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In the autumn of AD 386, a thirty-two-year-old academic superstar named Aurelius Augustinus made a radical move: He resigned his position as imperial professor of rhetoric in Milan and retired early. The position, as prestigious as an endowed chair of government at Harvard today, represented the pinnacle of intellectual achievement in its time. Yet Augustine was disillusioned, tired of teaching “résumé virtues” to “excellent sheep.” He complained that liberal education in the later Roman Empire had become purposeless and disoriented, preoccupied with the ephemeral aims of career, wealth, and fame. Intellectual and spiritual vitality had vanished from lecture rooms and pupils alike. The soul of education was dead.


Originally published in the Sept. 26 edition of First Things.