In upholding the idea that a good man is hard to find, classical education is poised to disturb most Christians in America, for American Christians can essentially be divided between those who believe a good man is easy to find and those who believe a good man is impossible to find. Those who believe good men are easy to find take it for granted that every baptized church attender is doing everything that God asks, thus the struggle for virtue is not necessary. Those who believe good men are impossible to find invariably fixate upon the Psalmist’s claim that “None is righteous,” thus the struggle for virtue is always doomed for failure. Such Christians ignore entirely the handful of men in Scripture who are declared righteous and blameless.
However, if good men are hard to find— and virtuous men are neither common nor permanently extinct— then an uncomfortable weight is placed on the living to seek virtue in the faith that God has neither forbidden us from finding it, nor rendered the human frame incapable of receiving it. If virtue is neither necessary nor possible in this life, then a classical school is not simply a pleasant place to send one’s children whilst winding down the clock of life, but an Oedipean mystery fated for one tragic denouement after another. But this is simply not the mood or atmosphere of most classical schools, for most classical Christian schools hum along in the busy merriment of a crew building a bridge to some fine place.
Chesterton once said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” The idea that virtue is rare offends us not for theological reasons, but because modern men have convinced themselves they are more tired than they actually are. Every adult has seen happy, lively fourth-graders become suddenly sluggish when they are told it is time to do chores. Adults are much the same way, although a pack of adults will become absolutely ferocious when told their condition is not actually as debilitating as they have insinuated. Our little neuroses, addictions, and conditions really do excuse us from an austere struggle to achieve goodness, and the only people who say otherwise are cruel, exacting Scrooges whose shriveled hearts are incapable of sympathy. “Be holy as I am holy” is not a command, but a taunt issued to prove the universal spiritual sterility of human beings.
Like Dante in the first canto of the Comedy, we want salvation from the dark wood, but upon seeing the harrowing path out, we shrink and say the challenge is too great. But a classical education aims to help men out of their cowardice and arrogance, their despair and presumption.