Against vain and worldly learning



SON, be not moved with the fine and subtle sayings of men for the Kingdom of God is not in speech, but in power (1 Cor 4:20).

Attend to my words which inflame the heart and enlighten the mind, which excite to compunction and afford manifold consolations.

Never read anything that thou mayest appear more learned or more wise.

Study rather to mortify thy vices, for this will avail thee more than the being able to answer many hard questions thou must always return to one beginning.

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Grace perfects the natural primacy of parents

Last Saturday, Dr Alan Fimister began the third lesson of his course on parents as primary educators with a concise review of the vast and complex plan of the first two lessons. In its broadest terms, the mission to educate begins with the family in the natural order, is perfected by the Church in the supernatural order — without violating the natural primacy of parents — and is supported by the state in all things natural which the family cannot necessarily provide on its own. This plan corresponds in every point to the principles of natural law and the deposit of the faith. As the course breaks until the new year, participants can take this opportunity to consolidate their understanding of the premises established so far, before the course concludes with an in-depth look at the praxis of Christian education today, in some of the most hostile historical conditions that the family has ever encountered.

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How divine law differs from natural law

Those who have followed the Family and Life Academy’s course on natural law and gone straight on to the course on divine law cannot but notice the difference between the disciplines. Having traced the natural law tradition from the Acropolis of Athens to the present day, covering the key theses, antitheses and syntheses of its development and ill-fated abandonment by western thinkers, and the case for its revival in the twenty-first century, we now graduate to the subject of divine law. Having come so far and attained a more or less firm grasp of the relevant philosophical tools, the layman must be humbly disposed to find himself further back than he began — not at the Acropolis, but in Eden — with a whole new set of theological tools to get to grips with, and even more subtle tasks to tackle

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The defence of the family and the reconquest of its values

In last Friday’s webinar, Attacks against the family: a historical overview, Professor Roberto de Mattei elucidated exactly what is at stake in the battle between opposing conceptions of the family — that conceived by the philosophical realism of St Thomas Aquinas and those conceived by the succession of subjective philosophies which have arisen since the sixteenth century. 

“Luther denied that matrimony is a sacrament, and, consistent with this position, denied its indissolubility. He affirmed that matrimony could be dissolved ipso facto by infidelity on the part of one of the spouses… Divorce spread widely in the following centuries in Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican countries, but civil divorce was officially introduced in public institutions only after the French Revolution.”

Even more than the Protestant Revolt, it was the spirit of 1789 which would become the mother and model of all subsequent attacks on the family. Nowhere is this more evident that in the “philosophy” of one of the French Revolution’s most influential children, the Marquis de Sade (1740–1814).

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Latin grammar

I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this, not because Latin is traditional and medieval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labour and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least fifty per cent. It is the key to the vocabulary and structure of all the Romance languages and to the structure of all the Teutonic languages, as well as to the technical vocabulary of all the sciences and to the literature of the entire Mediterranean civilisation, together with all its historical documents.

Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning (Paper read at a Vacation Course in Education Oxford, 1947)

How to approach the issue of abortion

So far, in the Family and Life Academy’s course on abortion, Dr Greg Pike has presented data from some of the best scientific studies in recent decades, John Smeaton has explored the universal principles of natural and divine law in relation to the contemporary crisis, and Ann Farmer has delved into the historical records of the authors of the “pro-choice” narrative themselves. The course’s multifaceted approach makes the most of each teacher’s expertise to tackle the most controverted human rights issue in the world today — the right to life from its very beginning. Three lessons into the course, all the teachers have had the opportunity to contribute and have acquitted themselves of the task with uncommon clarity, depth of focus and an essential cohesion between their different disciplines — scientific, moral and historical. The result is a synthesis of substantial insights that provides a solid foundation for anyone looking to build a better understanding of the issue of abortion.

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[W]hen we look at the shameless abuse made, in print and on the platform, of controversial expressions with shifting and ambiguous connotations, we may feel it in our hearts to wish that every reader and hearer had been so defensively armoured by his education as to be able to cry: Distinguo.

For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armour was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalised in 1940 when men were sent to fight armoured tanks with rifles, are not scandalised when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotised by the arts of the spell-binder, we have the impudence to be astonished."

We dole out lip-service to the importance of education — lip-service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school leaving-age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school-hours, till responsibility becomes a burden and a nightmare; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it. … Distinguo. I should like every term in that proposition defined.

Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning (Paper read at a Vacation Course in Education Oxford, 1947)

Build your own memory mansion (2)

The faculty of remembering — of retaining and recalling what one has already experienced — helps us to act in the present and plan for the future. This is why St Thomas Aquinas associates memory with the virtue of prudence, the first of the four cardinal virtues, which comprise of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Prudence aids us in perfecting all other virtues and is the closest of all the cardinal virtues to the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, because it helps us to choose the best means of attaining our goal, and to order everything to our final end. Its rule is reason informed by faith, by the examples and teaching of Jesus Christ and His true imitators, the saints.

Just as aptitude for prudence is in our nature, while its perfection comes through practice or grace, so too, as Cicero says in his Rhetoric, memory not only arises from nature, but is also aided by art and diligence.

St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a 2ae, Q. 49. A1 g
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Why we should study the natural law tradition

In the opening lesson of his course at the Family and Life Academy, Dr Joseph Shaw explored the origins of the natural law tradition — from ancient Athens in the fifth century BC to Roman North Africa in the fourth century AD. In under an hour, Dr Shaw brought together eight centuries of key figures and ideas from diverse schools of thought, starting with Socrates and ending with the great doctor of the Latin Church, St Augustine of Hippo. He also covered Aristotle’s understanding of ergon (“function” or “characteristic behaviour”) in some depth and, without breaking stride, advanced halfway to St Thomas Aquinas’s definitive formulation of natural law in the thirteenth century.

This week, Dr Shaw has begun to build on this foundation in lesson two, with no-less-diverse materials. He explained how the augustinian tradition, Roman legal theory and the rediscovery of Aristotle in the West would impact the thinking of St Thomas Aquinas and shape the whole of the scholastic approach to natural law. He has made a second pass over the key aristotelian principles, this time from the eagle’s-eye view of Christian Revelation, continuing to expand the perspective on the natural world, on human nature in particular, and on the supernatural destiny to which humanity is called. What is more, he has made it look easy — and with four lessons still to go.

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