An Education in Freedom

By Adam Thompson

Await no further word or sign from me:467751
your will is free, erect, and whole—to act
against that will would be to err: therefore
I crown and miter you over yourself.
From Dante Alighieri’s Commedia

In the Commedia, Dante awakens to find himself lost in a dark wood and soon discovers that the only way back to the light requires an arduous pilgrimage through the three realms of the afterlife: Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Fortunately for Dante, the ancient Roman poet Virgil — his personal hero and model of human and artistic perfection — is summoned by saintly intercessors to befriend the forlorn poet and guide him on his quest. As the two descend into Hell and later ascend into Purgatory, Virgil schools Dante in the meaning of human freedom, eventually declaring him fit to rule himself as indicated in the quote provided above and the illustration “Virgil’s Farewell” by Salvador Dali.

The image of the teacher (Virgil) crowning and mitering the student (Dante) ruler over himself beautifully illustrates the intertwining secular and religious ends of a liberal arts education— the attainment of authentic human freedom as a habit of being that flows from a boy fulfilling the true potential of his created nature and conforming his will to God’s in loving friendship.

The teachers at Western Academy strive to be Virgils to the young Dantes entrusted to our care, guiding them to the same human freedom experienced by Dante at the top of Mt. Purgatory. We want to form boys whose will is “free, erect, and whole.” We understand, like Dante, that in order to achieve this noble goal, each student needs to see his life as a unique verse in the song of God’s providential design; each student needs to delight in the beauty of nature on a daily basis; each student needs to learn the art and joy of ordered play; each student needs to contemplate the interconnectedness of the true, the good, and the beautiful in his academic studies; each student needs to embrace  and conquer fear so that he can tame the wild within him and beyond him; each student needs to seek guidance in friendship from a mentor steeped in the natural and supernatural wisdom of the ages; and each student needs to recognize the sacred reality of existence in the communion of earthly and sacramental feasting. These experiences form the basis of a liberal arts education that bestows upon each pupil the “crown and miter” of genuine human freedom.

The teachers at Western Academy strive to be Virgils to the young Dantes entrusted to our care…

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