by Dr. Nathan Oppman
Classical schools like TRCA seek to cultivate a love of the true, good, and beautiful. We find much to love in science and mathematics, in art and history, in music and language. These subjects are worthy of our study, and studying them leads to a love of the good things they offer, of the truth they proclaim, and of the beauty they emanate. The goal of a classical education is not for students to simply complete their courses, but rather for them to learn to love the true, good, and beautiful things within those subjects.
This cultivation of love is vital to Christian classical education. But what happens if we love our subjects and the wonderful things we behold in them, but fail to love our brother? Or what happens when we don’t properly love our Creator while studying his creation? As the apostle Paul warns, we may have the ability to “understand all mysteries and all knowledge” but if we don’t have love, our knowledge is worthless. Our pursuit of a classical education must cultivate a personal love, a love of God and our neighbor.
One might wonder, aren’t we doing well if we are learning to love the true, good, and beautiful? Did not God create all of these things for His glory? Yes, He did. But when one is not careful, the objective Source of truth, goodness, and beauty can be subtly replaced by the objects that were designed to reflect glory back to Him. If, for example, we learn to love the beautiful order found in mathematics but fail to reflect on the fact that it is our God that orders all, and therefore direct our love of order back to Him, then we have substituted the creation for the Creator. We have, in effect, become idolatrous. Unfortunately, we may not recognize this idolatry because the thing we have made into an idol is a good thing. The problem then is not with the thing we love, but with us. To avoid this danger, we must remember the Source from which all truth, goodness, and beauty comes–Jesus Christ. Remembering Christ allows us to fully enjoy the things He has created while directing our worship and service back to Him.
People can also tempt us to exchange the worship of God for the worship of that which He created. It is true that we must love our fellow man. At TRCA we desire to cultivate friendship, discipleship, and camaraderie. We want to rightly esteem others and use the things we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves. Yet there is also a danger in the cultivation of personal loves, just as there is with the cultivation of academic loves. Is not a twisted love of our fellow man one of the ways in which we are turned aside from the Lord? When our love turns to lust, and our goodwill to selfish ambition we exchange that which is true for a lie. We believe fulfillment can be found in our fellow man, and lavish our hopes upon each other in a way that is sure to leave us wanting. Yet we can do so under the guise of so-called “love of our neighbor.” Once again, to guard against this danger we must remember the Source of all true, good, and beautiful relationships–Jesus Christ.
So how can we who desire to cultivate a love of the true, good, and beautiful and to build deep personal relationships avoid falling into sin during the pursuit of these things? How does remembering Jesus Christ affect our loves?
A passage in the 4th book of Augustine’s Confessions (which our 7th-12th grade scholars are studying this semester) lays this out beautifully:
If the things of this world delight you, praise God for them but turn your love away from them and give it to their Maker, so that in the things that please you you may not displease him. If your delight is in souls, love them in God, because they are too frail and stand firm only when they cling to him. If not they go their own way and are lost. Love them then in him and draw as many with you to him as you can. Tell them ‘He is the one you should love. He made the world and he stays close to it.’ For when he made the world he did not go away and leave it. By him it was created and in him it exists. Wherever we taste the truth, God is there. He is in our very inmost hearts, but our hearts have strayed from him. Think well on it, unbelieving hearts and cling to him who made you. Stand with him and you shall not fall; rest in him and peace shall be yours. What snags and pitfalls lie before you? Where do your steps lead you? The good things which you love are all from God, but they are good and sweet only as long as they are used to do his will. They will rightly run bitter if God is spurned and the things that come from him are wrongly loved.
We must learn to love God first and foremost. The pursuit of truth in our studies should lead us to the Truth. The love of good things in this life should ultimately lead us to love the One who is good. And the enjoyment of the beauty in creation should lead us to appreciate the resplendence of the Holy One. Only having a rightly ordered love of God will allow us to truly enjoy the good gifts He has given us. What a joy it is when our relationships and studies lead us to Jesus, the True, Good, and Beautiful Savior of mankind!