How would you feel if you thought a thought that changed the world? The problem with the question is that it suggests we could live long enough to actually know that our thought accomplished such a lofty end and then could actually articulate how that made us feel. If we shoot back to around AD 1320 we might find such a thought from a rather backward young English Franciscan monk: William of Okham. William began writing about Ideas and developed what is today called the Nominalist view. William taught that there only specifics; that universals or pure ideas do not exist apart from man’s mind. This one thought almost 700 years later is causing us trouble. And poses questions that a school needs to wrestle with and seek to answer biblically if it is going to educate its students well.
Going back to last week’s look at the ordo amoris, the ordering of our affections, we have to first believe that there is an order to Creation. If God intended His creation to have purpose, than all within it must be ordered to that purpose, including the affections of man. Another way of saying this is that all Creation is “ordinate.” One created “thing” is either above or below another in reality because God could not possibly place all things on a purely equal plane and then command one, man, to rule over the rest (Gen 1:28) unless there was some order of rule to His universe. Thus a major end in an excellent education is to bring a student to understand his place in this created order.
So if we can put my first and second paragraphs together, we would see that we live in a world that for quite a while has been unsure that any idea really exists outside the human mind and that a great education must help a student place himself within the created order of God’s world. The reason for mentioning nominalism is because it has caused us to question the very means by which man orients himself in this world that is by thinking about ideas. If ideas are simply the creation of man’s own mind, then we simply choose our own place in the world. If God has created the world including the ideas of Love, Justice, Virtue, etc, then the student must be called to these truths by parents and a teacher who are both pursuing those things as well.
That is why education is about authority. We don’t like this, because the Enlightenment has taught us to intrinsically think of authority as evil. It is not, but we have been trained to view it as such. But for a young person to properly grow up and live in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, they have to understand this principle of order in God’s creation that demonstrates all things as having a hierarchical relationship in His world. In short, they have to be led to understand their place in God’s universe. They must learn to love this place of honor and responsibility and then they will seek to fulfill the duties they have been given in that place. All our talk of “rights” in the modern conversation is really just a renaming of what were once called “duties.”
I have been around enough military men in my days to have heard a number of times the ditty that supplied me with my title in this article: “If it moves, salute it; if it don’t move, paint it.” While soldiers coin such things seeking the humor in their highly hierarchical life, it none the less encapsulates an understanding of hierarchy that is somewhat lacking in our day. We all are under authority, and we all have God-given authority we must exercise wisely. Learning to live within our hierarchy, to know our place, is a necessary and difficult set of lessons we never stop learning.
Looking back over our discussion for the last several weeks, we have stated some very high and lovely ends for a truly Christian and classical education. The student is led to his purpose in this world, to see grace in everything, to order his affections rightly, and to find his place in the great hierarchy of God’s world. I will move on in coming weeks to the nature of an excellent education. If we place these ends in front of our students, what will the nature of such an education be like?