Theology—elevating education.

The final letter in that long acronym is “T” for theology. (Just as a reminder, PGMAPT stands for piety, gymnastic, music, arts, philosophy, theology.) This is the culmination of the vision that The Liberal Arts Tradition gives us for a classical education that is more than just the trivium. It partakes of a much broader part of the tradition, and by sandwiching all the rest between piety and theology, helps keep the whole process on track.

Theology is the discipline that the medieval pedagogues called “the queen of the sciences.”

It catches my attention that they refer to it as a “science” and not an “art”—that’s a significant difference. An art is something you do, but a science is knowledge that you comprehend. In light of that, their definition of theology is intriguing.

In the Christian classical tradition, theology is the science of divine revelation.

This is what sets theology apart from philosophy, even “divine” philosophy, because philosophy operates in the realm of what human reason can understand and apprehend. But theology is above and beyond human reason—it is knowledge that could never be known apart from God’s choice to reveal it in Scripture, and ultimately the word is manifest in the person of Jesus Christ.

This knowledge transcends everything. There is nothing in the ancient pagan world that corresponds to the revelation of God in Christ, so that revelation—theology—transforms the classical tradition. It creates a new aspect of the total tradition, but it also transforms—we might say redeems—the rest of the classical curriculum. Thus, “making a distinctly Christian classical paradigm.”

Theology informs the curriculum at its foundations. We saw earlier how piety, gymnastic, and music are foundational to the educational paradigm we inherited from the Greeks. Now we are in the position to appreciate how the integration of Christian theology as the culmination of the curriculum radically reorients these fundamental aspects of education.

This is quite interesting, because there was an educational tradition or paradigm—and a pretty good one, so far as it went—before it was shaped by Christianity. But in the same sort of way that Christian theology through Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Hebrew law and created a new covenant of grace, Christian theology also fulfilled all the highest hopes of the classical tradition and created conditions in which all the loftiest goals of creating virtuous men could actually be achieved. Charlotte Mason expresses this very thought. Prior to the addition of theology to the tradition, philosophy was the end. Thus,

The functions which Plutarch claims for philosophy we ascribe to religion, and by so doing we place life on a higher level. There is this fundamental difference between the two: while philosophy instructs, religion both instructs and enables. (Formation of Character, p. 385)

So, what happens here is that we don’t just tack on theology to the end of the old tradition; we have the old tradition transformed. Theology becomes not merely the “end,” but the “telos” of education. It gives purpose to every aspect. And that is really what Charlotte Mason’s twentieth principle makes clear:

We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and ‘spiritual’ life of children; but should teach them that the divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual helper in all the interests, duties, and joys of life

That’s the role of theology in the Christian classical paradigm—it infuses meaning and purpose into everything. Clark and Jain write:

Theology unifies the curriculum; it provides a framework for the liberal arts and sciences, and the philosophies that unify them. In fact, the very notion of unity itself is derived from theology: all things were created by God and by Him all things continue to exist.


You might notice that the inclusion of theology in the classical paradigm isn’t really about adding the study of systematic theology, or one particular interpretation. It’s a very foundational part of the whole, integrated program. Education is the science of relations. All knowledge is connected. The Holy Spirit is the source of of everything we know. Understanding this aspect of the classical tradition is really part of a paradigm shift for educators, and it’s one of the things that Charlotte Mason wanted to transform the educational practices in her own time.

Every aspect of the classical paradigm of education works together. Each part has a place in a greater whole. If possible, we should try to keep our eyes on the big picture above all. Don’t lose the forest while looking at the trees!

If you’ve been supplementing this series by reading Afterthoughts, as I’ve encouraged you to do, you really won’t want to miss Brandy’s contribution to the discussion of theology.

Copyright 2018 Karen Glass


Link to all the posts in the Liberal Arts Tradition discussion.