I've been spending the majority of today devouring the outstanding historical novel Caleb's Crossing by Australian author, Geraldine Brooks. The book, which I thoroughly recommend, is the fictionalised story of the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College back in 1665, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk (try saying that out loud). After being taken in and educated by a Calvinist missionary, Caleb finds himself at preparatory school in Cambridge learning Greek and Latin with the colonial elite, and is finally admitted to Harvard where we hear the College Principal deliver his opening lecture. His topic was one dear to my heart - the justification for a liberal arts education, and I thought some of you might be interested in 'hearing' it too:
His lecture that morning was a justification for an education in the liberal arts, and its relevance to the life of a minister, which, he said, "I expect, with the grace of God, will be the destiny of more than half of you now in this hall. The founders of this college sacrificed to build this place because they dreaded to depart this new world and leave but an illiterate clergy in the pulpit of its churches. So what need has such a minister for the poetry of Ovid, the rhetoric of Cicero and the philosophy of Aristotle? Were not these men pagans, living in the stews of anti-Christ and the devil's house of lies? Perhaps so. One may say it, in the knowledge of their time and place.
"Yet all knowledge comes from God, who creates and governs all things. You will find many excellent divine moral truths in the works we will study together in this place - in Plato, in Plutarch and in Seneca. These pagans treated of the works of God most excellently. So does God use them to prepare the ground for the perfect teachings of Jesus Christ.
"The liberal arts that you study here all inform us of the divine mind. They derive from it. They reflect it. We study no art for its own sake but to help us retore our connection with the divine mind. God's reason is perfect, human reason no more than pale shadows.
"The Greek had a goddess whom they named Eupraxia. For them, she was the spirit" - here he switched out of Latin and gave the Greek word, diamona - of right conduct. "I want you to develop a great fondness for that name Eupraxia. We will invoke her here in this place many times. The whole object of your studies is summed up in it - right action, right conduct, doing the right thing at the right time. All your works here are aimed to help you learn to discern the right - to winnow the chaff, to smelt off the dross..."