Wyoming Catholic College has been consciously acting to shape our rapidly degenerating discourse for almost a decade now by a sequence of courses called the Trivium, Latin for the “three ways” of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. In the words of the great trivium Master, Sister Miriam Joseph: “Grammar prescribes how to combine words so as to form sentences correctly. Logic prescribes how to combine concepts into judgments and judgments into syllogisms and chains of reasoning so as to achieve truth. Rhetoric prescribes how to combine sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into a whole composition having unity, coherence, and the desired emphasis, as well as clarity, force, and beauty.” Looking always towards the truth, beauty, and goodness united in God, the Trivium curriculum teaches students to write truthfully and beautifully, always seeking the good.
In our day, when Great Books lie unopened and clicking through ephemera on screens is all but compulsory, when heartfelt questions about existence, God, and the meaning of life are supplanted by the banal curiosities of celebrity romance, money-making schemes, and therapeutic elixirs, we desperately need leaders with a command of logos, who think clearly, rigorously, and creatively, and who write and speak forcefully and elegantly. A Wyoming Catholic College trivium education results in apprentices of the teacher, the Logos, who alone has the words of everlasting life, full of spirit and truth.
This course serves as an introduction to collegiate writing, with a special emphasis on clarity, invention of theses, and organization of thought. Students write multiple essays in order to develop in their ability to appeal through logos, pathos, and ethos.
Having mastered the foundational skills of written rhetoric, students advance in this semester to the study of great orations. Drawing especially from the speeches of statesmen from ancient and modern republics, the course requires the students to craft and deliver speeches of their own. In doing so, they practice the arts of memory and delivery. As they encounter the speeches of statesmen who turn the course of critical events either within their countries or in the world, they also necessarily reflect upon the close tie between rhetoric and the preservation of political liberty. Pericles, Cicero, Lincoln, Shakespeare’s Henry V, Churchill, and Washington powerfully used their words to stir their countrymen to improbable victories. A major emphasis of the course is the tradition of rhetoric in the American republic.
The goal of Trivium 302 is fourfold: 1) to enable students to put all their trivial skills together (arguing, analyzing, writing with clarity and beauty, speaking with persuasive power); 2) to prepare students for the senior thesis (Trivium 401); 3) to inspire and guide students, generally, in developing a habit of thought which is dialectical, creative, and synthetic; and, more particularly, in formulating projects which draw on the full range of the curriculum to answer questions of perennial importance; and 4) to come to appreciate how various disciplinary modes of thinking enable us to appreciate a great author. Within the first classes, students are guided in selecting an author from the curriculum (or one who would be worthy of inclusion) and developing a list of works of philosophical, critical, and historical importance with which they enter into conversation over their author over the course of the semester. The semester ends with a “student conference,” in which students deliver papers, providing a panoramic description of their author, introducing their colleagues to his life, thought, development, important themes, historical background, and contemporary relevance. The texts used throughout the Trivium sequence either offer instruction in the arts or serve as models for the students’ imitation, or both. A particular book may be used across multiple semesters.
|Plato||Gorgias, Phaedrus, Ion, and other dialogues|
|Fussell||Poetic Meter and Poetic Form|
|Crider||The Office of Assertion|
|Selected great essays, poems, and speeches by authors such as Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, J. Pieper, C.S. Lewis, J. Swift, Shakespeare, Thomas More, etc.|
As the culminating effort in which to demonstrate mastery of the verbal operations of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, as well as the art of reasoning, each student at Wyoming Catholic College researches and writes a senior thesis on a significant topic of his or her own choice. The student delivers, without a manuscript, an oration on the same topic in front of a public audience, followed by a question and answer period. In contrast to the previous three years of the Trivium, where a classroom of students meets with a professor for exercises and coaching in grammar, logic, and rhetoric, the last year is characterized by individual meetings with the thesis adviser. Both the thesis and the oration are expected to show the characteristic signs of leisurely study: depth and breadth of relevant knowledge, careful and nuanced consideration of ideas, argumentative rigor, confident organization, and a rhetorically effective style. The thesis and oration are together classified as TRV 401–402; each semester receives a grade, two credits for the former and one for the latter. In and of themselves, preparing the thesis and delivering the oration hold as much weight in the curriculum as a regular three-credit course.
In the senior thesis, the student frames a question of the sort that the texts in the curriculum themselves frame, and, in dialogue with one or more such texts and under the direction of a professor, the student refines, explores, and answers the question. The student’s answer is not intended to be definitive and exhaustive, but neither can it be superficial or simply the repetition of authority. The ability to carry out such an intensive investigation and to account for and defend its conclusions is an important aim of the College’s overall program. A successful senior thesis and oration may be seen as a formal and public display that the student has attained such ability in his own right.
The senior oration is a public lecture of 30 minutes (neither significantly more nor appreciably less), followed by a question and answer period of no more than 30 minutes. Held within the first month of the last semester, the oration is always to be based upon the senior thesis, although it can look to one or another aspect of the thesis topic and need not cover exactly the same ground or utilize exactly the same research. It must be clearly and logically organized, make use of appropriate rhetorical tropes, manifest the speaker’s familiarity with the topic, and exhibit sound judgment. In general, the student should aim to implement what he has learned in TRV 202 and 302.