“Let There Be an Accidental Unity”

(an accidental unity…I don’t think so!)

Classical Education is all about providing students with a good beginning; most especially a good beginning in the intellectual life; a good beginning with regard to the mind of the student in its encounter with the various orders that God created; a good beginning in viewing the things that exist.

In other words classical education attempts to enable students to view the world in which they live with truth. Truth is supposed to  indicate some kind of “conformity of the mind with things,” and so classical education attempts to help students to obtain this conformity.

Now, believe it or not, one of the first things that we want to know about anything is:

is it one or many?

This is such an obvious question that we have about things that we sometimes forget that it is one of the first things that we have to know.

Take for example a giraffe. All of us instinctively recognize a substantial unity when we see a giraffe. We think about the giraffe or the elephant or the horse as being something like ourselves…they are all individual substances. They are all beings that appear to amount to something more than just a collection of their individual parts.

We instinctively recognize a oneness in these animals that we associate with the oneness in our own selves. When we look at the individual parts of a giraffe we do not think that they all exist as distinct parts which are heaped together in one place. No, we think about all the parts of the giraffe as being parts of only one thing that exists substantially, namely the giraffe. So the giraffe’s ears, for example, are not independently existing substantial realities. But the giraffe is an independent existing substantial reality.

Maybe the phrase “independent existing substantial reality” is overkill. I am only trying to signify what I mean by “substance.”

So one could say that whereas the giraffe is a substance, the giraffe’s ears are not substances.

But increasingly through the magical thing we call education, we teachers accomplish a thing in the minds of our students. We manage to convince them that one by one the things that they considered as substantial unities are really nothing more than a collection of parts.

So for example, little children think about something as simple as water, as being just that …simple as water. Simple means not complex. Complex means composed of parts. Simple means not composed. Ergo water, for children is something un-composed!

But voila! After a few years in school water is no longer a single simple substance. No it is a mere heap of individually existing atoms, two hydrogen and one oxygen.

And a molecule of water is supposedly not like a giraffe because the three atoms are supposedly existing in the molecule much like three stones in a pile. The stones all have as independent and actual existence as does the pile.

After a few years of school we enable students to see everything through a new kind of vision which shatters their former “illusions” about the substantial unity of things.

Everything that exists in the physical world and even the mathematical world has lost their individual unities. Lines are now made up of independently existing actual points. White Light is made up of an individually existing actual panalopy of other colors. Each individual thing is made up of the individually existing smaller parts into which it can be broken.


In other words after a few years of school we are able to graduate students who can say

everything that exists has no more unity than an army  or a brick wall has.

But armies and brick walls only have unity in an accidental sense. An army is not a substance. A brick wall is not a substance. These are both excellent examples of things which we say are accidental unities.

And so when God created light he said

“Let there be an accidental unity composed of all of the individually and actually existing colors in the spectra”

and when He created water he said

“Let there be another accidental unity which has no independent existence that is anything beyond the individual parts out of which it is composed”

And both of these things were not very difficult to make because He, of course, had the various parts out of which they were composed already! and really therefore, these things were nothing new.

As a matter of fact His creating light and water was strictly speaking not a creation because, whereas creation means to produce out of nothing, He only had to compose them out of things which already existed presumably, namely the individual pre-existing atoms of hydrogen and oxygen. Unless of course one thinks that in creating water he created hydrogen and oxygen. I haven’t checked recently- but I think water already existed and isn’t there some hydrogen in water?


About marklangley

Presently, the founding Headmaster of Our Lady of Walsingham Academy in Colorado Springs (see www. OLWclassical.org), former headmaster and Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see theLyceum.org) Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their children.
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1 Response to “Let There Be an Accidental Unity”

  1. Joseph Gonzalez says:

    Descartes would be proud of modern education.
    To reply to the claim that water and other apparent substances are merely arrangements of parts; it seems that in accidental unities, the parts can be understood independent of the whole. But this does not seem to be the case with the parts of substances. Everyone understands that hands and eyes are necessarily body parts. But something like a wheel is not understood generally as belonging to a specific kind of machine because many different kinds of machines use wheels. Thus the wheel can be understood apart from its whole in a way which the hand or the eye cannot.

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