This morning, on the way to Mass, my wife and I had a discussion about our children’s education and experience in education in general. We talked about a topic that I think would be good to share, which I’d like to talk about in in this talk today. And the title may appear controversial, but it’s not intended to be it’s just as we’ll see, a simple reality that I think many of us know to be true, but are afraid to admit, but with a little bit of reflection and discussion becomes very obvious. And it’s one of the real problems in modern Christian education. I’m not going to say “Catholic” because it’s true even in non-Catholic education. This is, I think, a reason why Christianity in general, is just falling further and further from its traditional place. In education and culture, in general, the topic is that Christian home schooling, and Christian education in general, should focus on philosophy, rather, then religion. Christian education should focus on philosophy, rather than religion. And as I said, I know that that may sound controversial, but it’s not. It’s actually reasonable. And based on our experience, in education, I think we’ll all agree, as I go on with this a little more that our experience confirms this. And in this talk, I’d like to just think through and talk through some of the reasons why this is true.
Now, the first problem we face as we talk about this topic is that 99% of modern Christians know nothing or next to nothing about true philosophy. This is the first obstacle that we’re going to have to deal with. And when I say philosophy, what most people think of assuming you’ve been to college, is a college philosophy course, like an introduction to philosophy, where a college professor flies over the philosophers of history that the university considers to be influential and interesting, and just summarizes some of their key points and, and how they disagree with each other and what they differ on and so on. And, and this curious kind of trivia knowledge about philosophy and philosophers is what gets most people a couple of credits at a university. But that’s got absolutely nothing to do with true philosophy.
In the ancient world, philosophy was the highest pursuit of life. It was considered the chief end of man. The pursuit of philosophy, or I shouldn’t say pursuit of philosophy, because that’s kind of redundant, I should just say philosophy, the pursuit of wisdom, was the chief pursuit of any virtuous man. When we read the book of Proverbs in the Bible, we read Solomon, who was called the wisest man in the world, saying that when he was a child, his father told him to “get wisdom”, that was the advice of a father for his sons get wisdom. And many may say the same thing today. But if we start to poke and ask, Well, what do you mean by wisdom? And how do I get it? We’ll find that very few have any answers.
In the ancient world, they did have answers to those questions. And what differed between a wise man and a fool was simply whether or not he desired and pursued wisdom, or what or preferred to live without it for a number of reasons. But it was the advice of a father for his son, to get wisdom. And if we look at the opening chapters of the book of Proverbs, even though these are a part of Sacred Scripture, we find a father advising his son, with very simple instructions. The father tells his son, “get wisdom”. Wisdom, is the principal thing. There is nothing on earth that compares with wisdom. That’s the message of a father, to his son. And as I said, the ancients didn’t only teach that one should seek wisdom. But they also knew how that wisdom was to be pursued.
Whenever we talk about the ancients, we have to divide them into two different classes. The first class consists of the Gentiles or the nations, all of those people outside of Israel. And the second group is the people of Israel, these two groups were distinct, because Israel alone received the light of divine revelation. The nations were left to their own experience, observations and reasoning, while the Jews or Israelites received the light of divine revelation. So we have to make this distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles and always understand this distinction, we also have to learn not to judge the Gentiles as if they should know what the Jews knew. Jews should be judged according to what they had revealed to them. And Gentiles should be judged according to what they discovered, by the use of their own reason. These two distinctions, though, so when we talk about the ancients, we have two separate traditions we have the tradition of the ancient Gentiles, and the traditions of the ancient Jews. Many people don’t understand the tradition of the ancient Jews, because we may think that whatever is contained in the Old Testament, is the ancient Jewish tradition, but that’s only one part of it. What we have in the Old Testament are the texts of divine revelation as it was received by the Jewish people. They’re the sacred writings, the inspired writings of the Old Testament. It’s what the apostles referred to as scripture in their generation. But in addition to this written revelation, the Jews also developed an oral tradition of interpretation and commentary. Much like the Catholic idea of the magisterium. The Jews have their own tradition of interpretation and commentary, their own oral tradition. And this, even though it’s referred to as the oral tradition, it was often written down and passed on and studied from generation to generation. So there were the Scriptures, and then there was the interpretation of the Scriptures. One place we find this oral or interpretive tradition is in what’s called the mission of the ancient Jews, the Mishnah. So we always have to keep these two things in mind when we talk about Jewish wisdom, the actual content of divine revelation, which is, of the most importance to us as Christians, and also the oral tradition or interpretive tradition of the Jews, which makes up Jewish thought, but isn’t necessarily of interest to Christians.
When Jesus came into the world, you may remember in the gospels that he said things like, “You have heard it said that, blah, blah, blah, but I say to you, blah, blah, blah.”, we see Jesus speaking to the Jews, and warning them about the danger of following the “traditions of men”, rather than the Word of God. And so what we see is that one of the things that Jesus came into the world to do, was to show the Jewish people that their oral tradition, their interpretive tradition, was often wrong. And following their oral tradition, they often erred from the actual content of divine revelation, preferring their traditions, to the commandments. And this needed to be corrected. So it’s, it’s a little more complicated, because there is written tradition, which is divinely inspired. There’s oral tradition of the ancient Jews. But this oral tradition is not infallible. It’s imperfect, contains errors, and needs to be corrected. What’s most valuable about the Jewish wisdom is the content of the Sacred Scriptures, the books of the Old Testament.
Outside of Israel, there was no divine revelation, there was revelation of God in His works, that is in the works of creation and in man himself. For these things exist as books to be studied. We can study natural philosophy and learn about the natural world and learn to understand the order that exists in the natural world, because of its creation. We can understand the mind of God in the natural world, and the natural world is like a mirror that allows not really a mirror that’s not a good illustration, more like a window through which we can see God by his works. And this is the purpose of natural philosophy, and I’m talking about natural philosophy outside of Israel.
The ancient Gentiles studied nature to try and understand the principles of the natural world because they knew that, in the natural world, could be traced the mind of the Creator. St. Paul talks about this in Romans chapter 1, when he says, if you look in Romans chapter one, around verse 22, the end of the chapter he talks about how the invisible things of God can be seen, from the things that were made for God has revealed these things to all men, Jews and Gentiles. He’s revealed them indirectly through creation. And natural philosophy is the study whereby men through all history studied the natural world to understand the mind of God. We see this in the ancient Pythagoreans, the followers of Pythagoras, this coming together of ancient philosophy, and religion, the two could never be separated. Because the philosophers understood that, in studying the natural world they were studying the work of God the Creator. And that by understanding the natural world, they would understand God Himself. The world was full of signs, and those signs pointed to the Creator. That was the purpose and is still the purpose of the study of natural philosophy.
And then man can study himself, he could study his own experience, he could study his own mind and personality. And that’s why we have the ancient motto, “Know thyself.”, because man was understood to be the image of God. In man was found signs of the Creator. And by knowing oneself, man can know God.
We see a good example of this in the New Testament. We see, while Jesus is alive and teaching, a Roman centurion comes to him, because his servant is sick, and dying. And the centurion, the Roman military official, comes to Jesus asking for help, and he says something to Jesus, that’s very significant. He says, “I am a man with authority. I say to my servant, go, and he goes, I say to my servant, do this, and he does it.”. And then he says to Jesus, “Therefore, you don’t need to come to my house. Because I know that if you simply say, do this, the natural world will do it. Just say the word, and it shall be done.” And this is where we get the, the phrase from Mass, “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word”–that comes from the Roman centurion, during the life of Jesus. This Centurion, reflecting on his own authority, as a man, on his own place in the world, transfers that thought from himself to God and says (to himself), “If this is how I work, and this is good, and just, and orderly, and wise, then this must also be how God works”. And he transfers his knowledge of himself to God, to understand something of God. Jesus praises this Centurion and says, of this Centurion, “I have not found such great faith anywhere in Israel.”. And that’s a very significant statement, that this faith of this Roman man, guided by philosophy, is greater than the faith that He found in the people of Israel whose ideas were guided primarily by divine revelation and secondarily by their own interpretive traditions.
So we see an example there in the Centurion of how the knowledge of ourselves leads us to rightly understand–not only understand but also respond. God teaches us how to pray. We’re to pray to God as if he is a person who understands moral philosophy and would certainly act, according to it. And so we can study moral philosophy and by learning what’s good, and just, and so on, we can think of God and assume that God is going to act according to principles of justice and virtue–that God would be virtuous himself. So this is how the Gentile world learned about God by studying natural philosophy and moral philosophy as a window through which the creator could be understood.
That study of philosophy developed piece by piece over centuries and centuries, from ancient Sumeria, ancient Egypt, ancient Babylon, into ancient Greece, and through ancient Rome. That ancient philosophy developed piece by piece, as different teachers, different great philosophers made significant contributions, figured things out, “cracked the code”, as it were, and opened up new sciences.
The greatest of these philosophers was Aristotle, whose achievements really can’t be compared to anyone else except for Pythagoras, who made great advances among the Greeks in mathematics. But no one made advances like Aristotle, in this pursuit of philosophy in the ancient world was ultimately the pursuit of God Himself. That’s what philosophy was. The wisdom that the philosophers sought, was the knowledge of God.
This knowledge, because they had to seek it, by their own experience, by their own observations, by their own reasoning, took centuries and centuries to develop, and was often imperfect, and mixed with errors. And that’s what made philosophy difficult. But the world or the people of the Gentiles, were able to accomplish amazing achievements in the knowledge of God and the knowledge of the world and the knowledge of man, of morals and politics, through the study in pursuit of wisdom. That’s what wise men did in the ancient world.
And remember what I said before, we always have to judge the Gentiles not according to the standards of divine revelation, because they did not have the benefit of divine revelation. We have to judge the Gentiles relative to what benefits they had. And when we consider that all they had were natural tools to work with (their senses, their experience, and so on), their achievements were really amazing.
Now, what’s interesting when we go back into the history of philosophy, is that there were times where these two cultures crossed, or at least according to tradition, there were times where these traditions crossed. And where these traditions crossed, we find divine revelation, in a corollary way, spilling over into Gentile philosophy and I’ll give you a couple of these key points.
One would be the life of Abraham. Abraham was a Sumerian man who had been raised and led according to ancient Sumerian or Babylonian philosophy and astronomy, to add to a natural knowledge of God. And God came to Abraham and revealed himself to him. And when we look at the life of Abraham, we have to see what’s happening there. God is coming to a philosopher, and is revealing himself directly to a philosopher, who already knows a great deal about God from philosophy. And he comes to Abraham, who is known to have been an ancient astronomer and mathematician. And he speaks to Abraham, in mathematical terms. He says to Abraham, “Look at the stars of the sky.”, speaks to a man interested in astronomy, who knows the sciences have numbers, and says to him, “Look at the number of the stars”–infinite, humanly speaking”so shall your descendants be.”. And God calls Abraham to leave his people, to leave, by analogy, to leave philosophy, and become not only a philosopher, but also now a theologian in the sense that he is a recipient, and interpreter of divine revelation, as God communicates with him directly. And so Abraham moves from philosophy, or adds to his philosophy, I should say, the light of theology of divine revelation. And so there we see this crossing of the paths, or this combination of philosophy and theology. And Abraham travels, eventually gets to Egypt. And it’s taught according to tradition, that while he was in Egypt, he revealed Sumerian mathematics to the Egyptian people, and was involved in the development of Egyptian philosophy. He was known to be a prophet and a wise man among the Egyptians, we can read that in the Old Testament. So that’s the first crossing of these two pads where Abraham is called, and this Jewish theological tradition begins.
A second path where they cross can be found in the life of Moses. Moses was a Hebrew. And we know the story that’s told, that he was to be killed, according to the command of Pharaoh, but his mother placed him in a basket and sent him down the river, hoping that something good might come of it. And it turned out that one of Pharaoh’s daughters found the basket with the baby inside of it, and chose to keep the child. And we read, not in the Old Testament, but we read actually in the book of Acts, that Moses was raised with the philosophical education of the Egyptians, Moses was raised in philosophy, or by philosophy. Moses lived as a philosopher. He knew nothing of divine revelation, wasn’t raised as a member of the Hebrew community, but was raised as an Egyptian noble with a philosophical education. He kills an Egyptian man and flees. He travels to a land of Midian, where he stays with a mysterious religious man named Jethro. And while he’s there, he’s helping Jethro, sort of earning his living. And that’s where God appears to Moses in the burning bush, this mystery that contradicts natural philosophy. The bush is on fire (the nature of fire is to consume), and yet this bush is not consumed. And God speaks to Abraham in terms of natural philosophy reveals himself as a fire that does not consume something that is super-natural. And when Moses asks God, His name, God responds to him in a mysterious way. He says that his name is “I am.”. That’s my name, God says. “I am”–the one who is outside of the realm of time, who isn’t subject to the stars and the moon in the sun, the signs of the seasons that He created for man; He who is outside of the heavens, outside of time, the one who is eternal, forever present. And God reveals himself to Moses, and again, we have this point in history where philosophy and theology come together.
What’s important to note is that these two famous men whom God chose, in both of their cases, God chose a philosopher and placed this divine revelation into the soul of a philosopher. And I would argue that that’s significant, because these men were prepared for that revelation. And because of their study of philosophy, God was able to communicate with them in terms of philosophy, without which the ideas would not have been able to be communicated.
Theology comes to the philosopher.
And there are reasons for that. The philosophers already making an effort to know God. A vulgar person, who just lives for his own material interests or comforts, is not interested in God or in spiritual things. And therefore, it would make no sense for God to reveal himself to a person who was just common and interested in physical concerns. A philosopher is looking through and beyond the natural world, seeking the knowledge of the invisible world. And it’s to the philosopher that God reveals himself.
Now, what’s interesting is that we have this crossing or a combination of theology and philosophy in ancient Sumeria, or Babylon. We have this crossing of philosophy and theology in Egypt. And according to, well, let me let me say this: If you read the dialogues of Plato, you’ll find in a number of places that Plato, as a Greek, believed that Greek philosophy came from Egypt. Plato believed that much of Greek philosophy came from Egypt. And it’s believed, according to other tradition, that Egyptian philosophy was influenced by the Hebrews and, therefore, enjoyed sort of the, the boost, or the stirring, of the light of divine revelation. And Plato believed that the ancient Greeks received wisdom from the Egyptians.
For example, you’ve probably heard of the Greek story of the last city, the last island of Atlantis. That story about Atlantis was learned by a Greek from the Egyptians. The Egyptians told the Greeks about this lost city. It’s one example of where this Greek and Egyptian philosophy come together. But Plato believed that he was continuing a tradition of philosophy that was derived from ancient Egypt. So it’s not that the philosophers all worked independently and saw themselves as independent researchers, or that the schools of philosophy saw themselves really as, as completely different, isolated islands of thought and experience. They saw philosophy as this growing, developing science, or set of sciences, that was connected to the ancient past. And there was a tradition that continued to proceed from ancient Sumeria, to Egypt, to Greece, and so on. And this is the tradition that runs through Plato and into Aristotle.
So we have the dialogues of Plato, where Plato explains, in several places how his philosophy was derived from ancient Egypt. And we then have Aristotle rising out of Plato’s teaching, to create his own, or to continue to develop and form his own school of philosophy, the Peripatetic school, around 340 BC. And we find that under Aristotle, this ancient stream of philosophical investigation, pretty much comes to its climax. Aristotle, most importantly, establishes the science of the art of Reasoning, which is the science of philosophy. The method, he perfects the method of philosophical investigation, and then takes that method and turns around and puts it to work. And it’s, by that instrument or method (organon), that he produces all of his philosophical works, moral philosophy, natural philosophy, metaphysics, on the soul, on the heavens, on politics, etc. Aristotle established the philosophical method, the art of reasoning, and then enjoyed the benefits of being able to put that method to work, which is what produced what we call Aristotelian philosophy.
But still, the philosophy of of Aristotle was connected to this ancient tradition of Platonic philosophy, Pythagorean philosophy, Egyptian philosophy, Babylonian philosophy and so on. And this philosophical tradition was true. It was true, it was imperfect, but it was true. And it was sort of the focal point of virtue in the world, where the good men, the wise men in the world, didn’t pursue the vulgar pleasures that the pagan nations are often associated with, we have to always remember that.
In ancient society, there were two different divisions of people in these pagan lands. There were pagans who were immoral, and among them, were pagans who were virtuous pagans, who knew that their religion was wrong, who knew that their practices were wrong, and who desired better things; who studied to understand virtue philosophically and then to practice it. And the virtuous pagans are among the best men in the history of the world, we should really consider them to be pre-Christian saints, in a way, because they did what they could do with what was available to them, and that’s all that can be asked of them. And St. Paul warns the Jews in his epistle to the Romans, that the Gentiles with their true philosophy had become more virtuous than the Jews, even though the Jews had all of the advantages of divine revelation.
And so we have Jewish ancient society, and we have Gentile ancient society. And in both of these groups, we have good and bad. We have virtuous Jews, and we have evil Jews. And we have virtuous Gentiles and evil Gentiles. An example of a virtuous Jew, would be the Virgin Mary, or John the Baptist, or the prophets. These were virtuous Jews. Evil Jews would be all of the Jews who persecuted the prophets–the evil kings of Israel, the evil religious leaders, the men who crucified Jesus, as opposed to the disciples of Jesus, they were all Jews, good and evil.
And in the Gentile lands, we have the evil Gentiles, like Nero, and all of the immoral people. And we have the virtuous Gentiles, men like Plato and Aristotle, heroes like Hercules, who were seen as virtuous models of good behavior. This Greek philosophy (i.e., Peripatetic or Aristotelian philosophy) continues into Roman history. And we have the emergence of Stoic philosophy which is focused, really, on morals. So we find men like Cicero, who considered himself to be a follower of Aristotle, writing books like his his treatise “On Duties” (De Officiis). We find the Stoic writers like Seneca, writing this on the same topics on moral duties, writing moral essays and moral epistles, teaching morality. And this is the Roman philosophical tradition. We see the Romans writing on natural philosophy, obviously, on law and political science, which is philosophy. And it’s at that time that the Christian church Just found it and then Christian culture develops.
Now the reason I share all of this history is to show you that all throughout history, if we look at the history of mankind, if we think of the human race as a person (let’s think of the human race, through all of its history as a person)–how was that person raised and educated?
The human race was educated primarily, by philosophy.
It was this long, developing pursuit of wisdom that occupied men. For thousands and thousands of years, it was as if man, as a race, grew up with philosophy as his education. And it wasn’t until he reached a certain point in his education, that religion was sent to him. Notice that when Jesus comes into the world, it said that “the time was fulfilled”. The time was fulfilled. And if we look at the history of the period, we, we notice three important conditions that existed when Jesus came into the world.
First of all, Aristotle had established his true philosophy. Philosophy was an order throughout the world. Secondly, Alexander the Great had conquered the world, and spread the Greek language throughout the entire world. Language, a universal language, was established. Before the coming of Christ, true philosophy was established, a universal language was established, and thirdly, the Romans had established what was called the Pax Romana (Roman peace), and the world was under sound political control was well governed. An empire was established, that governed the entire world. And as I said, it was referred to as a time of Roman, worldwide peace. Philosophically, things were an order. Linguistically, things were an order. Politically, things were an order.
It was into that bed of Gentile order that the child Jesus was laid. And he grew with a mission to bring the good news to the whole world, even though his mission required that he devote himself exclusively to the Jews to finish forever the divine revelation that was granted to the Jewish people. Remember the Song of Simeon which we sing at Night Prayer. The old Jewish man, Simeon, held the infant Jesus in His hands and he referred to the child Jesus with two titles: the Light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the Glory of God’s people, Israel. Jesus was born as the dawn of a new world, a new age, the age of this separation between the Jews as a kingdom of priests set apart as the recipients of divine revelation, through whom the Savior of the world would come–that time had come to an end. And the time for the salvation of the whole world, was at hand which Jesus spoke of when he preached, “the kingdom of God is at hand”. And Jesus was born, to be the light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory, or the crown jewel of the people, of Israel.
And then in the Gospel, St. Paul explains the “mystery of the gospel”, which is that the Jews and the Gentiles will be united in the person of Christ, who is Lord of all. St. Paul, in First Corinthians refers to Jesus with a new name, and that name is “Wisdom”. St. Paul names Jesus, Wisdom, “Christ, the Wisdom of God”.
In Christ, we have the perfection and fulfilment of philosophy, which is the pursuit of Wisdom. Philosophy ends in Christ, just as theology, divine revelation by which God is revealed, that revelation ends in Christ, because God is revealed, his name is Emmanuel–“God with us”–it’s the perfection, the end of divine revelation forever. Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish the law” (through which God was revealed), but rather, “I have come to fulfill it.”. He was the glory of the people of Israel, the end of divine revelation, but he is also the light of the world. The light to enlighten the Gentiles, the wisdom of God, the end of philosophy, and in Christianity, philosophy and theology come together.
So, I know that that’s a lot. It’s already 50 minutes. That’s probably a lot to take in. But I want you to see that Christianity is the, the end, or the goal of this ancient tradition, of philosophical investigation, of philosophical development. Christ is the end, the wisdom, the light of the world. And this is why the Gentiles quickly converted to Christianity, because they were led there by philosophy. When the gospel was preached to men who were Stoics it all made sense. Seneca, one of the most famous of the stoics Roman stoic, is said to have converted and become a Christian. And according to tradition, was in correspondence with St. Paul. Seneca became a Christian when the gospel came, and how do I know this? I know this because St. Jerome wrote of Seneca and included him in his book on the lives of illustrious men. St. Jerome, a doctor of the church, counted Seneca as a Christian, a convert from Stoicism, to Christianity, because the Stoic could see in Christ, the fulfillment of everything that they sought through their philosophy.
The time was fulfilled, philosophy, prepared the world for the gospel. Alexander prepared the world, for the Apostolic Church, for the writing of the New Testament books. And the Roman Empire, established the peace through which the gospel would be able to spread from Judea, to the ends of the world.
Now, I know that there is persecution in the Roman Empire of Christians, because Christianity was a radical thing. Christianity turned the world upside down. And we have to remember that early Christianity was filled with miraculous demonstrations of God’s power. The apostles were not just popular conference speakers or successful publishers. They were miracle workers. They were healing people raising the dead performing miracles. everywhere they went, there was power. In the Christian message, as it went through the Roman Empire, St. Paul said, “The kingdom of God is not of talk, but of power.”, and the Roman world was overwhelmed by this power. The natural response of the governing authorities was to try to control it and suppress it. But they found that the harder they tried to stamp it out, the more it spread, that there was power in the Christian people. Pliny wrote that the Christians could not be made to deny Christ. They knew there was something different about the Christian people. And eventually this led to the conversion of Constantine, where all persecution ended, and Christianity was permitted to spread freely throughout the Roman Empire. And eventually, Constantine himself converted and was baptized at the end of his life. The Empire itself became Christian.
Now, that’s a lot of history. As Christians living 1700 years later, I’m afraid that modern movements in religion and philosophy have disconnected us from that ancient history, from that tradition, from that steady stream of philosophy and divine revelation. We’ve been disconnected from it. Most people, most Christian adults, are almost entirely ignorant of it. Their education has almost nothing to do with it. And they stand in 2021, like I said, 1700 years removed from the conversion of Constantine, and they have in their souls a vague sense of what needs to be done, very vague like a pilot light, just barely staying lit, flickering. This sense that something needs to be done; something is is wrong in modern society; something was lacking from their education. There’s just this darkness and uncertainty about what to do. And yet there’s a certainty that something does need to be done. And you’ve got 1,000,001 people suggesting to Christians, that it’s their product or their school, their program, their book, their whatever, that is the solution–and it’s all false. It’s all false.
Christians, because they are actually made to be Christians by grace, by a kind of divine revelation, cling to theology, they cling to religion, and they imagine that religion is what is necessary. They imagine that because it’s grace that makes them Christians, in this disconnected secular world we live in, that the knowledge that they gain, the thoughts that they have, the duties that they have, are the means by which this salvation is passed on to their children. It’s as if they want to share the fruits of the Holy Spirit with their children, as if they were transferable. But the problem is that the fruits of the Spirit come from the Spirit. We can’t make our children bear the fruits of the spirit that they do not possess. And what Christians do is they imagine that if they just immerse themselves in religion, the problems will be fixed, immerse themselves in religion, more and more and more religion, will make the problems go away. And yet when we look, we find that this does not work. Immersing ourselves in more and more and more religion does not work. Because God never intended for man to be immersed in religion. Nor did God Himself ever immerse man in religions. In fact, God taught the opposite. He teaches the opposite of what Christians do.
God always established religion as something sacred, separate. In ancient Israel, he separated his priests, clothed them differently. And if anyone who was common touched a sacred thing, he would die because God wished to make it clear that He is sacred. When he spoke to Moses, He said, “Take your sandals off, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”. God is referred to by St. Paul in the book of Hebrews as a “consuming fire”, the terrifying eternal power. That’s how God revealed himself to man from the beginning: a terror. God spoke through prophets, and made it clear that His revelation was not common. He spoke only through his appointed prophets, and he marked his prophets by granting them miraculous powers. The miracles proved the prophets, and anyone who spoke in the name of a prophet or presented himself as a prophet falsely was to be put to death, because religion is not common, Religion is sacred. Jesus told his disciples “Do not cast your pearls before swine”, and “Do not give that which is holy to the dogs.”.
We never start with religion. Religion is holy. Religion is sacred. Religion is set apart. One has to learn how to approach God in sacred things before he begins handling sacred things, just think about it.
Catholics will complain, in modern circles, that “extraordinary ministers”, lay people who are not consecrated, are allowed to handle the holy things of the Eucharist. People are opposed to that, because they say the bread and the wine of the Eucharist are the body and blood of Christ. These are sacred things. They should not be handled by common people, because to do so is profane. And they’re, right. Well, the principle is right, but the application is not right, because these are people who are “set apart” for this ministry and approved for that ministry by bishops whose authority it is to grant such approval to separate individuals for the sake of that ministry. The principle however, is true.
But these people don’t apply that principle to their own children. For example, if I have a rosary that’s been blessed, that rosary is a sacred object. Should I take that sacred object and hand it to my toddler? No, because it’s sacred, the child doesn’t understand what’s sacred, the child will not respect it as sacred, the child will stick it in his mouth, or throw it on the floor, or stand on it or sit on it or pull it apart. The child doesn’t understand what’s sacred. And yet the same parents who complain about Eucharistic ministers will hand rosaries to their children who have no regard for what’s sacred. Actually, we’ll just make cheaper versions of rosaries. We’ll make them out of plastic beads and strings, or maybe even out of some Legos. How cute. Now, the children can have some cheap, sacred things. And if they break them, it won’t be a big deal because at least they’re not expensive, gold rosaries. We’ll just get some cheap, sacred objects for the kids to play with. And they and we do the same thing with Bibles. We say this is the word of God. This book is carried into the church. in procession is kissed before it’s read in the church. This book contains the word of God and yet we take cheap paperback copies and hand them to children who doodle in them, who drop them on the floor, who throw them in a bag, etc.
We’re profaning sacred things. Why? Because religion cannot come first.
Religion cannot come first. That’s not how it works. And this is to bring me back to the topic of this talk, which is that education should be based on philosophy. The focus of education should be philosophy. It should be secular, in the sense that we have a lot to learn through natural means, which is how God in history has willed for man as a race, to learn them. And it’s been throughout history, that God has placed the sacred things into the souls, and into the hands even of men who were first prepared for them by natural means.
Yes, there are times where God prepares men for them, by supernatural means, but that’s even more reason to withhold them–the exception proves the rule. Religion is not learned by the profanation of sacred things. Religion is not learned by immersion in religion. Religion is learned over time, throughout life, in an incremental way, where a student I should say, a child grows and is educated, to understand sacred things, and then to receive them as sacred things.
I say a lot of this from experience, because I’ve always been upset by how my own children have treated sacred things because I didn’t treat them like that. I was not raised in church. I was not raised handling sacred things. I knew I was a street kid. And the few times that I went to church, I remember walking into church, and feeling like I was entering a different world world, where I didn’t belong. I was a street kid. And when I went into church, everything about it was different. It smelled different. It sounded different. The people dressed different. It felt different. Everything was different. At home, there were televisions, sports, loud music, joking. At church, it was dark, quiet, mysterious, kind of spooky. I knew that there was something different. And when I grew up, I had that sense of sacredness in my soul, because of that experience, because of how rare religious things were to me. The priests were mysterious men that I didn’t know anything about. They weren’t like my school teachers. They weren’t like my sports coaches. They weren’t like my family members. They were different. They were sacred. They were set apart. The nuns were different. They were sacred. They were set apart and I was a street kid. I knew that there was a gap between me and these religious people between my house and this church, between my school and this church. Between my clothes, what I wore If my mom did bring me to Easter Sunday Mass, as opposed to my ordinary clothes, there was a difference. I didn’t have a rosary. I didn’t have a Bible. I didn’t have anything religious. I was a street kid.
And I remember going to CCD classes after public school got out and getting prepared for First Communion because it was sacred. We had to prepare. We had to get a special suit to wear. On that day, we had to learn all of the details of the Liturgy of how to do this, and do this, and hold your hands, how to walk, what to say when the priest did this–everything was foreign. It was sacred. And I remember that after I received communion, I was given a missal and a Rosary as a gift. And I never would have thought in a million years to play with that Rosary or even to use it. My mother put it away. It was sacred. The suit came off, and I went back to regular life. Church was sacred. I understood that separation. And I think that to this day, that experience me being kept away from sacred things is what is largely responsible for my reference towards them, even today, and I have erred in making my children too comfortable with sacred things, imagining that I was doing them a favor, by putting them into common contact with things that I was never in contact with. Thinking that I was doing them a favor by immersing them in religion. And I’m talking about my oldest children who were raised as I was in the process of converting to Catholicism. I thought that by immersing them, I would be helping them.
But I found that the opposite was true. The more I made them feel comfortable with religious things, the more easily they were disrespected. Problems existed in my children that didn’t exist in me because I would never think of those things as common. I still don’t to this day. I don’t criticize priests, because priests are sacred. I don’t walk around with a Rosary on my neck or stuffed in my pocket, because a Rosary is a blessed, religious item. It’s sacred. I don’t throw my Bible in the car, or stick it on my dashboard, because it’s a sacred book. It’s not like my other books. And I noticed my children didn’t have the same sense of the sacred and that it was my fault. Because I raised them in a way that was unlike the way I was raised.
And, more generally speaking, I was raising my children in a way that the human race was not prepared for the gospel. The Jews were immersed in religion, and they were always disrespectful towards it. They were a stiff necked, stubborn people who ended up losing it in the main. The Gentiles were denied the sacred things, and they received them. And today, the center of the Christian world is in Rome, not Jerusalem. And in Rome, it’s sacred.
And this is why I believe very strongly that to raise the best children we can as Christians–and notice I didn’t say to raise Christian children, because that brings this whole phenomenon of salvation and conversion and grace into some kind of human power, something that we can just will or do by our own effort–and it’s not, it’s not.
So. it’s irreverent for us to even imagine that we can give to our children, the fruits of the Spirit that we received by faith in Christ, a faith that we can’t explain. I can’t explain why I believe and my two sisters don’t. I can’t explain why I believe, and my father doesn’t. I can’t explain that. I can’t explain why I believe or what caused me to turn away from everything in my life and seek to be a Christian. I can’t explain what caused it. It was grace. And there’s no way that I can give that to another person.
And that’s not our duty as parents, even though it’s common to talk about this idea that when you give birth as a Catholic and baptize the kid, that the kid may reasonably be expected to now grow up and become a saint–that’s totally false. The baptized child is a member of the Church is a Christian, by way of Baptism, but that child has to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, has to bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit by his own will, collaborating with grace, in his own freedom. And that’s a process that takes our entire lives. Constantine, considered one of the heroes of Christianity, wasn’t baptized until he was about to die, not because he was weird, but because that’s how salvation works. Our children, when we read the story of the prodigal son, we get no idea that some child is raised to be a Christian and bears all the fruits of Christianity at age 18. We see a person going through life, going through experiences, going through trials, being worked on and taught, and discipled by God Himself, through life, over time prepared for the gospel in the same way that the human race was prepared, over time, for the gospel.
Education, like human experience, should focus on philosophy, on learning about God by natural means, which even a child can appreciate, because all philosophy is communicated to and by reason and observation. No one can reject philosophy. They can’t claim that they don’t see it, or that they don’t understand it. But religion can be truly rejected because the grace, or the experience, or the prior knowledge, which is required, is not present.
This morning, my wife and I were discussing this because as I was reading Seneca, in my own private philosophical reading, I see just how much is present in philosophy that Christians don’t understand. And all of the vexation and failures in modern Christian culture are caused not by a lack of access to religious information or religious activity, but because of an ignorance of philosophy that’s unnatural–contrary to our nature.
We say that God created us in His likeness and gave us Reason. Well, reason has to do with philosophy. And Christians are basically not educated to be human first, and Christians second. They’re raised to be some kind of inhuman celebrant at religious activities. I think this is the overall vexation that exists in Christian culture today, that it’s basically, what Christ criticized among the Jews. It’s people trying to clean the outside of the cup, people trying to whitewash or paint the sepulchre and make it look like something holy, when in fact, it’s full of corruption. It’s dirty inside. Jesus said, “First clean out the inside of the cup.”.
We need to be truly and really made wise and there’s so much wisdom that’s to be gained by means of study, and reasoning, and observation and experience that Christians neglect in education. And they tried to replace this natural education with an immersion an unnatural and irrational immersion in religion, and it doesn’t work. Yes, it may work in exceptional individuals, but that’s simply the work of God’s grace. And we can find people raised out of the worst circumstances, by grace. That’s not that has nothing to do with education, though. I was given a public school education, and was raised on the streets by unbelievers. I would never recommend that as a means of becoming a classical Catholic schoolmaster as an adult (as I am). I became what I am today, by grace, as I said. I can’t explain how the changes in my life took place, and I would never credit them to any human beings. I would never recommend my life to someone else as a means of formation.
When we talk about formation, we talk about what is in our power to do, and it is not in our power to give grace, to infuse grace, into the souls of our children. But it is in our power to teach them philosophy, to prepare them, for the gospel, to prepare them for divine revelation, to prepare them for grace, just as God through philosophy, prepared the world for the coming of his Son, the “:ight to enlighten the Gentiles”.
I think what’s missing in Christian education is not religion. There’s plenty of religion, and it’s very ineffective for reasons that I’ve explained. What’s missing in education is the work of preparing for the gospel. And remember, the things that were in place before Christ came to philosophy was established. The language was established. The peace and order was established, and into that context, in the fulfillment of time, Christ was manifested as the end of the law, the end of divine revelation, and the end of philosophy.
I don’t think we will raise children who are prepared for true religion as long as we neglect classical education. And I don’t say this because I teach classical education. Rather, I studied classical education, because I understood this. And mysteriously, stupidly, when I had the opportunity to raise my own children as a young parent, I ignored the lesson of my own experience. And I did so in some way consciously because I remember times where it was as if God was telling me what to do, and I didn’t follow it. I tried to immerse in religion. I tried to add more religion, and it had the opposite effect that I intended. And yet, yet, in my adult children’s lives, the influence of the philosophical instruction they received, stuck and influenced their lives, and protected them from a million evils. Philosophy stuck. Religion didn’t. Philosophy stuck. And I believe that, over time, that philosophy, combined with the experience of my children will prepare in them a soul that’s ready for the gospel.
I think that the timeline of salvation is screwed up by this artificial modern timeline for education. Because when a child becomes an adult, we think that they should at that time be doing this or be thinking or believing. And the actual order in which salvation comes about in us, is always different. I became a Christian, when I was 18 years old, willingly voluntarily. I became a Catholic when I was 30 years old. Everyone’s personal journey to God is different. And we can’t subject our kids’ spiritual lives to some artificial school calendar, or graduation date. It has nothing to do with their spiritual life, which is ultimately between them as adults and God.
Our duty as parents is to prepare them for the gospel. And we don’t prepare people for the reception of sacred things, by immersing them in sacred things. We do not give that which is holy to the dogs. We do not cast pearls before swine. We have to teach our children to know themselves. We have to teach them about God in ways that are natural and reasonable, and prepare them for the reception of spiritual things with the example in our mind of God, doing the same thing, in his own Providence, governing the world, through time.
And so this is why I say the Christian education needs to focus on philosophy, and not on religion, and we as Christians, because most of us have never been prepared except by grace through our experiences in extraordinary ways, none of us have been prepared in the normal, natural way by philosophy and study, we also have to learn these things. We have to immerse ourselves in true philosophy. And one of the advantages that we have is that we stand at the end of philosophy and can go right to the final sources, we can go right to Aristotle and study the finished philosophy. We can go right to Seneca and study to perfection or near perfection of moral philosophy. And we have access to this today. We need to not only immerse ourselves in it, and realize that attempts to immerse ourselves more and more in religion causes more problems than it solves. We need to immerse ourselves in philosophy to take away this haunting sense that something is lacking.
Stop trying to blame it on the priesthood or the churches if the Church is failing to do what it’s supposed to, there’s a different problem. The Church is doing what it’s supposed to do. There’s nothing wrong with the liturgy, there’s nothing wrong with the sacraments. The Church is not the problem.
We have not been prepared for the Christian life, by secular education, that neglected all philosophy, and didn’t prepare us because it’s driven by false modern theories and ideas that have disconnected us from that philosophical tradition that prepared the world for the gospel. We were not prepared for Christianity.
And while it may be true, that we may be safe in the grace of God, and when we die, may go to heaven (which is wonderful), we have a life to live that may be 70 or 80 years long, that may have all kinds of spiritual significance and influences–and could cost us our salvation.
And so instead of promising ourselves that everything will be fine, because in the end, we’ll receive a reward, we’re ignoring the reality that our day-by-day experience is telling us that something’s wrong. And the problems caused by this deficiency, could lead us out of the faith as it’s doing, and has done in many, many Christian people’s lives.
And this is what my wife and I were talking about today. How, through my classical studies, I see my lack of philosophical training, as the real source of problems in my life, as a parent, as a husband, as a man. The problem in my life is not religion. The problem in my life is that I’m not prepared to live the Christian life between now and my death. That’s the problem. And that I believe, needs to be our concern in the education of our children. I often pray and say, “Lord, I understand salvation. I understand the gospel. What I don’t understand is what to do between now and the end of my life.” It’s this life that vexes me and confuses me. And I’m looking to religion for the answer, when religion was never intended to be the answer, for our life in this world, we were given senses and reason, and philosophy to guide us.
I’m a member of Phi Beta Kappa. That was an award I won as a college student. Phi Beta Kappa, stands for a motto in Greek which says, “philosophy is the guide of life”. I know that. And yet, I don’t seem to know that I don’t practice that. I practice it more than most, but still, it still hasn’t dawned on me yet that religion really doesn’t have theanswers for the day to day practical problems and issues in my life as a Christian. Those answers are found in natural and moral and rational philosophy.
The way of salvation is easy. Christ has done everything. All we need to do is believe the gospel–but He said that to people who were already prepared, by natural means, to live this Christian life. That’s why, today, we can have Christian liturgy and no Christian culture. Because there’s no philosophy. We can have Christian liturgy but have no Christian education. We can have Christian liturgy, but no Christian family life. We can have Christian liturgy, but no Christian business, or political philosophy–just silly, gossipy party politics, because there’s no real philosophy there.
Christian education needs to focus on philosophy, not religion. Sounds controversial, but it’s not.
I’m not saying that religion is not important. The Church teaches us how we’re to initiate our children into the life of the church and the parish community. But notice the term is initiate, not immerse. Initiate. Introduce. The education of our children needs to be classical, linguistic, philosophical, not just religious.
In the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, I’m going to be working to make this more and more the focus of our work. We’re going to focus more and more on the linguistic studies and philosophical studies. I think we’re going to be able to remedy this problem, and I hope you join us in it.
God bless your studies,
William C. Michael
Classical Liberal Arts Academy