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Christmas and Classical Christian Education

Updated: Feb 26




What could classical, Christian education possibly have to do with Christmas?  At our faculty prayer meeting, once a week we read a page or two from the The Great Tradition, a collection of articles on education by greatest educators throughout history.  Last Thursday, we were reading a section from St. Augustine’s On Christian Teaching. In book 2, chapter 40-41, Augustine reflects on the significance of learning skills like grammar, logic, and rhetoric, as a Christian. With a brilliant insight from the Bible, Augustine likened Christians perspective on secular learning to God’s call of Israelites to take gold, silver, and fine clothes of Egyptians, when they were led by Moses out of it. He interpreted “gold, silver, and fine clothes” of Egypt as great gifts of God, such as classical learning (grammar, logic, rhetoric, etc), which were not used for good purposes by Egyptians.  So, God is asking his people to take them and re-purpose them for a good and holy purpose. 

 

The significance of this insight for education and for Christian view of culture has reverberated throughout history.  Augustine correctly understood that educational tools such as trivium (language arts) and quadrivium (math, science and the arts) are not neutral, but ought to be used for God’s purposes--to understand God, his plans, and his creation.  God is validating the goodness of his creation, the goodness of tools of learning, and the goodness of our capacity to learn wonderful things.  This insight is behind every great Christian thinker, writer, artist, scientist, and leader throughout history. 

 

But Augustine follows this insight with another deep insight.  These good gifts must be properly used, or it will be used for evil like the Egyptians.  And he uses an event that took place in Egypt right before they left Egypt: the Passover.  He meditates on the significance of the details of the Passover: the blood of the lamb, the use of hyssop plants (“sponge”), and painting of the blood on the crossbeams of the door frames. Passover signifies the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and his calling unto us: “Come unto me, all that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  He applies this call to come to Christ to education, and specifically to the study of Scripture, reminding us that “knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.” 

 

He also points out that the hyssop plant, like Jesus, “is a meek and lowly herb, and yet nothing is stronger and more penetrating than its roots," and that when we are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ, we are purged, as the Psalmist says, “purge me with hyssop,” and are able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, the length, and depth, and height–the cross of our Lord Jesus.  All of the great tools of learning, such as grammar, logic, and rhetoric, can be used to gain a greater understanding of the Scriptures and thus the Lordship of Christ, if and when we are “purged with hyssop,” if we come to Christ with humble attitude to learn from him, and to use knowledge for charity, to love God and others.

 

In sum, from Augustine, we learn the significance of what it means to come to Christ, the one who is lowly and humble, and to “learn from Christ.”  We should be bold in reclaiming the gold, silver, and fine clothes of knowledge, and re-purpose them to be used for Christ’s kingdom, but with humility and for charity.  I took a moment to reflect on how some of the Israelites may have reflected on these truths as they were leaving everything behind, but beginning a new life with new goals for Christ.  May the Lord bless your family during this Christmas season with such a reflection on what we can learn from our humble and lowly Christ. 

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