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Classical Education and the Seven Liberal Arts

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

At Via Classica, we believe that a Classical Education is for everyone. But what do we mean by the term, ‘A Classical Education’?

The working definition we adopt is the following:

Classical Education is an education in wisdom and virtue by means of the seven liberal arts and great books.

There is much in this definition that we could talk about. The word classical brings to mind old things- old music, literature, people, and civilisations. There is no doubt that much of what we deliver at Via Classica is a celebration of these classical things. We highly value the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome, as these were the civilisations from which our own Christian civilisation grew. The literature, art, and great personalities of these civilisations endure to this day for a reason.

Wisdom is what we seek for our children. This virtue is the quality of being wise, or being a good decision maker, or navigating the world with sense and sensibility. The pursuit of wisdom underpins all of our instruction, whether it be in our reading, writing, speaking, language classes or mathematics. St. John Henry Newman believed that the result of a liberal or classical education was a literate and cultured individual, well equipped to live wisely in their private, social and civic life. It is our hope that the recipient of a classical education is a well-rounded individual, with knowledge of him or herself, of their place in the world, and of the nature of things.

The first means by which we want to develop this wisdom are the seven liberal arts. The seven liberal arts are the subjects or disciplines that the ancients and the medievals considered essential to the education of a free citizen. We can break the seven arts into two phases, the trivium and the quadrivium. The trivium is the language arts of Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric. These arts are appropriate to human beings. Of all creatures on the earth, only human beings dwell in language. The trivium teaches a student to know, love and delight in language (grammar), to reason well and pursue truth in a community (dialectic) and to express themselves with prudence and eloquence (rhetoric). After the trivium comes the quadrivium, which is comprised of the number arts: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. These arts teach the student about the harmony and order of the created universe. They show that truth is not relative, that it is discoverable, and that it will set us free.

The second means by which we want to achieve our end is the great books. By great books we mean not only the literature of the ancient Greeks and Romans (think Homer’s Iliad, or Virgil’s Aeneid), but also ‘the best that has been thought and said’ in the civilisation that grew from those cultures. How fortunate we are that we can add medieval and modern writers to the great voices of antiquity and that as Australians we can add our own unique contributions to the canon. Great books form the student who is humble enough to submit to them. By approaching the best literature with a mind that seeks the wisdom that literature offers, students can be formed morally and intellectually. Great books also form the student’s taste. They come to know and love good, true, and beautiful literature, and to prefer even difficult and long texts to the cheap pulp fiction on offer in our own age.

A Classical Education, then, is an academically rigorous but joy-filled adventure. It is a communication with the past. By ‘speaking with’ our wise forebears, submitting to the truths they discovered and bequeathed, and working diligently to grow in the tradition they considered best suited to forming humans, we hope to become the well-rounded and virtuous men and women we were created to be.



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