The Catholic Classical Vision pt. 6: A Pious and Musical Foundation 

This series outlines the purpose, structure, curricular content, and communal origins of a Catholic classical education, for the sake of establishing a School dedicated to such an education in the Diocese of Wichita (Kansas). It discusses both the general principles of Catholic classical education as well as some particular points regarding that School. We begin by explaining the purpose and educational vision of the School, then consider the reasons for the order and structure of its curriculum, before discussing each class in the curriculum. Lastly, we describe the community required to achieve the goals of Catholic classical education.

To begin truly at the beginning, one cannot jump to the dissection of reality, but must learn to marvel at it whole and entire, where the harmony of its truth is still intact. For instance, consider the wonder one feels when first seeing the stars. Star-gazing and wondering about the order and phenomena of the heavens as the beginner encounters together constitute a different mode of education than diving into modern astronomy or astrophysics.[1] In this way, a musical education in this broad sense prepares for and sustains the student’s education in the liberal arts, for wonder and not doubt is the root of learning. Students must be allowed to be “born in wonder.”[2] 

Gymnastic, or various forms of physical exercise and training, are part of a musical education in this general sense. This part of Catholic classical education is devoted to the development of virtue in the body, or physical virtue, for three reasons. First, it is good to have physical excellence of this sort. Second, physical virtue is the easiest type of virtue to cultivate and is needed for subsequent growth (such as controlling one’s body and holding one’s mind attentively on a task). It also begins the development of virtue in the will and desires, or moral virtue—for example, perseverance and courage are constantly required on the field of play. This is accomplished not merely through sports or exercise, but also through activities that approach music itself, e.g., learning to dance.

Muses Sarcophagus (Louvre)

The other part of musical education in this broad sense is more fully “Musical” in the sense mentioned above—that is, it takes place through listening to and telling traditional stories and poetry, recounting and wondering about historic deeds, looking at good and beautiful works of art, singing songs and hymns, and star-gazing. Students should partake of these activities in a receptive, attentive, and uncritical way, so that such encounters are full of wonder and awe as one realizes their goodness and beauty. This leads students to delight and admiration, as well as gratitude toward the One who made them all. With the heart thus developed and nourished, students are ready and eager to know more fully the things with which they have fallen in love. They are disposed physically, emotionally, and morally by their formation in the harmony of things—the “music” of reality. 

Students are in this way prepared to know intellectually the goodness of order and harmony that characterizes truths about the created order and God.[3] They have been prepared by acquiring a love of learning. They are ready for the liberal arts.

[1] Dennis Quinn, “The Muses as Pedagogues of the Liberal Arts,” available at “Musical astronomy is simply what used to be called observational astronomy, although in the Integrated Humanities we simply called it star-gazing. Some twenty years ago the University of Kansas taught an extremely popular course in observational astronomy. When the Professor who taught it retired, it was replaced by astrophysics. This happens widely, and it is paradigmatic of the fatal tendency to dispense with the elementary and plunge at once into the advanced, which because it is always more specialized, divides, separates, and fragments.”

[2] See Quinn, ibid.

[3] Plato, Republic, Book III, 401e: “[H]e who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justly blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; and when reason comes he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.”

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