The Academic Life at Thomas More College
The rest of their time, besides that taken up in work, eating, and sleeping, is left to every man’s discretion; yet they are not to abuse that interval to luxury and idleness, but must employ it in some proper exercise, according to their various inclinations, which is, for the most part, reading. It is ordinary to have public lectures every morning before daybreak, at which none are obliged to appear but those who are marked out for literature; yet a great many, both men and women, of all ranks, go to hear lectures of one sort or other.
–from St. Thomas More’s Utopia
In the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II reminded us that the distinctive characteristic of an educational institution is its gaudium de veritate, that is, its joy in the truth. It was a much needed reminder. Our generation has lost confidence in the ability of the human mind to attain truth, and, consequently, finds it difficult to understand the nature of its own academic institutions, especially those dedicated to liberal learning. For every institution finds its identity in a common purpose, and the common good at which liberal education aims is nothing less than the whole truth about man and God.
Once enunciated, this claim is hard to challenge; the difficulty is found in the living out of this high ideal. In our time, knowledge has been swamped by a vast sea of information, while the wisdom that plumbs the soul and reaches out to the hidden beauty of God seems almost entirely to elude our grasp. Solomon’s lament fits our age: “the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind . . . and scarce do we guess the things on earth . . . but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?” [Wisdom 9:15-16] The answer to this dilemma lies in the Catholic intellectual tradition, ever ancient, ever new. From this treasure house of wisdom, our age can draw forth both classic works that illuminate our minds and a model of academic life that can help us to find and to rejoice in the truth.
At Thomas More College, the academic life is founded upon the principle expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas that “the vision of the teacher is the beginning of teaching,” that is, that the source or principle of the transmission of knowledge and wisdom is the teacher’s own contemplative life. The College takes its motto, Caritas congaudet veritate–Charity rejoices in the Truth—from the ideal of a common pursuit of wisdom. As wisdom—human and divine—is a common good, it is the common end of the whole community, faculty and students. There is, therefore, one curriculum for all, without division into specialties or departments. Since human wisdom is attained through reflection upon our experience of the world and deepened and refined through conversation with our ancestors, our program of studies encourages students and faculty alike to refine the experience of their senses, to hone and train the powers of their minds, and to follow attentively the development of human culture by the reading of great works from Classical and Christian civilization. Our ideal is simple: to sit at the banquet table of the wise, together with Sophocles and Cicero, Augustine and Dante, Shakespeare and Eliot. And since divine wisdom is gained by reflection upon the Word of God, as transmitted and interpreted by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church and the living Magisterium, our common academic life culminates in the reading of Holy Scripture and reflection upon the great works of Catholic theology.
How are classes taught?
Throughout the program of studies, the College’s faculty shares its learning and guides our students down the little streams that lead to the vast ocean of wisdom. The College has no prescribed method of teaching, for teaching is an art, and not every artisan uses the same methods to make his masterpiece. Yet we do privilege the great texts of the Classical and Christian intellectual tradition and insist that these texts speak as living voices in the classroom. And mindful that the teacher’s task is like that of the doctor who aids the body’s own motion toward health, rather than the sculptor who imposes his idea upon the clay, we seek always to make the student’s progress toward truth our immediate goal in the classroom and beyond. What follows from this principle is a confirmed emphasis upon small classes in which great texts are discussed conversationally. From classes such as these, deep reading and spirited conversation spread to the benches on the front porch of the Blanchard House, to the tables in our coffee house and cafeteria, and to the halls and common spaces of the old New England farm that is our campus, enlivening it with a radiant gaudium de veritate.