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!

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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.”

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Doesn’t Lobachevsky look kind of haunted?


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.

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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!

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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”


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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?


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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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“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.

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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!

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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 , , | 11 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.”

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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.

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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.


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

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 , , , , | 23 Comments

Newsflash: Just Because You Know What Virtue is Does Not Mean You are Virtuous.

Now I know that there are many of you who are just naturally charitable.  You easily empathize with the suffering of others and you have a spontaneous instinct to do anything you can to help others carry their crosses and lighten their burdens.

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Whether sheltering and feeding the rest of us in our travels, lending money to us in times of need, visiting us when we are sick, befriending us in times of trouble and comforting us in our sorrow, you are prepared for all good works without counting the cost.

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What’s more, you cheerfully look for ways to be more charitable. You most certainly do not recognize your own charity, nor do you keep a record of your charitable actions.

This does not describe me. Set me down as one who calculates the cost and counts the liabilities incurred by every single reluctant and grudgingly performed “good deed.” Like water from the rock, some of us actually do have difficulty squeezing genuinely selfless actions from our stony hearts.

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Nonetheless, I do love to learn about virtue. For example, I love thinking about the definition of virtue that Saint Augustine gives when he says,

Virtue is a good quality of the mind, by which we live righteously, of which no one can make bad use, which God works in us, without us.

That is a great definition of virtue and I enjoy knowing it very much. Let me tell you why.

Saint Thomas Aquinas demonstrates how this definition is excellent because it is complete. Why is it complete?

Why? Because it contains all of Aristotle’s four causes!

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You remember those four causes right? Why, of course– the form, the matter, the maker, and the purpose.

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First, virtue is a “good habit.” That is what it is. Good habit is the “form” of virtue just like the shape is the form of a statue.

Second, although virtue is not made out of any specific kind of matter like plastic, wood or metal, virtue does exist in the mind just like the shape of a statue exists in marble.

So we will say, without stretching the meaning too far,  that the phrase “of the mind” is adequate to hold the place of the material cause of virtue.

Third, the words “by which we live righteously” give us the purpose or end of virtue. The purpose of virtue is to enable us to live excellently. Moreover,  the very word virtue comes from the Latin word which means excellence.

Finally, what is the “making cause” of virtue (more sophisticated philosophers call it the efficient cause)?

Well, according to St Augustine’s definition, God is the cause of our virtue. He “works virtue in us, without us.” This is especially the case with the three Theological virtues which we receive at Baptism–Faith, Hope and Charity.

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But when it comes to the natural virtues (like Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude), we can justly be said to acquire those on our own. We ourselves can produce virtue by repeated good acts.

Now my point is this. I really enjoy thinking about virtue. I enjoy thinking about what it is and explaining it to others. But does this make me virtuous? If only that were the case!

One far wiser and brighter than myself might descend even a little further and divide all the virtues into intellectual virtues and moral virtues. Perhaps he could enumerate all the virtues in each category and even define each according to its respective causes. I would love to be able to do this!

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But would that make me virtuous? I wish!

I happen to know St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on the nine effects of charity. Here they are- I will write these with both eyes closed:

The Nine Effects of Charity

  1. If one is charitable, he is endowed with spiritual life because charity is none other than God’s union with the soul. And just as the soul is the life of the body, so is God the Life of the soul.
  2. Charity enables us to observe the Commandments, because Christ says If any one love Me, he will keep My word (i.e. commandments).
  3. Charity is a bulwark against adversity. For the lover, no mountain is too high to climb, no dragon is too dreadful to slay, no obstacle is too difficult to overcome for the sake of one’s beloved. The same goes for those who love God!Image result for knight slaying dragon renaissance
  4. Charity bestows happiness on us. For eternal happiness is only promised to those who have charity.
  5. Our sins are remitted through charity, for “charity covereth a multitude of sins” and in Proverbs it says “charity covereth all offenses.”
  6. By charity, our hearts are illumined because in Sirach we read, “Ye that fear the Lord, love Him, and your hearts  shall be enlightened.”
  7. Charity produces perfect joy because by charity we are united with the cause of perfect joy. Because we read in John, “Whoever remains in charity remains in God and God in him.”
  8. Charity bestows perfect peace because by charity we abide in God and St. Augustine says in his Confessions, “You made us for You, Lord, and our heart is not at rest until it rests in You.”
  9. And finally charity bestows great dignity on us because Our Lord says to those who love Him “I no longer call you slaves/servants… but friends.”

There! That was easy. I bet I could do those backwards. Nonetheless, although it gives me great delight to think about each one of these, I am struck by the sad fact that in knowing the nine effects of charity I am still not charitable!

How can this be? I count myself as one of the lucky few who through some attention to my liberal education can explain Aristotle’s four causes. I can define virtue completely. I can teach and explain what charity is and its nine effects…and yet I am still not virtuous, nor have I received any awards for my noteworthy charity.

The Apostle warns about the difference between knowledge and virtue when he says,

If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing…

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And of course Newman, the Apostle of Liberal Education, famously repeats this sentiment saying,

Knowledge is one thing, virtue is another; good sense is not conscience, refinement is not humility, nor is largeness and justness of view faith. Philosophy, however enlightened, however profound, gives no command over the passions, no influential motives, no vivifying principles. Liberal Education makes not the Christian…

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But at least I can say this: Although the liberally educated person may not himself be virtuous, he is at least able to love virtue. One cannot love something which one does not know. The liberally educated person is able to know what charity is and its effects and therefore he is at least able to love charity.

Although knowledge is not the same as virtue, I dare hope that he who has the knowledge of what charity is will at least, insofar as his knowledge goes, have a greater disposition to possessing the virtue itself.

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Posted in Aquinas, Augustine, liberal education, Newman, Sacred Doctrine | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Do Your Children Know the Ten Commandments?

Every couple of years I have the opportunity to teach a course on the Ten Commandments to High School seniors and juniors. I always try to start the course with a one-question pop quiz that looks like this:

  1. Write down the Ten Commandments.  (Don’t worry about writing them in order.)

Of course, a few students do write them all correctly and even in the order in which they are set forth in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. But usually students will forget one or another. I have not kept a record but “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” appears to me to be the most frequently forgotten commandment.

Occasionally in place of one of the commandments a student will substitute another precept “thou shalt not judge,” or “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Or even, in a desperate guess, “Be nice to everyone.”

It might not surprise you that the majority of students are not able to write them all down. And you will not see me casting stones, because I remember being somewhat foggy about the commandments as well!

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The decisive benefit that accrues to the highschool teacher is the opportunity for clearing the fog away-especially about fundamental things like the commandments.

Happy is the teacher to whom this task is assigned!

As a matter of fact, I feel just a little like the blessed subject of the first psalm when David cries out,

Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence. But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night.

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Now perhaps I do not meditate on the commandments “day and night,” but I figure that my students and I are making a fairly good start towards that goal by discussing them for 45 minutes four times a week.

If you didn’t already know, the commandments, or the “decalogue” as they are sometimes called, turn out to be of extraordinary significance. For example consider this:

Containing a summary of the entire natural law, the Ten Commandments embrace the complete moral code by which a human being may obtain happiness.

Think about it. How many books about ethics and right moral behavior are there?

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How many authors have written about success and happiness?

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The Ten Commandments scarcely fill a page and yet manage to encompass the entire moral life. Any author who wishes to write on the subject must perforce content himself with merely extrapolating or exemplifying the precepts contained in the commandments. There are no new moral principles by which a man should live than the ones already given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

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This is why Moses called the commandments “wisdom” in Deuteronomy when he said,

For this is your wisdom, and understanding in the sight of nations, that hearing all these precepts, they may say: Behold a wise and understanding people, a great nation.

Happiness is consequent upon the orderliness of our lives and especially consequent upon the orderliness of our loves. When we love well, we find happiness. But this implies that we not only love the right things, but that we also love those things in the right order. When we do this we find peace.

As St. Augustine says,

Peace is the tranquility of order

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The commandments happen to be a set of laws that have been handed down to us in an order that is absolutely magnificent, nay, even Divine!

After all God, who is Wisdom, did not deliver his commandments to Moses in any old manner. No, according to Solomon, who speaks about Wisdom under the guise of a beautiful woman, Wisdom

…reacheth therefore from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly. Her have I loved, and have sought her out from my youth, and have desired to take her for my spouse, and I became a lover of her beauty.

Let me give you an example.

We all know that the commandments were written on two stone tablets because we read in Deuteronomy:

And he shewed you his covenant, which he commanded you to do, and the ten words that he wrote in two tables of stone.

And of course we all know the reason for this, right? Why of course, one tablet, the first, contains the commandments which address our relation to God Himself, and the other contains the precepts concerning our relations with our neighbor.

Now this consideration alone provides us with a rich soil for meditation. But what about the order of the commandments on each tablet? What about the order of the first three commandments for instance?

St. Thomas, teaches that there is an order.

In his little work (his “Opuscula”) on the Commandments St Thomas writes (commenting on the third commandment),

For we are first commanded to adore God in our hearts, and the Commandment is to worship one God: “You shall not have strange gods before Me.” In the Second Commandment we are told to reverence God by word: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” The Third commands us to reverence God by act. It is: “Remember that you keep holy the Sabbath day”. God wished that a certain day be set aside on which men direct their minds to the service of the Lord.

In other words we are to love God in our hearts (or thoughts), and in our words and in our deeds. I just love that order!

And this is just the beginning. This is just the tip of the iceberg. One already wonders, “Is there a similar order among the commandments on the second tablet?” Aren’t you dying to know?

As far as the usefulness of the ten commandments, I should think that this point is pretty clear. Does anyone want the secret to happiness?

Well then, if a happy life and a happy eternity are something to be valued, then so is an intimate knowledge of the commandments! Wisdom about God and his works is very useful. Wisdom about what God wants from us is also very useful. Studying the commandments gives us this wisdom. For Wisdom

……teacheth the knowledge of God, and is the chooser of his works. And if riches be desired in life, what is richer than wisdom, which maketh all things?

Posted in Aquinas, Augustine, Decalogue, Sacred Doctrine, Wisdom | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment