01 March 2009

A Book On the Trivium

I’m not sure how many are aware of a wonderful book about the Trivium: Sister Miriam Joseph, CSC, The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric (Philadelphia: Paul Dry, 2002). It is essentially a textbook on the fundamentals of the three classical ‘liberal arts’ that once formed the bedrock of education throughout the Western world (Dorothy Sayers has written a rousing call for returning to these fundamentals in her well-known essay, ‘The Lost Tools of Learning’). Here is a back-cover blurb from Eva Brann of St John’s College:

Lovers of language who want to articulate its necessities and possibilities for themselves, teachers who want to explain its ways to their students, students who like the comfort of decisive clarity—all these will find this book a good companion, for Sr Miriam Joseph arouses our critical abilities by offering us
her firm but friendly learning.

Her teaching is traditional. She fits language into the liberal arts, sets out the classical elements of grammar, explains Aristotelian logic, and gives solid advice on good writing, fleshing it all out with revealing examples.

On the front cover, Brann proclaims, ‘Whoever owns this book owns a treasure.’ This is true both in the sense that it represents something precious and in the sense that it is full of many individually precious things.

Aside from the wealth of information it contains, however, one of my favourite things about the book is the fact that it’s easy to forget that one is reading a contemporary author, and to begin to think one is reading Aquinas. Here for instance is Sr Miriam Joseph’s explication of the function of language:

The function of language is threefold: to communicate thought, volition, and emotion. . . .

Only humans can utter sounds which unite in a sentence to express thought because humans alone among animals have the power to think. Consequently, they alone have language in the proper sense of the word.…Pure spirits, such as angels, communicate thought, but their communication is not properly called language because it does not employ a physical medium. (p. 12)

The passing reference to angels in this context is pure gold to me! Anyway, I have only begun to make my way through this myself, but I feel like I’m on sure ground in recommending it thus prematurely.


Anonymous said...

I just ordered this book. I'm happy to read your positive review!

Aaron Taylor said...

Thanks for the comment. I was so excited when I discovered this book!

Ochlophobist said...

This book has been a huge help to me over the years, and we plan to have it play a significant role in our homeschooling in years to come. I have friends who homeschool almost entirely on a Trivium model, and I am not quite there, but I think it will play a major role with us.