What is Ad Fontes?
Ad fontes means “to the sources” in Latin. Rather than reading textbooks or commentaries or listening to lectures, it means reading original sources as much as is possible.
Why read the original text when we have summaries and commentaries? The better question is, “Why not?” Students, especially in subjects like history, philosophy, and literature, should not rely on others’ reports or summaries when original sources are available. To uphold this foundational tenet of classical Christian education — teaching kids how to think, not what to think — textbooks and commentaries must be relegated to the tools they are. No system of education can teach kids how to think while relying on textbooks, commentaries, and lectures.
In this spirit, many classical schools teach Latin, Greek, and sometimes Hebrew in order to facilitate reading documents in these languages. When this is not possible, classical schools use good unabridged translations of primary and secondary sources. This is why classical schools discourage reading only excerpts, summaries, or modern references when they could be looking to the classic ancient sources themselves.
No one puts it better than C.S. Lewis, who said: