The first two places we need to go “wisely and slow”(ly)

 I can tell when a topic is so fascinating that people are just not ready to move on. And you, O fortunate reader, are lucky that I have this gift!

Many would have long since abandoned the interesting topic of the last post and would, no doubt, already have posted three or four or even a dozen other trivial posts, concerning any number of the passing topics de jour, which lose their relevance almost as soon as they are published.

Here at Lionandox.com you will find that when we bring up something of interest we will dwell on it at length. We will savor it. We will sip it and taste it, rolling it around in our mouths like a good wine, allowing the sweet flavors to yield themselves up to our ready and eager intellectual taste buds.

We will not gulp our topics down like some cheap beer.

Quaffing it like some tasteless swill meant only for those who have no ability to distinguish, no sense for subtlety, no idea of gustatory refinement.

Good ideas need to be milked….or perhaps I should say “tapped.” Yes, tapped is a better image. You can be sure that we will do our utmost to tap every ounce of the sweet sap from our Maples! We will not leave a gusher gushing without sticking a bucket under it to catch every drop!

We do not flit from one topic to another in paroxysms of intellectual curiosity- the intellectual malady indicative of our age. Flitting now here now there, up one line of thought, abandoning it, only to pick up another before that too is abandoned according as our feelings, fashion, or impulse directs.

Instead, we will plod wisely and slowly in our attempt to understand. Why?

Because, my good friend, if we run fast we risk stumbling! And further, as you may recall, we need to go wisely and slow precisely when talking about going wisely and slow because these are the words of a wise man. Do you doubt me?

Here again are the seven times that we should go wisely and slow and I invite you to scrutinize #7 carefully:

  1. where many things must be considered before a judgment can be made
  2. where a thing is difficult to understand
  3. where there is a beginning small in size, but great in its power
  4. where there is knowledge over a road and knowledge of the road to follow
  5. where there is general knowledge and particular knowledge
  6. where there is a word equivocal by reason
  7. where there are the words of a wise man

Who is there that doesn’t understand this reason? When a wise man speaks we might easily guess that his words would be wise and weighty. We should listen to the words of the wise with reverence pondering them frequently.

The words of God are the obvious example. One should not read through Scripture quickly- running as it were from one verse to another, barreling through pages and chapters and books as if wisdom could be gained in the manner that the cup is won at the Kentucky Derby!

No! On the contrary, when reading Sacred Scripture far better to take a stylus out and copy just a few words beautifully while contemplating them in peace and quiet for at least a day or two…or a couple a years…or for a lifetime.

Those who are wise have the special capability of saying very much in a few words. That is their secret. Therefore it belongs to the rest of us to spend time unwrapping and unveiling the profundities that the words of the wise undoubtedly contain (in addition to calligraph-ing them).

And so without further ado, without any circumlocution, without wasting any words whatsoever to justify the attempt further, let us examine these seven times when we should go wisely and slow.

Actually I suppose we have already extrapolated on #7 (i.e. where there are the words of a wise man). Quite inadvertently we find ourselves in the awkward position of having explained the last when we meant to start with the first! But you, O compassionate reader, understand that this was necessary. You understand that without explaining the last first you would not even be reading as you are now.

And so let us be done with the seventh reason why we should go wisely and slow and turn our attention to the remaining six beginning with the first. That was fast. Too fast?

And so the first time that we need to consider when to go wisely and slow is:

1. where many things must be considered before a judgment can be made

Now fortunately for us this is quite simple. The best example that I can think of off-hand is of course taken from the great Euclid, about whom too much honor and praise is not able to be bestowed. (May his name be revered by every student everywhere!)

Take Euclid’s presentation of proposition 47 in his first book, the Pythagorean Theorem. Well, as anyone can see who consults the text, Euclid presents the demonstration of this significant mathematical concept after having first demonstrated 46 prior propositions.

In other words, the business of understanding the Pythagorean Theorem is not the affair of an hour or an afternoon or even a day. No …in order to understand it well I would say one needs to spend all the time necessary that it will take to completely understand the 46 prior demonstrations. How long will that take? 46 hours? 23 Hours? 11.5 hours? I don’t know, but I would recommend spreading it out over at least one good month especially if you try this on your own.

The Pythagorean Theorem, mind you, is fairly elementary knowledge for math students even as young as the seventh and eighth grade. And yet we regularly force them to make a judgment about  its truth on the very slimmest grounds….nay even a pretty picture!

Well, maybe it is not a crime to tell someone that a thing is true without giving substantive reasons, especially if, like the Pythagorean Theorem it is very useful, but we really ought to do our best to provide all the reasoning at the earliest possible opportunity. That way, the poor student isn’t in the terrible position of thinking that he knows something which he really is not able to  know.

The truth is that very many things- even things that we might have thought of as fundamental- require many steps for their understanding. That is to say that before we can make any sort of judgment we need to approach many things wisely and slow because of the multitude of steps require in their understanding.

You would like another example?

Take the many skills required by the musician before he is able to play those big pieces that he wants to play. Many violin teachers wont even let their students touch the violin before the first couple of lessons. But aside from this think of all those preliminary skills the musician has to learn! One just doesn’t start playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto on day one!

Take the enthusiastic student of Theology who longs to dive into the heart of things thinking he is going to study the Blessed Trinity after a week or two of introductory remarks.

It only takes a quick look at the very first article in the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas to realize that even the beginner in the Sacred Science is expected to have acquired more than an acquaintance with mathematics and Astronomy and the major works of Aristotle including his Metaphysics.

Theology is a science that requires many things before judgments can be made.

And so we need to resist the immature thinker who is most prone towards racing and zipping along at breakneck speed thinking that the serious work of understanding is something like speed reading or calculating. He might think something like

 Well…I completed Algebra 1 and 2 before I was out of diapers, in comparison to that Aristotle’s De Anima and his Metaphysics will be a cake walk!

We need to say to him.

Young man, some things cannot be acquired like the big mac meal at McDonald’s.

Some things take years of application before they admit to being understood. If you wish to court Lady Philosophy then go wisely and slow.

Ms 3045 Fol.68V Lady Philosophy Offers to Boethius the Wings That Will Enable His Mind to Fly Aloft Giclee Print

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Seven times to proceed wisely and slow

This past January 22, the philosopher Duane Berquist died. Among his many virtues, Duane Berquist had the distinction of being a wise man.

Readers of lionandox.com might already be familiar with some of Dr. Berquist’s thought to the extent that this blog has not, from time to time, butchered it past recognition. Or to the extent that we have not grossly misrepresented his thinking in a zealous and persistent attempt to adopt and assimilate as much of it as possible.

In turn, I consider it a great honor to re-present it to you my dear readers, with the hope of making it a little more accessible… to those of you….to those among us who did not have the time to sit at his feet lapping up his words as honey from the honey comb.

Of course, I did devote a considerable amount of time lapping up his words like honey from the honeycomb, though not as much time as I would have liked!

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But I suppose sheer fortune…sheer luck provided me with the opportunity to hear a considerable amount of what he said.

And why not me? Everyone deserves a lucky break in life. Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,

some in their wealth, some in the body’s force,

some in their garments though new-fangled ill;

Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse!

In my case, I happen to have been fortunate in the wisdom of my connections.

In other words I do not expect Socrates, in obedience to the oracle, to come knocking on my door testing me to see if I am wise. He will not accuse me of claiming to be something that I am not.

Gentle Reader: This seems a little pointless Langley! Is there anything that you would like to share with us other than the fact that you were able to lap up honey from the honeycomb. Is there any other point?

Langley: I am getting to  it. you need to be patient. As a matter of fact, ironically, the point I have to share has to do with ‘going slow.’ We need to slow down sometimes.

Gentle Reader: Good grief!

Langley: Well, as I said in a previous post , there are times that we need to go wisely and slow. Seven times, as a matter of fact! And I now intend to share them with you.

Gentle Reader: Well its about time! Please just list them and spare us the usual pedantry and mindless pablum which constitutes the ordinary fare that is your specialty.

Langley: This makes me uncomfortable.

Gentle Reader: Uncomfortable? How so?

Langley: I don’t think I can just give you a list. You may not understand how very wise it is and peremptorily dismiss it. That would be a shame.  Very often people refuse to think twice about something when it appears either too simple or even too profound.

Gentle Reader: Langley, just give us the list!

Langley: I don’t know if I should. After all, the list is about how we need to sometimes go wisely and slow…and I think this is precisely one of those times.

Gentle Reader: You don’t realize how close I am to clicking myself out of your trivial little blog. I have my finger on the left clicker right now,

Langley: Ok… Ok. Here is the list. But don’t blame me if you don’t understand it completely. Don’t blame me for not mentioning to you why it is appropriate that there are in fact seven times that we should go wisely and slow… and not eight for instance.  You do know that seven is a number signifying wisdom don’t you?

Gentle Reader: The list! The List!!

Langley: Very well. Here it is.

“Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast”

Seven times that we should proceed wisely and slow in the discourse of reason:

  1. where many things must be considered before a judgment can be made
  2. where a thing is difficult to understand
  3. where there is a beginning small in size, but great in its power
  4. where there is knowledge over a road and knowledge of the road to follow
  5. where there is general knowledge and particular knowledge
  6. where there is a word equivocal by reason
  7. where there are the words of a wise man

 

Gentle Reader: Langley, some of these are obvious. Simple, in fact.

Langley: Yes, but what did you think wisdom was anyway? You probably think that wisdom always means saying something incomprehensible! Wisdom is often just the simple truth…

And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,
And simple truth miscalled simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:

Gentle Reader: And #3, #4, #5 and #6 make no sense.

Langley: What? They make no sense? Why that is more than half of them! Let me try to explain.

Gentle Reader: No I haven’t the time. I need to run.

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Slow down, you move too fast!

The lazy hazy days of summer are here and I can’t think of more appropriate advice to give anyone than that which Friar Laurence gave to Romeo:

ROMEO

O, let us hence; I stand on sudden haste.

FRIAR LAURENCE

Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.

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Sadly for Romeo and Juliet and for their respective families Romeo did not take the advice.

But anyone involved in the pursuit of wisdom- which includes every human being to at least some extent- really should proceed wisely and slow in the pursuit.

Wisdom is a sloooooowwwww pursuit.

No one ever becomes wise in fewer than, say, 45 years….of course there are some notable exceptions….but the exceptions only establish the rule with greater solidity.

Students in general grow impatient with the advice of Friar Laurence. I don’t blame them. I, too, sometimes find myself wanting answers more quickly than the nature of this or that question allows.

Anyone who has gone skipping through the Summa Theologica attempting to get a fast answer to some abstruse Theological question knows what I mean.

As a matter of fact anyone who has ever picked up the Summa Theologica without having read the major works of Aristotle should know what I mean – although in this case it is more forgivable.

Picking up St. Thomas at any time is probably a good idea, just as long as the humble reader is willing to take many things on faith, admitting his own ignorance rather than having the temerity to find fault with St Thomas.

But strictly speaking one should not read the Summa without having mastered, to some acceptable degree, the works of Aristotle. (i.e. from the Categories straight through the Metaphysics!)

But to the young, to whom a minute can seem an hour and an hour eternity, slow procedure is tantamount to torture!

So I don’t blame any student for indulging in what St Augustine condemns as a sort of curiositas – or to put it more unpleasantly – a perverse desire to know.

What’s more, the fact that students suffer from a ‘disordered desire to know’ is not entirely a fault stemming from their youth.  A fair share of the blame also lies squarely on the shoulders of the parents, teachers and the reigning educational establishment which all conspire with irresistible effectiveness in encouraging disorderly learning.

The ordinary parent is mostly (and understandably) concerned that his child be successful. A parent naturally wants to see his own child succeed in life.

Success is rarely measured in terms of wisdom.

The current prevailing fashion in education places a high value on productivity. The student is praised for his speed, accuracy and efficiency in “problem solving”, which as any Algebra teacher knows, does not require understanding.

As a matter of fact, the attempt to understand often gets in the way.

Why would anyone really want to know the meaning and significance of the terms “sine,” “cosine” and “tangent”?  No Algebra book makes an attempt to explain what “tangent” has to do with a real geometrical tangent. The meaning of these terms simply does not matter if the end one is pursuing is not understanding but productivity.

These days, by the time students have completed middle school they all seem to have received a completely upside down intellectual formation. That is, students now appear to learn everything backwards and in the opposite order that any particular field of learning ought to be learned.

Without having learned Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic they have instead received a complete indoctrination in the atomic theory.

They know about DNA, Quarks, Plasma, Black Holes, Anti Matter and Negative Energy- and all these things before they can even write a complete sentence!

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In Mathematics they are familiar with the Pythagorean Theorem well before taking a single Geometry class.

They can invert ratios, cross multiply and alternate proportions without even being able to say what a proportion is.

SCARY!

Without having taken a single class in what the Greeks used to call “Arithmetike,”  they can talk about “numbers” positive and negative, “e”, “i” and “pi” and even the “square root of 2!”

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They are blissfully unaware of the story of that unfortunate Pythagorean who was buried alive for his discovery of incommensurability.

But to get back to Friar Laurence, he says,

“Wisely and slow”

If we are to learn and obtain any wisdom ourselves, we ought to avoid the temptation to proceed swiftly.

The method of Catholic liberal education is absolutely contrary to the method of the world. The world would have children speed through text books and lessons  and books in the futile attempt to become “current.” Students are supposed to “get up to speed” and gain skill in surfing the waves of data that sweep in from the four corners of the globe with inexhaustible fury. The crown of victory goes to the fastest.

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But to run fast, that is the very characteristic of youth. And unfortunately like Romeo this sort of behavior can lead to very real peril in the physical life but even more disastrously in the life of the mind.

The method of Catholic liberal education is the method born from leisure.

It demands quiet. It demands slow reading, speaking and listening.

It demands lengthy discussion.

It demands orderly procedure.

Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.

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Posted in Aquinas, Augustine, catholic education, education, liberal education, summer vacation, Wisdom | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lord’s Prayer: What Does “Lead Us Not Into Temptation” Mean?

Well… I tried explaining this very thing back in 2017 but as a seasoned teacher, I know the importance of repetition.

More than most, I know that,

“Repetitio est mater memoriae!”

Additionally, (and thankfully!) we classical teachers are an extremely patient sort of people. We relish challenges! In fact we relish the opportunity to engage in contests (“tentationes” in Latin “temptations” in English). We relish opportunities that lead us into discussions of perennial ideas.

Why?

Because they come back every year and are worth discussing!

Now among the perennial ideas worth discussing every year stands The Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer is, of course, the perfect prayer. I don’t know that we have to offer any sort of proof for this other than the fact that it is the prayer given by Our Lord Himself. In St. Luke’s Gospel we read,

And it came to pass, that as he was in a certain place praying, when he ceased, one of his disciples said to him: Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.

And he said to them: When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.

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St Luke’s version seems just a little scaled down, and I’m sure there is a good reason for this. Fortunately, though, we have more than one Gospel from which to get the whole story!

St. Matthew records the words of the prayer at greater length!

Thus therefore shall you pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our supersubstantial bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. Amen.

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That this is the perfect prayer is attested to by St Augustine, who said,

if we pray rightly and fittingly, we can say nothing else but what is contained in this prayer of Our Lord.

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Since it has come up in the news recently, I have been thinking particularly of the sixth petition  in the prayer: “And lead us not into temptation.”

It has been suggested that perhaps this particular formation of words in English is the result of a bad or faulty translation.

Well, I suppose those of us who don’t know any Greek or Latin will just have to let the experts tell us what to think when it comes to the translation. Ignorance of the classic languages often results in one having to simply bow in deference to the experts.

Now, I happen to know just enough Greek to make my way around a first or second year Greek textbook, and even to read bits and pieces, fragments, of classical literature. Perhaps a little Xenophon, snippets of Aristotle, a little Herodotus – but better than any of these, I am able to make my way through the New Testament in Greek – although slowly.  Especially when I am reading from a Greek – English interlinear translation!

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When it comes to the Lord’s Prayer, I suppose we have to consider the fact that Our Lord spoke Aramaic. Nonetheless, I think we have to also accept the fact that the only authoritative versions of the prayer were written by the Evangelists in Greek.

As far as I know, there is no official Aramaic text of The Lord’s Prayer.

The sixth petition of the Lord’s prayer,  “Lead us not into temptation,” is written,

“καὶ μὴ  εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν” 

and in CAPS,

“ΚΑΙ ΜΗ ΕΙΣΕΝΕΓΚΗΣ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΙΣ ΠΕΙΡΑΣΜΟΝ”

Now if I were to translate this I would render it thus:

and (καὶ) do not (μὴ)  lead in (εἰσενέγκῃς) us (ἡμᾶς) into (εἰς) the trial/temptation (πειρασμόν)

The word “εἰσενέγκῃς” is the aorist subjunctive active of the verb “εἰσφέρω“. Which means  “I lead into, bring in, announce.”

So to translate εἰσενέγκῃς as Do not lead us into is an excellent translation of the Greek -speaking as a tertiary level Greek teacher. And the word “Πειρασμοσ” (peirasmos) is rendered by “experiment,” “trial,” or “temptation.”

Thus the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer seems to be excellently translated as Do not lead us into temptation or Lead us not into temptation.

What does this mean?

Well, here we must go to St. Thomas just as the ancient Israelites went to Joseph in Egypt. And,of course, St. Thomas never disappoints. Speaking about the last three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer he says,

We are directed to beatitude accidentally by the removal of obstacles. Now there are three obstacles to our attainment of beatitude. First, there is sin, which directly excludes a man from the kingdom, according to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, etc., shall possess the kingdom of God“; and to this refer the words, “Forgive us our trespasses.”

And here is the crux!

Secondly, there is temptation which hinders us from keeping God’s will, and to this we refer when we say: “And lead us not into temptation,” whereby we do not ask not to be tempted, but not to be conquered by temptation, which is to be led into temptation.

He finishes,

Thirdly, there is the present penal state which is a kind of obstacle to a sufficiency of life, and to this we refer in the words, “Deliver us from evil.”

I must confess that I found it revealing when St Thomas said that when we say lead us not into temptation, “we do not ask not to be tempted.” 

That is precisely what I used to think the prayer meant. Don’t let me be tempted.

Whether Oscar Wilde actually said “I can resist anything but temptation,” I think the sentiment is shared by many. And so we might pray lead us not into temptation!

But, if we reflect further on the word temptation (πειρασμόν- peirasmon) we see that it appears first to mean experiment or attempt or trial and then temptation. In other words suppose we compared ourselves to olympic athletes- what is it that we are practicing for? What are all those long training sessions for? Why all the painstaking exercise and long hours spent listening to coaches? Isn’t it all so that we can compete in a trial? Doesn’t every Olympic athlete want to have an opportunity to prove himself?

In other words the contest or competition is the trial.

The actual race is the trial or experiment of strength and endurance. And such is a temptation.

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Christians are just like athletes. St. Paul is thinking along the same lines when he addresses Timothy,

But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil thy ministry. Be sober.

For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming. Make haste to come to me quickly.

Perhaps the Christian will always avoid the near occasion of sin. But this does not mean that the Christian will pray that God will remove every trial of his strength, every temptation. As a matter of fact, it could be that this is God’s very plan by which he helps souls to gain strength and merit- that is, by allowing for temptations to enter into our paths that, with His grace, we can overcome.

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“Lead us not into temptation” is an excellent way to express these things. Of course God is not the cause of evil. Nonetheless, don’t we pray that God will provide for our spiritual growth in holiness by allowing us to undergo trials that are within our power to overcome?

So how can we express all of these things? What words can we come up with that say:

  1. “Please God, provide us with the contests, trials, and temptations that by your grace we will overcome and grow in your love.”
  2. “Do not let us go untried”
  3. “Let us not fall when we are tempted”

If we were to say, “Do not let us be tempted,” this would be against our own spiritual good.  If we were to say “Let us not fall in temptation,” this would exclude the notion that we ought, as “Christian Athletes” pray for contests of our strength that are proportionate to our ability.

Thus, by the words Lead us not into temptation”, we should understand, “O Lord, let us be tested in the contests of life that You, O Lord, mercifully and lovingly allow to be placed in our paths. But we beg you, Gracious Lord, to not let us perish or fall in those trials.”

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Posted in Aquinas, Augustine, Lord's Prayer, Temptation, The Passion | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

Easter 2019! Boeuf en Croute Alleluia!

Easter came a little later this year, but as a good friend likes to remind me, God is seldom early but He is never late! I am not sure how true this is, but it does seem to describe pretty well my own perception of His action in our lives. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if He was early in everything that He does. In fact, isn’t He pretty much the first mover?

But children and liturgical musicians are especially conscious of the duration of Lent and especially the hours and minutes of Holy Week; children because they have a heightened and agonizing anticipation of the joy and magic of Easter morning, liturgical musicians because of the heightened and non-stop pressure of preparing music for every major liturgical event during Holy Week.

Nonetheless, at last Easter came!

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After playing the organ for the Easter Vigil and the two Morning Masses, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy coming home for the midday Easter Brunch!

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My daughter Cecilia painted the Easter Candle this year.

While I was still playing the organ, Stephanie was able to meet the exhausted patience of our littlest children with an Easter Morning table that was loaded with Easter treats.

Easter Morning Table

Heaven in the eyes of the five-year old child

Unfortunately I missed that, but when I returned home, my eyes were met with this far more appetizing sight (to my way of thinking)! Children imagine heaven as a place with candy, toys and treats, whereas adults like me think of heaven as an eternal banquet.

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Heaven in the eyes of the fifty-year old man

Granted that both views probably err (in their respective over emphases on the bodily nature of the reality) nonetheless, I still think my view of eternal bliss is more elevated than that of my five year old son, Francis.

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And I am not adverse to having rabbits running around on my Easter banquet table.

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Meanwhile, back in the kitchen things are happening. A scene of beauty!

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No kitchen has enough counter space for Easter Brunch!

Now this little bowl of goodness is a mixture of apricot suffused with some citrus and is ready to be inserted into the puff pastry.

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Actually, this is the pastry that has been stuffed with a creamy cheesy filling.

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This is the one with the apricot concoction.

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The careful observer will note that this danish is braided differently than the other.

Back in the kitchen, a couple of pans of eggs are being prepared for Eggs Blackstone!

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Ordinarily Eggs Blackstone would employ poached eggs. But in my opinion these sunny side up eggs added a little of their own sunshine to what was an otherwise overcast day.

The English muffins topped with tomato and bacon must be the Blackstone part of the dish.

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My daughter Anna prepared her incomparable Hollandaise sauce

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The finished product!

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Fruit of some sort is an Easter Brunch staple. This year in addition to other ordinary fruit platter features, ours included papaya and figs!

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At last!

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Stephanie prepared smoothies for the kids and I prepared Mimosas for the adults.

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As we have mentioned in years past, the one challenge of having an Easter Brunch is that one needs to somehow get everything cleared away and prepared for Easter dinner. Additionally, one needs to prepare one’s appetite for it. I did this by taking a three mile walk with Gracie, Frannie, and Peter. When we returned, I took a two hour nap and arrived back on the scene.

While I was napping, the chefs and kitchen help were tiding things over with some cheeses, fig spread, a little hard salami paired with a semi- dry Riesling.

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Cecilia set the table, and I carefully extracted the cork from the 2016 bottle of Syrah from Owen Roe  winery. My dear brother in law, Carl, had given me this bottle back in September which I had carefully preserved for the occasion.

The wine itself is aptly and magically called Ex Umbris. And on the back of the bottle there is this enigmatic Latin inscription:

Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem

My read on this is that the wine is nothing more than an emblem for man’s life on this earth as he passes through – a stranger and sojourner- to his eternal home!

Since the winemaker is an old friend from college, and since I have now finished this exquisite bottle, I feel compelled to rekindle our old friendship as soon as possible. To that end, I include the wine maker’s notes in full!

Winemaker Notes

The color of deep eggplant, this beautiful bold Syrah will keep our Ex Umbris fans wanting more! If the nose filled with dark chocolate, hazelnut and caramel aromas isn’t enough, the robust plum, black cherry, licorice and hints of tobacco will surely please any palate.Pair with blackened, grilled ribeye, a juicy leg of lamb or your family slow-cooker stew.

This Syrah will age and is still quite youthful with gripping tannins and layers of dusty earth. We recommend decanting and enjoying with a hearty meal and holding onto a few bottles to open in a few years.

You can see the image of this bottle at the end of the table in front of my plate 

 

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Now for dinner, Stephanie prepared Boeuf en Croute which is a sort of the French version of Beef Wellington. Here you can see how she lovingly wrapped the two large beef roasts in a beautiful special dough.

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Meanwhile, she prepared Tuscan Roasted Potatoes and Lemon! I’ve never had this dish before, and as you can see, the dish includes a fairly generous amount of lemon.

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After baking to a light golden brown, this dish absorbs the lemon, and it was as much as I could to keep from eating the supple tender lemon peels themselves.

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As the all important third component to the meal, the part without which one might wonder if the rule of two and three had been properly observed, the chef prepared Roasted Asparagus with Garlic, Rosemary,  and Goat Cheese!

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Meanwhile, the flaky crust of the Boeuf en Croute had turned golden brown and we took it out of the oven to sit and re-absorb all of its juices.

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Lucy and Gracie prepared armies of these buttery Croissant rolls.

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Perfect! But I do need to resharpen my carving knife.

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Here again is that unassuming bottle of Ex Umbris.

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Lucy’s plate.

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And, if this was not already enough …. there is yet an entire Boeuf en Croute left over!

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Happy Easter!

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Posted in beauty, breakfast, Dinner, Easter, Ex Umbris, Feasts, Fine Arts | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tiny Catholic School Sues City to Protect Civil Rights and Religious Freedom

The Lord does work in mysterious ways!

When I founded The Lyceum in 2003, along with a couple of other teachers, a handful of adventurous students and their daring parents, none of us ever envisioned that our small school would ever be involved in a serious battle to “protect civil rights” and  “religious freedom.” Back in 2003, we thought that the only battle we would have to wage was with the intellectual customs of the day that frowned upon teaching things like Latin and Greek, Euclid and Homer, the Great Books of the Western World, and the Catholic Faith.

We knew it would be a hard sell to persuade parents and students to attend a school which prized the teachings of ancient authors like Aeschylus, Aristotle and Aquinas and simultaneously proposed to make singing sacred polyphony mandatory.

But now, sixteen years later, confronted with a local law masquerading as an “anti-discrimination ordinance,” our little school is fighting for the simple right to exist. Now, the school has a bigger challenge than simply recruiting students who want a classical liberal education.

Essentially, the ordinance would make it illegal for The Lyceum to operate as a Catholic school in a number of ways but particularly, by curtailing its right to hire Catholic teachers and recruit students who espouse and embrace the Church’s teachings concerning human sexuality and marriage.  Here is a summary of the ordinance.

And here is an illuminating video presentation of the challenge that the school faces:

Ahhh, those were the days when making the case for studying dead languages  was our biggest challenge! Now, the school is forced to defend fundamental civil rights and religious freedom.

Fortunately, our little school is led by a strong, principled, and intrepid headmaster and a wise Board of Trustees. Thankfully, it also has the help of an incredible legal team, The Alliance Defending Freedom!

I suppose if the Lyceum’s battle with city hall is reminiscent of David’s battle with Goliath, at least The Lyceum has the Alliance Defending Freedom as its slingshot! Nonetheless, God always seems to use the weak things of the world to accomplish His work. As Saint Paul says in Corinthians

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men…But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong.”

I just finished reading Herodotus’ account of the Battle of Thermopylae with my ninth grade students. This was the famous battle in which 300 Spartan Hoplites famously held back two and a half million soldiers of the ‘barbarian’ King Xerxes. Ultimately, though vastly outnumbered, the Greeks prevailed for the cause of freedom! Those 300 Greeks preserved democracy and freedom for the entire western world.

Though our little school is tiny, though it may be insignificant in the view of the city, though the city’s coffers and resources are relatively legion, nonetheless may God, too, choose the weak things of the world to confound the strong. May our school prevail if for no other reason than to preserve the right for schools, such as ours, everywhere to maintain their religious liberty and Catholic identity.

Posted in aeschylus, catholic education, Herodotus, Religious Freedom | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

The Prodigal Son and The Prodigal Mind: Our Lord’s Parable for Educators

Our Lord’s parable about the man who had two sons, upon the younger of whom tradition has bestowed the sobriquet ‘prodigal,’  provides an excellent lesson for parents everywhere who are concerned about the education of their children.

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I have a hunch that the ‘parable of the prodigal son’ will always be on everybody’s top ten parable list partly because the parable is especially close to our own experience.

Actually, every time I return from Costco with one of those prodigious carts overflowing with all of my favorite foods and those terrific thick slices of steak…and a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon…. I have to confess my empathy for the prodigal son.

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And then, of course, after a certain number of days have passed, inevitably the temporary joy that I received for having instantiated the words of Saint Paul, when he said “whose God is their belly” ….that joy is turned to ashes when I am confronted with the ‘Citi Card’ statement at the end of the month.

My guess is, most people don’t have to search very far for an example of someone they know, whether a near relative or otherwise, who provides a close match to the younger son in the parable.

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The older more serious brother (played by Humphrey Bogart) remonstrating with his wayward younger brother (played by William Holden) in Sabrina

But even if one does not have a brother or sister that might fit the description, there isn’t a person anywhere who cannot relate to the very obvious parallel between the behavior of the prodigal son and his own behavior whenever he turns from God’s grace and follows his passions.

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Nonetheless, what, you might ask, does this parable offer to parents with regard to the education of their children? Or even, what does the parable have to offer for students and educators everywhere?

Well for starters, consider first how the parable begins,

A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father: Father, give me the portion of substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his substance.

Notice that the son requests the portion of his “substance” that belongs to him. (The Latin reads “da mihi portionem substantiæ“).  Unfortunately, as happens all too often, this is rendered into English prose by translators who choose to make it more understandable (according to their way of thinking) by words that narrow the signification.  And so what most Catholics will hear on the Fourth Sunday of Lent is,

A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them.

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I say this is an unfortunate translation because, while it preserves one very clear and most obvious signification, it, nonetheless, makes other significations more difficult.

For example, Saint Augustine understands “substance” as something much more than mere property or worldly inheritance,

the younger seeks that the part of the substance which fell to him should be given him by his father. Hence it follows, And the younger of them said to his father, Give me the portion of goods [portionem substantiae] which falls to me; just as the soul delighted with its own power seeks that which belongs to it, to live, to understand, to remember, to excel in quickness of intellect, all which are the gifts of God, but it has received them in its own power by free will. Hence it follows, And he divided to them his substance.

and another commentator confirms this reading of substance saying,

The substance of man is the capacity of reason which is accompanied by free will.

Thus we are understanding the son as an image of the soul which rightfully seeks “that which belongs to it.” The soul of man seeks “to live,” and “to understand” and to do by its own power. The intellectual soul is, after all the precise way that man is said to have been created in the image and likeness of God.

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So there is nothing wrong with the younger son’s request; there is nothing wrong with the soul seeking ‘its substance,’ that is the powers that belong to it.

But the parable continues ,

The younger son, gathering all together, went abroad into a far country: and there wasted his substance, living riotously. And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want.

This is where the trouble is. It was not in the asking for his substance but in the squandering of it that we have a problem. Saint Augustine explains how the soul squanders its substance:

Whoever wishes to be so like to God as to ascribe his strength to Him, let him not depart from Him, but rather cleave to Him that he may preserve the likeness and image in which he was made. But if he perversely wishes to imitate God, that as God has no one by whom He is governed, so should he desire to exercise his own power as to live under no rules, what remains for him but that having lost all heat he should grow cold and senseless, and, departing from truth, vanish away.

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Thus the older brother represents the soul that cleaves to God whereas the younger brother turns away perversely, and wishes to imitate God precisely insofar “as God has no one by whom he is governed.

In other words, the younger son represents the soul that wishes to exercise its intellectual life, its abilities to reason and calculate, its abilities to imagine and remember, to articulate and communicate, all in a manner that is not subordinate to the knowledge of God.

To pursue the intellectual life in a disordered way, or rather, to engage in intellectual pursuits in a way that is cut off or divorced or ordered to some other end so as to exclude God, is to squander one’s intellectual substance.

Imagine, if you can, a school, college or university in which there is a multiplicity of courses, various departments of learning, a diversity of intellectual pursuits, but in which there is not a central coordinating science to which all the sciences, arts and disciplines are ordered as an end.

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Are there really any schools which propose such a thing? Could there really be a school in which religion is not taught? Could there actually be a college or university in which Theology is not considered explicitly the final goal of every human intellectual endeavor?

Such an institution would be like a many-limbed animal with no head!

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Impossible! Such a school, college or university would be nothing other than a place of institutionalized intellectual riot! Who in his right mind would tolerate such a thing!

Saint Augustine continues interpreting the parable,

…the soul of man chose of its free will to take with it a certain power of its nature, and to desert Him by whom it was created, trusting in its own strength, which it wastes the more rapidly as it has abandoned Him who gave it. Hence it follows, And there wasted his substance in riotous living

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This is the very image of life at the modern university is it not? And I don’t mean an image of campus life or life in the dormitory. The riotous lifestyle that characterizes the modern college or university campus is only emblematic of the far more serious riot- namely the  riot that is the intellectual state of affairs at such colleges and universities.

An intellectual riot might be described as a disordered search for truth – which amounts to nothing more than an inversion of truth. Instead of the pursuit of truth for its own sake – or better, for the sake of knowing God- truth is pursued for the sake of power and the manipulation of nature, or for some other utilitarian end.

But just as squandering ones resources leads to a dearth of food, so intellectual riot leads to intellectual famine. St. Augustine says,

And when he had spent all, there arose a great famine in that land. The famine is the want of the word of truth.

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I stretched forth my hands to thee: my soul is as earth without water unto thee. (Psalm 143)

Saint Ambrose adds, that when there is a departure from the word of God the mind is incapable of being satisfied:

For he who departs from the word of God is hungry, because man does not live on bread alone, but on every word of God. And he who departs from his treasures is in want. Therefore began he to be in want and to suffer hunger, because nothing satisfies a prodigal mind.

But when the younger son returned home to his father, then it was that he could be satisfied. Likewise when the mind returns ‘home,’ when it sees all that it sees in relation to God Himself, who is Truth, then can it, too, be satisfied.

Posted in Ambrose, Augustine, Catena Aurea, college, education, liberal education, soul, truth for its own sake | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

St. John Henry Newman on Liberal Education: A Scandal

Saint John Henry Newman, speaking of the unique status of Western Civilization in the history of the world, emphatically asserts,

I think it has a claim to be considered as the representative Society and Civilization of the human race, as its perfect result and limit…I call then this commonwealth preeminently and emphatically Human Society, and its intellect the Human mind, and its decisions the sense of mankind, and its disciplined and cultivated state Civilization in the abstract, and the territory on which it lies the Orbis Terrarum, or the World.

Now if it wasn’t for the fact that this Cardinal was just canonized, I think we could all brush this statement off  as an overly zealous defense of Western Civilization. After all, sometimes people get carried away and say things that they don’t really mean. For example I will often say things like,

I think 100% arabica coffee beans may be considered as the representative coffee bean of civilization and of the human race. Nay even the preeminent coffee bean and even the bean in virtue of which all other beans merit the name “coffee bean.”

To the extent that other beans measure up or fall away from the arabica bean, that is the exact measure in which each bean may be called a coffee bean.

Or perhaps about the music of Mozart,

I think it has a claim to be considered as the representative music of the human race, as its perfect result and limit…I call then this music preeminently and emphatically Human Music, and the mind of Mozart is par-excellence the musical mind!

Mozart’s music is the music of mankind and in the abstract, his music and the territory in which it is heard is the Orbis Terrarum, or the World.

Ha! That is a wonderful statement. Nay even more…that is a manly statement!

 

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I love the bravado. And what’s more I completely agree with it.

As a matter of fact- with apologies to Newman, I think I will lay claim to this statement as being perhaps the very clearest statement ever made about the worth and value of Mozart’s musical contributions.

Did you ever hear him praised more highly?

I think not!

In the future I plan on making a similar statement about Shakespeare so prepare yourselves.

But in the meantime let me return to the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and his statement about Western Civilization.

Can there be a clearer or more forceful statement about the value of Western Civilization that flies more in the face of the current attitude of cultural relativism?

No. Again, I think not!

My old teacher Dr. Jack Neumayr, a philosopher and professor at Thomas Aquinas College, commenting on Newman’s statement writes:

Some who regard all culture as empirical, as we have seen, will defend liberal education because it is good to know our origins; not that our culture is normative, but it is ours. Others will insist on the utility of knowing the roots of the good and evil in our society. Still others, thinking it well to know the works of man, urge us to scan the achievements of western thought. None, however, under the pressures of egalitarianism and skepticism, dares assert it is the measure of the human mind.

Indeed, few in our day see the value of liberal education so clearly. This education, which arises from western society, is none other than the education which is the measure of the human mind. It is the education that fulfills the nature of man; it is the education that disposes man for the life of grace.

Liberal education is a scandal to the modern world. Liberal education is a scandal because it presents itself in direct opposition to the prevalent educational philosophy of our day; it is a stumbling block to the aspirations and goals of modern education. Those goals include no more than what is thought necessary to equip the student with the particular knowledge that will further a specific career.

Liberal education …a boulder in the road of establishment educational philosophy! (Admittedly, that boulder is a little more than a “scandal”)

Thus liberal education is a scandal to modern ears for at least two reasons. It is a scandal to those who are themselves ‘proponents of liberal education’ for the wrong reasons; reasons that amount to no more than a sort of cultural relativism and ultimately deny that liberal education is the education for the human mind.

It is also a scandal to those who propose the purpose of education is to equip man for this world; for some career.

As Cardinal Newman writes elsewhere,

“This process of training, by which the intellect, instead of being formed or sacrificed to some particular or accidental purpose, some specific trade or profession, or study or science, is disciplined for its own sake, for the perception of its own proper object, and for its own highest culture, is called Liberal Education…”

Posted in liberal education, Newman | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A Case for Bribery

How appalling! I am absolutely shocked! Simply dumbfounded! How could anyone do something so wicked?

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I mean, can you imagine bribing an admission officer at a prestigious college or university? Who would ever dream of such a thing?

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How could such a thing happen when the motto of Harvard University is Veritas…and when the motto of Yale University is Lux et Veritas … and when the motto of Duke University is  Eruditio et Religio … and when the motto of the University of Pennsylvania  is Leges Sine moribus Vanae …and that of Princeton University is Dei Sub Numine Viget …and that of Brown is In Deo Speramus …and that of Columbia is In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen …and that of Dartmouth is Vox Clamantis in Deserto… 

It’s almost as if no one can read these mottoes anymore!

Oh, wait a second, I forgot! We can’t read these mottoes anymore because, after all, who really cares about studying a dead language?

Where does studying a dead language get us? It certainly will not get us into the universities of which these are the mottoes because all of them have long since dropped proficiency in Latin as an entrance requirement!

Well, one might at least think that basic standards of objective morality and truth would still be assumed among the applicants to colleges and universities that were all founded on these standards…wouldn’t one?

Of course I am being facetious. We all know that although these colleges and universities were founded on lofty visions of objective truth and morality, somewhere the doctrine of pragmatism and utility supplanted the original vision.

Schools, colleges and universities were all founded on the assertion of Socrates when he said,

The unexamined life is not worth living.

He was providing us with a hint for why we should even send our children to school.

Education used to be about confronting the central questions of human life:

  • Who am I?
  • What is life?
  • What is man?
  • What is the cosmos?
  • What is happiness?
  • What is God?

These were the questions that served as the heart and soul of the educational project.

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The bedrock assumption upon which every college and university was founded was the assertion that there is such a thing as truth and we, as human beings, should strive with everything we have to know the truth!

Everybody agrees with that, right?

Not any more.

The truth is that education is now something that we all encourage our children to do in order to get ahead in life. Isn’t that right? 

When we exchanged the core liberal arts curriculum for the elective system were we not admitting that each should pursue what he or she found most useful?

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We say to our children,

It’s difficult to get a good lucrative career without a college degree.

It’s not so much a question of whether a student knows how to read Sacred Scripture in Greek or Latin, it’s not a question of whether this or that young man or woman has read Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth or Aristotle’s De Anima or Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Everyone appears to agree that although these are all fine and noble pursuits, they are nonetheless quite useless when it comes to getting ahead in life.

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It’s not about whether a young man or young lady has ever studied the Astronomy of Ptolemy or read Harvey’s work on the circulation of blood. Or whether a student has observed the insect world alongside of Jean Henri Fabre.

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What good, after all, is reading Aeschylus’ work Agammemnon? What good is reading Herodotus or Thucydides? Why read St. Thomas’ exposition on the Ten Commandments or the Seven Sacraments?

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Education is now about getting ahead in the world. It is not about coming to the truth. It is not about obtaining moral or intellectual virtue. According to all of these standard- setting institutions, there really is no such thing as truth. There really is no such thing as objective morality.

If goodness is simply a matter of what is expedient, why, then, is bribery for admission to a prestigious university not a legitimate option?

If the truth means anything these days it is this – that truth is determined by “what works.” Truth is what works. Good behavior is what is expedient.

Bribery works.

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Bribing this or that admissions officer or this or that athletic coach or paying someone to take the SAT or the ACT or the GRE or the LSAT (or the MCAT …is it even possible?) appears to have worked wonderfully for some.

Does the current educational establishment really have any intellectual platform upon which to object? Do the ivy league colleges and universities have an objective moral code from which they offer objections to cheating? What could they possibly say? Something like,

Well, as we all know, cheating on the SAT is an act of dishonesty, and any sort of dishonesty is against the Natural Law which…..oh, yeah…… is an obsolete invention of those superstitious philosophers who lived in the dark ages.

How can the modern educational establishment object to bribing a coach in order to gain preferential admissions treatment? To what objective standard of truth or goodness would they appeal?

What is there to say? I suppose Saint Paul might respond,

Be not deceived, God is not mocked.[8] For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap. For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh also shall reap corruption. But he that soweth in the spirit, of the spirit shall reap life everlasting. [9] And in doing good, let us not fail. For in due time we shall reap, not failing.

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Posted in aeschylus, catholic education, classical education, college, Socrates, truth for its own sake | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“’Tis one thing to be tempted, another thing to fall.”: Why we are Tempted

Saint Luke begins the story about Our Lord’s temptation in the desert saying,

[1] And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the desert, [2] For the space of forty days; and was tempted by the devil.

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How striking it is that Our Lord was “led” into the desert where he would be “baptized by the fire of temptation” as one exegete puts it.  Moreover he was led by the Spirit!

But you might ask,

What spirit led him to be tempted?

Saint Gregory clears up any doubt about what spirit it was that led Him saying,

Some doubt what Spirit it was that led Jesus into the desert, for that it is said after, “The Devil took him into the holy city.” But true and without question agreeable to the context is the received opinion, that it was the Holy Spirit; that His own Spirit should lead Him thither where the evil spirit should find Him and try Him.

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In other words it was not the devil that led Jesus into the desert to be tempted.

It is easy to imagine that an evil spirit, the devil, would lead us to be tempted, but seems a little strange to say this of the Holy Spirit! But it seems clear that it was indeed the Holy Spirit that was leading Our Lord into the wilderness. And it also seems clear that among the reasons for this excursion was precisely that Our Lord be confronted with these “temptations.”

Now why on earth would the Holy Spirit do this? And does this have any bearing on us? Does Our Lord set us an example even here?

Of course he does!

St. John Chrysostom gives five marvelous reasons why temptation is good for us!

Whoever thou art then that after thy baptism sufferest grievous trials, be not troubled thereat; for this thou receivedst arms, to fight, not to sit idle. God does not hold all trial from us;

  • first, that we may feel that we are become stronger;

  • secondly, that we may not be puffed up by the greatness of the gifts we have received;

  • thirdly, that the Devil may have experience that we have entirely renounced him;

  • fourthly, that by it we may be made stronger;

  • fifthly, that we may receive a sign of the treasure entrusted to us; for the Devil would not come upon us to tempt us, did he not see us advanced to greater honours.

Now, after reading this, who would not want to be tempted?

We are tempted so that we may feel the strength that we have obtained through God’s grace. We are tempted to remind us that we must continually rely on God’s grace and not on our own strength. When we overcome temptation (hopefully) God makes the devil know who is in charge. When we are tempted, and never beyond our strength, God provides us with an opportunity to exercise the strength that we have gained and thus become stronger. And finally, when we are tempted, we are reminded that the Devil still thinks that we are targets.

In other words, temptation is a sign to us that we are still in the fight! I find that consoling!

What St Gregory says makes sense especially when we remind ourselves of the root meaning of temptation. The word comes from the Latin, ‘tentatio, tentationis 3rd declension (f)’ as our second year Latin students would know. It means a “trial.”

A tentatio is the sort of thing that athletes prepare for. It is the contest. It is the race or marathon that explains why so many runners spend a frightful number of hours in training. The professional runner does not say, “Do not let me run the marathon!”

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A tentatio is the big recital or performance on stage for which musicians practice. The rising virtuoso does not say, “Do not ever let me play in the National Piano Competition!”

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A tentatio is the end of semester exam which serves as a culmination of studies for students everywhere. Even students do not say, “Please let me never take the final exam!” Well, actually, I guess I have heard this from one or two students. We will put this down to their youth. Thankfully, students have no choice in the matter.

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Now when we look at it this way, “temptation” seems like a positive thing doesn’t it?

Why then does Our Lord teach us to say “Lead us not into temptation?”

Well, now we must be emphatically clear that there is a radical difference between the words “Lead us not into temptation” and “Do not let us be tempted.”

On the one hand, it now appears from Our Lord’s example to us that temptation is something that we all need to confront and even must willingly face, having been led by the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, we say, “Lead us not into temptation.”

St. Thomas Aquinas‘ tells us what these words (which are an excellent translation from the Greek) mean, when he says,

“And lead us not into temptation,” whereby we do not ask not to be tempted, but not to be conquered by temptation…

How can we interpret this otherwise if we are to imitate Our Lord in every thing?

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Maybe it’s not such a good idea to search out temptations. But, rather, we might count it a sign of God’s continued blessings when he allows us to be tempted. And I suppose, we might have a significant reason to worry should we find ourselves no longer confronted by temptations.

Temptations are a sign that we’re still standing!

Posted in Aquinas, Catena Aurea, Lord's Prayer, Temptation | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments