X. The Curriculum

We propose the founding of a four-year Catholic college concerned exclusively with liberal education as defined and explained above. This college will explicitly define itself by the Christian Faith and the tradition of the Catholic Church. Thus theology will be both the governing principle of the whole school and that for the sake of which everything is studied. And since the school will aim at the kind of education which is best in itself, every student will pursue the same sequence of courses, which will be designed to introduce him to every essential part of the intellectual life. Further, since the teachers will aim to introduce the student to the fullness of the intellectual life, each of them will have to be living that kind of life himself; this means each will study and learn every part of the curriculum and become able to teach any part of it. The curriculum itself will be structured in detail, basing itself upon the natural order of learning and taking as examples and guides the work of the best minds in each of the disciplines; this means that, with few exceptions, no textbooks will be used but rather the original works of the greatest scholars.

The curriculum of this college introduces the student to a comprehensive study of theology, philosophy, mathematics, language and experimental science through reading and closely discussing the greatest scholarly works in these fields. The classes, which are not to exceed twenty students, will be tutorials and seminars, not lectures. Tutorials and seminars proceed by way of rigorous discussions of the readings; they require a more active participation on the part of the student than do lectures. The tutorial, in contrast with the seminar, treats its subject in greater detail and its procedure is more determinate, requiring greater direction from the teacher.

Though this curriculum is demanding it is so necessarily. One cannot become educated in any strict sense unless he acquires for himself a competency in the various disciplines, so that he understands from within them rather than somehow from without. In this way he possesses them and the order among them as his own intellectual virtues. There is no other way of attaining this intellectual perfection save through the arduous work of doing these sciences and disciplines as the scientist himself does them.

However, liberal education, though difficult, is not an impossible task, for education admits of a distinction into two different kinds: that of the specialist and that of the educated man simply said. A reference from Aristotle spells out the meaning of this distinction:

Every systematic science, the humblest and the noblest
alike, seems to admit of two different kinds of proficiency;
one of which may be properly called scientific
knowledge of the subject, while the other is a kind of
educational acquaintance with it. For an educated man
should be able to form a fair off-hand judgment as to
the goodness or badness of the method used by a professor
in his exposition. To be educated is in fact to be
able to do this; and even the man of universal education
we deem to be such in virtue of his having this
ability. It will, however, of course, be understood that
we only ascribe universal education to one who in his
own individual person is thus critical in all or nearly all
branches of knowledge, and not to one who has a like
ability merely in some special subject. For it is possible
for a man to have this competence in some one branch
of knowledge without having it in all.

(I De Partibus Animalium, c. 1)

We aim through this curriculum to produce “the man of universal education,” that is, the one who is “critical in all or nearly all branches of knowledge.” Thus we propose an education appropriate to man and one most suitable as the foundation for any specialization.


Theology Tutorial


The theology tutorial will be devoted principally to the study of the Bible and of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, chiefly St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. The order of study will be primarily doctrinal rather than historical, that is, based on the natural order of learning and on the differences among the various theological topics. Theology will be studied every semester and the order of the courses will be so designed as to lead up in the later years to a study of the central mysteries of the Christian Faith.


Philosophy Tutorial


Philosophy, under the Christian dispensation, is seen not only as worthy of pursuit for its own sake, but as a handmaid to theology. The philosophy tutorial, therefore, will be conceived in this light, and those philosophers will be principally studied whose doctrines are most helpful to theological understanding. Accordingly, philosophy will not be conceived as a particular science among sciences, but rather as the whole order of human sciences as they tend toward wisdom; for the philosopher, as originally understood, is a “lover of wisdom” and thus preeminently concerned with fundamental questions in every discipline. This also means, following the teaching of the Church, that the philosophical studies in this school will be governed by the method and doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas.


Mathematics Tutorial


The mathematical sciences will be studied in great detail throughout each of the four years. The study will include both pure mathematics (principally arithmetic, geometry, algebra, analytic geometry, and the calculus) and those natural sciences which are strictly mathematical, such as astronomy and mechanics. The reason why so much time will be devoted to such studies, given that they are not the highest, is that they provide discipline which is especially proportioned to the young and inexperienced, and prepare them for more exacting disciplines, while giving them confidence in their powers to pursue them. The object will not be to familiarize the students with the latest advances in science, but rather, by getting them to work through some of the finest examples of scientific procedure, to help them understand the fundamental conceptions as well as the essential character and method of mathematical science. Such older authors as Galileo, Newton and Huygens will be among the principal authors studied, even though their doctrines have in some cases been superseded.


Language Tutorial


The language tutorial will continue through the first two years, and will be devoted to the study of Greek or Latin. Its primary purpose will be to introduce the students to the liberal art of grammar. Because they are highly inflected, Latin and Greek are singularly appropriate for illustrating the nature of grammar; further by their very strangeness they lead the student to compare and contrast them with his own language and of how one differs from the other. Also the learning of Latin and Greek gives direct access to the greatest teachers. And finally, because many English words have Latin and Greek roots, knowledge of these roots leads the student to see much of his own language in its origins.


The Laboratory


All natural science is based upon experience; but this experience is of two kinds. There is a spontaneous inescapable experience of nature which all men have, and which gives rise to a somewhat indistinct and general knowledge of nature. But this common experience does not reveal very many of the differences among natural things, so that in order to understand nature in detail there is need of more particular experience. To experiment is to seek out deliberately and even contrive such experience, especially when this involves altering the object studied in order to reveal certain of its features more clearly. Experiment is scientific when a reasonable account is given of the procedure followed; this involves an account of what is being sought, of why the method of the experiment contributes to the search, and of the reasons for conclusions drawn from the experiment. The laboratory, therefore, will be devoted to the investigation of nature through experiment.


The Seminar


The courses described above are all concerned with the perfection of the intellect as such, and most of the later courses already presuppose considerable intellectual discipline. But there are several other approaches which, though intrinsically less valuable, are more proportioned to the soul of the learner, and irreplaceably assist and complement the intellectual life. The greatest works of literature, insofar as they appeal to the imagination and move the affections, are peculiarly accessible to the young, while at the same time they present or imply profoundly important views of human life and of reality as a whole. Further, the great works of history, dealing as they do with men and events of more universal significance, supply the student with a wealth of moral experience which is not accessible to him in his own life, and give him some conception of the life of human society as a whole. Since it is necessary that even a beginner have an awareness of the greatest issues in their totality, and since he does not yet have the experience and discipline needed to pursue them in a strictly intellectual way, the students will be gathered together once or twice a week in small seminar discussions, each directed by a teacher, in order to consider and discuss some of the greatest literary and historical works.

Also, there are many philosophical and theological works which are not essential to the curriculum as such, but which are of great historical importance or serve to supplement the works which are the basis of the tutorials. The seminar will also be concerned with the study of such works and will consider them at such times and in such an order as will serve to correlate them suitably with the work in the tutorials.

The procedure in the seminar, in keeping with the intellectually less rigorous character of most of the works read, will usually be less determinate than that in the tutorials, giving wider scope to the initiative of the students in the discussions. But when more difficult works are studied, the procedure will be like that of the tutorials.

The following scheme is designed to give a more concrete understanding of the curriculum of the College. No attempt is made either to present a complete reading list or to show in particular how each reading is treated. The works are obviously not of equal value.

[Note: More information on the curriculum is to be found in the Bulletin of Thomas Aquinas College


First Year

Subject Hours Texts
Theology 3 Sacred Scripture
Philosophy 3 Platonic Dialogues; sections of Aristotle’s Organon
Language 3 Latin textbook
Mathematics 4 Euclid’s Elements; Ptolemy’s Almagest; Plato’s Timaeus
Seminar 2 Works of the following authors are read: Homer, Plato, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Herodotus, Aristotle,Aristophanes, Plutarch, Euripides, Thucydides, Virgil
Laboratory 4 Natural history: Henri Fabre’s Studies of Insects, etc. Experiments in fundamental types of measurement.


Second Year

Subject Hours Texts
Theology 3 St. Augustine’s City of God and other treatises; St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation; St. Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo; texts of other Fathers and Doctors
Philosophy 3 The Pre-Socratics; the Physics and De Anima of Aristotle; selections from St. Thomas’ Commentaries, and from modern authors concerning the philosophy of nature
Language 3 Grammatica Speculativa; selections from St. Thomas on grammar; Latin prose composition textbook
Mathematics 4 Ptolemy’s Almagest; Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres; Apollonius’ Conics
Seminar 2 Works of the following authors are read: Cicero, Plutarch, Lucretius, Tacitus, St. Augustine, Boethius, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Galen, Harvey, St. Thomas
Laboratory 4 Experiments in Chemistry


Third Year

Subject Hours Texts
Theology 3 Texts of Augustine on grace and free will; parallel texts of St. Thomas
Philosophy 3 Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics
Mathematics 4 Galileo’s Two New Sciences; Descartes’ Geometry; Newton’s Principia
Seminar 4 Works of the following authors are read: Cervantes, Shakespeare, Milton, Montaigne, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Pascal, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Smith, Swift, etc.
Laboratory 4 Experiments in Mechanics and Optics; Huygen’s Treatise on Light


Fourth Year

Subject Hours Texts
Theology 3 Texts of St. Thomas Aquinas, especially concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation; parallel readings in other Doctors, especially St. Augustine’s De Trinitate
Philosophy 3 Aristotle’s Metaphysics, with relevant readings in other philosophers
Mathematics 4 Non-Euclidian geometry; Einstein’s Theory of Relativity
Seminar 4 Works of the following authors are read: Tolstoi, Dostoevski, Kant, Hegel, Nietzche, Marx, Darwin, Kierkegaard, James, Freud, Jung, Heidegger; Federalist Papers, Tocqueville, and other writers on the American Republic, etc.
Laboratory 4 Atomic theory and Relativity Theory

A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education

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“Thomas Aquinas College is doing on the undergraduate level exactly what should be done. The College's alumni and alumnae prove that with this kind of education you can go on and do anything.”

– Dr. Ralph McInerny (†)

Scholar and Writer