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Modern discussion of the liberal arts has emphasized the development of the individual critical thinker and not the art of thinking socially. Rick Kennedy summarizes the four-step craft of social thinking that was long taught in the pre-modern tradition of liberal arts. This intellectual craft was not specifically named by the ancients but is evident in their use of honeybee imagery. In the New Testament, this intellectual craft can be best seen in the term tapeinophrosune which can be translated as “humblethink.” This article is rooted in a lecture presented at Wheaton College in February 2010 that was organized by Jill Peláez Baumgaertner and Kathryn Long. Mr. Kennedy much appreciates their support along with other colleagues. He is professor of history at Point Loma Nazarene University, a past-president of The Conference on Faith and History, the author of A History of Reasonableness: Testimony and Authority in the Art of Thinking (2004), and presently working with others on an edition of Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana.

Alasdair MacIntyre writes that humility “is the first step in education or in self-education,” and that “obedient trust,” “faith in authority,” and “conformity” are essential practices of reading one’s self into the Scriptures and thinking one’s self into a rational tradition.1 He writes of this as an Augustinian development in moral philosophy that Thomas Aquinas would later unite with Aristotelianism. I here take a lower road by showing how Augustine was picking up on what was already taught in the scribal culture of classical and Christian liberal arts.

It is common to associate liberal arts education with the promise of attaining power or prestige; however, it is important to remember that an art of scribal humility was foundational within the curriculum of the Roman Empire.2 In order to see this in the historical record, it is important that we think of humility as a social craft rather than a personal virtue. MacIntyre, in the tradition of moral philosophy, writes of humility as a virtue and emphasizes an Aristotelian distinction between a craft and a virtue. I write instead out of the Aristotelian political tradition about humility as a liberal art, taught to the youngest students as a craft of citizenship and fellowship. MacIntyre focuses on the word phronēsis, a word that indicates a practical, political, and prudential way of thinking, as a key to understanding moral philosophy. I focus on a related New Testament word, tapeinophrosune, a word that we can translate as “humblethink” as a key to understanding the social foundations of classical and Christian liberal arts.3 Paul wrote to the Ephesian and Philippian churches that he desired them to practice humblethink (Eph. 4:2, Phil. 2:3) and in Acts 20:19 he reminded the Ephesian elders that he, himself, practiced it. This New Testament word describes what was taught in classical liberal arts as the thinking craft of honeybees. Teresa Morgan in Literate Education in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds writes:

Bees were widely used as an image of a model society. They are described as perfectly social creatures who subordinate their individuality to the harmonious whole. As such they are loaded images for the educated man. They suggest that not only should he be busy, useful, and virtuous; he should also direct his activity to the common good and live in harmony with his society.4

We must look to the humblethink in bee imagery to see the way classical and early Christian liberal arts taught the humility that MacIntyre found in Augustine and proposed as the first step in education.

There were four essential practices to the art of bee-like humblethink. The first was a recognition that most knowledge is social and must be handled with rules of social obligation. The second was the practice of information gathering and arranging, the art of creating archives, libraries, anthologies, florilegia, and other honeycomb-like systems of information management. Third was submission to consensus and accumulated authorities such as traditions of the wise, the vox populi, and juries. Finally, the fourth was the expectation that the first three practices facilitated the mysterious production of honey; that scribal culture was being used by the power of truth and the Holy Spirit.

Scribal Culture, Social Knowledge, and Obligation to Authorities

Classical liberal arts or paideia was foundationally focused on teaching the skills needed by scholar-bureaucrats and citizen-orators in political situations. Certainly the Aristotelian designation “liberal” indicated a personal fulfillment, even critical thinking, available in education; however, education’s first duty was to teach citizenship and support a scribal-bureaucratic culture.5 Quintilian wrote in the preface to his Institutio Oratoria that he was not concerned with educating philosophers. His book was oriented “to the man who can really play his part as a citizen.”6 Aristotelian political tradition affirmed that humans were bee-like political animals and a city found its purpose in being a fellowship of good people (koinonian agathou).7 Plutarch, even when he had an eye on older boys who desired to be philosophers, wrote of the ideal that all education was supposed to produce a contented scholar and fellowshipper (eukolias philologon kai koinonikan).8 Cicero in On Duties recommended bee swarms as a model to his son who was supposedly pursuing higher education in Athens. Cicero told his son that “the claims of human society and the bonds that unite men together take precedence of the pursuit of speculative knowledge” and reminded him that “every duty, therefore, that tends effectively to maintain and safeguard human society should be given the preference over that duty which arises from speculation and science alone.”9 Quintilian, Plutarch, and Cicero were certainly not against speculative philosophy; however, the rock upon which such philosophy should be founded was that of the social obligations of scholar-citizenship.

The stability of the Roman Empire relied heavily on a widespread scholar bureaucracy of civil servants, and it was into this scribal culture that God embedded the Good News. Harry Y. Gamble makes a good case in Books and Readers in the Early Church that Christianity began neither as an oral nor a literary movement; rather, it was rooted in a humble Jewish-Roman scribal culture skilled in the craft of collecting, securing, and anthologizing sayings and testimonies.10 A bureaucratic commitment to information management was infused deep into the Jews and Romans, and a class of slave-clerks and household stewards were charged with securing good order of politics. When Jesus was sometimes beset by scribes working for the Pharisees trying to catch him in his words, we should remember that there were probably similar-acting scribes among his disciples. At one point Jesus, Aristotle-like, mixed the imagery of scribal culture and household stewardship: “every scribe/grammarian who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household who brings out of his treasure/thesaurus/archive/storehouse things new and old” (Matthew13:52). The most famous of scribal word-catchers in the Roman Empire is Tiro, who was the servant-scribe of Cicero. Tiro developed a shorthand in order to take accurate dictation of his master’s courtroom performances.11 The scribal training in the liberal arts supported the ekklēsia that were essential to both the empire and Christianity. Harry Gamble makes a good case that even the book-like codex form of the Bible that was promoted in early Christianity was a function of the humble viewpoint of scribal culture. The book was not a literary form; rather, it was a humble textbook or handbook form useful to scribes and the training of scribes.12

In the liberal arts of the Roman Empire, bee-like methods of information storage and retrieval were taught in a foundational art called “topics.”Aristotle promoted topicsand embedded it in dialectic and rhetoric. Topics was focused on managing endoxa, which can be defined generally as a wide range of practical, non-philosophical, knowledge or information. Endoxa included facts, perceptions, oracles, prophesies, opinions, laws, stories, and proverbs along with all sorts of historical, geographical, and ethnographical testimony. The credibility of endoxarested on the authority of its sources, whether from one’s mind, one’s senses, or from social sources whether oral or written, ancient or modern, human or divine.13 Topics was first and foremost an information storage and retrieval strategy designed to support reasonable, information-based thinking.14 Topics served the important purpose of teaching that good thinking was not simply natural in humans; rather, good thinking needed to be taught to humans. Good thinking was an art. Most importantly for bee-like humblethink, topics affirmed that much of good thinking concerned information known socially and used socially. Certainly a Socrates might find great philosophical truths by introspection; however, topics was especially oriented to teaching people ways of finding, securing, and encouraging social truths.

Aristotle put the term “faith” (pistis) at the center of topics applied to dialectic and rhetoric.15 Faith, like humility, was emphasized in classical dialectic and rhetoric as a thinking craft essential to social thinking. Cicero in his Topica taught that the craft of making faith (faciendam fidem) required authoritative testifiers.16 In many Renaissance logic textbooks, this kind of “faithcraft” or faith-making would be named “the rule of reciprocation.” John Milton, the poet, tutor, and textbook writer, described the procedure for such faithcrafting from oral or written sources:

But just as it is not the testimony by its own force but the authority of the one giving testi-mony that argues the thing testified, so in turn the thing testified argues not the testimony itself but the authority of the one giving the testimony.17

Faithcraft in this long liberal arts tradition was a scribal technique of humble-think. Presented information, the student looks first to the authority of the source of the information and only in the light of that authority does the student then critique the information itself. Faithcraft and humblethink share a focus on social obligations, especially obligation to a credible authority. Plutarch recommended to older students who were pursuing philosophy, those who needed to play the “keen and heartless critic,” that they set aside faithcraft and humblethink. The judgment of philosophers should not be clouded by social obligations. On the other hand, Plutarch noted that it was good even for students pursuing philosophy not to let go of the social modesty or reverence that was especially appropriate to beginning students.18 Faithcraft was a technique that could be used or not used in a given situation. Plutarch himself could model, at times, both the critic and the faithmaker. When attacking Herodotus, he played the “keen and heartless critic.” When struggling with authoritative hearsay evidence of a talking statue, Plutarch applied the technique of faithcraft, saying that “history forces our assent with numerous and credible witnesses.”19

There is a long-standing tension in liberal arts education between rules of scribal practice and rules of philosophical practice. Plutarch advised moderation between the two methods, but the former was bee-like and the latter was not. The primary goal in public education was not the production of philosophers; rather, it was the creation of citizens and fellowshippers skilled at making faith and the humblethink of appropriate submission. When Aristotle discussed his ideal city-state, he advised that the population limit of a polis should be the limit of the citizenry’s ability to know each other. A polis needed to be small, scribal, and bee-like. Citizens have to distribute offices and serve in courtrooms. “It is necessary for the citizens to know each other’s personal characters.”20 There was a calculus in intellectual life that recognized that much of good thinking entailed social knowledge and required a craft of humility appropriately obligated to authorities.

“No one doubts,” Augustine declared, “that we are helped in learning by a twofold force, that of authority and that of reason.”21 Peter King and Nathan Ballantyne recently described the Augustinian tradition of authority or social knowledge as a “Reidian” epistemological tradition; however, its roots are in classical education’s emphasis on the social arts of bees.22 In modern Christian liberal arts we would do well to teach faithcraft and humblethinking as tools of proper obligation to authority distinct from modern critical thinking. In classical terms, education needs to start with the skills of scribes and citizens before embarking on the skills of philosophers.

Flower Picking, Anthologies, and Florilegia

In this article I assume a lot of Aristotelizingin the liberal arts of the Roman Empire and in the New Testament’s use of the term “humblethink.” Certainly it would be awkward to insist that a young Luke, Paul, Timothy, or Titus studied Aristotle’s own Topics or practiced a specifically Aristotelian rhetoric. However, it is not awkward to think of those first missionary bishops being influenced in the earliest stages of their education by the common Aristotelian dialectic of bee-like faithcraft and humblethink. Strabo, a travelogue-scholar who died five or so years before Jesus’ crucifixion, wrote of schools, libraries, bibliophiles, grammarians, philosophers, and teachers of rhetoric in the Roman Empire. When describing education in Asia Minor, he turned a noun into an infinitive: “to Aristotle” or “to Aristotelize” (aristotelizein).23 Strabo expected his readers to know what it meant for a teacher “to Aristotle.” Tarsus, in particular, Strabo described as devoted “not only to philosophy, but also to the whole round of education in general.”24

A key feature of Aristotelizing in the liberal arts was honeybee, honeycomb, lower picking, flower weaving, and flower arranging imagery. Once a student recognized the truth of step one—that social ways of knowing exist, have rules, and demand obligations to authorities and humility—the next step was to take up the role of bee-like gathering and honeycomb-like arranging of social information for social use. This second step was founded in Aristotelian topics and is widely evident in the scribal penchant for gathering information into literary collections called anthologies and florilegia. Both terms mean “flower arrangement.” When Eusebius described himself in the introduction to his Ecclesiastical History as pick-ing flowers from fields of literature, he was calling upon a centuries-old tradition of depicting scribal scholarship as flower arranging.25

Pedagogically it was brilliant to transform rather uninspiring humblethink into pleasant bee and garden imagery. Classical textbooks did not need to write specifically of humility when they could depict it so well in bee and garden imagery. Isocrates, Lucretius, Seneca, Plutarch, Gellius, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Basil, Jerome, and Cassiodorus were only the most famous classical and early Christian authors to use flower, bee, and honeycomb images to describe this second stage of humblethink as a scholarly craft.26

Given the information management image of a honeycomb, it is not hard to understand how humblethink encouraged the development of libraries and librarians. Classroom practice in Aristotelian topics undergirded a pedagogical and literary revolution encouraging list making, bibliography collecting, compendia of sketch biographies, and the beginnings of a long-standing and still-practiced classroom tradition of anthologized snippets from important authors. Eusebius, according to Jerome, wrote a textbook on topics.27 Arnaldo Momigliano, Anthony Grafton, and Megan Williams see in Eusebius’ works “a long series of brilliant and effective experiments in the processing of both information and texts, experiments by which he transformed the practice of scholarship.”28 Just a glance through the bibliographies in Diogenese Laertius’ Lives of the Philosophers and Jerome’s Lives of Illustrious Men along with the reading lists in Quintilian’s Institutio and Cassiodorus’ Divine and Human Readings gives evidence of the bee-like intensity of what MacIntyre describes as the “craft-tradition” of reading that grafted readers into scholarly traditions.29

Reading was an activity especially appropriate for bees. For Cassiodorus, students should “pray to God, the source of all that is useful; read, I pray, constantly; go over the material diligently; for frequent and intense meditation is the mother of understanding.”30 “Reading,” Quintilian noted, “does not hurry past us with the speed of oral delivery; we can read a passage again and again if we are in doubt about it or wish to fix it in the memory.”31 Seneca, the tutor to young Nero, crafted what became one of the most influential bee and reading passages in the history of education: “Reading,” he wrote, “is indispensible.” It

nourishes the mind and refreshes it when it is wearied with study; nevertheless, this refresh-ment is not obtained without study…. We should follow, men say, the example of the bees, who flit about and cull the flowers that are suitable for producing honey, and then arrange and assort in their cells all that they have bought in.32

David L. Dungan in Constantine’s Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament recognizes the scholarship of bee-like reading in the textual judgments of Diogenes Laertius and Eusebius. Both, when list-making and anthologizing, categorized texts as either “genuine,” “spurious,” or “disputed.” Laertius creating bibliographies and Eusebius rating the authority of possible holy scriptures were both gathering not only information but information about the social acceptance of information. 33 They were gathering assessments. They were looking for consensus and giving authority to consensus. The honeybee practice of thinking socially was the critical method of intellectual judgment. Finding ways for consensus to express itself was one of the most important practices in the next stage of humblethink.

Judgment by Consensus

It might seem odd to some readers if we now turn to Emperor Constantine as example of the third stage of humblethink. Here again, I remind readers that this article is not about developing a personal virtue; rather, it is about learning the practices of a scribal craft. The first practice of this craft is obligating one’s self within a social intellectual life. Second is the bee-and-honeycomb-like practice of gathering and organizing lots of diverse information. The third brings us to judgment and decision-making as groups, not individuals. This third practice of humblethink should be understandable to most today because this is the practice of republican government and courtroom decision-making. This third practice of humility includes submission to the majority after a public vote or submission to decisions made by a delegated group, such as a senate or jury, of socially respected authorities after due process of deliberation. The intellectual craft here is of the same kind of thinking recommended in 1 Peter 5:5 where young men are told to submit to elders. Paul tells them to “clothe yourselves with humblethink toward one another.” One of the obvious criticisms of our modern schools, both public and Christian, is that they are very good at encouraging individual creative and critical thinking but have largely forgotten how to teach the practices of social thinking. Schools often give grades for citizenship, but these grades are separate from academic course-work grades. This is largely because we today treat citizenship as a virtue and not an intellectual craft. Classical and Christian humblethink was a liberal art, a craft, a set of practices that were consciously lowly but supportive of citizenship and church membership.

At the beginning of the fourth century, Constantine was a politician, not a philosopher-king, and the Christian bishops tended to be more scribal than theological.34 Constantine did not, himself, want to write a unifying creed for the church; rather, he asked a council of bishops to come to a consensus to what most of the churches, especially the leading churches, throughout the empire would agree. A letter from Constantine declared that he believed that there was “no firmer or more effective” method of preserving the churches in one faith “than of submitting everything relating to our most holy religion to the examination of all, or most of all, the bishops.”35 Aristotle had oriented topics toward facts, opinions, proverbs, laws, and other information that “commend themselves to all or to the majority or to the wise—that is, to all of the wise or to the majority or to the most famous and distinguished of them.”36 Constantine wanted a creed that would do the same. “The safest and most rational course,” Quintilian advised on a debatable issue, is “to follow the authority of the majority.”37

Consensus constitutes authority in paideia-style humblethink. Consensus creates an intellectual authority that entails an obligation in a community. When Constantine asked the bishops to make a unanimous decision, the bishops complied—probably not out of fear or intellectual duplicity, but rather out of the humblethink of consensus-creation. From a classical liberal arts perspective, the Council of Nicea’s unanimity is like the unanimity of the United States Supreme Court under the leadership of Earl Warren in Brown v. Board of Education. Chief Justice Warren wanted a unanimous decision in order to make the decision stronger, and the justices gave him a unanimous decision because they too realized the need to give the law the full authority of unanimity.

Moving from courts to general elections, there is a longstanding Greek and Roman tradition of submission to the vox populi, the voice of the people. In this rule of humility, “the people” is a vague accumulation that, it is hoped, is not a mob but rather a consensus of a majority of good consciences and wills. “The people” speak with the authority of an accumulation.38 One’s proper response, unless in an extreme situation, is to obligate one’s self and submit. In classical liberal arts this was taught not only as a method of inquiry and decision-making in politics and law but also in matters such as history, geography, ethics, proverbial wisdom, and relations between divinities and humanity.

The goal, of course, was not to turn students intellectually into sheep; rather, it was to turn them into bees. The goal was recognition that people, in general, think better as a group than as autonomous individuals. Individual critical think-ing had its proper role, but it should not be over-emphasized. In the long tradition of dialectic and rhetoric textbooks, the most common depiction of social inquiry and decision-making was the courtroom process of moving from witnesses to judgment. Key individuals in the process were the lawyers whose duty was to spin statements from witnesses in ways that supported either the defense or the prosecution. Cicero in On Duties wrote of how it was sometimes his role as a lawyer to argue for what merely looked like truth when it was the duty of the whole process of the courtroom to discover the truth.39 The forceful and adamant individual critical thinker has his or her proper role, but in the normal course of intellectual life, that role must be clothed in humblethink.

Apian biologist Thomas D. Seeley in his Honeybee Democracy describes bees as “beautifully social” and writes of his hope that the social ways that honeybees process information might offer lessons for human groups.40 Aristotle had related humans to bees in Politics, and there is a long tradition into which this present article fits that recommends learning from bees.41 Seeley notes that there are many modern individualists who are antagonistic to the idea of bees or humans thinking best in groups, but he shows how honeybees build quorums and eventually unify in support of wise decisions. He calls it “swarm smarts” and “collective intelligence.”42

The Pressure of Truth and Mystery of Honey
“You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” This American proverb, usually attributed to Abraham Lincoln, has roots in the intellectual craft of humility taught in classical and Christian liberal arts. The proverb expresses backhanded optimism about truth being more powerful than error in the long run among majorities of people. Truth, Aristotle taught, “is not beyond human nature, and men do, for the most part, achieve it.”43 For Aristotle, this optimism encouraged a rowboat-style notion that the best way to move forward is to look backward. Long-held traditions were more likely to be true than innovations or eccentricities.44 Vague transcendental powers of truth supported good citizenship.45 Justice was most evident in patterns of legal precedents.

Classical and Christian paideia shared in Aristotle’s teleological optimism that truth was more persuasive than error and that truth mysteriously outs itself best in the authority of respected books. Cassiodorus, when recommending old books, wrote: “It will always be better for you not to be drinking in striking novelty; but to satisfy yourself at the spring of the ancients.”46 Quintilian wrote: “As for antiquity, it is commended to us by the possession of a certain majesty, I might almost say sanctity.”47 Both Paul and an anonymous author described writings/scriptures to be “God-breathed.”48 have gathered into this delicious object by blending something therewith and by a certain property of their breath.” However, we

ought to copy these bees, and sift whatever we have gathered from a varied course of reading, for such things are better preserved if they are kept separate; then, by applying the supervis-ing care with which our nature has endowed us,—in other words, our natural gifts,—we should also blend those several flavours into one delicious compound that, even though it betrays its origin, yet it nevertheless is clearly a different thing from that whence it came.49

Christian liberal arts for over a thousand years commended humble, bee-like participation in scholarship with an expectation of honeycomb enchantment. “Go to the bee,” declared Clement of Alexandria, “and learn how laborious she is; for she, feeding on the whole meadow, produces one honeycomb.”50 Less laborious is the example of a preface to an ecclesiastical history written in seventeenth-century England:

And now (Christian Reader) … thou has been long detained out of this pleasant garden, we desire that God’s direction and blessing may accompany thy passage through it: that whilst thou seest thy self surrounded with sweet and fragrant flowers, thou mayest adore the inexhaust fulness of Jesus Christ, from whom all graces and consolations do continually flow. And because an inward and supernatural principle is necessary to the right improvement of such helps, (as the Bee by an innate quality, which other creatures want, maketh Honey out of Flowers) we commend thee to the God of all Grace, that by the abilities of his Spirit, thou mayst be abundantly benefited in spiritual respects, by the serious surveying of this useful book.51

Analogies to bees and honeycombs are not supposed to encourage pride. The bee-like practice of humblethink is supposed to encourage dinner-table obligations, wide-angle listening, and benefit-of-the-doubt hospitality when engaging in ancient and ongoing conversations. God is at work, truth will out, but any given person or book, at any given time, can be in error. Quandaries present themselves often, but Quintilian taught that “error brings no disgrace if it results from treading in the footsteps of distinguished guides.”52 He also taught a rule of modesty and circumspection that recognized that, though not everything one reads is necessarily true, it is better to believe too much than too little when it comes to the writings of well-respected authors.53

One submits to the ultimate transcendence of justice when one submits to the decision of a court—even if the particular instance seems unjust. One submits to a vague collective “will of the people” when one submits to the majority after a vote—such a submission affirms a larger principle. And one submits to the Holy Spirit when authoritative Christian scholars practice humblethink and find consensus. At the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, the Holy Spirit was assumed to speak through consensus (v. 28). So, too, the Holy Spirit was assumed to speak when the bishops voted unanimously at Nicea.

Truth is the daughter of accumulating consensus through time in the liberal arts tradition of humblethink. Eusebius in one of his most exuberant passages wrote that “Truth asserted herself, and with the march of time shone with in-creasing light…. Thus the passage of time extinguished the calumnies against the whole of our doctrine.”54 Listen for the bee-like humblethink in Augustine’s formula for a scholar deciding which scriptures should be considered canonical:

Now, in regard to the canonical Scriptures, he must follow the judgment of the greater number of catholic churches; and among these, of course, a high place must be given to such as have been thought worthy to be the seat of an apostle and receive epistles. Accordingly, among the canonical Scriptures he will judge according to the following standard: to prefer those that are received by all the catholic churches to those which some do not receive. Among those, again, which are not received by all, he will prefer such as have the sanction of the greater number and those of greater authority, to such are as held by the smaller number and those of less authority.55

For Augustine, the gathering of the scriptural canon was a liberal arts project. It was not the work of theologians. It was not the work of prophets. It was the work of bee-like scribal culture over several hundred years. The canon was a consensus, a honeycomb-like anthology put together by swarm smarts. Not only Quintilian’s vague “sanctity” was evident through the long process of gathering, but also the Holy Spirit was evident. Scribal culture recognized such things, and liberal arts taught the humble craft of swarm smarts and the handling of a canon as a canon. Harry Gamble writes that the New Testament “will not be fully understood until it is also understood as a canon.”56 Such a canon is a collective concentration of divine and social authority. Such a canon is a tradition that expects and deserves obligation to it while participating in it. Classical and Christian liberal arts taught the craft of obligation and participation.

Humblethink and Sorrow in Christian Liberal Arts

When reading Alaisdair MacIntyre about the way Augustine promoted humility in the history of moral philosophy, it is good to recognize that Augustine was tapping into a long classical and Christian liberal arts tradition of teaching bee-like humblethink. Teresa Morgan is right when she writes that we today often hallow the liberal arts with romantic notions while we neglect many of its actual tenets and practices.57 Bee-like humblethink is one of those crafts within the classical and Christian liberal arts that we have neglected to teach.

I have here outlined four essential practices of humblethink that build upon each other that can be revived within our modern general education classes. God incarnated the divine self in a man living in the Roman Empire, and God embedded the Good News into that empire’s scribal culture. As Paul told the Corinthians: “God has chosen the weak things of the world” (2:28). It behooves us today to revive the teaching of this ancient craft of the liberal arts.

The first practice of scribal culture was rooted in the topics of Aristotle, which taught a faithcraft of appropriate social obligation to credible authorities. Second, the most obvious practice of humblethink was gathering, organizing, and securing social information for social use. Information management or information technology is the most recognizable modern form of bee-like humblethink. Third are the republican and juridical practices of submission to consensus and accumulations of authorities. These also are easily recognizable in modern politics and courtrooms, but can be taught better as appropriate practices of what Thomas Seeley calls “swarm smarts” and “collective intelligence.” Fourth is the passive expectation that the first three practices facilitate the mysterious production of honey; that bee-like scribal culture has in the past been, and continues to be, used by the power of truth and the Holy Spirit.

As a final note, we should recognize that, for Augustine, the liberal arts should be neither triumphal nor prideful. For Augustine, the beginning and end of liberal arts is in the communicating and suffering God of Christianity. “Let us beware of [the] dangerous temptations of pride,” he declared when writing his book on Christian education.58 A little later he reiterated: “Man fell through pride, humility restored him.”59 The collection of scriptures over centuries was a project of bee-like humblethink, and humblethink recommended that readers “believe and submit” (credere et cedare). The good hope evident in the Scriptures should make us “not boastful, but sorrowful” (non se lactantem sed lamentantem).60 In Philippians 2 we should humblethink because God humbled himself to the cross. The classical liberal arts that Augustine taught, and in which he was trained, promoted citizen-fellowship skills as the foundation to the scribal-servant culture of the Roman Empire. It taught students to work intellectually like bees. Aristotle had declared in Politics that the definition and purpose of a city-state is to be koinonian agathou, a fellowship of the good.61 Paul declared in Philippians 3:10his desire to be a member of the koinonian pathematon autou, the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings. Bee-like liberal arts taught students to be citizen-fellowshippers in both.

Cite this article
Rick Kennedy, “Educating Bees: Humility as a Craft in Classical and Christian Liberal Arts”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 40:2 , 29-42


  1. Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), 82-103, esp.84.
  2. See, for example, Peter Brown’s Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Toward a Christian Empire (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), 35-70.
  3. See Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 154-55, and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 115-123. Aristotle states succinctly that φρόνησις “is an excellence or virtue, and not an art” in Nichomachean Ethics 1140b25 [trans. H. Rackham (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934), 339]; however, for the roots of the textbook practice of conflating the teaching of virtues and arts, see Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics 1103a30-b10, 1105a25-b5, and 1106b10-15.
  4. Teresa Morgan, Literate Education in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 263.
  5. Aristotle wrote of έλευθέρων έργων (liberal/freeing useful arts/work) as an essential part of a government’s obligation in Politics 1337a-b (see especially 1337b5-10). For an excellent study of ancient liberal arts that emphasizes their orientation to support scribal culture see H. I. Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity, trans. George Lamb (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1956). Note especially such passages as: “Throughout antiquity the teaching profession remained a humble, somewhat despised occupation” (145). Werner Jaeger, on the other hand, along with many others, tends to emphasize the “higher culture” and “philosophical spirit” of “the educated few” (see Early Christianity and Greek Paideia(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), 21). This is not a black/white situation, but I share in the lowered perspective of Teresa Morgan and H. I. Marrou.
  6. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, trans. H. E. Butler, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1921),
  7. Aristotle, Politics, 1252a1-5.
  8. Plutarch, “On Listening to Lectures” in Moralia, 43d.
  9. Cicero, De Officiis, trans. Walter Miller (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1913), 161, 163.
  10. Harry Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 21-41. The status of a “scribe” ranged widely on the social scale of various ancient communities, but with the term “scribal culture” I empha-size the large number of literate bureaucrats in the Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. For studies of the fullness of the meaning of “scribe” within and behind the Bible, see Karel van der Toorn, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009); Anthony J. Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees in Palestinian Society (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988); and Christine Schams, Jewish Scribes in the Second-Temple Period, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998).
  11. For well-imagined depictions of scribal culture, see the novel written from Tiro’s perspec-tive: Robert Harris, Imperium (New York: Pocket Books, 2006).
  12. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church, 49-66.
  13. Aristotle, Topica, 100a-100b18. For an overview of the history of topics in liberal arts, see Rick Kennedy, A History of Reasonableness: Testimony and Authority in the Art of Thinking(Rochester, NY: University of Rochester, 2004).
  14. For examples, see Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1355b, 1375a; Cicero, Topica, iv.24, xix.72, De Oratore, II.xxvii; and Quintililan, Institutio Oratoria, V.v-x. Quintilian notes that Aristotle’s system was commonly accepted, V.i.1.
  15. Aristotle’s extensive use of πιστις is rarely translated as “faith” in modern English. See Rick Kennedy, “Faith, the Conference on Faith and History, and Aristotelian Historiography,” Fides et Historia 41 (2009): 1-21.
  16. Cicero, Topica, iv.24 and xix.73.
  17. John Milton, A Fuller Course in the Art of Logic Conformed to the Method of Peter Ramus, trans. Walter J. Ong and Charles J. Ermantinger, vol. 8 of Complete Prose Works of John Milton (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), 322. See also Alexander Richardson’s highly influential Logicians School-Master: or, A Comment Upon Ramus Logick (London: 1657), 234-235, and Rick Kennedy and Thomas Knoles, “Increase Mather’s Catechismus Logicus: A Translation and an Analysis of the Role of a Ramist Catechism at Harvard,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 109 (1999): 145-181.
  18. Plutarch, “On Listening to Lectures,” 48d, 41b-c, and 46e.
  19. Plutarch, “Coriolanus,” in Plutarch’s Lives, trans. Bernadotte Perrin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1916), IV.xxxvii (p. 211). See also “The Malice of Herodotus,” in Moralia
  20. Aristotle, Politics, 1326b15-20.
  21. Augustine, Against the Academics, trans. John J. O’Mera (New York: Newman Press, 1951), III.xx.43.
  22. eter King and Nathan Ballantyne, “Augustine on Testimony,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy30.2 (June 2009): 195-214. For Reidian epistemology, see Nicholas Wolterstorff, Thomas Reid and the Story of Epistemology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). See also C. A. J. Coady’s wide-ranging critique of modern education in Testimony: A Philosophical Study(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
  23. Strabo, The Geography of Strabo, trans. Horace Leonard Jones, (Cambridge: Harvard Uni-versity, 1929), 13.I.54-55.
  24. Ibid., 14.5.13.
  25. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, I.i.4.
  26. See Isocrates, “To Demonicus,”Lucretius, De Rerum Natura; Seneca, Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales: Letter LXXXIV; Plutarch, “On Listening to Lectures” and “How The Young Man Should Study Poetry” in Moralia; The Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, XVII.xxi.1; Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, VI.i,xv; Basil the Great, “To Young Men, On How They Might Derive Profit From Pagan Literature,” in The Letters; Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Cassio-dorus, Institutions, I.preface. 4, II.ii.16, and The Variae of Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator, preface.11, IX.4-5. See also Tore Janson, Latin Prose Prefaces: Studies in Literary Conventions(Stockholm: Alquist & Wiksell, 1961), 81-83 and Kennedy, “Historians as Flower Pickers and Honey Bees: Cotton Mather and the Commonplace-Book Tradition of History,” in Cotton Mather and Biblia Americana—America’s First Bible Commentary: Essays in Reappraisal, eds. Reiner Smolinski and Jan Stievermann (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck and Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 268-274.

  27. Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, LXXXI.
  28. Arnaldo Momigliano, “The Origins of Ecclesiastical Historiography,” in The Classical Foundations of Modern Historiography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), esp. 138-145, and Anthony Grafton and Megan Williams, Christianity and the Transformation of the Book: Origen, Eusebius, and the Library of Caesarea (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 143, see also 6-7.
  29. Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry, 82.
  30. Cassiodorus, Institutions, I.7 (p. 108)
  31. Quintilian, Institutio, X.I.19.iv (p. 13)
  32. Seneca, Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, trans. Richard M. Gummere, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard, 1920), II. 277-279 (Letter LXXXIV).
  33. David L. Dungan, Constantine’s Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament (Minne-apolis: Fortress Press, 2007), see 36-42, 87-91. For Eusebius’ list of accepted scriptures, see Ecclesiastical History III.25.
  34. See H. A. Drake, “Constantine and Consensus,” Church History 64 (1995): 1-15, and Con-stantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). I would like to note here a deep intellectual dept in this article to Prof. Drake who was my teacher when I was his teaching assistant.
  35. Theodoret, The Ecclesiastical History, trans. Blomfield Jackson in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2nd ser., vol. 3(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979), 47.
  36. Aristotle, Topica, trans. E. S. Forster (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), 100a18-100b30 (273, 275).
  37. Quintilian, Institutio, III.iv.12.
  38. See Aristotle’s justification that a crowd judges better than a single person, Politics 1286a. For the classic Roman statement on consular and senatorial obligation to “the people,” about the accumulated decisions of “the people” to honor and punish, and about their fickleness, see Polybius, The Rise of the Roman Empire VI.14-18, 56. See footnote #42 for more on this crucial issue.
  39. Cicero, De Officiis II.51.
  40. Thomas D. Seeley, Honeybee Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 4, 2.
  41. Aristotle, Politics, 1253a5-15.
  42. Seeley, Honeybee Democracy, 6-8.
  43. Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1335a (In Penguin, 68-69).
  44. W. K. C. Guthrie in Aristotle: An Encounter, vol. 6 in A History of Greek Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1981), 91, 106-112, describes Aristotle’s “defiant championship of the consensus omnium” and its teleological implications. See also See Klaus Oehler, “De Consensus Omnium als Kriterium der Wahrheit in der Antiken Philosophie und der Patristic,” in Antike Philosophie und Byzantinisches Mittelalter (Munich, 1969), 234-271, esp. 237-241. Consensus Omnium is today often listed baldly and categorically as a logical fallacy that is usually named Argumentum ad Populum. The tradition of liberal arts textbooks has long been more subtle and conscientious about social knowledge than most modern textbooks.
  45. See Susan D. Collins, Aristotle and the Recovery of Citizenship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
  46. Cassiodorus, Institutions, I. preface. 4 (107).
  47. Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, trans. H. E. Butler (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920), “Vetera maiestas quaedam et, ut sic dixerim, religio commendat.” The following quote refers directly only to orators, but in context refers to historians too: “…et velut error honestus est magnos duces sequentibus…. Omnia tamen haec exigent acre iudicum.”
  48. 2 Timothy 3:16, and [Pseudo]-Plutarch “De Placitis Philosophorum,” in Moralia, 904f.
  49. Seneca, Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, trans. Richard M. Gummere, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard, 1920), II. 277-279 (Letter LXXXIV).
  50. 0Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, trans. Roberts-Donaldson ( ), I. vi.
  51. 1John Wallis and Simeon Ash, “To the Reader,” in Samuel Clarke, The Marrow of Ecclesiastical History (London: 1654).
  52. Quintilian, Institutio,
  53. Ibid., X.i.24-26.
  54. Eusebius, The History of the Church, trans. G. A. Williamson (New York: Penguin Books, 1965), 110.
  55. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, II.8.12.
  56. Harry Y. Gamble, The New Testament Canon: Its Making and Meaning (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002), 73.
  57. See Teresa Morgan, Literate Education in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds, 8-9.
  58. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. J. F. Shaw in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2nd ser., vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), preface, 6.
  59. Ibid., I. 14.13.
  60. Ibid., II.7.10.
  61. Aristotle, Politics, 1252a.1-5.

Rick Kennedy

Point Loma Nazarene University
Rick Kennedy is Professor of History at Point Loma Nazarene University.