14 March 2010

Saint Thomas More

The Founder of the College in which I taught Classical Languages and Literature, and Theology, for three decades, once observed that "Education without Religion is a pure Evil". I was reminded of Nathanael Woodard's decisive and true words when Fr Hawkins (of the 'Anglican Use' parish at Arlington in Texas) took me to lunch in the small but perfectly formed College of S Thomas More in Fort Worth. Here I found, alive and very well, the ancient ideal of the Christian Respublica Litterarum. The spirit of Thomas More, Totius Angliae Cancellarius, and of John Henry Newman, Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalis Diaconus, greeted one at every turn.

"The Fellows and Tutors of the College are its principal asset, representing as they do a community of learning founded by the great Greek poets and philosophers, the law-givers and Gospel writers, sometimes neglected, always recovered and vivified, and living still ..." Perhaps there is something a trifle American about the confident assertiveness of this, but the more I think about it, the more important and true it seems. Education is not, as modish idiots will have it, about each student working out for himself ab initio what is true for him; it is about Traditio, the handing down of that Christian culture which baptised Greek and Roman civilisation. And in this little Texan College, that is exactly what they do. The Syllabus is headed by a quotation from Richard Weaver: "If we really mean business, this will mean Latin and Greek". And it starts off with Book I of the Iliad ... and just carries on from there ... and keeps alive the reality of both Quadrivium and Trivium.

As we sat down to lunch, I felt a trifle undressed, since I had not thought to include my MA gown in the luggage which American Airlines transported for me. But, undeterred, I turned to the young man on my right and asked him what he had been doing that morning. "A poem by Horace about Cleopatra", he replied. So we batted around some ideas concerning Nunc est bibendum and it was quite clear that he knew what he was talking about. This led (Classicists will recognise the train of thought) to the slaying of Turnus at the end of Aeneid XII: where, once again, the student was well-informed. Well done, I thought, Harry Lacey, Fellow and Senior Tutor in Classical Studies (who, incidentally, is a member of the congregation at St Mary's, Arlington).

"The great tradition of humane letters is a gift to be studied, cherished, and handed on from generation to generation ... poetry, philosophy, the classical languages, history, and mathematics ... The study of these natural disciplines with the study of theology forms a Christian classicism that has been the intellectual heart of our civilisation for seventeen centuries ...."

Exactly. Three ... and more ... cheers for Dr James Patrick, the Chancellor; Harry Lacey, the Dean (both of them, incidentally, formerly Episcopalian priests); and all the members of this "academic fellowship". In aeternum floreat.


Terry said...

Well, Father H. Us Catholics are smart. We know how to hire the right people to do the job. :)

Now, if only we could go about convincing you......DV

Jesse said...

It is very interesting to hear of this "new" educational approach. You might be interested, Father, to know that some people are trying something similar up here in the frozen North: a Christian primary school and a Christian one-year post-secondary college with curricula based on the Trivium!

Pastor in Valle said...

This approach is to be found here and there throughout the US. I suspect that what fed its recent revival was the 'Great Books' courses taught in several of the more conservative colleges, often as part of the 'core curriculum' that every student must follow. May I recommend a 40-minute trip up the road to the University of Dallas, at Irving, if you have time? That is such a college, and a very good example, yielding excellent results.

David said...

"(both of them, incidentally, formerly Episcopalian priests);"

Are these men now priests in the RC Church? It would seem a shame for them to be reduced to the lay state.

Augustine said...

Thank God for Woodard!