MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: embracing the liberal arts.
JILL NELSON, HOST: On this week’s Listening In, Warren Smith talks to North Greenville University president Gene Fant. Parents and students these days are gravitating toward more practical degrees. But Fant urges Christians to rediscover the importance of the liberal arts.
WARREN SMITH: Can you define for us what you mean when you say the liberal arts?
GENE FANT: Yeah, absolutely. Working off of a very historical tradition where the idea about being liberal was to be set free. And originally it was to be set free from the self, from the tyranny of the self. And then something happened after the Enlightenment, then after the Age of Romanticism, to where to be liberal meant to be self-empowered or something like that. And it really stands the term on its head.
SMITH: So the liberal arts are those arts befitting a free person or those arts that will liberate us? That will make us free?
FANT: Yeah. The idea behind them is that we’re being prepared for something. So for the Greeks and the Romans that would be prepared to serve the state. So when you read the Aeneid, one of the phrases that they use a lot is that Aeneis was duty bound and the idea was that he was bound to the state, bound to his people. But then when Christians got ahold of it, the idea was that we were to be set free to serve God, set free from ourselves, set free from whatever it is that might ensnare us so that we can serve others. And so just as the Scriptures prepare us for every good work, equip us for every good work, the idea behind the liberal arts is that they likewise equip us for what it is that God has called us to do.
SMITH: Well, I do want to get to what Christians did with the liberal arts and why a Christian should be concerned about the liberal arts and should engage in the liberal arts, but let’s, let’s go back to where you started, which is in that classical tradition. You talk about, I believe, seven liberal arts originally: the trivium plus the quadrivium. Tell us what they are.
FANT: So the trivium and the quadrivium. The trivium is basically the gateway. Uh, and so these are ways that help us to articulate what the world looks like. And so you have basically grammar and rhetoric and so forth. And then in the quadrivium, uh, what you have are ways to actually measure the world or to articulate the world. So you have astronomy, and geometry, and math and so forth. When you take those things together, then you are now equipped to handle the higher affairs. The higher affairs are philosophy, and ultimately the queen of the sciences, which is theology.
NELSON: That’s Gene Fant talking to Warren Smith. To hear their full conversation, look for Listening In tomorrow on your podcast platform.