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Friday, 21 August 2009

"Beauty for Truth's Sake"

Stratford Caldecott has excelled himself in his latest book "Beauty for Truth's Sake. On the Re-enchantment of Education." (Brazos Press, Michigan) It is quite concise at 156 pages but ambitious in attempting to sketch out a manifesto for overcoming the fragmentary and fractured nature of modern education, split up into disciplines or subjects from which people choose - according to their enthusiasm, or a passing whim very often.

Caldecott invites us to return to the wisdom of the ancients but takes us further than the customary terminus a quo, pointing out that "before Socrates there was Pythagoras." Since the fragmentation of education is a denial of ultimate meaning, we need to be "re-enchanted" by having our eyes opened to the meaning and beauty of the cosmos. We have gained great power over created things but we have lost our confidence in the ability of the human mind to know the truth and to understand what it is that we control.

The chapter "The Lost Wisdom of the World" offers a fascinating discussion of number - the common feature of the quadrivium of arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy - considering not only rational numbers but also the relationship of irrational numbers to objective beauty, as in the use of the golden ratio.

Underlying the thesis of the book is a confidence in the scientific endeavour which goes hand-in-hand with contemplation. An important discussion of the achievement of Kepler affirms the importance of empirical observation, and indeed the Christian origin of modern science, whilst pointing inexorably to the questions that science raises about the universe whose working it explains.

The most important feature of Caldecott's work is the way in he draws together beauty and truth, faith and reason:
The key to this vision lies in the notion (traceable back to Pythagoras) of beauty as cosmic order, an order that is simultaneously aesthetic, harmonious, symbolic, mathematical, and sacramental.
In the final chapter, the means by which we are taken back to the source of the cosmos and "into the sacred precincts of the Holy Trinity" is rightly identified as the Liturgy.

Although my necessarily brief summary may make the book sound abstruse, I should assure you that it is not a difficult read. Stratford Caldecott is a fine writer who values lucidity of expression and carefully written English. I think that many followers of this blog would find it an absorbing and fascinating read.

You can order "Beauty for Truth's Sake" from Amazon UK - link below - or (perhaps via your favourite blogging affiliate) from Amazon US:

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