The human longing for truth, beauty, and goodness inspires a true philosophy of Catholic education. The task at hand is to identify the purpose of the human mind in terms of living well—a purpose that ties life’s ultimate meaning to the transcendent and supernatural. Most educational discussions circle around questions of methodology and processes and evade the question of purpose. If we are discerning the purpose for our mind in life, then we must know what the purpose of our life is.
To begin, we need a science of humanity, or an anthropology, that can properly portray the human being. This anthropology should be fundamentally a Trinitarian Christocentric anthropology. The fundamentals of human learning inhere in the seven “Liberal Arts” (the Trivium and Quadrivium) that serve as the core of classical and medieval education.
These arts prepare students for the study of Philosophy and Theology—in other words, for the love of wisdom (philosophia) and the knowledge of God (theologia). Promoting intellectual character will ultimately require a “sophianization” of religious education in such a way that its intellectual content is no longer disconnected from the formative aspects of catechetical education. The Trivium gets us closer to this goal because it mirrors the Trinity that marks all creation: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric correspond to the human gifts of memory, thought, and communication.
For instance, grammar connects us to the source of our being, our Origin, through memory and language. Pope Benedict XVI has discussed this transcendent grammar in his message for the 2007 World Day of Peace:
The transcendent “grammar”, that is to say the body of rules for individual action and the reciprocal relationships of persons in accordance with justice and solidarity, is inscribed on human consciences, in which the wise plan of God is reflected. As I recently had occasion to reaffirm: “we believe that at the beginning of everything is the Eternal Word, Reason and not Unreason (4).” Peace is thus also a task demanding of everyone a personal response consistent with God’s plan. The criterion inspiring this response can only be respect for the “grammar” written on human hearts by the divine Creator.
In Caritas in Veritate, he also explains that nature “is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a ‘grammar’ which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation.”
The Catholic philosophical approach to education also draws an important connection between the three persons within the Trinity and our being. This connection is mediated by the transcendentals of the good, true, and beautiful. In her 2016 Cardinal Winning Lecture, Professor Tracey Rowland clarifies “a relationship between the human intellect, the theological virtue of faith, and the transcendental of truth; there also exists a relationship between the human will, the theological virtue of love, and the transcendental of goodness, and there exists a relationship between the human memory, the theological virtue of hope and the transcendental of beauty.”
The four subjects of the Quadrivium reflect the quest for the Logos or intelligibility of the world. Each subject appeals to order to recognize patterns in the world, which ascends to knowledge of the Wisdom of God. Finding God’s expression in the order of the universe is the purpose of both science and art through the exercise of the imagination. The artist, scientist, and mathematician essentially look for beauty to know truth.
The reality of the divine Logos serves as the basis for unity and integrity in the curriculum. The Logos advances how we discuss liberal education because it reconciles, with moral certainty, reason to revelation: Reason enables us to know the objective reality manifested in nature. And I think we can call that beautiful.