Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Our Thesis in a Nutshell: Christian Education

Put Another Way: Our Thesis in a Nutshell
Contra the modern tendency in Christian apologetic movements, we desire that human letters and science be made perspicacious, pellucid, and integral with what is known of the nature of God. Anything less would be to cripple the possibility of developing a specifically Christian worldview, for what good is a world view that cannot account for itself, or remain true to itself, at all possible levels, and in all possible situations? At the same time, we wish to do this consciously, that it may be criticized, improved upon, or clarified in important points. In this sense, the effort to develop the Quadrivium and the Trivium can be called Christian Humanism.1 We agree with R. Scott Clark at Heidelblog that a Christian, or even a Reformed, humanism is quite possible: he refers us to other sources as well-
On this see the massive work of Richard Muller, e.g., Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics or Carl R. Trueman and R. Scott Clark, eds.Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment or Willem van Asselt, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism.”
It appears to this writer that the anti-classical movement (while making good points, generating sound insights, and clarifying some topics) actually requires more of man than God does, & says worse things about him than the Creator does, and that this is because they believe that man's reason is completely extinguished, and that the image of God in man is obliterated. Apparently, this theory does not extend to their own reasoning on the subject, nor (presumably) to that which they appeal to in their listener. I include the Biblical scholar Gary North in this category, and to a lesser extent, James Jordan. Rush Limbaugh has also joined the attack on “liberal studies”, bizarrely. Here is Lisa Van Damme, of the Ayn Rand Objectivist Standard, attacking “classical education”- she objects to this idea of a higher Wisdom with a capital W:
Like Hirsch’s Core Knowledge catalogue, The Well-Trained Mind fails to differentiate facts at various levels of abstraction. Facts are simply the automatically given raw material from which logical conclusions are drawn and impassioned arguments made. In the first years of schooling, the child is supplied with all the facts known to man—no matter how these facts actually came to be known, and thus regardless of how these facts can be truly understood firsthand. In the logic stage, he learns how to relate and interconnect the facts to form arguments. In the rhetoric stage, he learns to use his catalogue of facts and skill at argument to create new ideas and present them in a compelling manner. How is he to know that the said facts are facts? The answer is that he simply does not know; he is to accept them as facts because an authority says so....Nothing is more destructive to a child’s (or an adult’s) ability to reason than to be fed dogma and to swallow it. Reason functions by logically integrating observable facts of reality into a non-contradictory whole. In regard to every idea, a reasoning mind must ask: Is this supported by the facts of reality? And: How does this integrate with my other factual knowledge of reality? When a rational person spots a contradiction, he knows that at least one of his premises is wrong. But what is he to do with the Bible—which, if taken literally, provides him with an endless stream of absurd falsehoods and unscientific assertions? Can a bush talk, as is claimed in the Old Testament? Can a man walk on water or turn it to wine, as Jesus is purported to have done? Was everything created ex nihilo in six days? Was man created in his current form? Have Christians not caused major atrocities throughout history—and are these atrocities not sanctioned by the Bible? An education that places primacy on the observable, provable facts of reality can teach a child how to think and integrate; one that does not, short-circuits his mind by telling him to accept that which makes no sense and contradicts that which he knows.
Can the mind actually create ideas on its own, like a mushroom creates spores? Isn't it dogmatic to assert that “nothing is more a mind than to be fed dogma and swallow it”? Also, is that true? Nothing? What about lying to yourself? What is meant by “observable” and provable”? “Facts” and “reality”?
Contrary to Van Damme's wishful thinking, there isn't an obervable, provable “reality” which everyone can easily agree on. Even worse, there isn't a consistent “method” that those who disagree on what “reality” is, can agree on either. The closest thing we have to this, which is the scientific method, is an agreement on procedure in certain instances, rather than “method” strictly speaking, since “method” implies (in addition to procedure) the tinctures of the contents and ambiance of the Mind. Yes, we all tend to agree that we experience reality, we hypothesize, we “test” or observe that hypothesis, and then we refine our theories. After that initial consensus, everything diverges into infinity, unless we are discussing the lowest mineral or chemical levels of reality, about which there is usually an easy agreement. This is true even among scientists.
The classical world had derived a rather careful and conservative, but effective, remedy for this confusion. By using the locus of common texts (eg., Homer's Odyssey, Euclidean geometry, etc.) it became possible to awaken the possibilities inherent in the student.2 In the ancient tradition of the liberal arts, it was recognized that “only like can know like”. Although many Christians today deride this as “Platonism”, it was simply a recognized epistemological maxim of the older world that was shared in common, by and large. Stoics would also have accepted it, as would have Pythagoreans, the mystery schools, and a variety of other philosophical schools. Jesus put the same truth in its purest form: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. If we accept that maxim, we can see why humans will never experience identical “reality” on the inside – the interior of men is different, and some people are incapable of understanding what others do. At the same time, there is a kind of basic similarity in all men – their “noetic” faculty is divided into the image and the likeness of God: we all share God's image, but we participate in His likeness to the degree which we are able, according to our talents. It was the common, shared “image” of God which created Mediterranean, classical “humanism”, later baptized and furthered by the Christian community of the Dark Ages.
It was a firm belief in the continuity between Grace and Nature that lead (to some degree) the ancient, and (to a greater degree) the medieval, worlds to canonize what they called the seven Liberal Arts. True, Grace doesn't merely restore the primordial state, but neither does it obliterate it by something entirely Other or alien. One is tempted to express the difference between Greece/Rome on the one hand, and medieval Europe on the other this way: the ancient world possessed transcendence and immanence, but it had no stable or sane way to bring them together – it was the coming of Christ that reconciled the interior worlds with the exterior cosmos. From then on, humanism made sense, but only as Christian humanism.
Francis Schaeffer in his magisterial work How Shall We Then Live stated that towards the end of the Middle Ages there happened
an increasing distortion of the teaching of the Bible and the early church. Humanist elements had entered. For example, the authority of the church took precedence over the teachings of the Bible; fallen man was considered able to return to God by meriting the merit of Christ; and there was a mixture of Christian and ancient non-Christian thought (as Aquinas' emphasis on Aristotle). This opened the way for people to think of themselves as autonomous and the center of all things.3
With enormous respect to Schaeffer (to whom I owe very much), there is a lack of subtlety in this sweeping approach. While it is true that the Middle Ages gave birth to the “numeracy” and computus of modern Science, a tendency that was certainly exaggerated and reached its peak in the Deistic period of 18th century humanism and the Enlightenment, there were competing tendencies within the sharpening of the Western intellect which lost out (over time) to the quantitative approaches to both Nature and God. “Reason” in the Middle Ages stood for the noetic faculty, rightly used (including in inquiry into Nature), so it was not until the great nominalist debate and William of Ockham, that the West decisively turned towards the dark side of reductionism and determinism4.
To give just one example of the survival and continuity of the older view, Jean Calvin quotes with approval Saint Bernard of Clarivaux in his Institutes, on the righteousness of Christ. So that if we return to that high point of the medieval period, during the 10th-13th centuries, we find a very different kind of “humanism” than existed in either ancient Rome or the Renaissance, or (for that matter), the Reformation. Looking past the label, what we encounter is a deliberate attempt to work out the cultural implications of the doctrine of theosis, which Athanasius championed:
God became man, that man might become God.
Hugh of St. Victor says it even better, this way:
This, then, is what the arts are concerned with, this is what they intend, namely, to restore within us the divine likeness, a likeness which to us is a form but to God is his nature. The more we are conformed to the divine nature, the more do we possess Wisdom, for then there begins to shine forth again in us what has forever existed in the divine Image or Pattern, coming and going in us, but standing changeless in God.” - Hugh of St. Victor, Didascalion. 5
When Christendom rose up out of the Dark Ages, it arose in Northwest Europe, rather than in Africa, the Middle East, or Asia, precisely because the ancient world beyond the Rhine retained enough cultural “paganism” in a certain form to render it susceptible to the preaching of the Gospel. Since you cannot convert someone who believes in nothing, & you cannot convert someone who believes in everything, it took the world of the barbarian tribes to be balanced at the right enough point to culturally implement the Gospel, so that European man could have been said (with all his faults, and they were many) to have Christian “bones”.
These preconditions meant that it was in the Western world that Christianity was able to take shape.6The Germanic peoples who accepted Christ did so because they already understood, latently, the chivalric ideal proclaimed in Christ's passion:
"If I had been there with my Franks I would have revenged his wrongs!" (Clovis the Frankish king).
This was no mere jest – time and again, with far lesser reason, and against outrageous odds, the barbarians of the West stood on the day of battle for as little a thing (as Hamlet says) “as an eggshell” - it was to be expected that the baptism of this Gospel would produce a society which would be extremely brave and high-minded, which it did. So a culture (of chivalry in this case) matters, because culture is part of God's given world, His already given gift to us7. If God was not a “Gifter”, but a pretender or a scrooge, then we could say that Mozart, Goethe, and Milton do not matter.
So does politics and language and learning: all these are “matter” and they matter. To list a few instances, when Rome fell, the various Christological heresies dominated Church and politics. When Spain was occupied by the the Visigoths, the Church there became Arian. When Byzantium conquered the remains of the Empire and split it with Charlemagne and his Franks, the Church was fractured. When Rome persecuted the Church, the Church became permanently impressed with an underground and impoverished character. When the Founding Fathers subordinated Christendom to the Enlightenment (and the Church to “freedom of religion”), classical secular liberalism came into existence and stamped the Church with a sectarian and “second hand” character. Time and time again, in the history of the West, the “Empire” or secular arm's lack of health has caused the Church to catch a cold from its sneezing; in our day, it is “culture” itself which infects the Church, the Church having let it go to seed. We now have a vicious cycle of Church and culture influencing (and neglecting) one another to the detriment of each.
So a defense of Christendom is not out of order, but in fact represents an essential element of health, without which the Ekklesia has immense difficulty in ordering its own soul and the souls of its sheep. It is highly in the interests of Christians, thinking or not, whether the secular arm is dominated by a democracy, Caesar, or a demagogue or a tyrant (to name a few)8. Or whether we live in a world lead by Brittney Spears and the Kardashians, or one dedicated more to Brahms or Wagner. Even if culture were purely neutral or even negative, it would still be true that sustaining it with some forms of beauty, truth, and goodness was a valuable way of making it stable and holding certain forces at bay outside the Church, until the Church could regain its health. Even if it were a negligible non-entity, it would still serve as a buffer or a nursery: better still, it could be transformed, intentionally, by the Church for express and spiritual reasons, to make something better than itself alone.
To be even more precise, we do not make the claim that goodness is either guaranteed by high culture, or that high culture is a precondition for any goodness, especially one that will save. It is not too much, even given this, to say that
the Greeks and the Romans taught us, by edict and example, the dangers of cultural complacency. Culture does not breathe on its own; it is preserved by those convinced of its value. This is not a new gospel. It is simply true. The classical vision has been renewed, time and again down the long centuries after being threatened with extinction by prophets touting their New Jerusalem. But for students of history, the burden of proof must lie on the shoulders of those who would deny that vision's value...the case for classical education is not airtight, nor can it be; it contains too many provisos. But...homage has been paid to it before our time, and by finer minds...anyone trained at least for a time to view the world as the Greeks and Romans saw it may learn to ask pregnant questions. And even if the ancient answers be rejected, the student – of whatever age – will know what they are, and approach his own world with freshened vision, one no longer blinkered by ideology and the reigning fashion. He would have a liberal, because liberating, education indeed. No longer would he be imprisoned exclusively within the velvet walls of his own world's preoccupations and fetishes. No longer would he be just and only a child of his own time. He might even partake of the divine.9
So we are not maintaining a high argument that high culture is inevitably and uniquely Christian (although I have a suspicion that this might be very possible); rather, the aim of the argument is to show that Christianity can be more true to its Maker, and thereby, itself, by receiving as a gift the “shields of the earth” from the hand of the Giver10. We conclude, therefore, that both high culture and Christianity will be better together, than they could have been, separately. How much better, or in what way, is a story that will be left up to those willing to be mastered by both the high culture of the West, as well as the Master Himself.11 Nothing else is worthy of free men who possess any form of memory, and not to know the Mediterranean tradition is to have a form of higher amnesia. To reject it consciously is a form of madness, or deliberate surrender.
Thus, a defense of the Quadrivium (in education) is tantamount to defending the reality and health of Christendom, because the mores and worldview of a society are formed in the nursery, the kindergarten, and the high schools & colleges12. The “soul of the university” is just as important as the “soul of the body politic” in maintaining the health and well being of the Church of our Lord. The liberal arts, as both Luther and Erasmus acknowledged, in their own separate ways, are a kind of pre-sanctum or preparatory study for the knowledge of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good (again, the archetypal Father, the embodied Son, and the end or Summation of all Things in the Spirit).
So it is un-apologetically and boldly that we do advance the thesis of this work, which we intend to defend as that which was normative “at all times, in all places, and by all”13, and present this fully, replete with scholarly detail and exegesis for those who wish to dig further.
This thesis is that the Quadrivium (and indeed the entire seven Liberal Arts by implication) are in fact the necessary framework for a full and healthy Christendom of the mind, without which neither the State, the Church, nor even the family can hope to plainly and clearly see where the true Good is found, beyond the “strife of race and clan” and the noise of the “maddening crowd”. The true seven Liberal arts are the enemy sworn of the world, the flesh, and the devil – we may call them the red right hand of God in the war on the dragon, for it is by ideas, forged with passions, that men are swayed, governed, and formed into an eternity, for either good or ill. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. Therefore, the kingdoms of the world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, the Christ, since, by faith he looked for a different city, whose builder and architect was God. Jesus did not receive the kingdoms at the hand of Satan, but at the hand of God, to deliver them back at the end of all times to the One who made them. This is what classical Christian education is, or can and should be, all about.

2The common body of texts was not a “matrix” in the sense of Obama's “common core”, but was (rather) a rough, general, but flexible canon of texts recognized as superior and helpful by previous learners. You could displace a text, but only by superseding it with something recognizably superior. Thus, the Stoics would not study the same texts as Pythagoreans or Platonists – but there differences were rational, known, and capable of being demonstrated for the inquirer. In modern terms, one might substitute Imre Madach's The Tragedy of Man for Goethe's Faust. I am not sure if it makes that much difference in the canon.
4Richard Weaver fingered William of Ockham for this in Ideas Have Consequences. The roots go back much farther, but in terms of accepted philosophy, they reach a crescendo in Ockham's nominalism.
6GK Chesterton makes this point at length, vis a vis Rome and Carthage, in The Everlasting Man.
7Jesus puts it this way – You didn't listen to the prophets, but stoned them and put them to death. What makes you think God should send you anything better? In fact, He does, but (naturally) because they don't “get it”, they end up doing the same thing to Jesus as well. In these essays, I argue this of Nature, as well: if you won't listen to Nature, then what right have you to expect Grace? You will get Grace, but it will only make you destroy yourself even more efficiently and finally. Appreciation of Nature is a prelude to appreciation of Grace.
8Please read TS Eliot on Christianity and Culture, or Peter Leithart's Against Christianity. Christ and culture are only at war because our culture is so degenerate. Culture ought to operate against the world (Empire), just as Empire should operate against culture (degenerate culture & false religion – the flesh and the devil). Or, to put it differently, could everyone just focus on doing their own jobs well?
9Tracy Lee Simons, Climbing Parnassus. P 22 & 24 2002 ISI Delaware.
10When Daniel was captive in Babylon, he and his friends were schooled and disciplined in the best and finest arts which the Babylonians possessed, and they are in no way censured for this by Scripture – quite the opposite – it was an occasion for great power and grace.
11Phillip Rieff, Fellow Teachers. “High culture belongs to whomever will be mastered by it.”
12Karl Marx's tenth proposition for a socialist society included the power of dictating what type of education the young would receive.
13St. Vincent of Lerins used this motto to describe Christian orthodoxy, which would include an orthodoxy of the mind, a philosophy of education, and a method and theory of training/learning. RJ Rushdoony goes so far as to claim in The Foundations of Social Order that the roots of Western civilization in fact lie within the ecumenical councils of the Church and her creeds. I would endorse this line of thinking, but not all of his conclusions, adding (at the least) that the Hellenistic world provided at least half of the framework of the creeds.

Friday, October 2, 2015

De Quadriformisratio

On The Quadrivium
"For what avails a golden key if it cannot give access to the object
which we wish to reach, and why find fault with a wooden key if it
serves our purpose?" (De Doctr. Christ., IV, 11, 26). - Augustine
This book is an extended argument for the utility, beauty, and subtle necessity of an ancient discipline and practice known as the Quadrivium. As we discuss the Quadrivium in detail in the following chapters, we will see that it is higher Number, as manifested by itself (Mathematics), in space (Geometry), in time (Music), and in Space plus Time (Cosmology). If the Trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) is the means whereby the Egyptians are spoiled of their treasure, then the Quadrivium is the design for the tabernacle of the Lord, which was built with attention to mathematics, order, detail, and according to a design which was divinely inspired, according to the archetype of the true Jerusalem, which is from above and heavenly. The Trivium properly is the glory or the spirit of the Faith, but the Quadrivium properly represents the body or wisdom of the Faith, the matter of what is made known.
I say this as a generalization, since it is quite equally true to assert that the matter or content of the Quadrivium generates a style or form all of its own, just as the style and flair derived from the Trivium is capable of generating content or substance. Yet this, all the more, should inform us that the Trivium and the Quadrivium go properly together – they are indivisible at the highest level of human knowledge, and each is indispensable to the other.
In order to put this case at length, I will start in media res (in the middle of things) with the Trivium, its better known twin sister. All too often, both the Trivium and the Quadrivium have been allowed to rest in the hands of the enemies of the Faith, but lately, we have made progress in recovering one of them. It is a start, and a beginning. But there is more to the story, and much more to even that part of the story.
The 20th century witnessed the unexpected resurgence of something called the classical Christian school movement. Inspired by the famous 1947 Oxford essay by Dorothy Sayers, the movement took (as its hallmark) not only a return to God-centered education, but a focus on the ancient Trivium. In Sayers' words, she retrieved what she called a "modern Trivium – with modifications", from the dusty shelves of Oxford and the medieval period, and dusted it off to show it in a new light. Although she said her views were “neither orthodox nor enlightened", Sayers had the interesting and admittedly personal insight that there are roughly three stages of learning that you naturally see in the development of the human psyche, and that these three stages can roughly be correlated to the grammar, logic, and rhetoric of the old Trivium. She identified a poll-parrot stage elementary school stage, followed by a “difficult” stage of argument in the junior high years, and finally a rhetorical stage of expression in the late teen years, and beyond. This essay was republished in The Lost Tools of Learning, by Douglas Wilson, and became a set-piece for the classical Christian school movement.
Regardless of the possible critiques, objections, and second thoughts one may proffer to and about Sayers, her essay inspired the movers and shakers of the late 20th century in what may justly be called (along with homeschooling) a massive rebirth of Christian education. It is not too much to say that her essay was the efficient means of sparking a revival, of Christian education in America. Whether she was right or misguided, can be debated – those who began the movement were inspired by her essay, although it remains to be seen whether the revival will result in renaissance and restoration. Certainly, recovering the Trivium tradition was on the whole immensely important.
Dorothy Sayers, in her essay, asks if you've ever watched and wondered why it is that modern literate people cannot seem to define their terms, distinguish first principles, respond to arguments appropriately, or follow a highly complex chain of reasoning. She wishes us to see that it is the neglect of the Trivium disciplines which are indirectly responsible for the slobbish and retarded condition of our public discourse, & I for one am inclined to agree with her line of thought. It is certainly true that the medieval ancestors would have never tolerated such sloppy public discourse in their dialectic quod libetas or university debates. Whether Sayers was right or not in her theories of human learning and development, it is certainly true that restoring the Trivium to a central position would add lucidity to modern thought. Even her staunchest opponents would have to admit that it was a “happy blunder”, in that sense. It is not too much to expect, of a high school graduate, that they can define their terms (grammar), reason soundly and recognize confused reasoning (logic), and express themselves clearly (rhetoric).
Sayers, in her essay mentions the Quadrivium but skips over it for the time. She also concludes her essay with this striking paragraph:
The combined folly of a civilization that has forgotten its own roots is forcing them to shore up the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built upon sand. They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do. For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.”
I would like to raise a question, at this point, one which she might (perhaps) have answered had she discussed the Quadrivium in more depth. Is there not a difference between Learning (on the one hand) and (Wisdom) on the other? The medieval idea (and the ancient one) was that education's goal was Wisdom, and not Learning per se at all, as much as it was cherished. The modern idea that education's purpose was the “shoring up of civilization” was only one aspect of their aims in instruction. Perhaps her choice of words was dictated by the audience she spoke to, and that is certainly the charitable point of view. Yet I would ask the reader to go with me a little deeper, into the Quadrivium, and the quest for Wisdom with a capital W, beyond the statistics of the US Dept. of Education, beyond the degrees and the dollars, beyond even the scholars, and certainly beyond what today is called “higher education”. To bring lucidity to modern thought is certainly desirable, but not if the assumptions of modern thought go unchallenged: it is certainly possible (for example) to hold a purely material view of the world, and defend it with grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
We may well go on to ask then (as she does not), why it may be that even were our collective discourse to become sharp and precise, it would still be lacking both elevation and sublimity. That is, having addressed the method of “how do we learn” and offered a strong correction, there still persists the question “what shall we learn about?”. What is the content and the form and the goal of Education? Originally the Trivium's whole point was to create a fortress and weapon of the Mind (in the service of Wisdom, and later, “the Faith”). Now along the way and incidentally, it certainly does manage a great deal of this, for in order to study the Trivium, students read a great deal in the classic humanities. It is hard to read Cicero and Virgil and Milton without acquiring some elevation and also some profound sublimity. Contact with the “classics” often imparted some of the tone and moral style in them to the mind of the student.
Nonetheless, reintroducing the Trivium will not formally or substantially solve the horrifying problem of the lack of substance, sublimity, and richness. By itself, the Trivium gives us comprehensiveness, efficiency and clarity, and style: but it can only borrow substance from the humanities which it uses to cut its teeth on - Greek and Roman history, literature, and philosophy. This is done indirectly, as the Trivium student works through the humanities. The humanities proper are to be considered as principle subjects, as opposed to the tool disciplines of the Liberal Arts (the Trivium + Quadrivium). Now it is true that Christian education addresses the issue of content directly through the confessions of Faith which over-arch the classical Christian movement. New Saint Andrews makes it clear that the context of the Faith defines the context which the Trivium works upon:
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are our only infallible rule of faith and practice. The Lord Jesus Christ committed these inspired Scriptures to His Church (1 Tim. 3 :15). We therefore defer to the witness of the historic Christian Church as a genuine but fallible authority, subordinate to the Scriptures themselves, in discerning what the Scriptures teach. Because they faithfully witness what is taught in the Word of God, we receive the great creedal statements the Church has affirmed throughout the ages: The Apostles Creed, The Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Moreover, we believe that the reformational confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries (including the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort), of all historic statements, most fully and accurately summarize the system of orthodox Christian doctrine revealed in Scripture. Therefore, the specific headings below do not exhaust our doctrinal understanding, but rather identify those doctrines that merit greater attention today.
NSA (New St. Andrews is the college which Douglas Wilson started and an intellectual headquarters of the movement in Moscow, Idaho) mentions the Quadrivium as something people can “go on to study” as part of more “advanced study”. So hasn't this settled the issue? Isn't this the way to “enhance the Trivium”? To do more than just impart lucidity to the conditions of modern thought, but to begin to challenge its core assumptions as well?
Their argument might run as follows - Christ Himself is the Substance of what the Trivium studies, and provides the treasure which the well trained classical Mind defends by attacking every thought hostile to Christ and taking it captive. So why cannot we say that the Faith, or Christ Himself, is the beauty, truth, and goodness which we seek? The “more” which the Trivium helps us to learn how to learn about? Can't we just weave the Greco-Roman (Hellenistic) world into a narrative which dovetails with the narrative of God's redemption in His people? And content ourselves with the history, literature, art, and philosophy of the classical era, spoiling its riches (to use Augustine's phrase) to adorn the tabernacle of the Faith of God? Can't we just develop a grammar, logic, and rhetoric of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, as summed up in Jesus Christ? Why would we have to make things more difficult by adding canonical subjects which can handled electively? For that matter, why is music or geometry anymore important than pre-medical studies or foreign languages for high school students, or anthropology or nano-technology for our collegiates? In short, aren't we hunting snipes here? Or maybe just cow-tipping? Finally, doesn't the Quadrivium have a funny name? Just what is the Quadrivium, anyway? Doesn't it have something to do with mathematics?
Just as we define our method in the Trivium, a method for the mind, so we can call Christ our goal and content, the treasure chest of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness. So we seem to already have an answer of sorts, ready made, within the classical Christian movement – the sovereignty and majesty of the King becomes the material which the mind exercises itself upon. The Faith is the body of knowledge and belief which the Trivium uses and meditates upon, and even as students read about the wars of Caesar or savor the poetry of Homer, they are being taught to look through the lens of that earthly beauty, toward something “more”. By faith, we know what that “more” is. It is a sound argument, both cogent and well constructed, and the conclusions follow from the given premises; it can be beautifully expressed, and often is; it is capable of defining its terms, and it is an improvement on just adding Bible class to a public school education. This much, this far, is very sound.
The corollary to the above is that we really don't need the “Quadrivium”; not as Tradition defines it, or at least not the Quadrivium per se. Students can supplement the Trivium training, the theology and the philosophy of the Faith, and the exercises in the humanities, with courses in practical art, music, perhaps a foreign language other than Latin, maybe some athletics. We have our method, and we have our standard, goal, and our motive, which points us to the great body of truth - Christ. We seem to have it all, here. All that remains is the carrying it out. Go forth, we tell our young students, and take every thought captive to Christ! The Quadrivium is optional, but certainly not necessary or even extremely useful. At the very least, it is the mysterious younger sister of the pair, and by far the least important.
Now while the recovery of principal subjects (under the eye of the confessions of the Faith) does constitute a direct address to the problem of content, it still remains true that it fails to address the issue of the innate form of the content, by neglecting the tool disciplines of the Quadrivium, which impart a certain form or structure (a discipline) to the content indirectly preserved in the principle subjects and indirectly recovered through texts encountered in work with the Trivium. This includes, but goes beyond, mathematical Form in general, just as the Trivium includes, but goes beyond, linguistic Form in general.
If the Faith points us towards God, and the Trivium helps us sharpen our Mind, then the Quadrivium tells us something about the body and scope of Nature, considered in and of itself. Faith reaches the summit of the Divine (Super-Nature or the Lord God), and the Trivium teaches the Mind to reach its own summit in lucid self-reflection. But the Quadrivium investigates that which is Logos – that is, the specific and real union between God & Man. All three (confessional, linguistic, and mathematical) forms have a proper center of gravity, but all three include (or touch) each other. Remove one of the legs, and it weakens the structure of the whole, a structure which we express in the principal subjects like History, Literature, and even Philosophy and Theology.
We might go even further to illustrate this hunch. If the Trivium helps us "learn how to learn" (in Sayers arresting and concluding turn of phrase), the Quadrivium helps teach us what to teach, and how to teach it. The Quadrivium demonstrates intuitively how the Logos knits together the world of all that is, including God Himself. The Quadrivium tells us about the actual pattern God uses to draw Nature up into Super-Nature, transforming it and sublimating, making it One with Him. It teaches us to discern the method whereby God incorporates Nature (or the world) into Himself. It is a bridge between the Trivium and the Faith, just as it is a bridge between the Mind and Super-Nature. It considers all things as part of a whole, which is God.
Perhaps this is why the Quadrivium is not more discussed – it involves very old and deep theological realities which have been forgotten or distorted. We follow CS Lewis on this point – God is that which is most Real. In The Great Divorce, Lewis makes the case that the reality of God is the source of “reality”, and is therefore, more “real” than mundane reality. We become real by restoring His image and being transformed into His likeness. God created the world by an act of Love, withdrawing or “wounding” Himself, and then speaking the Creation into existence with the power of His word, out of the “Void” or “Nothing” which was created by His wounding. We do not live in a world of dead matter and empty space, but a world that is groaning and trembling as it works through the process of Redemption. Now, each of the theological confessions of the Church differ as to the details of how this works, but they all agree (at least in principle) that the end reality is that God will be “All in All”. Against the modern worldview of “atoms in motion” in a permanently cold and lifeless space, the Christian confesses that the world is being born again (however slowly this may happen). Indeed, the Christian confesses that God is already “all in all”, and that we work with Him (however slowly) to manifest this in time and space, which is not empty or dead.
The Quadrivium is important because it gives us very vivid and detailed hints and clues (often in mathematical form) how that “all in all” began, and towards what it is tending. While the Trivium may anticipate the final destination, showing us the foundations of grammar-Logos in the “Word”, giving us a peak at the inter-relations of the Logos between various entities and in certain processes, and revealing the beauty of the Logos through the highest flights the human mind and imagination is capable of, it is the Quadrivium which deals with the very concrete details of Creation and Redemption. As we shall see later on, the last of the Quadrivial sciences is cosmology, and this science actually unifies the Trivium with the Quadrivium, as well as linking it with the principal subjects and with the religion and reality of the Christian Faith.
If the Trivium is the energy which saturates knowledge and makes it lucid, allowing the mind and the subject to become one in order to “hit the mark”, the Quadrivium is the technique of the archer as he aims the arrow at the goal. The goal or aim is the Logos, that through which the worlds were spoken, and that towards which the worlds return. The Logos is the re-unified world restored to its original state and then glorified, as seen in the Logos-Incarnate, the first fruit of this redemption. Christian education (then) is not merely becoming useful or skilled in manipulating data or objects in a plastic, passive, dead Nature. Nature is not a supine and mechanical Artifice that can be assigned a “spiritual” direction, arbitrarily. This Nature is something which, eventually, will become the body of God, when the marriage of Heaven and Earth takes place, just as man and woman become One on their wedding night.
When this is clearly understood (and it is often not understood at all), the ancient Quadrivium appears in an entirely different light. Rather than being the “weak sister” of the Trivium, it is the disciplined inquiry into the Pattern of Patterns, the supra-rational Order which has order (Number), structure (Geometry), harmony (Music), and is becoming a Body (Cosmology) – the four paths of the Quadrivium. The medievals and the ancients, however imperfectly, had gotten this far, and in this respect, were far more advanced than we are today.
The Quadrivium is the science of the Logos, understood in its relationship to Nature. Nature is here used as a term to encompass what is both human and Divine. Since the worlds were created through the second person of the Trinity, and since Christ is fully man, and totally God, Nature itself partakes of this totality in a derivative manner. When this is applied to history, it readily and explicitly shows us how the Hellenistic world was part of the “fullness of times” mentioned in Galatians:
So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. 4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.…
God was using the Mediterranean basin (the cradle of Western civilization) to incubate a culture which dared to give full scope to man's rational powers (weak though they were) in the context of aiming for something “more” (Beauty, Truth, Goodness). It is for this reason that the Gospel of John opens with the words, “In the beginning was the Logos.” This is why the New Testament was written in koine Greek. It is why Paul quotes Aratus and Epimenides. It is why Christ refused to take up the mantle of the Messiah made in the image of Jewish nationalism. He was the “light of the World”. It is why Caesar came across the Rubicon with his soldiers to save a dying Rome. It is why Alexander was born to conquer the world. All of this was foreseen in the vision of Daniel, in which the dying Empires which prepared the way and inevitably fell short of the mark are replaced by an enormous boulder which covers the Earth and becomes the Holy Mountain. In Acts, Paul addresses the king:
"I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. 26"For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.
The mighty acts of God were both grounded in Creation from the beginning, and yet were culminating in a holy purpose. While the Trivium may analyze the contents of Revelation in the Scripture (as well as the natural revelation in the spiritual and humane writings of the most noble and notable humans of the ancient world), it is the Quadrivium which shows us the full extent to which Creation remained faithful to the patterns of God, and how those patterns were achieving a subtle and wise purpose through God's Providence.
The Quadrivium is the missing arch in the classical Christian movement. It is the link between the Faith and the Trivium, a link which so many have questioned, impugning its integrity, sincerity, and holiness. It has the potential to energize the movement with a fullness of purpose that is impossible without its moorings and underpinnings. If the Trivium is a flying buttress of a Gothic cathedral, transferring the soaring weight of the vaulted roof safely to the ground, then the Quadrivium is the stained glass of the Rose window, which admits, tinctures, and filters the overwhelming brilliance of the sun. The Quadrivium is the architecture of the temple of God, the pattern and the design of the stained glass.
The Quadrivium course of study is what keeps the sharpness and efficiency of the Trivium from veering away from the stated aims of the Faith, by indissolubly linking it closely to the Logos, Who is the express image of the Father, source of Creation and Re-creation. It is the the link between Reason and Faith, in the context of Christian education; it is the making explicit of what should already be known and understood, but too often, sadly, is not. Without it, the Trivium risks attack from those who see in it an unholy alliance between the “world” and Christ, or perhaps just a slick marketing strategy designed to churn out good Christian rhetoricians who can be culture warriors, even just another smuggling in of anti-Christian doctrines in the form of humanistic reason. Without the Quadrivium, the Trivium is more exposed to charges that it is humanism, paganism, and anti-Christianity, since the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome can easily be mistaken for the City of God, and indeed was, by people more noble, wiser, and virtuous than many of our day. It is the Quadrivium which argues for a supra-rational Order or divine Reason which is antecedent to the brain and even the mind of Man, but towards which Man's destiny is tending. And it not only argues, it argues by the persuasion of concretely showing, or demonstrating, how that supra-rational Order has moved and is moving through the interstices of Nature to accomplish the divine plan of God.