Steps to Wisdom: Standing for Truth

Augustine says that the sixth step, before attaining wisdom itself, is to recognize that the truths one has embraced are worth standing up for.


Fear of God, piety, knowledge gathering, strength and resolution, diligent application. Our students have been practicing these steps since September. As parents and tutors we’ve seen them grow, as they learn a little bit more of what it means to humbly approach the learning process, to gather and absorb new information, to persevere when learning is difficult or boring, and to truly embrace what they know through application. And at Granite we’ve been emphasizing the sixth step all year through our theme, “Stand for Truth.”

Augustine says that the sixth step, before attaining wisdom itself, is to recognize that the truths one has embraced are worth standing up for. He says that the students on the verge of wisdom reach a point at which their pursuit of truth is so pure that they are compelled to acknowledge truth, regardless of the earthly consequences. He writes that this student will be “so single and so pure in heart, that he will not step aside from the truth, either for the sake of pleasing men or with a view to avoid any of the annoyances which beset this life.”

In one of my Omnibus classes this week, we discussed the persecution of Christians in the early church in Rome. I explained to students that the Christians of Rome were often martyred for refusing to burn even a pinch of incense to the image of Caesar. One of my students asked the poignant question, “Why would you die for something so small? Does it really matter?” This prompted what was possibly one of the most important conversations I had with my students all year. The martyrs of the early church were willing to die for something so seemingly small and insignificant because they understood that such a compromise was in fact supremely significant–burning incense to the image of Caesar would have been a clear statement that a human being deserved worship as a god; it would have been a direct denial of the truth indelibly stamped on their hearts.

A person who will not stand aside from truth for the sake of this world is the culmination of a Christian education. We want to graduate students who are so convinced of God’s truth that they cannot recant it for anything—not for a higher standing among their peers, not for a better grade from a college professor with a different worldview, not for a better position in their workplace, not even for the sake of avoiding persecution. Our hope is that the student educated at Granite would become so practiced in finding truth and diligently applying it that he cannot back down from what he knows to be true, even when the world pressures him to do so.

Augustine says, “Such a son ascends to wisdom which is the seventh and last step, and which he enjoys in peace and tranquility.” In other words, the student who is convinced of God’s truth can hold his ground on it without fear of the earthly consequences. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The early Christian martyrs who refused to burn incense to Ceasar understood the Truth, and that truth freed them to gladly give up their lives for its sake. That’s wisdom!

That’s the student that we want to send out into the world at the end of a classical education. That’s what every part of a classical education is working towards, from memory work and question and answer flows, to Socratic discussion, debates, and thesis defenses. We want to produce young men and young women who not only stand for truth, but who do so for the right reasons, and who do so with confidence and peace.

Our prayer is that our students have been moved along in their journey towards wisdom during this academic year. But it’s important to remember that no amount of classical practices or liturgies will necessarily produce this; our students need to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. That is why it is our prayer that this has taken place and will continue to take place.

When Martin Luther gave his famous “Here I Stand” speech, he didn’t stop with, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” His closing words were, “God help me.” One of the prayers we’ve used throughout the year in chapel, also penned by Martin Luther, says, “Write into our hearts, by your Holy Spirit, whatever is abundantly found in scripture. Let us constantly keep it in mind, and allow it to become far more precious to us than our own lives, and all else that we cherish on earth.” That’s a hard prayer to pray, and one which none of us can pray sincerely without  the aid of the Holy Spirit, who gives us such an understanding of truth that we are freed from attachment to this life.

May this continue to be the prayer of the Granite community–faculty, staff, parents, and students–even after this academic year and its theme have drawn to a close. May God help us to continue to guide our students down the path to true wisdom and freedom.

Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.

Steps to Wisdom: Diligence

This is the step in the journey to wisdom in which knowledge is applied.

For in this frame of mind he extricates himself from every form of fatal joy in transitory things, and turning away from these, fixes his affection on things eternal, to wit, the unchangeable Trinity in unity.

And when, to the extent of his power, he has gazed upon this object shining from afar, and has felt that owing to the weakness of his sight he cannot endure that matchless light, then in the fifth step—that is, in the counsel of compassion—he cleanses his soul, which is violently agitated, and disturbs him with base desires, from the filth it has contracted.  And at this stage he exercises himself diligently in the love of his neighbor.

–St. Augustine

We’ve been back from our winter break for one week now at Granite, and it’s worth reflecting on step five in St. Augustine’s “Steps to Wisdom,” which is diligence; I know I certainly need the reminder to exercise diligence after a week off!

Augustine says that after receiving strength and resolution in step four, wherein the Christian has the “counsel of compassion” of the Holy Spirit, he is enabled to “exercise himself diligently” in following the commands he’s come to know through Scripture.

Whether we’re talking about wisdom applied in a spiritual sense or in an academic sense, this is the step in the journey in which knowledge is applied. We want our students to apply what they know in all stages, but this is really the hallmark of the rhetoric stage, because it’s in this final phase of their education that students are starting to realize for themselves how they can apply what they have learned, and how they can live out the principles they have come to embrace. We guide students fairly heavily in the application of knowledge in the grammar and logic stages, so that when they reach the rhetoric stage they can take ownership not only of their knowledge gathering and class preparation, but of the application of what they glean from that study as well.

If your students are in the rhetoric stage, they will be particularly challenged to produce. They will write complex arguments that draw from a wealth of sources; they will do their own research and experiments and draw their own conclusions; they will carefully weigh the ideas they are encountering and then consider which ones ought to permeate their principles and worldview. By the end of their education, classical students apply the things they learn very naturally and fluidly, as a matter of course. That’s our hope, as they journey towads wisdom.

Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.

Steps to Wisdom: Gaining Knowledge and Strength

The truth will still be the truth tomorrow, and the next day, and whatever day it happens to be when your student “gets it.”

After these two steps of fear and piety, we come to the third step, knowledge, of which I have now undertaken to treat. For in this every earnest student of the Holy Scriptures exercises himself, to find nothing else in them but that God is to be loved for His own sake, and our neighbor for God’s sake…

It is necessary, then, that each man should first of all find in the Scriptures that he, through being entangled in the love of this world—i.e., of temporal things—has been drawn far away from such a love for God and such a love for his neighbor as Scripture enjoins. Then that fear which leads him to think of the judgment of God, and that piety which gives him no option but to believe in and submit to the authority of Scripture, compel him to bewail his condition. For the knowledge of a good hope makes a man not boastful, but sorrowful.

It’s been far too long since I’ve continued to examine St. Augustine’s “Steps to Wisdom.” The first two steps Augustine deals with are fear of God and piety. The next two ought to be dealt with together because the fourth is the answer to the dilemma of the third.

In the passage above, Augustine says that the third step towards wisdom is to seek out knowledge. If you want knowledge of God, he says, you have to read scripture! And of course we can apply this to other fields as well: If you want knowledge in science, you have to read science books. If you want to get good at math, you’re going to have to read the math textbook. If you want to learn history, you have to read what people throughout history wrote about their times.

A classical education is full of reading. We are pushing students to become independent scholars, after all, and reading the knowledge and wisdom of others is one of the most effective means of independent study. Young students read with their parents, then read on their own. As students get older, we expect them to do more on their own to prepare for class, and to seek out knowledge on their own. We teach them how to find good sources and to glean from them.

We might think that gaining knowledge would leave us feeling satisfied and good, or even perhaps inflated with how much we know. But Augustine says that this is not necessarily the case. The deeper we get to know scripture, he says, the more we ought to realize how much we don’t measure up to its standards. There’s a parallel for learners of any subject in that gaining knowledge in any field ought to reveal to us just how much we don’t know. Especially as students get older and start studying more complex material, they can quickly realize their own shortcomings, both as learners and as image-bearers of God. This can be overwhelming, disappointing, or frustrating for students.

And it’s at the point of this realization that we need step four–what Augustine calls “strength and resolution.” Augustine says that the Christian who is despairing of his moral shortcomings in the face of the standards of scripture needs the Holy Spirit to encourage and strengthen him so that he doesn’t fall into despair but rather rests in Christ’s finished work and looks forward to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

I think it’s significant that this step in pursuing wisdom is one that is done for the Christian by the Holy Spirit—strength and resolution are not feelings that we are able to muster on our own.

And there’s a parallel here for students pursuing wisdom in other academic fields as well. When they reach this fourth step, they are at the point where they can no longer continue on their own. They need help and encouragement. They’ve read enough that they are overwhelmed with new knowledge, or with knowledge that is difficult to grapple with, or both. Instead of allowing our students to wallow in a despairing attitude, (“I’ll never get this!”) we need teach them how to humbly face their own shortcomings, and encourage them to patiently and diligently keep trying.

Sometimes this means fixing our eye on the goal, and waiting on understanding. Just as sanctification does not happen over night, neither does gaining wisdom. As your students grow and learn, they will grapple with big ideas and learn to think rigorously. There will be days when it will be very hard, and they will be prone to fall into despair. Keep encouraging them.

Augustine says that the student of scripture can reach the point at which “he hungers and thirsts after righteousness,” rather than wallows in despair, by keeping his eye fixed on “the unchangeable Trinity in unity,” rather than on the self. While we are maleable and often fail, God is constant and promises to sanctify us.

Likewise, though we can’t always grasp truth easily and readily, truth is unchangeable. The truths and concepts your student strives to grasp are not going anywhere; maybe today is not the day your student “gets it,” but take comfort in the fact that God’s constancy means that truth is also constant; the truth will still be the truth tomorrow, and the next day, and whatever day it happens to be when your student does get it. In the meantime, do everything you can to encourage your student’s curiosity and hunger for knowledge and to help them humbly lift their gaze away from themselves and towards the Unchangeable.

Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.

Seeing the Sun’s Reflection

Understanding the deep longings of the pre-Incarnation world for a savior prepares us to have a deep, profound understanding of the significance of the Incarnation.

I had intended to return to Augustine’s “Steps to Wisdom” after the Christmas break, but a beautiful moment happened in one of my classes this week that I wanted to share before I go back to that series.

In my 7th grade Omnibus class, in which we study the ancients and read their literature, I started our first class after the break by reading some excerpts from this beautifully penned article by classical educator Kate Deddens.

In it, Deddens analyzes a passage from Homer’s Iliad and helps us think about the hero Achilles and what his pre-Incarnation heroism means to post-Incarnation readers. Just before the break, my students had finished a writing assignment examining the actions of Achilles, and I thought Deddens’ article clearly articulated an important concept that I wanted my students to understand as we encounter our current text, The Odyssey–that the ancient world aches for a hero, one who can conquer chaos and darkness and bring order, peace, and restoration to mankind; from a post-Incarnation perspective, we can see clearly that the ancient world, without knowing it, was longing, deeply, for Christ.

Deddens argues quite rightly that Achilles is a prime embodiment of this longing:

“Achilles as the Ideal Man can also be seen as the expression of the universal wish for such a worthy one to come into the world, a savior who can make it possible for mankind to rise again to the glory for which it was created. In this sense Achilles heralds the need and desire for Christ in a fallen, hopeless world. Like Christ, as the ideal, representative man worthy to bear the shield, Achilles gives all for the redeemed honor and glory of mankind: for, if one man can achieve it, then the rest may bask in his light. Like Christ, through Achilles, the people are given a shepherd who instills hope that the battle may be won. Like Christ, Achilles is a shining sun, a guiding light in a fragile world filled with so much beauty yet so much cruel loss.”

As satisfying as this heroism sounds, when my students read of Achilles in Rosemary Sutcliffe’s lovely retelling of the Trojan War stories, Black Ships Before Troy, they intuit that they cannot truly admire a hero who is so deeply concerned with his own glory and honor. Deddens’ thoughts here are also helpful:

“Achilles sacrificed himself for glory, as did Christ. The glaring distinction between them, however, is that Achilles strove for his own glory, while Christ gave his life to restore glory for us all. The greatest of ancient heroes is therefore only the flimsiest, fleeting shadow of Christ, and ultimately that shadow is profoundly insufficient.”

And then came the moment that made my classical educator’s heart soar, as it does when my students make poignant, harmonious connections between texts. When I had finished reading and explaining these ideas to my students, one of them was reminded of a piece we had read together in class on the very first day of this school year, when I was orienting my students to our purposes in studying the ancients. We had read excerpts from St. Basil’s “Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature,” and my student was referencing the part of that address in which St. Basil says that part of the use of being “conversant with poets, with historians, with orators” of ancient Greece is that they show us “the truth as it were in shadows and in mirrors.” He says that “if we would preserve indelible the idea of the true virtue, [we must] become first initiated in the pagan lore, then at length give special heed to the sacred and divine teachings, even as we first accustom ourselves to the sun’s reflection in the water, and then become able to turn our eyes upon the very sun itself.”

And of course, my student was exactly right in bringing up this passage, because St. Basil’s point is that the ancient texts are a kind of pagan preamble to the Gospel. Understanding the deep longings of the pre-Incarnation world for a savior prepares us to have a deep, profound understanding of the significance of the Incarnation.

My Omnibus class will circle back to this idea again as we read through The Odyssey. One of the quotes I like to use to prompt discussion at the end of reading about the hero Odysseus is from John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life:

“All heroes are shadows of Christ. We love to admire their excellence. How much more will we be satisfied by the one Person who conceived all excellence and embodies all skill, all talent, all strength and brilliance and savvy and goodness…God loves us by liberating us from the bondage of self so that we can enjoy knowing and admiring him forever.”

Left to our own devices we are, like the ancient heroes, enslaved to the pursuit of our own glory. How deeply liberating indeed to see the Gospel follow on the heels of these stories, and to know that there is a Hero who replaces our self-striving with striving after Him and who perfectly fulfills the longing for restoration that these stories project.

Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.

Truth Incarnate

In keeping with our 2017-18 school year theme, “Stand for Truth,” the tutorial-wide memory verse for the Advent season was John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

In a beautifully written essay titled “Beauty is Truth: Faith and Aesthetics,” Joseph Pearce writes about Christ’s incarnation, and the way that truth is incarnate in Him. And for all our focus on truth this year, Pearce points out something that is important for us to remember as a classical community, which is that truth cannot be separated from goodness and beauty, because all three find their ultimate expression in the person of Jesus Christ:

For the Greeks, and for Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, the good, the true, and
the beautiful are inextricably entwined. And, for the Christian, they are not only
entwined but ultimately are one and the same thing: they are the Thing that is Christ. Jesus Christ is the answer to Pilate’s perennial question: quid est veritas? It is Christ Himself who is truth. And it is Christ who is also beauty and goodness.

Christ is the very incarnation of the good, the true and the beautiful. He is these three things rolled into one. Truth is, therefore, trinitarian. It is one with the good and the beautiful.

This often-cited triumverate of goodness, truth, and beauty, also known as the Transcendentals, is central to the classical Christian education. As Pearce puts it, “Since, properly understood, they are synonymous with Christ, it can be seen that the good, the true, and the beautiful are the ends for which we strive.”

But we would do well to ponder how we, as broken human beings could ever craft an education that would truly show our students the good, the true, and the beautiful. What hope could we possibly have of accomplishing this?

Thankfully, Pearce does not leave us in despair of ever achieving these ends. He continues:

They [goodness, truth, and beauty] are, however, also the means by which we attain the end. Christ is not merely the truth and the life, he is the way. He is not only the end, He is the means. All that is good, all that is true and all that is beautiful have their source in Christ and lead us to Him.

Christ became man, walked the earth, and embodied the Transcendentals so that we do have some hope of understanding them, teaching them, and living them out by His grace. That is an incredible, burden-lifting, encouraging promise to hold on to as an educator. None of us can ever fully, perfectly show our students truth, goodness, and beauty. But we can point to Christ, and trust that he who is the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, will capture our students’ hearts, minds, and souls.

Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.

Steps to Wisdom: Piety

Following fear of God, which is the first of Augustine’s “Steps to Wisdom,” is what Augustine calls piety. He says that once we recognize that God is in authority over us and we start to learn his commandments, we ought to realize that “whatever is…written [in Scripture], even though it be hidden, is better and truer that anything we could devise by our own wisdom.”

Just today, my 8th grade class read a similar idea in “Sic et Non,” a work by medieval scholar Peter Abelard, who cautions that when scripture, or even the writings of the church fathers or another credible, time-tested text is difficult to understand, we should “believe that we lack felicity in understanding rather than that they lack felicity in writing.” In other words, even if we don’t quite understand something, we love it because of the source—we persevere, trusting that the Great Books are worthwhile endeavors, and that scripture will always ring true eventually, when we have the ears to hear it.

This is what Augustine, elsewhere, calls ordo amoris, which is Latin for “the order of love.” When our loves are rightly ordered, we love all of creation because God created it, and we love God above all because we rightly fear him and are piously devoted to him.

And students don’t have to be able to tackle Medieval texts to start to develop rightly ordered loves. In fact, one of the best tools for ordering one’s loves is memorization, the main learning tool of the grammar stage. Children’s loves are naturally ordered towards the acts of repetition and routine. And eventually, the material being memorized, rather than the act of memorization itself, becomes the object of affection. We naturally feel affection for the things that are a part of us, and that includes what we’ve engraved onto our hearts and our minds through memorization.

There’s an adage oft-repeated in classical education that says, “you become what you behold.” When we have our students memorize something, it’s because it is something true, or good, or beautiful, and we want our students to behold those things so often that they become a deeply ingrained part of their rightly ordered affections.

Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.

Steps to Wisdom: Fear of God

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

Proverbs 9:10

The path to wisdom is one that we are very much concerned with in classical Christian education. Because our model is founded in the Christian worldview, we look to scripture, such as the oft-cited verse above, for direction.

St. Augustine, in On Christian Doctrine, writes about the pathway to godly wisdom, and, given that Augustine is one of the founders of classical Christian thought, his thoughts are unsurprisingly very valuable to classical educators. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting about each one of these seven steps Augustine forwards as markers on the path to wisdom.

Rightly taking his cue from scripture, Augustine asserts that a person who would have wisdom must first fear God. We must “seek the knowledge of His will, what He commands us to desire and what to avoid.” When we’re pursuing spiritual wisdom, we have to start with the recognition that God is in authority over us, and we are to obey Him.

In the classical classroom and homeschool, we must start with that recognition: God has created the universe, and there are certain truths that he wants us to learn; as God’s creatures we are obligated to obediently do our best to learn those truths and live them out. Of course, a child at the very beginning of the pathway to wisdom, say a first grader, isn’t going to have a real, true understanding of what it means to “fear God.” But a young child can certainly understand that God is in charge and has put certain adults in authority over him. He can understand that obeying parents and tutors is obeying God. We set our students on the pathway to wisdom when we teach them to live out this first step by obeying the teaching authorities that God has placed over them.

As a tutor, I find this very humbling; it’s a solemn reminder that I have an obligation to be very careful about how I exercise authority in my classroom and to make sure that everything I do is intentional and ultimately points my students to God, the source of the truths I’m asking them to learn.

The hope of this foundational principle, of course, is that over the course of an education, the student will come into his own knowledge of God and will start to recognize that teaching authorities are merely dim reflections of the ultimate, awesome authority of God.