Welcome to my blog. I document my interests in academia, list a few of my publications, and explore topics in New Testament Early Christianity!

Consideration of Ancient Education Practices:  Paideia as the Means to Instill Personal Virtue and Enculturate Society

Consideration of Ancient Education Practices: Paideia as the Means to Instill Personal Virtue and Enculturate Society

This entire week was devoted to faculty training at CBU. Selected instructors were asked to give a small talk on items related to their field or academic discipline and relate this specialty to selected topics. 

The Christian Studies department was asked to give attention to the influence of Christian thought and tradition to the nature of education and faith. 

I gave consideration to the early Platonic perception of education, much of which was still at large during the early first century and generally influenced the patristic era. I sought to join together the concept of education, not as a means to transfer knowledge, but to shape the person for the good of society. 

My talking notes are seen below. 

A Consideration of Ancient Education Practices:

Paideia as the Means to Instill Personal Virtue and Enculturate Society


Shawn J. Wilhite

Assistant Professor of Christian Studies



I. Introduction

This is a fun and enjoyable opportunity to peel back the curtain a bit on my academic discipline for the good of others and for the instruction of an array of faculty.

My primary interests reside in the study of the New Testament and Early Christianity. So, in other words, it is both the study of Christian literature as well as the study of an era in antiquity.

I want briefly to introduce the concept of education and educational practices in antiquity, especially as education relates to humanity and the expression of human virtue.

Plato uses an “Allegory of the Cave” as an image for education (Resp. VII, 514–519). Education is used as the “liberation from imprisonment.” As the allegory continues, people are bound up in a cave, only able to see the shadows of artificial objects. One person comes along who frees them so that they escape the cave and see the sun and world for the first time. The former prisoner embodies the role of the educator who walks back into the cave and leads others out to see the sun for the first time.

As Craig Anderson notes,

“For Socrates and Plato, education is a journey; it is a transformative experience best exemplified through the metaphor of a spatial transition of students from an undesirable location to a desirable location.”[1]

I want you to take a few moments to discuss the “Allegory of the Cave” as it relates to another quote by Plato in the Republic. Assess interpretation items as well as implications of such ideas.

“Isn’t education in the arts most essential for these reasons, in that rhythm and melody above all penetrate to the innermost part of the soul and most powerfully affect it, bringing gracefulness, and, if one is brought up correctly, make one graceful.… Furthermore he who has been brought up in the arts as he should have been, will be most acutely aware of what has been omitted and not well made, or not well nurtured, and he would rightly disparage it and approve and rejoice in what is beautiful, allow it into his soul, feed on it and become a good, fine man.”[2]


II. What was Education like in the ancient Roman Empire?

Education in the Ancient Roman Empire begins at a fairly young age. By the time young males are 7 to 8 years of age, they pursue the first stage of Grammar school. This would include, “mastery of correct language, command of a fairly small number of classical texts, and an ability to turn the knowledge of language and literature to a facility in composition and speech.”[3]

While in the School of Grammar, the aim for students, as Quintillian suggests, “knowledge of speaking correctly” and “the explication of the poets” (Quin. Inst. I.4.2). This was conveyed through phonology, morphology, parts of speech. It would include copying line-by-line and word-by-word selected works from Homer and Menander in Greek, Virgil and Terence in Latin.[4]

Once students mastered the grammar education, students would progress to the School of Rhetoric. Education would progress through the readings of classical texts, with a special focus on the orators, and considered the main devices of persuasive speech: invention, dispositio, elocution, memoria, and promuntiatio.[5]

The “climax of this schooling” would include this person function as an advocate in society. Their practice of speeches on imaginary themes, advising a notable historical figure on a course of action, holding fictitious forensic cases, and more.[6]

Thus, from these educational processes, it is rather simple how education created a social stratum in an overly illiterate ancient world


III. Education as a means to instill personal virtue and enculturate society

The use of Paideia had a wide range of meanings in antiquity. It could range from the broadest sense of raising a child to enculturation and cultural initiation in later usages.[7]

According to Werner Jaeger, paideia had a broad usage in the education and life of Greek culture.

“Originally the concept paideia had applied only to the process of education. Now its significance grew to include the objective side, the content of paideia—just as our word culture or the Latin cultura, having once meant the process of education, came to mean the state of being educated; and then the content of education, and finally the whole intellectual and spiritual world revealed by education, into which any individual, according to his nationality or social position, is born.”[8]

So, in other words, Paideia is the ancient Greek understanding that combined the elements of education and the educational process and life of culture as well as the spiritual being of the person.

Thus, this brings me to idea that I have been circling for my entire talk.

The role of education brought about the good of society through the instilling of person virtue.

Paideia, or education, enabled one to instill public value for the good of a functioning society. “Aristotle joins Socrates and Plato in stressing the essential role of education in promoting the arête—virtue, excellence—of the individual student, but understood always in the context of community.”[9]


IV. Encouragement for Paideia and Virtue at CBU

So, I want to ask us and myself, what is the point this smaller talk? How can my academic specialties of New Testament and Early Christianity influence how I view us and myself in the modern era, while at CBU, while all having different disciplines? Here are a number of encouragements that I offer myself as an educator.

  1. Educational rigor is not only for the good of the student, but your small rigorous pieces affect the entire whole of the person.
  2. Work hard not to separate knowledge from virtue. In other words, the trade and knowledge needed to flourish in society will lack wholeness if the persons themselves have not been considered.
  3. Do not view CBU as a means to advance personal research, but present your whole self to your students for their holistic development. You’ll become a better person and your research will be enriched.
  4. Find mentors for yourselves to draw you out of the “Allegory of the Educational Cave”
  5. Alter the loves of your students. Teach and show them, as Augustine says, to have a “rightly ordered love”.[10]
  6. Consider how your field and discipline will influence and shape a person for the good of society. Knowledge is not necessarily the end game, shaping persons to influence society for justice and virtue is an end game (a la Wolterstorf).


[1] Craig Evans, “Exodus from the Cave: Moses as Platonic Educator,” in Ancient Education and Early Christianity, LNTS 533 (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 27.

[2] Plato, Resp., III, 401e—402a

[3] R.K., “Education” in Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World, ed. G. W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Graber, 422.

[4] R.K., “Education” in Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World, ed. G. W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Graber, 422.

[5] Invention: “the discovering of the appropriate facts and arguments”; dispositio: “the arrangement of the latter in an effective order”; elocution: “their expression in a becoming style”; memoria: “memorization of the speech, the better to deliver it in the most natural-seeming manner”; and promuntiatio: “the delivery itself, with attention to voice and gesture.” R.K., “Education” in Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World, ed. G. W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Graber, 422.

[6] R.K., “Education” in Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World, ed. G. W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Graber, 422.

[7] Werner Jeager, Paideia: The Ideals of a Greek Culture (OUP, 1969), 5, 303.

[8] Jaeger, Paideia, 303.

[9] Lawrence Kimmel, “Paideia: The Learning of Values and the Teaching of Virtue in Public Education,” Midwest Journal Philosophy of Education (unpublished article, 4). Accessed 17 August 2017 http://digitalcommons.trinity.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1143&context=phil_faculty.

[10] Augustine, Civ., 15.22. “We must, however, observe right order even in our love for the very love by which we love that which is worthy to be loved, so that there may be in us that virtue which enables us to live well. Hence, it seems to me that a brief and true definition of virtue is ‘rightly ordered love’.

.@ReadingReligion Review: The Cross by Robin Jensen

.@ReadingReligion Review: The Cross by Robin Jensen

Thematic Relationship Between Didache 16.1–8 and Matthew 24–25

Thematic Relationship Between Didache 16.1–8 and Matthew 24–25