“O race of men, born to fly heavenward,
how can a breath of wind make you fall back?”
The Divine Comedy: Purgatorio
Canto XII, lines 95-96
The above lines reiterate the oft-repeated and self-incriminating truth that the heart of man is corrupt, quickly returning to the entanglements of sin (Heb. 12.1). The greatest enemies of man are the sin planted deep in their hearts (Jer. 17.9) and the ancient forces of darkness (Eph. 6.12), prowling around like lions seeking whom they might devour (1 Pet. 5.8). Yet modern educational trends tend to see the problem of man to be primarily social (e.g. Public education) or intellectual (e.g. Christian “worldview” education).
My friend and colleague, Dan Snyder, wrote an excellent piece for The Classical Thistle a few weeks ago in which he called for us to reconsider the nature of the “fight” in education. His article cast a spark into the kindling that I had been reflecting upon in my reading of the Proverbs and Dante’s Divine Comedy. My concern, as of late, has been regarding the heavy emphasis placed upon “worldview” education in current Christian education trends.
I am not proposing that we abandon worldview education. I actually do think it is important and should be a point of emphasis, but the more I read through the Scriptures and ancient texts, the more I realize that concern over worldview is really a modern phenomenon. Perhaps there are good reasons for this in our current age, depending on one’s reading of the times and culture, but it seems to me that it is important for us to look to the Scriptures and the ancient texts and ask ourselves whether we are hearing their warnings and heeding their counsel.
As I’ve been reading through the Proverbs again, a due reminder is “pinging” like an iPhone alert. That reminder is that the true goal of classical education is the Wisdom that comes through the Fear of the Lord (Prov. 9.10). This Wisdom should be the constant plumb line by which we measure our pedagogy and educational goals and instruction. So when I read, “for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng” (Prov. 7.26), my “heart ears” perk up. If this many men have fallen to this force, then Wisdom would require me to investigate. And what is this mighty foe that has slain so many? Is it poor worldview education? Is it Atheistic “evangelists” in college classrooms? Is it a Pro-Choice president?
Of course the answer to each of these questions is No. While all of those things are threats to the young Christian, they barely hold a candle to the Inferno that is the seductress, the adulteress, the Siren. Throughout the history of man, those who have fallen to the seduction of the Siren’s call are innumerable. History is riddled with men who climbed harrowing heights of success only to lose it all upon hearing the Siren’s Song. However, it seems that this grave danger receives little attention in our educational endeavors. Is it because it is something that cannot be addressed in education? According to the Proverbs it can and must be addressed in our instruction. The wise king exhorts us,
“For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,
to preserve you from the evil woman,
from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
Do not desire her beauty in your heart,
and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes;”
It seems from this passage that much of his teaching and instruction focused on escape from the adulteress woman and the Sirens of seduction. Beyond this passage, the theme of choosing the Woman Wisdom over the adulteress takes front and center stage.
It seems to me that while we tend to believe that our children’s greatest enemy upon heading into college will be “losing their faith,” there are far more vile and dangerous forces at work. I believe that our covenant children are more likely to succumb to the impotence rendered through the passions of the flesh than they are to embrace secular philosophic ideologies. The idolatries that they will encounter in college are more so those of the heart than of the intellect. Idolatry itself is a heart-matter, a disordered love—not a misunderstanding.
So what does this look like in the classroom? How do we train our children up to see the Sirens for what they are?
There is a passage in Canto XIX of Dante’s The Divine Comedy: Purgatorio in which Dante becomes transfixed upon the Siren in a dream. While she appears deformed upon first seeing her, as he listens to her song he falls into a trance and is captured by her “beauty.” Being alerted that Dante was in danger, Virgil, his guide through Purgatory, takes action. He seizes the Siren, keeping his eyes fixed upon another woman who represents True Beauty, and rips off the Siren’s garment, revealing her paunch! Dante then says that the “stench pouring from her woke me from sleep.” What Dante’s teacher did for him was to expose the Siren for what she truly was—a hag. Virgil was able to do this because he had his eyes fixed upon what was True, Good, and Beautiful.
Paul says in Ephesians 5.11, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” I believe this is a clear application of Paul’s exhortation. It is not enough to say, “Don’t commit adultery.” Our task as educators should be to show—to expose—to demonstrate the repulsive vileness of sin. We must show the Sirens to be hags. We must lead our students not only to see this with their eyes but to smell it with their noses as Dante did.
Virgil tells Dante after he awoke, “You saw that ageless sorceress for whom alone the souls above must weep; you also saw how men escape from her.” Like Dante, our students need us to show them the way to escape from her. She is the one who has slain “a mighty throng” (Prov. 7.26) and she seeks to devour our children next.
“He who commits adultery lacks sense;
he who does it destroys himself.”