Tuesday 25 December 2012

Light from Christmas

The Pope reflected on the obstacles to faith in the modern world in his homily for Christmas Eve. There was 'no room at the inn'. Truth 'came to his own home, and his own people received him not' (Jn 1:11).
   'The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full. But matters go deeper still. Does God actually

Monday 17 December 2012

Evangelizing an anti-intellectual culture

The recent Census revealed that in England and Wales the number of professed Christians in 2011 fell to 33.2 million, or 59% of the overall population, from 37.3 million (72%) in 2001. People who said they had “no religion” rose by more than six million to 14.1 million, almost double what it was ten years earlier. We have of course been aware of the decline for some time, and it has provoked much discussion both of the root causes and of

Monday 19 November 2012

Tolkien book - new expanded edition

Some years ago I wrote a book about Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. It was called Secret Fire by the publisher DLT, and The Power of the Ring in the USA (Crossroad didn't like the UK title). This year, with financial troubles at DLT, it went out of print (in both versions) and I was asked by Crossroad to revise and expand the book for a new edition to be published on both sides of the Atlantic. Here is the cover (and the contents list – see below). I would not want people to go out and buy it thinking it is a brand new book, but it has been expanded and improved throughout, with an additional chapter about The Hobbit, and is nicely redesigned. It incorporates, among other things, the corrections and revisions I made for the Russian and Italian translations. The new edition of The Power of the Ring received an honorable mention in the 2013 Hoffer Awards under the category of culture. Please order from Sylvia Scott, Sales & Marketing, Crossroad, 831 Chestnut Ridge Road, Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977, 001-845-517-0180, ext. 115. Or email sales@crossroadpublishing.com. The book can also be ordered via UK Amazon or US Amazon.

There is always more to say about Tolkien and his writing – which is why I was so pleased to have a chance to add to my book. He never claimed to be anything more than a philologist, but he knew his faith well, and was an

Friday 9 November 2012

Faith, analogy, and modern science

In his 8 November address to the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope Benedict spoke of the "urgent need for continued dialogue and cooperation between the worlds of science and of faith in the building of a culture of respect for man, for human dignity and freedom, for the future of our human family and for the long-term sustainable development of our planet." He explained that
the sciences are not intellectual worlds disconnected from one another and from reality but rather that they are interconnected and directed to the study of nature as a unified, intelligible and harmonious reality in its undoubted complexity. Such a vision has fruitful points of contact with the view of the universe taken by Christian philosophy and theology, with its notion of participated being, in which each individual creature, possessed of its proper perfection, also shares in a specific nature and this within an ordered cosmos originating in God’s creative Word. It is precisely this inbuilt “logical” and “analogical” organization of nature that encourages scientific research and draws the human mind to discover the horizontal co-participation between beings and the transcendental participation by the First Being.
This is a point that is explored in my book Beauty for Truth's Sake, but has rarely been stated so clearly or succinctly. The Pope went on, in terms that echo the book by Barry R. Pearlman, A Certain Faith:
It is within this broader context that I would note how fruitful the use of analogy has proved for philosophy and theology, not simply as a tool of horizontal analysis of nature’s realities, but also as a stimulus to creative thinking on a higher transcendental plane. Precisely because of the notion of creation, Christian thought has employed analogy not only for the investigation of worldly realities, but also as a means of rising from the created order to the contemplation of its Creator, with due regard for the principle that God’s transcendence implies that every similarity with his creatures necessarily entails a greater dissimilarity: whereas the structure of the creature is that of being a being by participation, that of God is that of being a being by essence, or Esse subsistens.

Thursday 1 November 2012

On Tolkien

The field of "Tolkien studies" continues to evolve. The book based on the Exeter College conference, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: Sources of Inspiration, is still available and remains one of the most interesting collections of academic essays on this topic. The journal of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College, VII or Seven, has for thirty years been publishing excellent articles about Tolkien and the other authors in his circle. In Oxford we also now have an excellent Journal of Inklings Studies. West Virginia University Press has a journal of Tolkien Studies. Meanwhile the online Tolkien Library remains a useful resource for finding lots of wonderful books by and about Tolkien. My own book on Tolkien has been launched in a new edition (details elsewhere on this site).

The main site for Tolkien fans is of course the Tolkien Society, and that has links to many others. The Encyclopedia of Arda explores Tolkien's imaginary world in great detail, with maps, timelines, illustrations, etc. There are numerous sites devoted to the languages of Middle-earth, and even to Elvish heraldry. Another impressive online resource for studying the books is the Lord of the Rings Project. And there are a number of blogs that offer fascinating insights into the thinking and spirituality of this profoundly Christian writer: I recommend particularly The Flame Imperishable by Jonathan McIntosh, and Bruce Charlton's Tolkien's Notion Club Papers. Raymond Edwards has recently written a superb pocket biography of Tolkien for the CTS. Finally, an excellent two-part article on Tolkien's Catholicism by the American writer Drew Bowling can be found here and here. There is a TOLKIEN SPRING SCHOOL on 21-23 March 2013 at the Oxford English Faculty with many excellent speakers.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Ethos of a Catholic School

On 30 October the Anscombe Centre is organizing an "ETHOS" conference in Oxford on the role of ethics, science, and religion in Catholic schools. The poster is here. I will not be able to attend, but it seems a good opportunity to reflect on the theme that is under debate.

The ethos of a school refers to its moral environment, the sense of belonging to a community of shared values and ideals. The word ethos originally meant “custom”, or “habit”, or “character”; the ethos is determined by the way we treat each other and behave towards each other. It depends on the quality of our attention and respect for one another. It supports and stimulates both imagination and intellectual inquiry but is distinct from both. It may be

Classical Conversations

A wide community of home-centred educators based at Classical Conversations combine the classical methods of learning with a biblical worldview. In this connection I was due to participate in a radio show called Leigh at Lunch hosted by Leigh Bortins, talking about the two books advertised on the left. Technical difficulties prevented it happening as originally scheduled, and it will now take place in the New Year. Details will be announced. I am looking forward to it.

Sunday 7 October 2012

What's wrong with higher education

An impressive American analysis, along with proposals for radical reform, all grounded in the classical humanistic tradition, by Robert C. Coons – "Dark Satanic Mills".

Sunday 30 September 2012


Particle collisions: CERN
I love it when New Scientist tackles the big questions. This week it is "What is Reality?" There is a new humility in science, it seems. Many scientists will now admit that we just don't know the answer to the question. Reductionism is no longer convincing. You can examine ever smaller components of the material world (so far we have boiled it down to quarks, leptons, and bosons), only to discover that there may be no bottom level, or that if there is, it is well beyond the reach of observation (minute vibrating strings in several extra dimensions).

More importantly, since everything from the most elementary particles to the objects we see around us with the naked eye can be described in terms of "wave functions" or waves of probability, existing in a "superposition" of contradictory states until the function is "collapsed" by the act of observation, it seems that the consciousness of an observer has re-emerged as a determining factor in reality itself. Max Planck, the founder of quantum theory, said in 1931, "I regard matter as derivative from consciousness." The

Thursday 27 September 2012

Beauty won't save the world alone

The title of Gregory Wolfe’s excellent collection of essays, Beauty Will Save the World, is based on a much-quoted line from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. In its context it appears only in indirect speech, being attributed by one of the other characters to the “Idiot” of the title, Prince Myshkin. Thus in its original context its meaning is ambiguous, or at least ill-defined. That makes it doubly appropriate for Greg’s title, since he is arguing against the “ideologues” of today’s culture wars in favour of a literary and imaginative approach to the truth. Conservatives have succumbed to philistinism, and fail to appreciate modern art, he argues. Great literature, and art in general, explores the world – and today that means the modern world – from

Monday 24 September 2012

What is beauty?

An article I recommend by Trent Beattie featuring an interview with Margaret Laracy on the nature, objectivity, and effects of beauty.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Companions for the Year of Faith

The coming Year of Faith (11 October 2012 to 24 November 2013) is a great opportunity to refresh our understanding of the Catholic faith, and strengthen our confidence in it. There are plenty of books I could recommend, beginning obviously with The Magnificat Year of Faith Companion. This is a superb pocket-sized compendium of wonderful spiritual reading for the whole year. Timothy Radcliffe's Why Go to Mass? is still an encouraging (and amusing) read. Henri de Lubac's The Discovery of God could melt the heart of the most decided atheist. CTS have some great booklets for the Year of Faith and more on the way. And for a rich and robust apologetics taking you all the way from natural reason via sound scriptural analysis to the heights of mystical experience get hold of Barry R. Pearlman's A Certain Faith, on behalf of which I am waging something of a one-man campaign (do join me!). I will be reviewing this in the upcoming Second Spring.

Monday 10 September 2012

A view of British children

An article by Anthony Daniels in the Telegraph newspaper (7 Sept. 2012) presented a rather sad view of the situation of many children in modern Britain. Here is a section of the piece:
British children are by far the fattest in Europe (three times as many of them as in France are truly obese), and even among the fattest in the world. A very high percentage of them never, or only very rarely, eat a meal at a table with other members of

Saturday 8 September 2012

Beauty of Numbers

Michael S. Schneider's wonderful work A Beginner's Guide to Constructing the Universe, which I recommended in Beauty for Truth's Sake, is linked to a lot of classroom teaching that Michael has done over the years. This has now been captured in his superb DVD called Constructing the Universe, which could be an important resource for teachers and parents seeking to get their children and pupils interested in the properties and transformations of numbers and shapes, and the way these patterns underlie the forms and processes of the natural world. Modestly he says, "This DVD wasn’t made directly for youngsters but for adults who might enjoy seeing a philosophical approach to numbers, culture and the universe. It's a modern take on traditional mathematical cosmology weaving numbers, shapes, proportions, nature, art, mythology and symbolism into a whole united by mathematics. I think it would be a bit much for most youngsters, although there are some sections they might enjoy seeing. Perhaps high schoolers with an interest in math and these ideas might appreciate it." That is surely an understatement. Well worth trying out!

Friday 7 September 2012

Effects of the Reformation

Part of our recent Summer School was about the effects of the English Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries – not just the effects on Roman Catholics, who now entered into a period of savage repression and iconoclasm, but the effects on the economy and society of England as a whole. The destruction of much of the fabric of civil society, on which the working classes and the poor depended, created a new kind of poverty and a new society, simultaneously laying the foundations of modern international finance and the wages system. A useful summary of all this can be read in a recent issue of The Social Crediter (read Parts 3 and 3).

Sunday 26 August 2012

Summer School

Our annual Summer School, for students of Thomas More College in New Hampshire and others, directed by Leonie and Teresa Caldecott, turned out to be great fun. The 2012 course concluded by looking at Christian writers of the later nineteenth and twentieth century who represent a “Catholic literary revival” – part of the Catholic resurgence prophesied by Newman in his “Second Spring” sermon of 1852, after the lifting of restrictions that had been imposed on Catholics since the Reformation. We studied the roots of this revival in the English Catholic culture before and after the Reformation, including the dissolution of the monasteries and the persecutions that followed. The conflicts and tensions in Reformation England were studied through the eyes of our greatest writer, William Shakespeare, with the help of Lady Asquith, author of the brilliant Shadowplay.

Thus for the the first part of the School we located the students at Downside Abbey, in the West Country near Bath, where the Abbot, Dom Aidan Bellenger, gave some superb lectures on the dissolution of the monasteries, and other lecturers spoke on the subsequent history of the Reformation. Downside is near to Mells, too, the family home of Lady Asquith, and there were excursions there and to Wells, Bath, and Glastonbury. Then off to Oxford via the White Horse of Uffington and the recusant house at Mapledurham, kindly hosted by the owner John Eyston (a direct descendant of St Thomas More).

In Oxford the students stayed at the Benedictine Hall of the University, St Benet's, and there we began to focus on the 19th century Catholic Emancipation, the Oxford Movement, and the Catholic revival itself, with G.K. Chesterton its biggest fruit (and here access to the Chesterton Library gave an almost sacramental connection to the great man himself). Visits to colleges, to C.S. Lewis's home at the Kilns, his grave in Headington Quarry and Tolkien's grave at Wolvercote, all helped to bring the ideas to life. (The picture shows Aidan Mackey and Stratford Caldecott with some of the students in the Chesterton Library.)

The last evening in Oxford was spent with Walter Hooper, C.S. Lewis's friend, and the final day involved an excursion to London, to see Westminster Abbey, St Thomas More's cell in the Tower of London, and a performance of The Taming of the Shrew at the Globe Theatre. The experience of a lifetime? Perhaps, though we hope to see many of our students return to visit us in the future.

Leonie, Teresa, and Stratford Caldecott

Photos are from our Facebook page. Watch out for announcements by the end of the year about next summer's programme!

See also the following posts:
Revival and Romanticism
Effects of the Reformation

Wednesday 15 August 2012

English Metrical Law

Coventry Patmore (1823-1896) was a distinguished English Victorian poet and essayist, well known in his time, who fell into undeserved obscurity during the twentieth century. He published his first small volume of Poems under the influence of Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1844. After receiving a cruel review he tried to destroy the edition, but it was too late, his career was already launched, and through the book he soon made the acquaintance of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt, and began to move in their circles.

In 1877 Patmore published what everyone now regards as his best work, The Unknown Eros (encouraged by his saintly daughter, Mary Christina, who became a nun), and in the following year Amelia, his own favourite among

Thursday 9 August 2012

Rider of the Spaceways

As part of an occasional series on superheroes, this is extracted from an essay I wrote some time ago (not sure where) that concerns the moral effect of some comic books.

The Silver Surfer was one of Jack Kirby’s inventions for Stan Lee's Marvel Comics, a silver-skinned alien on a flying surfboard endowed with the “Power Cosmic” (the ability to play around with – reshape and transform – matter and energy). This meant he could generate really big explosions if needed, and was basically much more powerful than most other Marvel characters, if he used his full strength. But what made him interesting was that he usually didn’t. The Surfer was a victim. We’ll come back to that.

Why a surfer? True, it was the era of the Beachboys (the Surfer made his first appearance in 1965). It also looked very cool when he summoned his board while jumping into the air and soared away. The theory behind this

Tuesday 7 August 2012


Charlotte Ostermann interviews Stratford Caldecott about Beauty in the Word, and its predecessor, Beauty for Truth's Sake.

1. Fr. Giussani speaks of the ‘risk of education’. What risks do you think need to be taken in the education of a child?
The risk we take is that the child may question and ultimately disagree with us. There is a place in education for “learning by heart” and for the authority of the teacher, whose role and office is always worthy of respect, just is there a role for training in certain important practical skills, which must be taught by a master, but in the end the purpose of education is to free the mind to such a degree that the pupil can contemplate the truth directly. The child must outgrow the teacher. Thus the teacher – and this may happen at any time and in unexpected ways, not

Monday 6 August 2012

Themes of the book: 4

4. The Mother of the Liberal Arts. In the ancient sources, Wisdom or Sapientia (Greek Sophia) is sometimes identified with Christ, and he is shown standing or seated on the lap of Mary as the Seat of Wisdom. But often Sapientia is a female figure, and as such she is regarded as the "mother" of the seven liberal arts by Cassiodorus and Alcuin.

In the book, there is a section – the Endnote starting on p. 153 – where I explore this idea, along with the meaning of Beauty and the other Transcendentals that converge on God. I argue that the "Wisdom" of God can be identified with Beauty as something inherently "liberating". The Beauty or Glory of God corresponds at its highest point with the divine Infinity, the fact that God's own being is inexhaustible and therefore he is a continual delight to himself, a source of eternal rejoicing, of bliss. So the joy we associate with Beauty is a pointer to the depths of Being in God. And this Beauty is ultimately the same as that "Wisdom" described in the Books of Proverbs and Wisdom as being by God's side from the very beginning, perhaps as the divine idea of creation itself, or as a sort of "uncreated nature".
"For wisdom is more moving than any motion: she passeth and goeth through all things by reason of her pureness. For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing fall into her. For she is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness" (Wisdom 7:24–6). 
The book tries to trace the way each of the "ways" of the Trivium contributes to the growth in wisdom. Through the mastery of language in memory, thought, and conversation, we become able to grow into our humanity, discovering a wider world and able to discern truth from falsehood, astute in judgment, in communion with others. But the process of education can be corrupted when its aims are lowered from the attainment of wisdom and subordinated to that of a career, or when the very possibility of attaining truth is denied on all sides.

Wisdom is the inspiration and the goal of the Liberal Arts, which are the "seven pillars" of the house of rejoicing, and love, and freedom. Each of the Arts was meant to prepare the ground of the body, soul, and spirit of man for the freedom in truth that comes from the knowledge of God, only finally attained when philosophy and theology give way to contemplation and union. For "we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, since we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).

Saturday 4 August 2012

Themes of the book: 3

3. The Spiral Curriculum. The liberal arts, of course, are not everything. They were not the whole of ancient education either. For Plato a rounded education would begin with "gymnastics", meaning physical education and training in various kinds of skills, and "music" meaning all kinds of mental and artistic training. In the Laws (795e) he describes these as physical training for the body (including dance and wrestling or martial arts), and cultural training for the personality (including sacred music), so that young people spend practically their whole lives at "play"(sacrificing, singing, dancing: 803e) in order to win the favour of the gods.

The range of studies that were later codified as the liberal arts are to be built on this double foundation, and they in turn are for the sake of our growth in true inner freedom, in preparation for the highest studies – the contemplation of God, in philosophy and theology. In the Laws, Plato calls the liberal arts studies for "gentlemen", although he specifies that even the "man in the

Friday 3 August 2012

Themes of the book: 2

2. The Transcendentals. I find the triad of the Trivium (Memory, Thought, Speech, or if you prefer Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric) echoed in many others, from the Trinity of divine persons on down through the various levels of creation. The Trivium is therefore intimately bound up with the divine image in Man, which is a Trinitarian image. God himself is the source of Memory, Thought, and Speech (Being/Father, Logos/Son, and Breath/Spirit).

One of those triads is composed of the so-called "transcendental properties of being", meaning properties that are so "general" that they can be found in varying degrees in everything that exists. The three I mean are Goodness, Truth, and Beauty – although one might also look at the threesome of Unity, Truth, and Goodness. As I explain (Beauty in the Word, p. 157), such triads are impossible to align definitively with particular members of the Trinity, because they can be looked at under different aspects. In fact each is one of

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Themes of the book: 1

My recent book, Beauty in the Word (see right), a sequel to Beauty for Truth's Sake, covers a lot of ground, so I thought it would be helpful to readers if I produced a "study guide". In a series of occasional posts, I intend to look at some of the key themes and ideas in the book.

1. The Trivium. This is what the book is about. The word refers to three of the traditional "seven liberal arts" that were the basis of the classical and medieval school curriculum, namely Grammar, Dialectics or Logic, and Rhetoric. (The other four, the so-called "Quadrivium" of Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy, were discussed in the previous book.)

I must admit, when I was first asked to write on this topic, I wondered if it could be made interesting enough. The Trivium sounded a bit boring to me, as I'm sure it does to many people. The rules for correct speech and the dry bones of logic? Give me a break! But as soon as I entered into the subject I found unexpected vistas opening up. It was a bit like entering the Tardis (Dr Who's vehicle, larger inside than out).

Tuesday 31 July 2012

Christian Platonism

Christian Platonism or Augustinianism seems to be undergoing a kind of renaissance. Here are some books I have found interesting, in no particular order, with links. David C. Schindler, Plato's Critique of Impure Reason; Douglas Hedley, Living Forms of the Imagination; William Riordan, Divine Light: The Theology of Denys the Areopagite; C.F. Kelley, Meister Eckhart on Divine Knowledge; Christian Moevs, The Metaphysics of Dante's Comedy; Robert Bolton, The Order of the Ages and Self and Spirit; Adrian Pabst, Metaphysics: The Creation of Hierarchy; John Rist, What Is Truth?; Svetla Slaveva-Griffin, Plotinus on Number; and Giovanni Reale, Toward a New Interpretation of Plato [congenial with Plotinus on Number, but see critique].

Thursday 26 July 2012

The world on a bad day

The massacre at a cinema in Colorado where audiences were enjoying The Dark Knight Rises – the culmination of Christopher Nolan's Batman movie trilogy – seems to have provoked only a feeble discussion of gun control that is going nowhere, and very little on the showing of extreme violence in movies. The contrast with an earlier superhero film I have praised here – Marvel's Avengers – is very marked. I don't believe that the fact this massacre happened during the Dark Knight Rises rather than the latter is merely coincidental. Both deal with the battle of good and evil, but in very different ways. In fact two different kinds of imagination are

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Science and faith together at last

The latest issue of our twice-yearly flagship journal, Second Spring, this time guest-edited by Christopher O. Blum of Thomas More College, is devoted to the relationship between faith and science – a question whose answer defines the spirit of the age. Schools and colleges will find this issue invaluable for classroom use with intelligent pupils. It covers scientism (Michael Aeschliman), neuroscience (James LeFanu), the Galileo myth, the anthropic principle, intelligent design, physics, and much more. Order now, if you don't already subscribe.

"Nature is either the source and the measure of our knowledge, or, if it is somehow beneath us and we are somehow its measure, then nature – including human nature – is merely some kind of cosmic playdough that we manipulate at will. The dire practical implications of such a view are evident to all men and women of good will. How is it to be refuted? Not so much by argument – for this view does not repose upon argument – as by example. It is by the patient and sober, but loving and attentive study of nature, and by the careful exposition and sharing of the results of that study, that confidence will be restored in the harmonious vision of nature as an ordered cosmos through which man the wayfarer makes his way home to his Creator." (Christopher O. Blum)

Tuesday 17 July 2012

RSA on Academy Schools

With over 50 percent of secondary schools in the UK having converted to academy status, it is time to radically slim down the Department for Education and devolve powers to new regional or sub regional education commissioners that sit alongside an independent regulatory body, says a Report from the RSA. Of course, it is very "managerial" and not much about the content or meaning and purpose of education, but it may be useful to someone.

Monday 9 July 2012

Friday 1 June 2012

The question of purpose

Our society, indeed what remains of Western civilization, seems to many people to be falling apart. The economic crisis, the moral crisis, the ecological crisis, and the political crisis combine to create a “perfect storm”. But they all stem from one fundamental error. As a society, we have abandoned a sense of cosmic and moral order for the sake of unlimited growth and progress towards an entirely man-made universe.

A similar process underlies another crisis, the fifth crisis, that of education. It has the same root as the others. Education is in crisis not merely because standards of literacy or mathematics have fallen, but because we have no coherent vision, as a society, of what education is for or what it is meant to achieve. We have assumed that, if it is not merely a cage to keep our young people off the streets, its purpose is to train workers in the great economic machine, the same machine that we hope will produce endless growth. But we cannot know what education is for, since we have no idea any longer what man is for, or what a human being actually is.

As Frank Sheed once put it: “This question of purpose is a point overlooked in most educational discussions, yet it is quite primary. How can you fit a man’s mind for living if you do not know what the purpose of man’s life is?” We need a philosophy of education based on an adequate “anthropology” or picture of man, if we are to put education back on the right track.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Dan Dare

Having written about American superhero comic books last time, I can't resist mentioning some rather different English comics many of us grew up with in the 1950s and 60s (reprinted in various forms ever since). These were immensely popular. The first issue of the weekly Eagle in 1950 sold nearly a million copies, and it ran for 991 issues. Frank Hampson's exquisitely realized drawings of spaceships and alien worlds in the Dan Dare serials no doubt inspired many a future boffin, adventurer, and artist. To find out why, explore the links. Dare was intended to be an explicitly Christian hero, in fact had originally been "Chaplain Dan Dare of the Inter-Planet Patrol", before finally appearing as the ace pilot of futuristic (and very English) Space Fleet. Eagle was founded by an Oxford-educated Anglican clergyman, Rev Marcus Morris, with its name inspired by the symbol of the Evangelist on a church lectern, and this and its sister papers Swift and Girl contained comic-book versions of the adventures of King Arthur, Robin Hood, and sundry modern missionaries, as well as sporting heroes and explorers. An education for heart, mind, and eye.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Comic book salvation

… Stand up and keep your childishness:
Read all the pedants’ screeds and strictures;
But don’t believe in anything
That can’t be told in coloured pictures.

Chesterton would not have liked many of the stories told in coloured pictures by American comic books, which these days tend to dystopia and sado-eroticism – an all-too predictable reflection of the present state of our culture. But some he would have liked, and I dare to think I could show him my own comic collection without (much) embarrassment.

My personal golden age of comics was in the late 60s and 1970s, when I would roam the streets of London looking for the latest American imports: Batman or Green Lantern, The Fantastic Four or The Mighty Thor, and a dozen other titles, illustrated by such artists as Neal Adams, the Buscema

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Recent additions

Tow recent additions to the links column on the left: under our "Useful articles and links" see Mathematics as Poetry, and under "Fun and educational" see Learn Chemistry through comics! Thanks to readers for these tips.

Monday 7 May 2012

Announcing a new book

BEAUTY IN THE WORD, published by Angelico Press (see Facebook page for this book), offers a new Catholic philosophy of education, completing the retrieval of the seven liberal arts begun in Beauty for Truth's Sake by examining the language arts, the "Trivium", which Dorothy L. Sayers made the basis of Classical Education in her famous essay, "The Lost Tools of Learning". But this book tries to go further than Sayers. Order from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

New opportunities for school reform and the creation of new schools encourage radical thinking about education. We need a philosophy that can guide us as we found these new schools, or enrich and improve existing schools, or attempt to design a curriculum for teaching our children at home. Catholic educators are particularly concerned with the question of what constitutes a "Catholic ethos."

The curriculum has become fragmented and incoherent because we have lost any sense of how all knowledge fits together. What kind of education, based on what understanding of the human person, would enable a child to progress in the rational understanding of the world without losing a sense of the whole, or a sense of the sacred? We must make an effort to overcome in ourselves false ideas inculcated by the education that we ourselves received, before we can understand the elements that would make a better education possible for our children.

Ethos of a Catholic School
Language of Faith 1
Language of Faith 2
Remembering the Present

Here are some comments on the book:

J. Fraser Field (CERC): "Speaking as a former Catholic teacher, this book has been a revelation to me. I wish I had read it before embarking on my teaching career. Beauty in the Word should be required reading for anyone aspiring to teach in a Catholic school as it should for anyone considering teaching their children at home."

James V. Schall SJ: "Everyone recognizes the centrality of education, of introducing what is known to the one capable of knowing. What is often lacking is some sense of the whole, of some orderly way to think about the whole. It is not that we do not have a tradition that looks after the basic things and their order. It is that we have replaced what we need to know with a methodology that is based on a narrow concept of what constitutes knowing. In this insightful book, Stratford Caldecott has presented a way to understand education in a sense that includes philosophy, theology, the arts, literature, the studies of beauty and truth and what is good. It is a rare book that understands the unity of knowledge and what we want to know. This is one of those rare books."

Aidan Nichols OP: “Beauty in the Word is the fruit of a lifetime's thinking about the relation between faith and life by a cultural entrepreneur who is also a parent and knows what, educationally, can actually work. Most Catholic education has been confined not only externally, by State regulation, but also internally, owing to an inadequate philosophy of the human being in the full (and I mean full!) range of his or her capacities and needs. Now that successive governments in the UK have freed up the institutional constraints, those responsible for new initiatives in Catholic schooling have a chance to recreate the inner spirit of education and not just its outer frame. They will not easily find a programme more inspirational than the one presented here.”

Anthony Esolen describes the book's purpose as laying the foundations of "an education that penetrates the heart and the mind with light." The Trivium represents the first or foundational stage of the liberal arts, understood broadly as an education for freedom. It gives us grounding for greater freedom and responsibility in three ways; that is, by developing our ability to imagine, think, and communicate. The child needs to grow in these three dimensions to be fully integrated with society. If any of the three are lacking he or she will be cut off from society and become an isolated and rather lonely particle, frenetic or depressed; one lost fragment of a broken puzzle.

In educational wisdom, the traditional "arts of language" (Grammar, Dialectics, and Rhetoric) have a key role to play.To discover this role, we need to penetrate into the deeper meaning of the "three ways" (trivium = "place where three roads meet"). As Anthony Esolen says, these reflect the three primary axes of Being: "of knowing, that is to say giving; of being known, that is to say receiving; and of the loving gift." I have referred to them under the headings of Remembering, Thinking, and Speaking, corresponding to MythosLogos, and Ethos. John Paul II described "the incandescent centre" of all educational activity as "co-operating in the discovery of the true image which God’s love has impressed indelibly upon every person, and which is preserved in the mystery of his own love." The whole educational process comes reaches its consummation in the liturgical act, the act of worship.

This all sounds very theoretical, no doubt – and so it is, in the original sense of theoria as "contemplation". But I have tried to show that it can be eminently practical as well, by showing how these ideas can be used to construct a curriculum. I refer in passing to the St Jerome Academy in Hyattsville, Maryland, whose "Educational Plan" (available online) has a very similar inspiration. Sequels to Beauty in the Word will include practical resources for parents and teachers, and we are looking for collaborators and advisers to join our working group in the coming months.

To read about the companion book on higher education, go to Beauty for Truth's Sake.
For a complete list of my books, go HERE.

Tuesday 24 April 2012


Check out this superb site about the World of Dante, Italy's greatest poet. Teachers of the Comedy will find a range of materials intended to facilitate the teaching of the poem. They include a video demonstration, which introduces users to the chief components to the site and how to access them; a list of suggested activities; additional readings on the poem and on the artists whose work is included; links to other sites; and a survey. The activities work particularly well if teachers show students how to access the various materials, especially the information available on the combined text pages and search page. Or just read the poem, and enjoy the illustrations, maps, and music.

Saturday 21 April 2012

God gives

Another very fine meditation appeared in Magnificat on 19 April 2012. By Sister Aemiliana Löhr, a German Benedictine nun who died in 1972, it expresses an important insight:
"God gives. This is the founding fact of our belief; on it revelation takes its resting-place. We know about God only because he gives himself; because he gives himself to us. God does not have something; he is everything. When he gives, he can only give himself, and thereby everything. In everything in which we receive, the gifts of nature or of grace, God gives himself; and only to the extent that we recognise that do we really come into possession of what he gives us. For all his gift can be taken from us, yet we remain in possession of his gift and favour when we see God as the heart of the gifts he gives."
For more on the theology of gift see my article here, or (better yet) read the article by Antonio Lopes in the collection Being Holy in the World. Go to the Ignitum Today site for an article on Gift in relation to love and knowledge.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Pope on beauty

The little daily prayer-book and missal, Magnificat, the International English edition of which I have the honour (with my family) of editing, contains a lot more than the texts of the Mass of the day, and prayers for morning, evening, and night. As a sample of the daily Meditations, here is an extract from the text by Pope Benedict that was published yesterday. It is about the "Way of Beauty" and the importance of art.
"Perhaps it has happened to you at one time or another – before a sculpture, a painting, a few verses of poetry or a piece of music – to have experienced deep emotion, a sense of joy, to have perceived clearly, that is, that before you there stood not only matter – a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, an ensemble of letters or a combination of sounds – but something far greater, something that 'speaks', something capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message, of elevating the soul. A work of art is the fruit of the creative capacity of the human person who stands in wonder before the visible reality, who seeks to discover the depths of its meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colours, and sounds. Art is capable of expressing, and of making visible, man’s need to go beyond what he sees; it reveals his thirst and his search for the infinite. Indeed, it is like a door opened to the infinite, opened to a beauty and a truth beyond the everyday. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart, urging us upward." 
The text has obvious echoes of Pope John Paul II's Letter to Artists, on which David Clayton's "Way of Beauty" web-site is based. David Clayton is the illustrator of several of our catechetical colouring books for children, based on traditional styles of Christian art from icons to illuminated manuscripts. In Beauty for Truth's Sake I make a case for the objectivity of beauty, in an age where many people assume it is merely in the eyes of the beholder.

Incidentally, a longer and more developed discussion of Beauty by Pope Benedict (or rather Cardinal Ratzinger) is available on our main website under "Online reading", or go directly here.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Sex and marriage

How does a parent or teacher explain to a young person why the Church is against sex outside marriage – or rather, why the Church is in favour of sex exclusively inside marriage (and marriage between a man and a woman, to boot)? I don't know, but one important argument that is often left out concerns the nature of the human person, which is quite different from what is customarily supposed.

If human beings were simply living bodies ("ensouled bodies", because a soul is an animating form) like other animals, there would be no very strong reason against promiscuity. Evolutionary and social reasons would not suffice. Psychological factors might well be against it. Not everyone is inclined, like

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Connected by Touch

Fairy tales are the fashionable thing in Hollywood and on TV. Every studio seems to be reinventing the classic tales – mostly with dire results. The successful new Tim Kring TV series Touch is much more original. Like the delightful film August Rush (which is based on the idea that people are mystically connected through music), Touch tells us that the world is built on numbers. The credit sequence alone is a work of art, showing a kaleidoscope of images drawn from the natural world and human society with diagrams of symbolic geometry superimposed. The story is built around a father (played by Keifer Sutherland) and his "autistic" son Jake, who won't speak or allow anyone to touch him. But the son has a gift with numbers. Naturally, in order to heighten the excitement, he is supposed to be "the next step in human evolution", and his gift enables him to predict the future, or "see" possible futures in the patterns of numbers he sees all

Monday 2 April 2012

Beauty in Trust

The National Trust in Britain is worthy of much praise and thanks for the wonderful work it does preserving and caretaking some of our most beautiful and historically significant buildings, gardens, and landscapes for public use and enjoyment.  Most recently, it successfully fought the Government's ill-considered development plans, which would have threatened our heritage for very little actual gain. The new development guidelines have been extensively rewritten as a result. The Trust's director general, Dame Fiona Reynolds, is preparing to move on to run Emmanuel College, Cambridge, having presided over a growth of the charity's membership from 2.7 to over 4 million members (more than all the major political parties put together). In a recent interview she spoke of the almost "spiritual" need the Trust fulfils – a need for "access to beauty, access to nature, access to history." A good motto for a national movement!

Friday 16 March 2012

A Certain Faith

A masterpiece of modern apologetics, this book builds upon the fact that there is an intrinsic, formative principle within thought — namely, being. Those unfamiliar with the idea of analogy of being will be amazed by the concept’s depth and compass. After securing it within natural theology, Dr Pearlman goes on to thread the analogy of being through cosmology, Christology, the nature of the Church, and the moral and spiritual life. The book is designed to take the reader from a situation of doubt, then through faith and the understanding of virtue, to arrive finally at the threshold of contemplation with the saints, including Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross, and Mother Teresa.

Barry Pearlman has lived and worked in the UK, USA, and Australia, and currently lives in Wales. A Certain Faith is a remarkable achievement, both inspiring and uplifting – an accessible synthesis of traditional metaphysics and fundamental theology that offers the basis for a renewal of apologetics. Such clarity, in such depth and breadth, is exceedingly rare in our time. Nor are theology and philosophy here separated from spirituality and the interior life, as is too often the case. It should find its way into libraries and reading lists. It is easily available from Amazon UK or Amazon US.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Music of the Spheres

A useful article on music as '"metaphysics in sound" by Robert R. Reilly is posted among the useful articles in the left-hand column. Meanwhile Quentin de la Bedoyere's Secondsight blog has an interesting thread on the mysteries of mathematics here. And Colin Gormley has an excellent article on Catholic education here.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Our Summer School - 7th to 21st August

Why not join us and students of Thomas More College this summer in a two-week course, based in Oxford and the West country, on the question of Catholic identity and the vocation of the Catholic writer? We also touch on the deeper question of what it means to be human, how a vision of humanity was imperilled by the English Reformation which helped to create the modern world, and how the Literary Revival (from Newman to Tolkien) tried to recover and reclaim it.

The summer school will begin at Downside Abbey, a Benedictine community deep in the heart of the beautiful Somerset countryside, a few hours from Heathrow Airport. There we will immerse ourselves in the history of Christian England, specifically through Benedictine eyes, with a lecture and tour from the Abbot, Dom Aidan Bellenger (author of Medieval Worlds and Medieval Religion). We will then examine the experience of the Reformation and the dissolution of the Abbeys, both historically and through the eyes of writers of the time, notably Shakespeare. Our tutor here will be Lady Clare Asquith, Countess of Oxford and author of Shadowplay, a book which traces the recusant experience through the poems and plays of our greatest national writer. We are also privileged to be allowed to make a private visit to nearby Mells Manor, the Asquith family home, which has associations both with Glastonbury Abbey (whose ruins we will also visit) and with a number of important Catholic figures such as Evelyn Waugh and Monsignor Ronald Knox (the latter worked on his translation of the Bible here). Knox and the convert-poet Siegfried Sassoon are both buried at Mells. We will also be visiting at least one recusant house in the area.

After a week at Downside, where we will have the opportunity to participate in daily Mass and the Divine Office, we will proceed to Oxford, where we will stay at St Benet’s, a Private Hall of the University and also a Benedictine house. There we will learn about the pivotal role of Oxford in the history of British Christianity, from its time as a recusant centre to the revival of Catholic culture in the 19th century with the Oxford Movement, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and 20th century writers such as Chesterton, Greene, and Waugh. We will also look at the influence of the Inklings, particularly C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and visit sites associated with them as well as with Newman. Finally we will visit the capital, paying our respects near the remains of St Thomas More in the Tower of London and visiting Westminster Abbey and the newly reconstructed Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s plays were once performed.

Further details and registration forms on request from Teresa Caldecott (secondspringltd@gmail.com). For prices and schedule, continue reading.

Friday 10 February 2012

More on the elements

But what are the four (or five) elements that Eliot was so interested in (see previous post)? The idea that the world is composed of just a handful of basic elements is common to all the great civilizations, and in the Egyptian, Greek and Indian traditions these elements are given the names Earth, Air, Fire, and Water – with the addition of a fifth "subtle" element or "quintessence" sometimes called Aether, the first element in creation. This latter is identified with "space" and may be taken as the substratum of all vibration (or "sound" in the broadest metaphysical sense, thus including what we now call electromagnetic radiation or light).

Plato posited an even more basic level of composition to the universe; particulate or geometrical in nature, rooted in the triangle. A footnote in my book All Things Made New reads as follows: "In the Timaeus, Plato

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Elements in Eliot

An important book by Benjamin G. Lockerd Jr, Aethereal Rumours: T.S. Eliot's Physics and Poetics, does for The Waste Land and the Four Quartets something of what Michael Ward does for the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis in Planet Narnia. In his book, Michael Ward shows that each of the seven tales of Narnia was intended by Lewis to correspond with one of the seven astrological planets – taking these as spiritual symbols of perennial value (as he does in his academic works on Medieval and Renaissance literature, and in the Space Trilogy). Similarly, Lockerd shows that Eliot was always concerned with reconciling poetry with science, and unlike other modern poets "increasingly placed his poetry quite consciously and deliberately within

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Catholic English teacher

Allow me to draw your attention anyway to The Catholic English Teacher by Roy Peachey, as well as this article by him on great Catholic writers outside the Western canon.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Ruralist art

An important part of education is learning to look at the world around us, and artists teach us to do this. I have posted several times on landscape artists in particular. Whether it is the Group of Seven venturing out into the Canadian wilderness, or the Impressionists following in Turner's footsteps as they try to capture the flickering moods of light and atmosphere (perhaps even travelling "inside light" the way Tolkien travelled "inside language"), or Samuel Palmer crafting natural landscapes into symbolic idylls intense with yearning, or Nicholas Roerich doing the same with the mountains of Tibet, the landscape artist allows us to see the "scenery" of our lives through new eyes. Recently David Hockney has startled many of his admirers by turning

Tuesday 31 January 2012

The sixth planet

One way into astronomy for a lot of people, I suspect, is the beauty of the planet Saturn, second largest planet in our system (95 times the mass of the Earth). NASA's Cassini space probe, still orbiting the planet, has sent back a multitude of extraordinary photos that show us this gem of the solar system in close up. Other planets have rings, but these are simply spectacular, and visible from Earth through even a small telescope. Made largely of ice, some of it vented through giant geysers from the moon Enceladus, their complexity is still not completely understood. Even less understood is the hexagonal cloud formation around the Saturnian north pole. (It is a bit like finding a big "6" painted on the side of the sixth planet.) No doubt it has a simple explanation (here is one attempt), and probably isn't a marker left by some alien civilization, but in the meantime, just like those "faster than light" neutrinos from Gran Sasso, not to mention the hunt for the Higgs boson which is the lynchpin of the Standard Model of particle physics, it will continue to intrigue us, and to entice a new generation of children into the study of science. Modern physics and cosmology are at a turning point, it seems. The need to explain the "dark matter" and "dark energy" that apparently make up up most of the universe may be pointing to the need for a new "paradigm" or a radically new set of cosmological theories. More than ever, scientists need imagination as well as intelligence, and faith (in the ultimate intelligibility of the universe) as well as reason.

Friday 27 January 2012

Marshall McLuhan

Best known these days for his phrases "The medium is the message" (the title of one of his books was The Medium is the Massage), and "the global village", not to mention a cameo appearance in Woody Allen's movie Annie Hall, Marshall McLuhan was a prophet of the new communications technology and the founder of Media Studies with his book Understanding Media (1964). Last year was the 100th anniversary of his birth, and he died in 1980. But there is a lot more to him than this, and as an educator and philosopher he repays careful attention. He was, by the way, a Catholic convert in 1937 thanks to the influence of G.K. Chesterton. Wikipedia (a phenomenon that would have interested him greatly) tells us not only that he claimed intellectual guidance from the Virgin Mary, but that he had a lifelong interest in the number 3 – his conversion began as he was studying the Trivium (the first three Liberal Arts) for his thesis at Cambridge University. That thesis was published for the first time in 2006 by Gingko Press, and examines the history of the Trivium from Classical times to the Renaissance. McLuhan himself was an exponent of Rhetoric in the traditional and broadest sense – hence his interest in the communications media. He saw how each new technology (writing, print, telephone, TV, computer) effectively transforms human cognition and society. He predicted the World Wide Web and analysed its effects as early as 1962.

The latest issue of The Chesterton Review contains a couple of pieces on McLuhan in "News & Comments". One (by Jeet Heer) concludes that to appreciate the full profundity of McLuhan's thought you need to read books like Hugh Kenner's The Mechanic Muse, Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, and Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. But don't neglect to read McLuhan.

Monday 16 January 2012

Forming Priests, Poets, Philosophers

The Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, has announced a rather impressive programme of formation for Priests, Poets and Philosophers, described as "an academic and Renaissance convivio where the perennial wisdom of the Catholic intellectual tradition challenges and entices the mind and soul." It includes a roundtable and a course, with lectures and discussions across a wide range of disciplines. The whole is partly designed for priests and seminarians, but teachers and parishioners and other students are also welcome. Visit the website for details.

Friday 13 January 2012

Through the Eyes of Faith

The purpose of my book Beauty for Truth's Sake was partly to help overcome the division between faith and reason, and the fragmentation of academic disciplines in the absence of a coherent vision of the world. This is also the purpose of a series from HarperCollins called "Through the Eyes of Faith", textbooks for Christian colleges that examine each of the disciplines in turn from a faith perspective. It is a bold move – has anyone out there reviewed these books?

Friday 6 January 2012


Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal and former President of the Royal Society writes in an article about manned spaceflight in the Daily Telegraph (10 January):
"Even though manned spaceflight will be a diminishing priority for governments, I believe and hope that some people now living will walk on Mars (though they may well go with one-way tickets). Moreover, a century or two from now, intrepid adventurers may be living independently from the Earth. Whatever ethical constraints we impose here on the ground, we should surely wish such pioneers good luck in genetically modifying their progeny to adapt to alien environments.
"Indeed, this might be the first step towards divergence into a new species: the beginning of the post-human era. Meanwhile, machines of human-like intelligence could spread still further into the stars. Whether the distant future lies with organic post-humans or with such intelligent machines is a matter for debate – but these prospects remind us that we may be near the beginning of a cultural and technological evolution that will continue not only here on Earth, but far beyond."
The emphasis is mine. Meanwhile, one of the most horrifying articles in a

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Pope on education

The Pope's Message for the World Day of Peace (1 Jan.) this year is titled "Educating Young People in Justice and Peace", and section 3 in particular contains some luminous passages summarizing the Pope's fundamental message to the modern world. For example:
"Man is a being who bears within his heart a thirst for the infinite, a thirst for truth – a truth which is not partial but capable of explaining life’s meaning – since he was created in the image and likeness of God. The grateful recognition that life is an inestimable gift, then, leads to the discovery of one’s own profound dignity and the inviolability of every single person.... Only in relation to God does man come to understand also the meaning of human freedom. It is the task of education to form people in authentic freedom. This is not the absence of constraint or the supremacy of free will, it is not the absolutism of the self. When man believes himself to be absolute, to depend on nothing and no one, to be able to do anything he wants, he ends up contradicting the truth of his own being and forfeiting his freedom. On the contrary, man is a relational being, who lives in relationship with others and especially with God. Authentic freedom can never be attained independently of God."
The Message also contains a link to another text from 2005 where Pope Benedict summarizes the "theology of the body" and of the family. Both are worth reading in full.