, the main concern that I have for my son is that he will be successful.

Image result for affluence wealthy high school

For what it is worth, I will offer ten criteria for choosing a high school that I think are a little more substantive.

Ten Criteria for Choosing the Right High School

  1. The school explicitly proposes the formation of the mind as its chief mission.
  2. The school claims to know how the formation of the mind is achieved through a non-elective course of studies.
  3. The school holds Theology as the Queen of the Sciences.Image result for theology queen of the sciences
  4. The school curriculum is essentially different from the secular high school curriculum, even in math and science.  Image result for common core
  5. The entire reading list is excellent. There is not a single work that students are compelled to read which is objectionable, senseless, or even simply mediocre.Image result for catcher in the rye
  6. The school day and schedule allows for a regular participation in the sacramental life of the Church.
  7. The school actively promotes the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
  8. The faculty appears to be educated with the same education that the school aims to impart.
  9. After spending a day visiting classes a parent would himself like to attend the school.
  10. The school community, board, faculty, parents and students support the vision of the school.

Now I am certain that you can think of some other criteria that are important as well, but these ten rise to my mind quickly. No school is perfect, but a parent needs to select a school for his children based on solid principles. This is the kind of choice which he is not likely to regret later.

Posted in catholic education, classical education, education | Tagged , , , , | 22 Comments