I came across a short Latin phrase recently that described the educative process well. John Amos Comenius, in the 17th century, wrote in his Latin textbook, "Si principium difficile, medium facile, finis iucundus." In English, we might say, "If the beginning is difficult, the middle will be easy, and the end pleasant." As a teacher of languages, I found Comenius's statement accurate and insightful. Study of a foreign language, as study of most subjects, begins with an exploration of grammar.
A student must become familiar with the rules and systems of a language in order to gain knowledge of the inner logic of that language. I would liken the experience to travel. When you visit a foreign place, you first take in the sights and sounds, the local cuisine and the local smells (sometimes you rather wish you hadn't taken in the latter). A few days walking any foreign city makes locals of us all, and you begin to feel, at least a little, like the place is yours. Now, if in place of the streets of a Paris, Rome, London, or Hong Kong, we put the grammar of a language, we begin to grasp the necessity of repetition and familiarity. The sights may be helpful, but walking seemingly endless miles every day is not an easy task, no matter the city. Yet something similar is what our students are called to in the early stages of their education. This is the "difficile" in all their studies. Students unwilling to suffer this "difficile" will remain beginners and fail to reap the fruits of hard work.
However, should a student learn the benefits of labor, she will find understanding of her subject more easily attainable. There’s something lost in translation between the Latin "facile" and the English "easy." We often think of easy as something which does not require much effort, but "facile" indicates the ease which comes by mastery, more like the fencer whose saber has become an extension of herself than the bright, young mathematician who has learned her multiplication tables. I have noticed in my own Latin students that the beginnings of mastery are showcased in translation. When students move from the parts necessary for grammar to the whole vision necessary for translation, they grow intellectually. This is the ease one attains when they have invested great effort in any worthy study.
With ease, then, comes real play and enjoyment. Though, perhaps, we do leave a certain playfulness in childhood, it is only with mastery of a subject that we come to truly respect a subject and, thus, to enjoy it in its fullness. In the beginning, we enjoy what is naturally enjoyable to any person. By the end, we have learned to enjoy what can only be enjoyed by those who have loved a subject well enough to undergo its trials.
Though Comenius was speaking in the context of Latin, it seems to me that his statement is applicable to all worthy pursuits in the life of humanity. We must learn to persevere in our daily labor in order to properly enjoy our daily leisure. We must suffer the pains of exercise if we are to really enjoy our bodies. We must suffer the correction of the Holy Spirit and God's Word if we are to fully participate in God's work in our lives. Students at Covenant are learning some of these lessons in a small way even in their Latin classes.
This post is written by Covenant Academy's Latin teacher, Shane Martin. Mr. Martin is a graduate of Biola University. He enjoys creative writing, watching football with his Grandpa and traveling to Europe.
Posted on January 29, 2015
by Shane Martin filed under