Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Art of the Beautiful

The Catholic Artists Society and the Thomistic Institute are pleased to announce a 6-part lecture series on the nature, purpose and value of the arts…

Click on Image to go to the Thomistic Institute Website
The monthly, Saturday-night series will take place in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village at the Catholic Catholic Center at NYU, and will feature talks by six renowned philosophers, theologians and artists. It is directed to professional artists in all disciplines, students and patrons of the arts, and to all those who take in interest in culture and artistic endeavor. Each lecture will be followed by a reception and the liturgy of sung Compline.
Attendance is free but space will be limited. For more information, please contact or visit

Pope Francis: “Three Desires”: Beauty, Goodness, and Truth.

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday afternoon met with a group of about 500 young people from the Diocese of Piacenza-Bobbio in St. Peter’s Basilica. The youth are on a pilgrimage which is part of their diocesan celebration of the Year of Faith.
The Pope began his greetings by explaining why he agreed to the meeting.
“I did it for selfish reasons, do you know why? Why I like being with you? … Why I like being with young people?” the Pope asked. “ Because you have in your heart a promise of hope. You are bearers of hope. You, in fact, live in the present, but are looking at the future. You are the protagonists of the future, artisans of the future.”
Explaining what he meant, Pope Francis said young people have “three desires”: Beauty, Goodness, and Truth.
“And these three desires that you have in your heart, you have to carry them forward, to the future,” he said. “Make the future with beauty, with goodness and truth. Do you understand? This is the challenge: your challenge…you can do it: you have the power to do so. If you do not, it is because of laziness. … I wanted to tell you: Have courage. Go forward. Make noise.”
He said making noise means going “against this civilization that is doing so much harm. Got that? Go against the tide, and that means making noise. Go ahead. But with the values ​​of beauty, goodness and truth.”
The bishop of the Diocese of Piacenza-Bobbio, Gianni Ambrosio, told Vatican Radio what he hoped the youth would get out of the meeting.
“I told the young people that this experience must first light our path: knowing that our path is lit and there are many people who have gone before us, who gave us the light of faith,” Bishop Ambrosio said. “Not only that, but also we are accompanied by the presence of the Risen Christ who is in our midst, and the Church continues the mission of Jesus, which is to give the children of God the possibility of a way that leads to the goal, to salvation.”

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Harrowing of Hell

A good friend of mine is a cloistered monk of an Eastern Rite Byzantine Monastery, and every few months, they send out a periodical with a few theological writings or meditations and I was recently taken with a particular piece that was done on a lost piece of art and a very infrequently taught piece of tradition and scripture.  I will attempt to summarize it here for you, for you will quite likely find it intriguing and poignant for today.

One of the most uncommon Resurrection icons is that of the "Harrowing of Hell".  Though this has been commonly held by Christians since very early times, it is only mentioned in scripture vaguely (cf. Eph 4:9, I Pet. 3: 18-20).  Though this would have been a common theme in Medieval times, now it is only occasionally encountered by students of literature or historians of art.

The rest of us may be surprised at how separated we are from this teaching and especially the art.  When the definition of the word "harrow" is looked up, you will find that farming is the central theme of the word.  It means to break up the soil, pulverize, and level the ground after plowing.  Basically it give the idea of breaking up large clods of soil, or in a like manner, to lacerate, torment, or harass.  The Hell being referenced here would not be the place of eternal damnation, but the place to which Christ descended in the Apostles Creed.  It would be the abode of the dead, referred to by Jesus in the Gospels (cf. Mt. 25:10, Lk. 13:29; 14:15; 16:22; 23:43).  This would have been known to the Greeks as Hades, and to scholastic theologians as the "Limbo of the Fathers".

God created man for happiness with Himself and placed him in Paradise, but through sin, man chose another option and broke that relationship, subjecting all descendants to the death of sin- even the just would be subjected to it and be deprived of the vision of God.  They would remain imprisoned until the Savior would come to release them.

Through the Precious Blood of the Cross, Christ Jesus died so that the keys to the realm of death would be stolen, the sting of death would be vanquished, and the bars of Hell would be shattered.   As the soil may be harrowed to allow for new growth, Christ has Harrowed Hell so that life might spring forth.  Death would no longer have power over mankind.

In the picture above known as "The Harrowing of Hell", it represents the effect of Christ rather than the event.  Christ is portrayed not coming from the tomb, as we are used to in Resurrection art, but Himself raising us from the dead.  Standing victorious on the demolished gates of Hell, he is forcefully pulling Adam and Even from their tombs.  Prophets, Patriarchs, kings, and Righteous men of old stand in awe, witnessing His saving power.  Scattered below him are the broken locks and bolts- He has destroyed our prison of sin and death, and we have been set free.

The grip of this world and its securlarist movement seems powerful and almost an unstoppable force, but what is not often remembered by Catholics today is that what Christ did once, he does for all time.  Through the Sacraments and Spiritual Weapons, such as the Rosary, we invoke Christ's power to "Harrow" that which threatens us.  He tramples and pulverizes the soil ahead of us so that the seeds of the Springtime may be planted.  We only need to remember this when faced with uneven turf ahead, or rocks in the soil, or underbrush in the way.  Christ can and will Harrow the death that faces us eye to eye so that we need not fear.  Ploughshares in this sense are still the weapon they were fashioned from- to destroy the gates of Hell and to shatter death, so that Christ may Reign!

+Ad Majoram Dei Gloriam!

The Flight From Conversation

The following is an article penned for the New York Times back in April of 2012 by a psychologist, author, and professor at M.I.T. named Sherry Turkle, who I have been following with interest.  She is quite divergent from her colleagues in her views on technology and the dangers they are posing right now to humanity.
Some time ago, she was on the other side of the fence in praising the advances of technology, but now she is singing a quite different tune.  She has been outspoken on the topic of why our technology is making us less human and is actually changing who we really are as people.
She has been featured on ABC, CBS, NPR, and TED talks as well.  She by no means has the agreement of others in her field, but she continues her line of thinking with gusto, which is why I like her.  Here's her piece:

The Flight From Conversation

By Sherry Turkle

WE live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.

At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we’re on dates. My students tell me about an important new skill: it involves maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives. I’ve learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are.

We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being “alone together.” Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention. We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party.
Our colleagues want to go to that board meeting but pay attention only to what interests them. To some this seems like a good idea, but we can end up hiding from one another, even as we are constantly connected to one another.

A businessman laments that he no longer has colleagues at work. He doesn’t stop by to talk; he doesn’t call. He says that he doesn’t want to interrupt them. He says they’re “too busy on their e-mail.” But then he pauses and corrects himself. “I’m not telling the truth. I’m the one who doesn’t want to be interrupted. I think I should. But I’d rather just do things on my BlackBerry.”

A 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything says almost wistfully, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”
In today’s workplace, young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones. Walking through a college library or the campus of a high-tech start-up, one sees the same thing: we are together, but each of us is in our own bubble, furiously connected to keyboards and tiny touch screens. A senior partner at a Boston law firm describes a scene in his office. Young associates lay out their suite of technologies: laptops, iPods and multiple phones. And then they put their earphones on. “Big ones. Like pilots. They turn their desks into cockpits.” With the young lawyers in their cockpits, the office is quiet, a quiet that does not ask to be broken.

In the silence of connection, people are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people — carefully kept at bay. We can’t get enough of one another if we can use technology to keep one another at distances we can control: not too close, not too far, just right. I think of it as a Goldilocks effect.

Texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body. Not too much, not too little — just right.

Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.

We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places — in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.

Connecting in sips may work for gathering discrete bits of information or for saying, “I am thinking about you.” Or even for saying, “I love you.” But connecting in sips doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another. In conversation we tend to one another. (The word itself is kinetic; it’s derived from words that mean to move, together.) We can attend to tone and nuance. In conversation, we are called upon to see things from another’s point of view.

FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters. It is as though we have all put ourselves on cable news. Shakespeare might have said, “We are consum’d with that which we were nourish’d by.”

And we use conversation with others to learn to converse with ourselves. So our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. These days, social media continually asks us what’s “on our mind,” but we have little motivation to say something truly self-reflective. Self-reflection in conversation requires trust. It’s hard to do anything with 3,000 Facebook friends except connect.

As we get used to being shortchanged on conversation and to getting by with less, we seem almost willing to dispense with people altogether. Serious people muse about the future of computer programs as psychiatrists. A high school sophomore confides to me that he wishes he could talk to an artificial intelligence program instead of his dad about dating; he says the A.I. would have so much more in its database. Indeed, many people tell me they hope that as Siri, the digital assistant on Apple’s iPhone, becomes more advanced, “she” will be more and more like a best friend — one who will listen when others won’t.

During the years I have spent researching people and their relationships with technology, I have often heard the sentiment “No one is listening to me.” I believe this feeling helps explain why it is so appealing to have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed — each provides so many automatic listeners. And it helps explain why — against all reason — so many of us are willing to talk to machines that seem to care about us. Researchers around the world are busy inventing sociable robots, designed to be companions to the elderly, to children, to all of us.
One of the most haunting experiences during my research came when I brought one of these robots, designed in the shape of a baby seal, to an elder-care facility, and an older woman began to talk to it about the loss of her child. The robot seemed to be looking into her eyes. It seemed to be following the conversation. The woman was comforted.

And so many people found this amazing. Like the sophomore who wants advice about dating from artificial intelligence and those who look forward to computer psychiatry, this enthusiasm speaks to how much we have confused conversation with connection and collectively seem to have embraced a new kind of delusion that accepts the simulation of compassion as sufficient unto the day. And why would we want to talk about love and loss with a machine that has no experience of the arc of human life? Have we so lost confidence that we will be there for one another?

WE expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship. Always-on/always-on-you devices provide three powerful fantasies: that we will always be heard; that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; and that we never have to be alone. Indeed our new devices have turned being alone into a problem that can be solved.
When people are alone, even for a few moments, they fidget and reach for a device. Here connection works like a symptom, not a cure, and our constant, reflexive impulse to connect shapes a new way of being.

Think of it as “I share, therefore I am.” We use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings as we’re having them. We used to think, “I have a feeling; I want to make a call.” Now our impulse is, “I want to have a feeling; I need to send a text.”

So, in order to feel more, and to feel more like ourselves, we connect. But in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves. Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don’t experience them as they are. It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves.
We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely. If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will know only how to be lonely.

I am a partisan for conversation. To make room for it, I see some first, deliberate steps. At home, we can create sacred spaces: the kitchen, the dining room. We can make our cars “device-free zones.” We can demonstrate the value of conversation to our children. And we can do the same thing at work. There we are so busy communicating that we often don’t have time to talk to one another about what really matters. Employees asked for casual Fridays; perhaps managers should introduce conversational Thursdays. Most of all, we need to remember — in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts — to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another.

I spend the summers at a cottage on Cape Cod, and for decades I walked the same dunes that Thoreau once walked. Not too long ago, people walked with their heads up, looking at the water, the sky, the sand and at one another, talking. Now they often walk with their heads down, typing. Even when they are with friends, partners, children, everyone is on their own devices.

So I say, look up, look at one another, and let’s start the conversation. 

Here's more from Sherry on this topic:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Part II: Interview with Howard Clark, President of the Gregory the Great Academy


BCL:  Where is current public and Catholic education headed right now?

Howard Clark: It is difficult to generalize about where all public and Catholic education is headed. While most education is in a state of decadence, there are signs of health in both public and Catholic education. In public education the charter school movement is giving parents back the control that is rightfully theirs and greatly improving the quality of school curricula. In spite of this, it must be said plainly that all public education is a poor second to a truly integral Catholic education. All education that is integrally true is integrally Catholic because the Catholic faith is integral truth. It is the whole truth about God, man and the world.

In Catholic education there are many schools, both diocesan and private, that are striving to reestablish orthodoxy in doctrine and excellence in teaching and curricula. A big difficulty that everyone faces is that the decadence we are fighting is deeply rooted. In many ways we are like men living among magnificent ruins without even an idea of what they were, or men searching for the lost key that would open the door of wisdom.

At Gregory the Great Academy we realize that there is much work that still needs to by done. An essential principle of the poetic approach to education is that there is a knowledge deeper than reason which is not to denigrate reason, but simply to state a fact realized by the great poets and philosophers. (One thinks of Paul Claudel's Parable of Animus and Anima and St. Thomas' distinction between ratio and intellectus, a distinction that is not unique to him.) If the fledgling renaissance in Catholic education is to take root and flourish this principle and its consequences have to be acknowledged. A blind and reactive insistence on a kind of rationalist fundamentalism may be attractive in the short term, but will ultimately lead to failure because it does not speak to what Scripture calls the heart, the deepest spring of reason and desire. 

BCL:  Is Gregory the Great Academy model what is needed on the whole in education today, or is it possible to bring modern public education out from the dredge into which it has steadily fallen?

Howard Clark: When we consider all the aspects of the model of Gregory the Great Academy, we can't say that it should be the model for all of education. After all, girls need to be educated too, and there is a place for day schools. However, if we consider it more formally, i.e. if we consider whether poetic education should be the model for all education, I would say, yes it should. A short route to why this is so is by way of the liberal arts tradition. If we agree that all education worthy of the name follows this tradition, then we must affirm that all education should be poetic or, in a broad sense, liturgical or musical. The cultures of Greece and Rome and Christian Europe that gave us the liberal arts were deeply imbued with this ethos, some principles of which I have already tried to give. They did not teach the liberal arts in isolation from one another, nor in the cultural and religious impoverishment characteristic of today. The people of those times lived and learned in what might be called a liturgical or poetic culture.

BCL:  So many Catholic families have had to resort to homeschooling in the absence of any real, viable Catholic school option - why has it gotten to this point and is it possible for parents navigate the waters of educating their children in the same way that the Academy does?

Howard Clark: In his Templeton address, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn recalls that when he was young, the older Russians would explain the calamity of Revolution with the simple but profound explanation: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”  It is the same for us. All of our problems stem from the same cause: we have forgotten God.

There are many things that parents can do to educate their children the way the Academy does. They can follow the principles that I talked about in reply to your first question. Also the books I mentioned above will help, especially the two by Stratford Caldecott, which are more practical, then the others.

But finally I think that a good school can do a better job of educating than homeschooling. The homeschooling movement itself points to this. Homeschooling companies function to some extent as remote schools by providing curricula, advice and grading. In addition homeschooling families tend to pool their resources by forming co-ops that are a step in the direction of a school. The problem is that it is difficult for one person (usually the mother) to master all the subjects and keep children on task. This tends to become more difficult as children get older.

But all of this is a matter of balance. For many families homeschooling is the best option. The homeschooling movement, the liturgical movement and the plethora of good microbreweries are some of the most hopeful signs in our mostly bleak culture.

BCL:  What role does the liturgy play in a solid education for Catholic children, especially boys?

Howard Clark: Thinking again of Solzhenitsyn's diagnosis, the liturgy is the place where man remembers God. Like the monastery of which it is the heart, the liturgy is a “school for the service of the Lord,” a school of Christian life. So the role of the liturgy in Catholic education is central. It is the school within the school. As I've tried to indicate already, because the liturgy represents the presence of the divine world in our world, it witnesses to our world's incompleteness, and thus to the relevance and need for the liberal arts.

BCL:  Do you feel as though vocations to the priesthood are more likely in an environment such as the Academy and if so or if not- why?

Howard Clark: A vocation to the priesthood is a grace and call from God, but God always works through mediation. (Priests themselves are mediators.) In our world that means mainly other human beings. Thus the key to cultivating vocations is the example of the priest. Boys need a model that they are attracted to and want to emulate. They need to see the job of the priest as important, serious, and worth-doing. No boy that is worth anything aspires to the life of an ineffectual nice guy. In the boarding school this means that the example of the chaplain is all-important. A chaplain that is manly and truly dedicated to God and the good of others can plant seeds that will come to fruition years later as a boys matures and thinks more seriously about the direction his life will take.

BCL:  Great historians and cultural thinkers such as Christopher Dawson have stressed that the foundational piece to culture is religion.  What must accompany a solid religious experience in order to foster a truly Catholic Culture?

Howard Clark: There are a number of things. Two that are very important are care for the natural world and the cultivation of language. The world of human culture is built on the natural world even as the plants the farmer cultivates depend on good soil. Continued misuse and disregard for God's creation cannot help but undermine this foundation of human culture. Language is even more central to culture than the natural world, and like the natural world it too is being degraded. The source and re-generator of language is poetry. The poets are the ones that coin the new worlds and phrases that maintain the freshness and vitality of a culture's language.

BCL:  How can adults live and foster the same spirit of education embodied by Gregory the Great Academy in their own, everyday lives?

Howard Clark: There are both negative and positive things that can be done. In his essay “Learning to See Again” (collected in Only the Lover Sings) Josef Pieper addresses the problem of distraction and the way it has undermined our ability to perceive the world around us. This very short essay is well worth reading and meditating on.

In a similar vein, my teacher John Senior offers some tonic advice in his book The Restoration of Christian Culture:

“First, negatively, smash the television set. The Catholic Church is not opposed to violence; only to unjust violence: so smash the television set. And, positively, put the time and money you now spend on such entertainment into a piano so that music is restored to your home, common, ordinary Christian music, much of which is very simple to play. Anybody can learn the songs of Steven Foster, Robert Burns, the Irish and Italian airs, after even a few hours' instruction and practice. And then families will be together at home of an evening and love will grow again without thinking about it, because they are moving in harmony together. There is nothing more disintegrating of love than artificial attempts to foster it at encounter groups and the like: Love only grows; it cannot be manufactured or forced; and it only grows on the sweet sound of music.”

BCL:  Do you mind if we ask what is on your current reading list?

Howard Clark: Currently I am rereading Stratford Caldecott's Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education and Sister Miriam Joseph's The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. On a different register I'm working on The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. Last, but certainly not least, The Bible, an inexhaustible source of wisdom, which I try to read everyday. 

Books that I hope to read soon include: Stratford Caldecott's latest book, The Radiance of Being: Dimensions of Cosmic Christianity; The Progymnasmata; and The Golden Key by George Macdonald.

BCL:  How can interested persons best assist you and the Academy in your efforts?

Howard Clark: There are three things that I would ask of anyone who is interested in our mission: pray for us, spread the word amongst your acquaintances, and—if you are able—give us your financial support. Anyone interested in donating or downloading admissions information can find more information by visiting our website at

BCL:  What parting thoughts would you like to share with those who are reading this interview?

Howard Clark: Perhaps I could end the interview by going back to your first question about the uniqueness of Gregory the Great Academy. I find that there is an element that I didn’t mention and that I would like to bring up here because of its importance: the mode of discipline used at Gregory the Great. St. John Bosco made a distinction between repressive system of discipline and the preventive system. The repressive system is the one used by most schools and other organizations. It consists in publishing rules, waiting until the rules are broken and then punishing the ruler breakers. (The headmaster in the French movie Les Choriste often hilariously portrays this system. His motto for discipline is “action-reaction.”) The preventive method is much more difficult to implement, but much more effective in the long run. The key component in this method is that those in charge of the boys must constantly be with them, sharing in their life in a friendly way, guiding them, reasoning with them, showing them the goodness of following healthy rules so that they are prevented from ever breaking them. While this method is very difficult and is sometimes misunderstood by outsiders, it is far more effective.

I would like to thank Mr. Howard Clark, Mr. Sean Fitzpatrick for facilitating the setup of the interview, and the Gregory the Great Academy for all they are doing for Catholic Culture and Education!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Upcoming Interview: Most Rev. James D. Conley, S.T.L., Bishop of Lincoln Nebraska

I am please to announce that Bishop Conley has agreed to an interview with this publication.  Bishop Conley gave a very wonderful Eulogy for Dr. Dennis Quinn's Funeral and was directly impacted by the Integrated Humanities Program.  I will be asking him a wide range of questions on the topics of the Liturgy, Education, Family, the Priesthood, Homeschooling, and more.  Stay tuned...

"In his 23 years as a priest, Bishop James D. Conley has served the Catholic Church in a wide variety of ways—as pastor, college campus chaplain, director of Respect Life ministries, theology instructor, Vatican official and bishop. In all of these tasks, he has seen his life as a priest as a call to service and complete surrender to “God’s providential hand.” For his episcopal motto, Bishop Conley, a convert to the Catholic faith, chose the same motto as the great 19th-century English convert, John Henry Cardinal Newman, “cor ad cor loquitur,” which means “heart speaks to heart.”

While in college, he studied in the University of Kansas’s Integrated Humanities Program, a well-known classical great books program. During his junior year, he converted to the Catholic Church on Dec. 6, 1975. His mentor and teacher in the Integrated Humanities Program, Professor John Senior, was his godfather"  (From the Diocese of Lincoln Website)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Interview with Howard Clark, President of the Gregory the Great Academy

In desire to spread the message of the work of the Gregory the Great Academy and speak also on the topic of Catholic Education, Mr. Howard Clark has agreed to a two part interview with this publication.  We thank him for his thoughtful and relevant responses.


BCL:  For those unfamiliar with the school, Gregory the Great Academy is a school unlike most, if not all, other Catholic schools- what makes the Academy so distinct in its nature and aim?

HC: I think we can talk about the distinctiveness of GGA from two perspectives: first, from the perspective of its structure or outward make-up, and second from a perspective that looks more to its interiority or vision. For the more metaphysically inclined these two perspectives are roughly equivalent to the matter and form of the Academy.

So beginning with the make-up: the Academy is somewhat distinctive in three ways (the real distinctiveness comes with the informing vision, but the the vision and the make-up are intimately related): it is a Catholic, all-boys, boarding school. The movement from Catholic to boarding school is a movement from less distinctive to more distinctive in the sense that there are more Catholic schools than there are Catholic all-boys schools and more Catholic all-boys schools than there are Catholic all-boys boarding schools.

The vision that informs the school has often been called “poetic education”, but it can be given other names as well, for example, “education according to the Muses.” The first thing to note about this kind of education is that it is an approach to the liberal arts. What is essential to education in the liberal arts (grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music) is that it aims to produce a free man (The Latin artes liberales means arts befitting a free man.) In this context, the  “freedom” being sought after is a freedom from the constraints of worldly ends, or, stated positively, a freedom to pursue man's ultimate end or goal which is eternal beatitude.

Poetic education differs from other kinds of liberal arts education in a number of ways, but I want to focus on three that interpenetrate and reinforce each other: First, it gives precedence to synthesis over analysis, in other words, it values the whole over the part. This may seem like common sense, but in fact most schools, at least implicitly, value the part over the whole. They do this by emphasizing the acquisition of analytical skills which allow their possessors to break down wholes into comprehensible parts. The unspoken premise is that truth is to be found in the part, or, more fundamentally still, that matter is higher than form or that form does not even exits.

Of course it is necessary to acquire analytical skills, and the Academy teaches such skills. The problem lies not with analyzing, but with taking analysis as the end of the activity of knowing. In coming to know, we only distinguish in order to unite. Analysis must have a complementary and completing movement which re-situates and views the analyzed parts in the context of the whole. The human mind naturally desires to see the whole, that's why there are scenic overlooks on the side of highways. As St. Augustine said, “Our whole reward is seeing.”

A second way that poetic education differs from the usual liberal arts curriculum is in the precedence it gives to experience over what might be called “remoteness.” This remoteness takes any number of forms, but three examples are textbooks, scientific experiments, and the increasing use of communications technology in the classroom.

Textbooks are an attempt to present complex, wide-ranging and difficult subjects in an attractive and easily accessible form. The problem with this is that it short circuits the learning process and often deceives the student as to the true nature of the subject. It is far better for the student to wrestle with Hamlet or the Odyssey in all their difficulty, profundity and beauty than to encounter them predigested and excerpted in an anthology. This principle applies across the curriculum. Better to study the daises in your own backyard than to read about the exotic orchids that only grow half a world away.

Experiments have their place in an advanced science curriculum, but they cannot replace a basic experience of the natural world. A moment’s reflection reveals how ridiculous it is to dissect embalmed frogs in a lab when the student has never experienced a living frog in its environment. What does he really learn about frogs from such an activity? Experiments are designed to isolate the experimenter, his tools, and his subject from the world at-large. However, the results of the experiment only have meaning when they are interpreted in terms of the very world from which they have been isolated.

Many different kinds of digital technology are being enthusiastically introduced into schools. Most of this is communications technology, or what is called “media.” It is important to remember that all human knowing is mediated, and therefore, in some sense uses “media.” Our senses mediate between their objects and our brains, and our bodies mediate between the world around us and our souls. Further, Our Lord Jesus Christ mediates between the Church and Our Father in heaven. So there is no question of rejecting mediation in general.

However, it is important to critically examine the messenger, in other words, we must ask, “does this communications technology communicate?” In the case of the computer, which is the most prevalent form of communications technology being used in schools, there are serious problems. When we look at the computer, as it is functions in the “real world”, day-to-day life of the school, what jumps out is its power to distract. Thus, even before we question the capacity of the computer to mediate objects effectively, we see that its versatility as a platform for many kinds of tasks makes it an ideal tool for  never getting to those objects, for never completing a given task. This power to distract strikes at the very heart of education which is concerned to build up a habitus, whether a science or moral virtue, through a continual engagement with a given object.

A third characteristic that distinguishes poetic education from other liberal arts education is the centrality of the liturgy. (As Jean Leclercq notes in his book, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, the liturgy itself is a kind of poem.) There are many ways to look at the liturgy and many things we can learn from it. Being a work of the Holy Spirit it is inexhaustible and of a transcendent integrity that resist all analysis. So what I have to say is in no way exhaustive, I just want to point out two things.

First, the liturgy is the end or purpose of the Christian life made present in time, or, looked at in another way, the liturgy brings us into the presence of the end of the Christian life; it is a participation, already on earth, in the life of the blessed. Now, as I’ve already mentioned, the end of the liberal arts is to free men from the seeming urgency and finality of worldly ends so that they may pursue beatitude. Thus the liturgy is intimately connected to the liberal arts. (Historically this is the case since the tradition of the liberal arts began with Plato’s Academy, and the Academy was an association established to worship the Muses.) It has an irreplaceably centrality in a liberal arts school since only the liturgy can open the school to the divine world, thus protecting it from the everyday world which continually threatens to enclose it.

A second thing to note about the liturgy is that it is a school of praise. The book of the Apocalypse, which lifts the veil on the heavenly liturgy, gives us a glimpse of the praise of the angels and saints. They praise God as both creator and redeemer of the world.  The philosopher Josef Pieper entitled one of his books, Only the Lover Sings, taking the phrase from St. Augustine. What does the lover sing? He sings praises. He praises God and his whole creation—women, wine, the deeds of great men, dappled things—everything under the sun and above the moon. It is here that we are closest to the heart of poetic education. All the great poets are lovers. It’s their love that gives them eyes to see and tongues to sing with. Poetic educations aims to open its student’s eyes to the True, the Good and the Beautiful, not as dead subjects in a textbook, but as objects worthy of praise.

 BCL:  Why have just boys, and why have it be a boarding type school? 

HC: There is a long tradition of single sex education. This wisdom teaches us that boys and girls fare better when they are educated separately especially after they reach adolescence. This is both because they are different and deserve different approaches, pacing and even different courses of study, and because when educated together they greatly distract one another. This is especially true for boys.

Boarding schools are especially appropriate for boys since the male trajectory involves breaking away from home to search for adventure and to make a way in the world. Chesterton tells the story of the man who left England on a great sea-faring adventure and found himself on the shores of a strange and wonderful island. The island turned out to be England but he only came to see it in all its truth and beauty by leaving it.

BCL:  Do those two elements specifically play into the nature of what you are doing?

HC: A boarding school works well for poetic education because it allows for a certain withdraw from the surrounding culture and the creation of a new culture reinforced by peers. As I’ve already emphasized, poetic education aims to educate the whole man. To do this effectively there has to be a certain asceticism, a withdraw from technology, media, and popular culture in general.  Music is especially important since it speaks to the heart.

Certainly the parents are the primary educators of their children and the home and family provide the first culture of the child. A boarding school cannot replace this, but it can complement and complete it to some extent. When children become adolescents they become much more aware of, and in need of, the social life of their peers. At its best a boarding school provides a wholesome “micro-culture” in which students reinforce each other in the formation in virtue given by the school. This prepares them to enter the wider culture outside of the school.

BCL:  Why is this mode of education and its content so vital to the future of the Catholic child?

HC: To say that poetic education is “vital to the future of the Catholic child” is to make quite a claim! This type of education is not a substitute for mother’s milk or the Eucharist. However I would say that there is a need for the positivity and hope of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful that poetic education provides. Children can only grow and thrive when they are given high ideals and the hope that they can brings these ideals into being in their world. Neither careerism nor the sly cynicism and nihilism of the culture of death provide this.

BCL:  Where should the Catholic men of tomorrow (the children of the Catholic families today) take our Culture, Country, and Church?

HC: That’s a big question! If I could adequately answer it I would probably quit my job and run for President. Generally I would say that in all of these areas there is a need to return to the wisdom of tradition. Doing this does not mean holding on to  particular historical forms, but recovering what is essential in historical forms, returning to eternal principles. For example, the same truth can be expressed in many different languages, in many different places, at many different times. Of course some languages may express this truth better than others, but still the same truth is expressed.

In popular culture today there is a continual polemic against tradition and authority. Often this is cloaked by a storyline or by the sheer repetition of these themes, but the message is communicated on the level of images and attitudes. Against this we need to defend the wisdom of tradition and show its relevance, beauty and vitality.

BCL:  What people, experiences, and texts have shaped the way you think and speak about Catholicism, Education, and Culture?

HC: Gregory the Great Academy has its roots in the Integrated Humanities Program at The University of Kansas. The leading lights of this program were professors John Senior, Dennis Quinn and Frank Nellick. Three of Dr. Senior’s books have been especially influential in forming the philosophy of Gregory the Great Academy: The Death of Christian Culture, The Restoration of Christian Culture, and The Restoration of Innocence: An Idea of a School. (This last text was never published.) Late in his life Dr. Quinn published a book, which summed up a lot of his thought, called Iris Exiled: A Synoptic History of Wonder.

These three professors occasionally talked about books that greatly influenced them and the program they founded. Leaving aside the classics such as Plato’s Republic, the Rule of St. Benedict, and the Bible, three come to mind: The Love of Learning and the Desire for God by Jean Leclercq, O.S.B. (which I’ve already mentioned); Leisure the Basis of Culture by the German Thomist, Josef Pieper; and Werner Jaeger’s Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture.

In addition, there are two recent books by Stratford Caldecott that recommend a kind of  education very similar to what we are doing, but which also offer fresh approaches and resources. These are: Beauty for Truth Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education and Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education.  

PART 2 of the Interview is forthcoming...