Nathan Carr, Provost

Nathan Carr, Provost

I have never taken a university class—public or private—in which the classics were treated uncritically, but the concern legitimately remains for many a parent—is The Academy of Classical Christian Studies just another Great Books program?

“In an individual believer,” Robert Wilken writes, “faith can exist without reason. God does not measure out the supernatural gifts of grace according to IQ. Yet, as a community, the Church needs reason to give faith cultural heft and the density of varied expression in language, whether it be the disciplined, imaginative reasoning that poetry requires, or the elementary, conceptual reasoning of grammar. Reason, for its part, needs faith because the natural powers of the human intellect easily lose sight of their goal, which is the fullness of truth, and can become susceptible to various forms of authoritarianism and intolerance.”

One of the great gifts given us in the Church and her teaching over the centuries, is that she gives us all the right exceptions and disclaimers. The quotation above is a perfect illustration. Faith and reason are sisters: given of the same Father, employed by the One Church. Oh, but with one difference: fides quaerens intellectum, which is to say, “I believe so that I can understand,” so writes St. Anselm in his Proslogian. Faith has the upper hand in at least two ways: 1) she is the older sister, and a basis and condition for the right use and appropriation of the other; and 2) she can, even if rarely, function entirely on her own merit. The Church’s exception clause is therefore given neither for the whole use of faith nor for the whole use of reason. The qualification is given in the distinction between the Kingdom and the individual believer.

This being our conviction, we arrive at the first difference between our own use of the classics and the far more uncritical approach of so-called Great Books programs—faith; Kingdom-oriented faith that sustains a continuity of vision that the classics do not share even among themselves. I expect that most of the concerned are not, however, convinced of a lack of faith, but of a right use of the same—birds being of a higher order than arachnids does not ensure that the former is safe from the deathly puncture of the latter. The more subtle our differentiation, the more difficult our arrangement of principles; but thankfully, classical Christian education is strongest when the apparent antithesis most severe.

Faith is not some periphery exercise at The Academy since an empathetic criticism is impossible to maintain without it. Obviously we are not the democratic classicists who decry the transformation that has occurred in classical literature since Christianity’s hold on the West. Nor do we seek to be the nominalist of modernity who understands nothing of the two. We are, in fact, a third model of engagement with history involving a fully-realized faith. Let us use a phrase from Anthony Esolen to describe this faith that leads us into the very nature of all study—the “surrender in imaginative love.”

(To continue reading part 2 of this two-part series, click here.)