Before we drove home from the Memoria Press Sodalitas Gathering this past summer, a family friend met my daughter Michelle and me for breakfast. John has a degree in theological languages and a deep interest in philosophy, and he inquired about our work. More broadly he asked about the endeavor we call classical education that seeks to preserve and pass on the treasures of Holy Scripture and the music, art, literature, and great ideas of Western civilization.
You may know people like our friend John. He reflects before speaking. He does not interrupt. He measures his words. A contemplative conversation over sausage and eggs is never just breakfast.
As someone who reads Augustine and Virgil in his free time, John appreciates our work. He understands the need for enculturation of the young and for the passing along of all the songs and stories, heroes and histories that every child should know. This understanding is not new. Pier Paolo Vergerio addressed it in his fifteenth-century essay, “The Character and Studies Befitting a Free-Born Youth”:
What way of life, then, can be more delightful, or indeed more beneficial … [than] for moderns to understand things ancient; for present generations to converse with their posterity; and thus to make every time our own, both past and future? …
For letters and books constitute a fixed record of things and are the communal repository of all things knowable … We ought at least to pass on carefully the books we have received from those who have come before us to those who will come after, keeping them whole and uncorrupted.
As we talked John began to smile. He leaned back from the table and said with simplicity, “It is as if you are all UPS drivers with a single goal: Get the package delivered safely. You deliver the package safely from one generation”—he motioned with both arms from the floor to his left in a large sweeping arc to the right—”to the next. You make sure nothing is lost along the way. You are preserving what has been entrusted to you.”
This is an apt metaphor for us. Ours is a carefully wrapped package, so we ought not remove items along the way. We seek a safe delivery to our children of poetry, music, art, children’s books, math and sciences, languages, and history. We help them listen, learn, and remember. In doing so, we preserve the past for generations of the future. We uphold with honor all that we have been given.