To practice memorization without cultivating a culture of memory is like planting a rosebush in sand. All the water in the world will not bring it to flourishing, for the soil in which it’s planted simply cannot sustain it.
The strain of a classical Christian education can be arduous. It is not the easy route. It cannot be faked. Classical Christian education when done well is not Pollyanna; it’s not as “19th century English” as we sometimes imagine it to be.
This is one of the concerns I receive from prospective parents, and it’s one of the ongoing concerns on the tips of parents’ tongues: “How hard will this be? What if it’s too hard for my student?” But these are often the wrong questions to ask.
Can food be beautiful? I do not refer to the arrangement of food on a table, but the taste of food. Two glasses of wine, side by side, might appear nearly identical, but can one be beautiful and the other ugly? Taste has not traditionally been associated with beauty because it cannot be judged according to harmony or proportion. So, too, a smell can be pleasing but not beautiful for it cannot be halved or observed.
As the school year begins, many high school students will soon encounter To Kill a Mockingbird in their English classes. Those who have read the book will remember that a good bit of the action takes place in and around the Finch children’s school–their walks past Boo Radley’s house, the fight Scout gets into over the work Atticus does for Tom Robinson, the school play with Scout dressed as a ham.
“Memory is the cabinet of imagination, the treasury of reason, the registry of conscience, the counsel-chamber of thought”: these words, quoted at last month’s CiRCE conference, have continued to percolate in my reflections on what I heard there, helping to rehabilitate the very word “memory” from its eroded modern definition—the mere storing of information, accomplished as efficiently by an external hard drive as by a human mind. Running straight through the conference was the insistence that human memory is so much more.
Most people don’t enjoy poetry. In my Ancient to Medieval Literature class, my students celebrate when they get to the last book of the semester, an anthology of Arthurian legends, because it’s the first prose reading of the year. But it’s not just students who don’t enjoy poetry—few adults find themselves craving an evening with Shelley or Tennyson, much less Homer or Virgil. Most people complain that poetry is too difficult to understand or not accessible enough. But I think it’s deeper than that.
The following passage from 1 Corinthians 3 sits on a plaque over the door in my family room at home.
Omnia enim vestra sunt
Vos autem Christi
Christus autem Dei
My friend Marc Hays had it specially burned for me to thank me for my role in the CiRCE apprenticeship, from which I was resigning when he gave it to me last summer.
The words are from when Paul is summarizing his argument against division with the infantile Corinthian church.
I have long revered this passage as a cure for Christian stoicism.
Once a grown man has been accepted into the Church, fully and finally rejecting the Church is quite difficult— however, with years of slow and patient progress, rejecting the Church is possible.
This post is part of a series called The Fellowship of the Inklings where I attempt to blog my way through reading The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski.
Over the past year the angst of the previous decade that arose from the anxiety of the previous half-century has been condensed into a few books that explore how Christians should respond now that we are marginalized by our ever-more secular culture.