Academy and Learning

Academic institutions have always had a very responsible role in the formation of an intelligentsia and of influential leaders. But how are the actual values of universities formed? When they evolve, and perhaps their main emphasis shifts, are there things which we risk losing which we have largely depended upon education to maintain? This article goes back to remind us that it is only relatively recently that anthropocentrism has displaced theocentric learning. Secularism is the prevailing mindset. We need to be able to judge where truth lies - or whether truth is but relative anyway.  

Universities in limbo

Virgil. Simone Martini

Virgil. Simone Martini, Frontispiece to Petrarch’s Virgil. c.1340.

Western culture has a heritage of Greek and Roman classical wisdom, which produced the idea of the academy as a forum for intellectual debate. Followers of Christ and his teaching and mission perceived that he upset and upstaged the classical academy. They saw that the human mind was not to be abrogated, but was given access to the divine Mind. Then throughout the Middle Ages the Christian theologians (in various degrees) integrated into their work much pre-Christian philosophical wisdom. It was in the twelfth-century renaissance of learning in the schools that the form of universities emerged which has evolved into the modern institutions. While the new medieval centres of learning claimed a relative independence from ecclesiastical structures and dictates they were still grounded in theology,

It was not until the twentieth century that the academia of most universities really cast off the core understanding of Christ, the divine Word, and theology became a minor and quite isolated discipline, often morphing into Religious Studies. In the last half century universities have been increasingly driven by pragmatic and utilitarian objectives, and in a secular culture theology is not viewed as serving any purpose.


‘Limbo’ in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Painting by Li Shaowen.

In a contrary vein, in answer to modern academia some people of sincerity and sanctity regard a conscious anti-intellectual stance or simplicity as more truly reflecting the spirit of Christ. The effect of this and other attitudes is a polarisation of secular and sacred, of science and faith, of head and heart. This does not serve even our secular society well. Reconnecting these domains in academic enquiry need not be an artificial synthesis or invalid pluralism. One proposition of the GAPS ARTS forum is that study of the multi-faceted learning and works of the Middle Ages illustrates the potential of integration.

  • The Beijing artist and academic, Li Shaowen, in the early 1980s painted a series of 33 illustrations of Dante's Inferno. The painting of 'Limbo' shows the castle and meadows where the philosophers and poets of the ancient classical world, without Christ, endlessly pursue their speculations. To be without divine revelation is to be in limbo.


Gap in the humanities

In 1970 a Philosophy lecturer informed his first year students, 'Philosophy deals with everything; but in my seminars there will be no reference to God.' Humanism commonly forgets that Christ subsumes the humanities. The figure of Christ bears a relationship to every branch of learning which is profound. This is not an apologetics forum in which proofs are sought for Christian propositions. Rather it is to inform the deficiencies in our understanding of deity and humanity, spirit and mind, eternal and temporal, which anthropocentricism is impotent to grasp, and which is needed in the humanities.

Students at university have to deal with this, and may be unsatisfied by conventional Christian 'answers'. On the other hand thinking people may sense the possibility that secular humanism is a dead end, that current world-views are actually too small, and so become more aware of the fatal flaw in disregarding deity. The focus and rationale of many GAPS ARTS topics is an appreciation of the fullness, the pleroma, of Christ.

The theolgy strand that runs through many of these topics most pertinently focusses on God manifested, rather than Christianity institutionalised. Beyond the caricatures and criticisms of Christianity, and generalisations which usually miss the truth, there is the vital dimension which is theocentric and Christocentric. This saturates Scriptures, and mainstream theology; but neglected and relegated sources need to be freshly appreciated. The exercise is of the mind—the intellect, as well as the heart.



The Scriptures are the ultimate reference source for Christian theology. Medieval theology applied Biblical texts extensively, along with considerable reference to Classical authors. These selected passages (in the Revised Standard Version) may stimulate further thought, and appreciation of insights into reality, deeper than the word images which are the medium. These passages may be useful in connection with some GAPS ARTS topics.


Adam in the mind of God. Archivolt sculpture, West Porch of Chartres cathedral. c.1265.
Time and order in Paradise in the scheme of Creation, imago mundi. Lausanne cathedral. c.1225–35.


In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. (1. 1–5)

And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters,’ And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. (1. 6–8)

And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds … And God saw that it was good. (1. 24–25)

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them … And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day. (1. 26–31)




I, wisdom, dwell in prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion … I have counsel and sound wisdom, I have insight, I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles govern the earth. I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. (8. 12–17)

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.1 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth … before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above … when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men. (8. 22–31)
1Or, The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his acts of old. (A.V)


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (1. 1–5)

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. (1. 6–8)

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (1. 9–13)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John bore witness to him, and cried, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.”’) And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No man has ever seen God; only the Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (1. 14–18)

Line Drawing
Drawing of the Acropolis and Areopagus, by Arthur Rapanos. (Used by permission of Estelle Maré)
Rose motif in crypt vaulting, Plaimpied Abbey church, France. 12th C.
Cathedral church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Milan, Italy. Begun c. 1387. West facade completed in 17th century.

While Paul was waiting at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols … Some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers met him. And some said, ‘What would this babbler say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’—because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. (17. 16–18)

So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.” Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.’ (17. 22–31)

Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ So Paul went out from among them. But some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (17. 32–34)

I Corinthians

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1.20–25)

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searched everything, even the depths of God. For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (2. 6–13)

The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ. (2. 15–16)

I Corinthians

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (13. 1–7)

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (13. 8–13)


[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (1. 15–20)


If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord. (1. 5–8)

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. (1. 9–11)

Do not be deceived. Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures. (1. 16–18)


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them…’ (21. 1–3)

And in the Spirit [the angel] carried me away to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (21. 10–14)

And he who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its breadth; and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length and breadth and height are equal. (21. 15–16)

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut by day—and there shall be no night there. (21. 22–25)


The Apocryphal books were an accepted part of the Scripture canon in the Middle Ages. The following passages (particularly from Wisdom of Solomon) were often cited in medieval writings:

Wisdom of Solomon

I learned both what is secret and what is manifest, for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me. (7. 21)

For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. (7. 26)

She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well. (8. 1)

And if any one loves righteousness, her labours are virtues; for she teaches self-control and prudence, justice and courage. (8. 7)

But thou hast arranged all things by measure and number and weight. (11. 20)

Thou lovest all things that exist, and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made, for thou wouldst not have made anything if thou hadst hated it. (11. 24)

For all men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world. If through delight in the beauty of these things men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the author of beauty created them. (13. 1–3)


The wisdom of the scribe depends on the opportunity of leisure; and he who has little business may become wise. How can he become wise who handles the plow … ? He sets his heart on plowing furrows, and he is careful about fodder for the heifers. So too is every craftsman and master workman who labours by night as well as by day; those who cut the signets of seals, each is diligent in making a great variety; he sets his heart on making a lifelike image, and he is careful to finish his work. So too is the smith sitting by the anvil, intent upon his handiwork in iron … his eyes are on the pattern of the object. He sets his heart on finishing his handiwork, and he is careful to complete its decoration. (38. 24–28)


All these rely upon their hands, and each is skillful in his own work. Without them a city cannot be established, and men can neither sojourn nor live there. Yet they are not sought out for the council of the people, nor do they attain eminence in the public assembly. They do not sit in the judge’s seat, nor do they understand the sentence of judgement; they cannot expound discipline or judgement, and they are not found using proverbs. But they keep stable the fabric of the world, and their prayer is in the practice of their trade. (38. 31–34)




Emeritus Professor Wilf. Malcolm
Sunday, 1 November, 2015, 7.00 pm. (RSVP)

The University of Waikato established the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research (WMIER) in 2002 to undertake research in the broad field of education, with a focus on curriculum, teaching and learning. The Institute's name recognises former Vice-Chancellor Professor Wilf. Malcolm, and the significant contribution he made to education.

In the late 1980s the then Labour Government carried out extensive reforms of tertiary education. In the legislative changes of the time was introduced a part-description of a university as having a role as a critic and conscience of society. This part-description is still included in the current Education Act.

The talk will seek to give an understanding as to the possible nature of such a role and how it might be fulfilled by our universities today.

Opportunity will be given for attendees to express their own views as to whether universities today can or should maintain such a role.

Wilf MalcolmWilf. Malcolm CBE MA (NZ) BA (Camb) PhD (Well) HonD (Waikato). Dr Malcolm is former Professor of Pure Mathematics at Victoria University of Wellington, and was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Waikato from 1985 to 1994. He has co-authored with Emeritus Professor Nicholas Tarling of Auckland University a book entitled: Crisis of Identity; The Mission and Management of Universities in N.Z.



Emeritus Professor Wilf. Malcolm
Sunday, 24 April, 2016, 7.00 pm.

'We live in interesting times intellectually. The culture of the so-called Post-Modern Age is impacting on many fronts and raising questions about the nature of knowledge, and how we know what we claim to know. At the heart of such questions is our understanding of the nature of truth and how far our processes of knowing can lead to truthful outcomes.

'The long years of philosophical and theological consideration of the nature of truth and knowledge point to the complexity of the issues involved. Extreme sceptics in the Post-Modern culture would have us reject any further consideration about its nature in relation to a reality existing independently of the conceptual tools of our knowledge processes. Such scepticism has serious consequences for our understanding of both science and theology, as well as impacting on our understanding of our human identity.

'The concept of truth is complex. One big component is the character of truthful outcomes achieved through rational thought processes and the nature of those processes. Mathematics has played an important role over the centuries in developing as an expression of the nature of rational thought and its processes. Indeed, from at least the time of the classical Greeks, its findings have been accepted as providing important truths about the nature of our world of experience. It has made critical contributions to scientific developments and to wider fields of human understanding. It has had an important role in contributing to the so called modernist approach to knowledge, rejection of which is an important component in post-modernism.


Truthful aspects of postmodernist thinking?

'It could help our better understanding of the issues raised by the Post-Modern debate about the nature of truth and knowledge if we examine one aspect of the nature of rational thought in mathematics, viz, the nature of the axiomatic method, a method which goes back at least to the Euclidean geometry of the classical Greek age and has impacted in various ways on our understanding of knowledge and truth. Through such an examination I hope to indicate some of the basic issues in the post-modern consideration of truth and knowledge and their impact on scientific and theological understanding.

The basic structure for the content of the talk is as follows:

  • The primary nature of the axiomatic method.
  • Formalisation of logical processes and the theory of the counting numbers, together with the results of Kurt Godel and Alan Turing.
  • Modern / Post Modern interactions on the nature of truth and knowledge in mathematics, science, and theology, including the foundational role of faith to human understanding.

Wilf MalcolmWilf. Malcolm CBE MA (NZ) BA (Camb) PhD (Well) HonD (Waikato). Dr Malcolm is former Professor of Pure Mathematics at Victoria University of Wellington, and was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Waikato from 1985 to 1994. He has co-authored a book entitled: Crisis of Identity; The Mission and Management of Universities in New Zealand.