And now, at long last, we enter the period of the early church fathers in The Great Tradition: Classical Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being.
Clement of Alexandria was one of the first to start writing out a defense of the traditional education in Greek philosophy, even for Christians. He was not the last, and I’m excited to delve into this era.
Next week I’ll highlight his defense of Greek philosophy, but because that’s not where he starts, that’s not where we’ll start here.
He starts not with the Greeks, but with Christ.
Christ the Educator
Clement of Alexandria opens with this thought:
There are these three things in man: habit, deeds, and passions.
Christ transforms all three angles when He becomes our educator.
Habits, Clement says, are influenced by persuasion and can guide us to godliness. This sounds like Aristotle 2.0 – Aristotle said habits lead us to virtue, Clement takes it to the next level. When Christ gets ahold of our habits, its godliness and not only civic virtue we grow in.
Deeds, he develops, are influenced by counsel. We consider, then we choose our actions. Christ sends the Counselor, and The Word is also a counselor, so that we know what we ought to do.
Passions, finally, are influenced by consolation. Here, too, Christ sends the Spirit – the Comforter – who transforms our passions.
The three-fold development, in fact, is a progression Christ takes his pupils through:
- First, He persuades. This corresponds to a salvific heart-change, which manifests as new life habits.
- Second, He educates. This is healing consolation, where our passions are conformed to His.
- Third, He teaches. This is guidance, through which we learn how to direct our path and walk in the good works He has prepared for us.
Clement says Christ is
an Educator who does not simply follow behind, but who leads the way, for His aim is to improve the soul, not just to instruct it; to guide to a life of virtue, not merely to one of knowledge.
If that is Christ’s aim in educating, in guiding and leading, should it not also be ours? Education that aims at anything less than soul-formation aims too low.
Therefore, the Word who leads us, His children, to salvation is unquestionably an educator of little ones.
So, he is the master teacher who serves as a model for all educators.
Clement is establishing the case that Christ is radically relevant to the conversation about education that has been happening since societies began forming.
In the way He educates, Christ teaches us how to educate and why:
The material He educates us in is fear of God, for this fear instructs us in the service of God, educates to the knowledge of truth, and guides by a path leading straight up to heaven.
In education, we should worship God, do all things for God, know Him through knowing truth, and all this happens on our path to heaven, not on side tangents. It is the point, the way we are to walk.
The education that God gives is the imparting of the truth that will guide us correctly to the contemplation of God and a description of holy deeds that last forever.
Yet another definition of education, fully in line with so many others: Knowing Truth + conforming ourselves to Truth = wisdom. It has been said in a variety of ways by a variety of people, but that is the essence of a classical education.
My Book Bag
- Thought-provoking: Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- Novel on the nightstand: finished Kirsten Lavransdatter and am banning myself from novels until summer
- Kindle app: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Audio: A History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer & City of God by Augustine
Truth: Reading a compelling novel makes me an irresponsible person – like, one who stays up until midnight on accident and walks around half-distracted from real life by inner analyzing of the characters’ lives. I might have to forbid myself novels except for break weeks and summer.