The Christian Church and classical education are a match made in heaven. In the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that the kingdom of heaven also belongs to children and even infants (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). St. Paul tells Christian fathers not to provoke their children to anger but instead to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). In the Old Testament, God ensured that children would know who He was and what He did for them by exhorting Israel to teach and instruct the future generations (Deuteronomy 4 and 6). Christian children should be raised in the Lord’s discipline and instruction.
Classical education has had a home within Christianity for centuries. Ever since the days of St. Augustine and the decline of the Roman West, the civilizations of the Greeks and the Romans were preserved through the diligent work of churchmen. Thomas Cahill’s classic, How the Irish Saved Civilization, details how the monks and monasteries of Ireland ensured that the classical Christian culture and learning of the West did not die.
Throughout the subsequent medieval period, classical education and Christianity were wedded together. When Charlemagne sought better education through the help of Alcuin and other churchmen, it was classical education that revitalized the Carolingian Empire. When the universities of Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, it was classical education that served as a springboard for what would be known as Scholasticism. And, when the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries saw the “rebirth” of classical learning, it was classical education that found its home with Christian humanists in Italy and Northern Europe, and ultimately in the churches and schools of the Reformation. Prior to the Enlightenment and the following ages of revolution, and even afterwards in England, classical education was Christianity’s education.
This brief history shows that Christianity and the classical education of the West were united for over a millennium. Particularly we see that when periods of revitalization and flourishing occurred it was when the rulers of the West rekindled the embers of civilization and saw how connected this learning was to the teachings of the Church. Now that may sound well and good for the monks, priests, and schoolmen of the Middle Ages, and the learned humanists of the Renaissance, but what does this education have to do with all children and all people?
It is common for classical Christian education to seem “elitist” or upper crust. Many brick-and-mortar classical schools seem to mirror “prep school” life with uniforms and houses. They often tout a rigorous education in books that other students cover in high school and college, and some schools even teach these books in Latin. How can such a school be for all children, including those with special needs?
Begin at the beginning. Proceed as far as the child can attain. Instruct in the faith every step of the way. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—desires all of mankind to be saved. All of mankind should know who He is (the Triune God manifest in Christ Jesus) and what He has done (salvation for all who believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection). These truths are to be taught to all Christians, regardless of age and ability. They are our conversations when we walk and when we lie down, when we are at home or at work (Deuteronomy 6).
Whether it is instruction in the simplest words about God’s love or reading the Church’s great confessions, learning phonics or learning Latin, studying early arithmetic or tackling geometry, listening to children’s stories or reading great literature, learning to think about ideas or to master logic, reciting a children’s poem or delivering a compelling oration, a classical education rooted in the Christian faith is an education for all children of all nations. All children need the Lord Jesus. Christian education, firmly rooted in the classical tradition, delivers heaven to each and every one.
As time passes, it seems that more and more children are diagnosed with academic, social, behavioral, and mental needs. These vary in degree and kind. However, regardless of the needs of the children, all children need to know Jesus Christ and what He has done for them. All children need the instruction that has carried the Christian truth from century to century, from civilization to civilization, and from shore to shore. This education is adaptive and flexible, even though it is challenging and rigorous. This education is God-pleasing and time-tested. This education, like the truth of the gospel, breaks all barriers. It knows no boundaries.
Classical education and the Christian Church are a match made in heaven. The Christian faith and classical civilization are taught together so that each generation of children may flourish as God intends: centered on Christ and the neighbor who needs Christ. Classical education and culture serve the gospel by inclining children of every ability and age toward that which is needed, not only by the individual student, but also by their neighbors now and in the future.