‘Noah’ as Fable – reminder to read the original story

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I have yet to see the new blockbuster film ‘Noah’ out today.

Yet I have heard personal opinions from many of my Evangelical Christian friends and pastors. This even before the film was released. I am a skeptical Christian when my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ assume that any film from Hollywood distorts Christian perspectives. So I wanted to wait until the film was released before commenting.

I do not know if I will see this film. I will not see the movie because of harsh attacks from the Christian Right, neither will I view a film based on the encouragement of the Christian Left. I choose to voice my opinion only after careful thought.

The reason I will most likely not see this film is due to my own prayerful thought based on trailers and interviews with directors and actors. But I must admit that the articulation of Dr. Ken Ham on this film has persuaded how I will articulate my final opinion. Please read his comments in TIME here. He writes:

But we have an obligation to send out a warning, and in so doing also to communicate biblical truths and undo the possible damage that might be caused by this sci-fi fantasy

If the film is more of a mythical fable and a “biblically-themed” work rather than a biblical work, then I must stay away. Even if the film did not quote scripture verbatim, but still ran with the theme of honor to God, then I might consider seeing the film. But by redirecting the nature of the Noah narrative to a mythical fable akin to the ancient heroes of Greece and Rome, Aronofsky’s film has changed completely the purpose of the Noah story. God is the center of the Flood narrative. Not man. Not creation. Not magic. This despite the mention of giants and mighty men of old in the Noah narrative. [Genesis 6:4]

I do not call for a boycott on Hollywood. Actually I am a proponent of film as a great story-telling medium. But if Hollywood wishes to tell a story well, they must decide to tell a story correctly. This can be done creatively. It can be done with great special effects and inspirational drama. But to change the focus of a story to a myth or fable changes the meaning of the original story all together.

However, I must conclude my thoughts with a challenge to Evangelical Christians nationwide. Instead of taking joy in bashing Hollywood or condemning with eagerness those who patronize the NOAH film, take this time to re-read the Noah narrative again. Genesis 6-9.

Perhaps we can all be revived in our own bible study in order to articulate the differences between the NOAH film version and the original story. Unless we can tell the original story well ourselves, we cannot criticize Hollywood for changing it. When a friend or co-worker talks with a Christian about this movie, will the Christian respond with actual accounts from Genesis 6-9? or will the Christian respond with vitriol and hatred toward anyone who dare make a film?

POIESIS AS POETIC WISDOM: ELOQUENCE IN CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

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A Paper Submitted for Consideration at the Journal of Faith and the Academy Conference

February 7, 2014

Poiesis

“Poets keep their eyes focused on the ideal truth, which is a universal idea,…”[i]

— Giambattista Vico, De Nostri 1709 —

Introduction

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.

Thesis

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.

Classical Wisdom

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.

Conclusion

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]

Amen

———-

Bibliography

  1. Augustine. On Christian Doctrine. Translated by D. W. Robertson. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.
  2. Davis, Jeffrey and Philip Ryken, interviewed by Ken Myers. Mars Hill Audio, Vol. 117, MHT-117. 2013
  3. Gamble, Richard M. The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007.
  4. Jeffrey, David L. Houses of the Interpreter: Reading Scripture, Reading Culture. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009.
  5. Jeffrey, David Lyle. “The Pearl of Great Wisdom: The Deep And Abiding Biblical Roots of Western Liberal Education.” Touchstone Archives [2007]: 1-8.
  6. Schall, James V. The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2006.
  7. Schall, James V. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching Writing Playing Believing. :Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2012.
  8. Plato, John M. Cooper, and D. S. Hutchinson. “Ion.” In Complete Works, 157-234. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 1997.
  9. 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.
  10. Vico, Giambattista. On the Study Methods of Our Time. Translated by Elio Gianturco. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

[xi] Ibid, p. 26.

[xii] Ibid, p. 31

[xiii] Ibid, p. 31.

[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.

[xvii] Ibid, p. 3.

[xviii] Job 28:28; 1 Corinthians 2:6-8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; James 3:15

[xix] John of Salisbury, p. 65.

[xx] Ibid, p. 246.

[xxi] Ibid, p. 122.

[xxii] Ibid, p. 227.

[xxiii] Ibid, pp. 266-271.

[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.

[xxvii] Ibid, 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.

[xxxii] Ecclesiastes 1:13 [ESV]

[xxxiii] A beginning and ending theme in the text of Ecclesiastes. 1:2 and 12:8.

[xxxiv] Ecclesiastes 2:26 [ESV]

[xxxv] John of Salisbury, p. 226.

[xxxvi] Ibid, p. 227.

[xxxvii] Ibid, p. 225.

[xxxviii] Ibid, p. 231.

[xxxix] Ibid. p. 100.

[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.

[xliii] Ibid, p. 91.

[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.

[xlvi] Ibid, 167.

[xlvii] Ibid, 169.

[xlviii] Ecclesiastes 12:11-12 [ESV].

[xlix] Gamble, p. 173.

[l] Gamble, Basil the Great; “To Young Men, on How They Might Derive Profit from Pagan
Literature”
p. 183.

[li] Ibid, 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.

[lv] Ibid., p. 13.

[lvi] John of Salisbury, p. 56.

[lvii] Ibid, p. 63.

[lviii] Ibid, p. 221.

[lix] Ibid, p. 199.

[lx] Ibid, p. 214-221.

[lxi] Ibid. p. 216. John of Salisbury quotes Aristotle [op. cit. ii, 19, 99 b, 35].

[lxii] Ibid. p. 216.

[lxiii] Ibid. p. 217.

[lxiv] Hebrews 11:1-3 [ESV]

[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].

[lxviii] Richard M. Gamble, p. 208.

[lxix] Ibid, p. 208.

[lxx] Ibid, p. 204.

[lxxi] Ibid, p. 184.

[lxxii] Ibid, p. 187.

[lxxiii] Ibid, p. 185.

[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.

[lxxv] Ibid, p. 255.

[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.

[lxxviii] Gamble, p. 251.

[lxxix] Giambattista Vico, “The Academies and the Relation between Philosophy and Eloquence,” p 90.

Keep On Walking: The Need for Intentional Solitude.

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Are we ever truly alone? James V. Schall asks this question in his essay, The Metaphysics of Walking. Theologians and social scientists have wrestled with the question of an over busy society for longer than man can imagine. Although our contemporary Western culture is filled with activity, man has always found things to occupy his time. The struggle for survival alone can make one’s occupation overwhelming in trying to provide the basics of life. But as modern society in the West has continued to grow, so has the demands on our time. The twentieth century saw a radical shift in the modern age away from times of contemplation to a fast-paced information saturated culture. In a time of history when information and answers are at the click of a keyboard, it would appear that more leisure time would be easily accessible. But with all modern conveniences it seems like the importance of leisure in the priority of the day has become less and less a priority.

A new kind of slavery has entered Western work environments in that the cubicle has replaced the cage. Laborers remain at the desk for endless hours with very little movement or exercise. Even though many large corporations provide exercise rooms, the responsibilities and expectations of the workday rarely allow for the use of these facilities. The office worker will find it easier not to move the body in order to strengthen the mind. Reports on Google’s innovative work culture is the envy of most American office workers. If what is seen and reported is true at Google, then it is not surprising that the creativity that comes from there is so high.

Social interaction is important for the nourishing of ideas. The weekly Google hangouts in the Great Books Honors College at Faulkner University model the importance of this interaction. The encouragement and motivation in these discussions provide ideas that could have never been contemplated alone. But in order for these discussions to be productive participants must find time to contemplate prior to the meeting so that ideas can take shape. However, with many family and work responsibilities one finds it difficult to carve out the important alone time necessary for great thinking.

Sitting at a desk does allow for the focus of reading the works and taking notes. But most will often find that if the mind becomes stale and the eyes and body tired, the most refreshing thing to do is to get up, go outside, and go for a walk. Something as simple as changing scenery provides a new fuel for the mind. The combination of physical movement with contemplation is always the best formula for philosophy. If then this is an important priority, a schedule must shift for the philosopher and for anyone serious about great thoughts.

If then the problem of obtaining leisure is that busy-ness gets in the way, the easy response would be to simply find less to do. In order for this to occur a simple word must become part of one’s vocabulary. This word is no. This is not to say to reject all responsibility, but rather to prioritize requirements on time. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is reported as prioritizing his time amongst the huge demand of his ministry. It is recorded that many people, gathered often simply to catch a glimpse of the Master. Matthew 4:18 records a time where Jesus was walking. On this stroll by the Sea of Galilee he calls his first disciples. Matthew 4:23 indicates that while teaching in synagogues and proclaiming the gospel, Jesus’ fame spread throughout the region. The gospel of Luke records, “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

It is important to acknowledge when walking in times of solitude one is never truly in isolation. When the priority of discovery takes precedence over the busy-ness of drudgery, one’s mind is never fully alone. The irony is that when one is alone on a walk many more faults and realities occupy the intellect. It seems that in order to be most productive one must find times that seem the least productive. Perception is not always reality so when one is seen walking alone he or she is never truly alone. Writing on Cicero, Schall said that, “he was never less idle than when he was by himself.”

The revelation of a walk comes in that one realizes the importance of just being. With no other demands on the time and intellect a much grander, more accurate, perception of reality occurs. Schall writes,

“Metaphysics is the science of being qua being, of the first things and their causes. We are astonished that something, including ourselves, stands outside of nothingness. Even to meditate on nothing, we must begin with something not ourselves.”

Perhaps this is the value of a walk. Physically moving from one space to another physically shows man’s place in the world. Reality is simply not what we make it to be. Reality is much bigger than ourselves and in order to understand that, we must experience the bigger reality by taking our self outside of ourselves and interacting with that outside.

Mars Hill audio tackles this same concept in the discussion on the decline of reading among Western culture. Most notably among young adults. Reading for a small child seems to be an exciting time. Their minds are shaped by imagination and fantasy and are eager for stories. But as that small child grows and develops into adolescence, future adulthood looms over them. Struggles with identity replace the creative imagination of childhood as changes come physically and mentally for the adolescent.

It is easy for someone who is no longer an adolescent to proclaim solutions to this problem of declining reading among our teenagers. But is it not the responsibility of those adults to shape and guide these young adults as they become mature? Although there are great demands on the intellect and mind of teenagers, it is the parents who determine what is allowed in the home. Multitasking for the millennial generation is normal but not necessarily beneficial. It is the ease of multitasking that distracts one from the importance of solitude. Physical walking outside of urban areas, or even in a city park, is important even for the adolescent. The structures of the academic day for a young person must include times of walking in silence. No matter how difficult it is for the teenager, these young people do follow a schedule structured by others.

There is a problem. It’s called busy-ness. Yet with all the technological conveniences of our day, it seems that we are never settled. What is the answer? Personal responsibility and acknowledgment that priorities are missing amongst the multitasking must occur. Whether it be the individual taking responsibility him or herself, or academic administration reshaping the schedule of the academic calendar, priorities must shift away from busy-ness to leisure. Open spaces are abundant where people may go and simply experience a world outside of themselves. However, it is far too common that the spaces are not discovered unless a crisis occurs forcing one to seek out these places of solitude. The burden of multitasking and busy-ness in our culture will weigh down so heavily upon the shoulders and minds of our citizens, I am afraid a crisis must occur in order for one to see the damage happening. Perhaps a breakdown in a place of solitude, is the only way for some, not all, to realize the truth.

__________________

Bibliography

  1. Schall, James V. “The Metaphysics of Walking.” In The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking, 91-107. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2008.
  2. Gioia, Dana, interviewed by Ken Myers. Mars Hill Audio Journal, MHT-90.2.1. 2008.

The Right of an Education: a perspective from a Homeschool Dad

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The beauty of freedom in United States of America includes the freedom to obtain an education. Thomas Jefferson advocated public education for the betterment of the country and I fully agree with this vision. Education is valuable not just to the individual but to the society as well. An educated citizenship results in a healthier more productive and prosperous culture. Lack of resources including food, shelter, finances, and education drag a culture down. Likewise, an abundance of the same resources creates a more stable society. It is education that enables a people to be stronger, more creative, and more united.

Although the right of an education is granted to all Americans, compulsory education has been distorted to an entitlement rather than a right. I once was a high school graphic arts teacher. My class was a vocational class, a trades class. No one expected to be challenged intellectually while learning the printing business. But once students began to apply the trade of the graphic arts, they quickly realized that a foundational education in mathematics and imaginative learning were crucial to creating commercial art and printed pieces. This example goes to show that education is more than just getting a job. An education is the development of the human mind and personality of the student. All knowledge, whether scientific, mathematical, literary, artistic, or mechanical, is valuable knowledge that interacts with all areas of society and work.

The right of an education for American citizens has expanded beyond the fundamentals of learning to the public universities and colleges where all citizens of the state have a right to attend these institutions. Yet what we now have in many public universities, but not all, is not an attitude of the right to an education rather to an entitlement to a degree. Russell Kirk reflects this sentiment when he says, “every man and woman and intellectual king or queen, with an Oxbridge degree!” His comments are sarcastic. Yet he fully agrees that the original intention of the University has been changed to a factory mentality. The original intent of the University was, “to develop right reason and imagination, for the sake of the person in the sake of the Republic.” If then education benefits the nation, it behooves the nation to ensure the integrity of learning.

While the dream of a college degree is admirable, the needs of everyday living to obtain food, shelter, clothing and finances is a true reality that cannot be ignored. The answer to improving education is not then to supply the financial needs of all citizens in order for them to pursue education. Again, the root of all problems in education rest in an entitlement mentality. If citizens are then entitled to be cared for this will not help the state of higher education. Those who work hardest are those who benefit most from the labor. Hunger is a great motivator. Ironically physical hunger will motivate one to work in order to satisfy the physical need. In order to work to satisfy the need, one must also learn and be educated in order to provide basic human needs. So the answer to all higher education problems is not to give away an education, but to make this occasion desirable. If a student is not hungry a student will not work.

I must admit that I have benefited from the grace of many teachers in my educational career beginning in kindergarten and continuing in my current doctoral program. This statement must come first in order to understand the opinion that standards must be in place and expectations enforced to bring value to an education. Academic standards that expect students to push further and obtain quality, will in turn cause hunger in the mind. Lax standards merely breed slothful mentality resulting in entitlement.

John Dewey has been criticized for his philosophy of education in that education has become a religion under his tutelage. Writing on Dewey, Christopher Dawson says concerning education, “it exists simply to serve democracy; and democracy is not a form of government, it is a spiritual community, based on the participation of every human being in the formation of social values.” John Dewey’s influence on compulsory education shifts the very nature of education away from strengthening the mind to strengthening the society alone. While it is true that an educated populace makes for a stronger society, the education citizens receive should be that education which liberates the intellect rather than conforming the soul. If then John Dewey has changed the concept of education so radically, perhaps it is imperative to undo his philosophy.

It is perhaps too late to influence the current generation of students to radically turn around the direction of higher education as it is today. Yet if problems exist to the extent that damage has been done, it is the responsibility of current scholars to begin to speak on and write on the problems at hand. In offering a solution, I would argue, in the spirit of Dawson, that motivation for higher learning begins in the primacy of the development of the mind. The atmosphere in which one lives at a young age does affect later learning. However this is not to say that the youngest mind is the only area of influence. I myself have been introduced to and inspired by many great teachers in my higher education years. But in order to redirect the ship, the rudder must be turned.

Influence on a society begins with the highest thinkers. Those thinkers must motivate current scholars, who will be future leaders, in ways of living apart from the current state of mind-numbing entertainment. The entitlement philosophy shapes not only education, but the way in which a society exists. If computerized ways of doing dominate the way one thinks, then the way one thinks will reflect the instant information atmosphere that computers create. Although I am grateful for the advancement of computer technology in the areas of research and accessibility to books that are no longer in print, I must caution myself often in depending on the search engine results as the top possibility for all of my research and thinking. True humane thinking requires time to ponder information in order for it to become knowledge. If instant information is then replacing what has traditionally been known as knowledge, it is important to delay the effects of the computer until after one’s mind has begun to grow in rational and imaginative thinking. It is the lack of creative problem-solving, not just in education, but also in normal everyday living, that has affected the way education is approached. One no longer is required to solve the problem of everyday living needs like obtaining food, clothes, yard and home maintenance, and even cooking recipes. Everything is available at the touch of the keyboard. If we do not know how to bake an apple pie,  a computer can tell us how within just a few seconds. No research needed. No problem to solve exists.

Perhaps the solution to the decline of higher education standards, rests in a fundamental shift in the approach to everyday living. This can only begin at home. Dire circumstances in the economy and in the culture, will require many to go back to the basics. But as long as problems have immediate answers, solutions will evade the seeker. If immediate answers substitute solutions, higher thinking will not be necessary. I do not propose that issues that need to be resolved can be resolved by one opinion alone. But in a time of history where all opinions matter and no opinion is more true than others, I wonder if any solution can be widely accepted as the best direction to begin solving the problem.

In a postscript thought,  I do believe that making education available for all is a very important freedom. But I must clarify my opinion, education is not an entitled right. All education is valuable. But the learning of an economic trade is not the same as higher liberal arts learning. If one’s aptitude is more in line with vocational training, that person must be given the freedom to choose that route. While if one’s aptitude is more in line with higher academic learning, that person must also be given the freedom to pursue that route. But it is not the role of the state to determine who is eligible for a particular trade or education. The role of the state must be that which enables all the opportunity to explore and pursue what is best for their skill set. This can easily be done while also providing academic standards that do not discriminate. I do not believe that state-funded education is always the best, but it is necessary and important. Those without financial means to a higher education must climb through the state schools in order to get there. I am grateful for my state sponsored education. This was the step up I needed to pursue higher forms of thought.

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Bibliography

Gamble, Richard M., ed. The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007.

Kirk, Russell. “Humane Learning in the Age of the Computer” in The Wise Men Know What Things are Written on the Sky (Washington: Regnery Gateway, 1987), 90-100.

Kirk, Russell. “The Conservative Purpose of a Liberal Education” in Classical Teacher, Spring 2007.

EXPOSITION: EXPLANATION OF A TEXT LEADS TO THE DIVINE

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“Every analysis begins from things which are finite, or defined, and proceeds in the direction of things which are infinite, or undefined.” [1]

— 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. Illumination of what is hidden in great works is the duty of great scholars.

All Great Books have a deeper truth to the text than can be attained through first reading. 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.”  [2]

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.

Exposition is the duty of the clergy in that the church, and those outside the ecclesia, are shown what God says. Where the clergy exposit Scripture, academia exposits Great Works of wisdom. Rhabanus Maurus emphasizes the duty of the clergy in broadly understanding Scripture through also understanding 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.”[3]  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.

Hugh of St. Victor taught; “Exposition includes three things: the letter, the sense, and the inner meaning.”[4]  This three step process is the model to accurate exposition of both Scripture and Great Books. Often the higher meaning of a work is sensed in an initial reading of the text. Knowing how to read the text itself, through language and grammar, is the first form of knowledge that must be mastered well in order to exposit well. The medium of words is a mastered skill that must be understood. A plumber must know pipes and water flow in order to master the art of plumbing. Likewise an expositor must know grammar and language well in order to read and exposit what is read well. In reading the text, one then has an initial sense of the meaning of the text. This may not be an absolute formula of meaning. But the sense is an intuition based on previous skills of grammar and language and a greater sense of feeling about the piece. The inner meaning of a work is best understood by both the science of language and the enigmatic sense, or feel, of a text. Neither aspect alone grants a full exposition of a work. The work of the finite individual through grammar and language studies, combined with the hidden feeling of the infinite source behind the work leads one ultimately to the higher mystery of a great idea within a great work.

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.

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[1] 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.

[2] Ibid, p. 255.

[3] Ibid, p. 251.

[4] Ibid, p. 260.

Painful Truth seen in Dante’s Paradiso

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“Nevertheless, with every falsehood scrapped,

let everything you’ve seen be manifest,

and where they’ve got the mange, let them go scratch.”

— Dante, Paradiso, xvii.127

My hand was screaming with pain. The blood flowed more freely than I wished to witness as my good hand grasped the wounded limb with pressure to stop the flow. I had been laying hardwood floor in my new home and was nearing the end of a long project. One more row of tongue and groove boards and the entire first floor was finished. We could move in by Christmas. Exhausted, yet excited, I had a unique piece to cut that would go down around an A/C floor vent. As I ran the board over the table saw blade, a kickback caused the wood to fly up and backward. My hand came with the board and scraped the circular saw leaving a deep gash in my left palm just below my thumb. The shock started with numbness.

Painful experiences follow false assumptions of safety. But the value of truth is often not appreciated until after what was assumed to be easy becomes obvious as a falsehood. The value of painful memories brings greater appreciation and clarity to what was true all along. Rushing to judgment inevitably leads to pain after the fact. Ironically, truth is sweetest as truth is never in a rush to be discovered. Truth is always present, even amidst the hurry and assumed ease of the false.

Paradise is appealing. No pain. No suffering. All is beautiful. All is perfect. But in order to understand paradise, we must deal with pain and suffering. Otherwise, paradise is not valued as it should be. Paradise contrasted with suffering is more sweet than sour. Dante’s journey to Paradise is recognized as a journey of discovery. Although irritants cause one to scratch and bleed, it is only through the misery that recovery occurs and truth is understood.

“Nevertheless, with every falsehood scrapped,

let everything you’ve seen be manifest,

and where they’ve got the mange, let them go scratch.

For if your words are sharp at the first taste,

they’ll leave behind a living nourishment

when they have been digested at the last.” [1]

The lesson emphasized in Dante’s prose is that to appreciate and revel in the beauty of Paradise, the truth about falsehoods and pain must also be understood. There is truth in defining the false. The truth of falsehoods is deception. To not learn this truth is to believe a lie and that is not truth. Paradise is then only realized in discovering the truth about false wisdom.

The celestial city on the hill is an image desired by Christians throughout the history of the church and the appeal to such a distant objective is the future hope of deliverance from suffering and pain where we are now. The truth of human existence is that pain and sorrow are prevalent. Yet the hope of the faithful is that someday the suffering and pain will cease. The truth of the gospel is that without the pain we endure, the passion and desire for Paradise would not be present, or at least not as strong as it could be. Desire for life without lies, deceit, and suffering is what drive the Christian on to seek Paradise. David Lyle Jeffrey in discussing the struggles of interpretation of Scripture writes about the journey to the celestial city;

“By contrast, the celestial Jerusalem toward which the faithful travel through history cannot be reached or conquered by human effort. One must set out in faith, joining the vulnerable company of the blessed en route, but in the end the New Jerusalem is not so much to be attained (by works) as granted (by grace), as it descends.” [2]

Along the journey of knowledge and wisdom, experience teaches humility. Pain and suffering shape the journey in ways that I wish they would not. But it is in the mistakes learned through the deceit of lies and false truths that I see more clearly, and appreciate more honestly, the glory of Paradise. My Lord suffered much more than I suffer.

Although never deceived by the promise of lies, Jesus did gain stronger authority by standing against false truth. In his conviction after an illegal trial, Jesus willingly suffered so that I would not be enslaved to the lies of sin and death. Slave trader and converted pastor John Newton knew the power of grace after living a life of tragic mistakes and penned the simple but profound hymn Amazing Grace. In one of his sermons he preached,

“We call ourselves the followers and servant of him who was despised of men, and encompassed with sorrows. And shall we then ‘seek great things for ourselves,’ as if we belonged to the present world, and expected no portion beyond it? or shall we be tremblingly [sensitive] to the opinion of our fellow-creatures and think it a great hardship if it be our lot to suffer shame for his sake, who endured the cross, and despised the same for us?” [3]

Although I do not applaud misunderstood ideas as an academic method of discovering the truth, I do recognize the value of failure in appreciating the truth. When mistaken ideas are a way of knowing, the only result is destruction. Yet, when mistaken ideas are understood in light of what is true, then strength in wisdom leads the sojourner further up the path to Paradise.

I look forward to the day when table saws no longer inflict pain as the result of my mistaken sense of safety. But I do not regret the lesson learned and the respect I now have for the process of building. The journey to completion contains many lessons along the way that will not be pleasant. The journey to Paradise is not an easy one, but nonetheless, the journey is a valuable one.

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[1] Alighieri Dante, Paradise, trans. Anthony M. Esolen (New York: Modern Library, 2007), [Canto xvii, 127-132, p. 187].

[2] David L. Jeffrey, Houses of the Interpreter: Reading Scripture, Reading Culture (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009), p. 34.

[3] Ibid, p. 84

The Metalogicon — Education from a Christian Perspective

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John of Salisbury. The Metalogicon: A Twelfth-Century Defense of the Verbal and Logical Arts of the Trivium: Translated by Daniel D. McGarry; Paul Dry Books, Philadelphia. 2009. 305 pp. $25.50.

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Classical Christian education has much to benefit from this medieval academic work from John of Salisbury. The Metalogicon, literally about logic, is a timeless insight into the value of grammar, dialectic, and logic to the development of the mind. Completed in 1152, the outline of education found in The Metalogicon is crucial to the current renaissance of Christian Classical education among Christian institutions and home school families. John of Salisbury weaves the wisdom of ancient philosophers (i.e. Plato, Aristotle, Seneca), and Christian fathers, (Augustine, Jerome), to argue for a solid academic life that not only brings eloquence to the student, but more importantly God’s wisdom to a place of treasured honor.

Although John writes this work as a rebuttal to the influence of Cornificius, he argues successfully the importance of defending the trivium as the means to prepare the uneducated mind for a life of philosophical defense of the gospel. Original reason, God’s Reason, then defends truth from deception (224-25). The low state of man should not be abandoned, “…even though he is oppressed and handicapped by the burden of his earthly nature and the sluggishness of his physical body, man may still rise to higher things.” (9) That which is highest is God’s wisdom and grace. “This appetite [for truth, goodness, and reason] has been implanted in man’s nature by God; but it cannot obtain its objectives by nature alone, for it also needs the assistance of grace.” (246).

The relevance of The Metalogicon in today’s academic world is that debate over educational curriculum and method is not new. John of Salisbury wrote defensively against contemporaries who argued the lack of need to study and learn the art of eloquence. Rather than training the intellect for eloquent expression of truth, the philosophy that education is merely rote memorization of facts is opposed. That only those with the gift of eloquence can speak and debate philosophy is opposite of John’s defense (24).

The telos 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 (25). “One who can with facility and adequacy verbally express his mental perceptions is eloquent.” (26). But John shapes the perception of eloquent learning well in that the skill of logical eloquence grows with time and practice. His opponents who argue that logical reasoning is a gift granted have 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.” 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.” (31).

John of Salisbury begins his philosophy of logical reasoning with the beginnings of knowledge in poetry and the imagination. The emphasis on the poet 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].” (56)

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?” (63). The study of Great Books yields the purpose of a journey to wisdom and understanding and finally with God’s glory. He 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, John strongly cautions to learn independence lest one be dependent on false teachers. “Sensation deceives the untutored.” (221). Likewise, eloquence is necessary to be prepared to defend true wisdom” (199).

John of Salisbury promotes Goodness, Truth, and Reason as the transcendentals that lead 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.” (65). The study of the Great Books is not something created by man alone. This passion for knowledge is implanted in man by God. Appetite and desire motivate the imagination to seek Who imparted the hunger for Truth. “For God, breathing life into man, willed that he partake of divine reason.” (227). “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.” (246) “It is clear in particular cases that subordinate things cannot exist or be understood without superior ones.” (122).

The point of logic is to guide one to God’s wisdom and divine revelation of Himself. 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. (266-271). 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.

John’s emphasis on sensation and imagination as the foundation of philosophy (214-220) shows that philosophy itself is not simply logic alone. 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. “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.” (216).

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 (217). This building of imagination then leads to contemplation and rationalization resulting 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.

The source of desire and hunger for knowledge begins with sensation as God, man’s creator, breathed this desire into man for reason. John states that, “…reason is defined as both a power and the activity of a power.” (226). That power being God. “For God, breathing life into man, which comes from, and will return to God, alone contemplates divine truths.” (227). John of Salisbury never abandons the truth of the Christian faith in his effort to defend philosophy and logic. The Metalogicon never abandons faith for logic, rather the work sees faith as crucial to the purpose of logic. Since God is the original reason (225), it is then logical to conclude that the role of reason and logic is to lead on 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.” (231). 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.”(100). 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.

Great Books Honors College on Conversational Learning

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On September 7, 2013, I participated in a colloquium about conversational learning with faculty and other students of Faulkner University’s Great Books Honors College. Before the colloquium, participants read selections from Mortimer Adler’s, How to Speak, How to Listen and Plato’s Republic.

The Why Behind the What: Inspiration from a Homeschool Dad

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The Why Behind the What

 

“That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been;

and God seeks what has been driven away.”

— Ecclesiastes 3:15 —

“Poets keep their eyes focused on the ideal truth, which is a universal idea,…”

— Giambattista Vico, De nostri 1709 —

 

My family often looks at me with strange stares. Sometimes I think the lot of a modern-day father is  misunderstanding. But in my case, I tend to look at the world in a deeper way than my teenagers. Their world is full of adolescent angst and little to do with serious interaction with the greater world outside their own. I tend to look for deeper, more serious, meaning by focusing my attention on the wider world beyond the immediate circumstance. But my responsibility as a homeschool dad is to open the minds of my teenagers to truths bigger than their immediate reality.

I watched their mother train their younger minds in the past in the classical tradition of home school education. We have as a family trudged through the first two stages of the trivium. Gaining knowledge through memorization and repetition, then gaining understanding of knowledge through dialectic reasoning. Now my children are maturing into the final years of the trivium and it has fallen to me to guide them, with their mother’s help, in the final stage of poetic wisdom. The challenge I face is to overcome the absolutes of our scientifically critical culture to engage my teenagers in thinking poetically which is also known as wisdom. I now wish to inspire my teenagers to understand and eloquently express the why behind the what. In order to do so, they must first grasp what it means to think and express ideas in a poetic way.

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), to create or make things. Yet the result of what is made in the spirit of poiesis is that which is done in excellence. It is through, poiesis, that what is made points to the why behind all that is made.

The struggle many have in comprehending, much less expressing a thought that is beautifully rendered, is that in modern times the mind is often not exercised in poetic ways of thinking. Poetic thought, that is higher thought, is then the model for all newly formed ideas to be seen as truth. It is poetic thought that reaches for, and points to, truth rather than falsity. “Truth is one, probabilities are many, and falsehoods numberless.”[1] 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 focusing on ideal truth and the best way to do this is to be immersed in the ideas of the great thinkers of the past.

The quest for truth begins with the great thinkers of western culture to begin to form one’s own eloquent thoughts. The creation of ideas is not an enterprise that can be remade in succeeding generations without the wisdom of proceeding thinkers. What was made before, poiesis, is the foundation of all that is eloquent. 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 make new ideas by the example of those who have done so in eloquent ways before.

The inspirational result of poetic thought is humility to the reader. Qohelet, the preacher, expresses with poetic insight the 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.” [Ecclesiastes 3:9-11 ESV]

 

The first thought in this text is that the worker, that is all men, have work to do. This work can be toilsome and unappealing. Yet, the preacher further clarifies that all that man is busy with is that which God has given them 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, poiesis, is only understood as beautiful as God himself has made it so. This beauty is made and thus is poetic in design. Likewise, the preacher writes, in a poetic way, that all that humanity is allotted to do is not burdensome but beautiful 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. To understand this truth results in humility for men who see the awesome creation of what God has given them to be busy with. It takes a lifetime to comprehend it as this 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.” [2] 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 that nothing is greater or more worthy than those ideas that God himself establishes as truth. The creator of knowledge itself, the ability to reason within man, is not humanity’s creation. The greatest thoughts are those that humanity thinks about the one who created the ability to think those thoughts. Humility is what keeps thoughts in proper perspective. Schall further explains that truth is the highest of thoughtful inspiration. “No one will seek the highest if he believes that there is no truth, that nothing is his fault, and that government will guarantee his wants.” [3]

In Plato’s Ion, Socrates 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 that he also knows 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.” [4]

Likewise, the poetic knowledge of the the great authors of western thought 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.

In summary, poiesis, is that which is worked out and made for beautiful purposes. It is through great books that one learns the beauty of great ideas expressed with great words, by great thinkers. Poiesis, the meaning behind the word poetry, is not that which is undertaken in drudgery. My role as home school dad and teacher is to show my teenagers that great thinking does require great effort. But that effort need not be drudgery, but rather enjoyment. If what is taught and learned is then received, as the preacher encourages man to do with God’s gift of busyness, and Socrates envied in Ion, 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.” [5] The why behind the what is understood as poetically beautiful.

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Endnotes
[1] Giambattista Vico, On the Study Methods of Our Time, trans. Elio Gianturco (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), pg. 19.
[2] James V. Schall. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2012), p. 15.
[3] Ibid, p. 17.
[4] Plato, John M. Cooper, and D. S. Hutchinson, “Ion,”  in Complete Works (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 1997), pg. 938. [Sect. 530c].
[5] Jeffry Davis and Phillip Ryken, interviewed by Ken Myers. Mars Hill Audio, Vol. 117, MHT-117. 2013
Bibliography
Davis, Jeffry and Phillip Ryken, interviewed by Ken Myers. Mars Hill Audio, Vol. 117, MHT-117. 2013
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.
Vico, Giambattista. On the Study Methods of Our Time. Translated by Elio Gianturco. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Miley Cyrus Media Coverage is…

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I did not watch the MTV Video Music Awards last night. (August 25, 2013).

To be honest, I have never watched an MTV Music Video Awards show. I really do not have to. The media always runs with attention grabbing headlines and then showcase all the highlights.

I really felt sorry for Taylor Swift when she was rudely interrupted by Kanye West several years ago.

But I do not feel sorry for Miley Cyrus this morning.

To be honest, I have decided to take a break from all news media today (and probably the rest of the week). The overkill of Miley images has disgusted me to the point that I wish to avoid all offensive content. The irony here is that the media (nbcnews.com, abcnews.com, theblaze.com, drudgereport.com, foxnews.com) are all eager for us to view the pornographic video performance while at the same time warning us of its content. The screen captured images that accompany the headlines alone cause me to turn my head, check my spirit, and refuse to read the articles or view the videos.

Glenn Beck’s theblaze.com alone is offensive while at the same time taking the high moral road.

The byline that accompanies the video link on theblaze.com says; “To see exactly what went down during Cyrus’ clothes-ripping, raunchfest performance with Robin Thicke, watch below (content warning: the following passed MTV’s censors, but might not pass yours):”

Now if the content is that offensive, why even provide the video?

Good bye news media.

Good bye offensive headlines.

Good bye pop culture.

I will stick with the classics thank you. Aristotle and Kant will occupy my time this week.