How Christians can approach classical literature

Jacque-Benigne Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, in a letter to Innocent XI

Logic and morals serve to cultivate the two principal operations of the human mind: the faculties of understanding and willing. For logic, we have drawn from Plato and Aristotle, not so as to serve vain disputes about words, but to form the judgment by solid reasoning, and we have restricted ourselves primarily to that part of logic that is used to find probable arguments, because these are the ones used in affairs of state. [NB, Bossuet is describing the curriculum for royal persons].

For the teaching of morals, we have mined the proper source: Scripture and the maxims of the Gospel. We have not, however, neglected to explain the morals of Aristotle, adn that admirable doctine of Socrates, truly sublime for his time, which may serve to give faith to the incredulous, and to make corrupt men blush.

Yet we have at the same time noted what the Christian philosophy condemns in it, and what she adds to it, what she approves, and with what authority she confirms the sane maxims of Socrates, and how she is superior to them, in such a way that the philosophy of Socrates, as grave as it appears, compared to the wisdom of the Gospel is but the infancy of morals.

As to philosophy, we have cleaved to those maxims that carry with them the certain character of truth, and which might be useful for the conduct of human life. As to the systems and philosophical opnions that are subjects for the vain disputes of men, we have limited ourselves to reporting them under the form of an historical recital, for we have thought that it was fitting to the dignity of a young prince to know the diverse and opposed opinions that have much occupied the great minds, while equally protecting the parties and refusing to share their enthusiasm or their prejudice. The one who is called to command should learn to judge and not to dispute.

Yet after having considered that philosophy consists above all in recalling the mind to itself in order then to raise one’s thoughts to God, we have first sought self-knowledge. This preliminary study, by presenting us with fewer difficulties, at the same time offers our researches the most useful and most noble end: for, to become a true philosopher, man must study himself, and without losing himself in the useless and puerile attempt to learn what others have said and thought, he need but seek into and ask questions of himself, and he will thus find the one who has given him the ability to be, to know, and to will.

Bossuet provides some provocative ideas in the foregoing. Things to think about, which isn’t why people visit blogs, I know. But take a few minutes some time to print this passage and reflect on it. You’ll grow doing so. It will benefit your students.

Things that make life worth living

Karen, I love you. And you love me too. So simple. Let’s keep it that way! In one week, we’ll have been married 25 years. Thanks.

Elvis does a nice version of this too, but I couldn’t embed it. 

And yes I remember the day you took my hand.

Was it at Sears? That store in Oak Park, anyway, at the end of the mall with Katie’s candy store. Tootsie was at the theatre, remember?

The mark of an educated man

“It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits;”

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Here is one of the most important principles of thought ever expressed and one that has been universally neglected in our day. We look for scientific precision in our study of literature, for artistic judgment in math and spelling.

When we assess, we look for statistical variation of immeasurable matters.

Why? Because we don’t know the nature of the subjects we are studying. Until we do, we should ask more questions and make fewer assertions.

Only the classical curriculum resolves this problem for the simple reason that Aristotle, who was wrong about things for which he lacked tools, saw into the nature of the subjects and elucidated them for us. Because he paid attention. He looked closely and steadily at reality. He didn’t exclude the bits he didn’t like, as the naturalist and the spiritualist do.

May we who seek to restore the classical tradition take confidence in its enormous achievements and not settle for anything less than the attainment of this “mark of an educated man.” It will require a curriculum that reflects this principle and a mode of teaching that honors it, but with courage and wisdom we can get there.