The Great Books
We are all, whether we realize it or not, already living inside the answers to great questions: Where did we come from? Whom should we worship? Which political order should we have? The questions are many, and every culture has its answers—but are they the most appropriate answers? Even to become aware of other possibilities, as Odysseus and Herodotus did in their travels, is to begin to engage in the great conversation that crosses centuries and continents. In Western civilization, the answers proposed within that conversation give shape to our lives—and we find them in books.
Which books, though, are the most important? Out of the vast libraries accumulated over the past three millennia, a few dozen works retain a perpetual freshness. They speak as meaningfully to students in Lander, Wyoming, today as to the citizens of ancient Athens or Jerusalem, medieval Florence or Elizabethan London. These are the Great Books that inform the curriculum at Wyoming Catholic College.
Under the guidance of their professors, our students learn not from textbooks that summarize the thinking of Aristotle, Aquinas, or Descartes, but directly from the authors themselves. The great authors teach, not only through ideas, but also by the way they use language—the metaphors they choose, the surprising ways they organize their thoughts—and there is no substitute for this direct encounter. Students experience this thought for themselves, and they can thereby understand, almost viscerally, the consequences of an author’s ideas in the world, for good or ill.
Reading the Great Books, our students grow in humility and confidence—in humility because they realize how short life is and how much there is to learn, in confidence because they have joined the great conversation that underlies our institutions and modes of life. They can speak out clearly and knowledgeably to make a difference in the workplace, in schools, in the Church, at home, and in the lives of those around them. Touched by the world’s greatest teachers, they understand what is at stake in humble circumstances as in momentous ones, and they bring the wealth of the tradition to bear in everything they undertake.
At Wyoming Catholic College, the Great Books are neither ends in themselves nor merely useful tools. As valuable as it is to master the material and to understand the trajectory of our civilization, studying the Great Books has a greater end: to discover the pathways to the truth, to experience the depth of human possibility, and to achieve what Dante calls “the good of the intellect.” In a faithfully Catholic environment informed by the magisterial teachings of the Church and faithful to them, our students read to recover the “freshness deep down things,” in Hopkins’ words, and to draw closer to the mind of God.
Partial Reading List
|St. Augustine||On Christian Doctrine, Confessions, City of God|
|St. Thomas Aquinas||Compendium theologiae, Summa theologiae, On the Perfection of the Spiritual Life, Commentary on Boethius’s De Trinitate, Commentary on Physics, On the Principles of Nature, On Kingship|
|St. Athanasius||On the Incarnation|
|Pope St. John Paul II||Veritatis Splendor, Evangelium Vitae, Centesimus Annus, Fides et Ratio, Letter to Artists|
|Homer||Illiad, Odyssey, Hymns|
|Sophocles||Oedipus the King, Antigone|
|Plato||Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Republic, Cratylus, Meno, Timaeus, Phaedo|
|Aristotle||Categories; On Interpretation; Prior and Posterior Analytics, Nicomachean Ethics, Politics, Metaphysics|
|Plutarch||Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans|
|St. Benedict||The Rule|
|Dante Alighieri||The Divine Comedy|
|Christopher Marlow||Dr. Faustus|
|Martin Luther||On the Freedom of the Christian, On the Bondage of the Will|
|William Shakespeare||Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Henry V, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear, The Tempest|
|Edmund Burke||Reflections on the Revolution in France|
|Miguel de Cervantes||Don Quixote|
|John Milton||Paradise Lost|
|Jonathan Swift||Gulliver’s Travels|
|Herman Melville||Moby Dick|
|John Locke||Second Treatise of Civil Government|
|Rene Descartes||Meditations on First Philosophy, Geometry|
|Immanuel Kant||Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics|
|Charles Darwin||Origin of the Species|
|James Madison, et. al.||The Federalist Papers|
|Thomas Jefferson||Notes on the State of Virginia, The Declaration of Independence|
|Alexis de Tocqueville||Democracy in America|
|Mark Twain||Adventures of Huckleberry Finn|
|Fyodor Dostoevsky||Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov|
|T. S. Eliot||“The Waste Land,” “The Four Quartets”|
|Isaac Newton||Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy|
|Albert Einstein||Relativity: The Special and the General Theory|
|Galileo Galilei||Two New Sciences|
|William Faulkner||As I Lay Dying|
|Boethius||Fundamentals of Music, The Consolation of Philosophy|