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XVI. The Means to True Happiness

In our last lesson, we discussed the true goal of education. We said that it is happiness–but not “happiness” poorly defined, or “happiness” according to the lying imaginations of fallen men. The goal of education is true happiness; the happiness for which man was created by God; the happiness which alone answers to the eternal nature of the human soul and the reality of the misery of a fallen race. The goal of education is not college admission or employment as though education were a ladder to temporal health and wealth. Happiness is far more mysterious than this for many healthy men are miserable and many suffering men are full of joy. M16any wealthy men are contemplating suicide and many poor men are singing and dancing. Education, then, cannot be aimed at the acquisition of things which are not essential to happiness.

We learned that this true happiness is available to all human beings, but is available in heaven, not necessarily on earth. On earth, we have four objectives to focus on that will enable us to enjoy God forever in heaven:

  • we must know God
  • we must love God
  • we must serve God
  • we must hope in God

These four objectives are inseparable because we cannot love or serve a God we do not know. There is no use knowing a God we do not love and there is no motivation to serve a God we do not love. We must know and love and serve God that we may earn the happiness He has prepared for us in heaven and promises to bless our good intentions. This is our life’s work as individual Christians, as spouses and as parents. Education is nothing more than bringing our children along with us in fulfilling these objectives that we all may attain to the goal: eternal happiness in the presence of God. In fact, the word pedagogy, literally means “child leading”.

The question that faces us now is how we can turn these objectives into annual, monthly, weekly, daily and hourly tasks. After all, we must get these objectives down on the ground where we can work on them! In understanding this, you will understand what the CLAA is seeking to achieve in its educational program. It is not a college preparatory program. It is not a means of preparing students to participate competitively in constantly changing global economy. It is a means of leading children to know, love and serve God at the most practical level.

Means of Knowing God

As soon as we begin to consider how we are to come to know God, we find ourselves immersed in a mystery. How can a creature know its creator? Can a house “know” the man who designed and built it? Can a computer “know” the programmer who creates and controls it? A created thing, by its very nature as a creature, is inferior to its creator and can know only what its nature allows it to. God tells us plainly that we cannot know him in any comprehensive way as we know a plant or an animal. To the arrogance of men who presume to know Him he asks:

“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Didst thou since thy birth command the morning, and shew the dawning of the day its place? Hast thou entered into the depths of the sea, and walked in the lowest parts of the deep? Have the gates of death been opened to thee, and hast thou seen the darksome doors? Hast thou considered the breadth of the earth? Tell me, if thou knowest all things? Didst thou know then that thou shouldst be born? and didst thou know the number of thy days? Dost thou know the order of heaven, and canst thou set down the reason thereof on the earth? Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that an abundance of waters may cover thee? Canst thou send lightnings, and will they go, and will they return and say to thee: Here we are? Who hath put wisdom in the heart of man? Who can declare the order of the heavens, or who can make the harmony of heaven to sleep?” (Job 39-40)

It is clear that we can know of God only what He reveals to us. The question, then, is this: What has God made knowable to man of Himself?

The Faculty of Reason

First, God generously gave to man the faculty of Reason. Reason naturally combines information received through the mind and senses to form judgments that then are combined with other judgments to form syllogisms (arguments). Syllogisms then are combined with syllogisms to form whole systems of knowledge. This faculty was freely given to men by God and therefore man does this as naturally as a baby nurses after birth. Man learns by the action of reason working on information perceived through the senses.

Included within the faculty is the conscience. The Church describes conscience for us as follows:

“Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed…It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law.” (CCC, 1778)

This gift of Reason then is a compass which God has given to man to direct him not only to truth but also to moral goodness. Inasmuch as truth and moral goodness cannot be separated from God, Reason is a gift that leads men to know God.

The Message of Creation

Second, in creating the world, God designed the world in such a way that reasoning man (homo sapiens) couldn’t look at the created world for any amount of time with having his thoughts quickly run towards the knowledge of its Creator. Psalm 18 explains this beautifully:

“The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands. Day to day uttereth speech, and night to night sheweth knowledge. There are no speeches nor languages, where their voices are not heard. Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world.”

St. Paul likewise explains:

“That which is known of God is manifest in [men]. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. His eternal power also and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.” (Romans 1)

Thus, the physical world around us–the earth, heavens, plants, animals and other human beings–has a message for us and that message can lead us reasoning creatures to the knowledge of God.

Human Experience

Third, God has given to man the opportunity to learn about the world and its creator by experience. God has allotted to men 70 or so years to live and learn by experience. For this reason, old men in the ancient world were generally said to be wise. The book of Sirach provides us with the balance needed to rightly appreciate the value of experience:

“O how comely is judgment for a grey head, and for ancients to know counsel! O how comely is wisdom for the aged, and understanding and counsel to men of honour! Much experience is the crown of old men, and the fear of God is their glory.”

Unfortunately, before this passage, Sirach warned:

“The things that thou hast not gathered in thy youth,
how shalt thou find them in thy old age?”

Therefore old age alone is no proof of understanding. The true benefits of experience are gained through man’s ability to remember and record his experiences for future generations to benefit from. Thus, an old man can journal his experience of many years for his great-grandchildren to learn from in a few hours. Reason assists in allowing men to summarize and teach the achievements of the past in a systematic way to allow the young to learn from the old very efficiently.

The message of human experience teaches very clearly that God is alive and active in the world, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Heb. 11:6).

Divine Revelation

If man were left to these three sources of knowledge: Reason, Creation and Experience, he could learn a great deal about the true God–and God intended it to be so. As St. Paul said, even without any divine revelation there would be no excuse for man’s ignorance of God’s power and presence in the affairs of men.

However, man is not alone with Reason, Creation and experience to seek the knowledge of God. There are evil influences in the world, beginning with the devil and going on to include evil spirits, evil people and false appearances. Moreover, man is plagued by concupiscence and must overcome it if he will make good use of the faculties and sources of truth that God has made available to him. Many do not resist the temptations that surround them and thus fall into great confusion and error. In the worst cases, men go as far as to call “good” what is evil, and “evil” what is good. Such a condition results when men are under such control of their desires and emotions that they will abandon reason and even experience to judge and act in contradiction to the truth.

Aware of the malice and shrewdness of the devil, the difficulty of “hearing” the message of the heavens and the brevity of human life, God was moved by His great mercy to give man assistance in learning the truth about himself, about God and about the world. God has done this and continues to do this through divine revelation. The Church teaches us:

“It pleased God, in His goodness and wisdom, to reveal Himself and to make known the mystery of His will…that men should have access to the Father, through Christ…in the Holy Spirit and thus become sharers in the divine nature.” (CCC 51)

Education for the Knowledge of God

As we reasoned above, inasmuch as happiness–our own and that of all men–consists in enjoying eternal life in the presence of God, we must fulfill the four objectives by which that happiness can be attained. We must know, love and serve God. Let us concentrate on the first objective: knowing God.

We learned above that there are four means by which man is able to acquire knowledge of God:

  1. Reason
  2. Creation
  3. Experience
  4. Revelation

As far as our concern in this course focuses on education, we are forced to answer the question: How is education arranged to meet this objective through these four means?

Obviously, Christian history suggests to us that the classical liberal arts curriculum is the form of education best suited to meet our objective using these means…but how so? That is the question we must answer if we would understand the classical liberal arts rightly and appreciate them as they deserve.

The Development of Reason

First, though man is endowed with the faculty of reason, it is like a muscle in that it must be developed and strengthened to do all that it was designed to do. Human beings are said to arrive at the age of reasoning at around 7 years of age, which is when formal education generally begins. The education of a human must, first of all, develop and strengthen the faculty of reason in the child as it the primary instrument by which God intended that child to seek truth and goodness. Now, looking back over the history of the development of the classical liberal arts, we can see how the arts developed and how they related to Reason, Creation, Experience and Revelation.

It would seem that as Reason is native to man, that education would begin with the study of reason. However, as men sought to study reason over time, it became clear that the biggest obstacle to sound reasoning was the accurate use of language. Therefore, Grammar developed as the first of arts to be mastered. Once students were able to articulate complex ideas in all their shades and distinctions, they were ready to enter into the study of Reasoning. This study began with dialectical reasoning, which dealt with matters that were normally debated by men and about which all men have opinions. This was developed in the main by Socrates in Greece in the 4th century BC as he–at the cost of his own life–sought truth. He found that in most cases, men’s disagreements were caused by sloppy language and careless articulation of their ideas. Men often contradicted themselves and were easily confused by men who were cunning with words. Socrates brought attention to the importance of the study of Dialectic and over time, the use of man’s reason was able, in a short amount of time, to grow much stronger than it had been in times past.

The problem was soon realized that while Dialectic allowed men to reason out many complex truths, persuading other men of their truth was far more complicated. The judgment and actions of men are not influenced by reason (logos) alone but also by emotion (pathos) and respect of persons (ethos). Thus, a false idea taught by an impressive man often had more influence than truth itself. An emotional man would act contrary to reason under the influence of his feelings. Reason alone wasn’t enough to lead other men in well-doing. Therefore, the art of persuasion developed, called “Rhetoric”, after the Greek word for a speaker: rhetor. Wise men studied all of the factors that made some men more persuasive than others and eventually produced a system of principles and rules that would allow one to persuade by art even when nature didn’t help him.

These three arts–Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric–all pertain to the use of Reason in the pursuit of truth and happiness.

The Study of Creation

Since the beginning of the world, reason and experience allowed men to discern the order and purpose present in creation. The sun did not rise and set at random. The weather did not not change in an unpredictable way. Men naturally sought to discover that order so that he might live in harmony with the “music of the spheres”. The ancients knew that the fundamental concept that ordered the world was number. Therefore, the study of the art of numbers, was pursued since the beginning of time.

Arithmetic was the first study, as men sought to measure quantities by which they could then measure the times and distances needed to understand the order present in creation. As numbers and unites were established, the next study was of Geometry, the “measurement of the earth”. As the art of measuring with lines, angles and figures was mastered, it was applied to the heavens for a yet more complex study of creation. Since the heavens were in motion, a new Geometry was needed that applied to the stars, which was called Astronomy–the rules of the heavens.

Numbers were applied to an even more mysterious study than the earth and stars. Since the earliest days of human life, men were musical creatures and experienced the effect of music on their minds and souls. Over time, however, reason allowed men to discover the rules of the art of Music and bring it under their control. As Astronomy is the application of Geometry to more complex objects, so is Music to Arithmetic. Music is the art of relative quantities, for we measure the relationships between the lengths of the strings of a harp and the harmony of their sounds. We measure the relative quantities of different tones and their relationship to pleasant melodies.

Through these four mathematical arts, man studied to discover the design present in creation, to make use of it for man’s happiness and to teach it to rising generations. Through these mathematical arts the wisdom of God embedded in His creation was slowly unveiled and men of all nations acknowledged what King David had when sang:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul: O Lord my God, thou art exceedingly great. Thou hast put on praise and beauty: And art clothed with light as with a garment. Who stretchest out the heaven like a pavilion…Who hast founded the earth upon its own bases: it shall not be moved for ever and ever. The deep like a garment is its clothing: above the mountains shall the waters stand. At thy rebuke they shall flee: at the voice of thy thunder they shall fear. The mountains ascend, and the plains descend into the place which thou hast founded for them. Thou hast set a bound which they shall not pass over; neither shall they return to cover the earth. Thou sendest forth springs in the vales: between the midst of the hills the waters shall pass. All the beasts of the field shall drink: the wild asses shall expect in their thirst. Over them the birds of the air shall dwell: from the midst of the rocks they shall give forth their voices. Thou waterest the hills from thy upper rooms: the earth shall be filled with the fruit of thy works: Bringing forth grass for cattle, and herb for the service of men. That thou mayst bring bread out of the earth: And that wine may cheer the heart of man. That he may make the face cheerful with oil: and that bread may strengthen man’s heart…He hath made the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down. Thou hast appointed darkness, and it is night: in it shall all the beasts of the woods go about: The sun ariseth, and they are gathered together: and they shall lie down in their dens. Man shall go forth to his work, and to his labour until the evening. How great are thy works, O Lord! Thou hast made all things in wisdom.”

Human Experience

Human experience, if limited to our own personal experience would be quite useless. As we move through life we hardly remain in the same state, with the same people and in the same environment. We begin as babies, grow into toddlers, then children, then continue to develop into young adults, peak in adulthood, then wither away on our way back to “our mother’s womb” (Job 1:21). Just as we begin to gain experience in one state of life, we move on to another with completely different needs. In fact, we are hardly the same person as we move from one stage to another. If by human experience, all we had was our own, it would be of no use to us at all.

The benefits of human experience come to us through the study of human history. However, as we study human history we must remember that it is not the story of how things should be, but of how things were. Therefore, history can never provide us with a rule for life. The warning that “history repeats itself” is to be ignored because the same conditions are hardly ever repeated in history and fearing that what happened to someone else is bound to happen to oneself could do as much harm as good.

What the student of history ideally studies is what was discovered by wise men before we were born. We’re not searching for historical trivia or for deeds and institutions that we can brainlessly copy today. We’re not reading literature to familiarize ourselves with every story every written–or even the better ones. Solomon explains to us the goal of our studies in the book of Ecclesiastes:

“The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails deeply fastened in, which by the counsel of masters are given from one shepherd. More than these, my son, require not. Of making many books there is no end: and much study is an affliction of the flesh.”

Thus, in the CLAA you will not find lists and lists of books to be read or history textbooks flooding students with trivia. First, in World Chronology, we will seek to provide an efficient timeline of the most influential events in human history, with salvation history as the focus. We also seek to study causes and effects carefully so that we can discern what historical events may be sought out for examples to imitate and which ones are unlike our conditions. In World Geography, we seek to understand the effect of Geography on the events in history, again, that we may discern whether or not events were analogous to our own actions or not.

However, the entire CLAA curriculum is a study of human experience. We study a systematic Grammar that is the result of centuries of grammatical studies by wise men who share our worldview. Dialectic is a study of the historical discoveries of the Greeks in the art of Dialectic. Rhetoric is a systematical study of the historical development of the art of Rhetoric, which reached its perfection in the works of Homer (poetry), Caesar (prose) and Cicero (oratory). In Arithmetic, we study the history of principles and rules discovered by wise men in the art of numbers. In Geometry, we study the history of the art, summarized most famously by Euclid. In Astronomy, we enjoy the benefit of studying the experience of wise men such as Ptolemy, Copernicus and Kepler. In Music, we save ourselves the burden of re-discovering the rules of music by studying them in Boethius and Church writings on music theory.

In Philosophy, we enjoy the advantage reading the summaries of the discussions and meditations of history’s wisest men–after their decades of debates, meditations and readings. Not only can we read the conclusions of the great teachers of each different school of philosophy–Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius the Epicurean; Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca the Stoics, and so on, but we can also study the criticisms that disproved each of them in history. We can read the Church fathers, who attacked and dismantled the pagan philosophies–even though the pagans’ efforts were praiseworthy. We don’t have to enter into the world of ideas as ignorant children, hearing everything for the first time and unable to identify the sources of different ideas and practices. We can study history.

Lastly, in Theology we have the greatest advantage of all, which we will consider in the next section.

Divine Revelation

When most people think about divine revelation, they think about the Bible. However, divine revelation is not limited to the pages of Scripture. God has revealed Himself to man in two ways, just as any father makes his ways known to his sons: by his words and by his ways. We call these two forms of divine revelation “Sacred Scripture” and “Sacred Tradition”.

When it comes to the education of children in the CLAA, we must see that–above all other studies–they are most diligently trained in these two subjects. There will be saints in heaven enjoying perfect happiness who have never studied Grammar or Rhetoric. However, there will be no saints in heaven who were ignorant of divine revelation. Most schools and study programs resemble Martha in Luke 10—“careful and troubled about many things”. The CLAA prefers to resemble Mary, who had “chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her”. What was Mary doing? Sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to His words.

Now, some people get upset because the CLAA states that a truly classical education is available only to Catholic students, but this is the plain and simple truth. The Catholic Church alone has been entrusted with both Sacred Tradition and thereby the authoritative interpretation of Sacred Scripture. What this means is that outside of the Catholic Church’s explanation of the meaning and right application of Scripture, one may indeed have and read the Bible, but their understanding of its meaning may be false. God never intended to throw a book down to the earth for men to study. He revealed Himself to men over thousands of years, always revealing Himself within an existing community that He established and preserved for the safe-keeping of His self-revelation. Jesus advised his followers not to “cast your pearls before swine” and God likewise did not send His word to the pagan booksellers to sell alongside their nonsense, but gave it direct to and through the nation and priesthood He himself had established.

Therefore, we present divine revelation to our students in a way that is consistent with the nature of divine revelation–through the Catholic faith. We begin with Classic Catechism, which provides each student with a systematic overview of the Catholic faith. Students then enter into our Biblical Studies program, which is taught from within a Catholic system of faith and practice, following the rules of biblical interpretation published by St. Augustine in his classic work, On Christian Doctrine.

As students progress through the classical liberal arts and philosophy, they enter into the study of Moral Theology and Scholastic Theology. While moral philosophy (ethics) considers morality from the perspective of human reason, moral theology considers morality in light of what God has commanded and modeled for us in the history of revelation. There are many matters where the hardness of man’s heart has required that God make His will explicit so as to leave men without excuse. Ultimately, the final word on morals rests with Christ, who will judge the world.

Scholastic Theology consists of the union of reason and divine revelation. While metaphysics is a branch of philosophy through which we study the natural world through the faculty of reason, Scholastic Theology is the systematic study and explanation of the true faith (i.e., Catholicism) that proves it to be in every way consistent with reason. This study is the study of all studies and the end of the classical curriculum and all of the liberal arts, along with humanities studies and philosophy. Here man draws most intimately into the knowledge of God through the full exercise of all of his faculties.

Education for the Love of God

It is probably obvious how we might communicate the knowledge of God in education to our children/students. However, as we turn now to raising children who LOVE God , things get more difficult. Can we teach love?

Yes, we can teach the love of God, so long as we understand it rightly. It is far more difficult to teach a man to love his wife or to love his children than it is to teach him to love God. The love a man has for his wife and children is different than the love a man has for God. A man is to love his wife as her husband–her provider and superior. A man is to love his children as their father–their provider and superior. A man is to love God as His spouse and child, with a love of gratitude. “We love God because He first loved us.”

Thus, the knowledge of God and the history of salvation is the prerequisite for our love of God. As we come to know God and learn of His goodness, we grow in love for Him. As we grow in love for God, we become more capable of knowing Him. As we grow to know Him more, we will be led to love Him more. Knowledge of love of God grow together.

For example, consider the effect of the account of the Garden of Eden. Imagine the Lord creating the world to be inhabited by man and providing everything he could ever need–freely and generously of His own bounty. Imagine the beautiful richness of the garden, lush and full of healthful food for man. Then, read as the serpent enters and deceives the woman, who in turn tempts the man and continue to read of God’s need to banish the creature He made in His own image, like a loving father sending away His own son. It is a terribly sad story when read carefully and it stirs in us a love for God and a hatred for evil. The same effect is experienced throughout all of sacred Scripture and in all of the sources by which we come to know God.

Education for the Service of God

You’ve been around the CLAA long enough to know that our work in academics is the tip of the iceberg as far as Christian work is concerned. The service of God is inseparable from the process by which we come to know and love God. As we come to know God, we will simultaneously come to know His will–what things are close to His heart and what things He commands us to be doing without time, talent and treasure. As we come to love God, we will want to see Him honored and pleased. We will want to serve Him and do His will. As we serve Him, we will come to know Him more intimately and share His heart and thoughts. As we come to know Him more intimately, we will love Him more intimately and be yet more zealous to serve Him more diligently.

When we look at the Great Commission, we find that Christian discipleship (i.e., education) is not an academic exercise. Before ascending into heaven, Our Lord said to the Church:

“Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”

Christian education, therefore, is partly academic, but primarily active. It is a training in observance of the commands of Jesus Christ. Therefore, inasmuch as Our Lord intended for His disciples (students) to be taught to observe His commands, we can certainly expect that service to God can be taught. Otherwise, the Great Commission would make no sense.

It is important to note that serving God has its own curriculum. The service of God consists of the doing of those things which Christ has commanded. Thus, the study and practice of the Gospels is central to Christian education. There, along with the rest of sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition, we learn what it means to serve God.

Education for Hope in God

As you have seen, education that leads us to happiness centers in God and the different elements of that education are inseparable. As we consider how a true Christian education leads children to hope in God, we must remember that we are assuming these children are learning to know, love and serve God. Children so raised will have countless opportunities to read of and experience God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises to us. Children who pray experience the excitement of seeing prayers answered. Children who work for good experience the satisfaction of seeing God grant success to their work. Children who are successful in little things begin to gain confidence that they can also succeed in great things. We see this in the famous story of David and Goliath. Whence comes David’s confidence to take on Goliath? Read 1 Kings:

“Let not any man’s heart be dismayed in him: I thy servant will go, and will fight against the Philistine. And Saul said to David: Thou art not able to withstand this Philistine, nor to fight against him: for thou art but a boy, but he is a warrior from his youth. And David said to Saul: Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, or a bear, and took a ram out of the midst of the flock: And I pursued after them, and struck them, and delivered it out of their mouth: and they rose up against me, and I caught them by the throat, and I strangled and killed them.

For I thy servant have killed both a lion and a bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be also as one of them. I will go now, and take away the reproach of the people: for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, who hath dared to curse the army of the living God? And David said: The Lord who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.”

Thus, we can see that it is from the lesser successes that children experience that their confidence in God before greater challenges develops. There is no way for children to develop the hope that was in David without being faithful in little things as they grow up. This hope in God can certainly be taught, but only where the knowledge, love and service of God are already being taught. All four of these elements of Christian education must be present in the life of a child and this is what we seek to provide for families in the CLAA.


Since the beginning of human history Christianity has revealed to men the source of true happiness. The means by which we and our children may attain this happiness are by knowing, loving, serving and hoping in God. While these duties are indivisible in reality, we can look at them one-by-one for the sake of understanding the objectives of education. We studied the four ways by which men obtain the knowledge of God: the use of Reason, the study of Creation, the reflection on human experience and the study of divine revelation. We also studied the means by which mean learn to love, serve and hope in God. The CLAA addresses each of these ways directly through its courses but also through the life and service opportunities it makes available to students. By understanding these objectives and committing ourselves to focus our attention and energy on them, we can both understand the reasoning behind the content and programs of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy and we can avoid adding things that ultimately prevent our children from growing in true wisdom and happiness.