Like pallbearers they each took a corner of the mat upon which I lay. Into the nave of the chapel the liturgists of the church triumphant bore me, beckoning me: “Say these words… See this symbol… Receive these blessings… Eat this bread… Drink this wine.” Another typical Sunday in which I am escorted into the presence of the One who is the Resurrection and the Life. There at His bidding, by His grace, and in His Spirit He grants me to rise and walk. And thus I do, hoping that I myself might bear another broken brother or sister upon a mat into Christ’s presence, knowing that by this time next week I shall need to be borne again.
And borne again shall we be, for along the ancient ways, the old roads, the trodden-down paths we encounter those who have gone before. We rely upon the liturgies and rhythms of antiquity not because we are strong, hip, or cool, but conversely because we are weak, lost, and full of anxieties.
In the same way, classical Christian education is for the weak. We approach Dante’s Divine Comedy not to show off our intellectual acumen, but rather because we feel like we are lost in a dark wood; because our souls feel shriveled and cold; because we long for a Vergil or Beatrice to lead us back home. We read Augustine’s Confessions not to outwit our theological opponents, but rather to see that even our “minor sins” are full of depravity, that we are half-hearted in our own repentance, yet that there is hope even for us to be changed. We read Plato’s Republic not to impress our friends, but to understand what true friendship is, to shun our own self-deception, and to yearn for that City that is yet to come.
It is tragic that our classically educated young men or young women might be pompous or proud. It should not be our goal to train students to become exceptions to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians “not many of you were wise…” On the contrary, it is precisely because of their weakness and foolishness that we bring them into the presence of those men and women of the Great Tradition. And as their educators we must recognize that we approach these same books and tradition for the very same reason—because we ourselves are weak and in need. And if it’s true that the student will become like his teacher, then being weak isn’t such a bad place to be, for it has been written: “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1.27b) and elsewhere Jesus says to Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” to which Paul responds, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12.9)
If you are like me, the older and “more mature” you become in Christ, the more keenly aware you are of your own weakness. Let us note well that a classically educated student is not one who has has no weaknesses, but rather they are a student who is unable to ignore such weaknesses, for they have experienced the whole human experience through the ages.