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XV. The Goal of Education

Almost 2400 years ago, Aristotle explained that happiness is the chief end of all human actions–and, of course, education.

Thus far, we have surveyed the history of the classical liberal arts before studying education in the modern era. Do not think these topics have been covered in any sufficient detail! You have received only the simplest introduction.

What you should realize at this point is that our challenge in the Classical Liberal Arts Academy is not one of discovery or invention, but a challenge of restoring what was lost. Nevertheless, we must begin with a careful examination of the goal of the classical liberal arts curriculum. In subsequent lessons, we will work through each of the objectives necessary for the achievement of this goal.

The Goal of Education

Obviously, the goal of education is to lead (Lat. ducere) children to fulfill the purpose for which man was created. This purpose is basic knowledge for any catechized child:

“God made us to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world; and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”

However, the difficulty of this purpose–in practice–has to do with the five letter word in the second part of that sentence: happy.

If you were to make a habit of asking people to define happiness, you would find widespread disagreement. In fact, this has been the case throughout all of human history and it was to find the definition of happiness that the study of wisdom (i.e., Philosophy) originally began. Philosophical schools were established based on the definition they gave to this word. The situation is no different today. As we move from school to school today, will find that they differ based on the definition of happiness to which they subscribe. Every school is pursuing happiness with all its might–they simply disagree on what that happiness consists of.

We need to establish a definition of happiness that can provide us with a clearly defined goal for the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. Once this definition is established–all of the objectives of the school on the day-to-day level will work themselves out quite easily. We will do this in this lesson by comparing and contrasting the definitions of happiness given throughout history along with those today.

Happiness = Good Luck

Throughout much of classical literature, we find happiness spoken of as a matter of luck–in fact, the poets and historians would nearly define it as good luck. Here is a selection from the classical historian Herodotus, wherein he narrates (imaginatively, of course) the famous discussion between Croesus (king of Lydia in Asia Minor) and Solon (the Athenian law-giver):

Croesus afterwards, in the course of many years, brought under his sway almost all the nations to the west of the Halys. When all these conquests had been added to the Lydian empire, and the prosperity of Sardis was now at its height, there came thither, one after another, all the sages of Greece living at the time, and among them Solon, the Athenian.

Croesus received him as his guest, and lodged him in the royal palace. On the third or fourth day after, he bade his servants conduct Solon over his treasuries, and show him all their greatness and magnificence. When he had seen them all, and, so far as time allowed, inspected them, Croesus addressed this question to him. “Stranger of Athens, we have heard much of thy wisdom and of thy travels through many lands, from love of knowledge and a wish to see the world. I am curious therefore to inquire of thee, whom, of all the men that thou hast seen, thou deemest the most happy?” This he asked because he thought himself the happiest of mortals: but Solon answered him without flattery, according to his true sentiments, “Tellus of Athens, sire.” Full of astonishment at what he heard, Croesus demanded sharply, “And wherefore dost thou deem Tellus happiest?” To which the other replied,

“First, because his country was flourishing in his days, and he himself had sons both beautiful and good, and he lived to see children born to each of them, and these children all grew up; and further because, after a life spent in what our people look upon as comfort, his end was surpassingly glorious. In a battle between the Athenians and their neighbours near Eleusis, he came to the assistance of his countrymen, routed the foe, and died upon the field most gallantly. The Athenians gave him a public funeral on the spot where he fell, and paid him the highest honours.”

Thus did Solon admonish Croesus by the example of Tellus, enumerating the manifold particulars of his happiness. When he had ended, Croesus inquired a second time, who after Tellus seemed to him the happiest, expecting that at any rate, he would be given the second place.

“Cleobis and Bito were of Argive race; their fortune was enough for their wants, and they were besides endowed with so much bodily strength that they had both gained prizes at the Games. Also this tale is told of them:- There was a great festival in honour of the goddess Juno at Argos, to which their mother must needs be taken in a car. Now the oxen did not come home from the field in time: so the youths, fearful of being too late, put the yoke on their own necks, and themselves drew the car in which their mother rode. Five and forty furlongs did they draw her, and stopped before the temple. This deed of theirs was witnessed by the whole assembly of worshippers, and then their life closed in the best possible way. Herein, too, God showed forth most evidently, how much better a thing for man death is than life. For the Argive men, who stood around the car, extolled the vast strength of the youths; and the Argive women extolled the mother who was blessed with such a pair of sons; and the mother herself, overjoyed at the deed and at the praises it had won, standing straight before the image, besought the goddess to bestow on Cleobis and Bito, the sons who had so mightily honoured her, the highest blessing to which mortals can attain. Her prayer ended, they offered sacrifice and partook of the holy banquet, after which the two youths fell asleep in the temple. They never woke more, but so passed from the earth. The Argives, looking on them as among the best of men, caused statues of them to be made, which they gave to the shrine at Delphi.”

When Solon had thus assigned these youths the second place, Croesus broke in angrily,

“What, stranger of Athens, is my happiness, then, so utterly set at nought by thee, that thou dost not even put me on a level with private men?”

“Oh! Croesus,” replied the other, “thou askedst a question concerning the condition of man, of one who knows that the power above us is full of jealousy, and fond of troubling our lot. A long life gives one to witness much, and experience much oneself, that one would not choose. Seventy years I regard as the limit of the life of man. In these seventy years are contained, without reckoning intercalary months, twenty-five thousand and two hundred days. Add an intercalary month to every other year, that the seasons may come round at the right time, and there will be, besides the seventy years, thirty-five such months, making an addition of one thousand and fifty days. The whole number of the days contained in the seventy years will thus be twenty-six thousand two hundred and fifty, whereof not one but will produce events unlike the rest. Hence man is wholly accident. For thyself, oh! Croesus, I see that thou art wonderfully rich, and art the Lord of many nations; but with respect to that whereon thou questionest me, I have no answer to give, until I hear that thou hast closed thy life happily. For assuredly he who possesses great store of riches is no nearer happiness than he who has what suffices for his daily needs, unless it so hap that luck attend upon him, and so he continue in the enjoyment of all his good things to the end of life. For many of the wealthiest men have been unfavoured of fortune, and many whose means were moderate have had excellent luck. Men of the former class excel those of the latter but in two respects; these last excel the former in many. The wealthy man is better able to content his desires, and to bear up against a sudden buffet of calamity. The other has less ability to withstand these evils (from which, however, his good luck keeps him clear), but he enjoys all these following blessings: he is whole of limb, a stranger to disease, free from misfortune, happy in his children, and comely to look upon. If, in addition to all this, he end his life well, he is of a truth the man of whom thou art in search, the man who may rightly be termed happy. Call him, however, until he die, not happy but fortunate. Scarcely, indeed, can any man unite all these advantages: as there is no country which contains within it all that it needs, but each, while it possesses some things, lacks others, and the best country is that which contains the most; so no single human being is complete in every respect- something is always lacking. He who unites the greatest number of advantages, and retaining them to the day of his death, then dies peaceably, that man alone, sire, is, in my judgment, entitled to bear the name of ‘happy.’ But in every matter it behoves us to mark well the end: for oftentimes God gives men a gleam of happiness, and then plunges them into ruin.”

Such was the speech which Solon addressed to Croesus, a speech which brought him neither largess nor honour. The king saw him depart with much indifference, since he thought that a man must be an arrant fool who made no account of present good, but bade men always wait and mark the end.

The message of Solon is a relatively good one, but it takes no theologian to find the troubles in this view of happiness. The gods are not “out to get us” and jealous of our success–although the spirits known by the Greeks may have been. (They didn’t make their religion up after all.) The gods are not seeking to bring us down whenever we rise up as the “Wheel of Fortune” suggests. We do not believe that happiness is a matter of chance and that there is no means of attaining happiness in any lasting way. This leads to an aimless life that blames all success and misery on fortune.

Believe it or not, this definition of happiness fills many schools. I have had many arguments with students who were taught that writing or singing was “a gift” that was received by chance, rather than an art that can be cultivated by the study of theory and the exercise of the mind and body. These students have been taught that the successes of men and women are not the result of their study and labor, but of random gifts, opportunities and connections along the way. In fact, when it comes to the arts, most modern schools take up the old idea that the gods send happiness and misery on whomever they please…whenever they please.

In the CLAA, we don’t accept this careless definition. It is true that many received gifts through birth, but it is equally true that many who make diligent use of art achieve more than those who merely possess yet do not cultivate their natural gifts. Happiness is is no way linked to these gifts or disadvantages, but to the management of them. This is why students must be taught the arts of every field of learning and given the opportunity to exercise themselves in them. As the Roman poet Virgil rightly sang, “Labor vincit omnia.” (Labor conquers all things.)

Happiness = Pleasure without Pain

In the modern world, happiness is broadly defined as the enjoyment of pleasure combined with the absence of pain. Happiness is considered to be an emotional state based on one’s condition at the moment. As that condition changes, happiness comes and goes. Those who hold this idea of happiness work to gain control over those factors that are judged to control happiness: wealth and health.

This hedonistic definition of happiness focuses on wealth because it is wealth that allows one to afford the pleasures of life. Rich foods, fine clothes, big houses, luxurious cars, exciting vacations, expensive conveniences–all depend on wealth.

Further, health is an obsession because the individual lives in dread of pain and seeks to avoid it at all costs. This, too, depends on wealth as the constant access to medicines and doctor visits requires either a lot of money or excellent “health insurance”. Here begins the concern for immunizations (whether the danger is real or not), here the routine “well visits” just to make sure pain is not coming, here the sanitation of home and hands, here the pain relievers and so on. Good and bad behavior is defined by its relation to health and wellness. Unprotected sex with many partners is bad because it exposes one to disease. “Safe sex” is promoted as an alternative since it reduces the risk of disease. Overeating is bad because it increases the risk of heart disease and digestive troubles. Lowering calorie intake, eating a wide variety of foods and increasing exercise are recommended as the alternative for “good” eating.

The school of the hedonist provides an education focused upon these goals: to gain wealth and be healthy. The school begins with the question: “What do our students need to be wealthy and healthy adults?” and the answers form the curriculum. This is the nature of public school education, which mirrors the “bread and circuses” of Roman times. Consider a philosophy statement from the NC state curriculum website:

“North Carolina educators seek to provide the most appropriate education possible for the diverse learners in the public schools of the state in order to prepare all students to become successful, contributing members of a 21st century society and global economy.”

When this philosophy works itself out into practical details, a constantly changing curriculum is required to keep up with a constantly changing society:

“Today, the challenge of education is to prepare students for a rapidly changing world. Students in modern society must be prepared to:

• compete in a global economy,
• understand and operate complex communication and information systems, and
• apply higher level thinking skills to make decisions and solve problems. American businesses seek students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the international marketplace of today’s information-based society. Whether at work or in post-secondary study, students must be able to apply what they’ve learned from their years of public schooling.”

Notice the ends of these studies: economy, business, marketplace, etc.. That is where the wealth is at. Unfortunately, we cannot say that Christians reject this philosophy or that Christian schools despise these goals. For most Christian schools, and among most homeschoolers, these are the goals save for some religious touches here and there.

In the CLAA, we reject this philosophy to its roots and deny that happiness is in any way dependent upon pleasure and the absence of pain. We deny that the marketplace and global economy determines what children should learn in school. We deny that education should be constantly changing to keep up with society. We are not hedonists.

Happiness = Diving Contemplation

Plato, in the Symposium (“The Dinner Party”), presents Socrates in a discussion which leads to the Platonic definition of happiness. Socrates recounts a lesson he learned from a woman, Diotima, on the nature of love and happiness. Love, Diotima says, desires what is good and happiness is the everlasting possession of good. Diotima explains as follows:

“He who has been instructed thus far in the things of love, and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession, when he comes toward the end will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty (and this, Socrates, is the final cause of all our former toils)-a nature which in the first place is everlasting, not growing and decaying, or waxing and waning; secondly, not fair in one point of view and foul in another, or at one time or in one relation or at one place fair, at another time or in another relation or at another place foul, as if fair to some and-foul to others, or in the likeness of a face or hands or any other part of the bodily frame, or in any form of speech or knowledge, or existing in any other being, as for example, in an animal, or in heaven or in earth, or in any other place; but beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things. He who from these ascending under the influence of true love, begins to perceive that beauty, is not far from the end. And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is. This, my dear Socrates, is that life above all others which man should live, in the contemplation of beauty absolute.”

This, of course, sounds wonderful and it was because of teaching like this that early Christians maintain the doctrines of Plato. St. Augustine even spent time explaining to the Christians how Plato was able to come so close to Christian truth, as you learned earlier in this course. Indeed it is the everlasting possession of what is good that we call happiness and ultimately (in this life) this happiness consists in the contemplation of the highest good (summum bonum)–God Himself.

From this definition of happiness, Plato builds his philosophy of education. Just before this sublime passage in the Symposium, he presents this, explaining the way to happiness:

“He who would proceed aright in this matter should begin in youth to visit beautiful forms; and first, if he be guided by his instructor aright, to love one such form only-out of that he should create fair thoughts; and soon he will of himself perceive that the beauty of one form is akin to the beauty of another; and then if beauty of form in general is his pursuit, how foolish would he be not to recognize that the beauty in every form is and the same! And when he perceives this he will abate his violent love of the one, which he will despise and deem a small thing, and will become a lover of all beautiful forms; in the next stage he will consider that the beauty of the mind is more honourable than the beauty of the outward form. So that if a virtuous soul have but a little comeliness, he will be content to love and tend him, and will search out and bring to birth thoughts which may improve the young, until he is compelled to contemplate and see the beauty of institutions and laws, and to understand that the beauty of them all is of one family, and that personal beauty is a trifle; and after laws and institutions he will go on to the sciences, that he may see their beauty, being not like a servant in love with the beauty of one youth or man or institution, himself a slave mean and narrow-minded, but drawing towards and contemplating the vast sea of beauty, he will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love of wisdom; until on that shore he grows and waxes strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the science of beauty everywhere.”

From this we can see how the Platonic philosophy of education began with Music and Gymnastics, where beautiful sounds and bodies were studied and then moved up into the liberal arts: Grammar, Dialectic, etc.. Plato sought to lead students by steps from the love of earthly beauty to the ultimate love of absolute Beauty in divine contemplation.

However, it is here where the Platonic doctrine fails. In stating that happiness consists in divine contemplation, Platonism is added to Buddhism as a system that teaches that happiness is a state of rest. God, however, is an agent, a working and active being. We as human beings have hands and feet and are capable of our own action and deeds. How then can we believe that the contemplation of God is better than the imitation of God? The inactivity of Platonism leads us to seek a still more perfect definition of happiness.

We find this definition of happiness in many schools. Everyone is zealous to talk about God, read about God, read about the saints, visit shrines and relics, watch Christian videos…but there is no concern for Christian action. The curriculum consists of a list of subjects of study, but no necessary practical objectives. This idle Christianity was that which St. James famously criticized, when he said, “Faith without works is dead.” Happiness is not limited to thoughts of God, but includes the imitation of god-like actions. Happiness is not found in a book or video.

Happiness = Eternal Beatitude

Aristotle, Plato’s greatest disciple, disagreed with his master’s all-or-nothing vision of happiness. According to Plato’s idea, only philosophers can experience human happiness for they alone have climbed the ladder of loves to reach the contemplative state which he identifies as happiness. Aristotle believed that happiness was relative, for not all men could attain to Plato’s ideal–which Aristotle agreed was the highest happiness possible for man. Therefore, Aristotle concluded that the majority of men in the world would have to be content with the inferior forms of happiness that were available through an active, ethically upright life. Men are to do the best with the highest faculty they are able to in this life: if not the soul, then the mind and the body.

Aristotle’s view approaches closest to the perfect Christian definition of happiness–but this is where the Catechism comes to our aid. Most Christians can recite the doctrine “God made us to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world; and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”, but the doctrine fails to make it much further than their lips. Those who are not aware of the ancient discussion which this Catechism teaching answers do not appreciate the details of it, but admit many things in their lives that this teaching contradicts.

What the Catechism is ultimately teaching us is that God intends for ALL human beings to enjoy perfect happiness–not only the philosophers, the healthy or the wealthy. The Hedonists see that the poor cannot afford to enjoy lives of health and wealth and therefore happiness must be the privilege of the wealthy. Plato and Aristotle realized that the majority of men couldn’t reach the highest happiness available in this world and therefore proposed that the rest must be content with whatever they can get. These philosophies were all limited by one important assumption: death is the end of human life. Thus, the Catechism identifies the Christian answer to the question of happiness: “to be happy with God forever in the next life”.

When Christ came into the world, He did not randomly drop in without regard for the rest of the world or for human history. He arrived “in the fullness of time” and that time is best understood as a the fullness of time philosophically. Aristotle had brought human wisdom as far as it could get without the revelation of the Word Himself with the final lessons. When Christ comes, he provides the final answer to the question of human happiness in the Sermon on the Mount, where he confounds all of the philosophers with the full revelation of the Kingdom of God.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart: they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice for your reward is very great in heaven.”

It is the last term that sets the truth apart from all that went before: in heaven. This transforms all of human life. Everything is redefined and reorganized. All of the former goals of human life are darkened by the shadow of the Kingdom of God. All of the former aversions of human life are enlightened by its rays. Happy are the poor? Happy are the meek and mourning? Happy are the hungry and thirsty? Happy are the persecuted and reviled? Yes! For the Kingdom of God is at hand. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains,

“The Beatitudes are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ’s disciples.” (CCC, 1717)

However, the implications of this doctrine of happiness are far more drastic than the differences in the definition itself. The Catechism explains:

“The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to see the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happines is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement–however beneficial it may be–such as science, technology and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love.”

How Happiness Directs True Christian Education

When we establish the true definition of happiness, we must direct education at it as at a target. We must fix our eyes upon it and let nothing else distract us. God has created us free to serve Him and we must preserve our freedom that we may not be robbed of the happiness God freely offers us.

Standing in the 21st century, however, we are not free. Families are enslaved by ideas and customs that are not directed at human happiness, but are the fruits of anti-Christian beliefs that undermine human happiness. In fact, we are in worse condition today than any Aristotelian or Platonist ever was. Modern society, because of its reliance upon the scientific method is hedonistic. This requires us to fix our eyes on the target even more–and to refuse to let the pressure around draw us away from it.

Our happiness being in God alone, we must do what He requires of us to enter into the Kingdom of God. Therefore, if the goal of education is to lead children to happiness, it may then be redefined as leading children into the kingdom of God. If they are fit for the kingdom of God, they have all happiness, whether they be rich, poor, famous, persecuted, healthy, sick, etc.. This is happiness and this is all that matters. We must establish our thoughts here because all that surrounds us aims at other ends. The obsession with college admission flows from imperfect views of happiness. Parents see wealth as the way to happiness and college admission as the way to wealth. This is not to be our focus.

The focus of true education, in light of the Christian definition of happiness, is on God Himself. It consists of three objectives, again, laid out for us in the Baltimore Catechism.

We Must Know God

The most simply understood path to the knowledge of God consists of the study of Sacred Scripture and of formal catechesis. St. Augustine defined for us the way to understand Scripture and it is through the same course of liberal arts studies that wise men employed throughout history. As we will see, this is taught explicitly in the CLAA’s Biblical Studies program. Catechesis is provided formally through the Church’s Baltimore Catechism, which contains a complete and systematic presentation of the Christian faith.

Students are encouraged to pray the Act of Faith as part of their daily prayers:

“O my God! I firmly believe that Thou art one God in three divine persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that thy divine Son became man and died for our sins and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, who canst neither deceive nor be deceived. Amen.”

We Must Serve God

However, the knowledge of God is not limited to book study. Our desire is intimate, experiential knowledge. This naturally leads to the second objective. Entrance into the kingdom of God is the means of our true happiness and this entrance is guarded by the judgment seat of Christ. To enter the kingdom God, we must obey the commandments of God. Thus, no education is true Christian education that is not active in training children to serve God by obeying His commandments.

In the CLAA, the commandments of God are studied in the Catechism and later in Moral Theology. The goal of these courses is to provide children with a clear understanding of the will of God.

In addition to the study of the commandments, the CLAA works diligently to teach parents how to order their homes to allow children to obey God. This begins with regular prayer, which is why the CLAA promotes the Liturgy of the Hours among families. We work to discourage worldly activities and distractions that keep children from serving God and allow bad habits to grow in them. We discourage pressure parents place on children to participate in too many activities, to focus on secular careers and to be impressive in the eyes of the world, and teach them to protect the freedom of the child to serve God today and for the rest of his life. We provide opportunities for students to learn about Catholic missions work and to participate in it as a family and as individuals. All of this seeks to motivate children to serve God that they may enter the kingdom of God.

Students are encouraged to pray the Act of Contrition as part of their daily prayers as it stirs us up to serve the Lord fully:

“O my God! I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest my sins. Because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and worthy of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.”

We Must Love God

Jesus said, “Those who are forgiven much, love much.” and this challenges us to recognize self-examination, confession and penance as very important components in cultivating the love of God. Love does not need to be taught when a child is well catechized, well-studied in the Scriptures and active in the service of God. Diligent use of the sacrament of Reconciliation will help to foster the student’s sense of the greatness of his sin and the readiness of God’s mercy to forgive. We see here the great importance of a faithful Confessor in the education of the child. A holy Confessor, by helping the child to see the greatness of his sin and the great mercy of God, can thereby inspire in the child a great love for God. As St. John teaches us, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

Students are encouraged to pray the Act of Love as part of their daily prayers:

“O my God! I love Thee above all things, with my whole heart and soul because Thou art all good and worthy of all my love. I love my neighbor as myself for the love of Thee. I forgive all who have injured me, and ask pardon of all whom I have injured. Amen.”

We Must Hope in God

Hope is the confidence that happiness is close at hand. As we have learned, our happiness is not to be found in this life, but the hope that we have of entering into that happiness is a source of great joy and comfort in this life. When temptations come upon us, when tribulations come, we must hope in the everlasting beatitude that God has promised to those who know, love and serve Him. We must encourage ourselves and our students with the comfort that St. Paul offered the Christians in his care:

“The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come.” (Romans 8:18)

Students are encouraged to pray the Act of Hope as part of their daily prayers:

“O my God! Relying on thy almighty power and infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of all my sins, the help of Thy grace, and the life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer. Amen.”


Having studied the history of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy, we have in this lesson delved into the goal of all education: Happiness. We looked at the three major definitions of happiness before Christ taught us the truth. Happiness is the eternal enjoyment of God in the kingdom of Heaven. It is accessible to all men, but must be sought with the whole heart, soul, mind and strength.