Oh, how I wish for an education and intellectual skills that would allow me to write an eloquent review of this book. But I am only at the beginning of the journey, walking with ever so small footsteps.
Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education by Stratford Caldecott is a deeply inspirational book that takes a look at the quadrivium (‘arithmetic being pure number, geometry number in space, music number in time, and astronomy number in both space and time’) and how God reveals Himself through these disciplines.
(The author writes from a Catholic perspective, which I did not find off-putting, but your mileage may vary.)
This book may take several readings over the course of several years to truly sink into my mind and heart. So many passages are underlined and marked in my copy, but I’ll pick and choose a few to share with you.
Symptoms of our educational crisis, such as the fragmentation of the disciplines, the separation of faith and reason, the reduction of quality to quantity, and the loss of a sense of ultimate purpose are directly related to a lack of historical awareness on the part of students. An integrated curriculum must teach subjects, and it must teach the right subjects, but it should do so by incorporating each subject, even mathematics and the hard sciences, within the history of ideas, which is the history of our culture. Every subject has a history, a drama, and by imaginatively engaging with these stories we become part of the tradition.
After all, science, like poetry, begins with a search for unifying principles, and the unifying factor in creation is its relation to God.
Kepler’s breakthrough came because he introduced a “why?” question where the astronomers of his day didn’t see the need for one. He sought physical causes for heavenly motions. And that was not because he believed less in God as the case of everything, but because he had more respect for the physical world as God’s creation and as the image of God’s mind. It was the first step toward Newton’s cosmos, in which the same universal laws (such as gravity) governed both the earth and the heavens.
This is an example of the right way of doing things: to look at what really happens, and discover the beauty in it.
Science can discover the laws of nature, but not why they are that way, nor why there is anything to obey them. That is why cosmology leads only to the threshold of theology.
The modern person feels himself to be disengaged from the world around him, rather than intrinsically related to it (by family, tribe, birthplace, vocation, and so forth). He is expected to forge his own destiny by an exercise of choice. He is concerned less with what is right than with what his rights are, or rather he grounds the former on the latter. The world for him is just a neutral space for his action, his free choice, and the greatest mysteries lie not outside but within himself.
What defines secularism more than anything is an inability to pray, and the modern world in its worst aspects is a systematic assault on the very idea of worship, an idea that begins with the acknowledgement of a Transcendent that reveals itself in the Immanent.
[I loved his closing thoughts on gratitude. It made me want to read One Thousand Gifts all over again.]
Liturgy therefore starts with remembrance. We do not make ourselves from nothing. To be here at all is a gift, and a gift (even if we are at times only obscurely aware of the Giver) evokes a natural desire to give something back to someone. We have only what we have received, but included in that gift is the capacity to transform what we now possess into something that is truly our own. Futhermore, the more grateful we are, and the more conscious of the greatness of the One, the source who gave us existence, the more beautiful we will try to make the gift.
For another perspective, read Dawn’s review at ladydusk.
Stratford Caldecott has a blog called Beauty in Education if you are interested in reading more.
And a few videos along the theme, just for fun.
“The laws of nature are but the mathematical thoughts of God.” ~Euclid