“Mere curiosity will not help.”
So summarizes Arthur Holmes the thoughts of St. Augustine. “Curiosity and studiousness are two different kinds of love, the one (cupiditas) ill-directed toward lesser and more fleeting ends, the other (charitas) well-ordered toward truth and goodness.”
Because it cannot lead to wisdom, St. Augustine rejects cupiditas as an educational philosophy. The disciplined, well-ordered mind for which Augustine strives is cultivated through charitas, which alone is suited for the equipping of souls.
If modern education is not an outright endorsement of curiosity, it’s at least an attempt at the ol’ bait and switch. Let them dabble with this or that, and perhaps it will lead them to dabble in anatomical exercises, Latin declensions, and the ideas which shook the universe. Perhaps.
I have children as curious as any other, and it’s an endearing thing. But when my curious son was sneaking through the house last week looking for his sisters, I heard him suddenly begin taunting and tempting them out of their respective hiding places with the following little chant:
“What have we here? A man or a fish? Dead or alive? A fish. He smells like a fish, a very ancient and fish-like smell, a kind of not-of-the-newest poor-john. A strange fish!”
He was quoting Shakespeare’s The Tempest as he played! Order had been placed into his mind through studiousness—through the charitas of a teacher trying to impress upon the wax of his mind the highest forms of thought.
Naturally, I marveled that his teacher’s rejection of mere curiosity as a reliable tool in the classroom did not place Shakespeare as off-limits to purposes other than schooling. His darting eyes, his tip-toed steps, and his taunting tongue drew upon something memorized through rote discipline—something now filed and available for hunting his abundance of sisters.
As Holmes helpfully summarizes, “studying the divine wisdom requires a right ordering of the soul as well as of the studies themselves.” Fleeting ends require only fleeting habits; let us with love, grace, and example invite our students into the permanence of a way of life worthy of immortality.