“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth: and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

-Pope Saint John Paul II, Fides et Ratio

In 1704, the great Irish satirist Jonathan Swift poured his formidable intellect into a defense of classical learning in an essay titled “The Battle of the Books.”

“The Battle of the Books” was Swift’s response to those scholars of his age who contended that the wisdom of the ancient sages had become obsolete. In Swift’s book, he imagines a debate between a bee and a spider, in which the bee represents the accumulation of ancient wisdom, and the spider speaks for those scholars of Swift’s age who dismissed the value of classical learning.

In debating which species is superior, the spider declares that the bee creates nothing of its own, whereas the spider is an original creator who “spins and spits wholly from himself.” The bee responds that his kind, in contrast, ranges far and wide to search out and collect nectar from the very best flowers, which they do not harm, while the spider only moves four inches and feeds on insects and other vermin.

At the debate’s end, the judge declares the bee to be the winner. The ancient classical scholars, the judge says, are like bees, “filling their hives with honey and wax, thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light.”

To the Victorian poet and essayist Matthew Arnold, the most valuable aspect of civilization is its ability to confer “sweetness and light*” — which he understood to mean beauty and intelligence. As a liberal arts university, the University of Mary has the honor to be a community of learning, preserving and transmitting the riches of civilization, from ancient learning to modern innovation. To our students, the banquet of arts and sciences taught at this university offer splendid encounters with the deep gifts of God, who delights in revealing to us our capacities for discovery and creativity.

In its work as a conveyor of beauty and intelligence — Swift’s ‘sweetness and light’ — the university intends on forming humans of wholeness.

A ‘whole’ life is one that is integrated. The Benedictine values that inspire this university include a firm respect for moderation. Moderation includes the ability to assess the world and make informed choices, to measure and weigh the relationships between people and things, between self and others, between work and stillness. As Swift’s bee would say, a university exists to equip people with the wisdom ‘to seek out the very best flowers.’

We want to send forth graduates who, through their exposure to the arts and sciences, have been awakened, opened and illuminated, fully alive to the richness of existence. The University of Mary is dedicated to creating graduates who are lifelong seekers, explorers and adventurers, broadly engaged in the world — absorbing sweetness and radiating light.

*dulce et utile, literally, “sweet and useful,” from Horace’s Ars Poetica, 18 B.C.