Wisdom from the Table by Patrick Henry Reardon

Wisdom from the Table

Patrick Henry Reardon on the Foundational Culture of the Dining Room

Perhaps I am mistaken, but I suspect one of the problems involved in the pursuit of wisdom is that some folks fancy they are further along than they really are. I am thinking of those who read the Upanishads and Plato when they have yet to master Mother Goose.

Normally, the simpler things come first: Grammar before logic. We crawl, then walk. We take the pen in hand after we are competent with the pencil, and maybe the pencil should wait until we are sufficiently skilled with the crayon.

And we don’t begin alone. The aforementioned implements of learning, in fact—all of them normally employed in private—depend on our competence with the one human implement we learn to use in a social setting. I mean that most basic utensil: the spoon.

Let me state my thesis outright: The quest of wisdom commences with learning how to eat. The most basic steps towards virtue are mastered at the family table. Character begins with etiquette. Teach a child how to dine like a human being, and you have gone wonderfully far in his education.

A Social Enterprise

If I had not known this fact before, I would have learned it from Sirach (especially 31:12—32:13). This aspect of Sirach’s theory flows from his conviction that the quest of wisdom is necessarily a social enterprise. This is a proposition on which he insists repeatedly: The wise man is one who knows how to live wisely in society and devotes his life to its greater good. And where does a wise man acquire the rudiments of this calling? At the family table, when he first learns to eat with his family.

It is at home ( domus) that human beings are—literally—“domesticated.” It is during meals that they increase, not only “in stature,” but also “in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). Here they acquire those patterns of affability, restraint, courtesy, social dependence, and cultivated joy that prepare them for a wise life in a larger world.

In acquiring table discipline—which pertains to language and posture as well as eating—young human beings are instructed in the simple pleasures of what is called “conviviality.” This sweet expression literally means “living in common.”

Indeed, I submit that the lessons learned at the family table are more fundamental to the pursuit of wisdom than those learned in the classroom. It is at meals that souls and minds are nourished, as well as bodies. It is largely from eating with the family that helpful information is conveyed and the foundational lines of character are formed.

Four Lessons


Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).


more on culture from the online archives

6.1—Winter 1993

Civilization Without Religion?

by Russell Kirk

35.2—Mar/Apr 2022

Say Something

on Fatigued Christians Deciding to Engage the Culture by Keith Lowery

22.3—April 2009

Wasted by Watching

Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by J. Daryl Charles

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!


personal subscriptions

Purchase
Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!


RENEW your online subscription

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


RENEW your print/online
subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!


RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.


more from the online archives

27.3—May/June 2014

Sex & the American Experience

Facts versus Stereotypes About Love & Marriage in the Land of the Free by Allan C. Carlson

29.1—Jan/Feb 2016

Wilberforce for Good

on Marriage, Moral Corruption & the Christian Duty of Witness by Regis Nicoll

18.8—October 2005

Vanishing Sea of Faith

European Islam & the Doubtful Future of Christian Europe by William Murchison

00