Throughout the ages Christian monks have cloistered to free themselves from the ungodly influence of the outside world. The seclusion and the freedom from the day-to-day rat race provided them increased opportunity for study and prayer that was not otherwise available. That tradition gave us some fine scholarly work in areas as diverse as Christian doctrine and agriculture. Indeed, Western Christian thought and heritage was preserved by such cloistering. In our age of mega schools and assembly line secular education, I want to suggest that Christian children can benefit from the cloister-like atmosphere at a small classical Christian school.
On July 4, 1776, representatives to the Second Continental Congress signed their names to a little document Thomas Jefferson and a few of his esteemed colleagues penned, and the world hasn’t been the same since. The Declaration of Independence gave continuity and near unanimity to the thoughts that were already swirling in the heads of a couple million colonists chafing under British rule in the thirteen colonies along the eastern seaboard of what is today the United States of America. The Declaration served to organize the rebels in an official sort of way and make clear their intentions to the mother country that the colonists meant to be independent if King George intended to maintain the status quo they found so oppressive. He did.
In our weekly email to parents last Friday, we embedded a video of Dr. George Grant telling the story of replacing the oak beams in the dining hall of Saint Mary’s College, Oxford. That story was part of the first talk I ever heard Grant give some fifteen or so years ago. It is a powerful example of the kind of foresight Christian people should exercise all the time in all facets of life.
Nearly two decades ago a handful of Christian parents decided they wanted a better education for their children than what was available to them. Trinitas Christian School was born out of the initiative they took to solve that problem. All these years later, parents are still making Trinitas what it is. As we leave behind a very busy October, filled with events led and staffed by volunteering parents, and head into a month that will burst at the seams with the theme of thanksgiving, it might be good to pause here and thank parents lest our thanks come across as some mid-November bandwagon theme.
Recently I proposed that the classical school movement is seeking to preserve the heritage of western civilization, in part, by teaching and training good oratory skills. I also explained some of the ways Trinitas begins this teaching and training as early as kindergarten. If the beginning is, as I mentioned last week, as simple as teaching five-year-olds good eye contact and clear enunciation, then the end of that training is guiding eighteen-year-olds through the writing, presentation, and defense of a senior thesis. There are, of course, many, many varied components between those two stages but perhaps none as important and exciting as the John Chrysostom Oratory Competition.
From Ancient Greece to the founding of the United States, one mark of western civilization has been excellent oratory. From Pericles to Patrick Henry and John Chrysostom to Thomas Jefferson (with Demosthenes and Cicero thrown in for good measure), the roots of western civilization have been nourished for more than two-thousand years by those with the ability to articulate lofty ideals in a way that leads to both understanding and inspiration in the hearer. We could call them the Silver Tongues of the West. But the West isn’t what it used to be. Oratory now seems most often employed to convince us to spend money on some product or to vote for a particular candidate. Of course it has always been used in this way, but it seems that in times past, good oratory was more memorably used by men such as those mentioned above to convince others of good ideas, the kind of ideas that change the world for the better.
When thinking of the past, we often find ourselves in one of two precarious positions: veneration or disdain. Looking back on those “good ole days” can cause us to miss out on the gifts of God before us now. Do we, like Saul, desperately seek to evade the consequences of today by reaching out to the ghosts of the past? Or are we more like Ajax, holding silently onto old grudges, forsaking forever a chance for restoration to a friend and comrade? Surely these are not the only ways to view what has gone before us? Is there a way to recall the past with glorifying it unnecessarily, or treating as an experiment in regret?
St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, was a fourth-century Church father known for his powerful and eloquent preaching and public speaking. It was his skill in oratory that earned him the name, “Chrysostomos,” or “Golden-mouthed.” And just as gold is both precious and weighty, Chrysostom’s words were not only beautiful, but always employed in the pastoral service of salvation and social justice.