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The liberal arts and the virtues: a Thomistic history.

When philosophy stood stainless in honor and wise in judgment, then, as facts and constant experience showed, the liberal arts flourished as never before or since; but, neglected and almost blotted out, they lay prone, since philosophy began to lean to error and join hands with folly.


Although the importance of the liberal arts is self-evident to many, the present crisis in the humanities has revealed the need for better defenses of their unique goals and worth. One of the most interesting attempts to take up this challenge argues that the humanities offer special instruction in questions of value. While disagreement about the canon and much else remains, there is a growing, if fragile, consensus that the liberal arts can benefit students morally.

As evidence for this, one might turn to a spate of new books that defend the study of the humanities as an inherently moral activity. Martha Nussbaum and Andrew Delbanco have recently argued that the humanities encourage forms of imagination and empathy necessary for full moral development. Mark Roche commends the liberal arts for their ability to groom the virtues of attentiveness and intellectual courage. Anthony Kronman has claimed that a liberal education is indispensable in helping students discern and take responsibility for their chosen moral identities. Their arguments reflect the views of an increasing number of educators. A recent study found that 70 percent of surveyed faculty believed that courses in the humanities should "develop moral character" and 66 percent responded that liberal education ought to "help students develop personal values." Both numbers represent sharp increases from three years earlier. (1)

The warm reception these books have received is not surprising. In the face of mounting financial and academic pressures, the need for a compelling justification of the liberal arts is undeniably pressing. Greater scrutiny is nonetheless warranted, perhaps especially for Catholic institutions seeking to promote the humanities through appeals to their ability to cultivate students' moral capacities. (2) The question I wish to raise can be found in Seneca's 88th letter: Do the liberal arts impart virtue? At the time Seneca wrote to his friend Lucilius, pagan philosophers and orators had debated the question for almost five centuries. Seneca himself took a middle position between those defending the perfective powers of a liberal education and those skeptical that virtue could be taught, arguing that the liberal arts provided students an essential foundation for acquiring good character later in life. What Seneca did not foresee, and what he plainly could not take into account, was that this debate would soon be joined by Christians, who would in time radically alter the content and aims of liberal education. Since it now seems we are poised to relive this debate, or at least positioned to learn from it, I think it might be worth recalling some of the ways Christian thinkers in the West struggled to explain the relation between the liberal arts and the virtues. This is a large and many-sided topic and one that cannot be undertaken through a conventional history of the extensive Christian borrowing of pagan learning; nor, I think, should our theme be confused with a history of the individual liberal disciplines.

I am instead interested in reflecting morally on the activity of humanistic study itself. How might liberal education perfect or corrupt human character? Is there a connection between the liberal arts and the virtues? My attempt to provide some answers will focus on St. Thomas Aquinas's attempted resolution of a problem that remained curiously unsettled in early Christian thought. The essay comes in two parts. The first is historical and will broadly describe the state of the question as Aquinas inherited it. In his reflections on the liberal arts Aquinas is commenting, both explicitly and implicitly, on a number of received authorities, and his positions will be better understood when set against a background that includes Greek philosophy, early Christian thought, and the writings of St. Augustine. What this history will show is that early Christian thinkers found it difficult to explain how and why the liberal arts provided an opportunity for growth in knowledge without any corresponding growth in moral virtue. In the second I lay out Aquinas's proposals for understanding the relationship between liberal education, knowledge, and character. Perhaps the greatest contribution of Aquinas here is to notice that disputes about teaching and learning are not at bottom questions about the content or order of curricula at all. He demonstrates that understanding the purpose of liberal education depends instead on a proper view of the different powers of the human soul and the virtues that perfect them. These insights move Aquinas to offer a new account of liberal inquiry and the place of the liberal arts in a Christian curriculum, one that emphasizes its ordering to the good of the speculative intellect and not the perfection of the will. Because Aquinas nonetheless aims to establish continuity rather than rupture with previous thinkers, the history preceding his handling of the problem deserves more than passing comment, and to that I now turn.

At the Origins of a Christian Debate

Early Christian discussion of the liberal arts was in many ways a final stage of an ancient pedagogical dispute as old as Western philosophy. By liberal education I mean that course of study that began to take shape in the Hellenistic age and achieved standard form in the fifth century CE. (3) It is important to note at once the difficulty in providing a nominal or real definition of liberal education in antiquity, since there was little agreement about its content or aims. Broadly speaking, liberal education came in two competing forms. On one hand were schools of rhetoric that focused on instructing students in grammar, composition, and oratory. This conception of liberal education, associated with Isocrates, Cicero, and Quintilian, saw the liberal arts as a literary education that equipped students for a place in public life. On the other were schools of philosophy, much fewer in number, who saw the liberal arts as ordered to the speculative search for truth. Here the legacy of Socrates was preeminent and the emphasis fell on the disciplines of logic, dialectic, and mathematics. (4)

Perhaps no question so agitated ancient educators as whether virtue could be taught. The Greeks first confronted this question when traditional forms of education came under scrutiny in the sixth century. What is called the "old" education had been essentially martial in character and was intended to teach a morality of honor. The curriculum, such as it was, focused on a physical regimen of gymnastics and the recitation of poetry. The aims of the old education were thus principally moral, as young Greek men of high social standing were initiated into a code that valorized noble actions in combat. Literature played a hortatory and didactic role in this curriculum; through stories of great deeds, students were encouraged to imitate exemplars of human excellence. Yet as Greek society underwent transformation at the turn of the fifth century, some began to ask if the goals of this education were being threatened. Was the life of the democratic polis corrosive of virtue?

Many of us know a version of this history from the dialogues of Plato, which feature a sustained debate between rival positions about how to produce morally excellent students. On Plato's telling, this debate culminated in Socrates' arguments against the possibility that virtue could be taught. No teacher, no curriculum, and certainly no piece of writing, Socrates maintained, could impart virtue to even the best student. Socrates instead attempted to demonstrate, through argument and practice, that all genuine learning was teacherless and that a moral educator could only act as a kind of midwife to help pupils give birth to knowledge of the good on their own. (5) Socrates' views met with derision or worse from many sides. Defenders of the old education such as Aristophanes, and promoters of the new sophistic education such as Protagoras, saw Socratic skepticism as a threat to the Greek tradition of teaching virtue. The personalities and issues involved in this dispute stand as the first educational crisis in the West and established lines of debate that would hold until the early Christian era. (6)

It is paramount to appreciate that Socrates did not win this debate, at least historically, and that he lost to those who claimed the liberal arts could impart virtue. Socrates is traditionally revered as a defender of virtue in face of amoral Sophists, and it is a credit to Plato's gifts as a philosopher and literary artist that his teacher is so remembered. The truth is rather more complicated. A reader of Plato would never learn from him that many Sophists combined their rhetorical education with traditional moral views and a healthy respect for philosophy. It was precisely this generous approach to learning that allowed Sophists of a more humanistic persuasion to shape liberal education in the Hellenistic age to come. Protagoras might have bragged that he could teach a student to win any side of an argument, but not every Sophist identified arete with exploitive success. Isocrates, for his part, regarded the liberal arts as a means to genuine self-improvement and preparation for virtuous citizenship. Often called the "father of liberal education," (7) Isocrates represented a pedagogical via media that criticized the unending speculative disputations of the philosophers as well as the moral coarseness and excessive concern with style found in some orators. A flexible curriculum, rooted in the study of both literature and philosophy, he thought, could produce gentlemen capable of participating wisely in affairs of state. Although the great philosophical academies of antiquity continued for centuries, it was the legacy of Isocrates, not Socrates or his followers, that left its deep impression on education in the West. "Isocrates pronounced, Cicero elaborated, and Quintilian repeated the conviction not only that the polished orator should possess every personal and social virtue, but that, in fact, only the good man can become a true orator." (8)

In turning to consider the Christian response to ancient education, we find a remarkable feature of early Christian life: no effort is made to establish independent Christian schools or to reform pagan education from within. The practice of Christians was instead to accommodate themselves almost entirely to established schools and supplement its instruction with religious catechesis in the home. "Never throughout the whole of antiquity, except for a few particular cases, did the Christians set up their own special schools," Henri Marrou observed. "They simply added their own specifically religious kind of training on to the classical teaching that they received along with their non-Christian fellows." (9) One finds, in fact, little written by Christians on education before the beginning of the third century at all. The New Testament contains hardly a word on the dominant theme of ancient philosophy, making only brief reference to education (paideia) in Paul's advice to Christian parents. (10) There were, in time, exceptional cases, such as the catechetical school in Alexandria founded by Clement and later led by Origen. (11) Yet it would still be centuries until monastic and cathedral schools assumed broader teaching responsibilities by offering instruction in secular subjects. Perhaps the most telling evidence of how comfortable early Christians grew in pagan institutions was their alarm, bordering on panic, at Julian's edict banning them from teaching in the imperial system in 362. (12)

If the early Christian community left the institutional status quo unchallenged, Christian thinkers certainly did reflect critically on the surrounding academic environment. They found a culture that boasted of the transformative power of the liberal arts; indeed, as Werner Jaeger chronicled, the liberally educated person was not simply an embodiment of the ideals of Hellenistic civilization, but something like its defining and signature expression. (13) The Greeks traditionally called this formation paideia and the Romans humanitas, but from the Christian perspective their claims were indistinguishable: a form of human excellence was reserved for those possessed of the rhetorical and speculative gifts cultivated by the liberal arts. (14) It was for this reason that the benefits of liberal learning commonly served as a debating point for pagan apologists. Celsus was confident in claiming that Christian superstition was due in no small part to the intellectual and moral failings that resulted from not having received a proper education. That Origen evidently thought Celsus's arguments needed refutation seventy years after he made them indicates just how seriously early Christians took them. (15)

The conventional history of how Christians made use of pagan learning obscures not only how conflicted they were toward the liberal arts but also how difficult they found explaining their ambivalence. On the one hand, Christians were inclined to deny that virtue could be acquired by reading secular texts. Christians were not, of course, indifferent to the transformative power of reading as such; it was precisely the recognized ability of words to mediate perceptions of reality that made them uneasy with pagan classics. But if it was doubtful that pagan stories and characters exemplified real virtues, it seemed even more dubious that Christians could benefit morally from reading them. On the other hand, Christian thinkers acknowledged that the intelligent defense and promotion of their faith required an education no Christian institution could provide. Even Paul himself appeared unsure of how to resolve these tensions: the apostle dismissed the "subtle words" of Greek literature and "vain" thinking of pagan philosophy, only to deliver a sermon on the Areopagus that drew conspicuously from pagan poets. (16)

Early Christian apologists fared little better in establishing clear lines of critique. A common charge, repeated until the Renaissance, held that the liberal arts encouraged immorality. Christian thinkers in the West had not yet developed a sophisticated metaphysical account of how the practice of reading could help students ascend from sensible images to spiritual realities--that would have to wait for Augustine--but they were sensitive to the power of images to disorder the human will and imagination. The apologists showed particular regard for the liberal arts' ability to mislead students morally. Minucius Felix thought Plato had been right to expel the poets from his ideal city. Their tales, he contended, celebrated and excused the poets' own vices. (17) Arnobius went further in blasting grammar, music, and even geometry as incitements to vanity. (18) Tatian's criticisms included the administration of pagan schools, whose "arts" he condemned as oriental knock-offs. Christians enrolled in the liberal arts, Tatian scoffed, were not even receiving Greek wisdom, but that of the Egyptians and Persians. (19) More common, however, was a view that combined these ethical concerns with a grudging admiration for the training the liberal arts provided. Tertullian gave voice to the divided attitude of many in the Latin Church: "Let us recognize the necessity of liberal study," he remarked, only to add, "Let us reflect that partly it cannot be admitted, partly cannot be avoided." (20) Although sympathetic to Tertullian's concerns, Lactantius also saw the liberal arts as a means to acquiring both the eloquence needed to persuade others of Christian truth and as a way to better understand the moral order of the universe. (21)

Although Christians quickly adapted themselves to pagan institutions of learning, they did so with misgivings they often found difficult to articulate. Their reasons were rooted as much in experience as theory: no Christian could deny that many holy people were ignorant of the liberal arts, while the educated did not always live good lives. And there was too the Christian tradition, a minority one in the West, that venerated in, for example, St. Anthony the sanctity of one said to be illiterate. In hindsight, it might seem odd that Christians did not build schools modeled on the struggling philosophical academies. Not only had Platonic, Peripatetic, and Stoic schools long regarded their rhetorical counterparts as engaged in less lofty intellectual pursuits; many had also by late antiquity taken on distinctly religious overtones with striking parallels to the early Christian church. (22) As it happens, Christians opted overwhelmingly for a literary education, not a philosophical one. The first formal account of the liberal arts by a Christian author, Basil's "Address to Young Men on Greek Literature," captured the robustly literary spirit of early Christian education. Insisting that Christian students could grow in love of virtue through a careful reading of pagan literature, Basil's oration extolled Odysseus, Alexander, and Achilles for their moments of prudence, self-control, and courage. Although his address bears all the marks of a gifted Hellenistic mind, Basil undercuts a traditional claim made on behalf of the liberal arts--indeed, seems to flatly deny it. So far as the virtues are concerned, Basil suggests, a student should first become a Christian so that what is morally "injurious" in the pagan classics can be avoided and what is "beneficial" grasped in its true Christian light. (23) For Basil, then, the liberal arts could be a part of a life of maturing virtue, but no substitute for it; the liberal arts could help students better esteem moral excellence, but could not impart it. While there is no proof that he ever read Basil, Augustine showed every indication of having wrestled even more deeply with these same questions about education and character.

Augustine and His Unfinished Legacy

Although early Christian reflection on liberal education was occasionally rich and usually spirited, it left largely unresolved how Christians should respond to those defending its perfective powers. To be sure, certain claims had to be denied. Any boast that the liberal arts were the sole means to happiness was clearly anathema, as was any belief in hermetic truths hidden to all but the specially educated. (24) Yet even those Christian thinkers most suspicious of pagan learning always conceded that it provided an opportunity for both corruption and some kind of excellence. Perhaps no figure in Christian history embodied these tensions as dramatically as Augustine, who wove his views of the liberal arts into the story he tells of his own life. His legacy, as we will see, is to have clarified three lines of Christian argument about the liberal arts and to have proposed a theological solution to a nagging pedagogical problem.

Augustine's life can be plotted as a search for a form of knowledge that would not only satisfy his deepest intellectual yearnings, but also bring about moral goodness. In his Confessions, Augustine records that his mother encouraged him to study the liberal arts because "she thought it would do no harm and would be a help to set me on the way towards you." (25) Monica's son politely declines to point out how mistaken she was, as Augustine discovers that his early education would make him neither happy nor good--just the opposite. Augustine's course of study was a traditional Roman rhetorical education focusing on Latin grammar and literature. He credits it with making him more intellectually capable, but also criticizes it for leading him to moral ruin. On the one hand, he observes, "I was gradually being given a power which became mine and still remains with me: the power to read any writing I came across and to write anything I have a mind to." On the other hand, his talents for "quick thinking" and "acute analysis" were "not helpful but pernicious," leading Augustine to ask, "What advantage did it bring to have a good thing and not to use it well?" (26)

The question that puzzled earlier Christian thinkers thus becomes a guiding thread in Augustine's autobiography and beyond: Why is an improved understanding no guarantee of an improved character? Similar questions would later become the focus of Augustine's writings on grace and free will, but their origins are as much pedagogical as theological and emerge from his relationship with the liberal arts. As all readers of the Confessions know, Augustine learned that the Roman education that promised to equip him with humanitas did nothing to rightly order his passions. Like his contemporary Jerome, who prayed for the self-control to abstain from poetry, Augustine found the liberal arts threatened to be incitements to vice. (27) His success in mastering the arts of rhetoric and disputation only further inflamed his vanity and love of praise. His growing capacity to be moved by literature led him to lament the moral failings of fictional characters rather than his own. The liberal arts promised Augustine gifts of insight, grace, and composure. He realized, however, that not only could his studies not cure his pride, curiosity, and lust--they gave birth to vices of their own.

Augustine's experiences as a student were only multiplied when he began to instruct others in the same talents he had so skillfully exploited. As a teacher of "the arts reputed liberal," he trained students to win the good opinion of others through effective speech and argument. The result, he laments, was that his pupils learned to "pursue the empty glory of popularity." (28) Augustine's turn of phrase marks a Christian break with antiquity: since the liberal arts could not free him or his students from enslavement to their passions, Augustine deems them unworthy of the name "liberal." (29) The "so-called liberal arts" did help in one critical respect, however. The discovery of Cicero's Hortensius and the books of the Platonists revealed the ambiguous power of knowledge over his will and appetites. "The books changed [mutavit] my affections," Augustine observes, and "I was inflamed [succensus] by a great love of philosophy." (30) Although the Platonic books failed to persuade Augustine that virtue was wholly synonymous with knowledge, they did teach him to distinguish between the intelligible and the sensible, a metaphysical distinction that would remain a feature of his mature theological work. And it was no mere theoretical insight, because it allowed Augustine to see that the incorporeal and corporeal must also be rightly ordered within himself--and that the knowledge available to him as a non-Christian would not, indeed could not, achieve this. Augustine's education henceforth took on an expressly ethical aspect: a true pedagogy must help him not simply to know the truth, but love it as well. (31)

When Augustine reflected back on his early education in De civitate Dei, he concluded that the liberal arts had led him to moral ruin inevitably. His Roman education was a fruit poisoned by having roots in a decadent pagan culture; Augustine quotes Cicero's admission that the liberal arts were corrupted by inordinate self-love: "it is honor that nourishes the arts; it is glory that kindles men to intellectual effort." (32) Augustine's brief exposure to philosophy nonetheless gestured toward a new pedagogical possibility. His first experience with Platonism was of little moral benefit. Not knowing the difference between "presumption and confession," it only made him "puffed up with knowledge." (33) But what if a Christian liberal arts curriculum could be formed, one modeled not on the rhetorical schools of Rome but on the philosophical academies of ancient Greece? Could the errors of pagan liberal education thereby be corrected?

Augustine's search for a course of study that could reorder his mind and will inspired one of the most fascinating pedagogical experiments in early Christianity. In the winter of 386, a group of friends that included his mother and his pupils Licentius and Trygetius joined Augustine for a retreat at a villa in Cassiciacum. Under Augustine's direction, the catechumens vowed to prepare for baptism through intensive study of the liberal arts. Their teacher also planned to author an encyclopedia of the seven liberal disciplines, showing how they might provide paths toward Christian conversion and discipleship. (34) This work did not come to fruition and Augustine instead produced a series of dialogues, De Ordine, De Beata Vita, and Contra Academicos, that testified to their author's quest to align the liberal arts with a life of virtue. Written the year of Augustine's conversion, the first of these deserves attention for its unusually strong claims about the perfective power of liberal study.

De Ordine asks how students can move from a state of ignorance and disorder to a condition of knowledge and order, thus attaining the happiness that all seek. It answers with interpretations of each of the seven liberal arts that show how they can serve as propaedeutic to philosophical contemplation. The debilitating problem with pagan liberal education was that since it lacked knowledge of man's revealed final end, it could not offer reliable instruction in the true or the good. But with the guidance of Christian revelation, Augustine now insists, the liberal arts can produce pupils "more alert and steadfast and better equipped for embracing truth." (35) The dialogue pursues this goal by considering how the order of disciplines (ordo disciplinarum) can serve as a protreptic path to learning the rational order of creation (ordo rerum).

The second book of De Ordine outlines the route an inquirer must take to attain happiness in this life, charting a course of study beginning with grammar, moving through logic and mathematics, and ending with philosophy. The key to its argument is found in a neoplatonic theory of reading that consolidates the activities of study and ethics. (36) Earlier Augustine had struggled with understanding the relationship between material signs and spiritual realities. Having not grasped the difference between reading with the eyes of the body and reading with the eyes of the mind, he failed to raise his intellect above sensible images. From translations of Porphyry and Plotinus, however, Augustine began to learn that an act of careful reading might successfully reorient his soul away from sensible things and toward transcendent truths. (37) The dialogue argues that the seven liberal arts, when undertaken with a Christian view of their order and end, teach a student to discern the universal forms or patterns underlying material phenomena. All creaturely reality bears witness to the deeper metaphysical realities of which sensible things are the mere image, and the liberal disciplines train students to perceive the immanent rational order of creation. Augustine's goal at Cassiciacum, then, is to demonstrate that the liberal disciplines cultivate students' powers of abstraction and the ability to reason apart from immediate sense experience, thus habituating them for philosophical contemplation.

The liberal arts are morally perfective, Augustine insists, because they enable students to identity more fully with the faculty of reason and affirm its authority over the passions. It is this claim that permits Augustine to assert that a liberal education imparts virtue. The dialogue 's moral confidence in "the books of men illustrious" thus depends significantly on understanding virtue as rational composure and self-control. Its assumption (for which it provides little argument) is that knowledge of the providential ordering of creation prepares students to withstand life's apparent misfortunes and injustices--and that such self-mastery is identical with virtue. In an especially revealing passage borrowed from Virgil, Augustine compares the virtuous person to a motionless rock in a violent sea. (38) Here it is worth recalling that Augustine's proposal about how the liberal arts can make students happy is introduced as a solution to a problem about theodicy: Augustine wants to show how the intellectual formation and conceptual resources provided by a liberal education enable students to recognize order, meaning, and harmony where others might be tempted to see disorder. (39)

If Augustine had despaired about the ability of a pagan education to rightly order his soul, De Ordine is evidence of a renewed hope that the liberal arts might function as a liaison to a life of Christian virtue. It stands as a high-water mark in early Christian confidence in the deep compatibility between liberal and Christian education. (40) While Aquinas would later embrace aspects of Augustine's argument, Augustine quickly came to reject his claim that happiness could be achieved through liberal study. He repented too of his belief that "those who have not drunk at all from the fountain of the liberal arts are hungry and famished." (41) It was a painfully familiar realization, as Augustine concluded, and not for the first time, that no form of human study, not even Christian Platonism, could bring about a victory of his intellect over his will and appetites. The earthly happiness he thought Christian otium could bring was simply not possible, and only a "spirit of pride," he mournfully records, could have persuaded him otherwise. (42)

Augustine's early career saw him struggling to understand and explain two insights that would shape the thinking of Aquinas. The first was that no liberal education could impart virtue without knowledge of man's true happiness. The second was that a Christian philosophical education could seemingly perfect a student's speculative reason without somehow reordering his or her appetites. Although Augustine arrived at these insights only through bitter disappointments at Milan and Cassiciacum, he continued in his quest to harmonize virtus and eruditio and produced in De Doctrina Christiana his most mature contribution to the problem of liberal education and character. Completed in 426, the treatise has received extensive scholarly attention owing to its canonical place in the history of Western education. Sometimes named the first "charter" or "program" for advanced Christian studies, De Doctrina endeavors to show how a classical literary education can be put in service of a new Christian culture. Its announced purpose is to prepare teachers to under stand and communicate the higher mysteries of Scripture. (43)

The treatise is equally significant for reasons less often appreciated, namely, for its defense of a type of study that could impart virtues no pagan curriculum was even prepared to recognize. In showing how the liberal arts are indispensable for sound scriptural interpretation, De Doctrina also identifies biblical study as a program of moral education--one that "subjects the body to a kind of arduous drill" and "extinguishes the lusts that make bad use of the body." (44) Among the last of Augustine's works to be completed, De Doctrina returns to an early theme and mounts a new defense of an old claim. It begins by identifying a standard Augustinian problem. Since the human condition is one in which the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, Augustine maintains that a complete education must include subjecting the body to the soul, "as the natural order of things requires." (45) The claim De Doctrina defends is that the careful reading of the Bible, which requires preparatory study in the seven liberal arts, is part of a moral project of caring for "true health of mind and body." (46)

Its argument stands on a pair of claims that together offer a revolutionary account of liberal education. Augustine, we have seen, improved both as a student and a reader by learning to distinguish between the sensible and the intelligible, as well as between things (rei) and signs (signa). De Doctrina adds a further distinction between things to be loved for their own sake (frui) and things to be used for an end beyond itself (uti). (47) Augustine explains that a moral education requires grasping the proper relation between love and use--learning the difference between what is lovable in itself and what is lovable only for the sake of another--and that this is precisely what the Bible teaches. The student of Scripture "is not going to find anything else in it but that God is to be loved on God's account, and one's neighbor on God's account." (48) To this first claim about the revealed moral precepts of Scripture Augustine adds a second: that the Bible is a form of divine speech mediated through human language. Hence, unlike other forms of writing, biblical literature is the inspired word of God himself, communicated through creaturely speech, images, allegory, and metaphor. Now, when these two ideas are combined--when a student is able to learn how and what to love through words inspired by divine pedagogy--Augustine is able to recognize the possibility of radical conversion through liberal study. And indeed, this divine education is at last a truly "liberal" education because it leads a student to that genuine freedom for which Christ makes students free (Jn 8:36) and to that true liberty where the Spirit of Lord is present (2 Cor 3: 17).

Where the seven liberal arts functioned as propaedeutic to philosophical contemplation in De Ordine, they now serve as a ladder for reaching the higher mysteries of Scripture in De Doctrina. Augustine outlines a six-step path of ascent by which a student of pious intentions grows in virtue through lectio divina. The pupil proceeds by (i) becoming converted by the fear of God, mourning his ignorance of God's purposes and wishing to know God's will more fully; (2) growing in humility, as he acknowledges his previous failure to revere God; (3) recognizing that Scripture teaches not just the fear of God, but also the love of God and neighbor; (4) seeking God's help for an increase of courage so that he might more earnestly desire justice and temperance; (5) increasing in love of one's neighbor, as the finite goods of life lose their luster; and (6) anticipating the vision of God now that his illuminated understanding is unclouded by disordered loves. According to Augustine, the spiritual fruit of this learning is the bestowal of theological virtues by the action of the Holy Spirit. The study of the liberal arts, when made subservient to biblical study, can thus provide a path by which a student is imparted divine gifts of faith, hope, and love. (49) Now, this is clearly an answer to one pedagogical problem--it demonstrates that liberal study and theological virtue can be assimilated with God's help--but appears to leave unanswered which of the acquired virtues a liberal education might impart apart from supernatural assistance. It was a question Augustine would not return to.

Augustine untangles three lines of argument that entwined earlier Christian thought. First, the liberal arts cannot impart genuine virtues so long as they are not informed by and ordered to knowledge of man's final end. This holds as much for the curriculum of Isocrates and Cicero as much as it does for Socrates and Seneca. Second, a liberal arts curriculum ordered to the good of philosophical contemplation cultivates a kind of cognitive excellence. It cannot, however, by itself rightly reorder the will or appetites. Although Augustine had difficulty both understanding and explaining this point--how one could grow in moral knowledge but somehow not in moral goodness--he implicitly recognized a kind of genuinely intellectual excellence that could be attained without any accompanying moral virtue. Third, when the liberal arts are part of a course of study involving the pious reading of Scripture, students can find their studies an occasion for growth in the theological virtues, which heal both intellect and will through divine grace. Augustine's legacy was to have clarified, not to have harmonized, these three strands of Christian thought. In the centuries that followed, Christian writers in the West did not by and large return to Augustine's deepest pedagogical concerns and instead found themselves preoccupied with the much different task of ordering and classifying knowledge to ensure its preservation. The most important of these are the didascalic treatises of Cassiodorus, Isidore, and Hugh of St. Victor, which were crucial in maintaining cultural literacy, but less concerned with questions about moral pedagogy. Our question about the relation of knowledge and character thus lay

somewhat dormant until it fell to St. Thomas Aquinas.

Aquinas and the Liberal Arts

Aquinas's discussion of the liberal arts involves him in a centuries-long debate about the nature and purpose of education. While the word educatio seldom appears in his writings, Aquinas's contributions to the philosophy of education are nonetheless extensive. (50) It is not only that he defends positions in metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and epistemology that bear directly on how we should understand (and undertake) the activities of teaching and learning; it is also that that his arguments on these and other topics are motivated by his religious order's special concern for the moral formation of students. (51) Aquinas's views on pedagogy and ethics combine to offer a comprehensive response to Seneca's question about the liberal arts and the virtues. Should Aquinas be right, it will turn out that the liberal arts can impart intellectual virtues but not moral virtue. Explaining how he reaches this conclusion will occupy the remainder of this article. (52)

Aquinas is arguably the first Christian theologian to subject liberal education to sustained philosophical examination. A new set of scholastic questions emerges, as we find an author asking for the first time what a liberal art is and what kind of cognitive activity liberal study involves. In taking this approach, Aquinas is moved by the conviction that teaching the thought of Aristotle would require changes to the trivium and quadrivium. The Aristotelian division of philosophy into the natural, moral, and metaphysical sat uneasily with the older arrangement in which the seven liberal arts were simply regarded as aspects of philosophy. (53) Aristotle's account was not entirely novel, however. In the second chapter of his De Trinitate Boethius had similarly distinguished the philosophical disciplines, but without the complete Aristotelian corpus Christian thinkers could only speculate about the contents of a curriculum dating to the philosophical schools of antiquity. The rediscovery of Aristotle thus provided an opportunity to clarify how the trivium and quadrivium, a product of Hellenistic rhetorical education, might be harmonized with the new learning. (54)

In the fifth question of his commentary on Boethius, Aquinas poses a question that had largely escaped theoretical examination: What is a liberal art? His answer reconfigures a millennium of Christian thinking about education. A liberal art, Aquinas says, is "a work that is directly a product of reason itself." (55)

Perhaps the best point of entry into this discussion is to explain how Aquinas defines "liberal" and "art." Aquinas inherits a pair of conventional terms and he subtly modifies them to suit his own purposes, taking care to indicate points of ligature and rupture. As for the first, the adjective liberalis had been used in reference to education by Roman authors at least since Cicero and implied a condition of freedom that stood opposed to the life of a slave. Aquinas also finds the word in translations of Aristotle in which the philosopher speaks about the free man (liber). For both Aristotle and Cicero, "liberal" thus carried a principally legal connotation, signifying that one possessed freedom of movement. (56) To be "liberal" in the ideal sense was also to bear the marks of a free person, to be magnanimous, noble, and above all fit for leisure. This juridical understanding was partially retained by Augustine, who used liberalis to refer to freedom from the burden of sin (which the so-called liberal arts could not provide).

While Aquinas makes regular use of political analogies in thinking about the rule of the intellect over the body, he diminishes the legal connotation of liberalis by identifying it with a special cognitive activity. For Aquinas, rational animals are uniquely capable of free action because they move themselves through rational judgment; to be free is to be the cause of one's actions, he says, and "only self-movers have freedom in respect of acting." (57) Now, human activities are free in different ways and to different degrees, and Aquinas argues that only the activity of the intellect is free in the preeminent sense: "The end of the human soul is not moving the body, but intellectual cognition [intelligere]." (58) And since our highest cognitive activity is speculative, it follows that the freest human activity is metaphysical inquiry. Aquinas's alteration of the meaning of liberalis is slight but important, because it no longer refers chiefly to unimpeded bodily movement. An activity free in the truest sense, indeed the preeminently liberal activity, is contemplative activity that seeks metaphysical knowledge for its own sake.

As for "art," Aquinas offers another refinement of Aristotle. The philosopher had defined techne as an activity concerned with excellence in production or making, a definition Aquinas endorses. An art is "right reason about certain works to be made." (59) Aquinas's original insight here is to notice that Aristotle speaks only of the mechanical arts, understood as any transitive activity involving bodily effort that results in a material product distinct from the activity itself. The mechanical arts pertain to the "slavish" or "servile" part of human nature in that they are essentially a work of bodily activity. Are there arts whose production is essentially independent of the body? Are there arts that are not servile? Indeed there are and these are the liberal arts. Rather than involving "some bodily activity," Aquinas says they are the work of the "free" aspect of human nature. Hence a liberal art is "a work that is directly a product of reason itself." (60)

Aquinas's definition of a liberal art offers little by way of accompanying explanation and clarification. He provides some help in noting that each of the seven arts should be understood as works of the "productive reason" (ratio factiva). Logic produces syllogisms, rhetoric produces discourses, geometry produces proofs, music produces melodies, and so on. The discussion is brief and compressed, but Aquinas would seem to be arguing that the liberal arts are the spiritual products of a rightly ordered intellect. A valid syllogism, a grammatically sound composition, a correctly computed sum, a melodious tune or harmony--all exhibit or display the work of a properly functioning intellect. What then are the liberal arts for? In a critical passage, Aquinas argues that the liberal arts teach the "method" of the sciences. The trivium and quadrivium are, as their names suggest, viae--"paths leading the mind to the other philosophical disciplines." So the liberal arts are the paths that direct the rational soul to the highest forms of inquiry. Aquinas explains how in his commentary on the Posterior Analytics:
   An art seems to be nothing more than a definite and fixed procedure
   [certa ordinatio] established by reason, whereby human acts reach
   their due end through appropriate means. Now reason is not only
   able to direct the acts of the lower powers but is also director of
   its own act [sui directiva est]: for what is peculiar to the
   intellective part of man is its ability to reflect upon itself....
   Therefore just as the art of building or carpentering, through
   which man is enabled to perform manual acts in an easy and orderly
   manner, arose from the fact that reason reasoned about manual acts,
   so in like manner an art is needed to direct the act of reasoning
   [directiva ipsius actus rationis], so that by it a man when
   performing the act of reasoning might proceed in an orderly and
   easy manner and without error. (61)

Here is the core of Aquinas's understanding of the liberal arts: they are works of speculative reason whose purpose is to guide the intellect to its due end. Why ought students study logic, grammar, rhetoric, math, and music? It seems they should do so primarily to prepare their minds for properly metaphysical inquiry. The liberal arts are the route, as it were, that the developing intellect must take to be habituated for contemplation. Or as Alasdair MacIntyre puts it, "The student's movement through the curriculum as a whole is directed toward the good of a comprehensive and completed understanding." (62) If the liberal arts direct the act of reasoning to its theoretical end, this does not make their value purely instrumental. For Aquinas also appears to be arguing that they are works by which we cannot only form our minds but come to know them as well. One of Aquinas's deepest and most compelling insights is that the liberal arts are a means of arriving at self-knowledge. Since human beings cannot on Aquinas's account know their essential natures directly--but only through reflecting on objects of sense experience--the liberal arts permit a rational soul to study itself. They provide a way, to borrow from the psalmist, by which we can meditate on the work of our minds. (63)

Aquinas's account of the arts and sciences might be better understood when we see where each are placed in his proposed curriculum. Drawing from a classical sequence, Aquinas lists the correct order of learning as logic, mathematics, physics, ethics, and metaphysics, a curriculum that charts a course of development beginning with knowledge of first principles and ending with knowledge of a first cause. (64) In some sense, the scenario is an ideal one in which the ordo addiscendi follows both the ordo cognoscendi and the ordo essendi. In another sense, Aquinas's curriculum also shows a practical concern that learning be adapted not only to the human mode of knowing, which depends on sense experience, but also to the developmental stages of human knowing, which is conditioned by age, character, and cultural context. Hence, Aquinas argues a young student is fit to study logic and math because they are known by abstraction from sensible experience and require little experience or imagination to understand. The next stage, natural science or natural philosophy, requires more extensive life experience and more acute powers of observation; their study depends on an intellectual capacity to discern natural kinds and their characteristic activities. Finally, with respect to morals and metaphysics, Aquinas argues their study presupposes a great deal of experience, a soul liberated from bodily passions, and a sharp mind. Both subjects, Aquinas warns, are "unprofitable" for the inexperienced.

Arts and Virtues

Now an art is also a virtue. In the Summa Aquinas notes that it is, specifically, a kind of intellectual virtue. An art is different from other habits, however, in that its excellence is measured by the goodness of its product rather than the character of the agent. "For a craftsman, as such, is commendable, not for the will with which he does a work, but for the quality of the work." (65) Aquinas is therefore adamant that to be a good artist or artisan one needs only the intellectual virtue that guides right reasoning about things to be made; the excellence of an art depends in no way "on man's appetitive faculty being affected in this or that way." (66) Of course, to attain or make good use of an art requires the moral virtues; but for Aquinas this is a separate issue entirely, since the goodness of an art itself is, strictly speaking, measured solely by the quality of its object. For this reason, Aquinas concedes that art is not a virtue in the full sense: "it falls short of being a perfect virtue, because it does not make its possessor to use it well." (67)

If the maker of an art does not need a rightly ordered will, one will still wonder about the relation between the liberal arts and a student. Aquinas offers a family of arguments on this point and they each follow from his account of the diverse powers of the human soul. (68) To begin with, Aquinas's arguments clearly indicate that the liberal arts can help impart the intellectual virtues of wisdom, science, and understanding, those habits that help students make sound judgments about necessary truths. These are excellences of the intellect in its speculative capacity and so aid a pupil in arriving at knowledge of a demonstrated scientia. A student who successfully passes through Aquinas's curriculum will therefore have cultivated his or her ability to see the truth of self-evident propositions and to reason more soundly from principles to conclusions. Students will also have improved their ability to understand the world under the divisions of form and matter, act and potency, and essence and existence; to understand each particular science in its relation to other sciences; and to grasp the relation of parts to their ultimate divine cause. (69) Seneca asked, "Can the liberal arts impart virtue?," and we can now see that Aquinas's first answer is that the liberal arts can impart those virtues that perfect our uniquely theoretical capacities; indeed, this is the very purpose of a liberal education properly understood. Yet this is only one aspect of Aquinas's response and the ethical implications of a Thomistic liberal education remain an open matter. Can the liberal arts impart moral virtue?

Aquinas maintains that they cannot and understanding why requires closer attention to the differences between intellectual and moral virtue. Aquinas does what no previous Christian thinker had done by introducing a clear and firm division between the intellectual and moral virtues, a distinction corresponding to the different powers of the human soul that partake of reason. Some of the soul's activities involve the mind's power to know and are perfected by the intellectual virtues, while others involve the appetite's power to act and feel, and are perfected by the moral virtues. (70) Now, Aquinas recognizes this division is of considerable pedagogical importance. Following Aristotle, he holds that a student can be instructed in the virtues of wisdom or science since they can be acquired through demonstrative knowledge. The virtues of temperance, justice, and fortitude, however, are learned only by repeated acts. One cannot, in short, become morally virtuous by thinking rightly about the good--only by doing as one should. (71)

If moral virtue cannot be imparted through academic study, only learned by imitation and practice, what does this mean for those who claim the humanities can cultivate the moral capacities of students? Might they say that a liberal education nonetheless inclines a pupil to good action? No, Aquinas contends, studying the liberal arts depends upon the previous acquisition of those virtues (such as docility) that subject the passions to the rule of reason. But if a liberal education cannot incline a student to right actions, might it at least dispose them to right desires and emotions? Perhaps Aquinas's most challenging claim is that this is not the case either. He holds that mastering the arts and Sciences does nothing of itself to rectify a student's will or appetites; the intellectual virtues, with the exception of prudence, can exist without the moral virtues entirely. (72) Why? Because what a student knows or understands cannot, according to Aquinas, require them to act or feel a certain way. The intellectual virtues (save prudence) simply do not need good dispositions of the will to function well. While it is true that the will can influence the intellect, Aquinas insists that the exercising of intellectual virtues "do not perfect the appetitive part, nor affect [respiciant] it in any way." (73) And because speculative judgments operate apart from any exercise of the will, Aquinas argues the intellectual virtues are virtues only "in a manner of speaking." They merely "confer an aptitude for good operation" and thus fail to make their possessor morally good. (74)

The Liberal Arts and the Moral Life

Aquinas proposes arguably the first comprehensive solution for a pedagogical problem in early Christian thought, providing an account of the diverse activities of the soul that explains why those like Augustine were right to praise the liberal arts' capacities to train intellectually adept students while also being wary of their alleged moral power. Aquinas's contribution to an ancient debate thus moves in two directions: he affirms the liberal arts' power to perfect our highest cognitive capacities while flatly denying their ability to perfect our volitional and appetitive capacities. A liberal education can strengthen the intellect, but not discipline the will; it can help students make acts of cognitive assent, but not acts of choice. (75) Should this be true, however, Aquinas's philosophy of education might now appear to generate problems of its own--by rendering education so intellectually narrow as to have ruled out many of the disciplines considered part of liberal inquiry.

This is not entirely the case and in closing we should note that one of Aquinas's most intriguing suggestions has to do with the place of literature and history in his ideal curriculum. Nothing has been said about them because Aquinas does not recognize them as academic disciplines in their own right. They do, however, find a place in a Thomistic curriculum that ultimately seeks to unite, rather than divorce, the liberal arts and the moral life. The study of literature, history, and, one might conjecture, other social sciences are all regarded as part of moral reflection. (76) Rather than separating education and ethics, then, Aquinas encourages students to approach these disciplines with a view toward improving their ability to deliberate morally. While these disciplines cannot impart good habits to the will and appetites, they do provide a way for students to observe the nature of particular human actions and to examine patterns of concrete human living--to study the texture of the moral life in its contingent qualities rather than in its universal features. On these grounds, Aquinas can offer some corrective support to the more modest claims of Nussbaum, Delbanco, Roach, and Kronman. He can agree, with conditions, that the liberal arts can cultivate a student's powers of perception and deliberation, so long as those capacities are recognized as excellences of the intellect and not the will. Aquinas recognizes that the study of grammar and rhetoric can be regarded a part of ethics as well. For a life of complete virtue requires not only the ability to understand the nature of the good, but also the ability to teach and persuade others about it. (77) In this respect, Aquinas's philosophy of education ultimately returns to liberal education's earliest concern to unite eloquence and virtue. As Benedict Ashley noticed, "the education of the liberally-educated man will equip him for the market-place and the forum. For this ... he should first of all be literate." (78)

Aquinas's curriculum was never implemented in his own time and has little likelihood of being widely adopted in our own. But perhaps Catholics, if no one else, should still be concerned that his philosophy of education goes not only unheeded, but also unexamined. There has probably been no time in which the liberal arts have not found themselves in some degree of crisis, but the present situation is unusual in the range and depth of difficulties they confront. From the outside, the liberal arts find themselves ceding authority and prestige to the sciences, whose clear advances in knowledge and practical utility serve to underline the humanities' lack of the same. From the inside, the liberal arts find themselves divided not only on what is worth studying, but why the humanities deserve study at all. The renewal of liberal education ranks among the most pressing intellectual needs of our time and will require Catholics to draw from a rich history of reflection on education that is too often ignored. To that end I have attempted to embroider on a neglected passage of Aeterni Patris that urged Catholics to find in the thought of Aquinas a sound basis for the defense and promotion of liberal education. A keen observer of the modern mind, Leo saw that the same intellectual currents that threatened the foundations of Christian thought and life would soon endanger the study of the humanities. He worried that apart from the wisdom of the Catholic intellectual tradition the liberal arts would "lay prone" and "neglected" as "philosophy began to lean to error and join hands with folly." (79) Although Leo did not mention it, one of those follies leads educators to boast that the liberal arts impart good character. But if the Thomistic history I have told is right, enrolling in the humanities is not the first step in acquiring moral virtue--it can, however, be the first step in the mind's journey to knowledge of God.


(1.) Martha Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013); Mark Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts? (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010); Anthony Kronman, Education's End: Why Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008).

(2.) On the moral responsibilities of Catholic institutions of learning see, Gravissimum Educationis, [section]1, 7. On the need for revitalizing the liberal arts through the philosophy of Aquinas, see Aeterni Patris, [section]29.

(3.) Although the seven disciplines that eventually comprised the trivium and quadrivium can be traced to earlier thinkers like Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle (cf. Republic VII.522a, and Politics VIII. 1337a10-40), it was not until after Augustine that a broad consensus about the content of the liberal arts was established. My use of the phrase "liberal education" here thus admittedly verges on anachronism, since it does not seem to become widely used until late antiquity. There is some debate about its precise origins; it appears likely, however, that the phrase is a "translation" of enkyklios paideia. In discussing the history of liberal education there is no avoiding some terminological imprecision.

(4.) The institutional opposition between rival conceptions of the liberal arts should not be overstated. Students were able to participate in both courses of study and often did so. The most comprehensive treatment of this topic remains Bruce Kimball, Orators & Philosophers: A History of the Idea of Liberal Education (New York: Teachers College Press, 1986).

(5.) See, for example, Meno 82b and Phaedrus 2 74d.

(6.) While rival parties disagreed sharply about what virtue was and whether it could be taught, all were committed to an all-consuming ideal--to be the best or most excellent, however defined.

(7.) Kimball, Orators & Philosophers, 139.

(8.) Ibid., 37. Isocrates' influence on the history of liberal education in the West is enormous. He regarded training in arts and letters as indispensible for forming virtuous men capable of defending the common good, setting a precedent that would shape the early American liberal arts college. For Isocrates' account of how training in literacy and training in virtue go hand in hand, see Antidosis, [section]253-55.

(9.) Henri Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity, 317-18. See Gerard Ellsperman, The Attitude of the Early Christian Latin Writers Toward Pagan Literature and Learning (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1949).

(10.) Paul's views on parental responsibility for educating children merely confirmed Jewish tradition. See Ephesians 5:4, Colossians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 21:8, and Deuteronomy 6:2, 7:20.

(11.) On Origen's role in perhaps the earliest Christian school, see Eusebius, History of the Church, VI. 3. On similar efforts by Tertullian, see Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity, 321-22.

(12.) Julian claimed that he only sought to protect students from learning from instructors who did not believe in the texts they were teaching. See Julian, vol. 3 (Loeb Classical Library, #157), Letter 36. By the third century, Christian intellectuals had attained academic appointments in schools of philosophy and rhetoric.

(13.) Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, 2nd ed., 3 vols., trans. Gilbert Highet (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

(14.) Ancient liberal education has been a recurring theme across the work of Benedict XVI, who recently characterized its goal as "the perfection of the individual within the unity of a well-ordered society" (Benedict XVI, A Reason Open to God: On Universities, Education and Culture [Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2013], 62). Cf. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, 38.

(15.) Origen, Contra Celsum, III.44, 49. Origen records Celsuss claim that it was for this reason that Christians converted "only foolish and low individuals, and persons devoid of perception, and slaves, and women, and children."

(16.) Colossians 2:8, Acts 17:28, 1 Corinthians 15:30. Paul draws from Epimenides, Aratus, and Menander. Jerome comments on Paul's noticeable ambivalence toward Greek learning in Epistle 70.

(17.) Minucius Felix, Octavius XIX-XII.

(18.) Arnobius, Adversus gentes, II. 19.

(19.) Tatian, Adgraecos, I, XXVI.

(20.) Tertullian, De idolatria, X. Tertullian oscillates between offering the liberal arts high praise and subjecting them to withering criticism. See Tertullian, De corona, IX. Tertullian's approach led to a compromising attitude in practice; he strongly encouraged Christians to attend but not to teach in pagan schools.

(21.) See Lactantius, Institutiones, I. 1, 10.

(22.) As Pierre Hadot's work showed, a student entering the philosophical life was regarded as having decisively broken with his previous lifestyle and the ambient culture; new forms of dress, diet, and behavior typically marked such a "conversion." Many schools also practiced a communal form of moral pedagogy that mirrored Christian discipleship, being headed by a master with an attested lineage to a founder. Both communities placed capital importance on living contact between teachers and student. See Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 1995).

(23.) Basil, "Address to Young Men on Greek Literature" in Letters IV, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934). In keeping with its literary approach to liberal education, Basil's address avoids theoretical questions touching on ethics and hermeneutics, noting only that the pagan classics "contain suggestions of the virtues."

(24.) Cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 1.10.

(25.) Augustine, Confessions, II.8. All translations from Confessions, trans. H. Chadwick (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) unless otherwise noted.

(26.) Ibid. 1.13; IV. 16. "Nam quid mihi proderat bona res non utenti bene?"

(27.) Compare Jerome's anxieties about his delight in reading Plautus (Epistle 22) to Augustine's worries about the pleasures of reading Virgil (De utilitate credendi, VI. 13).

(28.) Augustine, Confessions, IV. 1.

(29.) In a letter, Augustine explained that the only kind of study deserving of the name "liberal" would have to free a student for the love of the truth--for an assent of mind and will--and only the truth of Christ can ultimately grant such liberty from sin (Epistle 101). Augustine expands on this in De doctrina christiana, to be treated below.

(30.) Augustine, Confessions, III.4; De beata vita, 1.4, V.4; cf. De ordine, II.5 and Confessions, III.7.

(31.) As Augustine realizes, "My desire was not to be more certain [certior] of you but to be more stable [stabilior] in you" (Confessions, VIII. 1). See also Phillip Cary, "Study as Love: Augustinian Vision and Catholic Education" in Augustine and Liberal Education, ed. Kim Paffenroth and Kevin Hughes (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2000), 58.

32. Augustine, De civitate Dei, V. 13. Augustine realized that "to participate in the structures of classical education is to be initiated into the tragic flaw in the Roman character, and thus into the primordial sin of the earthly city, self-love reaching to the point of contempt for God" (Kevin Hughes, "The Arts Reputed Liberal," in Paffenroth, Augustine and Liberal Education, 100).

(33.) Augustine, Confessions, VII. 26.

(34.) Augustine lists the seven arts as grammar, logic, rhetoric, music, geometry, arithmetic, and philosophy. His selection of these disciplines, which would shape subsequent discussion, was informed by Marcus Varro and Martianus Capella. For Augustine's account of his original goals at Cassiciacum, see Retractiones, I.6.

(35.) "Alacriores et perseverantiores et comptiores," (De ordine, I.24). All translations from Divine Providence and the Problem of Evil, trans. Robert Russell (New York: Science and Art, 1942).

(36.) Hence Augustine can promise that the seven liberal arts outline both "the rules [praecepta] of life" and "the paths of knowledge" (Augustine, De ordine, II.53).

(37.) "To perceive [sentire] with the senses is one thing, but to know [nosse] is something else" (Ibid., II. 5).

(38.) De ordine, II.20.54; cf. Aeneid, VIII. Licentius, with apparent approval from his teacher, therefore says the body must be treated "almost like a slave" (De ordine, II. 26-27). Augustine also describes the virtuous person as one who "stays firm" and remains "the same" (Augustine, De beata vita, I. 65). All translation from The Happy Life, trans. L. Schopp (New York: Herder, 1939).

(39.) On the therapeutic effects of turning one's thoughts away from the world's mutability and multiplicity and toward the divine governance that harmoniously orders all things, see De ordine, III. 11-12.

(40.) A period in which Augustine could avow that "the souls of wise men [doctissimorum] are by far richer and greater, in their way, than the souls of the uneducated" (Augustine, De beata via, I, 63). He later recanted; see Augustine, Retractiones, I.3.

(41.) Augustine, De beata vita, II. 8.

(42.) Augustine, Confssions,VIII.7.

(43.) See Henri Marrou, Saint Augustin et la fin de la culture antique (Paris: De Boccard, 1938).

(44.) Augustine, De doctrina, 1.23.

(45.) Ibid., 1.25

(46.) Ibid., 1.23.

(47.) Ibid., 1.3-4. On things and signs, see Augustine, De magistro, I.

(48.) Augustine, De doctrina, II. 10.

(49.) For only by Scripture, only by God's books, can a student be "made docile" (Augustine, Confssions, VII. 26).

(50.) For one of his only uses of educatio, see In IV Sent, d. 26, a. 1, q. 1. On the education of children see Summa theologiae I-II, q. 95, a. 1 and II-II, q. 10, a. 12.

(51.) For an excellent general account of Aquinas's philosophy of education see Vivian Boland, St. Thomas Aquinas (New York: Continuum, 2007).

(52.) I have treated a parallel set of issues at length in "Can Virtue Be Taught? Thomistic Answers to a Socratic Question," The Thomist (forthcoming).

(53.) As Aquinas remarks in a critical verdict, "the seven liberal arts do not sufficiently divide theoretical philosophy" (In Boet. De Trin, q. 5, a. 1, ad 3). All translations from The Division and Methods of the Sciences, trans. Armand Maurer (Toronto: Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies, 1986).

(54.) For background, see Ralph McInerny, "Beyond the Liberal Arts," in The Seven Liberal Arts in the Middle Ages, ed. David Wagner (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983), 250ff.

(55.) In Boet. De Trin, q. 5, a. 1, ad 3. "Opus aliquod, quod est immediate ipsius rationis."

(56.) See, e.g., Cicero, De oratore I and Aristotle, Politics, 1253b.

(57.) Summa contra gentiles (ScG) II.48.

(58.) De unitate intellectus, V. 116.

(59.) ST I-II, q. 57, a. 3.

(60.) In Boet. De Trin, q. 5, a. 1, ad 3.

(61.) In Post Anal, prologue, emphases added. ET: Commentary on Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, trans. Richard Berquist (Notre Dame: St. Augustines Press, 2008).

(62.) Alisdair MacIntyre, "Aquinas's Critique of Education" in Philosophers on Education: New Historical Perspectives, ed. A. Rorty (New York: Routledge, 1998), 105.

(63.) "The intellect knows itself not by its essence but by its acts" (STI q. 87, a. 1).

(64.) For the sake of shorthand, Aquinas refers to the trivium as "logic" and the quadrivium as "mathematics." Expositions of this proposed curriculum can be found at In De causis, preface; In I Post. Anal., no. 5; and In VI Ethicorum, lect. 7, no. 1210. For background, see: Nicomachean Ethics 1103a14-18; Eudemian Ethics 1219b27-1220a13; Metaphysics 993b20. For excellent commentary, see Thomas Hibbs, Aquinas, Ethics, and Philosophy of Religion: Metaphysics and Practice (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 80. A few passages in this paragraph draw from my work "Can Virtue Be Taught? Thomistic Answers to a Socratic Question," The Thomist (forthcoming).

(65.) ST I-II, q. 57, a. 3.

(66.) Ibid. Cf. ScG I.54.

(67.) "In order that man may make good use [bene utatur] of the art he has, he needs a good will, which is perfected by moral virtue" (ST I-II, q. 57, a. 3, ad 2). "And so art has the nature of a virtue in the same way as the speculative habits, in so far, to wit, as neither art nor speculative habit makes a good work as regards the use of the habit, which is the property of a virtue that perfects the appetite, but only as regards the aptness to work well" (ST I-II, q. 57, a. 3).

(68.) "It is this account of the human good that provides the premises for Aquinas's conclusions about the nature of teaching and learning and the kind of education that human beings need" (Alasdair MacIntyre, "The Liberal Arts in St. Thomas Aquinas," 98).

(69.) ST I-II, q. 57, a. 1. Cf. Alasdair MacIntyre, "The Liberal Arts in St. Thomas Aquinas," 105.

(70.) Cf. DeVirt., q. 12, ad 5; ST I-II, q. 56, a. 5 and In I Ethicorum, lecture 1, nos. 1118-23.

(71.) In this and the following paragraph I have drawn from "Can Virtue Be Taught? Thomistic Answers to a Socratic Question," The Thomist 77 (2013).

(72.) ST I-II, q. 59, a. 4.

(73.) ST I-II, q. 57, a. 1.

(74.) Ibid.; see also DeVirt, a. 7, ad 5.

(75.) The purpose of education, Jacques Maritain sharply comments, "is not to shape the will" (Jacques Maritain, Education at the Crossroads [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971], 69).

(76.) See In I Politics, lect. 1, no. 21.

(77.) On the wise persons ability to teach, see ScG, prologue.

(78.) MacIntyre, "The Liberal Arts in St. Thomas Aquinas," 510.

(79.) Aeterni Patris, [section]29.
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