On March 25, we began a series of posts to clarify what we mean when we say that the Regina Academies are Catholic classicalliberal arts schools. Classical education is understood in various ways, and the Annunciation was the perfect day to begin this conversation about what we mean when we speak of classical education at the Regina Academies.
We stated in the first place that, “the defining moment of human history, and the event that illuminates the mystery of humanity, [is] the Incarnation.” Therefore, it “is the curriculum of a Catholic liberal education.”
We also wrote that liberaleducation in the classical tradition has as its goal human freedom, and freedom comes from knowing the truth – the truth that we know through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
In these two statements we have the source and purpose of classical education identified.
Secular education has other sources for its curriculum. Its “truth” is not defined by the incarnation. For the secular world, truth has become a personal thing not rooted in the truth revealed in Jesus Christ. In secular education, children’s spiritual nature is denied. As Christians, we know that an understanding of the human person without an eternal spirit is a misunderstanding of what it means to be human. Secular education can’t really form human persons while ignoring what sets us apart as human persons created in God’s image.
Classical liberal arts education in the Regina Academies acknowledges the whole person as a “unique and unrepeatable creation of a loving God,” to quote one of our early childhood teachers. It begins with the understanding that our first purpose is to know, love, and serve God. Our relationship with God through Christ defines WHO we are – Christ’s adopted sons and daughters. Secular education focuses on WHAT a child will become.
A common definition of a classical education is that it is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue through the study of the liberal arts and the Great Books. Wisdom and virtue define WHO we are, not WHAT we are, and it is our spirit that defines our “who-ness.” Beasts have minds and bodies and we trainthem to do our will. Human persons have minds, bodies, and spirits, and we formthem in love because we see in them an image of the Creator. Through the classical liberal arts curriculum at the Regina Academies, children are formed in the image of God who strengthens us in virtue, and imparts to us wisdom as the Spirit’s gift, leading us to charity. They are formed to be, not to do.
This post has a provocative title. The quote of St. Athanasius, “God became man, so that we might become God” brings to a personal level why a curriculum built around the incarnation is so important. What greater opportunity could you or I have in our lives than to “become God?”
This concept of man becoming God, called divinizationin the Eastern Church, makes many western Christians uncomfortable. However, even St. Thomas Aquinas presented this idea in one of his small works that is quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He wrote that “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” (CCC 460)
The offertory of the Mass uses this text, which is taken from 2 Peter 1.4. When the priest is preparing the bread and wine for consecration, he prays: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christwho humbled himself to share in our humanity.” The liturgical gesture of the priest is intended to remind us that just as a drop of water vanishes in a chalice of wine but its essence remains, we become assumed into Christ’s divinity, retaining our human essence.
One can only be truly free if one is truly wise. Wisdom is the cardinal virtue that allows us to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of attaining it. It leads the mind to know truth in the person of Jesus Christ where we find his invitation to be assimilated into his divine being by living in him. With this first obligation understood, we move on into life’s professions with joy and purpose.
In the classical liberal arts tradition, the means of forming students in wisdom and virtue are the great works that have been produced out of the cultural heritage of the Christian west. We’ll talk more about the value of those “Great Books” in a later post, but for now it will suffice to say their value is that they are the best materials on which the human mind can work in order to gain insight and understanding into the true nature of being human.
At the Regina Academies, we trust what has been proven over the centuries, that a Catholic, classical liberal arts education is the best way to form the human intellect, and the path that will lead our students to lives of virtue strengthened by the spirit and nourished by truth. Our prayer is that ultimately, it will gain for them their share in the divinity of Christ – their divinization.
Sancta Maria, Sedes Sapientiae, ora pro nobis.
Holy Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.
*Image: St. Athanasius. Varna Archaeological Museum, Varna, Bulgaria [Public domain]