Most recently, I conducted a quick interview with the five graduating seniors at Veritas. One of the questions I asked was, “How long have you been at Veritas? And how have you grown during that time?” I was sweetly impressed by their answers. A composite answer goes something like this: “I learned how to think. I grew in reading comprehension, because we read the classics like Dante’s Inferno and G. K. Chesterton, philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and Descartes, and Christian thinkers like Augustine and C. S. Lewis. I learned the reasons behind the Christian faith.” The students spoke eloquently, with conviction and grace, in response to questions they had virtually no time to prepare for.
These short interviews (click here) confirmed several things about wisdom and eloquence as goals of classical, Christian education.
1. Wisdom is the Foundation of Eloquence. These students could not have spoken so gracefully and eloquently, if they did not have all that wisdom accumulated in them over the years, reading all those classics. According to Cicero, “eloquence without wisdom is harmful.”
2. Eloquence is an Important Virtue. According to Cicero, “wisdom without eloquence is of little use.” What good is it if you have a lot of wisdom, but cannot communicate it persuasively and gracefully?
3. True Wisdom is Christian faith with Reason. Fides quarens intellectum. Faith seeking understanding. According to G. K. Chesterton, those who try to simply understand everything will go crazy. Only those who know how to understand through faith and wonder will not only enjoy life and God more, but understand everything better.
4. Wisdom arises when the truth of the gospel shines on pagan classics. It is hard to find good Christian thinkers, until those who are trained to read the great pagan classical in light of Christian worldview. Those who just read pagan literature understand the questions of life, but not the answers; those who just read Christian literature know the answers, but not the questions. Those who read both, understand the questions and answers.
5. Wisdom is knowing how to think, not just what to think. Students who have read many classics and spent many hours discussing and debating on truth come away not smug about what they believe, but more hungry to dive the depths of truth.