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wrote Hugh of St. Victor in his twelfth-century guide to learning, the Didascalicon. Thus, wisdom is sought in every discipline and through every discipline so that man might know not simply the art which he studies but, through the art, himself. To attain wisdom is the goal of all disciplined education. This remark, of course, echoes down the centuries the adage written on the tripod of the oracle at Delphi: “know thyself.” When we read Hugh and think about this more ancient saying, we are left with further questions: how does man know himself? Why does he wish to know? How does he know himself or his world with surety? How can he take rest that any of his knowledge is free from error, false opinion or change?
A liberal education aims to free men and women from the constraints of error, false opinion, and—as much as possible—the flux and change of the age. This was at the heart of the great Greek educational system—paideia—the education that freed the minds of the young by giving them a sense of the order that the mind could attain and the principles by which ideas could be presented and shared. Wisdom and eloquence in this sense remain the heart of a Thomas More education.
From pagan antiquity we learn the care with which we must examine all of our knowledge, not merely as it relates to the world around us, but as it relates to us, to our own lives. Without careful examination, we do not know the origins of our own thoughts. Without the knowledge that comes from such an examination, we have no hope of self-mastery; we remain slaves of thoughts of others.
Thomas More College gazes with confidence at the heights which reason can ascend. Yet it understands too that the climb is arduous and requires something more than mere status or talent. It requires a path, a path-finder, companions, and—crucially—the desire to make the journey.
The path is the Catholic tradition. At Thomas More College, student and teacher strive together within a single tradition—the great intellectual tradition of the West, of the Catholic Church, of our civilization.
In a poem on fallen Spartan warriors, the poet Simonides wrote,
“Though dead, they are not dead…” Like all powerful literature, this remark casts light upon our own experience making it more intelligible to us. Who has not lost a friend or a family member? Yet we know the lasting impact that these fallen have. Though absent their presence abides, and often becomes more vivid. Spiritually, we see this in the communion of the saints. In literature and history, we know that our hearts are moved upon hearing or remembering the graces, virtues, and sacrifices of the “fallen.” This is what a tradition brings us to encounter: those who are past and gone, yet not gone. It does not turn from the dark and deeper questions of our humanity, but it always reminds us that there on the heights is greatness to be met for our guidance and inspiration.
As a Catholic institution, Thomas More College is able to participate in a tradition which does not leave reason to stand cold and alone.
“The Church’s mission, in fact, involves her in humanity’s struggle to arrive at truth. In articulating revealed truth she serves all members of society by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the considerations of ultimate truths.”
Thus, Pope Benedict reminded Catholic educators in America: the Church has a mission unique unto Her, but the scholar and student at a Catholic college participate in the larger ministry of truth (the diakonia of truth). The world suffers in the darkness of anxiety and grows weary or numb. For it does not know if it can speak of true things, of good things, of beauty. It fears that these are merely matters of perspective and taste. If that were to be true, then all would be illusion, a veil behind which lies only an eternal night.
Our great intellectual tradition anchored in revealed truth allows us to move forward toward all our questions and to provide an answer. The answer is the great love of God, the love for man and for all creation, the love that brought order to all and provokes the desire to ask and search for the truth. This is true wisdom. This is an intellectual love, a love that allows us to uphold an essential unity of knowledge against any attempts to shatter learning. Such a fragmentation is all too common amongst those who leave reason to move in darkness and without hope of an abiding truth and goodness in things.
In our tradition, faith comes forth to a great partnership with reason. It respects reason and often listens to reason. This is a great love between the two: reason sharpening the understanding of the faith, and faith providing the desire reason needs at times to move on towards what is unknown or unseen.
The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts was founded to provide on the undergraduate level a solid education in the liberal arts, a Catholic education for students of all faiths united in the quest for what is true, good, and beautiful. It pursues this mission by seeking wisdom and sharing it joyfully with the world.
William Edmund Fahey, Ph.D.