Harvard University adopted the following words, based on their mission statement, as part of their “Rules and Precepts” in 1646:
Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisedome, Let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seeke it of him (Prov. 2:3).
Thoroughly dedicated to Scriptures as the source of all Truth, Harvard sought to equip ministers and laymen with the tools for being effective citizens in the world, to the glory of God. How did they do this? Through classical education.
Some Christians hear about “classical” or “liberal arts”1 education, and assume it is an ancient, pre-Christian form of education. Some object that it is a pagan way to educate children, as opposed to Christian, and that “Classical Christian” is simply some kind of syncretism or oxymoron. Not only is this untrue, but it is ironically untrue. In order to dismiss “classical education” as pagan, you have to dismiss the entire history of Christianity in regards to education. The founding fathers of the United States provide a clear example. Not only were they classically educated themselves, but they considered classical education to be an important component to being a faithful, educated Christian. The entrance exam below, paired with the mission statement of Harvard, demonstrates this:
See the entire exam (all subjects) HERE (PDF).
It was this education that enabled the American founding fathers to intentionally reject the (failed) “experiment in democracy” of ancient Athens, and to instead build a Constitutional and representative Republic, which was more like the Republic of Rome. Classical education shaped men like George Washington, and John Adams. But the Founders were not returning to something merely ancient. They were continuing the tradition of classical education as it was handed down from the earliest of Christian history, starting with the Apostles themselves, and going into the early Church, and on into the Middle Ages, and particularly strong among the Protestant Reformers. As little as 60-70 years ago, it was still taken for granted that an educated person would have a classical education. The idea that education would not be classical, or that classical education is opposed to Christian education, is a very novel and modern idea.
Wondering how to give your children the kind of education that would allow them to pass the entrance exam to Harvard in 1869? You’ve come to the right place.
- “Liberal arts” meaning “freeing arts” – historically, the education of a freeman or nobleman, as opposed to a vocational education which was the education of slaves or serfs. ↩
- Students would learn this in Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, a text almost every school boy in America was once familiar with in Latin. ↩
- Students would have learned this from Xenophon’s Anabasis, the most famous Greek text for students of Greeks. ↩
- Famous men of Greece ↩
- Another demonstration of the assumed knowledge of both classical texts and the Latin language. ↩
- Students would answer from their knowledge of Herodotus and Thucydides. Thucydides is still a required text at West Point, though it was once universal among all educated men. John Adams wrote to his son John Quincy Adams around the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, urging him to read Thucydides. ↩