Justice, Holiness and the Canterbury House of Studies
~ by Rhea Bright ~
Before ever there were books of philosophy or psychology or self-help, there was a man on the streets of ancient Athens asking questions about what we might call “the good life”. One of his followers, known to posterity simply as Plato, wrote the first works in ethical philosophy – dialogues in which his old friend and mentor, Socrates, plays the leading role.
In Plato’s well-known dialogue, the Republic, Socrates addresses the subject of Justice. The definition of justice that is put forward – giving each person his due – appears problematic. What, after all, is one’s “due”? Is it just, Socrates asks, to return a weapon to a person intent on self-harm? Is it just, we might ask, to return the car keys to someone who is not capable of driving safely? What is due to that person? Socrates argues that justice is always about what is good – for the person and for the community. Doing harm, or allowing harm to be done, is never good, and so can never be just.
While the main subject of the Republic is the just (or good) human being, Plato tackles the matter by having Socrates construct an imaginary city as an analogy to the soul. Justice in the city, he concludes, is the harmonious and orderly functioning of the diverse elements of a city in respect to the Good. Each element must do its part and do it well, and thus each both gives and gets its due. The most basic requirement for this, however, is that someone – the rulers, lawmakers, and law-enforcement – must know what the good IS. Therein lies the rub . . . .
Plato was the first to name for us what we refer to as the ‘cardinal virtues’: prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice. In order to be good – that is, just – we must know what the good thing is (prudence); we must have the strength to do it (fortitude); and we must control our diverse desires appropriately (temperance). This proper ordering of our reason, will and passions – this harmony within the soul itself – is justice in the soul.
This does not happen naturally. We are not born prudent, courageous, temperate and just. The humus of the human, the soil that is the soul, needs to be cultivated. Education, therefore, is paramount. We must be educated to know the good, with wills strengthened through the practice of good habits to do the good we know. It is only in this knowing, loving and doing the good that human beings can, individually or as a community, be happy. The requirement for this is truly wise authority figures – parents, pastors and teachers – and willing hearts. And therein lies the rub . . . .
Plato’s ideal is, it seems, unachievable.
But wait, it gets tougher.
The Greek word that Plato uses for justice, dikaiosyne, is often translated as “righteousness” in the New Testament. God calls us to righteousness: think of Jesus’s counsel of perfection in the Sermon on the Mount – and oh, how we miss that mark! And yet, God calls us even higher; He calls us to holiness. He calls us each and He calls us together to know Him, to love Him and to be like Him. How on earth are we to do this? We are fallen. The world is fallen. We dwell in deeply flawed cities and states, where prudence, courage, temperance and justice are difficult to find. We worship in churches with dwindling congregations, and where faith, hope and charity are sometimes hard to see. Where do we find the wise leaders that we need to open the truth of God’s Word to our understanding? How are our unruly wills to be disciplined beyond righteousness to holiness?
It is time to remember tradition.
In Classical education, we look to the distant past when we remember Plato, the cardinal virtues, the trivium and the quadrivium. In Christian formation, we must also remember that the Church – the body of Christ – extends through time as well as space. Let us recall the wisdom of the ages in a living faith that embraces centuries-old tradition.
Christian tradition is, of course, long and various, spanning the centuries of the early Church, the Middle Ages, the split between western Catholicism and the eastern Orthodox Churches, the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, and the numerous modern denominations, revivals, and reforms. One tradition that has roots extending back to the early Church, and yet is also a product of the Reformation, is the Anglican tradition (called Episcopal in some places).
The Canterbury House of Studies has been established under the umbrella of Schole Academy to offer courses specifically in the history, theology, literature and practice of Anglicanism in order to encourage and strengthen the faith of Anglicans and Episcopalians, and to invite others to learn about this rich heritage.
In the English Reformation, the theologian and liturgist Archbishop Thomas Cranmer examined the liturgies of the past, both eastern and western; gathered, purged and rearranged; added inspired compositions of his own; and put into the hands of the English-speaking people a book – in English – called the Book of Common Prayer. This book was written to provide a way to sanctify time, a way for ordinary people, as well as the clergy, to live consciously in the presence of God. This book stands at the core of Anglicanism.
As one might expect, the Book of Common Prayer contains the rites and sacraments of the Church, marking the transitions of Christian life from birth to death, the seasons of the year and God’s redeeming work in time through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
But in addition, it provides a structure based on the Benedictine monastic offices for all people to pray morning and evening, corporately or privately, at home or in church, using very often the words of Scripture itself. It includes a systematic lectionary for reading the Old and New Testament as well as daily psalms. Its purpose is to plant and nurture the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, to draw all people to holiness in the knowledge and love of God.
This is not an historical relic, but a teaching and a discipline that is relevant to the world in which in we live.
In a world intent on innovation and novelty, we strive to offer an education that is unabashedly both classical and classically Christian, rooted in the past but living in the present and looking to future glory. The ideal of justice and righteousness that Plato put before us over two millennia ago is an unattainable ideal without God’s grace, without the Spirit of truth dwelling within us, drawing us beyond righteousness to holiness, where justice is finally fulfilled in charity.
Rhea Bright grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada. The Foundation Year Program, an early integrated great books curriculum, at the University of King’s College in Halifax, and the Dalhousie University Classics department formed and nurtured what became a life-long love of the classics and a deep appreciation of the contribution of the ancient world to whatsoever is good and true and beautiful. She taught Ancient and Medieval Humanities at the University of Central Oklahoma, and then moved on to teach Latin, Logic, Bible, and Ancient Omnibus (integrated literature and history) at the Academy of Classical Christian Studies in Oklahoma City, serving as Chair of Humanities. She is married to an Anglican priest, who has now retired back to Nova Scotia after many wonderful years in the U.S., and together they have worked to deepen the understanding of Anglicanism and to preserve its tradition. Their four grown children are scattered throughout the U.S. and Canada.