7 Reasons for Classical Catholic Education

7 Reasons for Classical Catholic Education

The Seven Liberal Arts

Not long ago, I was having a chat with a fellow Catholic blogger who discovered that I am a theology teacher at a college prep school. He asked whether I was interested in opening a classical school, and while I would love to teach the classics, I had to answer no. I was neither trained in the classics myself, nor have I studied in-depth the methods used to pass them on.

I wish that I had received a classical education. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until high school that I learned a bit of Latin and had my intellect opened to an entire world of the classics. When I was awarded an Oxford Classical Dictionary my senior year, it was one of my proudest moments. I went on to study Latin and Greek in college, along with a few other classical courses (even one semester of ancient warfare) and emerged a stronger thinker than I had ever been. If only I had had more time to study the classics while a boy!

My wife and I have a strong desire to give our own children a classical education. In considering this, I’ve distilled the following points as my main arguments in its favor:

  1. Freedom – Classical education has strong ties with the liberal arts, which are called that not because most liberal arts professors are liberal, but because the liberal arts make a man free (Latin, liber). A man who has and uses an education in the liberal arts always has a free mind and soul, even though he be chained in a prison cell (this may come in handy some day).
  2. Leadership – Let’s acknowledge one basic fact: Congress is the world’s third largest zoo. We desperately need leadership to bring structure and order to this chaos. Classical education starts with the trivium of liberal arts, including grammar, logic, and rhetoric. By starting children off on the process of thinking philosophically at a young age and by teaching them how to express their thoughts articulately, classical education is training leaders for tomorrow.
  3. It’s popular with the Traddies – The current liturgical trendiness of the timeless and beautiful Latin Liturgy is not just a fad. Unlike folk music and guitar Mass, it’s here to stay. I even hear the pope is a fan. Check out what these classically educated youngin’s think of the Latin Mass.
  4. Your son will already have completed the hardest part of seminary – Canon 249 of the Code of Canon Law states that any “program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well.”
  5. Complete Thoughts – If you haven’t picked up a literature textbook lately, try it out. You might be shocked to find that few complete ideas are fleshed out. Somewhere between the government and the editorial boards of publishing companies, magical textbook elves remove the meaningful, thought-provoking content and replace it with out-of-context snippets designed to impress upon students a wide range of equally disconnected viewpoints. Is it any wonder we have private parks in several major cities occupied by people who see no inconsistency in blogging about socialism on a Macbook? They have a Frankensteined philosophical worldview. Give your kids the gift of integrity of mind.
  6. Virtue – I once had an interview with a school whose principal began asking me on the phone about my views on sexual morality. I made it clear, of course, that I believed the faith of the Church. Shockingly, he then opposed me by proclaiming that his school was “in the Dominican tradition of the virtue of tolerance.” At that point, it was clear that I would not get the job. I suppose I could have asked, out of curiosity, which religious order Tomás de Torquemada belonged to, but I wasn’t in a playful mood. Charity is a virtue; tolerance is not. The virtues of Christianity are familiar to classical educators and are included in their curriculum, while the so-called modern virtues (in reality, niceties) are dealt with as all the foolishness they are.
  7. Patrimony – We didn’t spend all those centuries Christianizing Western Civilization just to flush it all down the toilet of modernism! In the age of convenience and constant distraction, we’ve lost the perspective of the many centuries of wisdom our Church has gained. It’s part of our heritage and we have a right to it!

There you have it. Classical educators out there, am I missing anything?

15 Comments

  1. I agree with most of this, but, frankly, I find number three a little bit on the offensive side. It’s arrogant, snobbish, and reactionary. Traditional Latin chant is great, but there IS a place for contemporary music in liturgy and prayer meetings. To reject modern music simply because it’s modern is the inverse error of many who reject old ways because they’re old. It’s rejecting it based on age, not on merit.

    I know you, Micah, have gone to at least one Steubenville Youth Conference, if not more. I met you there. There are lots of people who owe the fact that they’re faithful Catholics to “folk music and guitar Mass.” I’m one of them.

    • Steve, thanks for your input.

      I don’t go to Latin Mass, but it seems clear that folk music and guitar Mass fall short of the intentions of Vatican II. I’m not trying to be rude or snobby, just honest. It’s not bad music, I just don’t think it’s approriate for Mass. I do, however, recognize the good it has done for many people. You know as well as I, though, that the fact that something did good doesn’t make that thing 100% good itself.

      • I have to disagree with you. You know a tree by its fruit. It’s got a heck of a lot of good fruit to offer.

        The Vatican has recognizes the Charismatic Renewal as legitimate, and one of the components of that is, like it or not, contemporary music.

        • I think knowing a tree by its fruit refers to persons, not necessarily movements. Movements are composed of groups of persons, and we know that every movement has good and bad persons in it, yet very many groups with bad members go on to do good things, and other groups with good members end up doing bad things. Likewise, a movement may have good and bad elements. The Neocatechumenal Movement is a good example. Despite having been praised in many ways by Pope Benedict, their liturgy has been rejected several times. Movements are too complicated, with too many factors, to apply the good fruit/bad fruit parable. Which aspect of the charismatic movement bears fruit? Praise and worship music may draw people into Mass, but I think it’s still the Mass itself that bears fruit in them. There are simply too many aspects to paint “good” or “bad” with a broad brush here.

          Anyway, I do think that folk music and guitar Masses are on the way out. It will be a slow process, but a generation is growing up that earnestly desires a return to tradition. That’s all I said in the post: that folk music and guitar Mass won’t be sticking around. They certainly aren’t favored by the Church in the way Latin chant and hymnody is, which are clearly to be preferred.

  2. Yes, you forgot the role of beauty!

    Classical education as the pursuit of wisdom — found in the Good, the True, and the Beautiful — consists in the formation of the human person much more than in the imparting of information. Along with a few practical reasons for classical education, you mentioned as hallmarks of such an education: the acquisition of virtuous habits and of a common cultural patrimony (the Good) and the ability to think and know reality (the True), but you have forgotten beauty’s part.

    Students who receive a classical education are exposed to, become familiar with, and cultivate their ability to recognize and choose that which is beautiful. Beautiful language, music and art often demand more from a person to be appreciated; beauty’s delights come with sacrifice. The order of creation which is the form of beauty requires that we set aside our own “disorder” to be transformed by beauty.

    So it is that personal virtue brings us to encounter Truth and Beauty and Goodness, recognize them and acknowledge their value, and choose them — often at the cost of personal sacrifice…and we find ourselves face to face with God.

    AMDG

    • Beauty! Yes! How could I forget?!

      Thanks!

      • Libertas per Veritatem et Pulchritudinem

        At New England Classical Academy we are working hard to offer that freedom that comes from a classical education!

  3. The fruits of folk music and guitar music during Mass? … first there’s the clapping for the performance afterwards, the lack of reverence during the most sacred thing on the planet, people chattering before and after, a complete lack of ability to stay focused on what the Mass is… at my parish the fruit of this contemporary “music” is a gentleman singing the Psalms in an Elvis impression (this is not an exaggeration, but he insists that it is his right). We have a banjo at one Mass, and a horn of some kind at another. During Mass we are re-presented before Christ on the cross… do you see, in any way, that that is a suitable time to play folk music? “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” I’m not some pre-Vatican traddy, just a 30 year old Mom trying to learn to love the Mass without a rock show distracting my children.

  4. Thank you for your article. As firm believers in classical Catholic education, my husband and I are involved in a small classical Catholic school in Silverton, OR, called St. John Bosco High School. http://www.johnboscohigh.com. My husband is a teacher there, and we desire our children to attend one day. We believe these kinds of schools are the hope for the future, as they are some of the few beacons of light in our educational system where virtue is being taught with truth.

  5. @ Steve C:

    “Traditional Latin chant is great, but there IS a place for contemporary music in liturgy and prayer meetings. To reject modern music simply because it’s modern is the inverse error of many who reject old ways because they’re old. It’s rejecting it based on age, not on merit.”

    Gregorian Chant is more than great. It is the prescribed music of Holy Mother Church. There is no other, unless it is apt or can be rendered apt. If you can show me how contemporary music is not frivolous or how it is in keeping with Tra le Sollecitudini, I would be ready and willing to accept it.

    Modern music isn’t rejected because it is modern, but rather because it is profane. It does not speak to the sacredness of the Mass, but rather it speaks to the inclusion of the people. That is never to be the aim of the faithful’s participation at Holy Mass.

    Modern music simply isn’t apt for use in the liturgy. Prayer meetings and other para-liturigcal activities, fine. Holy Mass. No. The Mass is a sung prayer. It has music which is proper to it. To use music which is not proper for that end, is not apt, objectively speaking.

    Hymnody is not a Catholic ideal in the Mass. It simply isn’t. Hymnody is a Protestant form of participation. The Mass has it’s parts sung, properly. The Introit, the gradual, the alleluia/tract, the offertory, the communion. These are the sung propers of the Mass. The sung ordinaries are the kyrie, the gloria, the credo, the sanctus/benedictus, and the agnus dei. The abandonment of that in favor of hymnody is a travesty on the scale of Protesantism itself. We have then-Father Bugnini and his Consilium to thank for that DIRECTLY.

    When we look at the Mass, the expression of the TLM is as valid and acceptable as the Novus Ordo. I would argue even moreso, precisely because it has the weight of 2000 years of development on it’s side, whereas the Novus Ordo is banal, on the spot, and fabricated. But that speaks more toward licitness than validity.

    Bottom line. If it is not apt or cannot be rendered apt, by common estimation (which is not a subjective analysis, btw) then it cannot be used. Modern music is simply banal and on the spot. Much like the Novus Ordo.

    • I’ve lived with “contemporary” music during Mass since 1966. It has never lifted my heart and soul to God as the Traditional hymns and Chants of the Ancient Church has. Although much of the contemporary music in Catholic churches is nice and some of it is beautiful, it is not appropriate for Mass. Remember: Mass is the unbloody Sacrifice of the Cross. Clapping our hands and swaying to and fro would not be appropriate 2012 years ago on Calvary nor is it appropriate at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass now.

      I attended Sunday Mass not too long ago at a Church that was done up like a theatre–a round theatre with the Sanctuary down in the middle. Believe me when I tell you, it was more like a Broadway play than it was the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest was the star, not our Eucharistic Lord. Although the music was nice and the priest had a beautiful voice, it was totally out of place for the Mass.

  6. Thanks for this article. We started homeschooling the youngest five of our eight children three years ago in a classical curriculum (Mother of Divine Grace). In a comparison (and, yes, I know all children are different), our homeschooled children have better skills in expressing themselves and seeing the truth in a situation. They seem to be able to think for themselves better than our traditionally schooled older children at the same age. I believe the method of home schooling offers some explanations but clearly, the classical curriculum which engenders a good deal of reading, discussion and writing in all subjects is the real key.

  7. Fine, fine, but did any of you vote in your last school board election?

  8. Diocesan-certified to teach Religion, I revamped the school’s Religion (and Math) program for 7th and 8th grades to include a familiarity with Latin, Catholic History, projects such as creating newspaper articles on past Church councils, altar server training, and basic discussions on St. Thomas Aquinas (Quinque Viae) and St. Augustine (Confessions). I also required my 8th grade students to read a novel that deals with our Faith (The Keys of the Kingdom). What I desired for all my students was for them to be able to defend their Faith and inculcate what they had learned into their daily lives using classical Catholic literature.
    Unfortunately, I was, despite teaching for 12 years, considered conservative by the principal and the pastor and was recently let go. Our responsibility is to our Faith for our children to follow.

  9. Micah,
    You did not say whether you had found a specific classical Catholic program, but I would highly recommend the Classical LIberal Arts Academy. There William Michael has great online commentary to read as well. It is a brilliant approach. I am so glad that I found them after searching for the Catholic true heritage in classical education.

    http://www.classicalliberalarts.com/

    This is our possibly our truest revolution in the making.

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