Rebooting To Truth

Jun 23, 2012

The harder the reformers try, the worse they make the American school. Why can’t they get it right? Their errors are so fundamental that only a complete rebooting will help.

Conventional education is based on three principles and one application. 1. There is no truth 2. If there is Truth, you can' t know it 3. If you could know Truth, you couldn't communicate it. 4. Therefore, there is no point teaching children how to seek truth and wisdom, only power.

On the other hand, Christian classical education is based on three different principles and one application. 1. Truth is 2. Truth is knowable 3. Truth can be communicated. 4. Therefore, the arts of truth seeking define our curriculum and pedagogy.

Believing in Truth, the Christian classical educator sets different goals, orienting education toward wisdom and virtue. What, then, is virtue?

Our word virtue comes from the Latin “virtus”, which grows from the root, “vir”, or “man.” While virtue can mean power, courage, or excellence, its essential meaning points to a human being attaining excellence. Practically, a specific virtue can be defined as a refined faculty.

A virtue is a God-given, natural ability trained to a pitch of excellence. Humans have the natural faculty or ability to talk. That ability refined becomes the virtue of eloquence. To develop this idea further, lets’ look at four different kinds of virtue: 1. Moral 2. Intellectual 3. Physical 4. Spiritual. 

Moral virtue is what most of us think about first when we hear the word. While all have the ability to tell right from wrong, not everybody develops it. Moral virtue, therefore, is the ability to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong. Moral virtues include faithfulness, purity of heart, diligent labor, courage, etc. The cardinal moral virtue is justice.

Intellectual virtues are the virtues of understanding. We all have the ability to perceive Truth, but some refine this ability into a virtue. Intellectual virtues include the effective use of language, logical reasoning, the ability to identify likenesses and differences, and so on. The cardinal intellectual virtue is wisdom.

Physical virtues include speed, strength, coordination, and so on. Finally, spiritual virtues can be summarized by the words, “Faith, hope, and love” oriented toward God.

Devoted to wisdom and virtue, the Christian classical tradition has spent millennia exploring how to cultivate them. They have identified two activities essential to the formation of virtue: First, we must exercise the God given faculty. While this may be most obvious when we look at the physical virtues, mentored discipline is at least equally necessary for intellectual, moral, and spiritual virtues.

Second, each faculty depends on an “organism” that must be fed properly. For the physical virtues, this organism is the body. For the moral and intellectual virtues, it is the soul. For the spiritual virtues, it is the spirit. In short, the body, soul, and spirit must be properly fed and exercised for one to grow in virtue and wisdom.

All of these virtues are properly developed when the spirit is attended to first. That is why the Christian classical curriculum and pedagogy are best summarized in Philippians 4:6-9, where Paul writes

6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

9 Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. Let’s reboot to Truth so the peace of God and the God of peace can be with us!

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Andrew  Kern

Andrew Kern

Andrew Kern is the founder and president of The CiRCE Institute and the co-author of the book, Classical Education: the Movement Sweeping America

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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Kim, I am not able to make those fine distinctions myself, so I use the term soul in the common Hebrew way (as I nderstand it) as referring to the person as opposed to representing a part of the person. At the same time it directs our attention to the non-bodily elements that need nourishing as michas the bodily.

Also, understand that the definitionis not meant to settle but to open discussion of the meaning of classical education. These are words commonly used in the cc tradition so I've written them out of respect to my masters. Now I am trying to figure them out. that's our journey!

Master Kern,

I don't understand you! I thought you were making the fine distinction between soul and spirit.

Don't the moral and intellectual virtues belong to soul and the spiritual virtues belong to spirit?

A Definition: something half-way between a Sigh and a Conversation,


That's two different dialogues.

In the definition we use the word soul because the tradition does and to be broad enough to include everything that should be included, exclude what shouldn't be, and allow for further contemplation and discussion.

In my post, I was thinking about the different kinds of virtues, which I contribute as my two bits of the discussion.

You are a perfect conversation partner for me because you always make me mean something, but you have to give me time on the blog, forum, etc. because sometimes I just write something to think about it but don't have time to come back and think about it my self for a while.

Forgive me.

“Wisely and slow, they stumble who run fast.”

Andrew, when I first met you at the IEW Symposium, I heard you speak to the crowd,

“Take your time because it is the fastest way to learn, and the only way to learn.”

But I continue in haste, so I appreciate your patience with me; I presume too much in your words. I must learn to wait in them. Judgment.

Today I’ve been in the circle of the Sun (Dante’s Paradise). When Aquinas reveals to Dante what he meant when he said Solomon was the wisest of all, he instructs him:

“And should you rush to what you don’t perceive,
let my words drag like lead weights on your feet
and make you slow to answer yes or no,
For of all fools that man’s the lowest ass
who’ll affirm or deny but not reflect,
impetuous in his haste down either pass,
For scurrying thought will often enough deflect
a man’s opinion into false terrain,
and then his self-love binds his intellect…”

In the Esolen’s intro to Paradise he writes: “The quick forming of an erroneous opinion may be caused by heedlessness, but it is pride that keeps the man from retracing his steps.”

Thank you, Mentor Kern, for showing us the way back, and the way forward, over time.

“On earth, justice is the result of wisdom in the ruler, and the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.” —Esolen, Intro, xviii

festina lente— I’ll try to read more, slowly. :)

Ever thankful for your taking time,



Why is the word spirit missing from your definition of Christian Education?

CHRISTIAN EDUCATION is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty by means of the seven liberal arts and the four sciences so that, in Christ, the student is enabled to better know, glorify, and enjoy God. —

A related question: How do we nourish the spirit? (Angela asked this also) By beholding Jesus, who is the Christ, who is the Incarnate Word? I thought we nourished the spirit by beholding beauty, in all its forms, but if that were the case, it seems like you would have put the word spirit in the definition of Christian Education.

Also, I've been thinking about the two ancient/medieval kinds of faculties of knowing: intellectus and ratio, also called intellect and reason. If I'm understanding correctly, intellectus is a spiritual faculty of knowing and ratio is a intellectual faculty of knowing. Is this correct? Or do both of these kinds of knowing, discursive intelligence and contemplative intelligence, belong to the realm of the soul?

I'm not used to thinking about the soul and the spirit as different "organisms".

I understand the word "virtue" in terms of the "life force". In Luke 8:43-36 (KJV) is this story: "And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any, Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched. And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me."

Considering the law of cause and effect, that is, as we sow so shall we reap, I came to the realization that in "sowing" we truly and literally give of our selves, our virtue, a part of our life force. And in the reaping we are blessed since It is also true that in reaping, God gives the increase. So I came to the conclusion that moral behavior is behavior where we sow with good will and loving kindness the life force given to us and God blesses us with more of himself, "More All", in return.

Cain and Able. Cain is the mechanical performance of moral behavior. Able is the loving performance of moral behavior. So people do things to "look good" in the eyes of others but their heart is not engaged and consequently they don't receive the blessings of increased virtue.

@Angela In my experience, opening your heart to God in prayer, the Abel offering, creates a circumstance where God can bless you in return. How and when that blessing is realized is outside our outer personality's or soul's control. Surrendering the outcome of our sowing into God's hands is the best practice. The farmer sows in the spring and hopes to harvest in the fall. Everything that we do engages to a greater or lesser degree our memory, mind, emotions and physical body as well as our soul. So if you are trying to understand a math problem the emphasis would seem to be on your mind. But of course, since you "want" to do this, your emotions are involved. And since you physically do the task, your physical body is involved. The memory records the entire effort and the soul, with it's free will, reaps the consequence of its choice.

Sally, I read it wrong also! At first I thought the "reformers" was purposeful because modern education is based on the principles of the reformed church; therefore, both misunderstand the nature of man and both neglect the spirit which feeds on beauty. But that can't be right.

I understand feeding the body. Is reading, writing, and arithmetic feeding the soul? And prayer and contemplation feeding the spirit?

On a side note, "the reformers" means only one thing in our home, so your first sentence really threw me off. I couldn't figure out what Luther and Calvin had done that was so horrible!