Wisdom: The Fruit of True Education

In Lucretius’s famous words, “Nothing can come from nothing.” A hundred or a thousand or a million times zero equals zero. No person can think with nothing in his mind. A person cannot think with an empty mind that is not filled with substance. A mind requires food for thought. The purpose of a bona fide education is to fill the mind with the wholesome, nutritious food for thought that will allow the mind to think, to see the light of truth, and to possess wisdom—a wisdom that will protect a person from the craftiness of the world. Wisdom illuminates the unchanging truths about human nature and the human condition (“the way things are”), the first principles that underlie the structure of reality, the laws of Mother Nature, and divine truth…

G.K. Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse

This 100th anniversary edition of Chesterton’s poetic version of King Alfred’s heroic defense of Christian England from the pagan Danes is an exquisite publication. It embellishes the famous narrative and provides it with the historical background of the event, explains the poetic elements of the ballad structure of the story, and offers maps and illustrations that bring history to life. The footnotes on each page explain every quaint or archaic word like “shaws” (thicket) and “hod” (container for carrying stones), explicate the allusions to philosophical references like “nihilism” and “existentialism,” and incorporate valuable pieces of historical detail (“The laws of Alfred were famous for their equable treatment of all of Alfred’s subjects”). In short, this edition makes Chesterton’s classic as lucid, graphic, concrete, and appealing as possible for readers…

Classics for the Young: Junior High Literature

Simone Weil, a noted Jewish philosopher, remarked, “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” Whereas many Hollywood films offer this imaginary glamour of evil and dullness of virtue, Hans Christian Andersen’s genius as a storyteller captures the glorious, adventurous drama of a real life of goodness that is filled with wonder and marvels. In stories like “The Little Mermaid,” “The Snow Queen,” and “The Traveling Companion,” Andersen captures the essence of goodness as a small seed buried in the earth—a seed that in time produces a bountiful harvest that surpasses all expectations. The doer of a good deed should forget it, but it is not forgotten because it accompanies him like a best friend.

Ever Ancient, Ever New

These articles will cite famous advice, wise proverbs, and prudent counsel as they appear in the classics of literature, in the words of famous characters from the good and great books of Western civilization, and in the published letters of noble men and women. Some articles will examine the world’s bad or worst advice, for example, Polonius’s words of wisdom to his son Laertes in Hamlet, as falsehoods that mislead. Because true wisdom, in Augustine’s words, is “ever ancient” and “ever new,” this treasury of the world’s knowledge, “the collected reason of ages” deposited in “the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages,” to quote from Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, will hopefully speak to many modern minds and hearts.

Classics of Family Life

The Cottage at Bantry Bay, Francie on the Run, and Pegeen are charming, wholesome, fun-filled tales of Catholic family life in 1940s Ireland that are humorous and heartwarming. In these stories, the children are carefree, happy-go-lucky children who live innocent lives. They enjoy their brothers and sisters, they love their mother and father, they revel in the fun of life, and they radiate the pure hearts of children who are blessed with good parents who cherish their children. These books are ideal to read aloud to children eight or nine years old and most appropriate as good literature for children in junior high school or older.

Classics for the Young: Middle School Literature

In A Wonder Book and The Tanglewood Tales Hawthorne retells some of the famous classical myths in an imaginative and charming style that captures the universality and moral wisdom of the stories and expresses the beauty of goodness and the ugliness of evil. He retells these favorites: “The Minotaur,” “The Pygmies,” “The Dragon’s Teeth,” “Circe’s Palace,” “The Pomegranate Seeds,” and “The Golden Fleece.” In “The Pygmies,” for example, Hawthorne portrays not only the littleness of the creatures only six inches in height but also depicts the smallness of their minds and the narrow-mindedness of their thinking. Smallness of mind means selfishness, pettiness, quarreling, and revenge. Living next to their neighbor, the giant Antaeus, who possesses “more strength on his little finger than in ten million of such bodies as theirs,” the Pygmies receive many benefits from the good-natured giant’s friendship. Antaeus with the breath of his mighty lungs moves the windmills, with the shadow of his great bulk provides shade in the summer, and with the size of his outstretched body offers a playground for the children “dodging in and out among his hair” and “running races on his forehead.” The gigantic Antaeus, however, is not only large in body but also great in mind, a magnanimous hero who overlooks all the irritations the Pygmies inflict upon him. He is large-minded enough to forgive and forget, to tolerate no grudges, and to ignore the impertinent behavior of the Pygmies who imagine themselves more intelligent than the giant.

The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God

One of the greatest of Catholic poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., is best known for his appreciation of the beauty, variety, and individuality (“this-ness”) of God’s creation. As a poet he saw God’s hand everywhere in nature and in human nature. As he wrote in one of his poems, “Christ plays in ten thousand places”: in the world above of stars and sky (“Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!”); in the world below of the changing seasons (“Nothing is so beautiful as Spring”); in the kingdom of animals and plants, the “brute beauty” of powerful birds like the windhover and of stalwart stallions, and the delicate beauty of the bluebell (“I know the beauty of Our Lord by it”); and in the realm of human nature, whose wonderful diversity and richness he compares to the abundance of tastes and aromas that enhance the art of cooking.

Ever Ancient, Ever New #5

“It’s knowing what to do with things that counts.”—Robert Frost, “At Woodward’s Gardens”

In Frost’s poem, “At Woodward’s Gardens,” a boy visiting a zoo carries a magnifying glass. From his study of science he has apparently learned to use the glass not only to magnify objects for better vision but also to concentrate the rays of the sun to create heat and fire.

Ever Ancient, Ever New #4

Sancho Panza, the comical squire of the illustrious Don Quixote who vowed to restore knight-errantry into a debased world and recover the Golden Age, once told his master, “An ass will carry his load but not a double load.” As a loyal servant to his fearless knight-errant, Sancho performed his duties faithfully, but he never hesitated to remind his idealistic, visionary knight of the limits of human nature and the distinction between the normal and the abnormal demands of work. If Sancho were hungry, thirsty, sleepy, or in pain, Quixote heard the complaints of his squire that he often expressed in the proverbs that flowed from his tongue. This traditional wisdom also appears in proverbs from other older cultures. A famous Armenian proverb states, “No one can carry two watermelons at the same time.”

Ever Ancient, Ever New #3

“It is not enough that your actions are good. You must take care that they appear so.” In Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones, the wise Squire Allworthy offers this advice to the young who are often negligent of the importance of manners, public appearances, and first impressions.