Gregory of Nazianzus on the Liberal Arts

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Here’s what Gregory had to say about secular education in his eulogy of Basil the Great.

I take it as admitted by men of sense, that the first of our advantages is education; and not only this our more noble form of it, which disregards rhetorical ornaments and glory, and holds to salvation, and beauty iin the objects of our contemplation: but even that external culture which many Christians ill-judgingly abhor, as treacherous and dangerous, and keeping us afar from God. For as we ought not to neglect the heavens, and earth, and air, and all such things, becaus esome have wrongly seized upon them, and honour God’s works instead of God: but to reap what advantage we can from them for our life and enjoyement, while we avoid their dangers; not raising creation, as foolish men do, in revolt against the Creator, but from the works of nature apprehending the Worker, and, as the divine apostle says, bringing into captivity every thought to Christ: 2 Corinthians 10:5 and again, as we know that neither fire, nor food, nor iron, nor any other of the elements, is of itself most useful, or most harmful, except accordingo the will of those who use it; and as we have compounded healthful drugs from certain of the reptiles; so from secular literature we have received principles of inquiry and speculation, while we have rejected their idolatry, terror, and pit of destruction. Nay, even these have aided us in our religion, by our perception of the contrast between what is worse and what is better, and by gaining strength for our doctrine from the weakness of theirs. We must not then dishonour education, because some men are pleased to do so, but rather suppose such men to be boorish and uneducated, desiring all men to be as they themselves are, in order to hide themselves in general, and escape the detection of their want of culture.

Even then, as now, some Christians disdained secular learning for fear of what it could do to one who held God in esteem. At least for the Cappadocians, it led to some of the greatest theological developments in Christian history.

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