by William Michael
I am regularly asked by parents about the usefulness of a classical liberal arts education, or the relationship between our instruction and their children’s future. I have promised to answer these questions in detail this year and I begin my response with this biography of the man I aim to help form through my instruction. The man needs no name–he is simply a good man. In future articles, I will break down the details of his education and then, build up the entire plan from beginning to end. Enjoy. -WM
He is a good man. He is wise in many fields of learning and prudent in all areas of life. He is just, merciful, humble, careful to serve God and to help those around him. Many are dependent on him and he quietly and generously shares the fruits of his work with them. His work in the world is a matter of Divine Providence, not personal ambition. He works where he believes he is needed most, doing work God has uniquely enabled him to do. His abilities include many arts, especially those practical arts, which allow him to depend on few others. This life of work is supported by a steadfast life of prayer and reflection. Overall, he seems to be the perfect man and one will not find flaws in him without an effort that is of questionable value and motive.
His life of prayer was learned at an early age. The first words he learned to read were those of the “Glory Be” in a breviary he held for daily prayers—that was his part. Everyday, he was set in a chair at sunrise, noon and sunset—sometimes a bit earlier or later–for daily prayers. He can remember listening as his father recited the song of Zecharias each morning, and his mother the Magnificat in the evening. He memorized the Lord’s Prayer, then the Gospel canticles, then numerous psalms—just by hearing them recited day upon day. The songs on his lips as a child were Christian hymns recorded forever in his heart by his parents early diligence. His sleepy eyes were awakened daily by candles in the living room and his ears by the joyful sound of alleluias. In his mind, the sights of the setting sun and the tune of “Day is Done” are one. The Salve Regina and Ave Maria put him to sleep on many nights, while on others he didn’t make it past the departing words of old Simeon. Nevertheless, those were comforting words.
As an adult man, he cannot imagine a day not framed by hymns, psalms and prayers and among those prayers and songs his life and memories are intertwined. On some days, the words of a psalm or the opening notes of a hymn revive memories of happy events which had been forgotten years ago. The memory of his father’s youth as well as his gentle mother’s death are all kept in the pages of his old prayer book. Morning, midday, evening and night are all peace because of this inherited rhythm of daily religion—“As a child rests in his mother’s arms, even so my soul.”
Amidst the daily challenges of his work, he enjoys the fellowship of the world’s wisest and best men, for his conversations extend across generations and around the globe. When decisions are to be made, he summons the dead for counsel–and yet commits no sin in so doing, for the dead he summons live forever. His thoughts are clear and arranged as books in a great library, and he, with words fit for their expression, is not only able to draw them out for his own use, but also to lend them out for the good of many. His opinions are never heard without a saying from Cicero, a proverb from Solomon or an example from the Gospels close behind. To argue with him is to argue with Wisdom herself, for her words are the words of his mouth.
Of course this is the fruit of his rich history of liberal studies, which began long before he could understand their value. He was, like many children (including his dead counselors) pressed by prudent parents to begin early in the study of the arts of thought, language and investigation. He can remember sadly, many wasted hours when his parents’ love wasn’t enough to persuade him to study as diligently as they wished he would. They had not the learning they urged on him, yet they were the wiser in that they desired it. Nevetherless, he was successfully pushed through the painful studies of Grammar and Syntax, the seemingly impossible readings in Aristotle and the endless hours of translating Cicero and memorizing Alvrez. Finally, many years later, the tree of wisdom that his parents and teachers worked to nurture took root and shot heavenward–as soon as he left home. It was then, upon observing the proneness to error in his friends’ thinking and the limits that their language imposed upon their studies, he understood how far and high he had been brought by those painful years.
In his mind, all spheres of life now blend inseparably into one and all find one focus: the maintenance of happiness. That happiness, he has learned, is not outside of him or in some future possession or experience. It is within him and all around him, he was born with it and it is his to keep forever and he can only lose it by giving it away. Knowing he has already attained everything before he obtains anything, there is no division between his religion, work and study. His studies have always been aimed at thinking, speaking and acting well. There is no study pursued that does not contribute to these objectives, for these are the only objectives in life. He, through the example of his parents, the labors of his teachers and the fruits of his own effort, has no interest in the artificial academics that interest and impress those around him. His religion consists of no grasping for worldly honors or vain glory. His work seeks not to gain men’s money, but to serve men’s needs. The world of decay, rust and waste is outside of his own—and offers no attractions at all. He knows that what he possesses is real and permanent and that there is no selling it.
Work and prayer are never made to compete with play and leisure, for his happiness is found in his work and prayer. Vacation for him is to pillow a head free from cares, knowing duty is done. He has play enough in the simple pleasures of the natural world. Were his income to vary, it would affect him little because his expenses are minimal and constant, and could be even less if need be. In his work, his thoughts are hardly ever of the money of it all, but of the work itself, which he would continue in even if no pay was to be had for it. His life is blessed on all sides because of his simplicity, stability and supply of true friends that have been earned by his own true friendship. All who know him, know of his honesty and goodness—and the benefits he quietly reaps from that knowledge are incalculable. His handshake is firm, his speech is warm, his smile runs deep and eyes–all calm.
He would gladly hand over the world and everything around him for quiet time to listen to the words of Christ. Christ’s words are his reality. There, in Christ’s audience, seated at His feet as Mary was in Martha’s house, he is all at rest and would leave for nothing. No lands, no titles, no riches, no pleasures could ever pry him from that spot were he free to stay where he wished. Yet that same Christ bids him “Good day!” and sends him out to make disciples. So he does, quietly and easily.
In all this, we say nothing of his life—whether he be married or single, rich or poor, comfortable or homeless. We speak of authors but not of books, of business but not of money, of love but not of marriage. These things, after all, are accidental to this life of virtue and may or may not be had by those who have it. It is this life that is served by the classical liberal arts, by ancient Christianity and by timeless pursuits of good men. What comes of him in the details fo life are irrelevant for, as Scripture teaches us, “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord…all that he does shall prosper.”
William Michael, Director
Classical Liberal Arts Academy