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    Educational Philosophy, Mother's Education

    A Tale of Two Pictures

    June 29, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

    Before we even turn to the Table of Contents in The Liberal Arts Tradition, we are confronted with an image — with a piece of art that is designed to embody the philosophy that is presented in the book. I cannot tell you how much I love this, for even the act of representing the philosophy using symbols is a return to a valuable tradition, I think.

    The Liberal Arts Tradition has its tree drawing, and the Charlotte Mason philosophy has its ancient fresco -- a look at both of them.

    Charlotte Mason also had a picture — one she saw in person while traveling in Florence. While it wasn’t designed to illustrate her philosophy (it preceded her by centuries), she was deeply attached to it, mentioning it in a number of her volumes, and her biography tells us that a copy of it was brought out for viewing each Sunday at her teacher’s college. I wrote about the fresco here, and I also gave a talk on it last year. I keep meaning to fuse my talk with the accompanying slides and put it here on the blog, but unfortunately I found out I need to re-record the slides video and so it’ll be a while until that is done. I gave the talk again in September, recorded it, fused it with the slideshow, and you can read more about it here.

    Anyhow, I thought it would be fun to try and compare the two. Just note that we won’t go into much depth because we’ll be discussing the chapters in future posts.

    The Tree

    LAT Philosophical Tree 300

    I found myself asking whether the tree was the philosophy, or the student. I haven’t read the whole book yet — only a few chapters, actually — but I’m pretty sure it’s the philosophy. Throughout the book, Clark and Jain use a highly unattractive and difficult-to-remember acronym — PGMAPT for piety, gymnastic, music, liberal arts, philosophy, and theology — which is what makes the tree so handy. Not only is it attractive, it’s memorable.

    We are told that the philosophy of The Liberal Arts Tradition is “grounded in piety, governed by theology.” I think the picture does a good job of depicting that, don’t you?

    In addition to piety at the base and theology above and around, we have a trunk with six components: gymnastic, music, Trivium and Quadrivium (which are the seven liberal arts), and natural and moral philosophy (crowned by metaphysics, which is the highest level of philosophy).

    In the branches, we see the fruit: the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, and then that famous trinity of the ideal curriculum, goodness, truth, and beauty. It is interesting to me that the artist chose to display all of these as fruit because I think in reality these are two very different kinds of things, though perhaps I am wrong.

    I’m not exactly sure where wisdom, grace, and virtue fit into the picture with my preliminary reading, but perhaps some of you who have already read the book can speak to this. Perhaps they are the goal of the philosophy? They hang as if they were ornaments of theology.

    The Fresco

    Triumph Fresco 640
    The Triumph of Thomas Aquinas

    Obviously, there is a lot more complexity in this one. For the details and application, I refer you to my talk, where I explore each and every person in the picture! This is truly an amazing fresco — a feast!

    For now, we’ll just touch on the basics.

    Descent of the Holy Spirit
    The Descent of the Holy Spirit

    Here, too, is a picture of classical Christian education, and it’s where Charlotte Mason got a lot of her ideas about education. There is a panel above this fresco that is called The Descent of the Holy Spirit. Pictured at right, let’s note that there is a downward movement of divine inspiration that connects it to the fresco we’re discussing.

    Ultimately, this movement is an acknowledgement that everything in the lower fresco is possible because of the Gospel. Jesus has sent us His Helper (pictured as the dove at the pinnacle), and as it descends upon Mary and the Apostles, and then beneath them to those who heard the Gospel in their own tongue at Pentecost, and even the dogs at their feet scamper with joy, we are reminded of where Christian education comes from: the work that Christ did upon the cross, and His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father.

    To return to our fresco, then, we see a number of the same components as the picture of the tree. The angels flying at the top are the virtues: the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love (with love, the supreme virtue, at the top), as well as the cardinal virtues of temperance, prudence, justice, and fortitude (two on either side of the throne). Notice, again, this downward motion — these things come to us just as the Muses visited Milton — they are a gift, and not a work of man.

    As we move down, Thomas Aquinas is front and center, upon the throne, with the Book of Wisdom open on his lap, flanked on either side by a total of ten biblical figures. Beneath Aquinas’ feet are three famous heretics: Nestor, Arius, and Averroes. The defeat of heresy is an interesting component of this painting, I think.

    At the bottom, we have two rows. In the back row are the subjects, symbolized by women — the seven sacred sciences on the left and the seven liberal arts on the right — and seated in front of each subject is its captain figure. So, for example, Euclid sits in front of Geometry, and Tubal Cain in front of Music.

    What I love about this painting is that I think the Book of Wisdom, open upon Aquinas’ lap, with the words, “And so I prayed, and understanding was given me; I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. I esteemed her more than scepters and thrones; compared with her, I held riches as nothing,” (Wisdom 7:7-8) is the central thought of the whole scheme. So we have the Holy Spirit coming down and sending the gift of the virtues to us, making all of this possible, while the subjects are our upward reach — our best attempts to grasp and hold these divine gifts (or perhaps I should say to appropriately receive them) — and then the goal is Wisdom.

    And I don’t just mean having Wisdom as a possession — I mean actually being wise. The wise heart values Wisdom over everything else. What man can be called wise unless he understands that this is the real value of Wisdom, that it is worth the sacrifice of all else?

    Two Pictures

    Obviously, the fresco surpasses the tree, but the tree has the sort of simplicity we need, whereas the fresco can overwhelm and confuse unless time is given to studying and contemplating it. While faith, hope, and love are beautifully depicted as angelic beings in the fresco, I think that the idea of them being fruit on the tree of education is a worthy analogy as well.

    One thing I’ve been pondering in my mind is whether piety is the same as the cardinal virtues — or at least whether it would include them. It’s an interesting question, at the least.

    What sticks out to you about these two pictures?

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  • Reply Rachel Cueva February 27, 2022 at 7:32 pm

    I wonder if wisdom, grace, and virtue are intentionally set apart from the tree and hanging from Theology because they have a distinctly different source and are not dependent upon the tree.

    Wisdom, grace, and virtue do not come from liberal arts or philosophy, rather they are a gift from God to all who seek Him. I believe Augustine said “wisdom is a charity of God.”

    I like that they are drawn as banners. I imagine them as adornments or flags of the faithful!

  • Reply Treasure for the taking | Karen Glass June 21, 2018 at 1:59 am

    […] A few years ago, Brandy at Afterthoughts blogged through this book, too. As I go through, I’ll link to some of her posts, especially if she has said some of the same things I would say. No sense repeating! I’m amused that she got caught up at first in the preliminary material as well. […]

  • Reply adrienne September 7, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Oh please can I hear your teaching on the Fresco? I would love to know more about each figure in the painting.

  • Reply adrienne September 7, 2015 at 8:43 am

    I read this blog post several months ago. I am finally reading the Jain and Clark book. It so reminds me of CM. Pages 2-5 of the book cracked me up. They seem to think this whole revelation that they have is new and these gems are almost never before discovered, yet CM discovered them 80 years ago. What they are saying is really not new. CM was the one who uncovered the ancient Classical philosophy and tied it to the Holy Spirit and added all of what they are adding into their book. I do believe, as you ascertain, that her philosophy being rooted in the Fresco might even be a step deeper. I am looking forward to reading this book and making the CM connections. Also, on pge. 6-7 of their book the first thing I said was “OH! THEY are simply talking about Charlotte Mason’s Science of Relations!”

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 7, 2015 at 2:13 pm

      I’m glad you’re reading the book, Adrienne! I just love it. 🙂

      What you are saying reminded me that CM said the same thing about herself:

      There is nothing new in all this; what we venture to claim is that our work is unified and vitalised by a comprehensive theory of education and a sound basis of psychology. {Vol. 3, p. 67}

      She was definitely putting her understanding into her more modern context, and she seemed to think her conception that “education is the science of relations” was new, but her reading of ancient authors is so evident in her philosophy, isn’t it?

      I was actually super excited to learn that Clark and Jain had not read CM when they wrote the book because I think it shows that reading ancient authors naturally leads to these conclusions — which is really thrilling!

      I was trying to find the quote where Miss Mason talks about how each generation needs its people who rise up and renew classical education all over again — that’s not precisely what she says, but it’s basically what she means. I think Karen Glass is definitely one of those people, and now I think Clark and Jain and Adam Rutledge are as well! 🙂

  • Reply Debbi July 14, 2015 at 5:56 am

    Wow! I’m so glad I saved this reading for a time when I could soak it up and read all of your comments. I have nothing to add to the discussion but I did find this amazing and pricey print on …. Where else?…. Amazon. That price will land it on my Christmas wish list but every girl can dream.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 14, 2015 at 7:04 am

      Wow! That is a nice one, Debbi!

    • Reply Barbara September 7, 2015 at 4:57 am

      Thanks for sharing that. I bought a copy. Wanted one forever!

  • Reply Kim D. July 10, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    The more gbt that is part of our everyday-ness, the less we seek out the bad, ugly and false. I’ve witnessed a change in our “domestic church”; we all seem to be more civil to one another. When I get impatient now, I actually notice and repent. What a blessing that tree drawing has been to our family!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 10, 2015 at 1:46 pm

      Oh, I love the antithesis you draw here, Kim! ♥

  • Reply Summer Refreshing | Rooted in Deep July 4, 2015 at 11:58 pm

    […] my week got off to a great start with that gift and then I read Brandy’s post on The Liberal Arts Tradition by Ravi Jain and Kevin Clark. Brandy is doing a series of posts […]

  • Reply Dawn July 1, 2015 at 3:55 pm

    Psst – I’m impressionable. I also read Sesame & Lilies because you mentioned that you thought I’d like it, which caused it to be moved from TO BE READ to CURRENTLY READING on my Kindle. (Hmmm….I’m sensing a pattern here…) I loved it, of course.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2015 at 3:56 pm

      Oh! Sesame and Lilies! That one was one of my favorites, too. It’s a more unique one, I think, in terms of style, and you sort of feel his age {in a good way}, I think.

  • Reply Dawn June 30, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    Now I know what happened to your 2014 conference talk that I have been eagerly awaiting for months!:) I got spoiled having your first two made available via mp3 and, in fact, just referred someone to your Memorization and the Soul talk to someone earlier today.

    But…as to the amazing fresco and the Great Recognition. Oh, how I love this fresco. I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the CMI conference last summer and hear Dr Deanie Van Pelt’s thoughts on the fresco in a workshop and it was amazing. I was also inspired to read the section in Ruskin’s Mornings in Florence that relate to the fresco a couple years ago and it was well worth the read. I love that you chose to compare the tree image to this fresco and am very much looking forward to continuing to read through this book with you and those of you commenting.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2015 at 3:49 pm

      I used part of Mornings in Florence in my talk, Dawn, and I totally know what you mean — what Ruskin says about the fresco is life-changing!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2015 at 3:50 pm

      ps. Can I just say how happy it makes me that you’ve *read* Mornings in Florence? 🙂

  • Reply Lisa A June 29, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    I’m glad you’re writing about this book, Brandy. I really love it and I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts as you make your way through it.

    The thing that really stuck out to me when I saw the picture of the of the tree with piety at the roots was that all the wonderful things that grow upward to become the tree are built on a foundation that is a relationship. Because that’s what piety is all about, isn’t it? It’s an outpouring of love based in a relationship between oneself and Another. So if the foundation , the relationship, is not in tact first, nothing else grows and the parts of the tree cannot be supported.

    The same thing goes for the frescoe that CM loved so much. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is always a result of relationship, and that Grace can just as easily withdraw if we are not careful to maintain it and allow it to grow.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2015 at 3:48 pm

      Ooh! I love this, Lisa! I hadn’t really considered the relationship aspect of humility, but I think you are right no there. The relationship is much more obvious in the fresco, but I think you are right that there is a definitely parallel.

  • Reply Amber Vanderpol June 29, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    As an aside, I would love to get a poster of that fresco.

    The parity between the theological virtues and truth, goodness and beauty strikes me as not quite right somehow. I think I tend to think of truth, goodness and beauty as leading us to the theological virtues, not as being fruits of the same things. It seems to me that truth, goodness and beauty inform and shape how we study and what we study so that we can grow in wisdom and virtue. Wouldn’t it be possible to study the 7 Liberal Arts in such a way that could lead us astray from wisdom and virtue, and it is the focus on truth, goodness and beauty that makes those arts achieve that desired end? Come to think of it, how are truth, goodness and beauty fruit anyway? Doesn’t that make them an end in themselves? And are they really where we want to end?

    I do like how well the tree depicts the “grounded in piety, governed by theology” and I like the simplicity of it. The fresco can be overwhelming, although in the end I think it is richer and has a greater scope for contemplation.

    I’d love to hear your talk about the fresco, Brandy – no pressure! 🙂 How frustrating to find out that you have to re-record like that.

    I can tell already that I’m going to enjoy this series, thank you!

    • Reply Amber Vanderpol June 30, 2015 at 9:21 am

      I’ve been thinking about the tree picture more and what I was saying about truth, goodness and beauty. I think I’d place truth, goodness and beauty as the water that feeds the soil and allows the tree to grow the proper fruit, rather than fruits themselves. It is only if we are nourished by truth, goodness and beauty can we grow abundantly and produce the fruits of virtue.

      Isn’t it possible that if we aren’t focused on TGB, then can’t we be focusing our piety on the wrong things, filling our trivium and quadrivium with manifestations of these areas of study in unhealthy ways that we won’t grow the fruit we want? For example, if we filling our studies of music with the latest popular music hits instead of timeless music full of beauty and rightly ordered rhythms (thinking of Pudewa’s The Profound Effects of Music on Life talk here – a great one, if you aren’t familiar with it) will we really be able to grow in wisdom and virtue?

      • Reply Julia June 30, 2015 at 2:12 pm

        Amber, I enjoyed reading your thoughts. The inner geek in me is doing the happy dance at all of this contemplating. 🙂 I do think that truth, beauty and goodness are fruit. I didn’t know what was beautiful and true until I had experience with the six components that make up the trunk of the tree. In spending time learning those components, then my being knew what was beautiful and true but not until then.

        • Reply Amber Vanderpol July 1, 2015 at 3:35 pm

          Ooh, you raise an excellent point there, Julia! I agree, I don’t think I had a good understanding of the good, true and beautiful until I started having experience with the seven liberal arts. In fact, coming out of an entirely secular public education, I would say I had no cultivated understanding of them at all – just a primal recognition that I couldn’t explain and could only vaguely sense. And when I tried to study the TGB in my own way (not really understanding what they were) I met with a lot of frustration. But as I soaked myself in the canon of what other people had identified as true, good and beautiful I began to grow in my understanding as well.

          I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, but I really appreciate you raising this point, Julia!

          • Mystie July 3, 2015 at 11:10 pm

            Hm, I had thought of TGB being avenues to arrive at the fruit, not fruit themselves – not what we are hoping to produce but what we are contemplating and looking for. Faith, Hope, & Love we want to produce in ourselves, but is this picture saying we are also hoping to produce within ourselves TGB? We would want to embody all three as well as contemplate them. Fascinating how a picture can draw out these distinctions and connections!

      • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2015 at 3:45 pm

        Okay, THAT was fascinating — that idea that GT&B can be fruit … yes … that totally makes sense to me. I love the beautiful thoughts all of you are sharing here. You are creating a feast! 🙂

      • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2015 at 3:47 pm

        Amber, two things:

        1. I think I saw a poster company selling the fresco once, years ago. You might google and see what you find.

        2. I also like the idea of GT&B being water. I do like the idea that it is a curricular standard as well as being a fruit…

  • Reply Kortney June 29, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Glad you mentioned the clunky acronym! Complete stumbling block for me, srt of the opposite of what an acronym is supposed to be. Even choosing the word piety seems to undermine their work. It’s a word that’s loaded with (mostly?) negative associations, again almost the opposite of what they mean by it.

    But the fresco? Oh wow! I love that the Teachers College looked at it each week. And I love the cathedral-like space where the learning is taking place. A truly rich metaphor. And the implications of the outpouring of the Spirit that you write about in the 31 Days of CM post are a revelation.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2015 at 3:43 pm

      Yes, I keep debating inside how the acronym is supposed to be pronouced. I think Pig-Mapped is awful, but it works. 😉

    • Reply Mystie July 3, 2015 at 11:05 pm

      I think any negative connotations our culture has with piety need to be combatted rather than acquiesced to, just like the word “religion” (my pastor always likes to talk about how the root means “re-attached”). I was glad the authors weren’t scared off of the word, but also not surprised. Piety is the key word and theme of The Aeneid – very classical concept as well as Christian (-and it does include humility because it includes serving, submitting, in your place, doing the good YOU have been called to rather than being concerned about what everyone else should be doing).

  • Reply Kelly June 29, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Beautiful post! I’d love to hear your talk on the fresco. By the way, what are the seven sacred sciences? (I suppose I could google for it, but it’s funner to ask and hear your answer. 😉 )

    Classically speaking, piety isn’t just a religious thing, devotion to God, it’s also fulfilling your duty to your parents and your descendents (and by extension, your country).

    The only way to do that properly is to be humble. Our word humility comes from the Latin humilis, which comes from the word humus, which means soil.

    I think humility is the rich, fertile soil, and piety is the root system of the tree, feeding on that soil.

    • Reply Kelly June 29, 2015 at 4:11 pm

      Although, thinking about the phrase “grounded in piety,” maybe humility and piety are two sides of the same coin? Dunno — need to think about it more.

    • Reply Amber Vanderpol June 30, 2015 at 9:07 am

      I really like how you said, “I think humility is the rich, fertile soil, and piety is the root system of the tree, feeding on that soil.” Kelly, that makes a lot of sense. That’s a great way to think about the relationship between piety and humility.

    • Reply Julia June 30, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      Kelly, I love this–that humility is the rich, fertile soil where the root system of piety grows!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 1, 2015 at 3:43 pm

      I really like that, too, Kelly! And I had never thought about that connection between humility and humus! What an amazing connection. 🙂

  • Reply Patty June 29, 2015 at 8:04 am

    Oh, Brandy! That talk! That Fresco! I wanted to start our day meditating on it and taking in the significance every day – at least every Monday, right? It is so grounding and elevating simultaneously. Seeing this reminded me of that goal. I think I’ll incorporate it this year.

    I’m so glad you are sharing it here and I hope there is a way someday for you to get that talk out into more hands. I’d sure love a copy when that happens. Such blessings. Like most of CM, I am both challenged and oriented by her words and what she shares. This fresco is no different. The tree is helpful, glad you offer it here … since I prefer to feast on rich fare, I lean towards the fresco, thank you 😉

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 29, 2015 at 11:01 am

      I really will try! That is one of my summer goals. It was supposed to be a spring goal, but then I discovered I needed to re-record all the slides, and that just takes a huge amount of time that hasn’t been a priority on the list. 🙁 But it’s in the back of my mind, and when I’m done it’ll be uploaded to YouTube and I’ll send you a link. My other talks are MP3s, but I just decided that this one didn’t really make sense without the slides.

      Anyhow, I lean toward the fresco, too, probably because I’ve spent so many hours thinking about it, but I do like the tree. 🙂

  • Reply Julia June 29, 2015 at 7:19 am

    This is my third time to comment. I am hoping this time is a keeper. 🙂 The tree in TLAT is a recent connection that keeps popping up. We were studying virtue trees last year where humility is the root of all fruit then I read Consider This in which Karen Glass reiterates over and over that humility is one of the keys to Classical Education and then we have this tree where the root is piety but humility is an element of piety. These connections are showing me that humility is not at the root of my teaching. This may be why are having some difficulties with learning.

    I love how the six components entangle themselves together to form the trunk of the tree. I need to give that more thought.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 29, 2015 at 10:55 am

      Oh, I love your thoughts here, Julia! I think you are right that humility is an element of piety — or perhaps humility could even be said to be prerequisite for piety!

      I hadn’t really thought about that entanglement, but I think you are right that there is something worth pondering there.

  • Reply dawn June 29, 2015 at 5:16 am

    “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season.” This is what I think of every time I see this picture from TLAT.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 29, 2015 at 10:52 am

      I love that, dawn! ♥

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