Caldecott, 2: A Dialogue on “Beauty for Truth’s Sake”

Caldecott, 2: A Dialogue on "Beauty for Truth's Sake"


In February 2010 a group of faculty and a student discussed Mr. Caldecott’s book. Here are a few snippets of that discussion:

Terry Hall: We can begin by looking at the title of Caldecott’s title Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education—especially the subtitle. Why “re-enchantment” and not just “enchantment?”

Charles Stewart: There is an assumption here. He seems to be implying that education was once “enchanted” and something has now been lost. The term “enchantment” is a rather ambiguous term. How do we define “enchantment”?

John Hittinger: Many things have been lost. For example, specialization often leads to a narrow focus. This is what we see in the sciences. Another example, is the focus on practicality…training students for a job, rather that educating students for broader things in their future. What is lost in specialization and practicality, is the “big picture” and the larger narrative. What is the motivation in seeking the truth, is it something something beautiful. The idea of enchantment and beauty reminds me of Pope John Paul II’s opening paragraph in Ex corde Ecclesia; he mentions “Joy in Truth” [i.e. “…joy of searching for, discovering and communicating truth”] as the very reason for a Catholic university.

CHARLES STEWART: So is that how you would define “enchantment”–“joy in truth”?

JOHN HITTINGER: Yes. And that is how the search for beauty is also the search for truth — beauty brings joy. “That which when seen, pleases

MICHELE SIMMS: These are ideas that I have been thinking about. I see education having a greater role in students’ lives than just landing them a job. In business we have blurred the lines of what we teach with how we teach. We have commoditized/commercialized education, so that sometimes we refer to students as “products,” “customers,” “clients,” and “consumers.” This is not education. Learning is discussion, dialogue…dialectic. On page 28 Caldecott, mentions that knowledge should be valued for its beauty, and not simply for its power. I like the notion how a symbol is a manifestation of the invisible. It is the invisible that holds the most value. The invisible puts the “great” in “great music.”

TED REBARD: The modernist trend in higher education attempts to demystify learning, especially science and math. And it has been successful. Machiavelli, Hobbs, and Descartes led to a reduction of knowledge to the quantifiable parts. Science reduced to mathematics. Naturally this led to materialism, in which nothing is transcendent. As a result there is no access to quality—to them quality is unapproachable and does not exist. Without the aim for quality, the basic aim is for power…artificial, arbitrary power. Therefore, Caldecott emphasizes the idea of the trivium, in balance with the quadrivium, where we go back to pre-Descartesian way of studying science and math. Peter Kreeft wrote “modernity’s technological know-how and power has not made us happier, wiser, better, or more saintly than our ancestors.” [Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensées (1993); see also “Darkness At Noon: The Eclipse of the Permanent Things”, Chapter 2 of C.S. Lewis For The Third Millennium (1994)].

MICHELE: We see this trend in Business…that so much is driven by statistics and numbers.

JOHN HITTINGER: This reduction to parts, leads to the specialization of parts and fragments.

JARED MITCHELL: On page 17, Caldecott mentions the fragmentation of disciplines into “bits we can use and consume”. One solution that he proposes is the unity we find first in the family, and then ultimately in the Trinity. These are ideas we find in the writings of Christopher Dawson.

JOHN HITTINGER: I found it interesting, on page 38 how Benedict (poetic element), Dominic (scientific), and Ignatius (Practical) could be symbols of the whole culture. Dawson once remarked on symbols in society. [Dawson viewed the papacy as the “necessary symbol” manifesting divine hierarchy, the unity of diversity; C. Scott, A Historian and His World: A Life of Christopher Dawson (London, 1984): 150.]

CHARLES STEWART: I was also struck by the mention of these three saints and what they represent in Catholic Intellectual Tradition. The Greeks used the term συμμετρία (symmetria) to denote beauty. This meant much more than mere symmetry, or mirror-halves. It conveyed the ideas of contrapposto (counter-balance) and harmony. It is this balance-of-three that we continually encounter in academia: (a) art- science- practice, (b) body-soul-spirit, (c) as professors and students: research-service- teaching, (d) faith- reason-action, etc. This balance between our Hands-Heart-Head is modeled in the harmony of he Trinity: tri-unity; the E Pluribus Unum; unity in diversity, i.e. “university”. [Further thoughts: It seems that this “balance-of-three” is a western phenomenon, rooed in our Trinitarianism. In the east, there is a more dualistic approach (Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Islam, etc.) or polyvalence (Hinduism)].
. . .

JOHN HITTINGER: Dawson takes ideas from Newman, turning historicism (as opposed to reductionism) upon itself. There is indeed a limited or relative set of values found in the Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque. These periods correspond to, once again, Benedict (poetic element), Dominic (scientific), and Ignatius (Practical). Each of these periods has distinct expressions of beauty. Just as the compositions of Bach is a unique expression Baroque music. I remember teaching students at the Air Force Academy and having a very rich exchange regarding liturgy and Baroque architecture. The cadets were fascinated by these monumental expressions. The experience of beauty can lead to an understanding of truth.

TED REBARD: Study of beauty is sometimes predicated on travel (like a pilgrimage). If one visits Florence, Rome, and Venice, one cannot help but be struck by the achievements of sacred space, such as St. Peter’s. They cannot be told about this beauty. They must experience it.

JOHN HITTINGER: Traveling abroad forces people to “get outside” themselves and confront images and circumstances that they are not familiar with. It opens their eyes (both their physical vision and their “mind’s eye”).

CHARLES STEWART: John Hittinger, you were saying that beauty can lead to truth. Are you saying that beauty is a means to some other end?

JOHN HITTINGER: Beauty is not merely a means to an end. Truth and Beauty are inextricably ed. So that in seeking truth one finds beauty, and in seeking beauty one finds truth.

TERRY HALL: The Transcendentalists were unified, regarding their ideas of beauty. Beauty is not a means to truth, but intertwined with truth. They described beauty as radiance. The rays reach out and impact the viewer. This is enchantment…

CHARLES STEWART: …captivation…captivity…? Are you saying that Beauty is not passive, but active?

TERRY HALL: Yes. Radiation is active. Activation. Permeation.

CHARLES STEWART: If beauty is active, is it therefore, revelatory? Is it not discovered, but received?

TERRY HALL: Beauty is a gift. There is receptivity by the viewer.

JOHN HITTINGER: Pope Benedict XVI, in Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth), says that love and truth have a “gift” character..

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