Sunday, July 12, 2009

Genuine Lutheran Classical Education - Oxymoron?

So says the founder, Mr. Michael, of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy (provider of authentic Catholic classical education, in an historically meaningful sense).

My first reaction was to reject his conclusion out of hand - He's Catholic, what else would he think? Certainly, Catholics and Lutherans disagree on several fundamental issues, and this naturally would be reflected in how we approach learning - a Lutheran education is an entirely different animal than a Catholic education. But the idea that Catholic beliefs are necessary to an historically meaningful classical education - that's crazy talk, right? Yet, as I considered his arguments, I got to wondering - does authentic classical education, in the historically meaningful sense (which is what I am striving for), incorporate principles and philosophies that are antithetical to Lutheran theology?

Michael, in describing the trouble non-Catholic students would have in his program, says that "it is a matter of fact that the principles of Protestantism and Evangelicalism are inconsistent with the principles of true classical learning. In other words, there can be no such thing as a 'Genuine Protestant Classical Education'."

However, many of Michael's points, while accurate with respect to generic American Protestantism, do not apply to Lutheranism. All of the cultural advantages he lists for Catholic families - the liturgical calender, the numerous saints to study and imitate, the Sacraments, the fellowship in two millennia's worth of Christian society, and the historical examples of other classically educated Christians - are all available to Lutherans as well (though there are differences - number of sacraments, how we consider the saints, etc. - which, while I consider them unimportant to his main point, I doubt he would agree with me).

Also, we do have vastly different definitions of vocation - which Michael sees as the most important difference between Catholics and Protestants with regard to the suitability of a classical liberal arts education. However, I just don't see the problem. Why does a lack of "religious vocations," in the Catholic sense, make a classical education less desirable? (I think I'm missing his point, here.)

As well, we do not hold to the "Protestant principles of knowledge" that he lists - Sola Scriptura, private interpretation, and disregard for tradition, all of which he claims will have to be abandoned to study philosophy properly - in the way that most American Protestants do. On the one hand, we don't place the Lutheran Confessions on the same level as Scripture. Scripture is infallible; the Confessions aren't. We believe them to be a correct explanation of the Scriptures, but if they were proven to be incompatible with Scripture, we would abandon the Confessions on that point and go with Scripture. However, we do believe them to be correct. And we reject the idea of the individual as the highest authority on interpretation - all Scripture interpretation should be in the context of the church (i.e. the Confessions). Teachings that violate the Lutheran Confessions are generally considered to be false, by virtue of having violated the Confessions. Yet we still explicitly deny that the Lutheran Confessions are infallible. It's a paradox - and in good Lutheran fashion we embrace it, upholding both poles, contradictory as they are, as equally true.

Yet for all our differences from American Protestantism, we still have fundamental issues with Catholic theology. Are these issues equally fundamental to classical education? (And how are these issues connected to classical education in the first place?) I'm not sure. But I'm intrigued. So I've been reading more on the CLAA site, as well as researching early Lutheran education (which was classical - and very similar to Jesuit education, in fact) and the philosophical underpinnings of traditional classical education. It's interesting. So far I'm still inclined to argue that genuine Lutheran classical education, at least, can exist, but we'll see.


DonnaB said...

Does Mr. Michael ever mention that classical education pre-dates Catholicism?

Forty-two said...

Does Mr. Michael ever mention that classical education pre-dates Catholicism?
Oh, yes. He has quite a bit more respect for ancient thought than he does for Protestant thought, actually. They did the best they could with what they knew (and an impressive best it was). But Protestants had the truth - a gift the ancients would have treasured - and then rejected it, for something lesser (from the Catholic perspective, anyway).

However, the more I've been looking into it, the more I realize that Mr. Michael has a more valid point than I thought at first. Modern Catholic theology apparently draws heavily on the Scholastics. While I knew that Aquinas had synthesized Christian theology and Aristotelian philosophy, I hadn't realized just how much he seemed to accept Aristotle's views without alteration. Sure, Aristotle's worldview is fairly compatible with Christianity, but not completely - there are some significant differences. If an "authentic" classical education requires adopting an Aristotelian worldview (which is not an indefensible position to take), rather than just studying Aristotle's works, then Michael is right - it *isn't* possible to have an authentic classical education that is also genuinely Protestant.

Anonymous said...

I remember being an undergraduate at an evangelical college and discussing the problem of Jerusalem and Athens.

God bless you. I will pray for you. You are my baptized brothers in Christ.

Anonymous said...

I would be interested in how can you say that Lutherans and any Protestants can enjoy "the fellowship in two millennia's worth of Christian society"? Do you mean that an average Lutheran can "pick and choose" what he likes or what he believes is right from the theology and history of the Catholic church and consider it their own heritage?

"...researching early Lutheran education (which was classical - and very similar to Jesuit education, in fact...
" As far as I know (and I don't know much :-)) Luther rejected Aristotelean philosophy, did not want logic or scholastic philosophy to be thought in the schools (which were the base of the Classical Catholic education).

I've read some time ago some info about how poorly equipped Protestant schools became in Europe after Reformation within one generation.

Dr. Luther in the 21st Century said...

I am sure that the RCC would accuse us of picking and choosing when it comes to our study of the Early Church Fathers, but in reality it is a recognition that they are not infallible and made mistakes. It isn't a matter of like or dislike, it is a matter that there are just somethings that were written or said that do not match what was revealed in Scripture.

Actually, Luther did not reject Aristotle as such. He rejected the scholastics habit of trying to fit everything in Scripture into an Aristotelian framework. There are just some parts that will not make sense in any humanly constructed logical system, i.e. the bodily presence in Holy Communion, Luther's complaint is that Aquinas went too far.

I would like to see this said evidence that protestant schools became poorly equipped.

Anonymous said...

"I would like to see this said evidence that protestant schools became poorly equipped."

This is where I read it (starts on page 60)

Dr. Luther in the 21st Century said...

I wouldn't call a book with a favorable view on the Jesuits a great source for information on schools in areas controlled by those in the Evangelical Catholic Church, aka Lutheran. The author's obvious bias comes clear when he clearly states that Luther intended to completely divorce the reformation from the church of the past. That was never the case. He never wished to split the church. What ever the state of the schools during and after the reformation, I would never use your cited book as clear evidence of anything.

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