Why Has Education Collapsed?

Over the course of my thirty years as an unwitting member of a loosely knit community that might even amount to a ‘movement’-an education reform movement-I have certainly met many whom I feel fortunate to call friends, who care deeply about Catholic education, and out of sheer goodness (and often at great personal cost!) want to do something better for their own children and the children of others, but who are, unfortunately and through no fault of their own, victims of the very education that they seek to reform.

I believe it is too optimistic to say that education is in crisis. Like sailors having survived, for the moment, a torpedo at sea and are perhaps floating about in the water staring at the sinking ship, the word crisis no longer seems relevant. Disaster, catastrophe and collapse seem like words more apt for describing the present educational state of affairs.

What Does It Take to Sink a Ship? | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

No breaking news here. The catastrophe in education runs very deep and it is possible to identify a great many possible causes for it. Those of a religious persuasion will immediately point to the obvious and diabolical absence of school prayer and Godlessness. Or my politically minded friends rail against the neglect of teaching history accurately and the use of insidious and false history texts. They say “If only they would teach history, these kids might have a clue!” Literary folks bemoan the abandonment of the great works, Shakespeare, Dante, and Cervantes – even Homer! I myself often complain about the destruction of education when Harvard University jettisoned its Latin and Greek requirement (somewhere around the year 1900!). And of course the entire educational establishment had to follow in lockstep. Others might point to the deleterious encroachments that technological advances have made on the minds of our students eroding their imaginations and memories, enabling them to substitute technology where hard work used to be required.

But these days, I am almost embarrassed to mention any of these defects when I hear what destructive forces are at work in the schools and what is being imposed on the minds of children against the will of their parents! One shudders.

Nonetheless, after the hurricane hits, we ordinarily pick up the pieces, gather up what can be salvaged and try to restore order as best we can. But here is the point. In restoring order to education we cannot, and should not, pick up the pieces that led to the collapse!

Southwest Louisiana still picking up the pieces after back-to-back  hurricanes

To be specific, a significant error stands in the way of education that involves a question at its very roots. The question is, how should a curriculum be divided?

Now, I know that to many people, discussions about ‘the way things should be divided’ might seem like a petty question of ‘semantics.’ It took me a long time before I realized that working out fundamental divisions on an intellectual level is really a matter of chief importance. St. Thomas Aquinas and Julius Caesar taught me that division is the first task in either tackling an important intellectual problem or a difficult enemy.

Gallia est omnis divisa est in partes tres | Sewanee: Latin 300-Caesar,  Advent 2012
Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres!

St. Thomas never attempts to answer a question of any significance without first discussing its divisions. Amateur Thomists, like me, always skip these discussions. Years later we realize that St. Thomas was not spending time on his divisions simply out of an overly zealous desire to be thorough. Actually, it is in getting fundamental divisions correct that the lion’s share of important intellectual work is accomplished. Likewise, mistakes in fundamental divisions are where important battles are lost.

Those involved in education, at some time or other, need to tackle the question of school curriculum. After all, a school’s main activity, as surprising as this might be to some, stems from its curriculum. Schools are still thought of as a place where students go to learn. And they learn through a set of ‘courses’ and the entire set of courses is what we call a curriculum!

Therefore, the question, for us would-be reformers, becomes this: What is/are the most fundamental division/s in a curriculum?

It is in getting this primary question right that we may have a chance at having what we might call a well-designed and thoughtful curriculum. If we get this question right, we might actually have a chance at constructing an excellent school. On the other hand a wrong answer might condemn our efforts to amounting to nothing more than piling more rubble on to the educational mess that was left by the original disaster.

Now what has been the prevalent answer to this question over, say, the last century, during the latter part of which we especially have detected the educational disaster? What is the modern division of the curriculum that governs the thinking at nearly every college, university, secondary and even primary school in the known world?

The modern division is this: Every curriculum is wholly divided into two parts! On the one hand we have the sciences and on the other we have the humanities.

Science vs. Humanities: Educating citizens of the future – Elesapiens' Blog
Curriulum est omne divisum in partes duas!

Now, we need to recognize this division as a very bad one.

Please understand, I do not cast a stone here, because I too have been a victim of the intellectual custom of our day. It is well nigh impossible to escape serious errors, and especially those to which we have become habituated through the sheer force of custom, which Shakespeare calls a tyrant and Pindar calls a king.

Why do we say that the moderns’ division of the curriculum into science and the humanities is a bad one? Why does this division undermine the efforts of those who wish to restore Catholic classical education? We need to examine each of the terms first.

In his excellent essay on this very subject, my old philosophy teacher, the late Marcus Berquist sets forth the modern understanding of these two terms (i.e. science and humanities) with incisive clarity (despite the nebulous understanding of them by the moderns themselves!).

Humanities and Social Sciences : SLU

According to the current understanding of these terms, the distinction between science and the humanities is the distinction between the natural and the human. The natural sciences, like Biology, Chemistry and Physics are thought of as sciences by which we can know (and hopefully manipulate!) the objective world of nature. The term science these days appears to especially signify what we might call the mathematical sciences, and the more any particular field of study can mathematize itself the more scientific it becomes!

But what precisely is meant by the term ‘humanities’?

Professor Berquist begins to explain this term saying,

…no matter what we do with the term “humanities,” there is no getting the “human” out of it, so that any intelligible interpretation of the term involves some reference to man and the things of man: the things he does, the things he makes, the things he thinks. Accordingly, it would seem that certain disciplines are named “humanities” because they are about man or are pre-eminently referred to man in some way.

The humanities will often include subjects like Literature, History, and Philosophy. Catholic schools might even include Theology as among the humanities! According to this view, the humanities are those studies whereby man achieves his freedom by becoming more human. These studies humanize him. As Berquist brilliantly says,

There are several ways of understanding this, but what it seems to mean in the present context is that man becomes himself more fully through self-discovery and self-awareness. Since art, literature, history, and philosophy are all expressions of his humanity, he becomes conscious of himself as man through studying them. In this view, then, man is liberated insofar as he is humanized, and he is humanized by becoming conscious of himself through the study of culture. Liberal studies are the same as humane studies.

This might sound sort of convincing at first glance- perhaps because of the ancient adage, “Know thyself.”

Hey Company, Know Thyself | Enstoa
γνωθι σεαυτον

Certainly there is a sense in which the entire life of the mind is built on that injunction given by the seven wise men of Greece. So what is wrong with the division?

The first problem is that those who surrender, wholesale, the understanding of the term science to the moderns betray the very highest science to which the entire Catholic educational enterprise is ordered – namely Theology, the “Queen of the Sciences.” I should add that along with this betrayal of the Queen of Sciences is the betrayal of her entire court- namely philosophy and all her minions (e.g. the seven liberal arts).

The Queen of the Sciences - Metanexus

The second problem is that the division of curriculum into sciences and humanities orients the intellectual life of man in a way that is antithetical to its proper orientation.

For a better understanding of this remember that it was Thales, the first philosopher, who taught us that our intellectual aspirations should be pointed heavenward. It was Thales who, with his head tilted to the stars gazing in admiration, was said to have fallen into a ditch. The moderns would have us keep our gaze focused on the sublunary sphere, the sphere of the mathematical sciences and the world as it is in reference to man.

The Astrologer who Fell into a Well - Wikipedia
Perhaps we also need to look down from time to time!

These assertions may seem easily refutable by those who misunderstand the point advanced here. We do not deny that the mathematical sciences occupy an important place in the intellectual life of man. Nor do we assert that subjects like literature and history are to be neglected!

We do, with some indignation, reject the overly narrow understanding of the sciences to exclude the highest of sciences Philosophy and Theology. To deny the Aristotelian and Thomistic understanding of science (later expounded by St. Boethius) is to deny the heart and soul of the intellectual life.

Finally to imply that Philosophy and Theology are artifacts in the same sense as the fine arts or literature is to level a death-stroke at the subjects which should be held at the pinnacle of Catholic education. Philosophy and Theology are not defined as ‘what man has thought‘ or ‘human thoughts about nature and God.’ They are, rather, understood as intellectual endeavors whereby man himself can raise himself above his nature to the greatest extent possible and even become more like God.

In a tear-inspiring passage, Aristotle expressed substantially the same point nearly 2500 years ago, perhaps addressing those who like Protagoras held man as the measure of all things,

If reason is divine, then, in comparison with man, the life according to it is divine in comparison with human life. But we must not follow those who advise us, being men, to think of human things, and, being mortal, of mortal things, but must, so far as we can, make ourselves immortal, and strain every nerve to live in accordance with the best thing in us; for even if it be small in bulk, much more does it in power and worth surpass everything.

Posted in Aquinas, catholic education, classical education, Custom, education, Liberal Arts, liberal education, Sacred Doctrine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

After a lengthy hiatus, Lion and Ox engage in a lazy summer dialogue in which they compare certain aspects of their own mode of eating to the habits of the philosopher.

Ox: Ah, summer once again Lion! A time to stand around for hours idly, yet contentedly chewing the cud in the warm summer sunshine. Think of it! All that ruminating and digesting. Frankly, I pity you, you carnivores that only appear to enjoy your food for a brief moment!

Chewing the Cud | GRACE in TORAH

Lion: Ox, thank you for your expression of pity, but to be honest, the digestive habits of your class, Bos Taurus, disgust me. I mean no offence! For my part I am thankful to our beneficent Creator that He was so kind as to not not create me Kine. (chuckling) I hope you appreciate my pun, Ox! Get it Kine and Kind? (chuckling some more)

Ox: A rather simple pun, Lion if we can even call it that. But then again you always did enjoy simple humor. Your humor is based on the mere superficial likeness in sounds of words! The more sophisticated mind takes delight in a deeper sort of puns – puns that explore various layers of meaning that a single word has.

But here again, you exemplify my point. Your class, those of the mammalia carnivora felidae, particularly you panthera, are not especially known for deep cogitation.

A closer look at lion evolution offers hope for saving the big cats

Lion: I don’t quite grasp your point, Ox

Ox: Of course you don’t Lion. You simply do not have the stomach for it. (chuckling) You see, think of the rich analogy between the digestive system in the Bos Taurus and the intellectual habits of the true philosopher! No beast without a quadruplexed digestive system in which the same food is digested for hours even days on end, could possibly understand the life and daily pastimes of the authentic philosopher!

Lion: your analogy is lost on me, my dear Ox!. I see no similarity between the intellectual habits of the authentic philosopher and your disgusting digestive tract.

The ruminant digestive system

Ox: It’s too obvious and I confess it would pain me to be compelled to spell it out more explicitly. You know… ars est celare artem, and all that.

Lion: Ox, if I may offer a little advice, I think you would be more effective if you ‘cut to the chase’ as I am fond of saying …and doing! (chuckles) You spend too much time making yourself unclear. Certainly you are a master of circumlocution, and I suppose this reflects your circumambulatory habits, but really, who among us has the time?!

Ox: I merely mean to highlight the reflective, pondering habits of the philosopher who loves nothing more than to think about something for a long time.

The genuine philosopher ‘chews’ on an idea and thoroughly squeezes each thought carefully, lest something of nourishment might be neglected.

He is never content with thinking about something once, but is always happy to ‘bring it up again,’ so to speak, return to a matter a second and third time, and often even again throughout his entire life.

He is a man of second thoughts. And third thoughts and so on!

In fact the philosopher is apt to say that it is only those ideas that are capable of endless reflection that really have any value at all!

In short, the philosopher might be called the chief and paradigm of those who ruminate!

Rodin's The Thinker | Cleveland Museum of Art

Lion: It occurs to me that you really have overthought this matter Ox.

Ox: Lion, what else are these bodily matters for other than to stir our minds towards the spiritual? The body is an organ of the soul! And these mere bodily matters provide rich fodder for the soul’s contemplation! Doesn’t the analogy delight you?

Lion: I admit that you have succeeded in drawing some likeness of the intellectual method of the philosopher to your habits of consumption and perpetual munching and digesting, but, for that matter, I can see an even more delightful analogy – a more appealing likeness between the philosopher and my own methods of satiating the inclinations for nourishment!

Ox: You can?

Lion: Indeed, I can!

Ox: Well, I would be delighted to hear something meaningful about your carnivorous manner, which, on the face of it, has the appearance of a rather violent, ultimately unsustainable, and expensive habit!

Lion: I will be more than delighted to share my thought with you.

Ox: Please do then- and do so without further ado!

Lion: Now you are talking my language Ox!’ Cut to the chase and be done with it,’ right? Isn’t that more appealing than perpetually ‘chewing the cud’?

Ox: Provided that what you say will be as rewarding as you promise!

Lion: It will be, and there is no need to fear Ox, that I will not deliver on my promise. We lions always get our prey!

Lion hunting only makes sense if it's part of a package of interventions

Ox: Well then, why don’t you proceed at once lest anyone accuse your sonorous and deep voice to be more impressive than your actions!

Lion: Excuse me Ox, but If that is not the pot calling the kettle black then the adage has no fitting application whatsoever!

Ox: Pardon me Lion, I will listen, with docility, for your analogy without any further expressions of impatience.

Lion: Well then…..Ox, how many times have you heard it said that philosophers are those who pursue the truth?

Ox: Many times indeed, Lion

Lion: Are not philosophers lovers of wisdom? Is not that what the very word philosopher means? You know ‘φιλοσ σοφοσ’…

Ox: Yes spare me your tedious Greek derivations…everyone knows that Lion! Philosophers are those who are named after the love of wisdom. But do be careful Lion- that does not mean that philosophy is the love of wisdom! quod verbum significat non necesse est quoad verbum imponitur…. after all- let us not name the master science, philosophy, after an act of the will. Nonetheless, I do grant your point Lion.

Greek Philosophers. Philosophers – “lovers of wisdom” Sophists – “workers  of wisdom” – Teachers – Teachers phileo = love sophia = wisdom If sophia =  wisdom. - ppt download

Lion: And is not a pursuit very much a hunt?

Ox: I suppose it is

Lion: We might say, technically, every hunt is a pursuit, but not every pursuit is a hunt

Ox: Yes, I think that would be more precise

Lion: Nonetheless, the two words might aptly be interchanged. For example the fox hunts the hare might just as well be understood as the fox pursues the hare.

The Fox And The Rabbit | Rocky Mountain Shito-Ryu Karate-Do

Ox: I am ready to accept the words as nearly identical in meaning.

Lion: And yet we think of the hunt as particularly belonging to those sorts of mammals which belong to the carnivorous class don’t we?

Ox: I think so. Hunting has the sense of not only pursuing, but also killing that which is hunted. Hunting is a sort of blood sport, no question about it- very carnivorous!

Lion: Precisely! We don’t say an ox, such as yourself, hunts for grass. That would be an odd way of putting it wouldn’t it?

Ox: Yes, I think ‘hunting for grass’ would be an imprecision.

Lion: But philosophers are those who hunt the truth, are they not? They do not just pursue the truth, they catch it as best they can!

Ox: Well, I suppose so.

Lion: And was it not Socrates who famously asserted that finding justice and its definition was something of an epistemological hunt!?

Ox: To be candid Lion, I don’t know what you are talking about?

Lion: Surely you remember the discussion between Socrates and Glaucon as they were seeking the nature of justice in that great dialogue The Republic?

Plato's Republic Explained | History Hit

Ox: Why don’t you remind me?

Lion: I can do no better than to read it to you from the text itself, from my favorite passage where Socrates compares the philosophical search for the definition of justice to a hunt!

“Now then,4 Glaucon, is the time for us like huntsmen5 to surround the covert and keep close watch that justice may not slip through and get away from us and vanish from our sight. It plainly must be somewhere hereabouts. Keep your eyes open then and do your best to descry it. You may see it before I do and point it out to me.”

Isn’t that marvelous? Searching for the truth is very much like hunting! And the truth is not such as to be caught except by those who are actively engaged in the hunt!

Something we animals of the predatory class know very well!

Ox: Well, I suppose the analogy holds to some extent.

Lion: And the philosophical life is not simply about searching as some would have it. There appear to be those who enjoy the pursuit more than the actual final snatching of the prey as properly belongs to the notion of hunting!

Ox: Yes hunting is something beyond the mere search and pursuit.

Lion: Yes- there are those who enjoy arguing about the truth as if they pursue it, but really they appear to revel in the search for its own sake. They enjoy the stimulating excitement of the pursuit, and perhaps even deny the reality of the object which they pretend to pursue. How sad that they never get to enjoy the prize!

Ox: How sad indeed!

Lion: And there are several other minor gustatory likenesses between the enjoyment that hunters, like me, have to true philosophers.

Ox: Do tell.

Hamlet - Wikipedia

Lion: Well don’t we say that real thinkers are those who bite into the “meat of the matter?” Indicating the very substance of some subtle doctrine or other. Carnivores understand what this phrase means. Getting into the meat of the matter means going deep!

And what about this? Do you remember when Hamlet said to Horatio,

They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase

soil our addition; and indeed it takes

from our acchievements, though perform’d at height

the pith and marrow of our attribute.

Isn’t that a beautiful carnivorous metaphor?

Ox: But surely you are only speaking of the marrow here Lion?

Lion: No I was speaking of the pith and marrow ox!

Ox: Lion, I think you may misunderstand. Marrow of course refers to the bone marrow, (which you carnivors love the most!) but pith is, of course, something more to my liking!

Pith is to the plant stem what marrow is to the bone. Both pith and marrow are the savory innermost substances of each kind of thing. But to speak of pith is to appeal to those creatures that enjoy the consumption of plants.

Lion: I had not thought of that.

Ox: Well, I think it is no great calamity to your overall point Lion – as superficial as it is even when fully understood.

We will admit that philosophers do indeed ‘hunt for truth’ and when they find it they ‘bite into the meat,’ and perhaps even so deeply that they bite right to the marrow. Philosophers are to some extent comparable to those of the carnivorous class.

Lion: That is very generous of your Ox. You have granted my point and have even restated it quite well!

Ox: Lion, as much as I hate to admit, sometimes there is something to be learned even from those whose personal habits and way of life are repulsive to us.

Lion: That is very kind of you to say, Ox.

Ox: Let’s not grow overly sentimental, Lion.

The Peaceable Kingdom

Posted in philosophy, Shakespeare, Socrates, socratic dialogue | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating Catholic Classical Education with Cardinal Burke

I hope some of you might be able to participate in our annual school Gala by clicking on the live stream link below.

The Lyceum Spring Gala

Saturday, April 17, 2021

with guest of honor

 Cardinal Raymond Burke

“Catholic Education, the Family,
and the Transformation of Society.”

Livestreaming tonight at approximately 8:00 p.m. EST.

https://tracking.etapestry.com/t/41193758/1096091510/78665937/0/91138/?x=c70e8b23

Posted in classical education, Sacred Music | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Resurrexit! Easter Brunch 2021!

My chair (the one that I grew up seeing my wife’s father sitting in at every major celebration!) looks ready to celebrate Easter brunch., even if the table is not. But it knows the virtue of patience and is confident that a multitude of blessings will always attend those who wait with expectant hope!

But soon with the arrival of the flowers and Easter decorations things are looking auspicious!

Time to put the Hazelnut Chocolate Star Cake in the oven!

Twenty five minutes later…voila

Out come the breakfast sausages.

Third comes the egg cheesy bacon thing! (i.e. Buttery Croissant Strada – with spinach, gouda and prosciutto!)

Fruit salad and Maimosa’s poured. Time to say the blessing!

Happy Easter!

Posted in beauty, breakfast, Easter, Feasts, Fine Arts | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Where there is love… Ubi Caritas

Today, Holy Thursday, is the day for singing the ancient chant Ubi Caritas!

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Which I translate freely,

Where charity and love are, there is God. The love of Christ has gathered us into one. Let us exult, and let us take delight in Him. Let us fear and let us love the living God. Let us love out of a sincere heart.

This of course is only the first verse. But it is beautiful! And totally appropriate for today’s feast!

Apparently this chant was composed sometime between the fourth century and the twelfth century. Now how is that for historical precision?

Image result for ubi caritas

According to one, Mr. Aaron Green,

What began as a Gregorian chant that some music scholars believe originated before the formation of the Catholic Mass, “Ubi Caritas” (“Where Charity Is”) has evolved into many iterations and compositions. The actual origin of the chant is unknown and ambiguous, although musicologists and researchers believe it was written between 300 and 1100 CE

I am not sure what Mr. Green means by “before the formation of the Catholic Mass,” given that Our Lord formed and instituted the “Catholic Mass” on the Thursday before he died.

Image result for last supper

In Sacrosanctum Concilium we read,

47. At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity [36], a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us [37].

Nonetheless, when I open my Liber Usualis (“The Usual Book” which contains all the normative and usual Gregorian chant that anyone would ever need- except of course in unusual times and circumstances!)

Image result for liber usualis

I find Ubi Caritas, on page 664, as the last antiphon offered to be sung during the washing of the feet ritual. There appear to be at least nine (yes, count’em, nine!) different antiphons that can be sung during this ceremony.

Now it seems ambiguous to me (are we really supposed to sing them all?), but the instructions in my Liber says,

After the Gospel, whilst the Priest performs the ceremony of the washing of the feet, the following chants are sung.

I have always admired the choir that can sing all nine antiphons before the priest washes twelve feet. Perhaps this is an indication of how much time the priest should spend washing each foot. Or, speaking as a choirmaster with nine antiphons and psalm versicles to sing, maybe there should be mandatory policy that requires washing both feet! With twenty-four feet to be washed, I think we could squeeze in all those antiphons and maybe even repeat a couple.

Image result for catholic feet washing

Who composed the prayer? Who composed the music? When precisely was it composed?

Although Ubi Caritas is certainly among the most beautiful hymns in the chant repertoire, this side of heaven we will never know the answers.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

Posted in Feasts, Sacred Music | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

All Souls’ Day and Dies Irae: The Four Most Profoundly Influential Notes of Gregorian Chant

I am certainly not the first one to make note of the fact that the Sequence, Dies Irae, for All Souls’ Day appears to have made a profound and far ranging contribution to American Culture.

Dies irae | Gregorian Chant Hymns

From blockbusters like Star Wars to Lion King to It’s a Wonderful Life to The Hobbit to Jurassic Park to Ground Hog Day and to who knows how many other movie sound tracks, the sublimely doleful tune, reminiscent of the last things, has touched untold millions.

Of course, the musical “quotations” or allusions, sometimes subtle sometimes obvious, are only recognizable to those with a passing familiarity of the original; nonetheless the presence of the chant in these movies makes them all the more substantive and powerful.

Now, I am certain there are others who are able to make a solid case for the influence of Gregorian chant in western civilization. Students at conservatories and music schools everywhere are taught the significance of the Solfege Scale and the significance of Gregorian chant in the foundations of the music of western civilization. I am not the one to make this case with the compelling clarity that it deserves.

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song | The Community of Jesus
The Solfege Scale

Nor do I intend to make any attempt to launch a more scholarly treatise manifesting the enormous impact that Gregorian chant had on the great musicians of the Renaissance, like William Byrd, Thomas Tallis and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. I will not attempt to trace the influence of chant in the music of the Baroque period, in the music of, say, Bach and Mozart. Such an attempt far exceeds the level of my musical literacy. That Gregorian chant is foundational in western music, and is therefore foundational in the consciousness (perhaps subconsciousness) of the western mind, is, nonetheless, indubitable.

Mozart - Requiem, K. 626 Selections for Trombone Quartet – Cherry Classics  Music

The task of demonstrating the profound impact that Gregorian chant has had on civilization is far, far above my power!

But isn’t it interesting how the timeless strains of a melody composed by some anonymous Catholic monk in the thirteenth century is still used to stir the minds and hearts of those in the twenty- first?

The Enduring Day of Wrath (Chapter 13) - Biblical Poetry and the Art of  Close Reading

I will simply suggest the truth of my thesis based on the first four notes of the Dies Irae, and rely on the compelling case it has made in It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey makes his ultimate choice on that bridge!

Or perhaps my point is really about the principles of western civilization. Sometimes enormous things arise out of very small beginnings. Think of the oak! Likewise, think of the relative simplicity of the eight notes of the Solfege Scale (i.e. the Do Re Mi Scale) and the mere four notes that begin the Dies Irae.

Just so, the principles of Christian civilization arise out of relatively few principles: twelve articles of faith and two laws of charity.

Or perhaps we might say that Christian western civilization arises out of the contemplation of the four last things; when we remember death, judgement, heaven or hell. Civilization arises from the “memento mori.”

Albrecht Dürer | The Last Judgment, from The Small Passion | The Met

Catholic civilization is the basis for all civilization and even four simple notes surely inspired by the grace of God are able to give us a glimpse of the transformative power of His grace in our world.

As an organist and choir director, I am inclined to argue that the sacred music of the Catholic church is a “treasure of inestimable value.” And as the first four notes of Dies Irae demonstrate by their universal appeal, so the entire treasury of Catholic sacred music is a gift of inestimable value to the entire human race.

Posted in beauty, catholic education, Christendom, Sacred Music, Sacrosanctum Consilium, The Mass, William Byrd | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How Does Anyone Love the Lord God With the Whole Mind?

In this last Sunday’s Gospel we hear,

You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.

Now I think most people are familiar with the first two thirds of this injunction- we should love God with our whole heart and soul. The phrase ‘heart and soul’ is fairly common. We often hear of someone who “put his whole heart and soul” into some enterprise.

Heart And Soul - Main Piano Melody Pattern - Easy Sheet Music With Note  Letters - YouTube

When we put our heart and soul into a project we devote our energy and enthusiasm to it. We commit ourselves to the success of the project ‘holding nothing back’. We are fully invested. We are “all in.” Think of a serious athlete preparing for a major competition. Think of the entrepreneur launching his first business.

This day in sports: Jesse Owens sets three world records - Los Angeles Times

Those who do something ‘halfheartedly’ by contrast are clearly not marked for success; the ‘halfhearted’ denotes a person who does something with a lukewarm effort, with tepid enthusiasm at best for seeing the work done- like an Algebra II student approaching another homework assignment!

And so Our Lord advises us that, should we wish to win an everlasting crown, we need to engage in the task whole heartedly!

But if we have already engaged our whole heart and soul in some enterprise, what more does the phrase ‘with the whole mind’ add? What could be lacking in the effort of one who has already invested his heart and soul?’

One church father, who apparently is not St. John Chrysostom, but whom we call “Pseudo Chrysostom” interpreted our Lord thus:

But to love God with the whole heart, is to have the heart inclined to the love of no one thing more than of God. To love God again with the whole soul is to have the mind stayed upon the truth, and to be firm in the faith…. He only loves God with his whole mind, whose intellect ministers to God, whose wisdom is employed about God, whose thoughts travail in the things of God…

I think Pseudo Chrysostom, whoever he is, has hit the nail on the head. The one who loves God with his whole mind is the one whose intellect ministers to God.

Men Saint Icons: St. John Chrysostom Icon | Monastery Icons

But how are we to do this? How do we develop minds that minister to God?

Well, I think the answer is clear, but rather than say it outright, it is probably better to “talk it up” a little. One should never just blurt out answers! And so we need to ask a few questions.

First, what does it mean to have a mind that ministers to God?

Central to the business of the mind is knowing. That is to say, that the mind’s main work is ‘to know.’ So I think it is safe to say that that the mind which is able to minister to God is the mind which is able to know God.

Now you might say,

Well that’s easy because every mind is able to know God!

That’s true, but only in the sense that every mind is able to do calculus. Or that every child can play the violin. In other words, there is ‘able’ and there is ABLE.

For example, everyone (who can read) is able to read St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. But in point of fact, the reason St. Thomas’ masterwork about the knowledge of God is so universally neglected is that the mere ability to read does not mean that everyone can read this work, that is, with any understanding.

Even though St. Thomas himself introduces this work saying,

we purpose in this book to treat of whatever belongs to the Christian religion, in such a way as may tend to the instruction of beginners

….. sadly the beginners he is speaking about happen to be those who have already completed a complete course of study in Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy and Music.

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And after the student has completed his study of the seven liberal arts, St Thomas is assuming that his ‘beginners’ have also completed a thorough study of the central works of Aristotle.

And of course these beginners, who are ready to read the Summa Theologica, have more than a passing knowledge of Plato’s Dialogues (well…at least the most popular of them!)

Burn the Midnight Oil: Finals… | University of Northwestern, St. Paul

…and a pretty decent working knowledge of the works of Saint Augustine. (e.g. Confessions, On Christian Doctrine, City of God, etc.)

Having the liberal arts, the works of Aristotle and Plato and Augustine under one’s belt, so to speak, really does give one an advantage for reading the Summa Theologica. But let’s not forget the study of Latin (and maybe even just a little Greek!). After all, how can one really attempt to study the Summa Theologica seriously without at least a passing knowledge of Latin.

Nothing is Written: The Browning Version (1951)

Sure- it would be great to be able to read the Summa in Latin with facility. But I only mean that a student ought to be able to at least check this or that text in the original, simply for clarity about what Latin words are being used. Often the precise word used in translation may cause an impediment.

Furthermore, nobody can seriously read the Summa Theologica who has not at least cursorily read the Bible from cover to cover at least once. Scripture is the “soul” of Theology as the church has affirmed more than once.

Of course the ability to read and study all of these assumed a prior study in a student’s younger years of what we might call all the “good books.” These good books are the books that were pivotal in developing a student’s ability to read in the first place. The books that stocked his intellect with a rich and memorable storehouse of experience, stuffed his imagination with a plentiful resource of good and beautiful images, enlarged his vocabulary, developed his focus and extended his intellectual resources.

Two Simple Ways to Prepare the Soil of the Imagination for an Education | |  Wildflowers and Marbles

We will not even mention how a large experience of the fine arts disposes the mind of the student towards the knowledge of God. But St. Thomas is not excluding the ‘habit of beauty’ in his assumptions concerning the ‘beginner’ for whom he wrote his Summa.

General and particular — Blog — The Way of Beauty

So what does it mean when we are commanded to love God with all our minds?

It means that we need to engage in a lifetime of learning in which we study every aspect of God’s creation, every science, every art, every discipline so that we can discover the God who is the cause of all His manifold and wonderful works.

To love God with all our mind entails a lifetime application of our greatest resource, our intellect, in a tireless attempt to know the invisible things of God through the visible things of the natural world.

He only loves God with his whole mind…whose wisdom is employed about God, whose thoughts travail in the things of God

As St Paul says,

For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.

Glorious Sunset - Scene Again Images: Photography by Cliff Davis

We certainly do not want to confront St. Paul one day and see him wagging his finger at us and saying, “You are inexcusable.”

Who are inexcusable?

Those are inexcusable who fail to live life ministering their minds to God. They are inexcusable who bend their mental and intellectual efforts towards ‘knowing’ this or that aspect of the natural world but somehow miss the “invisible things of Him” that “are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”

Those also are inexcusable who have never respected the ultimate purpose of their minds but have only employed it for the sake of utility- that is, those who have refused to engage their mind in anything but the pragmatic.

To put it bluntly: When our Lord enunciates the greatest commandment, saying

you shall love the Lord, your God…and with all your mind

He might as well have said,

in order to love God with your whole mind, you need to know God. In order to know God you need to know the visible things of the world through which God is clearly seen. In order to know the visible world, you need to engage in a lifetime orderly pursuit of this knowledge…

To me it is obvious what this all means. It means that everyone should pursue a liberal education. Everyone should pursue a Catholic classical education to the extent that it is possible. Everyone should desire to educate one’s children with a Catholic liberal education or run the risk of meeting St. Paul one day who will say to those who do not follow this advice, “You are inexcusable.”

Man and woman reading by a fireside, 1950. by Photographic Advertising  Limited at Science and Society Picture Library

Sure, many of us might have been cheated out of a Catholic liberal education when we were young. But, thankfully, liberal education is never a project that becomes too late to undertake.

Vincent van Gogh - Old Man Reading - Van Gogh Museum

A classical liberal education has always been thought to be the education which is concerned with knowing the world around us for the sake of ultimately knowing God. That is to say, it has always been a tenet of liberal education that every field of knowledge, every art, every science, every discipline is ultimately ordered to the knowledge of God.

This simple truth is what St. Thomas Aquinas proposed when he taught that Sacred Doctrine is the’ Queen of the sciences.’ In his Summa Theologica he writes,

Other sciences are called the handmaidens of this one: “Wisdom sent her maids to invite to the tower” (Proverbs 9:3).

Woman Reading by Candlelight, Peter Ilsted | Reading art, Woman reading,  Female art

Theology, or Sacred Doctrine, has always been considered the ‘head’ or ultimate goal of the curriculum at a Catholic school, college, or university. Not that every student at such a school is meant to be a theologian formally speaking, but rather that every study, every intellectual pursuit, granting its usefulness and nobility considered by itself, is nonetheless something that finds its highest fulfilment in serving sacred doctrine and preparing the mind of man for the knowledge of God.

And so we have arrived at our thesis which is quite simply, it is only by a Catholic liberal education, or a Catholic classical education, that a person is able to render his whole mind to the service of God.

Posted in beauty, Catena Aurea, catholic education, classical education, education, Liberal Arts, liberal education | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Pope Pius XI: Encouragement for Teachers From a Teacher’s Pope

No matter what ails the nation, turmoil in the inner city, conflagrations, and riots, anxiety over the upcoming election, fears rational and irrational, nonetheless, along with the season of fall there arrives the insuppressible feeling of a new academic year!

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Almost akin to the instinct that irresistibly directs the feelings and actions of our friends in the animal world, the instinct that the Catholic French entomologist and scientist par excellence, Jean Henri Fabre, so eloquently and compellingly observed and wrote about,

Jean Henri Fabre Photograph by Granger
Jean Henri Fabre (1823-1915) observing insects under a glass dome

so too does an instinct, a yearning for learning arise in teachers and students and parents and just about everyone who ever went to school during early youth and perhaps even through college and graduate school!

This is the time of year when even those who no longer attend school still might saunter through the back-to-school aisles at the local store eyeing the three-ringed binders and composition books, perhaps grabbing a pack of new gel pens (with the rubber grips!) or mechanical pencils. Such is the power of that instinctual feeling of the season.

Where to Find Back to School Deals

Aristotle, of course, explains all of this aptly when he says “All men by nature desire to know.” I don’t know that he made a mint off the proposition but Walmart and Target sure did. There is no surer way to a profit than basing one’s business plan on the most fundamental of human desires. Interestingly, teachers at classical schools appear to be at the tail end of the profit trail. But that’s probably as it should be since no teacher worthy of the name should be teaching for the sake of profit- at least profit in the green sense of the word.

But the point is that no matter what world upheavals might be taking place, no matter what kind of cataclysmic events, whatever is the crisis du jour, the task of education will go on. This is most undoubtedly the case because life itself is ordered to the knowledge of the truth.

Pope Pius XI quoted St. Thomas Aquinas to this effect, 

Prius vita quam doctrina: vita enim ducit ad scientiam veritatis.

which I translate freely,

Life is first, then doctrine (teaching): for life leads to the knowledge of the truth.

Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti (PP XI) 1857-1939

In Studiorum Ducem Pius XI quotes his predecessor John XXII in perhaps the single most astoundingly powerful tributes to the mind of St Thomas:

He alone enlightened the Church more than all other doctors; a man can derive more profit in a year from his books than from pondering all his life the teaching of others.

Imagine that! Of course, Pius XI attributes this remarkable fact to the great humility of Aquinas, citing Leo XIII’s praise for him in Aeterni Patris:

because he had the utmost reverence for the doctors of antiquity, he seems to have inherited in a way the intellect of all.

The fact that Pius XI’s reign was between the two World Wars and the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, and the persecution of the church, particularly in Mexico and Spain, accentuates how significant Catholic education was to him; how essential Christian education was to the life of the church and of the world.

Indeed, his last speech consisted of an address to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences (which he established) speaking, from no prepared text, on the relation between faith and reason.

Pius XI was indeed a teacher’s pope. And such was his respect for the profession of the teacher that he quotes the fourth-century bishop of Constantinople, St. Gregory Nazianzen, when he says that teachers practice, “the art of arts and the science of sciences.”

Saint of the day: Gregory Nazianzen | Angelus News
Saint Gregory Nazianzen 329-390

Here is how Pius XI said it in Divini Illius Magistri,

All these [teachers] labor unselfishly with zeal and perseverance in what St. Gregory Nazianzen calls “the art of arts and the science of sciences,” the direction and formation of youth. Of them also it may be said in the words of the divine Master: “The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers few.”

Life is ordered to the possession of the truth, which is to say that life is ordered to Christ, who is the Truth.

And the art or the science that brings about this possession would therefore be the chief art, or the chief science. The art by which human beings are united with the truth would be the art of arts. What science, what art could then be more noble or excellent than that art, that science by which souls are instructed towards the possession of the truth? Teaching is, indeed, “ars artium” and “scientia scientiarum!” (the art of arts and the science of sciences).

At the outset of the new academic year, let Christian teachers aspire to the wise words of Pius XI. Let teachers recognize the nobility of their profession and be heartened by the pride that the church itself takes in its teachers.

Let teachers recognize that when they form the minds of the young in goodness, beauty, and truth, they are practicing the “science of sciences.” The good of families and the good of countries depends upon their work. For, As Pope Pius XI says,

 Perfect schools are the result not so much of good methods as of good teachers, teachers who are thoroughly prepared and well-grounded in the matter they have to teach; who possess the intellectual and moral qualifications required by their important office; who cherish a pure and holy love for the youths confided to them, because they love Jesus Christ and His Church, of which these are the children of predilection; and who have therefore sincerely at heart the true good of family and country.

I suppose such a consideration immediately brings up its opposite. Namely, that the corruption of the best is the worst, or as the Romans would say,

Corruptio optimi pessima

In other words, as fortunate as one is to have good teachers, there are few misfortunes worse than having bad teachers.

No wonder then, that Pius XI says that the formation of teachers should “be one of the principal concerns of the pastors of souls and of the superiors of Religious Orders.

From a Pope, reigning just after World War I, from a Pope reigning during the bloody persecution of the church in Mexico, Spain and Russia, from a Pope witnessing the rise of Hitler, such testimony to the truth and to life and to the significance of teachers is timely and powerful.

Posted in Aquinas, catholic education, education, liberal education | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Civil War Did Not End These Four Kinds of Slavery.

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.

The physical form of slavery (that has marred human history from seemingly the beginning) 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 those that have lived through such treatment.

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

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 the Gospel of St. 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 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 of the angels, or of God.

Image result for cave socrates

And what are these other kinds of slavery?

They are four. Three of them are caused by things outside of the mind while the fourth is caused by the error in the mind. Let’s enumerate them and then offer some brief exemplifications.

The Four Kinds of Slavery

  1. Slavery to Passion
  2. Slavery to Fashion
  3. Slavery to Custom
  4. Slavery to Error

Each of these is a sort of slavery as we shall see. In each case, knowingly or unknowingly, we act and think because of a compulsion, which though not from visible whips and chains, nonetheless directs us with an iron hand. Whether force of habit, unruly and violent passions, fear of scorn and derision, or the inability to think without error, each of these kinds of slavery prevent human freedom.

Who doesn’t recognize the reality of slavery to passion? It is perhaps the most prevalent kind of slavery especially in an adolescent society. But to a great extent the entire moral life of most men is largely a matter of taming unruly passions. Those who fail to control their passions are condemned 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.

Guernsey Cow Munching on Cud in Spring Pasture Grass, Granby ...

Or what about those who live their lives enslaved by fashion? A great many 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. They are the ones who think and behave according to the fashions of the day. And when the fashions change so does their thought and behavior.

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.

History of advertising: No 105: Madison Avenue | Campaign US

Whereas those who are slaves to passion and fashion might be aware of their bondage, slavery to custom, on the other hand, is quite insensible.

Why? Precisely because slavery to custom is something which is….well… customary.

Things which we do by custom seem second nature to us. Customary things go unnoticed. We do not notice the things that we do by nature. How many of us are even aware of our heart beating? When we do notice it, it is probably because there is a problem. So also, the things that we do by custom.

The Fainting Couch…Did You Know? | Fainting couch, Fainting sofa ...

But slavery to custom is indeed a form of slavery because custom is that which dictates our actions, not we ourselves. For example, those who live in one part of the world will ordinarily behave according to the customs of that place. From trivial matters such as what we ‘decide’ to eat and wear to far more significant matters, such as to what do we direct our lives?

worldcostumes3-opt in 2020 | Character design, Fashion design drawings,  Traditional outfits

Those who live in one time or epoch tend to think according to the customs of that epoch. Similarly those who live under one type of government will tend to vary in their views from those who live under another type of government. For example, Americans, by and large, do not have a great deal of respect for monarchs.

Charles Laughton as King Henry VIII - Chicken Eating Scene - YouTube

Finally, there is the kind of slavery which is the effect, in great part, of the first three kinds of slavery. If we act and think according to our passions, ignoble fashions and bad customs, we will then assuredly develop erroneous habits of thinking. Our minds will become filled with error. We will think things to be which are not, and we will think those things are, which are not.

Each of these kinds of slavery are serious. Each deserves a lengthy discussion. But the central point is that these other forms of slavery reach into our innermost souls and destroy our human dignity.

The free man is the one who thinks and behaves rightly according to norms which are beautiful, good and true. His thoughts and activity arise from an inner principle. Or perhaps better, we might say that the free man is the one whose thoughts and behavior are chosen according to standards which he himself has chosen freely. He has chosen them freely precisely because he recognizes them as the standards of truth, goodness, and beauty.

He is not one who stumbles about unconscious of the norms upon which his behavior is based. Those are slaves who behave unwittingly, almost as if sleeping, according to the erroneous philosophies and ugly fashions of others about whom they are unaware.

Aristotle was right of course. Human nature is enslaved in many ways. So much so that one might almost mistake slavery for a natural state. But it isn’t. Freedom is unique to those beings possessing intelligence, and it just so happens that there is an ordinary process, a specific sort of education that devotes itself to freedom. It is an education that is named after freedom. It is an education that proposes truth as its final aim. Why? Because it is the truth alone that makes men free.

Fra Angelico: The Sermon on the Mount

Posted in education, liberal education, slavery, Socrates | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Are You a Slave to Fashion?

Image result for clothing 12th century men painting pantaloons

I don’t have any strong objection to men dressing according to the fashions of the 12th or 13th century if they happen to live in the 12th or 13th century. I assume the gentleman in the picture thought that he was looking pretty dapper. He lived in a time when the clothing fashions were perhaps a little extravagant and this fellow looks like he can afford it. My guess is that he thought he was approximating something on the side of the beautiful.

I am just not willing to adopt his fashion for fear of losing the little credibility that I have left, nor have I seen anything like his clothing on the discount rack at Macy’s. Besides, I much prefer clothing that covers my legs. Give me a pair of grey slacks, a Brooks Brothers tie, a navy blue jacket and I am all set- well maybe throw in a pair of Florsheim loafers, socks, white dress shirt and …well let’s get back to the point.

Gary Cooper was the ultimate 1930s style icon | British GQ

Maybe we all have a bit of a duty to try to dress and appear in a manner that is comfortably within the range of what is commonly accepted as normal in any given time and place. But does that duty extend to making oneself look like this?

Image result for men bell bottoms 70s

Glancing at old family photos does make me wonder. Granted that I was too young to make decisions for myself, nonetheless, I don’t remember exercising any sort of wholesome rebellion when my mother gave me a pair of bell-bottoms.

The seventies really were bad years for all sorts of reasons- but for me, the biggest reason was that they represent a time when not only were most of us slaves to the prevailing clothing and hair fashions (which might be true most of the time) but we were all slaves to really ugly clothing and hair fashions.

44 Sideburn Designs from the Old West and Not Only ...

By way of contrast, I suppose the hair fashion of the Georgian period makes that of the seventies seem rather moderate.

Georgian Fashion - 1714 - 1830 Fashion and clothing - Blue17

So powerful is fashion’s sway over our thinking, that many things which appear ridiculous to us now appeared natural and normal when we were under fashion’s influence. A sobering reflection.

Fashion History of the High and Late Middle Ages—Medieval Clothing ...

What is slavery to Fashion?  Well, as one philosopher put it:

Those are slaves of fashion who pursue (or read) what is fashionable because it is fashionable and cease doing what is no longer fashionable [when it is no longer fashionable].

That is a very good definition. Succinct, comprehensive, every word tells.

Those who do something simply because it is fashionable are slaves to fashion. Likewise, those who cease to do something simply because it is no longer fashionable are slaves to fashion.

Those who think or speak a certain way simply because it is fashionable to think or speak that way are slaves to fashion. Likewise, those who cease to think and speak a certain way because it is no longer fashionable to think or speak that way are slaves to fashion.

The more I think about freedom, the opposite of slavery,  the more it appears to me that it is not such an easy thing to achieve. For example, think of what St. Paul says,(Philippians 4:8)

For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things.

Ok. That sounds good to me. But what if my thoughts about “whatsoever things are true,” modest, just, holy, lovely and of good fame are really dictated to me right now the way that my taste in clothing was in the seventies?

For example, it strikes me that most of us pretty much follow the fashions of the day particularly with regard to what we think is lovely and what we think is true. Who among us is free from the prevailing aesthetic and intellectual views of the fashion setters?

You might think, “Well, I don’t wear bell-bottoms. Nor do I wear shoes like this!”

Crakows, the Ridiculous Pointy-Toed Shoes that Were the Nikes of ...

We might think that we have good taste and exercise freedom with regard to how we appear.

But what about how we think? What about what we listen to? What about what we read and watch?

If everyone appears to be doing the same thing within a certain margin of comfortable acceptability, is that apparent harmony the effect of free choice?

Intellectual freedom has something to do with the ability to ‘think for oneself.’ We tell our students to think for themselves and my guess is that most of us live happily under the illusion that if there are some who do not think for themselves, at least we ourselves do.

Ask someone you know, “Do you think of yourself as an independently minded person? Are you a person who thinks for yourself?”

My guess is that he, if not too affronted, will answer in the affirmative.

But if we were then to perform a short survey of his ideas, if we were to ask this independent thinker a list of questions concerning politics, science, mathematics, religion, music, and yes even current fashions with regard to clothing…

…….would we be likely to find a maverick? Perhaps.

I like to ask my students questions like, “How many of you would prefer to have an arranged marriage?” and “How many of you think teenagers should have cell phones?”

Or sometimes if we are discussing politics and government, I might ask, “How many of you think that monarchy is the most excellent form of government?”

When it comes to the study of history, I generally do not find many advocates of the Spanish Inquisition or the Crusades.

Eventually, after having established the fact of a fairly unanimous consensus of ideas, I ask my students,

 Isn’t it odd that we all tend to think of ourselves as independent thinkers yet the vast majority of our ideas and tastes and aspirations tend to match rather exactly with the ideas, tastes, and aspirations that just happen to be in vogue?

It is odd. It could be that each of us happens to have arrived at the truth independently and our consensus is coincidental.

Or just perhaps we are not such free and independent thinkers as we had supposed ourselves to be?

Why Were Medieval Europeans So Obsessed With Long, Pointy Shoes ...

Posted in classical education, fashion, liberal education, slavery | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments