What Is Classical and Lutheran Education?

by Cheryl L. Swope, M.Ed.

Classical and Lutheran education can be defined simply as the liberal arts with Lutheran catechesis. The liberal arts cultivate the student’s mind and character with academic rigor, formative content, and tools for learning. Lutheran catechesis addresses matters of the child’s soul through the Holy Scriptures, Lutheran confessions, Lutheran liturgy, and Lutheran hymnody. With the Seven Liberal Arts and the Small Catechism’s Six Chief Parts, classical and Lutheran education teaches for two kingdoms: an earthly kingdom and a heavenly kingdom.

Swope cover

              Teach them, first of all, the Ten Commandments,

              the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, always presenting

              the same words of the text, so that those who

              learn can repeat them after you and retain them

              in the memory….When those whom you are

              instructing have become familiar with the words

              of the text, it is time to teach them to understand

              the meaning of those words.”

                             “Above all things,

                              let the Scriptures be the chief and the most

                              frequently used reading-book, both in primary

                              and high schools, and the very young should be

                              kept in the gospels.” Martin Luther

What Are the Seven Liberal Arts?

               The Seven Liberal Arts include the three arts of Language (Trivium) and the four arts of Mathematics (Quadrivium). “Liberal” derives from the Latin word for “free,” as these arts were designed so free men could think about great ideas for the noble service of others. In contrast, the “servile” arts prepare a child solely for menial labor. The liberal arts enable an individual to live, to study, to think, and to serve others in any vocation.

The Arts of Language: The Trivium (3)

Grammar – all that is foundational in language

               Grammar includes learning letters, reading, spelling, identifying parts of speech, writing with beautiful penmanship, crafting sentences and paragraphs, and developing a rich vocabulary. Grammar is taught by imitation – copying excellent writing of others, reading and hearing good literature, and by studying Latin. Latin teaches English grammar and English vocabulary. The disciplined study of the inherently ordered Latin language strengthens the child’s mind while giving the child an understanding of his great literary heritage. For thousands of years, Greek has also assisted in teaching the arts of language.

Logic – analysis of language

               Analytical thinking, discernment, and argumentation comprise Logic. The student of Logic learns to identify false statements and illogical premises, whether in his own thinking or in the assertions of others. Logic helps to order a student’s mind and prepare him for public discourse. Taught in the child’s early years with the simple cause and effect of consequences, such as those found in Aesop’s fables and in family life, formal Logic is taught as the child’s mind matures.

Rhetoric – eloquence, beauty, and persuasion with language

               Taught from the earliest years with modeling of clear speech and complete sentences, Rhetoric enables the child to write and speak with eloquence. Ancient Roman orator Quintilian urges the use of excellent speech even with very young children (Institutio Oratoria, Book One). When parents and teachers read great literature aloud, they bring beautiful examples of language to their children. As the child masters the foundational and analytical elements of language, instruction in formal Rhetoric becomes part of his classical curriculum.

               The three Arts of Language enable the child to master language for the very Lutheran purpose of service to his neighbor in love.

The Arts of Mathematics – The Quadrivium (4)

               Sometimes neglected in today’s applications of classical education, the Quadrivium seeks to strengthen the child’s mind and cultivate in him an appreciation for the patterns and order of the world in which he lives. In the Quadrivium, as with the Trivium, the teacher’s purpose is to incline the child toward that which is significantly Good, True, and Beautiful.

               This approach to the Mathematical Arts contrasts with the commonly heard, starkly utilitarian question, “If I will never use this in my daily life and if I will not need this to ‘get a job,’ why must I learn it at all?” Instead, the Quadrivium teaches foundational content with a formative impact on the student himself. The Mathematical Arts – far more than isolated bits of knowledge – command an historically strong presence in the classical curriculum as follows:

Arithmetic – number

Music Theory – number in time

Geometry – number in space

Astronomy – number in space and time

What Are the Six Chief Parts?


Martin Luther in his Small Catechism divides the teaching of the historic Christian faith into Six Chief Parts:

The Ten Commandments

The Apostles’ Creed

The Lord’s Prayer

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism


The Sacrament of the Altar

As the child learns each part with explanation, he learns statements of the Lutheran faith. Consider an example from Luther’s explanations of the second Chief Part, The Apostles’ Creed:

The First Article: Creation

               I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them….He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life….All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.


This is most certainly true.

The Second Article: Redemption

               I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.


This is most certainly true.

The Third Article: Sanctification

               I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all of my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.


This is most certainly true.


Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. CPH, St. Louis, 1986, pp. 15-17.




               Classical and Lutheran education develops wisdom, eloquence, and virtue through the formative elements of the liberal arts while nurturing a child in the historic Christian faith. Classical and Lutheran virtue includes humility, as the child who studies Latin or Greek is not to think of himself more highly than the child who does not. Instead, the child can give thanks to His heavenly Father for the education he receives from God’s own divine fatherly goodness and mercy. Classical education cultivates virtue for earthly citizenship. Lutheran educators confess and teach that only the Holy Spirit grants faith in Christ Jesus, and in Him alone is righteousness for heavenly citizenship. For a historical view of classical and Lutheran education, see Dr. Thomas Korcok’s Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future, CPH.

               Sometimes the task of teaching becomes overwhelming. “How can I do all of this?” With classical education’s emphasis on academic rigor and high levels of structure, we may be tempted to grow weary. When we remember the “why” of classical and Lutheran education, the “how” becomes much less daunting. We simply find good resources to help us accomplish our task. CCLE has produced a Resource Guide to help.

               Take heart. Remember that God Himself works through us, in spite of our weaknesses, to accomplish His good purposes in our students. For a comforting, thoroughly Lutheran treatment of the doctrine of vocation as teachers and parents, consider Dr. Gene Edward Veith’s God At Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life.

               Classical and Lutheran education cultivates in a child self-knowledge, tools for learning, the contemplation of great ideas, and an understanding of the world in which he lives, all for the love and service of others. Above all, classical and Lutheran education inclines a child toward Goodness, Truth, and Beauty found fully and eternally in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is most certainly true.

For more information, visit www.ccle.org.