The Trivium

As part of its commitment to a classical ‘liberal’ education, Chavagnes allows the approach of the medieval trivium and quadrivium to inform its teaching across the study programme. Essentially, this means that the basics are taught first. It also recognises that education is not the same as job-training. There are elements of training in what we do, but the key aim of Chavagnes is equip its students to think and learn for themselves throughout life: to be cultivated and free men.

In medieval universities, the trivium comprised the three subjects that were taught first: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The word is a Latin term meaning “the three ways” or “the three roads” forming the foundation of a medieval liberal arts education.

The content of the Trivium:

Grammar is the mechanics of a language; logic (or dialectic) is the “mechanics” of thought and analysis; rhetoric is the use of language to instruct and persuade. Sister Miriam Joseph (in The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric) described the three parts of the Trivium thus:

“Logic is the art of thinking; grammar, the art of inventing symbols and combining them to express thought;

and rhetoric, the art of communicating thought from one mind to another, the adaptation of language to circumstance.”

Another description is:

Logic is concerned with the thing as-it-is-known,
Grammar is concerned with the thing as-it-is-symbolized, and
Rhetoric is concerned with the thing as-it-is-communicated.

The study of logic, grammar and rhetoric was the beginning of the liberal arts, preceding the study of  the quadrivium, which was made up of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. In the high middle ages and renaissance, it was only after these two stages that a young man went on to study philosophy and theology, the law or medicine.

At Chavagnes, then, the basics are put in place (The Trivum) as a preparation for a more complete formation of the whole man: spiritual, intellectual, physical,  aesthetic and moral. In practice, elements of the Trivium and the Quadrivium run side by side throughout the College (and from 16-18 there is even some philosophy and theology on offer), but the medieval tradition still remains a frame of reference for us.

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