Teaching History Through the Trivium

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a fascination with the causes of historical change. Is it great men and women that change the world, or is it the world that produces great men and women?

Was Thomas Carlyle right with his Romantic view when he said:

“The history of the world is but the biography of great men,”

Or did Herbert Spencer get it right with his more scientic approach:

Y]ou must admit that the genesis of a great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown….Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.

The interaction between the two forces charges the intellect like water in a dam. There’s a way to teach history that takes advantage of this interaction as well, and it fits the stages of the trivium.

In the grammar years, students should learn the stories of “Famous Men of History.”

In the Logic years, they should relate those heroes to each other by studying the ages in which they lived.

In the rhetoric years, they should engage the argument directly.  “Why is the world like it is today, because of heroes and their actions, because of sociological forces, or for some other reason?”

Of course, if you are a Christian you believe that the world is like it is today because God is sovereign. But that’s also true about why physics works like it does. That shouldn’t keep us from studying – it should make the study more exciting.

To see the argument baldly stated, take a look at this Wikipedia article, from which the above quotations were drawn.


3 Responses

  1. Can you explain to me, why does the Sovereignty of God dominate Christian Theology at the cost of the God of Creativity; with whom Abraham, David, Moses, and Jonah, et al. display stark contrast to the dictatorial iron clad definition Theology has given to the sovereignty concept? I think I’ve lost touch with Calvin’s reality!

    Sincerely in search of definition,
    Kimberly Burruss

    • Kimberly,

      What a fascinating question! When I use the term “God is sovereign” I doubt that I have in mind exactly what you are thinking of when you speak of “the sovereignty of God.”

      In fact, I would probably contend that God’s creativity is intimately related to His sovereignty.

      I don’t know what Calvin’s perception of reality on this issue was because it is so incredibly difficult to get back into the mind of the man when he wrote, but I would suspect his view wasn’t of a “dictatorial iron clad definition.”

      So I guess I would have to say, no, I can’t explain why sovereignty dominates theology at the cost of creativity. Obviously, theology is a human endeavor to try to explain great mysteries, so maybe it’s just a phase in that endeavor.

      Since I’m just reasoning in circles, why not bring this back to something discussable. Why do you see sovereignty and creativity in conflict? What do you mean by each?

      eager to hear more from you!


  2. I just was wondering if you could send me a copy of the article in wikipedia, it is not available for some reason.

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