What is Classical Christian?
Classical education has been the nursery of Western Civilization for over 2,000 years. In its earliest manifestations, the ancient Greeks and Romans employed liberal arts training to equip certain citizens with the skills necessary to become virtuous political and cultural leaders. As the Latin word ‘liber’ (meaning “free”) indicates, the liberal arts were for free men who could think for themselves and rightly govern themselves. During the Medieval Era, scholars classified the liberal arts into the widely recognized trivium and quadrivium, which consisted of grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. All of these subjects were understood as being interrelated and foundational for understanding the true sciences of philosophy and theology. For the ancients, philosophy was the apex of all learning; for the Medieval Christian, theology was “queen of the sciences.”
Thus, all the subjects of the liberal arts can broadly be categorized into the language arts and mathematics. The language arts (grammar, linguistics, writing, rhetoric) give us the tools to understand the Scriptures, to understand the wisdom of the ages, and to thoughtfully engage our present culture. Mathematics gives us the tools to think critically and to understand the beauty and order of God’s creation.
It is from this great intellectual heritage that many of the world’s most influential people sprang forth. The early church fathers, the Reformers, and the founders of the United States are but a few notable beneficiaries of the Classical education model.
The rich tradition of Classical education was carried on in the United States until the 1880s, when progressive educators took the public school system into a new era of utilitarianism and pragmatism. Today, the focus of education is teaching children how to make a living, not how to live.
However, in 1947, classical education resurrected when Dorothy Sayers delivered a lecture at Oxford University entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” In this lecture, she argues that though we do well at teaching students subjects, we fail miserably at teaching them how to think for themselves. In the 1980s, echoing Sayers’ vision, Douglas Wilson opened a classical school in Moscow, Idaho, a school which has served as a paradigm for many other classical schools across the country.
While not an end in itself, the liberal arts curriculum is a time-proven and effective program for training Christian young people to be persuasive, winsome leaders and people of godly influence in the world.