Friday, December 22, 2006

A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning

By Fr. James Schall, S.J. and published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. I will be reviewing this for the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. I've read it once. So far I am very favorably disposed to his argument. I am a little concerned about the tendency toward liberatrianism that I detect on the ISI webpage. I'll have to look more into this.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Orators and Philosophers

Bruce A. Kimball’s Orators & philosophers: a history of the idea of liberal education (New York : Teachers College Press, 1986), is a fascinating study of the ages old conflict over what constitutes a liberal education. He especially focuses on the modern conflict over what he calls the artes liberales tradition and the liberal free tradition in recent American conflicts over higher education. But the distinction goes all the way back to the conflict between Plato an Isocrates. Among the first group he includes Isocrates, Quintilian, Cicero, Isidore, Cassiodorus, Luther, Erasmus, Calvin and the Ratio Studiorum of the Jesuits. Among the latter he includes Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, Anselm, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Franklin, Jefferson and Dewey.

“In the artes liberales ideal, a presumption of certitude underlies the identification of virtues and standards reposited in classical texts; the commitment is thereby demanded, identifying an elite who embrace the virtues and preserve them as leaders of society. The foundation of the curriculum lies in the study of language and letters, required in order for the student to fathom the texts and then to express their lessons in public forums as advocates, statesmen, preachers, or professors. In the liberal-free ideal, skeptical doubt undermines all certainty, casting individuals entirely upon their own intellect for judgments that can never finally be proven true. Consequently, the views of others must be tolerated and respected equally, while all beliefs must change and develop over time. Logic and mathematics, which hone the intellect, and the experimental science, which teaches the honed intellect to turn old truths into new hypotheses for further testing, form the core of the curriculum designed to graduate the scientist and researcher who loves knowledge and therefore pursues it without end” (228-9).

Kimball identifies seven characteristics of each tradition. For the artes liberales tradition he identifies:
1. The fundamental assumption that truth can be known and expressed, a dogmatism underlying the belief that the task of the liberal education is to transmit wisdom rather than to teach the student how to search for it.
2. The purpose of knowing and conveying the truth is to train the bonus orator of Isocrates and Quintilian, the statesman who could and would serve society in any capacity of leadership.
3. the clear prescription of values and standards for character formation.
4. Norms derived from a body of classical texts
5. the clear identification of a liberally educated elite.
6. The respect for the commitment to the pretensions of ‘Good Breeding,’ by which was attained the proper ‘nobility of mind,’ and the disapprobation of tolerance tward those without the acquirements of polite and liberal learning.
7. the regard for liberal education in the established virtues as and end in itself (111-112).

For the liberal-free tradition he identifies:
1. Emphasis on freedom, especially freedom from a priori strictures and standards.
2. emphasis on the intellect and rationality
3. critical skepticism
4. tolerance
5. egalitarianism
6. emphasis on volition of individual rather than upon the obligations of citizenship.
7. Free thinking itself is the ultimate goal and value (119-122).

My question at this point is where does Newman fall on this map? He does say that the purpose of higher education is the handing on of knowledge, not the formation of virtue. On the other hand, the University is for the passing on of knowledge, not the furtherance of knowledge, as in the liberal-free ideal.

Fulton Sheen

Fulton Sheen has a very unusual technique. He starts by giving some philosophical definitions and distinctions that seem inadequate, simplistic or even wrong-headed. Then he reflects on them at length. By the end he winds up making an astounding spiritual point that "heals" whatever seems to have been "broken" in his original exposition.

He does this at least twice in the opening pages of The Power of Love. He begins the book by making a stark, almost cartesian contrast between body and spirit. The point he is trying to make is the reality and priority of the invisible, but he does so in a way that might seem to denigrate the body and its value and relationship to the spiritual. By the end of the section he clearly and beautifully affirms the necessary connection between the visible and invisible. "The happiness of life depends not on ignoring the things of time, but on impregnating them with eternity, using the world as it is, and getting our vision level for eternal things through time and in it." (p. 11)

The second instance is in his treatment of eros and agape (which ends up being an application of the above quoted principle). He first strongly disparages eros--seemingly equating its essence with its existential form distorted by Original Sin. It seems to be a depersonalizing, selfish "love." "The frosting on the cake is eaten, but the cake is ignored." (p. 13)

In the end, though, eros is not rejected and contrasted with agape--as in Nygrens--but is redeemed and transformed. "Once this Agape began to exist, then it flowed down to illuminate even Eros; Eros became the sensible expression of the Divine love." (p. 14) This is theology of the body stuff.

I do not know whether Sheen himself held defective philosophical opinions, that were then miraculously overcome by his deep, penetrating spiritual insight, or whether he intentionally proposed defective commonplaces so that he could redeem them before the reader's eyes--beginning where his readers are and leading them where they needed to go without first knocking their intellectual feet out from under them. Elevating and mending in a Catholic sense, rather than tearing down and rebuilding in a Protestant sense.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Two new colleges of note

Ss. Peter and Paul, in Ann Arbor, has not started up yet.

Campion College in Sydney has begun.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Catholic Schools Textbook Project

This looks good.

The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education

The Institute proposes to fulfill its mission by engaging serious scholarly reflection on the nature of Catholic education and sharing that reflection with the broader Catholic educational community. The Institute will engage leading scholars in common discussion and publication through annual meetings, a scholarly journal, and participation in relevant conferences. The Institute will also make speakers available to visit individual institutions and diocesan conferences. The Institute will provide curricular consultation for high schools and colleges that want to form or reform their curricula. The Institute will co-sponsor conferences on Catholic education. The Institute’s website will connect those already engaged in the renewal of Catholic education, provide access to inspirational and formative articles and links to other related efforts on the web. Through its “academic retreats”, The Institute will provide an intense experience of authentic Catholic education for teachers and community leaders that will greatly help them to appreciate the Catholic vision of education and be inspired to share it with their students and schools.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Horton on LotR

"What Tolkien has done with them is a rare achievement: he has made goodness hauntingly desirable. "

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Was Cardinal Newman an enemy of authentic Wisdom

See this exchange and discuss: here and here (scroll down). Then let's discuss.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Here is a great commentary on a recent talk at Notre Dame by Vatican Latinist and Milwaukee priest Fr. Reginald Foster. I WISH we could get Latin back into the curriculum! And, of course, I agree with him on the Bible.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Pleasure and pleasing God

is a comment I made at at HMS, which includes a quote from St. Alphonsus Liguori.

Monday, August 14, 2006

NT Greek

I'm beginning the study of NT Greek right now. I think it is important for someone who claims to be a theologian to be able to read the NT, LXX and the Fathers in their original language. I'd prefer to learn Hebrew first, but think Greek is more important for a Christian, and so will begin there.

I still like Latin better than Greek.

New Comments

I've switched from YACCS comments to Blogger because YACCS doesn't work half the time. That means all previous comments have been deleted. Sorry!

Friday, August 11, 2006

Origen on prayer

"Since therefore it is so great an undertaking to write about prayer, in order to think and speak worthily of so great a subject, we need the special illumination of the Father, and the teaching of the first born Word himself, and the inward working of the Spirit, I pray as a man—for I by no means attribute to myself any capacity for prayer—that I may obtain the Spirit of prayer before I discourse upon it, and I entreat that a discourse full and spiritual may be granted to us and that the prayers recorded in the Gospels may be elucidated." (On Prayer, Ch. 1)

This reminds me of the Book of Wisdom: "For what man knows God's counsel, or who can conceive what our LORD intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns. And scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out? Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given Wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight, and men learned what was your pleasure, and were saved by Wisdom." (Wisdom 9:13-18)

And Bonaventure's Itinerarium: "Therefore to the cry of prayer through Christ crucified, by Whose blood we are purged of the filth of vice, do I first invite the reader, lest perchance he should believe that it suffices to read without unction, speculate without devotion, investigate without wonder, examine without exultation, work without piety, know without love, understand without humility, be zealous without divine grace, see without wisdom divinely inspired. Therefore to those predisposed by divine grace, to the humble and the pious, to those filled with compunction and devotion, anointed with the oil of gladness [Ps., 44, 8], to the lovers of divine wisdom, inflamed with desire for it, to those wishing to give themselves over to praising God, to wondering over Him and to delighting in Him, do I propose the following reflections, hinting that little or nothing is the outer mirror unless the mirror of the mind be clear and polished." (Prologue 4)


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Comments back on

A reader writes:
How you begin the day affects how you live in that day - start with thoughts and a focus based on what you believe in about God, you, your family, etc. and the energy and grace you connect with or generate moves you through the day. If you want to love your wife or husband more, one thing to do is think well of them from the get go - then you see more of the good in them or what they do. Start well, and you will get more.


YACCS isn't working right now for some reason, so if you want to comment, e-mail me at

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Good advice for daily living from a saint

"When you awake in the morning, your first thought should be to raise your mind to God and offer Him all the actions of that day, asking Him to help you by His grace. Then make the other morning Christian acts of thanksgiving, love, petition, and the firm resolve of living during that day as if it were the last day of your life....(cont.)

Why Churches need to be beautiful

"When you see a beautiful church all decorated, consider the beauty of a soul in the state of grace--a real temple of God." St. Alphonsus Liguori, How to Converse Continually and Familiarly with God, Chapter 18.

If the Church is the mirror of a sanctified soul, what kind of soul is mirrored by the gymnasium churches that dot the American suburban landscape!

Nifty Communion and Liberation Reading List

An Invitation to Reading

Reading is the first way to listen, and therefore to learn. Since the very beginning of its history CL suggested to read certain books that were, and are, dear to Father Giussani. Reading these books is another precious tool to educate to a critical sense, to a discovery of human dignity and the true face of the Church.

On May 2003, Father Giussani, at the ceremony for the 10th anniversary of the birth of the series "The Books of the Christian Spirit," directed by him, stated: "It is through education that a people can be built into a unified conscience and a civilization. More than ever today we understand how urgent and necessary this task is for those who have responsibility. Reading is part of this educational path toward the reconstruction of what is human. To encounter the story of people who have lived reality intensely, who have endured its provocations as an unanswered question, or rather, in glimpsing in it the features of a good destiny, have arrived at the unforeseen discovery of a positive answer, is the documented purpose of many of the books published in this series.

In particular, we want to show the reasonableness and the usefulness for the contemporary man of this answer to the drama of existence that is called "the Christian event." We offer that answer as a sincere contribution to that education to reality for a true liberation of young people and adults."

The List follows

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dominic Aquila on Liberal Education

"If one leads students to the top of a mountain so that they see all the surrounding territory, then when they return to their special work at some particular spot in the valley, they take with them the view from the mountaintop, and all of their work will have reference to the whole landscape."

Renewal of Catholic Education

There are two basic approaches to the renewal of Catholic higher education in the United States. The first is the method of leavening--that is seeking to transform the present Academy by becoming members at established institutions and working to move them in the right direction. There are many saintly scholars and administrators quietly doing this kind of work at the established, prestigious Catholic Universities. Many students (who are usually already quite strong in their faith or who through contact with robust Catholicism at their college become so) come away from these institutions on fire for the Gospel.

The problem is that these type of students are often in the minority. Many others either lose their faith or come away from their college life with a minimal or distorted understanding of the Catholicism they profess.

The other method is to create, either from scratch or on the stump of a dying institution, something new that more closely corresponds (if never perfectly) to an ideal Catholic education.

Concerns I have had of the latter approach are a) lack of scholarly rigor, b) isolationism and c) a utopianism that focuses too much on externals. As I have gotten to know graduates of these institutions better, I realize that these concerns do not in fact pan out as often as one might think. In fact, as Christopher Derrick argues in Escape from Scepticism, because these students are allowed to develop their minds in an environment relatively free from the poisonous influences of our culture, they are more able in the long run to enter into healthy dialogue with the good and bad trends of our culture. All Catholic institutions of higher learning should take note of what the graduates of these institutions are really like (and the graduates of the mainline colleges), rather than going by some kind of hypothetical judgment of "sectarianism."

A genuinely Catholic university will be concerned not only with excellence the intellectual environment, but in the moral and spiritual environment as well. Although, as Newman points out, the purpose of a University is universal knowledge, if a college administration is interested in the person who is studying at his institution, he will want that person to stay away from those things that will harm him and have available those that help him. Besides, as Mark Shea says, sin makes one stupid. Further, spiritual maturity makes one smarter. So, to avoid sin and seek communion with the Lord will help one in his pursuit of the truth, even if it doesn't relieve him of the hard work of thinking.

Friday, August 04, 2006

New Theology of the Body Translation

This is long anticipated and very necessary. I can't wait to see it and use it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Red book

is a link to the Red Book, or "Statement of Educational Purpose" for Transfiguration College, the new Byzantine great books college that will be starting up in Chicago soon. The Red Book is modeled after TAC's Blue Book.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Dawson and the renewal of Catholic education

Interestingly, Christopher Dawson, in The Crisis of Western Civilization, did not advocate a return to a classic Catholic liberal education for a renewal of the Catholic higher education (which he saw a need for in 1960). Rather, he proposed something like a program of Catholic enculturalization (which, of course, would give attention to philosophy and theology) similar to the CAtholic Studies program at St. Thomas. Apparently St. Mary's in South Bend had something like it way back when.

One interesting thing he does is trace the history of two strains of intellectual formation--the Greek philosophical and the Latin humanist tradition. If I understand him right I think he may prefer the humanist tradition. Since I've encountered orthodox Catholic historians who have a somewhat jaundiced view of philosophy and theology as intellectual disciplines, perhaps this is an occupational hazard! I think their mistrust is based on what actually happened in theology after the Council. But, as Newman says in The Idea of a University, a liberal education does not guarantee either faith or virtue--that is not its role.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dobbs on a Liberal Education

Darrell Dobbs is on the Poli Sci faculty at Marquette. He wrote this primarily for a small independent Catholic grade school in the Milwaukee area. It then appeared in the New Oxford Review (back when it was just beginning to get weird).

Monday, July 17, 2006

Fellowshiip of Catholic Scholars Convention

The FCS convention will be in Kansas City this year from Sept. 22-24. The topic will be "Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Reform of the Liturgy." That is a hot topic these days with Benedict XVI on the Chair of Peter. Note that the previously mentioned Duncan Stroik will be speaking there.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ralph McInterny Center for Thomistic Studies

Also from Holy Whapping, this new institute. Co-directed by the great Marquette poli-sci prof, Christopher Wolfe.

Duncan Stroik, Architect

Holy Whapping published the link to architect professor Duncan Stroik's web page. My 14 year old son practially venerates Duncan Stroik.