For anyone willing to hear and learn, the Bible provides countless opportunities for us to grow in wisdom. Wisdom literature is one of the foremost literary genres in Scripture, and so we see that God, in revealing himself through Wisdom literature, aims to form a wise people, a people who are characterized by His wisdom. In the wisdom literature of Scripture, there are a few themes which show up time and again. One of those themes has to do with not squandering our inheritance.
When we think of an inheritance, it’s easy to think first of financial inheritance, monetary gifts that have been passed down to us from one generation to another, or even family heirlooms or precious family keepsakes. But how often do we, and how often should we, consider our inheritance, and even the best parts of our inheritance as something far greater than money? The Wisdom literature in the Bible indeed tells us, “How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. (Prov. 16:16) and “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth” (Prov. 17:24). What then should we include in the word inheritance, when we want to ensure we do not squander it? There are many things we ought to include, many things I exhort our listeners to include: artistic inheritance, culinary inheritance, agrarian inheritance, architectural inheritance, intellectual inheritance, literary inheritance, political inheritance, imaginative inheritance, linguistic inheritance; the list could go on. But the past three hundred years have been soaked in a kind of revolutionary mindset. This is one of the marked characteristics of our age, we are trying to turn over everything, except the notion that all things are to be turned over. We are swept away with words like progress, and future, and change, and evolution. We have been steeped in these ideas so much so that there is a broad sentiment that old things are no good anymore. This is indeed one of the most peculiar aspects of modernity: we want to overturn everything that came before us, without a due penetration into the ethical, aesthetic, or cultural quality of that thing. This is madness, indeed.
- Chesterton on the new revolutionary: “But the new rebel is a sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it… In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.” (Orthdoxy, 57-58)
- Chesterton on progress: “Now here comes in the whole collapse and huge blunder of our age. We have mixed up two different things, two opposite things. Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit the vision. Progress does mean (just now) that we are always changing the vision. It should mean that we are slow but sure in bringing justice and mercy among men: it does mean that we are very swift in doubting the desirability of justice and mercy: a wild page from any Prussian sophist makes men doubt it. Progress should mean that we are always walking towards the New Jerusalem. It does mean that the New Jerusalem is always walking away from us. We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier.” (Orthdoxy, 144)
If our inheritance contains more than financial capital—if it also includes political theory, philosophical treatises, scientific investigation, artistic expression, wisdom of the ages, Scripture, Church history, music, theology, culinary distinctions, literary works, language, poetry, architecture, and the stories of our forefathers—then contemporary American culture is set upon a fast train to indeed squander our inheritance, to have a revolution which does away with all that has come before us, interestingly enough while using some of those same principles of old to stage its cultural coup.
When we think of what a great education is, especially an education which is distinctly Christian, it is passing on our cultural and biblical inheritance, those pieces of art, literature, architecture, history, and discovery which are most precious to human flourishing. It means we are passing on nothing more than the results and inheritance of God’s grace upon our forefathers and upon our own time, and especially upon the Church. Education, then, is much more concerned with our relationship with the past than with the future. It is much more concerned with our inheritance than it is with our legacy.
- “We often read nowadays of the valor or audacity with which some rebel attacks a hoary tyranny or an antiquated superstition. There is not really any courage at all in attacking hoary or antiquated things, any more than in offering to fight one’s grandmother. The really courageous man is he who defies tyrannies young as the morning and superstitions fresh as the first flowers. The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past.” (What’s Wrong with the World, 37-38)
This is the core of classical Christian education. What classical Christian education pursues is something akin to what we read in the Wisdom literature of Scripture. It claims that we are neither born in a cultural vacuum, nor are we to live our lives as if we are in a cultural vacuum. We are indeed given a rich inheritance, and we have the responsibility to ensure our children are formed according to the best and most God-glorifying parts of that rich inheritance. Because of this, we should long for our children to know the great tradition, especially those parts which belong most centrally to the Christian church, converse with the authors of the Great Conversation, and consider those enduring questions which have been and will always be tugging at man’s heart and mind. This is what classical Christian education is all about: to build students who love wisdom, who seek her above riches, and who do not squander their inheritance. Let us then not squander ours.