Men do not create truth; they discover it. Nature loves to hide. She shows herself only to the docile and industrious, and then only when they are responsive to her manner of revelation. The object and the method of education are not arbitrary. For this reason, the curriculum of Thomas Aquinas College is basically the same for all.
The curriculum comprehends the materials that constitute the major subjects of liberal education in a way that illumines their meaning and shows their relevance to one another. It stresses the principles that are fundamental to all learning: “The beginning is the most important part of the work.”
Experience leads to art and art to science. This natural order of learning roots all knowledge in the comprehensible reality that all men share. It proceeds through the liberal arts—grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music—which arise as human constructs by which men seek to give order and expression to the reality they experience. Here too the best works of literary art (poetry, drama, epic, history, and so forth) prepare and dispose the learner for the more difficult and ultimate things. Similarly, the experimental and mathematical sciences are very useful in leading the student toward an understanding of nature through the theoretical models they postulate. By way of the arts, the student is led to the sciences of philosophy and theology, where he comes to understand reality in terms of its own principles and causes.
Fittingly, the materials used are the great books, the original works of the greatest minds in our tradition, both ancient and modern. Certain among them are emphasized in the formation of the students—for example, the writings of Plato and Aristotle in philosophy and those of St. Augustine and St. Thomas in theology. Since Thomas Aquinas College is explicitly a Catholic college, Sacred Scripture and the magisterium of the Church are understood to be the most important sources of enlightenment.
It is appropriate that each of the tutors of the College (as the teachers are known) be able to guide the students in all of the different parts of the curriculum because these parts converge on theological wisdom. The unity and intrinsic order of the divisions of learning must be evident above all. Only when the tutor himself is competent in all the liberal arts, in modern experimental science, in philosophy and theology, will he be able to show this integration. This is demanding but crucial.
Liberal education is equally demanding for the student. The student does his own understanding and reasoning. He is the primary agent in his education; he is led from the known to the unknown only by means of words and other signs. Rather than passively receiving knowledge, the student must strive to apprehend the concepts signified by the teacher’s words and to perceive the relationships that are pointed out to him. If he fails to see for himself, he fails to learn.
Learning is best achieved with small groups of students, where the tutor has the opportunity to determine what each understands at any given time and every student has ample occasion to express himself and to make his difficulties known. Teaching demands a meeting of the minds. The setting is personal. The pedagogical method is tutorial. Each student is expected to be well prepared in order to take the initiative in the discussions at any time. He is constantly questioned by his tutors and fellow students, and in this way, through the vigorous exercise and application of his new learning, he will make these disciplines his own. His interest is not superficial erudition. Rather, for education to occur, the disciplines must become his own habits of thought. They must become the man. These habits of thought do not make the liberally educated man an expert in any given field, but they ground him in what is basic and provide him with the principles to judge specialized knowledge giving him the best preparation for specialization. The specialist cannot properly say what he knows if his knowledge lacks breadth
“What we learned about God in the curriculum — St. Augustine, the way he spoke about God, and St. Thomas’ treatise in the beginning of the Summa Theologica — really set me toward my vocation.”
– Rev. Fr. Mark Bachmann, O.S.B. (’82)
Co-founder and Subprior, Annunciation Monastery of Clear Creek