Education for Tradition

Education for Tradition takes place through history, classics, story-telling, building communities, feasts, and leisure.  Education for Tradition is drawn from Belloc's character Grizzlebeard.

The Character
Oldest of the four travelers, Grizzlebeard is a man of wisdom and maturity. The scope of his knowledge is the widest. Believing “that only is sacred which attaches directly to the Faith,”[1] he is knowledgeable about Theology and History. When the Sailor sings the Pelagian drinking song, Grizzlebeard notices nuances which the Sailor overlooks.[2] Moreover, only Grizzlebeard argues with the philosopher at the Cricketers’ Arms; he alone has the interest and the patience for intellectual dialogue. But Grizzlebeard is not merely smart, and he grasps more than mere information.

First, he knows himself: he is enviably comfortable with his own identity, especially evident in his speeches on Sussex.[3] Second, he understands the interconnectedness of human beings. When he joins Myself, he states “A man is more himself if he is one of a number,”[4] and he calls the worst thing in the world “the passing of human affection.”[5] This explains his great kindness in defending the Poet from the mockery of the Sailor and putting the fox-hunter at his ease; Myself says Grizzlebeard has “the kindest of hearts.”[6] Grizzlebeard not only knows his own identity, but he can help people situate theirs. Not even the Poet understands what he contributes: Grizzlebeard first recognizes their need for the Poet.[7] His comprehensive vision teaches the significance of himself, others, and the entire human community. In addition, Grizzlebeard understands life. Experience has taught him: when he returns to find his first love married, he suffers a blow, realizing the transience of mortal life. “Strong, and at last (at such a price) mature,”[8] he is able to speak with the woman and to find friendship both with her and her husband, whom he counts as an “older friend.” [9] But Grizzlebeard has another mentor besides experience.

Belloc captures in Grizzlebeard what a man can be who, in addition to experience, has the mentorship of Tradition. A son of Sussex, Grizzlebeard is rooted in Tradition—this is his most distinctive characteristic. Everything he knows he has learned from others. Everything Grizzlebeard is, the content of his coherent and comprehensive vision is inherited. Comments Myself to Grizzlebeard “you are the oldest of us, and have in your house so many papers and records, not to speak of in your own mind so many ancient Traditions.”[10] In drawing Grizzlebeard, Belloc indicates that Tradition gives knowledge and understanding, even a complete vision which makes sense of one’s identity and the meaning of human existence and helps one to act out this vision in creative and intelligible ways.

What Is Tradition?
Worldview: A Telos
Tradition answers Who Are We? What is it all for? Who am I? What am I for? and the answers to these questions dictate how a family, a community, and then over time, the community comprising successive generations—a culture—shapes its life. Tradition gives a vision of life, tested and refined in conversations and deeds, developed over generations, articulated in cultural customs. Tradition sets constructive limits on human behavior: it articulates a frame of reference by which we can act consistently according to an overarching telos within our various communities.[11] Tradition integrates our life. We can become the same person in every situation, persons with one identity. [12] A Tradition is a worldview incarnated in social life.

Education in Tradition
Grizzlebeard’s identification with a Tradition was once viewed as a key goal of the formation of youth. Marrou explains that Roman education meant “being initiated into a Traditional way of life.”[13] Pieper notes that every culture consciously or unconsciously passes on a Tradition, understanding that “education concerns the whole man; an educated man is a man with a point of view from which he takes in the whole world. Education concerns the whole man, man capax universi, capable of grasping the totality of existing things.”[14] Youth especially desire a cause and identity; why not give them a point of view, help them take in the whole world? Now that so many grow up without a living Tradition, we have to find a remedy. Since the best mentor is a living Tradition, we will require a special plan—the formation of the youth will demand a special widespread effort to resurrect the Tradition, not just teach it like a dead language.

One Religion course alone will not communicate Catholic Tradition. Every aspect of formation should lend itself to this wider vision: both history and religion, but also recreation, entertainment, and all the subjects and activities a youth will experience should embrace and communicate the vision. Such formation will be very different. Nevertheless, this formation will reunite children with the Christian past, give them meaning and clarity of vision, and the strength and purpose to be like Grizzlebeard, that wise and amiable Christian with the hospitable home and four acres of garden.The principles outlined in this site offer a new education which must extend beyond the classroom and permeate every aspect of daily life. All this offers an education “not studied in the past, because men took it for granted like the air they breathed. But now that our civilization is becoming predominantly and increasingly secular it is necessary to make an express study of it, if we are to understand our past and the nature of the culture that we have inherited.”[15] Artists, theologians, and scientists are aware of our debt to the past; they know, like Eliot explains in his article “Tradition and the Individual Talent” that the future is constructed from the creative consideration and synthesis of elements of the past. We, too, with our children must become, as Rainer Maria Rilke puts it, “seekers of the inner future in [the] past.”[16]
[1] Hilaire Belloc, The Four Men: A Farrago (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd., n. d.), 214.
[2] Belloc, Four Men, 97.
[3] Belloc, Four Men, 18-19 and 200.
[4] Belloc, Four Men, 7.
[5] Belloc, Four Men, 49.
[6] Belloc, Four Men, 193.
[7] Belloc, Four Men, 24-25.
[8] Belloc, Four Men, 220.
[9] Belloc, Four Men, 220.
[10] Belloc, Four Men, 169.
[11] Alasdair MacIntyre, “Social Structures and Their Threat to Moral Agency,” delivered as an Annual lecture of the Royal Institute of Philosophy (24 February 1999), reprinted in Philosophy, 74, (1999), 315-317.
[12] Of course, despite Wilhelmsen’s contention that we have an “ontological need for complete integration of man’s spiritual and temporal destinies” (Wilhelmsen, Belloc, 94), many are content to live incoherently. We value total adaptability in every situation, close our minds to questions beyond what is necessary to succeed here and now in this role, and simply ignore the incoherency (MacIntyre, “Social Structures,” 325-326). Fortunately, these habits cannot totally destroy the deep-seated human need for coherence. Widespread cultural frustration is one indication.
[13] Henri Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity, trans. George Lamb (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1956), 231.
[14] Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru with an introduction by T. S. Eliot (New York: Mentor Books, The New American Library, 1963), 36.
[15] Christopher Dawson, The Crisis in Western Education (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961), 143.
[16] Rainer Maria Rilke, “Letter to Lou Andreas-Salomé,” 15 August 1903 in Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke 1892-1910 , vol. 1, trans. Jane Bannard Greene and M. D. Herter Norton (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1945), 127.


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