Sunday, January 17, 2010

"The Vision", Part II

Let's pick-up where we left off yesterday.

Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, we will provide a vibrant Catholic liberal arts education...

The patronage (matronage?) of Our Lady as Seat of Wisdom, leads our thinking to Him who is the summit of all Wisdom, Him who is enthroned upon Our Lady's lap. Christ is the Wisdom of God, which is fine to say, but we first need to figure out what wisdom is in order to know how He can be this of God. Wisdom, St. Thomas says, is knowledge of first principles, not (as Prof. Schintgen tells me) as first principles of understanding, but as first principles of being. It is funny how little this definition brings to light our practical intuition about wisdom, but I will attempt to point out how what St. Thomas says actually refers to 'wisdom' as we understand it.

A standard definition of wisdom might be the accrued ability to know the good in any situation. Thomas tell us that it is not, however, just knowledge of the good in the abstract, but also in the concrete world of human interaction. It differs from prudence in that prudence refers to the knowledge required for my actions to be good, whereas wisdom is knowledge of the good per se, especially the knowledge of why the good is the good, and why the good is the good in this case. Thomas would alert us to the fact that to know the good is to know the 'why,' and the 'why' refers us to the so-called first princioples of being, i.e. ultimately to knowledge of God. We think that a wise person is one who gives good advice. There is no reason to think that Thomas thought in any other way: he who is able to give good advice has knowledge of the first causes of being.

How can knowledge of the good be a part of the education that OLSWA imparts?

A clear distinction is being made here between knowledge as the accumulation of facts and knowledge as oriented to the good. An accumulation of facts advances a general, albeit weak, tendency toward the good. But neither can the ‘end’ so heavily control the process that the possibility of real discovery is eliminated. If education is configured in such a way that it is the mere process whereby one gathers up proofs to substantiate what he already knows, there is no real education. There is little chance in this case of discovering that one misunderstood the good in some way. Learning, on the other hand, does not force one to reject all of one’s ideas about the good – especially those assured by the authority of revelation, but it does insist upon a deeper consideration of them; it is nothing other than this. ‘Wisdom’ focuses upon the certainty that there are deeper truths, important truths that are not utterly inscrutable. It engages facts and complex circumstance, not because they are crucial in themselves, but because it considers that these contribute something to the sorting out of important ones.

How does wisdom emerge from properly ordered education?

Quite easily, given that we have a hallowed tradition that spells it out for us. The ‘what if we hadn’t?’ question is superfluous, since we do. The tradition, I affirm, has indicated the proper place of faith and reason (we will consider this in the next post). It took until the 13th century for this to be properly articulated, but it was a part of the Church all along. How to order the liberal arts under and in service to revelation, and, in turn, how revelation provides a sure and certain channel to wisdom, has all been well articulated by the Tradition. It is necessary for each new generation to learn this, and, today, to come to grips with those very difficult aspects of this integration, vis à vis, modern scientific advances concerning evolution, scriptural science, etc. Wisdom, as the goal of education, is found not within the parameters of any one discipline, but most of all in the highest science, theology, of course, and in the “picture of the whole” of man and the universe that all the disciplines together serve to bring into focus. Thus, the program of OLSWA is itself structured to provide that one not remain within the confines of any one discipline but arise to the contemplation of the whole.

Our last word is ‘vibrant,’ and it conjures up a whole list of important aspects of our education. The majority of these will need to be treated in future posts. In essence, ‘vibrant’ must be taken to refer to the hope and excitement that trust in the process must promote. To trust the process is to trust God who has chosen to communicate His message to man through both natural and supernatural means. It is a message for man. It must not promote over-confidence, trust-in-self, hubris, or chauvinism. But ought to lead to joy that the end is good and well worth the hard work required to arrive there.

Next time: Catholic liberal arts education that integrates faith and reason in all of its disciplines...

Pax vobiscum

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