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If I could make one book required reading for Catholic parents and educators, it is Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty for Truth’s Sake. In six succinct chapters, he leads readers from the history of education’s disintegration to a vision for its restoration and ‘re-enchantment’. Caldecott’s proposal to return wonder, beauty, integrity and, thus, enchantment to the sphere of education calls for a reawakening of some ancient sensibilities.
Modern man has been uprooted from the very ground of his own being – the Word of God expressed as number, proportion and form, which undergirds Creation’s beauty and his own. His awareness of sacred symbolism has been dulled by the divorce of poetry and pedagogy. He comes to the study of philosophy and theology unprepared by music, and disconnected from history. He suffers from the deformation of the Liturgy, and in his flattened state has lost capacity for interior freedom.
The keys to meaning are (and always have been) form, gestalt, beauty, interiority, relationship, radiance and purpose. An education for meaning would therefore begin with an education in the perception of form. The ‘re-enchantment’ of education would open our eyes to the meaning and beauty of the cosmos.
Caldecott would restore to us the interior spaciousness expressed in the great medieval cathedrals by the interplay of light, space, “stone and statuary, rose windows and labyrinths” in the service of Sacred Liturgy. With Plato, he believes “the inner vision of the soul could be awakened” by the disciplines of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. He would reintegrate the Liberal Arts curriculum by locating it “within the history of ideas.” Indeed, he refers to our own local history, citing James Taylor’s Poetic Knowledge in a mention of KU’s Integrated Humanities Program.
With the Christian Pythagoreans, Caldecott explores the “logoi of Creation….understood in terms of number and cosmic harmony”. Beauty, he tells us, is “the key to the lost unity” of subjects as diverse as “art and literature, music, mathematics, physics, biology, and history.”
I want to immerse us in an alternative vision of mathematics. …The Pythagoreans regarded each number as an expression or facet, of Unity (the Father of all things) projected through Duality (the Mother) to create multiplicity.
We live in a time characterized by “a severing of the intimate bond between cosmology and ethics, facts and values, but with a changing sense of the self.” The key to the restoration of civilization is worship!
But if we are to renew our civilization by renewing our worship, we must understand also that liturgy is a way of being in tune with the motions of the stars, the dance of atomic particles, and the harmony of the heavens that resembles a great song. And Catholic liturgy takes us even deeper than that. It takes us to the source of the cosmos itself…
When we come to Mass…we should be able to experience a sense that here, at last, all the threads of our education are being brought together. If we don’t something is wrong with our education or our liturgy.
Not only is liturgy the “‘lost key’ to humane education”, but also to “the reintegration of all things, all subjects, in a vision of sacred order.” Liturgy recalls us to the expression of gratitude. “…the more grateful we are…the more beautiful we will try to make the gift [of self]. That is partly why liturgy has always inspired art.” Caldecott sees the art of courtesy as a vital channel for this same spirit of gratefulness:
The elemental courtesies of conventional etiquette and good manners are the vital channels for preserving this spirit in everyday life. …an education that actively cultivates such modes of behavior will begin the process of building a society that is liturgical to its very core, in which the ‘air’ of grace can circulate. Harmony of soul can only be restored through effort, and the restoration of manners and kindness is an important beginning. Without it, little else is possible.
We must recover the fullness of our own reason, which involves knowing by both ‘head and heart’, through the soul’s reason (ratio) and the spirit’s (intellectus). “…a third dimension has to be introduced into cognition itself, otherwise faith will appear entirely extrinisic to reason.” Education a la Caldecott aims to restore “ontological depth” to a flattened universe on the way to a human person with three-dimensional freedom. His introduction to the symbolic cosmos, sacred geometry and number, golden proportions, and storied stars should be required reading for Catholic educators, scholars, parents, and priests.