Beauty for Truth’s Sake (Caldecott)

Caldecott, Stratford.  On the Re-enchantment of Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009.

Argument: We must go back to Plato through Boethius and Augustine.  Our goal, however, is not Plato, but Pythagoras.  That last name separates this book from all others on classical education.  Caldecott’s argument, though, is straightforward.  If the universe is an ordered cosmos (implying, among other things, a harmonic structure), then we have to deal with Pythagoras.

The book borders on sheer genius.  I say that partly because I have no clue on how to classify it.  I’ve seen it promoted among classical school educators, and that certainly makes sense, but even then it isn’t clear how the book would be integrated into a day-to-day classical school classroom.

I wouldn’t even call this “classical education.”  It is simply, as he notes, “liberal arts.” The point of the quadrivium is to enable us to contemplate God and the harmonic nature of the universe.

One of our goals in education is to transmit a culture. If we let education become fragmented into disciplines, we communicate that education is simply bits and pieces that we can choose (Caldecott 17).   By contrast, the keys to meaning are always form, interiority, beauty, relationship, and purpose.

Ancient man as knowing man: The ancient man, presumably following Socrates, understood that it is the nature of man to know. This “knowledge can only be obtained through the systematic ordering of the soul” (21).

Four levels of Platonic knowledge:

Reason — Nous
Perception of shadows

Point: the instrument of knowledge must be a turning of the whole soul from becoming to being (22). Plato believed that the trivium is the tool to awaken us to the inner vision of the soul.

Caldecott realizes we can’t simply drop the quadrivium on students today.  Even in the middle ages, it struggled to integrate new knowledge.  Further, students would probably be better off studying medieval, rather than ancient, literature (or both). He argues that we must teach these advanced maths and sciences from a history of ideas standpoint (28).

Object of Education

It is difficult to summarize education into one single purpose.  Each angle, though, sheds light on the whole:

Socrates: The purpose of education is to love what is beautiful.  Beauty for Socrates was something objective.

Poetic Education

A child studies music and harmony at a more mature age in order to have his soul geared towards such a proportion.

Education and Number

Following Pythagoras, he suggests number is a facet of the Unity (Father) projected through Duality (mother) to create multiplicity (55).

One: Unity of being, often depicted by a circle.  When it is squared it is still itself.

Two: Duality; separation of male and female, matter and spirit. It is a line between two points.

Three: Unity and diversity are reconciled in harmony.  Depicted by a triangle within a circle.

Four: First solid number.  Represents earth or the material plane. In the four elements, earth and fire (contraction and expansion, respectively) are opposed to each other. Water and air mediate.

Five: As it is the midpoint within the Decad, it symbolizes the human.

Six: Perfect number as it is the sum and product of its divisors. Represented by a regular hexagon.

Seven: Totality. It is the sum of four (the material world) and three (the Trinity).

Golden Ratio

This is the essence of beauty and probably the key to unlocking the universe.

Phi = whole/large part = large part/small part


He takes these harmonies and applies it to the Trinity.  By itself that isn’t wrong.  However, you are getting on dangerous ground when you have the Son participating in both deity and humanity.  The Son has these natures.  He does not merely participate in them.  

Fun fact: early Platonists anticipated the octave by the shape of the letter lamda.  “The musical scale was a model of the cosmos” (92).

In the middle of an excellent discussion on beauty, Caldecott says in a footnote that he does not wish to deny the beauty in modern and postmodern works (32 n28).  This beggars belief.  There is no beauty in postmodern works.  It is trash.  Literally.  Some of it is pieces of garbage glued together.

Caldecott follows an amazing section on numbers with the Trinity.  He tries to tie in certain number theories with Trinity and defend, among other things, the Filioque.  I’m not saying his arguments are wrong, but they do seem out of place.

The book is written from a Roman Catholic perspective, so readers should be aware of that.


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