Do not love the world or anything in the world, 1 John 2:15.
Today is the feast day of Thomas Aquinas, Beth’s favorite saint and theologian. She started reading his Summa in middle school, and she said that Thomas helped her make sense of her faith at a pivotal time in life.
Thomas said that theology was faith seeking understanding, which means you start with the bedrock of Christian faith and then reflect on what it all means using reason. One way to build on this starting point is to welcome all rational perspectives into the conversation.
When it came to theology, Thomas was not a “Bible only” Christian, nor was he a “teachings of the Catholic Church only” Christian. He used the controversial ideas of Aristotle, and also the ideas of Jewish and Muslim thinkers. Christian scriptures and theologians were obviously the most important, but he was not afraid of outsiders.
Not all Christians agree with this approach, especially because of the Bible quote above. I don’t want to get caught up in a debate, but I should make clear: I take the phrase “the world” to refer to powers and motives that are contrary to Christ. But I don’t believe the line cuts neatly between Christians and non-Christians. Plenty of Christians have embraced harmful ideas, and non-Christians have embraced good things. In my experience, Christians need to read everything critically and discern what is good and what is not.
And that’s how our family homeschools. I teach my kids the Christian faith, but I don’t hesitate to use books written by Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists––or atheists. I suppose some Christians would worry that those writings are dangerous, but frankly I would argue that all books are dangerous. Even when we read the Bible, we filter it through our own fallible ideas. There are ideas I won’t expose my kids to, but it’s not because they happen to come from a non-Christian, or a conservative, or a liberal, or whatever.
Christians need to learn from outsiders, because there are true things that aren’t contained in the Scriptures or the Christian tradition. Christian classical education helps a young person learn to read critically and reflect on many ideas, all while relating them back home to the bedrock of their Christian faith. While it may seem risky, those ideas may even challenge us to rethink how we understand our faith. The point isn’t to rid our thought of outside ideas, but to see clearly what ideas we are dealing with.
The student who learns these critical reading skills may be someone who can someday help confront the church about harmful ideas that have entered Christian life and teaching. In the spirit of Thomas Aquinas, this is how our family hopes to do education.
2 thoughts on “Thomas Aquinas and Engaging the World”
I just wanted to say how inspired I am by your blog. As a parent of Catholic school kiddos, I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity for them to learn in the faith, but I often wish things went deeper: real life science (touch, do, observe) in a practical approach, math in nature (Fibonacci maybe, which is so cool), literature that isn’t dumbed down…..,
Of course, as a parent, I need always seek ways to fill the gaps. Perhaps it is just an excuse that after school and piano, dinner and baths and stories, I find it difficult to expect them to have more energy and interest in learning. (We are a read-aloud family as well, and it is my favorite thing to do with them.) Also, I don’t quite feel up to the task of homeschooling as I am not classically trained in anything, though I want more for my children.
As I am thinking about Summer plans, I have a list of things I want to share, teach and learn with my children. I would love to read, and encourage you to consider writing, a piece about how to incorporate your style into a meaningful summer that isn’t overwhelming, but fun and educational.
I hope that idea isn’t too overwhelming for you.
Thanks, Shelly! I will say that with my youngest being just two years old, and myself still getting my feet under me, we’re still ramping up to full-time homeschooling. We have a substantial block every day (Symposium) focusing on shared read-alouds in religious ed, history, literature, poetry, and music, but the rest of the curriculum (math, spelling, eventually latin or Greek) is something we still only get to some days. Probably we’ll stick with a partial school schedule through much of the summer, and make up the difference. So I don’t know if I know enough yet to give advice. But I will say: the symposium (or “morning time”) model is something my kids really enjoy, and if you have stuff to read aloud, just gathering everyone around the sofa at a similar time every day, starting with a prayer and a hymn, and then jumping into the read-aloud would probably be a great place to start. I don’t know–what were you thinking of doing?