Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Building the Christian Academy

Arthur F. Homes, Building the Christian Academy. Eerdmans, 2001. ISBN 0-8028-4744-7

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What has the church  to do with the academy? According to Arthur F. Holmes, they have a lot to do with each other. In Building the Christian Academy he shows the interaction between the church and education for over 2,000 years. Some of the key individuals described in this book are Clement of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Peter Lombard, John Calvin, Francis Bacon, John Henry Newman and others. The history of the Christian interaction with learning is focused on seven primary periods: Church fathers, early Middle Ahes, the High Middle ages, Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, Nineteenth and Twentieth century. Holmes finds four key emphasis throughout this history:

1. "The usefulness of liberal arts as preparation for service in both church and society."
2. "The unity of truth."
3. Contemplative (or doxological) learning."
4. The care of the soul (what we call moral and spiritual formation)."

In chapter one Holmes provides biblical examples of positive interaction between faith and learning. Moses was educated in "the learning of the Egyptians." Solomon was known for his wisdom. Daniel and three other youths were educated in the learning of the Babylonians. The Apostle Paul was knowledgeable of both the Hebrew scriptures and Greek learning. Holmes states that Christianity's "engagement in higher education began in third-century Alexandria." Clement of Alexandria thought that all truth is from God, no matter where it is found. He thought the knowledge of the Greeks was useful for the Christian life. He "wanted to bring all available learning to the service of Christ." He saw both the learning of the greeks and the scriptures as one source. He thought Christians needed both reason and revelation.

Another major thinker discussed by Holmes is St. Augustine. Augustine's life was turned around by reading one of Cicero's works. It gave him a hunger for wisdom. One sees the focus on doxological learning in Augustine's Confessions: "every good he experiences and all the truth he learns come ultimately from God and are occasions for praise." Holmes states that Cicero thought that "the goal of liberal learning was wisdom, for Augustine it is the wisdom of God." Augustine affirms his "appreciation for pagan leaning" in his work, On Christian Doctrine. He thought that secular learning could be put to Christian use. He thought all truth was ultimately from God.

The monasteries emphasized the cultivation of the soul. They also taught the liberal arts. The chapter on the monasteries and cathedral schools show how these schools emphasized the development of both the moral and intellectual virtues. The Roman writer Quintilian asserted that "morals equip learning."  This idea was affirmed by the monastic schools. Holmes states, "Moral development requires a humility that is eager to learn from whatever source, a quiet life undistracted by illicit desires or undue business. . ."

One can see the four recurring emphasis with other thinkers like Thomas Aquinas and John Henry Newman. I was a little surprised by the adding of Francis Bacon. He seems to go against main parts of this tradition of learning. The thing that bothers me about Bacon is his emphasis on "knowledge is Power." He does not seem to be from the humanist tradition. C. S. Lewis speaks of these dangers in The Abolition of Man. The other weakness of this book might be since it covers so many years, it can be a little superficial. All in all, Holmes does a service for us all in showing that Christianity has had a positive interaction with the academy for over 2,000 years. The idea that faith and learning is not compatible is a minor voice in the history of the church. It is a shame that so many Christians do not know this history.

No comments:

Post a Comment