A Paper Submitted for Consideration at the Journal of Faith and the Academy Conference
February 7, 2014
“Poets keep their eyes focused on the ideal truth, which is a universal idea,…”[i]
— Giambattista Vico, De Nostri 1709 —
Christianity speaks truth in a world of lies and darkness and how this truth is conveyed determines whether saving grace through Christ is heard. Although high academic standards are not required for the gospel message to be proclaimed, a clear and beautiful expression of the gospel story is crucial. As the church considers the value of Christian education, we must first determine why education is important and what will be expressed which would then determine how Christian minds are shaped. The mystery of the gospel requires both reason and imagination to fully understand the wisdom of Scripture. How Christians express this mystery is the point of Christian education at both the elementary and University levels. The expressive art of poetry embodies the concept of poiesis, a specific form of creative expression. Christians must be able to communicate the gospel in the spirit of poiesis as the key to eloquent Christian scholarship.
Poetry is that language that often eludes the reader if preparation of the mind is not exercised in the ways of eloquence. The word poetry is derived from the Greek poiesis, (ποίησις). Poiesis, (ποίησις), means to do, or to make. It is derived from poieo, (ποιέω), I do, or I make,[ii] an action that means to create or make things.[iii] A work made, or poem, is then poiema, (ποίημα). The one doing, the one making, is then the poet, poietes (ποιητής).[iv] The result of what is made in the spirit of poiesis is that which is done in excellence or in a poetic manner. It is through poiesis, that which is made, which points to the why, the who, and the how behind all that is made. My thesis in this paper will explore the attitude of poiesis as not simply making or doing. But rather I wish to explore the importance of poetic eloquence as a further clarification of all things pursued in a spirit of poiesis. In his De Nostri Temporis Studiorum Ratione [On the Study Methods of Our Time], Giambattista Vico rightly defines poetic eloquence, “Thus, eloquence is none other than wisdom speaking.” [v] The education of the Christian mind must then focus on an eloquent expression of logic and thought pointing all minds to Christ and the gospel. If then the Christian gospel is a way of thinking in true wisdom that is higher than all human attempts at wisdom, then the Christian mind must be prepared in the spirit of Christ likened to poetic wisdom through poiesis.
The Need for Poetic Wisdom
The struggle many students have in comprehending, much less expressing a thought that is beautifully rendered, is that the contemporary mind is often not exercised in poetic ways of thinking. Poetic thought, that is higher thought, is then the model for philosophical thought to be expressed in truth. It is poetic thought that reaches for, and points to, truth rather than falsehood. Vico teaches, “Truth is one, probabilities are many, and falsehoods numberless.”[vi] Man is blinded to the truth and to reach beyond falsehoods to reach the one truth, that is God, requires the ability to think poetically. This can only be determined by recognizing ideal truth that requires one to be immersed in Scripture and in the past ideas of great thinkers.
The inspirational result of poetic thought is humility to the reader. Qoheleth the preacher expresses with poetic insight the scriptural truth of all things made.
What gain has the worker from his toil?
I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. [vii]
The first thought in this text is that workers, all men, have work to do. This work can be toilsome and unappealing. Yet, the preacher further clarifies all that man is busy with is that which God has given him to be busy. It is God’s design and sovereign choice to bless men with work. The preacher chooses the words, “He has made…” to describe what is beautiful. That which is made, poiema, is only understood as beautiful as God himself has made it so. This beauty is made and thus is poetic in design. Likewise, one can surmise that the preacher teaches all that humanity is allotted to do is not burdensome but beautiful, poiesis, as God has made it so.
The approach of man to his work can either be toilsome or grateful. The result of what man does, or makes, is then either drudgery or poetic. Understanding this truth results in humility for men who see the awesome creation of what God has given them to be busy with. The philosopher Seneca furthers this point by writing, “But learning how to live takes a whole life, and, which may surprise you more, it takes a whole life to learn how to die.” [viii] Truth takes a lifetime to comprehend as divine truth is beyond finite understanding.
James V. Schall undergirds the necessity of humility in thinking. “In this sense, the beginning of wisdom is a small dose of humility, of our willingness to acknowledge how much was known and learned before we ourselves ever were.”[ix] This truth is evident in the greatest of thoughts that survive time and maintain influence. All that is worthy of doing, all that is worthy of thinking, comes from humility. Nothing is greater or more worthy than those ideas that God himself establishes as truth. The greatest thoughts are those that humanity thinks concerning the One who created reason. Humility is what keeps thoughts in proper perspective.
John of Salisbury: Purpose of Eloquence
The telos, the end goal, of education for John of Salisbury is morality rather than intellectual sophistry. For John, logic is an art and like the skilled craftsman, devotion to the craft produces fine results of the mind. [x] On eloquence he writes in The Metalogicon, “One who can with facility and adequacy verbally express his mental perceptions is eloquent.” [xi] John shapes the perception of eloquent learning well in that the skill of logical eloquence grows with time and practice. His opponents who argued that logical reasoning was a gift granted to only a few had difficulty defending John’s argument that,
Who has ever, by nature’s gift alone, and without study, had the privilege of being most eloquent in all tongues, or even in only one language? If it is good to be eloquent, surely it is better to be very eloquent. [xii]
He further argues, “Although some of the arts pertaining to and imparting the power of eloquence are natural, still the art [of eloquence] which is practically as we would want it cannot be known by nature since it is not natural.” [xiii]
Eloquence Requires Work
Poiesis is working and making beautiful purposes. It is by working through the great books that one learns the beauty of great ideas expressed with great words by great thinkers. Poiesis is not that which is undertaken in drudgery. Great thinking does require great effort, yet that effort need not be dreaded but enjoyed instead. If what is taught and learned is then received, as the preacher encourages man to do with God’s gift of work, then one begins to think poetically rather than with difficulty. Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio says, “The whole end of reason is not just to know the truth, but to love the truth and hence embrace its ramifications.”[xiv] The why behind the what is understood as poetically beautiful, through the spirit of poiesis.
The Who Behind the What
“The end of the matter; all has been heard.
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
— Ecclesiastes 12:13 —
“As for the aim of all kinds of intellectual pursuits:
one only is kept in view, one is pursued, one is honored by all: Truth.”[xv]
— Giambattista Vico, De Nostri 1709 —
The quest for truth begins with the truth revealed by God our creator the highest poietes (ποιητής). By bringing alongside the great thinkers of western culture in the development of the Christian mind, one begins to shape eloquent thoughts that echo great ideas of the past. The creation of ideas is not an enterprise that can be remade in succeeding generations without the wisdom of preceding thinkers. What was made before, poiema, is the foundation of all that is eloquent, poiesis. If then, great ideas are the inspiration of thought, not a substitute for thought itself, then it is reasonable that for one to think independently, one should learn to create ideas by the example of those who have done so in eloquent ways before. New ideas should be encouraged, yet the new ideas should not contradict absolute truth as defended by great thinkers of history and determined by scriptural boundaries.
In knowing who is the highest form of knowledge and the focus of right knowledge, the desire is that passion will take root not only for learning, but also from whom knowledge originates. The Christian tradition of education begins with God. The foundation of all that is made, all that is known, is from the One who made it all, our creator God. The goal in Christian education is that God be an intricate focus of all learning. Poiesis then is the goal of the Christian through eloquent expression of Divine wisdom.
David Lyle Jeffrey rightly argues that the classical goals of education, eloquentia et sapientia, eloquence and wisdom, cannot be adequately obtained without the wisdom of Sacred Scripture.[xvi] Eloquence and wisdom are the result of the Divine revelation delivered in Scripture and thus it is imperative to not merely include Scripture in education, but it is vital and central to all that is accomplished.[xvii] If academic pursuits are to aim at wisdom, and not mere knowledge, then Divine wisdom is what is desired. If God, being the source of Divine wisdom, is the who of poiesis, then the education of Christian minds require that Scripture be the focus since God and his wisdom are the source of Scripture.[xviii] Christian minds are not simply to be introduced to God through bible story videos, vacation bible school, and Sunday school. They are also to grow in the knowledge of God through deep study of Scripture.
John of Salisbury on Godly Wisdom
John of Salisbury promotes Goodness, Truth, and Reason as that which leads one to the higher aspects of ultimate truth, God.
One who aspires to become a philosopher should therefore apply himself to reading, learning, and meditation, as well as the performance of good works, lest the Lord become angry and take away what he seems to possess.[xix]
God implants this passion for knowledge in man. Man does not create it alone. Appetite and desire motivate the imagination to seek who imparted the hunger for Truth.
This appetite [for truth, goodness, and reason] has been implanted in man’s nature by God; but it cannot obtain its objective by nature alone, for it also needs the assistance of Grace.[xx]
Hunger and desire lead to the beautiful. Yet what attracts either satisfies the desire or leads to error. Left alone, man will follow desire for wisdom to a tragic end. It is the grace of God that attracts men to true wisdom by appealing to the appetite for wisdom granted by the creator of man, God. It is this superior grace that allows even the lowest of wisdom within the lowest regions of man’s existence to be understood. John of Salisbury rightly states, “It is clear in particular cases that subordinate things cannot exist or be understood without superior ones.”[xxi]
The point of logic is to guide one to God’s wisdom and divine revelation of Himself. “For God, breathing life into man, willed that he partake of divine reason.” [xxii] Logic is not the tool of Man’s own self-advancement. Rather, man exercises the intellect given by God to think and reason in order to ultimately see the divine beauty of God himself who is unknowable. Man is then humbled, seeing himself in light of God who is all wisdom and understanding.[xxiii] The Metalogicon does not mention “Beauty” but I do think that it is implied in reference to the Transcendentals when John repeatedly mentions “Goodness, Truth, & Reason.” His argument for the Trivium was for the attainment of eloquent wisdom and brings a great defense that reason and logic are beautiful.
The history of Western education can be seen in Christian monasteries, as they were historically the gatekeepers of learning. Interpretive skills of language grew in the Medieval period, the Renaissance, and the Reformation as classical learning and all Christian knowledge was structured around a studium of Biblical scholarship supported with Latin & Greek texts. The methods of learning were founded in Ancient methods of learning, but were preoccupied as the Bible for the foundation for all learning.[xxiv] Knowledge and wisdom was seen as Divine wisdom and eloquent expression of this wisdom was found in Scripture.
Augustine describes the importance of knowing what is beyond as the source for what is signified. One example given is that smoke clearly points to fire as its source. When one sees smoke rising in the distance, knowledge of smoke reveals that there will be a fire producing that smoke. Experience with fire determines this knowledge and the application of this experience results in wisdom.[xxv] The result of eloquently sharing wisdom of what is higher and revealing the divine source is understood in poiesis.
The higher truth beyond immediate revelation is ultimately the aim in learning. In order for knowledge to be of value, it must not be complete in itself, but rather point as a sign to someone greater and beyond the immediate. Scripture, as central to Divine wisdom, is not only revealed truth by God, but also points to the greater truth – God himself. The theological arguments for inspiration, authorship, and inerrancy of scripture are too vast to address here. But it is sufficient to approach Scripture as the truth that points to the greater truth giver. Augustine agrees,
We propose to consider and to discuss this class of signs in so far as men are concerned with it, for even signs given by God and contained in Holy Scriptures are of this type also, since they were presented to us by the men who wrote them.[xxvi]
God speaks to humanity through Scripture about himself in call of men to write Scripture. This process is divine wisdom that calls humanity to come to the truth, the One who reveals all truth and embodies truth. As a dove calls for a mate with beautiful song, likewise God calls to man with beautiful wisdom.[xxvii]
Divine Wisdom and the Greek Poet
In Plato’s Ion, Socrates explores the need for humility in the poet. He first applauds the rhapsode Ion, the professional reciter of poetry, in his profession. The teacher points to a very important part of Ion’s skill in that the rhapsode not only mimics the words of the poets, but also that he is to know the poet’s thoughts.
A rhapsode must come to present the poet’s thought to his audience and he can’t do that beautifully unless he knows what the poet means. So this deserves to be envied. [xxviii]
Likewise, poetic knowledge of the great authors of western thought, and the truths of Scripture, are not merely to be recited, they are to be expressed as if the meanings are known. Knowledge is meaningless unless it is gained through hard work after the auspice of poiesis.
As Socrates dialogues with the rhapsode, Ion, the discussion addresses Ion’s masterful ability to present Homer’s poetry with confidence and effectiveness. Yet, knowledge of other great poets seems to elude the famous Ion. The reason is deduced that Ion focused on one poet rather than mastering the art of poetry. Ion’s skill in speaking Homer is unprecedented, as he has gained all knowledge possible about the greatest of Greek poets. Socrates directs Ion in the truth of his knowledge that in order to be an accomplished rhapsode, one must not only attain head knowledge about the poet or work, but must master the art of poetry itself. The poet does not merely write from mechanical method, but writes what is granted his imagination by the Divine.
You see it’s not mastery that enables them to speak those verses, but a divine power, since if they knew how to speak beautifully on one type of poetry by mastering the subject, they could do so for all the others also.[xxix]
Although Plato’s Socratic dialogues do not acknowledge the Christian perspective, he speaks truth about divine influence. The purpose of pointing the Christian mind to God first in one’s education is so the who is known behind what is learned. In understanding that knowledge is not solely specific to a single skill set, one can begin to grasp that mastery over an art is more than mastery of one thing. It is instead mastery over the whole so that many things can be eloquently expressed. The divine inspiration of wisdom allows for effective presentation of wisdom, and not simply knowledge. To understand the divine role in wisdom results in efforts that are in the spirit of poiesis rather than mere skill.
Socrates attempts a demonstration of skill from Ion, but receives none. However, what Socrates does do is take Ion on a discovery of his identity as a reciter of poetry. Rather than being one who attains knowledge of any subject within a Homeric poem, he is instead a representative of the Divine through his expression of divine poetry.
Then that is how we think of you, Ion, the lovelier way: it’s as someone divine, and not as a master of a profession, that you are a singer of Homer’s praises.[xxx]
Although Ion excelled in presenting the works of Homer, he lacked the humility of one who understood the divine gift granted him in knowing poetry. He instead exalted himself as divine, when he truly was not.
Godly Value of Poiesis
Students trained in the art of poiesis must first be introduced to the One who is beyond their studies, the reason for, and source of, their studies. James V. Schall insists that education is only valuable when God, the higher purpose, is the central part. Any attempt at knowledge apart from the higher purposes of God is worthless. “Any education can stop short of attending to this higher purpose, but it does so at the cost of ignoring that what is true in this world always points us toward something higher.”[xxxi] The study of Scripture is the poiesis that points humanity to the truth beyond themselves and thus to the Divine wisdom above all wisdom. The only use of the word poiesis (ποίησις) in the New Testament is found in James 1:25.
But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
Poiesis, (ποίησις), is translated as doing. One who acts on the wisdom revealed in God’s perfect law, gains freedom, and perseveres in expressing truth.
The Preacher searched for meaning in wisdom. His journey resulted in the realization that his energies were wasted, as he was not happy.
And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. [xxxii]
The Preacher bookends the work at the beginning and end of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”[xxxiii] The meaning of vanity in this context is a vapor or breath, [הָ֫בֶל - hebêl] implying a very short lived worthless existence. If then the process of obtaining knowledge is like a breath, a vapor, with no visibility or tangible meaning, Qoheleth realizes, as so many do, that time is wasted in the focus on mere learning. What one can learn from Qoheleth is that through his struggles with all that is vain, he more clearly saw the source of true meaning and wisdom.
For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. [xxxiv]
The struggle of obtaining knowledge is a struggle with purpose and meaning. Wisdom is important to the welfare of man, and as one searches for knowledge and wisdom, it seems that the process becomes a life of it’s own, rather than wisdom bringing greater life to the learner. One sees in Qoheleth struggles, a realization that the purpose of all that he seeks comes directly, and solely from the One who gives wisdom, God.
Faith and Reason
The source of desire and hunger for knowledge begins with sensation as God, man’s creator, breathed this desire for reason into man. John of Salisbury states in The Metalogicon, that, “…reason is defined as both a power and the activity of a power.”[xxxv] God is that power. “For God, breathing life into man, which comes from, and will return to God, alone contemplates divine truths.” [xxxvi] John of Salisbury never abandons the truth of the Christian faith in his effort to defend philosophy and logic. Rather, The Metalogicon sees faith as crucial to the purpose of logic. Since God is the original reason, [xxxvii] it is then logical to conclude that the role of reason and logic is to lead one to the origin, that is God. John of Salisbury writes, “In this connection, I believe that wisdom derives its name from the fact that good men have a discerning taste for the things of God.”[xxxviii] If good men then have a taste for all things good, the resulting journey to satisfy the taste resides in wisdom that is God’s wisdom. “For if it is to fecundate the soul to bear the fruits of philosophy, logic must conceive from an external source.”[xxxix] Man’s wisdom alone is not the goal of the philosopher. Godly wisdom is the goal. Godly wisdom is what satisfies the craving for wisdom and is thus the purpose for developing the logical mind.
The purpose of learning is then not to first discover what one is learning, or even how one is to learn. In order to fully grasp the purpose of knowledge, one must primarily seek wisdom. In order for this to happen, one must be introduced to the who behind wisdom, the one who has wisdom to impart. The how comes after the who determines the how. The goal is then to shape one’s mind as one who seeks God’s wisdom. God Almighty is creator of heaven and earth, possessor of all wisdom. He is the who above all knowledge and wisdom. Seeking and being shaped by His wisdom is true poiesis.
The How Behind the What
“No doubt all that man is given to know is, like man himself, limited and imperfect.” [xl]
— Giambattista Vico, De Nostri 1709 —
Knowledge for the sake of personal gain is not the goal of the well-educated mind. Although intelligence is worthy of pursuit, eloquence must also be tempered with humility. James Schall advocates avid reading. Yet he also calls the reader to know God who is the focus of all truth discovered in knowledge. He sees reading as a form of prayer. “So read intelligently. St. Paul says to ‘pray ceaselessly.’ I think we ought also to read ceaselessly. Reading, indeed, can itself be a form of prayer.” [xli] Yet what one reads and how one reads is the criteria for discerning truth from error.
In learning the discipline of expressing poetic wisdom, it is imperative for the Christian to embrace faith in Christ for oneself. One must begin to exercise independent thought as he or she listens to and interprets Scripture as God speaks through His Word. I come from a conservative Protestant tradition and see Scripture as inerrant, not simply inspired or infallible alone. Since Scripture is so foundational to the shaping of the well-trained mind, understanding Scripture as God revealing His divine nature to man requires a hermeneutic that trains the mind in an eloquent manner. This strengthens the pursuit of knowledge in the spirit of poiesis.
Biblical Theology and the Paidagogos
Biblical theology is the method in which the understanding of Scripture is centered on the revelation of salvation in Christ alone. Graeme Goldsworthy, a noted scholar in biblical theology explains, “Biblical theology is, in effect, the study of the unity of the message of the Bible.” [xlii] The misunderstanding of this hermeneutic is that some see it as far too narrow a method of interpretation and do not allow for the exploration of the many layers of understanding that scripture brings. But if all wisdom is God centered wisdom, then the hermeneutic of Biblical interpretation must focus on the greater wisdom of God through his son, Jesus Christ. Goldsworthy states,
In order to know how any given part of the Bible relates to us, we must answer two prior questions: how does the text in question relate to Christ, and how do we relate to Christ? [xliii]
Christian education must insist that personal application of scripture begin with the foundations of Biblical theology. The purpose of this approach to scripture applies to all Great Books learning in that once the foundation of a strong hermeneutic is established, the further layers of revelation in scriptural truth become much more clear. Likewise, truths found in philosophy, literature, poetry, and the fine arts are also seen in comparison to that foundational hermeneutic.
Christ the Paidagogos
The question then remains, how is a conservative Christian to approach the Great Books without too narrow an approach, avoiding error while still learning truth? How then is the Christian mind trained in the art of poiesis while “we begin and end with Christ?” [xliv] Clement of Alexandria speaks of Christ as the Educator, the paidagogos, (παιδαγωγός), who persuades, educates and teaches as steps to salvation.[xlv] Christ the Great Shepherd of the sheep guides and teaches his children to the truth of God’s revelation of himself and the truth of man in his creation. “But our Educator is the holy God, Jesus, the Word guiding all mankind.” [xlvi] Likewise, Clement saw the Old Testament witness directly as, “a tutor escorting them to Christ,” he saw the philosophy of the Greeks, prior to Christ, as an indirect tutor to the truth. “God is responsible for all good things: of some, like the blessings of the Old and New Covenants, directly; of others, like the riches of philosophy, indirectly.” [xlvii] The direct, and indirect truth, of God’s revelation is what must be discerned through eloquent expression of wisdom.
The words of the Preacher, Qoheleth, summarize the argument for the authority of Scripture in relation to the philosophy of man. Although the search for wisdom is admirable, the end of all the work is that the One Shepherd gives true wisdom and knowledge. If Christ then is our great Shepherd, then all wisdom and knowledge must derive from his guidance.
The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.[xlviii]
In the many books of knowledge there is truth and error. It is through the right understanding of truth that one is able then to qualify philosophy as valuable or invaluable. Clement of Alexandria agrees when he writes, “However, we do not accept every form of philosophy without qualification.”[xlix] Christ then is our tutor the paidagogos, shaping the Christian mind and guarding against error.
Basil the Great states correctly that the rudder of the mind is to be chosen correctly,
…that you should not surrender to these men once for all the rudders of your mind, as if of a ship, and follow them whithersoever they lead; rather, accepting from them only that which is useful, you should know that which ought to be overlooked.[l]
If the oceans of thought are to be navigated correctly, a guide is necessary. Man cannot navigate oceans of thought alone. Divine guidance of standards must be followed. Otherwise, one wanders in circles, lost forever at sea. Basil concludes rightly in the salvation of the mind and soul, “Now to that other life the Holy Scriptures lead the way, teaching us through mysteries.” [li]
While it is true that a student can only mature, as the student is willing to learn, it is also necessary to be guided by a tutor, mentor, elder. Without that guidance, one steers self-learning into heresy without realizing the dangers. Augustine relates to the truth that one does not discover God on his searching alone. It is through both a desire to seek God and God’s drawing that one’s mind is awakened to the truth of the gospel.
Nor dost Thou draw near, but to the contrite in heart, nor art found by the proud, no, not though by curious skill they could number the stars and the sand, and measure the starry heavens, and track the courses of the planets. [lii]
I see two parts of one truth in Augustine’s confession. Augustine could not have reached his moment of salvation without both his own desire to submit and God’s willingness to draw him. Likewise, the tutor and the student are in a two-way situation. The tutor is to draw the student to awareness, yet the student must also be willing to be awake. It is not the blame or responsibility of either alone, but both together that cause epiphanies of learning. The student’s mind must be humble; the tutor’s mind must be serving. “As we speak to him, let us kiss him and put our arms about him, and press him to us to show our affection. By all these means let us mold him.” [liii]
Imagination and Eloquence
The training of the mind in eloquence requires not just the emphasis of facts. Emphasizing philosophical criticism of facts over the exploration of probability results in the weakening of persuasion. For example, one arguing a legal case has greater difficulty in proving a case that is based on truth, but does not immediately seem to be true. Contrary, a legal case that is false but plausible is easier to defend because it appears to be true and that truth is immediately embraced as fact. The greater defender of arguments is the one who can see beyond what appears to be evident to showcase what is not readily seen. The defender who is imaginative and reasonable is more eloquent in exploring all probabilities and is most likely to win the argument.
Giambattista Vico on Imagination
The importance of the arts in education must not be overlooked. The training of the imagination through the arts opens the mind to imagine divine truths, especially for the Christian. Giambattista Vico warned of the dangers on the emphasis of philosophical criticism as the primary mode of thinking in the young mind. Its purpose is to cleanse the mind of any notion of error to focus instead on absolutes. On its surface this mode of education sounds honorable. Absolute facts are worthy in obtaining knowledge. Yet what is missing in this approach to education is the possibility of probabilities the absence of imaginative reality apart from absolute reason. According to Vico, “Probabilities stand, so to speak, midway between truth and falsity, since things which most of the time are true, are only very seldom false.”[liv] It is not the intent of this thesis to encourage false education. Instead, what must be considered are the probabilities of knowledge that are not fully and absolutely certain, but neither are they guaranteed as false. What is true is true and should be trusted. What is false is false and should be avoided. But some ideas are neither absolutely certain to be true nor certainly false. Probabilities must be freely explored rather than avoided as the way to train the imagination to think and express creatively and eloquently. Vico warned;
There is a danger that instruction in advanced philosophical criticism may lead to an abnormal growth of abstract intellectualism, and render young people unfit for the practice of eloquence. [lv]
John of Salisbury on Imagination
John of Salisbury begins his philosophy of logical reasoning with the beginnings of knowledge in poetry and the imagination. The emphasis on the poet, poietes, is then directly connected to the emphasis of the divine end, the telos, of education. If wisdom begins with God’s wisdom, then the telos of educating fallen man must lift his state from the primitive mire to the heights of salvation. All great journeys begin somewhere and man’s intellectual journey through to the divine begins with the imagination. Imagination and wonder are that which was, and still is, present before the development of language and grammar.
Speech was invented as a means of communicating mental concepts; and figures [of speech] are admitted as far as they compensate by their utility for whatever they lack in conformity to the [rules of the grammatical art].[lvi]
John of Salisbury is a strong advocate for logic and eloquent defense of true wisdom.
That ‘Poetry is the cradle of Philosophy’ is axiomatic. Furthermore, do not our forefathers tell us that the liberal studies are so useful that one who has mastered them can, without a teacher, understand all books and everything written? [lvii]
The study of Great Books yields the purpose of a journey to wisdom and understanding and finally with God’s glory. John sees the philosophical journey for the scholar as not mastery of one’s own making. Yet in order to successfully navigate the path of knowledge, he strongly cautions to learn independence lest one be dependent on false teachers. “Sensation deceives the untutored.” [lviii] Likewise, “eloquence is necessary to be prepared to defend true wisdom.” [lix]
John’s emphasis on sensation and imagination as the foundation of philosophy shows that philosophy itself is not reason and logic alone.[lx] This is part of the genius of John of Salisbury’s work. The value of education is not simply robotic logical absolutes. True logic begins with, and often includes, sensation. Sensation is that, “innate power that discriminates things.”[lxi] Without education in discerning sensations, the mind will begin the journey of mastering poiesis and miss the primary introduction of wisdom.
Accordingly, bodily sensation, which is the primary power or initial operation of our conscious soul, constitutes the basis for all the arts, and forms the initial knowledge which both clears and makes ready the way for first principles. [lxii]
Imagination and Memory Lift Wisdom Higher.
The journey of intellect and wisdom rests on the rising growth of the imagination. As the soul perceives things, images are retained and as the mind recalls these images, imagination rises higher.
As it perceives things, our soul stores up their images within, and in the process of retaining and often recalling them [to mind], builds up for itself a sort of treasury of the memory. And as it mentally revolves the images of [these] things, there arises imagination, which proceeds beyond the [mere] recollection of previous perceptions, to fashion by its own [creative] activity, other representations similar to these.[lxiii]
This building of imagination then leads to contemplation and rationalization that results in logical dialog and reasonable conclusions. John of Salisbury’s strength in this argument is that he never abandons the importance of sensation and imagination in the development of wisdom. The defense of logical reasoning must benefit from and never abandon the imaginative.
Eloquence, Faith, and the Gospel
The importance of learning eloquence and wisdom for the Christian then naturally falls to the proper expression of the Gospel. This skill is important for the Christian mind. On the surface, the Gospel message of salvation for fallen man seems too impossible to believe. The first hurdle is for one to realize the unseen truth of his or her fallen state apart from the Creator God. What is unseen is impossible to know absolutely in terms of natural circumstances. Faith in the unseen is then required for the Gospel to be understood and experienced leading to realization of absolute truth.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.[lxiv]
For faith in Christ to be plausible, the ability to take seriously that which is probable, but not fully proven as true, is required. Thus, those images stored in memory building the imagination are the start of faith. The reality of the Gospel is that it is true. Salvation is granted through the redeeming sacrifice of Christ and the merciful forgiveness of God the Father. Yet for one to truly believe the plausibility of this truth one must first consider that which is not scientifically and critically provable about God and Christ. The mind must be well prepared to explore that which is, “midway between truth and falsity.”[lxv] In being able to consider that which begins in the imagination and not physical reality is the first step to discover the full truth of the Gospel. If then the gospel is true, it must be embraced as fully true, but the journey to that point does not begin with a critical approach avoiding all vague possibilities. The very nature of faith is to trust in the unseen that then leads the believer to ultimately see and express with eloquence rather than mundane words that which at once was unbelievable but is then believable. Likewise, the persuasive ability of the Christian to present the Gospel in such a way requires the same mind.
Structure Protects from Chaos
“When people cannot know the truth, they strive to follow what is certain and defined. In this way, even if their intellect cannot be satisfied by abstract knowledge, scienza, at least their will may repose in common knowledge, coscienza.”[lxvi]
— Giambattista Vico, Scienza Nuova 1744 —
Poiesis is to create. When one creates, one often begins with a blueprint, a plan, a recipe, or some form of direction. I remember the childhood of my boys when my fatherly duty was to put together the multi-pieced constructions from toy factories in China so that Christmas morning was a time of joy and wonder. Although I consider myself an adequate handyman, I am neither an engineer nor an architect. Without directions and diagrams, those Christmas mornings would have begun with piles of plastic parts in the floor rather than an imagination motivator that took my children to worlds of superheroes, matchbox car races, and Legos’ Bionicles™ terra formed earths. That which is made requires order. Otherwise, there is no construction. There is only chaos. Rather than making the toy myself, I trusted someone else to design it, make it, and guide me in realizing its final outcome.
An important theme in the study of Scripture and great ideas of the past is that of priority of truth. Without the priority of Scripture in learning, the dangers of idolatry rise in obtaining knowledge. Great ideas are valuable, yet the early Church Fathers warn against the idolatry of knowledge over the humility of truth. Although the great philosophers and poets are seen as a pedagogical necessity by the early church fathers, a firm warning was given against worshiping the knowledge found in those works above the giver of knowledge, God. Pride in knowledge is a dangerous reality, while the value of knowledge is vastly worth the risk of pursuit.
Eloquent Pride in the Church Fathers
Augustine confessed his pride of the learned mind. He writes in his Confessions.
Among such as these, in that unsettled age of mine, learned I books of eloquence, wherein I desired to be eminent, out of a damnable and vainglorious end, a joy in human vanity. [lxvii]
Likewise, Jerome confessed his selfish idolatry with Cicero as a vision from Christ revealed that his true heart’s treasure was not with Christ but with Cicero.
Thou liest, thou are a follower of Cicero and not of Christ. For where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also. [lxviii]
Following his vision with Christ, Jerome concluded,
I profess that my shoulders were black and blue, that I felt the bruises long after I awoke from my sleep, and that thenceforth I read the books of God with a zeal greater than I had previously given to the books of men. [lxix]
John Chrysostom gives examples of self-restraint among the greatest men of scripture. Moses, Joseph, and Daniel, patriarchs of the faith lived among pagan methods of knowledge yet they bore witness to God’s glory with proper morality found in the truth of Scripture.[lxx] Likewise, Basil saw Moses and Daniel as learning the pagan wisdom but not being overcome by it as God elevated them to his divine purposes.
Now it is said that even Moses, that illustrious man whose name for wisdom is greatest among all mankind, first trained his mind in the learning of the Egyptians, and then proceeded to the contemplation of Him who is. And like him, although in later times, they say that the wise Daniel at Babylon first learned the wisdom of the Chaldeans and then applied himself to the divine teachings. [lxxi]
Basil’s emphasis on the generational guidance between the tutor and the young boy gave a proper balance and warning to the dangers of puffed up knowledge.[lxxii] Basil shows the dangers of the falsehoods of Greek philosophy that one must wade through in order to pluck the truth. “And just as in plucking the blooms from a rose-bed we avoid the thorns, so also in garnering from such writings whatever is useful, let us guard ourselves against what is harmful.” [lxxiii]
The Value of Liberal Arts Learning
The truth of Scripture and the value of Liberal Arts studies are often seen in conflict, yet it is evident that the two are in cooperation in human thought. The tempting approach to Great Books studies is to manipulate the words of the ancients to fit a Christian paradigm or that the great thoughts of philosophy and literature are then the method by which Scripture is deemed to be true rather than Scripture as the primary standard of truth in philosophy. The right use of humane wisdom and Christian education is that it be shaped by God’s holy paradigm. Theough this man’s wisdom is an attribute granted by God as a created aspect. If man’s thoughts are not in line with God’s thoughts, those thoughts are not to be admired as truth. However, if man’s thoughts are in line with God’s thoughts, then it is right to worship God’s thoughts and God’s truth in the shaping of man’s thoughts. Scripture is the truth by which the great philosophers are determined as either valuable or unnecessary. But in order to see this, one must also see the contrast between what is not true and what is true. What is true is only seen as such in the contrast with what is not true. The light is only seen as light when darkness is contrasted against it.
Exposition Leads to Illumination of Higher Truth
“Every analysis begins from things which are finite, or defined,
and proceeds in the direction of things which are infinite, or undefined.” [lxxiv]
— Hugh of St. Victor —
Reading a difficult work is always worthwhile. Yet in order to benefit from the mental exercise, one must learn to analyze a text to understand and then explain the meaning of the text. The reward of this effort always leads to a greater awareness of that which is unknown and can never be fully known. Exposition of a work of great value brings the student from the defined finite knowledge to the higher undefined infinite mystery. The spirit of poiesis is the method of understanding the infinite mysteries.
All great books have a deeper truth to the text that cannot be attained through a first reading alone. What is required of the scholar is the mastery of analysis, methods of discernment, that lead one deeper into the meaning of the text and thus higher to the truths of God. Hugh of St. Victor taught in his De Sacramentis, “All the arts of the natural world subserve our knowledge of God, and the lower wisdom — rightly ordered — leads to the higher.” [lxxv] Exposition means to explain. When great ideas are rightly ordered the meaning of the text is revealed through work and deeper meaning leads to a higher truth. Giambattista Vico, quoting Horace says,
‘Right thinking is the first principle and source of writing,’[lxxvi] because there is no eloquence without truth and dignity; of these two parts wisdom is composed.[lxxvii]
Exposition is the duty of the clergy in that the churches, and those outside the ecclesia, are shown what God says in Scripture. Rhabanus Maurus emphasizes the duty of the clergy in understanding Scripture through mastery of language and forms of expression.
A knowledge of these things is proved to be necessary in relation to the interpretation of those passages of Holy Scripture, which admit of a twofold sense; an interpretation strictly literal would lead to absurdities. [lxxviii]
Absurd reading of Scripture leads one not to the infinite, but to the finite. It is those things infinite that require accurate exposition to fully grasp.
In summary, exposition is that effort which leads one to grasp, or merely taste, the higher infinite meaning of a great idea or work by both finite and enigmatic means. Defined absolutes of grammar and language are ordered by inspiration of, or directly by, undefined uncertainties that lead to a higher meaning beyond the lower mind. Exposition is work. But is also led by feeling. A sense of what is read and known ultimately leads to the prize of the inner meaning of a work. This is the purpose of exposition and analysis and the role of the scholar.
I close with a prayer given by Giambattista Vico at the fourth annual inauguration of the Academy of Oziosi of Naples, Italy in January 1737. The words of this invocation summarize the shaping of poiesis, that which requires the desired telos of right thinking.
The Academy of Oziosi was a leading gathering of scholars to discuss literary, historical, and scientific matters. The emphasis of the Academy of Oziosi was on the eloquence of the ancients in contrast to the Cartesian methodology of the sciences, so prevalent in the eighteenth century. Vico prayed,
Hear, humbly I pray you, hear, not fabulous Minerva, but Eternal Wisdom, generated from the divine head of the true Jove, the omnipotent Your Father. Today in Your praise, in Your honor, in Your glory is reopened this fourth Academy year, that it might be for the perfection of these well-born intelligences, because wisdom, which is mind and language, is the perfector of man in his properly being man. [lxxix]
- Augustine. On Christian Doctrine. Translated by D. W. Robertson. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.
- Davis, Jeffrey and Philip Ryken, interviewed by Ken Myers. Mars Hill Audio, Vol. 117, MHT-117. 2013
- Gamble, Richard M. The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007.
- Jeffrey, David L. Houses of the Interpreter: Reading Scripture, Reading Culture. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009.
- Jeffrey, David Lyle. “The Pearl of Great Wisdom: The Deep And Abiding Biblical Roots of Western Liberal Education.” Touchstone Archives : 1-8.
- Schall, James V. The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006.
- Schall, James V. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching Writing Playing Believing. :Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2012.
- Plato, John M. Cooper, and D. S. Hutchinson. “Ion.” In Complete Works, 157-234. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 1997.
- Salisbury, John of. The Metalogicon of John of Salisbury: A Twelfth-century Defense of the Verbal and Logical Arts of the Trivium. Translated by Daniel D. McGarry. Philadelphia, PA: Paul Dry Books, 2009.
- Vico, Giambattista. On the Study Methods of Our Time. Translated by Elio Gianturco. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990.
- Vico, Giambattista. “The Academies and the Relation between Philosophy and Eloquence.” In On the Study Methods of Our Time, translated by Donald P. Verene, 85-90. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990.
- Wilson, Mark W., and Jason Oden. Mastering New Testament Greek Vocabulary through Semantic Domains. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2003.
[i] Giambattista Vico, On the Study Methods of Our Time, trans. Elio Gianturco (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), pg. 42.
[ii] Mark W. Wilson and Jason Oden, Mastering New Testament Greek Vocabulary through Semantic Domains (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2003), p. 110.
[iii] Roger Scruton, Beauty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 18.
[iv] Wilson and Oden, pp. 86, 110.
[v] Giambattista Vico, “The Academies and the Relation between Philosophy and Eloquence,” in On the Study Methods of Our Time, trans. Donald P. Verene (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 89.
[vi] Vico, On the Study Methods of Our Time. p. 19
[vii] Ecclesiastes 3:9-11 [ESV]
[viii] Lucius Annaeus Seneca, On the Shortness of Life, trans. C. D. N. Costa (New York: Penguin Books, 2005), p. 10.
[ix] James V. Schall. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2012), p. 15.
[x] John of Salisbury, The Metalogicon of John of Salisbury: A Twelfth-century Defense of the Verbal and Logical Arts of the Trivium, trans. Daniel D. McGarry (Philadelphia, PA: Paul Dry Books, 2009), p. 25.
[xiv] Jeffrey Davis and Phillip Ryken, interviewed by Ken Myers. Mars Hill Audio, Vol. 117, MHT-117. 2013
[xv] Giambattista Vico, On the Study Methods of Our Time, trans. Elio Gianturco (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 9.
[xvi] David Lyle Jeffrey. “The Pearl of Great Wisdom: The Deep And Abiding Biblical Roots of Western Liberal Education.” (Touchstone Archives, 2007) p. 1.
[xviii] Job 28:28; 1 Corinthians 2:6-8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; James 3:15
[xix] John of Salisbury, p. 65.
[xxiv] Jeffrey, Pearl of Great Wisdom, p. 4.
[xxv] Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. D. W. Robertson (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), [Book II.§1.1] p.34.
[xxvi] Ibid, [Book II. §II.3] p. 35.
[xxviii] Plato, John M. Cooper, and D. S. Hutchinson, “Ion,” in Complete Works (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 1997), pg. 938. [Sect. 530c].
[xxix] Ibid, [Section 535.c] p. 942.
[xxx] Ibid., [Section 542.b] p. 949.
[xxxi] James V. Schall, The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006), p. 41.
[xxxiii] A beginning and ending theme in the text of Ecclesiastes. 1:2 and 12:8.
[xxxv] John of Salisbury, p. 226.
[xl] Giambattista Vico, On the Study Methods of Our Time, p. 4.
[xli] James V. Schall, The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking(Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006), p. 13.
[xlii] Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1991), p. 24.
[xliv] Goldsworthy, pp 90-99. Chapter 7, “We Begin and End with Christ.”
[xlv] Richard M. Gamble, The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007), p. 165.
[l] Gamble, Basil the Great; “To Young Men, on How They Might Derive Profit from Pagan
Literature” p. 183.
[lii] Ibid, p. 222. Augustine, Confessions [V.iii]
[liii] John Chrysostom, Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children. [The Great Tradition, p 203]
[liv] Giambattista Vico, On the Study Methods of Our Time, p. 13.
[lvi] John of Salisbury, p. 56.
[lxi] Ibid. p. 216. John of Salisbury quotes Aristotle [op. cit. ii, 19, 99 b, 35].
[lxv] Giambattista Vico, On the Study Methods of Our Time, p. 13.
[lxvi] Giambattista Vico. New Science: Principles of the New Science Concerning the Common Nature of Nations, trans. David Marsh and Anthony Grafton, 3rd ed. (London: Penguin Books, 2001), pg. 79.
[lxvii] Richard M. Gamble, The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007), [Confessions, Book III.iv.p. 219].
[lxxiv] Richard M. Gamble, The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007), p. 261.
[lxxvi] Horace, Epistola ad Pisones (Ars Poetica), 309-11.
[lxxvii] Giambattista Vico, “The Academies and the Relation between Philosophy and Eloquence,” in On the Study Methods of Our Time, trans. Donald P. Verene (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 89.
[lxxix] Giambattista Vico, “The Academies and the Relation between Philosophy and Eloquence,” p 90.