viernes, 24 de julio de 2015

In the pre-modern and Christian way of viewing education, or the intellectual life, education or learning had an ultimate goal—the contemplation or vision of God

Augustine, Modernity, and the Recovery of True Education

by Bradley Green

I wonder if we might need another St. Augustine as well, to provide help with:
(1) the recovery of the centrality of the cross as crucial to true understanding,
(2) the recovery of seeing the intellectual endeavor as a type of love—loving authors (whether living or dead), loving truth, goodness, and beauty, and loving God and neighbor, and seeing our love of the educational endeavor as a subset of the life of discipleship, and 
(3) the recovery of an eschatological vision that frames our intellectual endeavors, and gives them a transcendent purpose, hope, and goal. 

In the Western world there is a rich tradition of the life of the mind. Much of the emphasis on the life of the mind in the West flows from our Christian inheritance, as seen in the biblical documents, and in key thinkers of the West (e.g., Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Calvin, among others). As the modern world has jettisoned its Christian intellectual inheritance, there has been a corresponding confusion about the value of the mind, and indeed, even of the possibility of knowledge at all, whether of God or of the created order.

In terms of reflection upon the nature of the intellectual life, I would suggest that one of the most pressing tasks for contemporary Christians would be the recovery and cultivation of the inextricable link between the Christian faith and the intellectual life, or the intellectual endeavor. In order to engage in such reflection, I take up the relationship of Christianity and the liberal arts, and in particular seek to draw from Augustine as we reflect upon this relationship.

There has always been a number of Christians who have voiced strong opposition to the liberal arts and who saw no real use for the liberal arts for Christians. The liberal arts were seen by many as pagan in origin, and were simply seen as not useful or appropriate for the Christian. Other Christians, like Augustine, affirmed that Christians could make a particular use of the liberal arts. Augustine argued that the liberal arts, particularly those arts dealing with language (primarily the trivium), were helpful in giving one the skills needed to interpret Scripture. Augustine makes this case for the liberal arts in his work, On Christian Doctrine. If this use should be circumspect and cautious, so be it. Augustine borrows imagery from Exodus and the account of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Just as the Lord had told Israel that He would make the Egyptians favorably disposed towards the Israelites, and thus the Israelites would be able to “plunder the Egyptians,” Augustine asserts in On Christian Doctrine that Christians should “plunder the Egyptians”—the “goods” being plundered are the liberal arts—and press them into service of particularly Christian goals and aspirations.[1] It is common to hear of three options on how Christians might relate to secular or pagan culture. Origen or Clement of Alexandria are often presented as exemplar of those who went too far in accommodating to secular thought, perhaps by accommodating Christian theology to platonic categories. Tertullian, with his maxim, “what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem,”[2] is usually presented as one who too quickly and radically rejected any meaningful use of, or interaction with, secular culture. Then, with the two radical (and “wrong”) positions to set up the golden mean, Augustine is introduced as one who sought the balance between two wrong-headed schemes. Augustine, then, is held up as the progenitor of Christian schooling, of worldview thinking, of Christian higher education, etc. One can do worse in trying to get a hold on these sorts of issues than this type of three-fold schema. But a close reading of Augustine, particularly On Christian Doctrine, reveals that Augustine’s affirmation of the liberal arts is cautious and circumspect. Yes, the arts can be helpful tools in preparation of interpreting Scripture, but one does not—at least in On Christian Doctrine—find the justification for the practice of reading pagan texts, for engaging in analysis of pagan texts, for the good of studying, analyzing, and reflecting upon various texts and upon the created order, with the goal being the discovery of the unity of all truth under God, or simply for the joy of knowing God’s world, or for the joy of intellectual discovery under God. It is striking when one reads Augustine to see how much like Tertullian he is on this point. There is much of Tertullian in Augustine, and the development of a more full-orbed defense of learning will have to wait development in Christian thought.[3] In On Christian Doctrine Augustine’s advocacy of the liberal arts is almost solely as preparation for interpreting Scripture. Augustine had planned a whole series on the liberal arts. Unfortunately, all we have are works on music and dialectic.

However, even if Augustine did not flesh out his approach to education in as full-fledged manner as we might like, I think the case can be made that the seeds for such a case are already fully present in Augustine’s writings, and that therefore it is ultimately not a mistake to see Augustine—in a very real sense—as the spiritual forbear of a Christian understanding of the nature of liberal education. We may found ourselves drawn to later thinkers like Hugh of St. Victor (b. 1096), who could say that the goal of the liberal arts is “the true restoration of man,” and that each of the seven liberal arts were important in order to “restore God’s image in us.”[4] Hugh of St. Victor could also write: “Learn everything; later you will see that nothing is superfluous.”[5] 

 In this essay I will attempt to outline the ways in which Augustine might help contemporary Christians recover true education, and I will do so by giving attention to three key themes: 
(1) Augustine and the cross; 
(2) Augustine and love; and 
(3) Augustine and the telos (or “end”) of true education.


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