The Arts of Liberty Project began over twenty years ago as an idea Dr. Jeffrey Lehman had as a graduate student at the University of Dallas. He saw the wealth of wisdom in the Western tradition, but he also saw the dire need to recover that wisdom for the modern world. In 2008, Dr. Lehman launched the Arts of Liberty website, and built it up to become the leading provider of online materials for those desiring to teach and learn in the tradition of education based on the liberal arts of the Trivium and Quadrivium.
The Boethius Institute for the Advancement of Liberal Education is the natural outgrowth and completion of Arts of Liberty. The life of learning is not meant to be lived in isolation. As we long to learn, we long for teachers and fellow learners.
So Philip ran up to [the chariot] and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Acts 8:30-31
As we learn, we long to share what we learn with friends. Jeff and I have known the blessings of strong academic fellowship from our experiences at institutions such as Thomas Aquinas College and Hillsdale College, and we long to share this experience with others devoted to liberal education. In January of 2023, we founded the Boethius Institute to unite those devoted to serving the booming liberal arts renewal in collective learning and collaborative efforts.
On August 4th, over a dozen of our Fellows of the Boethius Institute gathered at the Augustine Institute in Denver for our first colloquium. We spent the weekend discussing Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy as we learned more about the great figure whom we chose as our patron. Boethius grounded his love of philosophical and theological wisdom on a serious practice of the trivial and quadrivial arts, as witnessed by the mastery of poetry, logic, rhetoric, astronomy, and music shown by Lady Philosophy.
Though his own life’s work was cut short by his imprisonment and martyrdom at the age of 43, he had so absorbed the arts of liberal learning that they poured forth in a work of magnificent pathos, beauty, subtlety, and wisdom, which ensured that the nascent Christian West would reverence the gold to be found in ancient learning. We aspire to become modern-day Boethians, embodying the liberal arts in service to wisdom, and wisdom in service to Church and society. Our coat of arms expresses this aspiration. It emphasizes the importance of wisdom as the culmination of the life of learning and the lynch-pin of service through the Greek letters, pi and theta, which Boethius saw on Lady’s Philosophy’s garment, signifying the interconnection of the practical and theoretical branches of philosophy. The white cross on a red field signifies the arms of the city of Pavia, Italy, where Boethius was martyred and his cult developed. The illumination coming from the book being read symbolizes our life of learning and the fruit that comes from it.
Our central work right now is our formation program in the liberal arts for current and future leaders of education renewal. Over the next two years, our Fellows will go through brief but rich courses in each of the arts of the traditional Trivium and Quadrivium, with a culminating course on the ordering of the liberal arts to a life of wisdom. We have begun by entering into an analytical understanding of Latin as an inflected language, enabling even those new to the language to use online analytical tools to help understand a range of translation possibilities. We have also reflected on the structure of language generally through the principles of a stem method approach to Latin and the medieval account of parts of speech and sentence construction. We will wrap up our study of grammar with an introduction to Greek, before moving on to logic.
Our Fellows in formation come from a variety of backgrounds and states in life. We have several young teachers new to liberal education, experienced teachers ambitious to start their own institutions of learning, several with advanced degrees in theology, a former state senator, the head of a Costa Rican university, and a software product manager focused on building resources for educators. I have been edified by the fact they are doing this with no thought of getting an accredited degree, but simply to satisfy their own desire to grow in traditional learning and from a commitment to make themselves the best educators they can be.
Our Senior Fellows have been active in other ways. We have contributed to the establishment of Principia, a new journal devoted to classical education, whose first two issues have included three pieces by our Senior Fellows, and where Jeff serves as an associate editor. We have made presentations at education-related conferences around the country on themes such the educational philosophy of Christopher Dawson, Lady Philosophy as physician of the mind in the Consolation of Philosophy, the artist’s fantasy in Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle, and Thomas More’s use of the rhetorical progymnasmata exercises. In every venue, we have been encouraged by the strong desire to grow in and promote a complete liberal education.
At the beginning of October, Jeff and I traveled to the Netherlands to begin a two-year-long course on the Quadrivium for the Pascal Instituut in Leiden, as they prepare to launch their own Master’s program in the Great Books. October has also seen the official launch of the Master of Arts in Catholic Education, which was founded by Jeff at the Augustine Institute in Denver, and will include challenging courses on the Trivium and Quadrivium, as well a strong grounding in Christian anthropology and the history of education.
It is encouraging to review what we have accomplished so far, and yet we feel eager to do so much more. Our world desperately needs to benefit from the wisdom of our cultural inheritance. We look forward to playing a significant role in the growing movement to make wisdom possible once again.