The powers of the human soul each have their proper objects, by which they are distinguished from one another. . .

The object of sight is color, and the object of hearing is sound. But man is said to be created in God’s image because of his two spiritual faculties of mind and will, and they too have their proper objects. The object of the mind is Truth, and the object of the will is the Good, and we only love the good that we know. The ultimate goal of the human soul is the Beatific Vision, in which we hope to behold the ultimate Truth that is God, where we will most perfectly love the Good that is the Truth of God. For our Lord Jesus Christ declared, “the Truth shall set you free”.

In this life we begin to discover the great truth and goodness of God by two principle means: education, and inspiration in which the Holy Spirit makes use of the Seven Gifts given to us at our Baptism, especially the Gifts of Wisdom and Understanding, Counsel and Knowledge. But St. Thomas Aquinas informs us that the Holy Spirit is able to more fully activate these Gifts in a soul that applies itself to the discipline of education. Modern man has been set adrift from his true purpose and goal. He is like a disoriented ship at sea in storm-tossed waves, where his compass no longer tells him his true direction, the direction for which he was created. And modern education reflects the confusion of modern secular man. Modern students randomly pick and choose what they will study, often in a haphazard fashion based on whim or pursuit of material prosperity.

For they have lost sight of the true purpose of education since they have lost sight of the true purpose of their lives. But the Church Fathers and Medieval Church Doctors had a clear understanding of the purpose of education, since they had a clear vision of the purpose of man, created Imago Dei. They understood that the ultimate purpose of human education is to know the ultimate Truth that is the Eternal God who created Heaven and Earth, who created the “microcosm” of man, so that he too, like the angels, might know and love Him for all eternity. That is the ultimate purpose or goal of man, the True direction of his compass, in which he finds his orientation in all his searching for happiness.

Because the Medievals had such a clear vision of the purpose of human education, they had the clearest understanding of the proper order of study in the education of the young.

In education ordered to the ultimate Truth, there are three fundamental stages to be pursued in their proper order: The Seven Liberal Arts, the Branches of Philosophy, and the “Queen of the Sciences”, Sacred Theology. Western Civilization is in decline, and the decline of education goes hand in hand with the more general decline of Christian culture. But Western Civilization is a good truly worth preserving, which begins by restoring traditional education, the education that made former ages nobler than our own.

The Medieval Christians were masters of human education. Though the later Renaissance humanists coined the terms “Dark Ages” and “Middle Ages” to describe the period between the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome and their own time, the High Middle Ages, culminating in the 13 th century, in fact produced the best scholars the world has ever seen, most notably St. Thomas Aquinas, whom 7 centuries of popes have declared to be the best philosopher and theologian in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. We would do well to heed their advice regarding the importance of the Seven Liberal Arts, Philosophy, and Theology in education.

The Medievals divided the Seven Liberal Arts into two groups: the Trivium and Quadrivium. The Trivium includes grammar, rhetoric, and logic. The Quadrivium includes arithmetic and geometry, as well as music theory based on arithmetic, and astronomy based on geometry. Arithmetic and geometry later developed into modern algebra and calculus. Although we do not study math in our program, since it is widely available elsewhere, we do include the study of all the other Liberal Arts, which are not so widely available in modern times.

Our program includes four years of Latin grammar, where students can best learn the structure of all grammar, including English grammar, as well as the vocabulary that forms the basis of 60% of English words, and the majority of words in the Romance languages such as Spanish and French. Latin grammar has a very logical structure, and complements the study of logic, which we also study in our program beginning in our first year. Rhetoric, which Aristotle defines as “persuasive speech”, encompasses what we now call literature and history. Our program includes four years of literature and history following the historical chronological order of Western Civilization. In the first year we study the Greeks, in the second year the Romans, in the third year the Medievals, and in the fourth year the Moderns.

Just as Roman literature has its foundation in Greek literature, Medieval literature has a foundation in both, and modern literature contains countless echoes of the vast expanse of all the ages of Western Civilization. Western Civilization begins with Greece, for the Greeks originated almost everything: architecture, sculpture, literature, history, the science of grammar, music theory and the modes or “scales” of music, the branches of science and philosophy, geometry, and number theory.

Herodotus is the Father of History; Homer is the origin of all Western literature. Aristotle is the Father of Logic, of Western Science, and all the branches of Philosophy. He remains, in the words of Dante, “The Master of those who know.” St. Thomas Aquinas called him simply “The Philosopher”. As Blessed John Henry Newman wrote: While we are men, we cannot help, to a great extent, being Aristotelians, for the great Master does but analyze the thoughts, feelings, views, and opinions of humankind. He has told us the meaning of our own words and ideas before we were born. In many subject-matters, to think correctly, is to think like Aristotle; and we are his disciples whether we will or no, though we may not know it.”

We are all indebted to the Ancient Greeks, who had the most active minds in human history. But the Greeks saw themselves as indebted to the Seven Sages responsible for the Delphic Maxims. The most famous of these is the maxim Γνῶθι σαυτόν, transliterated as gnōthi sauton, which we translate as “Know Thyself”. Self-knowledge involves many things, but for an inheritor of the traditions of Western Civilization it begins by knowing our classical Greco-Roman heritage, and this begins with the knowledge of classical language, literature, and history, which comprise the humanities. All Western art, as preserved in the many museums of Europe, is in the majority based on two fundamental themes: the stories from the Bible, and Greek and Roman literature.

Western Civilization now encompasses much of the globe, but its origin is Europe. This raises the fundamental question of “What is Europe?”. The answer is fundamentally three cities: Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. From Jerusalem we derive the most important element, our Judeo-Christian religious Faith. Ancient Greece is the origin of the fine arts, democracy, and philosophy, which includes the study of ethics, economics, and politics, but also metaphysics and natural philosophy which includes the roots of all the modern sciences including physics, chemistry, and biology. From the Greeks we learn the true nature of the human soul with its 16 faculties and 11 emotions, which are the subjects of the many human virtues. St. Thomas Aquinas affirms that the best proofs for God’s existence are also to be found in Aristotle.

From the Greeks we also derive the beautiful myths of classical pagan civilization, which have only been preserved by the countless efforts of Medieval monks who painstakingly copied them for posterity. We have about 800 texts from the ancient world of Greece and Rome, and we only have these texts because the Medieval Church deemed them worth preserving for all time.

The Church Fathers recognized in the ancient poetic myths much beauty and wisdom. Clement of Alexandria wrote:

“The ancients taught their wisdom by means of a suggestive symbolism, and I am thinking when I say this of Orpheus, Linus, Musaeus, Homer, and Hesiod, and all other such men as were possessors of wisdom. For the great multitude their poetic psychagogy was like a concealing curtain. The Greeks, because of their love of wisdom, followed that inward vision of theirs which was aimed at the truth, and this they did, not without help of God; and so in certain things they were in agreement with the words of the prophets. They searched through truth in part and in whole and honored it by the formulations of their thought which were in clear harmony with the intelligible nature of things; for they had received an intimation of that which is related to truth itself. Thus the Greek love of wisdom is like unto a lamp whose wick has been lit by men skillfully borrowing light from the rays of the sun.”

The later Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, acknowledged their debt to Homer’s wisdom, rooted in Greek myth. A simple example is to be found in Plato’s dialogue The Theaetetus, the philosophic dialogue about episteme, or knowledge. Socrates declares that one who is filled with wonder is most capable of philosophic wisdom. He then remarks that the one who said that Iris was descended from Thaumas spoke truly. Iris was the messenger goddess between mortals and the gods, and the goddess of the rainbow that connects heaven and earth. She was descended from Thaumas, the god of wonder. Socrates recognized a deep truth in this simple myth. For when we wonder about things, we ask two main questions: “what” and “why”.

The whatness of a thing is expressed in its definition, but the why of a thing leads us to the order of agent causality. Trees are caused by the trees that produced them, which are caused by the trees that produced them, and so on until we eventually reach the origin of all things in the material world, the first cause of the cosmos, which Aristotle called “the uncaused cause”, or “Prime Mover”, the first cause which is without a cause, which all men recognize to be God. For the Greek philosophers, wonder leads to wisdom, represented by the rainbow connecting Heaven and earth, since wonder inevitably leads us to the knowledge of God. Iris was descended from Thaumas, and nothing so arouses wonder in the soul as poetic myth. For this reason, Aristotle declared that the philomythos, or lover of ancient myth, is a kindred spirit of the philosopher, or lover of wisdom. For the myths, he said, are a Thesaurus, or “Treasury” of wonders. It is no wonder then that after the Bible, the ancient Greek and Roman myths form the majority of themes found in Western art, preserved in the museums of Europe, and echoed by all the greatest poets of the Western literary tradition, from Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot.

The Greeks had the most active minds in the history of the human race, and the Romans largely copied them. From ancient Rome we derive the Latin language, the language of the Church and the foundation of all the Romance languages, but also much of English. Rome produced some of the best literature in history, as we find in Virgil, Ovid, and Horace. Dante, recognized as the greatest Christian poet, based his Divine Comedy on the writings of Virgil, and through the influence of Virgil we find the influence of the ancient sybils mentioned in Christian prophecy. They are referenced in the first stanza of the Dies Irae, the most famous piece of Gregorian chant, and they are depicted on the walls of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo, where all the popes are elected. For they prophesied Christ, according to what St. Paul called the gratiae gratis datae, the gratuitous graces. For God is able to work marvels even among the pagans, who foreshadowed Christ. This is a fundamental teaching of 20th century Catholics such as Chesterton and Tolkien, who wrote extensively about the meaning and wisdom of ancient myth. Ovid’s Metamorphoses has also exerted enormous influence on Western culture. As Ian Johnston has written: No work from classical antiquity, either Greek or Roman, has exerted such a continuing and decisive influence on European literature as Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The emergence of French, English, and Italian national literatures in the late Middle Ages simply cannot be fully understood without taking into account the effect of this extraordinary poem…The only rivals we have in our tradition which we can find to match the pervasiveness of literary influence of the Metamorphoses is perhaps (and I stress perhaps) the Old Testament and the works of Shakespeare.”

The other main contribution of Rome was the fundamental legal tradition of Western Civilization summed up in Justinian’s Corpus Iuris Civilis, which England later perfected in the Common Law tradition, which is the basis of American government, where a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty. In America we take this for granted, but it is unique in world history. In our program we introduce the students to economics and political philosophy where they study the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The culmination of Greco-Roman civilization was “the fullness of time” in which Christ was born. The Church Fathers largely based their theology on the philosophy of the Greeks and Romans. The wisdom of the Church Fathers found its culmination in St. Thomas Aquinas, in which we find the most perfect assimilation of ancient philosophy with Christian theology.

In addition to grammar, history, poetry, and logic, which comprise the trivium, our program also includes many elements of the quadrivium, including music theory and astronomy.

Just as the study of prosody is a gateway to appreciating poetry, the study of music theory leads us into the mystery of the beauty of music. Plato believed that good music was more important than good laws. He wrote: Let me make the songs of a nation and I care not who makes the laws.”

Boethius, the bridge between the classical and medieval worlds wrote:
“Music can both establish and destroy morality. For no path is more open to the soul for the formation thereof than through the ears. Therefore, when the rhythms and modes have penetrated even to the soul through these organs, it cannot be doubted that they affect the soul with their own character and conform it to themselves.”

Good music, in the form of traditional folk music and much of classical music, orders the passions of the soul in a rational way. Bad music breeds chaos and revolution, as witnessed in the cultural revolution of the 1960’s. The best of music is sacred music, Gregorian chant, and sacred polyphony, which leads the soul to prayerful contemplation of the mysteries of God. As Hildegard Von Bingen, Doctor of the Church, and gifted poet and musician once wrote: “Sacred music is the echo of the glory and beauty of heaven. And in echoing that glory and beauty, it carries human praise back to heaven.”

Aristotle informs us that the fine arts are distinguished by their objects, and the object of music, what it expresses, are the passions, or emotions, which have an important role in the moral life. Well-ordered passions are subject to reason which is in turn subject to God.

Disordered passions rebel against both reason and God. Good music expresses orderly passions, bad music disordered passions. Modern secular culture is defined by rebellion from God, and its anthems are the disordered music that mark our cultural decline. In the Middle Ages men at first knew only Gregorian chant, then later the first beginnings of polyphony in Leonin and Perotin.

In the Baroque era they knew the logically structured music of the Bach fugue and canon, which reflected Newtonian Physics. Today they know the disordered music of rock bands with names like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Pope Benedict XVI, a gifted pianist who especially enjoyed playing music written by Mozart, spoke of the importance of reviving classical music, and the sacred music upon which classical music was largely based. In our program, as part of our fourth-year literature program, we introduce students to the fundamental elements of music: rhythm, melody, and harmony, and what constitutes ordered music, and how it differs from disordered music. We encourage students to learn about the great musical traditions of the past ages, which so often found their themes in ancient classical literature. All the musical modes were first named by the Greeks, e.g., the Dorian, Lydian, Ionian, and Aeolian modes, and traditional folk music that reflects Christian culture is composed in these ancient musical modes which were also the modes of Gregorian Chant. Students are introduced to the Western musical tradition based on the ancient modes.

We also introduce our students to traditional philosophy, which begins with logic and natural philosophy. If high school students today are capable of learning modern calculus-based physics, they are more than capable of studying Aristotelian natural philosophy, which is in many ways simpler than modern physics, but also more profound. For to fully understand the trees in the forest, we must first understand the forest as a whole, and wisdom is found in general truths that reach to the deepest roots of the particulars. As Einstein once commented, “Modern Physics is Greek Philosophy”. Heisenberg, the Father of Quantum Physics, who had memorized every word of Aristotle’s Physics in the original Attic Greek, once commented that modern Quantum Physics cannot be explained without the hylomorphism of Aristotle. The Greeks were the first to enquire about nature, a word which in the Greek language is physikos, from which we derive the word Physics. They asked the fundamental question of “What is nature?” The Greeks gave us the fundamental definitions of the major headings in modern physics textbooks, words like matter, element, atom, cause, change, void, time, and space. They introduced the fundamental causes in nature such as matter and form, agent, and final cause, which are the basis of understanding the soul, which is the substantial form of the living body. In the Sacraments, rooted in the Incarnation, where the supernatural elevates the realm of nature, each has their proper matter and form, where in the Sacrament of Baptism the matter is water, and the form is the Baptismal formula. Or in the Eucharist, where the matter is the bread and wine, and the form is the words of consecration given by Our Lord at the Last Supper, where the agent cause is God, and the final cause or goal is union with God. In the Incarnation God hallows the material world, and children should be formed by an understanding of nature and the sciences rooted in the natural philosophy of Aristotle, which culminates in the proofs for God’s existence. For as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. And as the Book of Wisdom declares: “For by the greatness of the beauty, and of the creature, the creator of them may be seen, so as to be known thereby.”

Aristotle, when recounting the origin of philosophy, declares that when men first gazed upon the wheeling stars of the ancient cosmos philosophy was born. All men are philosophers by nature, where the word philosophy in Greek means “love of wisdom”. All men instinctively yearn for Truth. Yet many in our time are never acquainted with this ancient Greek wisdom, which is the foundation of Catholic theology. Bishop Emeritus Edward J. Slattery, under whose directive our program was first formed, often commented that “children should begin their study of philosophy in first grade”, when they also begin their study of the liberal arts and basic catechesis. Indeed, some of the very best books ever written on Aristotelian/Thomistic logic were written for elementary and middle school students in the contemporary Catholic homeschooling movement.

The study of the natural world leads to the study of living things, which leads us to the study of the soul, which the ancient Greeks defined as “the first principle of life in the living body”. The study of the soul involves the study of the powers of the human soul, the faculties of the external senses, the “five senses”, and the internal senses such as memory and imagination. We also study the will, capable of free choice and the love of the good, and the intellect, capable of knowing truth. In the order of learning, the study of the soul precedes the study of ethics and moral theology since the virtues are rooted in the powers of the soul. We must know the 11 emotions, the will, and practical reason before we can understand the Cardinal Virtues which regulate them. Temperance and courage are rooted in the sense appetites, the concupiscible and irascible appetites. Justice is rooted in the will, and prudence in the practical intellect. Faith is also rooted in the intellect, and hope and charity in the will. These “Seven Virtues”, the Cardinal and Theological virtues, are the central virtues, but St. Thomas numbers over 100 virtues in his Summa Theologiae.

Virtue is what leads to happiness, the principal goal of the moral life which culminates in knowing and loving God, which is our ultimate purpose, and our destiny. The study of ethics is the foundation of political philosophy since the state is comprised of individuals. St. Thomas informs us that the virtues are internal principles of the moral life, seated in our souls. But individuals find their humanity in the larger community ordered to the common good. The “external principles” of the moral life include law and grace, where the fundamental law is the natural law in which the revealed Divine Law of the Old and New Covenants are rooted, which are reflections of the Eternal Law of God known before the world was created. For the natural law is the law “written on our hearts”, part of the fabric of our very being created in God’s image. The natural law, which our conscience recognizes, is what enables all civilizations to grasp the fundamental truths enshrined in the definitively revealed Ten Commandments. All civilizations have recognized that things like murder, theft, adultery, and lying are somehow wrong.

The first sentence of the American Declaration of Independence takes its stand upon the firm foundation of the natural law, which is also the foundation of the U.S. Constitution. The study of nature then leads to the study of the soul, which leads to the study of ethics, which in turn leads to the study of politics, according to the order of learning prescribed by St. Thomas Aquinas. This is the order we follow in our study of philosophy, the order of Aquinas. Philosophy in turn is propaedeutic to the study of theology, which begins with the study of Sacred Scripture. All children should know the Bible as seen through the lens of the Tradition of the Fathers and Doctors of the Catholic Church. In days of old every child knew the Baltimore Catechism. The books we use for the study of Sacred Scripture and theology are those prescribed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for the instruction of Catholic high school students, presented in the Didache Series. We also use the Didache Series for our study of Church History. In the study of sacred theology and Church History we find the culmination of all our studies. It is our firm belief that all children should receive the same foundation which all Catholic children of the past received, in bygone ages nobler than our own.

For every human soul is created to know the Truth of God, since the Truth shall set them free. The steep decline in the public school system in America, reflective of our growing secular culture, has given birth to the Catholic homeschooling movement in our country. We firmly believe in the importance of the homeschooling movement, and we seek to fulfill Bishop Emeritus Edward J. Slattery’s original vision of promoting Catholic homeschooling education through our supplemental hybrid program that was created under his directive.

Children today are no different than children of the past in terms of intellectual capacity, and if children of past ages were expected to read Homer in Greek, and Virgil in Latin by age 11, when they were also expected to compose their own original Latin verse, then high school homeschoolers of our present age can certainly read these timeless classics of Western Civilization in English translation. Indeed, ever since the establishment of our program in 2015 we have found that high school children take to the classics of Western Civilization likes ducks to water. They are also capable of the study of Latin, philosophy, and theology. My Latin teacher in Rome, Fr. Reginald Foster, recently deceased, who was the Papal Latinist during the long reign of Pope St. John Paul II, began his study of Latin on his first day of his first grade in a Catholic school. By the end of the first day of his first-grade year he knew that he wanted to spend the rest of his life teaching Latin. A remarkable story, but also a very Catholic story.

Catholic education has always been recognized as extraordinary in the surrounding secular culture. And as previously mentioned, our founder Bishop Emeritus Edward J. Slattery often commented that children should begin their study of philosophy in the first grade. In our experience the children of the homeschooling community are the true standard bearers of all that is noble and true in Western Civilization. For those of us who teach in this program, it has always been an honor and a privilege to serve the Catholic homeschooling community in the Diocese of Tulsa, for in the Catholic homeschooling movement we find the hope of the future.