Liberal Education After the Fall

Must a student be baptized before pursuing the true, good, and beautiful? That questioned occurred after reading Fr. James Schall’s summary of Tracy Rowland’s lecture on Roman Catholic education.

For Rowland and Schall, the Trinity informs the study of everything and so Christianity is at the foundation of any genuine education:

…the basic Catholic approach to education is that there “exists 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 transcendentals—one, being, good, true, beautiful—are predicates we can apply to everything that is. They reflect in our being the inner relation of the three persons within the Trinity.

It is possible to pass through schools, even at the graduate level, and not really learn much of truth or of what is important. This result can happen also in Catholic schools. Thus, we need graduates who actually have “Catholic intellects, Catholic wills, Catholic imaginations, and Catholic memories.” They need to be conjoined in a proper order of soul. We want to know the truth, to control our own disorders, to imagine what can enlarge our vision. A Catholic memory will know of its saints and their foibles, of glories and tragedies.

But I wonder why a Christian approach to education, one that takes Genesis 3 and the triumph of Augustinianism over Pelagianism seriously, wouldn’t first start with fallen human nature and the incapacity for those, either unregenerate or unbaptized (depending on your communion), to see the Trinity in the true, good, and beautiful because unbelievers are turned in on themselves. In other words, doesn’t a Roman Catholic view of education presuppose that professors and students are baptized and belong to the same communion?

Schall goes on to explain that Rowland acknowledges that not all students have the same intellectual capacities:

This is not an evil, but an aspect of a common good that makes it possible to participate in a broad range of goods and fruits of labor, and insights of others. Some will be more gifted intellectually than others. Some will have greater hearts, be more insightful, or possess skills or virtues that are good. Not everyone is a genius. Indeed, studies show that only about twenty percent of students are able to grasp subtle abstract points of knowledge. The teachers and schools must know and attend to the differences.

An educational egalitarianism that presupposed that all students have the same capacities, talents, and discipline will probably end by teaching very little to neglect the real needs and skills of actual students. Some students will be more attracted to truth, others to goodness, others to beauty, and still others to all sorts of practical and unexpected things. “Human lives can turn into narrative wrecks if educators produce people who can think at high levels of abstraction but are emotionally retarded or who lack sapiential experiences, or who conversely are emotionally sensitive but have no intellectual framework with which to make judgments about their inner life.”

But imagine the narrative wreck that comes with a failure to acknowledge that students can’t understand the Triune God without a prior work of grace, that all students try to suppress the truth in unrighteousness apart from God’s saving work.

If Christian education is going to be redeemed, doesn’t redemption need to be part of the conversation?

4 thoughts on “Liberal Education After the Fall

  1. It is possible to pass through schools, even at the graduate level, and not really learn much of truth or of what is important.

    And yet all the things that have been discovered to enable “human flourishing” have come from an approach to knowledge that throws off this sort of gobbledygook. I mean besides eradicating hunger, reducing violence, ameliorating disease, increasing wealth, producing cheap, reliable energy, enabling global communication, and dramatically reducing infant mortality, what has the enlightenment done for us anyway? Perhaps all that unimportant stuff is more important to life in this world than the “deep thinkers” allow?


  2. I suppose it depends on if “covenant baptism” is law or gospel. But why would a covenant child want a liberal education, instead of a covenant education?

    Mike Horton–Jesus’s distinction in his parables between a seed that at first begins to grow but is choked by weeds, or weeds sown among the wheat, or fish caught in the net and sorted out (Matthew.13) isn’t just a distinction between the world and the church, since the fish are in fact caught in the covenantal net of the kingdom and then sorted on the last day….

    Horton—Jewish branches that didn’t yield faith were broken off to make room for living Gentile branches that share the faith of Abraham in Christ. And yet he adds, “They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you”. The whole tree is holy, but dead branches will be pruned.

    Horton—What accounts for this category: holy by public identification, but not united to Christ through faith? To be claimed as part of God’s holy field comes with threats as well as blessings. Covenant members who do not believe are under the covenant curse. How can they fall under the curses of a covenant TO WHICH THEY DIDN’T BELONG? If faith is the only way into membership, then why all the warnings to members of the covenant community to exercise faith and persevere in faith to the end?

    Horton–Covenant theology doesn’t teach that the covenant of grace itself is “breakable” . God promises his saving grace in Christ to each person in baptism, whether they embrace this promise or not. Yet they must embrace the promise in faith. Otherwise, they fall under the covenant curse without Christ as their mediator.

    In “the covenant of grace,” God takes at least one believer and their infant into His care. Abraham believed the gospel but Abraham also circumcised both of his sons (was this law or gospel?) according to God’s command (again, law or gospel?). God’s freedom in election was maintained and Isaac was the one promised a place in the genealogy leading to Christ. So was the promise to Ishmael gospel? Romans 9:7 “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his children.”

    is the “warning” of Romans 9 law or gospel. Are the warnings to Ishmael that he might not have ever “really” been part of “the covenant of grace” but only “externally related ” to “the covenant”? Is there any gospel promise to anybody that they will be kept in the covenant? Like circumcision, water baptism is done by human hands but is represented by the Roman Catholic church not as our decision but as God’s claim on people before they to college (or pre-school).

    Is this divine claim law or gospel. Although “the covenant” obligates members to the obedience of God’s faith, water baptism is God’s seal of God’s oath —-to everybody, this means either law or grace for you????

    “The matter now disputed between us, is whether unbelievers receive the substance of Christ without his Spirit.” Lutherans say that, if Christ is truly present he is present independent of the communicant’s new birth or faith or unbelief. Calvin says that one cannot truly partake of Christ without partaking of His life-giving Spirit.
    Since Christ was baptized with the Holy Spirit, Christ is not where the Spirit is not.”

    Garcia, “Christ and the Spirit”, in Resurrection and Eschatology, ed Tipton and Waddington, p 430


  3. “I suppose it depends on if “covenant baptism” is law or gospel. But why would a covenant child want a liberal education, instead of a covenant education?”

    Why instead? How about a covenant education on Sunday and a liberal education Monday – Saturday? Maybe squeeze in a liberal dose of covenant in the evenings over dinner?


  4. b, sd, doesn’t matter. “eradicating hunger, reducing violence, ameliorating disease, increasing wealth, producing cheap, reliable energy, enabling global communication, and dramatically reducing infant mortality” isn’t Christendom.


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