Christology and classical education

A few years ago, our family went on a camping trip with another family. After the kids went to bed, my wife and I were having a nice conversation with the other couple by the camp fire.

The wife of the other couple was relating how a recent homily made her feel a little bad about not doing enough to cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus. As the conversation went on, I started to realize that many of us are influenced by a Protestant notion of relationship with Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong, we all need to work constantly on our personal relationship with Our Lord, but I think many of us don’t realize how many ways we can encounter Christ. Catholic Christology is so much deeper than the Protestant notion of accepting Jesus as our lord and savior.

In a way, the depth of Catholic Christology is highlighted in the “Last Gospel,” read at the end of every Extraordinary Form Mass. The Last Gospel is meant to remind us of the metaphysical reality of Christ—The Word. “All things came to be through Him” (John 1:3). With the Word as the fundamental origin of all creation, we encounter Christ aesthetically, morally, intellectually, and of course, sacramentally.

Catholic classical schools try to integrate all these deeper ways of encountering Christ in the everyday educational experience. In fact, classical education is the ideal way to cultivate our relationship with the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life in a fundamentally deeper way.

One of the metaphysical bedrocks of Catholic Christology is the passage from John 14:6, “Ego sum via et veritas et vita.” Christ is the Truth. Classical education, first and foremost, is dedicated to leading students to truth in the classroom. Thus, classical education’s mission is a profoundly personal mission—a Christological mission. When Pilate asked Jesus, “Quid est Veritas?” it makes sense that Jesus does not answer him because Truth was standing right in front of him, staring him in the face. When the classroom is dedicated to Truth, Christ is standing right there. When we defend truth in the midst of secular society, we are defending Christ. When we try to live the truth in our lives and in our families, we are putting on Christ. This is a profound part of cultivating our relationship with Christ.

In John 14:15, we are provided with the Christological dimension of ethics. Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” In Matthew 19, where Christ encounters the rich young man, Jesus goes further and teaches that we have to follow Him without reserve in order to inherit eternal life. This is known as the sequela Christi.

In the daily life of a school, as mundane as it can be, the following of rules and striving to fulfill expectations is a part of our relationship with Christ. Classical education is based on the traditional concept of virtue and challenges students to grow in virtue. Through free choices, we all define our character. This is only possible through Christ. We are transformed in Christ the closer we become to Him. The moral life is profoundly Christological. Therefore, a classical school must always strive to emphasize virtue in the moral life. The dynamic of growing in virtue through the One who is the Way, makes following the rules much more exciting that most students realize. Classical schools are in the best position to promote the life of virtue in everyday school life through a vigorous study of the classics, starting with Aesop’s Fables through Aristotle and Cicero all the way to Veritatis Splendor.

In the third part of John 14:6, Christ said, “I am Life.” This is both a personal and metaphysical statement. Any time the dignity of human life is attacked, Christ is attacked. Any time a child is killed in the womb, Christ is attacked. Any time the elderly, disabled, or chronically ill are euthanized, Christ is attacked. Any time a politician supports abortion and euthanasia, Christ is attacked.

Any time we speak out against the evil of abortion and euthanasia, we are defending Christ. Any time we give witness to the dignity of human life in front of abortion centers, we are defending Christ. Any time we uphold and model the blessings of children, faithful and permanent marriage, and respect and care for grandparents, we are defending Christ. These things are all a part of cultivating our relationship with Christ.

There is one more important consideration of Jesus’ identification with the Way, the Truth, and the Life. These three identifications: The Way, the Truth and the Life, are really Christ identifying with the transcendental of the ancient philosophers: Bonum, Verum, et Pulchrum. Christ is saying, “I am the Good, the True and the Beautiful.”

This means that the encounter with beauty is an encounter with Christ. This is why the study of music and art is so crucial at a classical school. This is also why we take time and effort to make Holy Mass beautiful every day. Performing sacred music helps us explore great art, and performing it makes the performer an artist, too. Studying art and beauty, acquiring a taste for beauty in life and nature and even training our minds and bodies to produce beautiful things are all profound ways to deepen our relationship with Christ.

The last Christological dimension of classical education is obvious. Classical schools know intuitively that the Holy Mass is a central element of their education and formation. I always tell parents, the encounter with the One who is Truth at the altar only helps with the encounter with Truth in the classroom. Thus, having daily Mass at our school is both a matter of piety and pedagogy.

The richness of Catholic Christology allows us to have a deep, multi-dimensional relationship with Christ. Catholic classical education is one of the best environments to come to know Christ, because the wisdom and tradition of the ancients naturally takes us from Christ’s “Ego sum Via, Veritas et Vita” to the Bonum, Verum, et Pulchrum.

MO WOLTERING is the headmaster of Holy Family Academy in Manassas, Va.

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