Education and “Skimpy Knowledge”

Over at Tim Enloe’s blog today, which I frequent quite often, he has the following quote from Hugh of St. Victor, a 12th century German mystic:

As in the virtues, so in the sciences, there are certain steps. But you say, “I find many things in the histories which seem to be of no utility: why should I be kept busy with this sort of thing?” Well said. There are indeed many things in the Scriptures which, considered in themselves, seem to have nothing worth looking for, but if you look at them in the light of the other things to which they are joined, and if you begin to weigh them in their whole context, you will see that they are as necessary as they are fitting. Some things are to be known for their own sakes, but others, although for their own sakes they do not seem worthy of our labor, nevertheless, because without them the former class of things cannot be known with complete clarity, must by no means be carelessly skipped. Learn everything; you will see afterwards that nothing is superfluous. A skimpy knowledge is not a pleasing thing.

Ah, glorious!  “Learn everything; you will see afterwards that nothing is superfluous.”  I love it!  Reflecting on these words, Tim writes:

Do you want to be a better businessman or lawyer or plumber or physicist or doctor or Church historian or auto mechanic or, yes, even a better theologian?  Well, put the stuff that you think is most “relevant” to your trade away for a while and spend some time with Plato, Homer, Herodotus, Virgil, Augustine, the Venerable Bede, St. Anselm, Dostoevsky, and the like. Let them take you places you’ve never been, see things you’ve never seen, think about things you might otherwise have never thought about, and I’ll wager it won’t be long before you’ll find that things which at first seem useless are really “as necessary as they are fitting.”

There is little I can add to this, except to lament the loss of so-called Renaissance Men in the likes of Da Vinci, Copernicus, Jefferson, and others.  Lamentably, we are a society of specialists who ordinarily take very little interest in anything outside our little spheres of concern.  As such, in a time where the wealth of knowledge of the ages is literally at the fingertips of many, we have become so narrow as to be unable to speak intelligently about very much at all.  We are masters of ‘a skimpy knowledge’ who are content to spend our free time being amused (literally) instead of being enriched.


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