TLS Touchstones #6 – The Beautiful and the Useful
St. Augustine of Hippo’s On Christian Doctrine is one of the foundational texts of “The New Classical Schooling,” a movement with which Lutheran schools such as Trinity are affiliated. In the first three chapters of this book, St. Augustine spells out the distinction between “use” and “enjoyment,” which is probably the fundamental distinction in this book which I have already called “foundational.”
What’s so important about it? We’ll get to that. First, here is the saint in his own words:
There are some things, then, which are to be enjoyed, others which are to be used, others still which enjoy and use. Those things which are objects of enjoyment make us happy. Those things which are objects of use assist, and (so to speak) support us in our efforts after happiness, so that we can attain the things that make us happy and rest in them. We ourselves, again, who enjoy and use these things, being placed among both kinds of objects, if we set ourselves to enjoy those which we ought to use, are hindered in our course, and sometimes even led away from it; so that, getting entangled in the love of lower gratifications, we lag behind in, or even altogether turn back from, the pursuit of the real and proper objects of enjoyment. For to enjoy a thing is to rest with satisfaction in it for its own sake. To use, on the other hand, is to employ whatever means are at one’s disposal to obtain what one desires, if it is a proper object of desire; for an unlawful use ought rather to be called an abuse.
The reason this distinction is so important is that it states in a compact way what education must really be about if it is to be at all worthy of the name: ordering our hearts and minds to the permanent things, those things which are good for their own sakes.
Of course, when we speak here of “permanent things,” we are necessarily speaking of permanence in a relative sense only. For no created thing is permanent, unchanging, or constant— God alone is. As such, He is the ultimate end of knowledge. Thus writes St. Augustine:
The true objects of enjoyment…are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are at the same time the Trinity, one Being, supreme above all, and common to all who enjoy Him, if He is an object, and not rather the cause of all objects, or indeed even if He is the cause of all. For it is not easy to find a name that will suitably express so great excellence, unless it is better to speak in this way: The Trinity, one God, of whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things.
Of course, we could never come to know God and His permanence (and goodness, and love) had He not called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified and kept us in the true faith— say, isn’t that from the Catechism that we memorize here at Trinity?
But we have a problem. Our culture does not believe that the end, goal, or purpose of education is to know God and His works. No; according to our secularized culture, the purpose of education— that is, the reason a person goes to school— is to become “socialized” and to get ready for a “career.” While there is certainly nothing wrong with sociability (if that is what is meant by being “socialized,” and I doubt that it is), and while we should all wish to be of service to our neighbors (if this is what is meant by a “career,” and I doubt that it is), these are— to put it rather bluntly— worldly concerns. And this world (at least in its fallen condition) is not our home. “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come,” writes the author of the book of Hebrews (loci, 13:14). Picking up on this theme, St. Augustine writes:
Suppose, then, we were wanderers in a strange country, and could not live happily away from our fatherland, and that we felt wretched in our wandering, and wishing to put an end to our misery, determined to return home. We find, however, that we must make use of some mode of conveyance, either by land or water, in order to reach that fatherland where our enjoyment is to commence. But the beauty of the country through which we pass, and the very pleasure of the motion, charm our hearts, and turning these things which we ought to use into objects of enjoyment, we become unwilling to hasten the end of our journey; and becoming engrossed in a factitious delight, our thoughts are diverted from that home whose delights would make us truly happy. Such is a picture of our condition in this life of mortality.
Here we are reminded of three important truths: (1) we are fallen creatures, which means that our flesh is at enmity with God; (2) as Christians, we are on a pilgrimage through this sinful world to our heavenly home (think Pilgrim’s Progress); (3) it is very, very easy to lose sight of this.
Yet if educators do lose sight of or forget any of those things— or if they have never believed them to be true to begin with— then the sad truth of the matter is that they are not reallyeducating. For education is a leading-out from the world of the merely useful (e/ex, prep. “out of, out from” + duco, ducere, v. “to lead”), not a focusing-in on it. This doesn’t mean that educated people scorn the world or hold aloof from it. Not at all. Rather, it means that they are able rightly to distinguish the means from the end, the tool from the treasure, and the earthly from the heavenly. They know which things are to be used, and which things are to be enjoyed.
If that sounds a little too otherworldly for your taste, take comfort in what Our Lord says: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). God promises that all that your children need to support this body and life “shall be added” unto them. Be assured of that, thank God for it, and seek those things which are above (Col 3:1-2).
You can take comfort in this, too: Trinity’s students do excel their peers in the public schools. Period. They are supremely prepared for high school when they leave here. They learn things here that elite universities across America are realizing that theyneed to start teaching again, because their graduating seniors— to say nothing of their incoming freshmen— don’t know the difference between an indirect object and an object of the preposition; or the dates or significance of any important historical events; or what make a syllogism valid (or even what a syllogism is); or how to do long division without their iPhones; et cetera, ad nauseam. This is not hyperbole.
But none of this is the point. Our goal at Trinity is not to beat the public schools. We are, in fact, doing something else entirely. As I have written once before, it is important to keep straight which things are “on purpose,” so to speak, and which things are just a natural result of pursuing a different goal. It cannot be said often enough: Trinity’s students do not excel in spite of the fact that the focus here is, if you will, “otherworldly.” No, they excel precisely because our focus is “otherworldly”— which is to say, “more-than-the-world-ly,” heavenly, and Christian. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Co 10:4-5).
So let us not be too charmed by the beauty of the country through which we pass. Let us not become “engrossed in factitious delight” in those things which perish with the using. Let the very name of our school remind us of what— or rather whom— we seek to know in all that we do here: “The Trinity, one God, of whom are all things, through whom are all things, in whom are all things.” Amen!
Reading On Christian Doctrine by St. Augustine is a great way to engage your mind on these important questions. The three chapters from Book 1 which I excerpted in this column (almost in their entirety) fit on a single page. Like most works by the Church fathers, it is in the public domain. So tolle, lege! “Pick up and read”! You won’t be disappointed.
TLS Dean of Academics
- Chapel today will be a Divine Service for the Presentation of Our Lord, beginning at 2:30 PM. All are welcome.
- Wednesday, February 14, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. 8:00 AM Matins on Ash Wednesday will include the Imposition of Ashes. All are welcome. In view of the solemnity, Valentine’s Day festivities will be transferred to another day. Please speak with your child’s teacher about details.
- Are you interested in Summer Daycare? Please fill out this brief survey. If you have any additional questions, please contact Mrs. Dillingham.
- Friday, February 16, is the Midquarter. There will be an early dismissal.
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What’s new at TLS
You cannot have missed it the past several weeks: Trinity Lutheran Church has gotten quite a bit taller! Evidently Trinity’s position on a low rise in the neighborhood makes it the topographical high-point for this part of Cheyenne. Verizon Wireless asked for permission to take advantage of our towering stature by putting a cellular array on our roof. A team of construction workers out of Aurora, CO, and a crane crew from Casper have done some pretty impressive work pursuant to that end. Although the noise from the ceiling has occasionally sent the 7th and 8th graders packing to the undercroft for the day, the workmen have been quite courteous and professional. Below are a few choice photos of the construction. You can see more, as well as a video of Trinity’s steeple being moved, over on the TLCS Facebook page: album here, video here.
Memory Work: Week of February 4
Liturgical Week: Sexagesima (~60 days until Easter)
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.] (2 Timothy 3:14-17 [16-17])