A Defense of French as a Classical Language | By Luke Dickson

The importance of Latin as part of a classical education has been well-established. Latin is the language that built the West. It was the language of the Church. It was the language of philosophy, rhetoric, and science. It was how cultures communicated with each other for hundreds of years. What many don’t know is that French filled many of those same roles. In the last 300 years, the role of the French language has largely paralleled the role of Latin of the last 2,000 years. Here are four reasons why the study of French should be considered as part of a well-rounded classical education.

1. Our linguistic heritage was shaped by French.

Battle of Hastings. Norman Knights and archers, by Bayeux

Battle of Hastings. Norman Knights and archers, by Bayeux

Much of our Latin vocabulary actually comes to us through French. When the Norman French invaded England in the 11th Century, they brought with them a 300-year reign of the French language in England. As a matter of fact, Henry IV, who reigned at the turn of the fifteenth century, was the first English king to speak English rather than French as his mother tongue. His successor, Henry V, was the first English king to make official documents in English. Because of the prevalence of the French in England, the English language took much of its vocabulary from French. Anywhere from one quarter to one half of English vocabulary came to us through French. But since many of these borrowed words are dubbed “latinate,” people tend to assume that they were borrowed directly from Latin. Though ultimately a word’s root may be in Latin, it was the influence of the French language in England that gave our language the Latin that it has today. What’s more, because of this, studying French makes it that much easier for a student to effectively learn Latin, and vice-versa. Our linguistic heritage was shaped by French.

2. Our political heritage was shaped by French.

Treaty of Paris

Treaty of Paris

French was the diplomatic language of Europe from 1600s to the 1900s. Almost every treaty in Europe was written in Latin until 1678. But when the Austrians, who were in control of the defeated Holy Roman Empire, claimed that they would write treaties exclusively in Latin, they unwittingly tied Latin too closely to their own national identity. To us this seems strange, but to Europeans at that time Austria’s open defense of Latin was a claim to control Latin. But if the Austrians were the keepers of Latin, what would people who were not Austrians use as an official language? French filled this void. French was an established and regulated language, which meant that its meaning would stay constant and that the meanings of words in treaties and laws would not quickly change. By the 1600’s treaties were being written in French. In 1678, the Treaty of Nijmegen (which ended the Dutch War) was written in both Latin and French. Then in 1717, the Treaty of Rastatt, one of the three that ended the War of the Spanish Succession, was written entirely in French—even though the French lost. Starting with the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Europeans began negotiating and writing treaties almost exclusively in French. After that, most European countries wrote all diplomatic notes in French rather than their own language. Even though the French people did not control these nations, their language was still used to govern them. Our political heritage was shaped by French.

3. Our intellectual heritage was shaped by French.

René Descartes

René Descartes, by Frans Hals

In the 1700s French became the language of philosophy and science. Wealthy French women began hosting groups of up-and-coming thinkers, writers, and activists in their homes. These gatherings came to be known as salons, and hundreds sprung up, first in France and then throughout Europe. They were centers of thought and learning, and became a primary means of communicating new ideas. Interestingly, when salons appeared in cities like Berlin, Amsterdam, and London, the participants always spoke French. This is because French had become the language of the intellectuals. A hundred years prior, René Descartes published his incredibly influential philosophical work, Discourse on the Method, in French. As a matter of fact, his famous cogito ergo sum idea was originally expressed in French. In doing this, he showed that French was strong and regulated enough to fill the role that Latin previously had. France was experiencing tremendous intellectual growth, from chemistry to medicine to physics to philosophy to theology. As more and more discoveries were being made by French-speaking people, French became increasingly important as a means of communication between European intellectuals. It was no longer necessary to send letters and write books in Latin in order to communicate new thoughts and discoveries; they used French for that. Classical curricula (rightly) teach students Latin in part due to the fact that Rome shaped Western culture. For the same reasons, a classical student should learn French. We cannot understand the last 300 years of Western science, philosophy, and politics without studying the works of French-speakers. Our intellectual heritage was shaped by French.

4. French does not depend upon France

ParisThis last point is important because it sets French apart from the other Latin-based languages. The French language is so useful to learn because it is firmly fixed in the Western scene. In its heyday, Spain’s empire was magnificent and spread its language throughout five continents. It was much the same story with Portugal. Italy, too, was an important cultural center. But none of their languages retained an exceptional influence. Of course, Portuguese is still spoken in Brazil, and Spanish is spoken widely throughout North and South America, but they do not hold the same clout as French. They were never the languages of academia or diplomacy. By contrast, the French language is inseparable from the Western cultural canon. It continues to be essential on the international scene today, holding its place as the most useful western business language after English. Our modern heritage continues to be shaped by French.

French is not simply practical to learn, but enlightening. It helps tell the story of how we came to be who we are, because it helped make the West what it is today. From the Protestant Reformation to the birth of modern philosophy and science, French was the language of both progress and unity. The 300 years of French dominance are, like our classical roots, often forgotten, but that doesn’t make them any less important when it comes to understanding our cultural heritage.

If you’d like any more information on the development, history, and importance of the French language, I highly recommend The Story of French by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow.

Luke DicksonLuke Dickson is a student at New Saint Andrews College, where he studies Classical Liberal Arts and Culture. When he’s not studying for school, he can be found in local coffee shops, studying everything else under the sun.

Educating Royalty | by Dr. Roy Atwood

We must teach our children to be Kingdom heirs—not just laborers in the marketplace

“Who are you?” a university student once asked me.

Artist's depiction of Solomon's court (Ingobertus, c. 880)

Solomon’s court, by Ingobertus, c. AD 880

Odd question, I thought. I’d handled countless student questions, but this one caught me unprepared.

“Uh . . . I’m a professor,” I answered weakly.

“No!” he shot back. “I don’t mean what do you do, but who are you?”

His question unsettled me. Like most North Americans, I’d been carefully, though not intentionally, catechized since a lad at my parents’ side that the first and most important question we ask adults at first meeting (after getting their name) is, “What do you do?”

I’d learned that catechism lesson well, repeating it literally hundreds of times in all kinds of social settings over the years. But that catechism had left me quite unprepared to answer this more fundamental question about my personal identity separate from my place in the market.

That grieved me because, as a Christian, I had been better versed in the catechism of secular pragmatism than in Lord’s Days 12 and 13 or the Scriptures. And I knew I wasn’t the only one.

The answer that changes everything

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…. – Romans 8:16-17a

As I have reflected on that encounter over the years, I’ve realized that the biblical and covenantal answer to the question, “Who are you?” is a glorious one that stands in stark contrast to the secular myth that our employment or “career” defines us. Of course, our work and callings as Christians in the marketplace are important. Providing for our families is a great privilege and responsibility. But the priority of work in both our lives and the education of our children is almost certainly misplaced and overemphasized today in Reformed circles. Continue reading

The Goal of Education: Peripheral Vision

Dr. Roy Atwood, in an article called Recovering Peripheral Vision, speaks first of the failure of the current academia of this age as they seek practical jobs and vocational training while mocking the “useless” liberal arts. He then talks about the real goal of education, which is to see both broadly (or peripherally) and how one thing connects to another. It turns out that these are the skills we end up actually using, even if usefulness was not the point!
Roy Atwood quote

Dr. Roy Atwood and his wife BevDr. Roy Atwood is one of the founders of New Saint Andrews College and served as its President from 2004-2014. He currently serves as the Abraham Kuyper Distinguished Professor of Classics at Morthland College. He received a B.A. in Philosophy from Dordt College (Iowa), a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, and a Ph.D. in Mass Communication from the University of Iowa.

Socrates Searched for Jesus | by Steven Hunter

In Plato’s Meno, Socrates and Meno were conversing about the meaning of virtue and how one obtained it. Meno believed that virtue was relative to a person’s age, sex, and station in life (e.g. slave or free). He, then, posited that virtue was the ability to govern humanity, believing that justice was a virtue. As the conversation progressed, the meaning changed several times, but the turn came when the talk of obtaining virtue began to revolve around if one could learn virtue. Socrates asked

But if the good are not by nature good, are they made good by instruction?

Based on this question, we can see why education became a hallmark of Plato in the Republic. From here, though, Meno and Socrates opined over whether virtue could be taught, but Socrates didn’t believe it could be taught. He reasoned thus

And did those gentlemen [teachers of virtue] grow of themselves; and without having been taught by any one, were they nevertheless able to teach others that which they had never learned themselves? (92)

As soon as I read this line, Jesus immediately popped in my head. Christ grew from himself through the incarnation, and he was taught by no one, but Himself, God (cf. Heb. 5.8). Socrates concluded

…if we are at all right in our view, that virtue is neither natural nor acquired, but an instinct given by God to the virtuous….Then, Meno, the conclusion is that virtue comes to the virtuous by the gift of God.

School of Athens - Plato and AristotleMy mind began spinning. I actually like Socrates’ definition of virtue and how it’s obtained. We who are Christians know that there is nothing inherently good in us save for the image that we bear of God in our persons. Nevertheless, as a sin-ridden, fallen human being, we become good because of what Jesus has done for us. He, however, and contrary to what Socrates posited, is the Teacher of virtue (cf. Matt. 23.8). As a matter of fact, Clement of Alexandria’s work Paedagogus is an early Christian treatise on ethics that presents the Logos (Christ) as the real instructor.

Paul put’s it this way

Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Rom. 5.14-19)

Socrates didn’t believe a man could be a teacher of virtue, but Christ was. Virtue originated and emanated from Christ, and, yes, we are made virtuous (righteous) because of Christ.

Originally published on Steven’s Blog, Veritas Venator. Republished with permission. 

stevenhunterSteven Hunter is a Christian, family man, minister, educator, and academic. He is married to Stephanie and has three children. He hold an MA in theological studies from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and is pursuing a PhD with Faulkner University’s Great Books Honors College. He enjoys reading books, wearing bow-ties (despite not wearing one in the picture) and wacky socks, and he also practices Japanese jujutsu.

The Greatest Roman | By Wes Callihan

The Meeting of Dido and AeneasVergil’s Aeneid, the epic poem which tells the story of the wanderings of Aeneas on his way to becoming the founder of Rome, is propaganda. But such a statement would not have bothered Vergil a bit. “Propaganda” in Latin simply means “things which ought to be propagated,” and Vergil certainly believed that the values espoused in his story needed to be spread about a bit.

Aeneas was the ultimate Roman, primarily because he revered the gods. “Pious Aeneas” is the epithet used of him throughout the poem, and if anyone missed the point, they were asleep during the reading. Aeneas modeled for the Romans what they all ought to have been, and if Caesar Augustus, who was Vergil’s great patron, dropped less than subtle hints about the duties of poets in influencing culture, Vergil was not reluctant in agreeing. Rome had not been long out of decades of civil war, and Rome desperately needed, and was getting under Augustus, stability and safety, prosperity and peace. Most of all Rome needed a moral compass, and that is what Vergil hoped to provide. He would write an epic poem following Homer’s pattern and, in his hero, would praise the greatness of Rome, glorify Augustus Caesar, and extol the virtues of patriotism, conservatism, devotion to duty, and reverence for the gods of Rome, of whom Augustus was soon to become.

All this he accomplished, and his poem became the benchmark of literature for nearly a millennia and a half. He did not keep Rome from falling into the quagmire of corruption that he and Augustus foresaw, but his work endured like no other.

The Fight Between Aeneas and King TurnusThe Aeneid “propagates” other things besides Roman ethics. It carries embedded in it presuppositions about the nature of history and man’s response to it that are radically different from those of the Greeks and especially Homer, whose works so influenced the Aeneid’s form. Behind Achilleus’ glory-seeking, Hektor’s devotion to his city and people, and Odysseus’s drive to return home is the pervasive assumption that the passage of time is essentially meaningless. At the end of the Iliad , when old king Priam has come to Achilleus to plead for the return of Hektor’s body,Achilleus commiserates with his suffering, reminding him that Zeus hands out good and evil mixed, or sometimes just evil, and men can but endure what he deals out, while only the gods live happily. For men like these, lives are lived for the short-term, and what will happen has happened before. All things change, but the change is fundamentally meaningless, and consequently all things stay the same. History is but “meaningless flux.” Fate is what the gods do to a man, and his response therefore is simply to do what he pleases and suffer his fate. Fate will happen, no matter what he does; there is no question of obedience.

Aeneas Relating to Dido the Disasters of TroyOn the other hand, Aeneas’ drive to fulfill his destiny implies at least two changes in the way we are asked to view history. First, man must respond to his destiny, when the gods reveal it, by obeying. His fate may not be fulfilled, it seems, if he simply does what he pleases, and so he must subordinate his immediate desires to the higher duty to the future, a future he may never see himself. At one point in his wanderings over the Mediterranean, Aeneas finds himself falling in love with Queen Dido of Carthage and is tempted to stay with her rather than continue seeking for the land where he is destined to found the nation of Rome. The gods remind him not only of his destiny, but of the necessity of his obedience, and he goes. Odysseus, who also got sidetracked with women, would not have understood this response to fate. Odysseus moved on simply because he could, not because he had any idea of helping fate.

Second, history is teleological. It has a purpose, a goal; time has meaning. It is not cyclical, but it progresses upward, and things become greater and higher. The gods drive man onward, and as he obeys, he becomes a great people. Achilleus did not fight, nor Hektor defend, because of any potential progress in the future; Achilleus fought because he had always fought and because that was how men gained glory. Hektor fought because he had a wife and child whom he loved. But Aeneas struggled on against the obstacles Juno constantly threw in his way because the gods had told him that, if he succeeded, a great nation would come from him, with countless descendants and glorious ones. He subordinated himself to the greater glory of future Rome, knowing he would never see it, and so Rome was founded.

Because Vergil’s poem was so important during the rest of the Empire’s history and throughout the Middle Ages, the structure of his poem standardized the epic form embodied in Homer. Vergil was the vehicle by which Homer’s peculiarities became literary conventions. After Vergil, everyone who wrote an epic began it with an invocation to the muse of epic poetry, launched the story in medias res , included epic similes, had his hero journey to the underworld, had a catalog of nations or men, had funeral games, and so on. These elements exist because Homer did them, but they are characteristics of epic poetry because Vergil carried them on.

Vergil was called the Magus by medievals because he was so learned and they were so ignorant; by comparison he seemed to them to be a man of supernatural wisdom and power. It has been some time since anyone felt that way about him; nevertheless, he is still deservedly recognized as one of the four or five greatest poets in our western tradition.

Learn more about the Aeneid from Wesley Callihan in the unit The Aeneid in the Old Western Culture curriculum.

Wes Callihan reading John of Damascus during Hill AbbeyWesley Callihan grew up on a farm in Idaho and graduated with a degree in history from the University of Idaho. He has taught at Logos School, New Saint Andrews College, and Veritas Academy. In 1997 he founded Schola Classical Tutorials where he teaches online classes on the Great Books, Astronomy, Church History, Greek, and Latin.
He is now working with Roman Roads Media to produce Old Western Culture, a 4-year integrated humanities curriculum designed to equip homeschoolers and their families with the tools to tackle the Great Books that shaped Western Civilization.

This article originally appeared in Credenda Agenda, Volume 7, Issue 6: Poetics. Republished with permission.

Cincinnatus and George Washington

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a Roman farmer in the 5th century B.C. Because Rome was in dire need of a leader to fight off invaders, the Roman Senate asked Cincinnatus to be “Dictator” for a term of six months. The Roman Senate was worried that the person they chose as dictator might not return the power to the Senate when the time was up. But the reason they chose Cincinnatus was that he was known to be a man of virtue, who had proven himself as a consul. After two weeks, he had taken care of the situation with their enemies, leading the charge himself, and immediately handed power back to the Senate.

George Washington as CincinnatusGeorge Washington was compared to Cincinnatus on many occasions. This comparison inspired many works of art. In the paintings and sculptures you see a George Washington dressed like an ancient Roman, toga and all! The anachronism in the art shows just how closely the American Founders wanted to connect themselves to the Roman Republican ideals.

Carl Richard, in his book The Founders and the Classics, points out how this affected the interaction between George the III during the American War for Independence:

“An astonished western world agreed with the judgement of George III. Unable to believe that any military leader would voluntarily surrender such power, the kind scoffed that if Washington resigned his commission, “He will be the greatest man in the world.” The king’s confusion epitomized his inability, throughout the Revolutionary conflict , to comprehend the enormous emotional power which classical republican ideals wielded over American minds” (p. 71).

He goes on to say that Washington did not want to declare defeat at the worst moments of the war because he did not want to lose the privilege of laying down his arms in imitation of Cincinatus. And that is precisely what George Washington did. He resigned from public life after the war, when he could have used his influence to become very powerful, and moved to his “villa” in the country, a term Washington used only after his retirement, most probably making an allusion to Cincinatus in doing so.

Hear Wes Callihan tell the fascinating story in this excerpt from The Historians.

YouTube version HERE.


Plundering the Egyptians | by Wesley Callihan

I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians. – Exodus 3:21-22; 12:35-36

Does secular literature have any value for a Christian? There are so many good books by Christians – why should we waste our time with anything else? For many Christians, this is a genuine question, and deserves a considered answer. Here it is.

The Apostle Paul preaching at Athens to a Greco-Roman audience.

The Apostle Paul preaching at Athens to a Greco-Roman audience.

First, the apostle Paul himself sets an example of being familiar with pagan literature and using it for the glory of God in the spread of the gospel. In Acts 17:28, he quotes to the Athenians from two pagan Greek poets. “In Him we live and move and have our being” is from De Oraculis, a work by the 7th century B.C. Cretan poet/philosopher Epimenides, and the following line, “we are also His offspring,” is from The Phenomena, written in the 3rd century B.C. by Aratus. The same line is found in the Hymn of Zeus by Cleanthes. Notice that Paul is clear about what he is doing – “as also some of your own poets have said.” In Titus 1:12, he again quotes the De Oraculis, in making a point about the wickedness of certain deceivers, and says in the next verse, “this testimony is true.” Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 6:10 that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil is a quotation from a Greek philosopher – Diogenes the Cynic. Some may remember him as the one who went around in broad daylight with a lantern – looking for an honest man.

It is important to note that the quotations above were not made by Paul for the purposes of refutation. They were all cited with approval – not of the author, but of the statement.

The Iliad

The early Christians were very familiar with the Epics poems such as the Iliad and the Aeneid.

In Acts 26:14, Paul tells Agrippa that Christ’s words to him on the Damascus road were, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” The educated Agrippa would have recognized the allusion to the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, one of the greatest playwrights. The line in the play refers to an old man fighting a losing battle against forces more powerful than he. Paul takes that which was familiar to his culture and uses it for the spread of the true gospel.

Monk copying a manuscript

Monk copying an ancient manuscript

If we jump ahead to the Reformers, we find them following Paul’s example. They were thoroughly versed in secular literature and used it to their great advantage. In Calvin’s Institutes, we observe how willingly he quotes secular authors – Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Galen, Cato, Cicero, Horace, Josephus, Juvenal, Lucretius, Ovid, Plautus, Pliny, Plutarch, Seneca, Suetonius, Virgil.

Later, the Puritans were just as thoroughly versed in classical literature. John Rainolds was recognized in his lifetime as one of the most learned men in Elizabethan England. He was one of the instigators of the Hampton Court Conference which led to the King James Version of the Bible, and became one of the principal translators. He was president of Corpus Christi College at Oxford, was Greek Reader in the same college, and lectured on classical authors, notably Aristotle’s book on Rhetoric. He was renowned for his erudition in the classical languages and authors, and for his formidable opposition to the heresies of his day.

"A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who 'though they knew God did not glorify him as God." St. Augustine, On Christian Teaching, II.75

Augustine’s metaphor, in On Christian Doctrine, for using pagan literature was perhaps the best. Commenting on Exodus 3 (quoted above), he had this to say:

“If those who are called philosophers, and especially the Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not only not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it . . . all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them… These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel.”

But of course, if we are to join Paul, Augustine, and the Reformers in the work of plundering the Egyptians, we must know where the gold is kept.

Wes Callihan reading John of Damascus during Hill AbbeyWesley Callihan grew up on a farm in Idaho and graduated with a degree in history from the University of Idaho. He has taught at Logos School, New Saint Andrews College, and Veritas Academy. In 1997 he founded Schola Classical Tutorials where he teaches online classes on the Great Books, Astronomy, Church History, Greek, and Latin.
He is now working with Roman Roads Media to produce Old Western Culture, a 4-year integrated humanities curriculum designed to equip homeschoolers and their families with the tools to tackle the Great Books that shaped Western Civilization.

2015 Great Books Challenge for Parents (and how to earn FREE curriculum)

2015 Great Books Challenge from Roman Road MediaAre you giving your kids (or have given them) the classical education you never had?

My invitation to you this new year is to dive in yourself! Old Western Culture is for parents too! While it may be daunting to pick up the Great Books and start reading, make 2015 the year you do it WITH your kids, and earn some FREE curriculum in the process!


As a parent, use our newly released unit of Old Western Culture, The AeneidWITH your kids (or if they’re still young, or graduated, try to find a companion) before May 15th, 2015. Then email us to let us know you did, and we’ll give you the next unit (or any unit of Old Western Culture of your choice) for FREE! ($56 value).

In order to qualify for a free unit, you must:

  • Be a parent.
  • Watch all 12 lectures of The Aeneid (with your kids if possible).
  • Read the assigned reading.
  • Complete (in writing or in oral discussion) at least 1 of the workbook assignments for each lesson.
  • Complete the above by May 15th, 2015.

And on top of that (as they say, “But wait, there’s more!”), get 20% off of any Old Western Culture product (you will need The Aeneid for this challenge) by using code CHALLENGE2015 during checkout.

“Why are YOU giving away free curriculum?”

We are convinced that parents who use Old Western Culture will LOVE it. And when a parent loves a curriculum, they tell their friends. And word-of-mouth is the BEST way to let people know about this curriculum. We’re spending most of our time making this the best literature curriculum available, and we need help spreading the word. So help us by USING it, and telling your friends!


Should the time ever come…

The United States was founded by men who not only knew their classics, but considered them an essential part of who they were, and who we are as a nation.
Old Western Culture is designed as a tool to give this heritage to the current and next generation of Christian students (and adults)!

“Should the time ever come when Latin and Greek should be banished from our universities and the study of Cicero and Demosthenes, of Homer and Virgil, should be considered as unnecessary for the formation of a scholar, we should regard mankind as fast sinking into an absolute barbarism, and the gloom of mental darkness is likely to increase until it should become universal.”
Western Review III, 145 (October 1820).
Latin and Greek founders