Considering this idea of the true "tests," we should now try to consider how it applies to young Christians who are constantly tested on the seemingly trivial things in college.  Some might believe it is more important to spend time developing our soul; learning how to be a good Christian, rather than brushing up on astrophysics.  Indeed, my real education -- the many tests of my integrity and faith -- may just await me years beyond Commencement.

What is the relationship between a college education and the education of our souls?  I often look to G. K. Chesterton for advice on such matters (and most recently, to Father James V. Schall, S.J., who has graced the pages of the Ichthus).  Not surprisingly, Chesterton wonderfully describes the purpose of education for a Christian in his essay on "The Superstition of School":

The moment men begin to care more for education than for religion they begin to care more for ambition than for education...Education ought to be a searchlight given to a man to explore everything, but very specially the things most distant from himself.  Education tends to be a spotlight; which is centered entirely on himself.  Some improvement may be made by turning equally vivid and perhaps vulgar spotlights upon a large number of other people as well.  But the only final cure is to turn off the limelight and let him realize the stars.

We cannot pursue education solely for ourselves -- to make us smarter, to put a few extra letters after our names, to pile up the articles we have published in some journal.  Winning a mock trial competition also is not reflective of a superior education. Such accomplishments are temporal -- they are fleeting victories we can enjoy but not really appreciate in our path of learning.  Instead, real education is for exploration -- for attempting to discover and realize the highest thing -- the Truth of God.

This brings us back to Psalm 41 and the dictum that we should not be corrupted by selfish, short-term desires.  Indeed, if we are so corrupted, we will never learn anything -- we will succumb to the vanity of false education.  That, I believe, is a central connection between Christianity and learning.  Harvard's motto, Veritas, even without its original addendum (the whole being Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae), can only be pursued with a certain faith that Truth exists, and a certain willingness to dedicate oneself to pursuing Truth through learning.  This learning can be in any field -- philosophy, biology, theology, politics.  But we must remember why we are doing it: so that we can learn more about ourselves and God through our search after Truth.

And in order to strive toward this horizon, we must focus on how we are learning.  In the same fashion as the "leader," the dedication to searching for Truth is selfless -- it is not for any sort of personal material gain.  In turn, the Lord supports those with unselfish motivations because of the integrity they employ in their pursuit of the Truth.  If we are not distracted from the purpose of education by competing for personal accolades, ribbons, or plaques, we will be supported by God.  The things worth having -- integrity, faith, and a yearning for the Truth -- cannot be found in such objects.

I'd be willing to bet that not one person in the history of Harvard has claimed, after four years of liberal arts studies, to have understood Veritas. The understanding of Truth does not come from a textbook, although it may begin there. Indeed, as Chesterton says, the University is not a "miraculous moral factory, in which perfect men and women are made by magic."  Instead, it simply gives us the lights to be able to find Truth in the darkness.  This was exactly the lesson I received that night in Princeton.  I could barely see the stars, for the many spotlights outside the competition were blazing brightly, but I found a stronger light where God resided.  Together, let us use that light to search for Veritas.

 

This article was first published as "Toward the Lights of Veritas" in volume 2, issue 2 (2006) of The Harvard Ichthus, a journal of Christian thought.  It appears here with the permission of the journal.  Please visit the journal and its excellent blog, "The Fish Tank." 

Jordan Teti '08, Editor-in-Chief of  The Harvard Ichthus, is a Government concentrator in Winthrop House.

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