Lesson 2: Intro to the Paradigm for the Liberal Arts Tradition

In this lesson, Ravi explains how the liberal arts fit into a larger paradigm for classical education that we can call the liberal arts tradition. It is in this context that Ravi and Kevin note that the liberal arts themselves (grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music), while critical, are not sufficient to sum up the classical tradition of education. The wider paradigm for classical education will be explained in the next lesson.

Recommended Reading
  • Read or review “The Paradigm of the Liberal Arts Tradition” (pp. 1–9) in The Liberal Arts Tradition.
  • To learn more about the way wonder leads to wisdom, see Josef Pieper’s book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, “The Philosophical Act,” Part III.
Outline of Session


traditioThe word tradition comes from the Latin word traditio, which in turn is related to the Latin verb tradere, meaning “to hand down,” “hand over,” or even “surrender.” From tradere we get our English word trade. A tradition, therefore, is something that has been handed down to us—presumably something worth passing on, like a way of celebrating Christmas, a way of conducting rites of passage, or a way of educating our young.

A tradition can be narrow and focused (such as a tradition on Christmas morning) or wide and extensive (like the educational enterprise). In every case, traditions are given to us by our forebears; we receive them, enjoy them, and then pass them to the next generation.


GKC 1G.K. Chesterton said that education is passing the soul of society from one generation to another. He also famously said this about tradition:

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. In the democracy of the dead all men at last are equal. There is neither rank nor station nor prerogative in the republic of the grave.

Kevin and Ravi emphasize that the tradition of Christian, classical education is wide and rich, and it includes more than just the seven liberal arts.

The Seven Liberal Arts

In this course, we will elevate and celebrate the seven liberal arts, as they are critical to a classical education. We will, however, give them their rightful place in the midst of a larger tradition of education. We will see that piety, gymnastic, and MUSE-ical education prepare students for and lead them into the study of the liberal arts. We will also see that, through study, the liberal arts become seeds of learning that flower into the study of philosophy and theology.

The Seven Liberal Arts by Matt Clark

The Seven Liberal Arts
by Matt Clark

Who is the figure in the middle of this illustration? Can you locate the representation of each liberal art in the illustration?

Philosophy at the Center of the Seven Liberal Arts

The image is titled “Philosophy at the Center of the Seven Liberal Arts,” c. 12th century, the Hortus Deliciarum (Garden of Delights).
To view a translation of the Latin phrases in this illustration visit this web page: Latin Translation


The Three-Stage Paradigm

In her speech and essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” Dorothy Sayers conceived of a classical education that encompassed three stages of learning. Each stage takes the name of an art from the Trivium: the grammar stage, the dialectic stage, and the rhetoric stage. Sayers’s three stages roughly comprise the span of education that we often call K-12.

Sayers also suggested a pedagogy or teaching method aligned with each of these arts: the grammatical approach, the dialectic approach, and the rhetoric approach. The diagram below represents this popular conception of classical education, but note the PGMAPT reference as well. The three W‘s below stand for wonder, worship, and wisdom. In the classical tradition, education begins in wonder, leads to worship, and culminates in wisdom, a pattern which will be explored later in this course.


The PGMAPT Paradigm

While the Sayersian “three-stage” paradigm contains helpful insights (see LAT, p. 1-2), the PGMAPT paradigm is intended as an enlargement of the vision set forth by Dorothy Sayers as well as Douglas Wilson in his book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning. Kevin and Ravi set forth their thesis clearly: “…the seven liberal arts were never meant to stand on their own as the entire curriculum, for they are designed particularly for cultivating intellectual virtue. Since human beings are more than just intellects, however, the curriculum must develop more than just intellectual virtue. Creatures formed in God’s image must be cultivated in body and soul—mind, will, and affections” (LAT, p. 2).

Kevin and Ravi summarize their paradigm in the following way:

“As we will seek to show, the Christian classical educational tradition embodies just the kind of holistic and fully integrated curriculum that a thoroughly Christian understanding of human nature demands. It does so, however, only when the seven liberal arts are taken as part of a larger model [emphasis original] consisting of what we here term piety, gymnastic, music, liberal arts, philosophy, and theology. This full-orbed education aims at cultivating fully integrated human beings, whose bodies, hearts, and minds are formed respectively by gymnastic, music, and the liberal arts; whose relationships with God, neighbor, and community are marked by piety; whose knowledge of the world, man, and God fit harmoniously within a distinctly Christian philosophy; and whose lives are informed and governed by a theology forged from the relation of God in Christ Jesus as it has been handed down in historic Christianity. We propose this model for a truly integrated Christian classical education—where the intellectual tools of the seven liberal arts are formed within the context of a Christian life and moral imagination that is governed by a thoroughly Christian philosophy and theology—as at once a faithful summary of the Christian classical educational tradition and a compelling model for schools in the Christian classical renewal” (LAT, p. 2-3).

The illustration below summarizes the PGMA progression set forth by Kevin and Ravi. Philosophy and theology (P and T) are also part of their paradigm for upper school education, but they are introduced in the upper school and continued into university education.


Discussion Questions
  • Discuss the collision of the idea that “All truth is God’s truth” with the prevalence of the trivium in the renewal of classical Christian education.
  • How did Sayers’s and Lewis’s works which sparked the renewal of classical Christian education differ in content as it relates to the trivium?
  • How is theology a servant queen of the sciences of natural philosophy, moral philosophy, and divine philosophy?
  • While the trivium and the quadrivium are gifts, how are they insufficient?


  1. Mrs. Milner

    How can I download lesson 2 notes of The Liberal Arts Tradition? The others have loaded just fine.


  2. Mrs. Milner

    Problem solved. Thanks!

Submit a Comment

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This