Classical Lutheran Education, Defined

Classical Lutheran education can be defined as the classical liberal arts with Lutheran catechesis. Dr. Gene Edward Veith has suggested that “The liberal arts can equip a child for effective service in the world; catechesis can quip a child for everlasting life.” (Korcok, 2011, p. xii) The liberal arts cultivate the student’s mind and character with academic rigor, tools for learning, and formative content. Lutheran catechesis instructs and nurtures matters of the soul through the Holy Scriptures, the Lutheran confessions, and the liturgy and hymnody of the Church. With the Seven Liberal Arts, the three sciences: moral, natural and theological, and the Small Catechism’s Six Chief Parts, classical Lutheran education prepares servant leaders for church and world.

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 of freedom” were designed so free people could think about great ideas for the noble service of others. In contrast, the “servile” arts, an education for slaves, prepare 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, and spelling; beautiful penmanship, crafting sentences and paragraphs; developing a rich vocabulary. Grammar is taught by imitation – copying excellent writing of others, reading and hearing good literature, and especially through the study of Latin.

The disciplined study of the ordered Latin grammar strengthens the student’s mind, offers an appreciation of a great literary heritage, and enhances the knowledge of the student’s own native grammar and vocabulary. For thousands of years, Greek has also assisted in teaching the arts of language and providing the foundation for reading classic literary works.

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 organize a student’s mind and prepare a student for public discourse. Taught in the early years with simple cause and effect of consequences such as those found in Aesop’s fables and in family life, formal Logic is taught as the student’s mind matures.

Rhetoric – eloquence, beauty, and persuasion with language

Rhetoric enables the student to write and speak with eloquence. Ancient Roman orator Quintilian urged the modeling of excellent speech even with very young children (Institutio Oratoria, Book One). When parents and teachers read poetry aloud, they bring beautiful examples of language to their children. As the student masters foundational and analytical elements of language, lessons in formal Rhetoric become part of his classical education.

The Arts of Mathematics – The Quadrivium (4)

Sometimes neglected in today’s applications of classical education, the Quadrivium is designed to strengthen the child’s mind while cultivating in him an appreciation for the patterns and order of the world in which he lives. Through the Quadrivium, as with the Trivium, the teacher’s purpose is to incline the child toward that which is significantly true, good, and beautiful.

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

Discrete quantity or number
Arithmetic – theory of number
Music Theory – application of the theory of number

Continuous quantity
Geometry – theory of space
Astronomy – application of the theory of space (Joseph and McGlinn, 2002)

What Is Catechesis?

. . . instruction for children and the simple folk. Therefore, in ancient times it was called in Greek catechism (i.e., instruction for children). It teaches what every Christian must know.

Therefore, we must have the young learn well and fluently the parts of the catechism or instruction for children, diligently exercising themselves in them, and keep them busy with these parts. (Luther, 1988, Preface)

What Are The Six Chief Parts?

Martin Luther’s 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, Confession, and The Sacrament of the Altar

As the child learns each part with explanation, he learns the statements of the Lutheran confession of the universal Christian faith, as with this example from Luther’s explanation of 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.

(Luther, 1988, First Article)
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.

(Luther, 1988, Second Article)
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, 1988, Third Article)

Luther’s Small Catechism IS a grammar (Six Chief Parts) that EMPLOYS logic (Questions and Explanations regarding the Parts) and is STRUCTURED rhetorically:  “What does this mean?” + “This is most certainly true.” + repeated use of poetic and rhetorical devices to facilitate memory (couplets and antitheses aplenty).

The Lutheran Doctrine of Vocation

Parents and teachers can find the task of teaching overwhelming. How can I do all of this? With classical education’s emphasis on academic rigor and high levels of structure, teachers may grow weary; however, when we remember the important “why” of classical Lutheran education, the daily “how” can become less burdensome, and we find a growing number of excellent resources to support us in our task.

Parents and teachers can take heart. Remember that God Himself works through us, in spite of our weaknesses, to accomplish His good purposes in our children. Again, Dr. Veith:

God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and ac­cording to their different talents, serve each other. . . .The ability to read God’s Word is an inexpressibly precious blessing, but reading is an ability that did not spring fully formed in our young minds. It required the vocation of teachers. . . .By virtue of our creation, our purpose in life is to do good works, which God Himself ‘prepared’ for us to do. We are ‘God’s workmanship,’ which means that God is at work in us to do the works He intends.

(Veith, 2002, pp.14, 38)

In Summary: Classical Lutheran Education

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.

In 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.

(Luther, 1991)

Classical education develops wisdom, eloquence, and virtue for earthly citizenship; Lutheran catechesis teaches that in Christ alone we obtain righteousness for heavenly citizenship. Classical Lutheran edu­cation combines the liberal arts with catechesis to implement the formative benefits of the liberal arts while nurturing the child in the historic Christian faith. Classical 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 have such privileges; instead, he thanks His heavenly Father for an education given from God’s own divine fatherly goodness and mercy.

Classical Lutheran education seeks to cultivate in students self-knowledge, tools for learning, the ability to contemplate 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 truth, goodness, and beauty found fully and eternally in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is most certainly true.

Edited and condensed by Rev. Paul J Cain with the addition of a catechism insight by Dr. James Tallmon from an original article by Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child.

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