The word “classical” gets thrown around a lot, from descriptions of classical music to classical education to classical culture. But what does it really mean?
As with most words, people could use the term, of course, for a whole host of different ideas and connotations.
But here is what I think is at the heart of what it means to be “classical.”
First, “classical” affirms the reality of transcendent principles of truth, goodness, and beauty, believes that those principles are knowable, and commits to preserving and expressing those principles. It denies relativism in these areas, but rather insists that there are absolute, observable standards of truth, goodness, and beauty.
Second, “classical” commits to preserving those forms and institutions that best reflect and recognition and respect for that transcendent order. “Classical” recognizes that culture is nurtured within systems of values, and that it is not created in a vacuum. Every culture-maker builds upon what has come before, and something “classical” builds on those forms that have been nurtured within contexts that best express the transcendent character and nature of God.
“Classical” doesn’t necessarily mean “old,” not is it necessarily opposed to what is new or contemporary. New things can be “classical” as well if they recognize, respect, and preserve what is true, good, and beautiful, building on the rich heritage of such forms that have been passed down.