“It is the course of true wisdom to acquire for ourselves those things that neither humans, nor death itself can take away.”
Lactantius, 4th century.
I have a PDF in my Google Drive called “Church Fathers on Education” and the above quote by Lactantius is one of them. It’s short and sweet, but, oh, how incredibly deep. What is the end of education? Or, what is the telos (goal) towards which education moves? Is it the accumulation of knowledge and facts? Is it training for a desired job, which in turn gives us a desired income (hopefully)? Or, is the end of education something else, something other-worldly?
Lactantius his the nail on the head on a few points. First, education is about the accumulation of wisdom. Wisdom, unlike facts, is not learned best by rote memorization, but by practice, failure, adaptation, and correction. Wisdom is who you are, how you behave, think, and move. To me, facts are more cold, less personal. Wisdom is the path of life, both for the wise one and those around him; knowledge, however, only “puffs up.”
Second, the purpose of education (acquiring wisdom) is for the accumulation of things death cannot take away. Death seemingly takes away a lot. However, death only takes away the tangible things like possessions and money (but neither of those are really owned by me anyway . . . think about it). A person is far more than their possessions and money. Yet, we spend our lives pursuing those things death can take away. Lord, have mercy!
St. Paul says only three things remain at the end, faith, hope, and love, and the greatest is love. These things remain longer after death has pushed the pause button on the human heart (pause button because the resurrection of Christ guarantees the play button will be pushed again). Faith, hope, and love cannot be purchased at a department store. These things are cultivated through walking step by step behind Christ.
An education that is worth the investment is one that cultivates hearts and lives that acquire for themselves things of truly inestimable value. You can put a price tag on mansions, yachts, and sport-scars. Their limited value even depreciates! You cannot, however, put a price on a marriage that lasts through the ages only growing in fulfillment, children that love you, care for you, and honor your name, fulfillment everyday at work or home, and joy no matter the circumstances. You cannot put a price tag on molding the next generation, planting seeds that will produce fruit thirty or sixty times over in coming generations. These things are found in Christ, and are found only by the wise who correctly see the shame of modernity and its frenetic pace of silliness.
Seek that which death cannot take. The search alone will be a journey of unspeakable joy.
*image of Lactantius from Wikipedia