a talk given by St. Nektarios of Pentapolis to a group of high- school students
Education without self-knowledge, devoid of the axiom “know thyself,” can neither be considered a complete education nor regarded as suitable schooling.
Education lacking the all-important and fundamental lesson of knowledge of man
himself, and, consequently, education without reverence for God, righteousness, and truth,
ignorant of the matters related to God and man, and the reasons for their existence, is a partial knowledge void of correct instruction. Ignorance of ourselves necessarily entails ignorance of God and His divine attributes, it leads to the denial of God Himself, His relationship with the creation in general and with man specifically. Such ignorance will create a scientist who audaciously transgresses the laws of God and men, and it
will strip him of the splendor of ethical virtue and modest moral conduct. Thus, a person who has acquired such scientific knowledge ends up becoming more harmful rather than helpful to
The wise Plato, denouncing such education states, “All education that is separated from righteousness and virtue becomes not wisdom but cunningness.”
Aristotle says that education devoid of proper instruction is an unhealthy body, which is harmed increasingly the more it is fed, for malignant growths thrive in such conditions. The arts and sciences—without prudence and the remaining
ensemble of virtues—do not produce wise scientists, or truthful scholars, or useful citizens, or healthy members of society.
Diagoras from Melos, the student of Democritus, was wise; however, he was the legendary atheist of ancient times. He was condemned to death on
account of his godlessness and impiety, but managed to escape secretly and save himself.
Democritus from Abdera, the teacher of narcissism, was also wise; but he was an atheist and a complete materialist.
Aristippus from Cyrene was a philosopher; however, he was a teacher of hedonism, preaching that sensual pleasure is man's ultimate purpose.
Theodorus of Cyrene was wise as well; but he was a herald of atheism and promoter of carnal pleasure.
Pyrrho and his pupil Timon, the fathers of skepticism and teachers of rationalism and discernment, were also wise; however, they would use contradictory arguments to distort and pervert the truth.
Epicurus was also a philosopher; but he was imprudent, an atheist, and a teacher of sensual pleasure, professing that happiness is hedonism and pleasure.
Protagoras, Gorgias, Euthydimus, Xeniadis from Corinth, Thrasymachus, Callicles, Hippias, Prodicus, and Polus were all wise, learned orators
and eloquent deliberators; however, they were sophists who perverted the truth, and who
undermined the foundations of morality, religion, and faith. They came close to utterly overturning
the spiritual convictions and social principles of humanity, and they almost paralyzed ethics and virtue.
For they professed that all things are a falsehood, that everything comes into existence from non
-existence, that everything that is susceptible to
decomposition dissolves to non-existence again,
and that man himself is the standard of all truth and knowledge:
“Whatever each person believes is what is actually real.
What ever seems good to each person is what is in
fact stable and unchanging” (Protagoras).
Therefore, when the various branches of science
were lacking correct instruction and devoid of
the maxim “know thyself,” they were more harmful than beneficial.