A Study for All Seasons: Lionel Yaceczko on the Western Tradition

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November 9-11 • The Heights School, Potomac, MD

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In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us that he has “become all things to all people,” so that he might better share the blessings of the Good News with more people. To become such a man for all seasons, however, one must have been educated for all seasons. A preparation of this sort is precisely what the Liberal Arts, rooted in the Western Tradition, afford to those who wish to pursue them. In Cicero’s own words, these arts are apt for both all seasons and all settings:

Though, even if there were no such great advantage to be reaped from [the study of literature], and if it were only pleasure that is sought from these studies, still I imagine you would consider it a most reasonable and liberal employment of the mind: for other occupations are not suited to every time, nor to every age or place; but these studies are the food of youth, the delight of old age; the ornament of prosperity, the refuge and comfort of adversity; a delight at home, and no hindrance abroad; they are companions by night, and in travel, and in the country. (Pro archia poeta, 7.16)

Today we talk to Dr. Lionel Yaceczko about all things Western: Western Civilization, the Western Tradition, Western Culture. We discuss just what we mean by “the West,” and why it has become so controversial in recent years. With Dr. Yaceczko’s guidance, we consider why a deep study of the West is still worth protecting and promoting beyond nostalgia and mere academic interests.

In this week’s episode, Dr. Yaceczko sets the stage by offering a high-level definition of these concepts, and then arguing that there is, indeed, something worth protecting in this tradition. This is especially true if we are interested in critiquing events of our own time and of times past, because the Western tradition is the source of so many of the commonly accepted standards now used to evaluate human conduct. Important concepts such as equality under the law and justice for all are born of this culture, extending roots into both Rome and Christianity, and growing in the rich soil of both Roman and non-Roman peoples alike. 

We might disagree about what they mean or how we use them, but perhaps that’s a good place for us to start. And, if so, let’s start at the very beginning: there was Rome, the Church, the Romans, and the Gentes.

Chapters 

  • 2:39 Introduction 
  • 3:12 What do we mean by “The West”? 
  • 4:20 What is Paedea and in what does it consist? 
  • 6:46 Why should we care so much about the Western Tradition? 
  • 8:11 A poet on trial: Cicero’s Pro archia poeta
  • 16:50 A study for all ages
  • 19:48 Why has the West become so controversial? 
  • 34:01 The most egalitarian form of elitism: sharing the benefits we have received
  • 36:27 Being just judges of the tradition: recognizing both the good and the bad
  • 41:50 Righting wrongs from within: how the tradition gives us the very tools we use to critique it 

Suggested Reading

The Making of Europe: An Introduction to the History of European Unity by Christopher Dawson

Pro Archia Poeta by Marcus Tullius Cicero   

Also on The Forum

On Christianity and the Classical Education with Dr. Lionel Yaceczko 

History the Way It Was by Bill Dardis 

Defining the Liberal Arts with Dr. Matthew Mehan 

Is The Heights a Classical School? with Michael Moynihan

Lionel Yaceczko

About the guest:

Lionel Yaceczko


Dr. Yaceczko has taught regular and online courses to all ages at the primary, secondary, and postsecondary levels, as well as summer programs for inner city boys in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Lionel’s research is focused on Late Antiquity (ca AD 180-800), with a doctoral dissertation on education in the later Roman Empire. His articles have been published in Studies in Late Antiquity, The Medieval Review, Crisis Magazine, HeightsForum.org, and Cavalcade. He has also worked in academic publishing. Lionel lives in Laurel with his wife Janet (another Latinist) and children Stanislaus, Sarah, Thom, Lio and Diego.