The School of Arts at Christian Brothers University owes its origin to the year 1871, when, under the guidance of CBU's founder, Brother Maurelian, the first building was opened on Adams Street in what is now downtown Memphis. The original curricula and courses of study were based solidly on the Liberal Arts, that is to say, religion and philosophy, literature, history, social sciences, fine arts, and modern and classical languages, including Greek and Latin.
The seed planted 136 years ago grew steadily, so that the academic catalogue of 1896 revealed an institution grounded on the study of the great tradition of the Liberal Arts. Even though other areas of study were developing – such as courses leading to a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Accounts (Business), and a degree in mining engineering, - the real core of the College remained the Liberal Arts. Indeed, courses were soon expanded to include degrees in fine arts and music. The catalogue of 1896 – 1897 has a very revealing statement in terms of this expansion:
The Fine Arts exercise a refining influence on
youth and for this reason the Christian Brothers
have devoted great care to the instruction of their
From the beginning, too, great emphasis was placed on developing the 'whole person', including an emphasis on 'Physical Culture':
The Christian Brothers hold that moral and
intellectual training without physical culture
is an incomplete education.
Thus was laid the seed of the extensive athletic programs now available in the University. As time went on, the study of the Liberal Arts evolved to the present situation, in which are offered impressive and highly-regarded programs in literature and languages, history, political science, behavioral sciences, education, fine arts and, with pride of place, religion and philosophy.
In this regard, a Masters Degree in Catholic Studies has been developed to serve the Mid-South by providing a solid intellectual study of the Faith for teachers, persons in various Catholic Ministries, and lovers of knowledge. Today, as well, at the center of degrees in other areas – Business, Engineering or the Sciences – lies a firm basis of Liberal Arts subjects that attempts to ensure that all students graduating from the University have a deep sense of the importance of religious, moral and cultural values. This can be furthered by an adroit combination of major areas of study with minors in any area the student finds intriguing – or useful. From a utilitarian point of view, studies in the Liberal Arts can lead to any of the professions through pre-law, pre-medical and other such programs. In addition, most companies recognize that students who combine their technological or business studies with Liberal Arts programs have a greater chance of professional advancement.
Since the time of the ancient Greeks and before, Liberal Studies were considered essential to the development of the individual and the continuation of culture. Aristotle called these studies "the Knowledge worth knowing for its own sake," as well as for the fruits they bear for individual and public well-being. A certain type of person is aimed at – one who can reason, synthesize, judge well and choose wisely, and who values patria (love of country) and pietas (reverence for God).
In the nineteenth century, the great John Henry Cardinal Newman, in his work, The Idea of a University, makes the following statement:
But a University training is the great ordinary means to
a great but ordinary end; it aims at raising the intellectual
tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying
the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular
enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspiration, at giving
enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at
facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining
the intercourse of private life.
Noble goals – still pursued at CBU.
This article is based upon The Christian Brothers in Memphis 1871 – 1971 by Brother Clair Battersby, Ph.D., the CBU Catalogs of 1896 –97, and The Idea of a University by John Henry Cardinal Newman.