The unity of knowledge

Would the academics among you agree that a significant difference between the nature of education several generations ago and that of today is that the concept of unity of knowledge seems no longer to be embraced, a concept which has been the kernel of classical Western civilization? And, would you concur that more and more the purpose of education appears not to be the humanizing pursuit of knowledge but the utilitarian development of skills? Do you sense the growing skepticism about genuine knowledge that characterizes contemporary university life, and the consequent disintegration of academic life into largely autonomous specializations?

It is sad that so many who have never been exposed to the integrating aspect of classical education are not even aware, not yet at least, of what we as a society are losing. More than sad, it is disturbing because, without appropriate and respectful regard for the intellectual underpinnings that secure it, our way of life in this country, which is the product of Christian Western civilization, will fracture. Signs of such disintegration are already evident.

Fortunately there are ‘centers of influence’ which address this decline in education by purporting to reintroduce those who are interested to the foundational elements of classical education and to demonstrate for them how the survival of civilization depends on these.

One of these is the Thomas International Center ( recently established in Raleigh, North Carolina. As its website states, the goal of the Center is to reignite the classical tradition of philosophy and theology, the cultural root of Western civilization, by promoting international scholarship focused especially (but not exclusively) on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Center engages students at nationally renowned universities (such as Duke and the University of North Carolina) and also sponsors programs – open to the public – to clarify important issues facing our society in light of the principles of natural law, of classical and Christian civilization and (as the website reminds us) of the founding of the United States of America.

The Center cites John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio in which the Pope quotes  Paul VI who attributes to the Angelic Doctor ‘a new path of philosophy and universal culture’ and  ‘the new encounter of faith and reason …. a reconciliation between the secularity of the world and the radicality of the Gospel.’ Those who rediscover this path will withstand, and maybe reverse, the rampant and destructive challenges of relativism and nihilism.

If you visit the website you will recognize the names of the scholars responsible for creating the Thomas International Center. You will also learn – and be heartened by – the Center’s long term aspirations. Like me, you’ll find it encouraging that it began in the first decade of a new century in a new millennium. Wasn’t it early in the last millennium that the great European universities sprang up? May the advance continue.

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