Classical education as a confessional mandate?

Tracing some of those helpful Luther quotes on vocations that some of you had given me, I came across this in the online Bente Triglotta translation of the Book of Concord. From the explanation of the Fourth Commandment in The Large Catechism:

Let every one know, therefore, that it is his duty, on peril of losing the divine favor, to bring up his children above all things in the fear and knowledge of God, and if they are talented, have them learn and study something, that they may be employed for whatever need there is [to have them instructed and trained in a liberal education, that men may be able to have their aid in government and in whatever is necessary].

As I recall, the bracketed text means that it is in the Latin version, but not the German. I believe subscription is to the German version, which is the main text for the modern English translations. Still, it’s surely significant that “liberal education”–which is synonymous with “classical education,” referring to the liberal arts, the education that forms a free citizen)–is advocated in the Lutheran confessions. “On peril of losing the divine favor,” no less, at least for children who are talented.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Tom Hering

    I think “on peril of losing the divine favor” refers to what immediately follows, “to bring up his children above all things in the fear and knowledge of God.” That makes clear and simple sense. I don’t think it refers to what follows next, “and if they are talented, have them learn and study something.” Here the only consequence appears to be that society would be denied “aid in government and in whatever is necessary” from the grown offspring.

    I can’t imagine Luther meaning that parents fall from God’s grace because they fail to give their talented children a liberal education. I’d want to see similar, supporting statements from Luther before I’d accept this as his meaning.

  • Tom Hering

    I think “on peril of losing the divine favor” refers to what immediately follows, “to bring up his children above all things in the fear and knowledge of God.” That makes clear and simple sense. I don’t think it refers to what follows next, “and if they are talented, have them learn and study something.” Here the only consequence appears to be that society would be denied “aid in government and in whatever is necessary” from the grown offspring.

    I can’t imagine Luther meaning that parents fall from God’s grace because they fail to give their talented children a liberal education. I’d want to see similar, supporting statements from Luther before I’d accept this as his meaning.

  • Dan Kempin

    I pulled out my Triglotta to check the reference, and to my surprise discovered that I had underlined that very line in the text during previous study! (I’m not sure if I should count myself brilliant for having noted this point, or senile for having forgotten it.)

    The phrase in latin is not quite so precise as it is rendered in the english. It says children should be (my translation is very loose), ” . . . also imbued with letters and discipline and given shape, so that . . .”

    “a liberal education” is rendered from the phrase “bonis literis” (“Good letters”) I am sure this is a valid rendering, but I would be cautious to make it prescriptive or push it beyond the concept of “a good education.”

    Tom, #1,

    I agree with your comment that “above all things” refers primarily to the “fear and knowledge of God.” I would not, for that reason, try to reduce what Luther says that follows. He speaks ferocious law in the large catechism. (Well, in the ten commandments of the large catechism.) To fail the commandment by secondary application is to fail the commandment.

  • Dan Kempin

    I pulled out my Triglotta to check the reference, and to my surprise discovered that I had underlined that very line in the text during previous study! (I’m not sure if I should count myself brilliant for having noted this point, or senile for having forgotten it.)

    The phrase in latin is not quite so precise as it is rendered in the english. It says children should be (my translation is very loose), ” . . . also imbued with letters and discipline and given shape, so that . . .”

    “a liberal education” is rendered from the phrase “bonis literis” (“Good letters”) I am sure this is a valid rendering, but I would be cautious to make it prescriptive or push it beyond the concept of “a good education.”

    Tom, #1,

    I agree with your comment that “above all things” refers primarily to the “fear and knowledge of God.” I would not, for that reason, try to reduce what Luther says that follows. He speaks ferocious law in the large catechism. (Well, in the ten commandments of the large catechism.) To fail the commandment by secondary application is to fail the commandment.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    From a the standpoint of a hermeneutic of the Confessions, the Latin version of the BOC, is one of the two “first editions” of our Lutheran Confessions. The German has pride of place as being “first among equals” given its status both as a theological confession and, in the case of various German territorial churches, also very much a legal document for centuries in some places. But, the Latin text was, by far, the most popularly studied version, used throughout Germany in, using our modern terms, high school, college and seminary studies.

    The Latin is always the “go to” place for the purpose of understanding what the meaning of the German was, or what it was understood to be by those more close to the documents than are we.

    The 1584 Latin is the “autograph” so to speak of the Confessions, in Latin, even as the German is the official version in German.

    Modern scholars prefer to try to search for the “best first form” of the confessional documents, which is an interesting academic exercise, and can help in the history of the transmission of the texts, but ultimately those who are bound to these documents by personal subscription and confessions, such as all called and ordained to be church workers in The LCMS and other conservative Lutheran bodies, are more interested in the German and Latin edition of the BOC.

    A recent edition of the BOC plays fast and loose with the text forms of the Lutheran Confessions, and actually included a version of the Apology that was specifically rejected for use both in the German 1580 edition and Latin 1584. Not that there is anything doctrinally wrong with the forms of the text, but to put the name “Book of Concord” on that particular English translation is not really accurate.

    Dr. Veith made a significant contribution to another recent edition which offers only the forms of the Confessions from either the German or the Latin edition of the BOC.

    To this day, still, the only complete and best translation of the German BOC of 1580, is the 1854 Henkel edition.

    The Triglotta is particularly useful for those wishing to have the text forms of the Confessions, in their original, first edition, German, Latin and then in an English translation that consistently will indicate what is in the German and Latin, by means of brackets, as in this case.

  • http://www.cyberbrethren.com Rev. Paul T. McCain

    From a the standpoint of a hermeneutic of the Confessions, the Latin version of the BOC, is one of the two “first editions” of our Lutheran Confessions. The German has pride of place as being “first among equals” given its status both as a theological confession and, in the case of various German territorial churches, also very much a legal document for centuries in some places. But, the Latin text was, by far, the most popularly studied version, used throughout Germany in, using our modern terms, high school, college and seminary studies.

    The Latin is always the “go to” place for the purpose of understanding what the meaning of the German was, or what it was understood to be by those more close to the documents than are we.

    The 1584 Latin is the “autograph” so to speak of the Confessions, in Latin, even as the German is the official version in German.

    Modern scholars prefer to try to search for the “best first form” of the confessional documents, which is an interesting academic exercise, and can help in the history of the transmission of the texts, but ultimately those who are bound to these documents by personal subscription and confessions, such as all called and ordained to be church workers in The LCMS and other conservative Lutheran bodies, are more interested in the German and Latin edition of the BOC.

    A recent edition of the BOC plays fast and loose with the text forms of the Lutheran Confessions, and actually included a version of the Apology that was specifically rejected for use both in the German 1580 edition and Latin 1584. Not that there is anything doctrinally wrong with the forms of the text, but to put the name “Book of Concord” on that particular English translation is not really accurate.

    Dr. Veith made a significant contribution to another recent edition which offers only the forms of the Confessions from either the German or the Latin edition of the BOC.

    To this day, still, the only complete and best translation of the German BOC of 1580, is the 1854 Henkel edition.

    The Triglotta is particularly useful for those wishing to have the text forms of the Confessions, in their original, first edition, German, Latin and then in an English translation that consistently will indicate what is in the German and Latin, by means of brackets, as in this case.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    For reference, an education in letters (per Dan Kempin’s note) would be by definition a liberal education. I don’t bind myself by the commentaries of the Book of Concord, but I do find it historically interesting.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    For reference, an education in letters (per Dan Kempin’s note) would be by definition a liberal education. I don’t bind myself by the commentaries of the Book of Concord, but I do find it historically interesting.

  • Dan Kempin

    Is “liberal education” a general or a specific term? I’m a little unclear about that, perhaps because it can be used both ways. My initial understanding is that the usage in this reference could be anything from basic literacy to a full classical education. The context, of course, is education for the purpose of serving society according to one’s gifts and position. I would be cautious not to import the more contemporary idea of “liberal education,” which (I think) is tending to make education a more abstract and personal pursuit of knowledge and tends to assume a university level.

    For my own part, I think this statement of Luther is well embodied in the Lutheran heritage of day schools and universities–but with an emphasis on day schools.

  • Dan Kempin

    Is “liberal education” a general or a specific term? I’m a little unclear about that, perhaps because it can be used both ways. My initial understanding is that the usage in this reference could be anything from basic literacy to a full classical education. The context, of course, is education for the purpose of serving society according to one’s gifts and position. I would be cautious not to import the more contemporary idea of “liberal education,” which (I think) is tending to make education a more abstract and personal pursuit of knowledge and tends to assume a university level.

    For my own part, I think this statement of Luther is well embodied in the Lutheran heritage of day schools and universities–but with an emphasis on day schools.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Historically, Dan, “liberal” education is the education of a free man in Greece or Rome, and its basic structure dates at least as far back as Plato, I believe. So for a man trained in letters (again, liberal education) like Luther to use a phrase meaning either “letters” or “liberal education” refers to a very specific group of capabilities–grammar, logic/dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music–that Plato and those who followed him felt any educated/free man ought to use.

    So Luther is really saying–per your comment–that those in the church ought to give children not just basic literacy (CS Lewis noted that just made people vulnerable to good writers), but rather an education sufficient to understand arguments and respond to them.

    I’d rejoice, by the way, if most Lutheran education DID meet this qualification from Concord, but (alas!) I don’t know that this is true….

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Historically, Dan, “liberal” education is the education of a free man in Greece or Rome, and its basic structure dates at least as far back as Plato, I believe. So for a man trained in letters (again, liberal education) like Luther to use a phrase meaning either “letters” or “liberal education” refers to a very specific group of capabilities–grammar, logic/dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music–that Plato and those who followed him felt any educated/free man ought to use.

    So Luther is really saying–per your comment–that those in the church ought to give children not just basic literacy (CS Lewis noted that just made people vulnerable to good writers), but rather an education sufficient to understand arguments and respond to them.

    I’d rejoice, by the way, if most Lutheran education DID meet this qualification from Concord, but (alas!) I don’t know that this is true….

  • Dan Kempin

    Bike,

    Do you have any data to support your assertion that Luther means the ‘whole enchilada’ of classical education? I would not dispute that such would certainly be included in the broad context of education, and I understand that the roots of the phrase ‘liberal’ and ‘classical’ education precede Luther significantly.

    The fact remains, though, that Luther did not write “a liberal education.” He wrote “bonis literis.” It is possible that this has a technical usage meaning a full liberal education. If so, I did not find it in my dictionary. The sense of use in the (admittedly few) quotes I have checked seems to be the general sense of “a good education.”

    I would argue (just for the fun of it) that Luther’s usage of “Good” can be taken in the sense of “appropriate. Thus a “good education” can mean a full blown course of liberal study with a doctoral terminus. That was Luther’s course. It can also mean a trade school or a business school or medical school. Those programs educate people with knowledge that serves society. Yes, I would even argue that an eight grade day school program is “bonis literis.”

    My point is that if you attach the specific term of “liberal education” to Luther’s statement, you narrow it significantly. Taken more generally, it encompasses the idea of liberal/classical education, along with the full spectrum of knowledge and training. The context, after all, is not that they pursue an education, but rather that they find some useful outlet for their God-given abilities.

  • Dan Kempin

    Bike,

    Do you have any data to support your assertion that Luther means the ‘whole enchilada’ of classical education? I would not dispute that such would certainly be included in the broad context of education, and I understand that the roots of the phrase ‘liberal’ and ‘classical’ education precede Luther significantly.

    The fact remains, though, that Luther did not write “a liberal education.” He wrote “bonis literis.” It is possible that this has a technical usage meaning a full liberal education. If so, I did not find it in my dictionary. The sense of use in the (admittedly few) quotes I have checked seems to be the general sense of “a good education.”

    I would argue (just for the fun of it) that Luther’s usage of “Good” can be taken in the sense of “appropriate. Thus a “good education” can mean a full blown course of liberal study with a doctoral terminus. That was Luther’s course. It can also mean a trade school or a business school or medical school. Those programs educate people with knowledge that serves society. Yes, I would even argue that an eight grade day school program is “bonis literis.”

    My point is that if you attach the specific term of “liberal education” to Luther’s statement, you narrow it significantly. Taken more generally, it encompasses the idea of liberal/classical education, along with the full spectrum of knowledge and training. The context, after all, is not that they pursue an education, but rather that they find some useful outlet for their God-given abilities.


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