Caldecott, 3: Freeing of Intuitive Power

The diagram at left is from Jacques Maritain’s ground breaking work Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry.

It is a diagram of the powers of the soul and the realm he calls the “pre-conscious of the spirit.” The intellect, imagination, and senses work together in poetic intuition. He says: “As grasped by poetic knowledge, things abound in significance, and swarm with meanings. Things are not only what they are. They ceaselessly pass beyond themselves, and give more than they have, because from all sides they are permeated with the activating influx of the Prime Cause.”

I think that this passage from Maritain helps us to appreciate the significance of Caldecott’s book and his project for re-enchantment of education including “Christian Pythagoreanism.” In other words, Caldecott sees that there is a “poetry” at every stage or in every discipline of learning. Hence every discipline presents facts that “swarm with meaning.” Numbers themselves have meanings, as Mr. Caldecott amply demonstrates in his book. At first sight this searching for a deeper meaning or “beauty” in numbers may appear quixotic, whimsical, or forced. But I think it is illustrative of his project. The student must always be ready to, and prompted to, transcend the facts, theories, or discipline as an isolated datum. This is precisely the point of “integration.” How does one get from math to God? or from physics to purpose? or from behavior and statistics to soul and mind?
Much was made clear by an answer Mr. Caldecott gave to a question after his lecture on Thursday evening. The question was “which comes first in using beauty to point to truth: the many disciplines or a unitary vision?” As a philosophy professor and former administrator, I anticipated that he would say — easy, “we need a unitary vision.” Theological vision. But he did not. He said rather one begins in the discipline and one comes to see the need to transcend the discipline because it is incomplete (I think this was his answer). One must begin to enter into dialogue with others. And this starts the process of going beyond to find a deeper significance to the facts and theories of a given discipline.
The important thing is that the student or professor see some to a meaning beyond the given fact, perhaps presupposed by it or turn implied by it. Plato said in the Meno that “all nature is akin” and by grasping one thing, one could (potentially) be led to all things (86b). That is, if one is bold and does not tire of the search. But of course, few are bold and all are weary of the search and of the dialogue. Modern education breeds timidity, ideological conformity, emotionalism.
So I am drawn back to Maritain to understand the richness of Caldecott’s book and project. In Education at the Crossroads, he lays out four norms for education. “The second fundamental norm is to center attention on the inner depths of personality and its preconscious spiritual dynamism, in other words, to lay stress on inwardness and the internalization of the educational influence.” This leads us to consider the “preconscious of the spirit.” Maritain says “the root life of those spiritual powers, the intellect and the will, the fathomless abyss of personal freedom and of the personal thirst and striving for knowing and seeing, grasping and expressing — I should call this the preconscious of the spirit in man. For reason does not consist only of its conscious logical tools and manifestations nor does the will consist only of its deliberate conscious determinations. Far beneath the apparent surface of explicit concepts and judgments, of words and expressed resolutions or movements of the will, are the sources of knowledge and poetry, of love and truly human desires, hidden in the spiritual darkness of the intimate vitality of the soul.”
Caldecott is appealing to this deeper source of learning. He is not laying out a program or architecture for the curriculum. But he is providing the educator with some traditions to have a hand in order to liberate the intelligence of the student. Maritain explains his second rule as follows:
“creative imagination, and the very life of the intellect, would not be sacrificed to cramming memorization or to conventional rules of skill in making use of concepts or words, or to the honest and conscientious but mechanical and hopeless cultivation of overspecialized fields of learning. With regard to the development of the human mind, neither the richest material facilities nor the richest equipment in methods, information, and erudition are the main point. The great thing is the awakening of the inner resources and creativity. The cult of technical means considered as improving the mind and producing science by their own virtue must give way to respect for the spirit and dawning intellect of man!”
At the heart our renewal of education we need a new pedagogy. There is no formula, no schema, no administrative program for this pedagogy. So the challenge is — we need men and women in love with the (beauty of) full truth, steeped in the rich tradition and attentive to the student’s own intuitive powers. I believe that Mr. Caldecott is an embodiment of Maritain’s pedagogy. But where shall our Deans find such men and women to teach the students of the Catholic colleges today? Or who shall teach the teachers? This is one of the tasks for the Pope John Paul II Forum.


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