Why We Read Herodotus

Xerxes at the Hellespont

Reading Herodotus with students in the ninth and tenth grade presents some challenges. I always tell them not to worry if they don’t feel like they are understanding it on the first read. That is the way Great Books are.

If a book is entirely intelligible the very first time it is read, that is probably a sign that it is a mediocre book- probably a text book- and therefore, not worth reading a second time.

After hearing passages from the Bible, how many of us feel like we have anything but a superficial understanding? We continually go back to it for more. It is a source from which our souls discover sustained nourishment. And so it is with the Great Books. So it is with Herodotus’ great work The Histories. St. John Henry Newman made this very point when he said that the canon of Western Literature has something of the character of Holy Scripture in this regard.

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Don’t get me wrong here- I do not want to elevate Herodotus to the level of God’s own word, but I simply mean to say that The Histories is great because it has something in it that transcends ordinary human insight. One could almost say that Herodotus wrote what he did with the inspiration of God, or at least under the influence of some minor deity or another.

That is precisely why Herodotus should be read again and again.

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Xerxes Decorating the Plane Tree

Obviously Herodotus is important to read for those who strive after a classical education. I don’t think anyone would maintain that it is possible to be educated without knowing who the Delphic Oracle was or who Croesus was or Cyrus or Miltiades or Themistocles or Darius or Cambyses or Xerxes or….

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Leonidas at Thermopylae

Clearly anyone who is interested in politics and the origin of our own democratic institutions would forever be frustrated if he did not read about the origins of democracy in Athens and by contrast the more kingly rule in Sparta- although a rule according to law.

Anyone who is interested in ethics, law, morality and the effect of custom on human behavior would be handicapped without a familiarity with Herodotus’ colorful descriptions of the various peoples and nations that he covers with encyclopedic breadth. Of course I mention this with a caveat that those who misread Herodotus might use these stories as material to advance a moral relativism, given the diversity of accepted customs among various northern tribes (like the Scythians), some quite appalling! But one cannot read Herodotus without seeing clearly the improving influence that civilization has on behavior.

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Cyrus the Great

Recently, I read with pleasure a marvelous article in The New Yorker (April 2008) by  “What was Herodotus Trying to Tell Us?” Although many complain that Herodotus while being the acknowledged “Father of History” might also be called the “father of the digression,” Mendelsohn puts his finger on this very aspect of Herodotus’ work that has charmed readers for millenia!

What gives this tale its unforgettable tone and character—what makes the narrative even more leisurely than the subject warrants—are those infamous, looping digressions: the endless asides, ranging in length from one line to an entire book (Egypt), about the flora and fauna, the lands and the customs and cultures, of the various peoples the Persian state tried to absorb. And within these digressions there are further digressions, an infinite regress of fascinating tidbits whose apparent value for “history” may be negligible but whose power to fascinate and charm is as strong today as it so clearly was for the author, whose narrative modus operandi often seems suspiciously like free association. Hence a discussion of Darius’ tax-gathering procedures in Book 3 leads to an attempt to calculate the value of Persia’s annual tribute, which leads to a discussion of how gold is melted into usable ingots, which leads to an inquiry into where the gold comes from (India), which, in turn (after a brief detour into a discussion of what Herodotus insists is the Indian practice of cannibalism), leads to the revelation of where the Indians gather their gold dust. Which is to say, from piles of sand rich in gold dust, created by a species of—what else?—“huge ants, smaller than dogs but larger than foxes.”

Herodotus, in contrast to many so-called ‘historians’, makes it clear that individuals have a profound effect on history. In consequence, it becomes apparent to his readers that human character, virtue and vice, are of the utmost significance in determining historical causes. This is especially refreshing in our day when students are fed historical accounts that seem to attribute causation to far more impersonal causes such as the purely economic or geographical or social movements or “systemic or environmental  causes.”

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Of course Herodotus also gives us a refreshing account of not just human causality, but also a great deal of attention to divine causality as especially manifest through the attention that he gives to the oracles.

The reader might be slightly skeptical about the verity of the often ambiguous Delphic utterances, but say what you will, Herodotus makes a clear case for the significance of divine causation in History.

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Delphic Oracle

In our day it is customary to belittle men greater than ourselves.

My version of Herodotus (“The Landmark Herodotus” edited by Robert B. Strassler) comes with a full plate of footnotes, the authors of which are careful to kibitz and point out minor inaccuracies and discrepancies within the text.  The effect that these notes have in my view is to finally render Herodotus rather innocuous to the student and relegate him to the status of a harmless but unscientific yet charming author- certainly not a historian!

Nonetheless, as I point out to my students, such clever foot-note writers would have absolutely no standing whatever were it not for the big man- Herodotus.

Posted in classical education, Herodotus, History, Newman | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Did You Know That Your Soul Has Twenty Six Powers?

Though I never saw it with my own eyes, it is said that the two words “Know thyself” were inscribed over the entrance to the Temple at Delphi.

γνῶθι σεαυτόν

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That the seven wise men of Greece chose to have these words inscribed in such a prominent location should be a hint to all of us that they deserve our attention. (I have tried to argue that here.) If we do not know ourselves then we run the risk of turning traitor! In act IV scene 2 of Shakespeare’s MacbethRoss explains to Lady Macduff,

…I dare not speak much further; But cruel are the times when we are traitors And do not know ourselves; when we hold rumor from what we fear, yet know not what we fear, But float upon a wild and violent sea, each way and none…

And if we are traitors to ourselves then we certainly have not followed Pollonius’ advice to Laertes when he says,

This above all- to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.

And so now that we have a new year in front of us (well … 11 months left) what better time for us to make a new attempt to know ourselves.

To that end, what could be a better way to begin knowing ourselves then by a quick breakdown and examination of our souls? After all, I think Aristotle says somewhere that man is composed of body and soul….but adds that we are more our souls than our bodies. (N.B. We are not only our souls like Plato might have said, but our souls are more what we are than our bodies).

Okay? Does this make sense? I mean, if it really is the case that each of us is more our souls than our bodies, then perhaps a little knowledge about our souls will be important in helping us to know ourselves.

Now I suppose it goes without saying that there are seemingly quite a few people who do not even realize that they have a soul…. or perhaps even go so far as to deny that they have a soul!

Most people probably acknowledge the existence of their souls, but I have a feeling that the conception of the soul is probably quite vague…a little cloudy.

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Well, it’s high time to blow away the smoke! It’s time to clarify our notions about the souls that we all possess! What better way to do this than through a nice breakdown of the soul and an exhaustive list of its capabilities?

There is simply no time to argue or explain each of the soul’s powers in detail. Such an undertaking would be too lengthy and difficult for our needs here. We simply want to see the soul in broad outline. So let’s proceed!

The Soul

First we need to remind ourselves that among living things there are three types of soul, to wit:

  1. Vegetative soul– the kind of souls found among plants
  2. Sensitive soul– the kind of soul in animals
  3. Rational soul– the soul that distinguishes man from plants and animals

Well it turns out that each kind of soul includes powers or abilities that distinguish it from the others. More importantly, we note that the sensitive soul includes all the powers of the vegetative soul in addition its own distinctive powers, and similarly the sensitive soul includes all the powers of the sensitive soul in addition to its own unique powers. In other words, the three kinds of soul are arranged like the numbers One, Two and Three (although One is not a number!). A Two includes everything that a One is in itself (and one more besides!) while a Three includes everything a Two is (and one more besides).

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Now if the vegetative soul has powers that are included in the sensitive soul, and the rational soul has powers that are included in the sensitive soul, then it follows that the rational soul will have all the powers that a soul can have! In other words, the rational soul will not only have its own powers but will also possess the powers of the other kinds of soul as well!

What powers does the vegetative soul include? Well anyone of us with a potted plant in his kitchen knows quite well what powers the plant has. Every plant has exactly three powers.

Powers of the Vegetative Soul

  1. Nutrition
  2. Growth
  3. Reproduction

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Now how about the sensitive soul? What are the powers of the soul that are in animals?

Powers of the Sensitive Soul

  1. Nutrition
  2. Growth
  3. Reproduction
  4. Sensitive Powers
  5. Appetitive Powers
  6. Locomotive Powers

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Every animal has a soul that not only subsumes the powers of the plant soul, but in addition has three extra categories of powers.

It might come as a surprise to some that the sensitive powers of the soul do not just refer to the five sense that are commonly known. No…in addition to the five external senses there are also four other senses, but these senses are internal!

The Sensitive Powers

  1. External Senses (the five senses- touching, smelling, tasting, hearing and seeing)
  2. Internal Senses (the four lesser known internal senses- the “common sense,” the imagination, the memory, and the estimative sense)

Now we see that here alone the sensitive powers are broken up into 9 different powers!

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The Appetitive Powers

There are eleven appetitites that every animal has which are all really powers of the sensitive soul. We usually call them passions or emotions.

Concupiscible Appetitites

  1. love
  2. hate
  3. desire
  4. aversion
  5. pleasure (joy)
  6. pain (sorrow)

Irascible Appetites

  1. hope
  2. despair
  3. audacity (courage)
  4. fear
  5. anger

Thus we see that there are eleven appetitive powers in all. Now we are not making an attempt to explain each power or argue to their existence. Right now we are only concerned about getting them all out on the table! So what are the remaining powers of the sensitive soul? Fortunately, this is easy.

The Locomotive Power

Every animal has the power of locomotion. Even a clam!

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Now the human being has a rational soul. So the rational soul, as we said before includes not only the three powers of the vegetative soul, and not only the twenty-one powers unique to the sensitive soul, but it also possess the two fundamental powers of the rational soul:  Intellect and Will.

So how many powers does your soul have? Let’s count them up!

At least Twenty-Six!

Posted in Delphi, philosophy, Shakespeare, soul | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Palestrina and Handel March For Life!

Yes, both consummate sacred musicians George Frideric Handel and Giovanni  Pierluigi da Palestrina were at the 2019 March for Life! I am guessing that this was yet another record-setting precedent for the annual March which attracted hundreds of thousands of people once again! Where were these composers? You will have to read to the very end.

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George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Is there a better way to confront the ugliness of culture of death than with beauty (and I am not referring to Handel’s hairdo)? If there is one thing certain about the culture of death it is this: it is ugly!

By contrast for the hundreds of thousands (Was there a half million? 650,000? Who will ever know?) of people who attended this year’s March For Life in Washington DC, one fact was assuredly apparent to everyone. The marchers were predominantly young and enthusiastic. Their joy was infectious!

It was the joy that emanates from  those whose souls are inclined towards Goodness and Truth. No one who attends the March For Life can escape the wonderful feeling that comes from being in the presence of a vast crowd of souls which are disposed towards goodness!

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Students from The Lyceum with Lila Rose, President of Live Action

Wherever I looked, I kept saying to myself, “There is another friend,” or “There is another person I should know.” Goodness is diffusive. It is also very attractive!

Granted there were a few pro-culture-of-death protesters on the sidelines who served to remind anyone who happened to see them more vividly (although I missed them entirely) of the ugliness against which they were marching. Everyone who attended the March most assuredly returned home with renewed energy and confidence. Each returned home knowing that one day beauty will prevail!

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Life is Beautiful!

Now, for the sixty-five or so marchers from our school in South Euclid Ohio, the March was a non-stop celebration of that beauty which will prevail. On Thursday morning, the day before the March, the students, refreshed from their long bus ride, proceeded to the historic and beautiful church of Saint Dominic .

An image of the front of St. Dominic Catholic Church in Washington, D.C.

Apparently, a stained glass window of Saint Joseph was donated in 1875 to the Church by Ellen Ewing Sherman, the wife of none other than General William Tecumseh Sherman!

lyceum students entering st dominics in dcAs it was a Mass in the Extraordinary Form, the students sang the gorgeous Missa Brevis by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, the famous Victoria Ave Maria, and of course their signature communion motet Sicut Cervus!

lyceum singing missa brevis at st dominic's dc

That afternoon, after breaking into smaller groups that respectively toured various places like the Capitol, the Holocaust Museum, and the Museum of the Bible, the school converged at Mt Vernon! I can’t think of a more fitting way to prepare for marching in defense of the sacredness of human life than by singing at Holy Mass and revisiting the life and home of our nation’s first president, who was by all accounts a president that held that all life should be held sacred.

lyceum at mt. vernon

Returning to Washington later that evening, we were just in time to attend the Annual Rosary for Life in the Crypt Church of The Basilica of The National Shrine of The Immaculate Conception! The rosary was led by the Most Reverend David Allen Zubik, Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

lyceum in crypt chapel at national roasary for life

The Rosary began with a rousing rendition of Immaculate Mary

Before each Hail Mary, the name of one of the states was announced, and an individual candle was lit, until all fifty states had been duly singled out for prayer!

rosary in crypt church

The next morning, students and their chaperones once again returned to St Dominic’s Church for Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form. This time, however, as the main church was already being used by a larger group of marchers, our smaller group was able to hear Mass at the smaller chapel used by the Dominican friars for their community prayers.

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At first I have to admit I was disappointed not to be in the main church simply because I had anticipated that the chapel would offer less agreeable acoustics to enhance the students’ singing. But as it turned out,  the chapel had lovely acoustics and offered the additional considerable advantage of the traditional Friar’s choir seating – two long rows of choir stalls facing one another on both sides of the aisle! Again, the students sang the same Missa Brevis but this time they sang William Byrd’s beautiful Ave Verum Corpus for communion. As the priest and Altar server proceeded out, the students sang the Lovely motet Lord For Thy Tender Mercies Sake by the sixteenth century English composer Richard Farrant. I thought it set just the right penitential tone for students who were about to march for life especially with the words about walking “with a perfect heart.”

Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake,
lay not our sins to our charge,
but forgive that is past
and give us grace to amend our sinful lives;
to decline from sin and incline to virtue,
that we may walk with a perfect heart
before thee now and evermore.

Now everyone was prepared properly for the March! By God’s providence it was a lovely day in D.C. with sun and milder temperatures than is sometimes the case. We made our way to the rally and of course, because of the enormous throng that had beat us to the Mall, we were among the throng that could hear the thunderous roar of those who cheered the speakers.

Now anyone who has been to the March for Life knows that the chief difficulty of marching as a group of, say, more than two people, is simply staying together. Everyone who has attended knows that aside from being strapped together there is almost no way not to experience a separation from one’s group simply from the sheer movement of the vast assemblage. It was fairly tough to stay together even when standing still at the rally!

But as we began to march, our students found a way not only to stay together, but also to make a fitting contribution to the peaceful witness in support of the unborn! They sang! lyceum on march towards capitol

Now I confess that I was a bit skeptical about singing during the march. As a choir director, I know that it is difficult to sing outside. It is also fairly challenging to sing anything but perhaps the most well-known hymns or songs (e.g. Happy Birthday, a verse of Amazing Grace or the National Anthem) without music!

So what did these students sing without any music whatsoever? For starters they began with the full Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah! I thought that was a fitting thing to sing on Constitution Avenue simply as a reminder that it is Our Lord who is the King of Kings. It is He that shall reign for ever and ever!

I think Handel would have been proud. The students sang the chorus beautifully from memory which is even tougher when there is no accompanying orchestra! Inspired by their success and encouraged by many marchers who pulled out their phones to record their singing, the students continued singing for almost an entire hour. The repertoire for the 2019 March for Life included the following:

  • Hallelujah Chorus – G.F. Handel
  • Lord For Thy Tender Mercies Sake – Farrant
  • Alma Redemptoris – Palestrina
  • Gloria In Excelsis Deo – from the Missa Brevis – Palestrina
  • Regina Coeli – Salazar
  • Stella Matutina – Italian Carol
  • Cibavit Eos – Christopher Tye
  • Sicut Cervus – Palestrina
  • Salve Regina – Gregorian Chant
  • Ave Maria – Gregorian Chant
  • Ave Maria – Victoria
  • Dixit Archangelis – Austrian Carol
  • and others

Of course, we repeated the pieces which seemed to go especially well. Naturally, the more “monophonic” the music is, the better it blends and stays together in the midst of a vast crowd.  But I was amazed at how well all of the music could sound even while sung by students on the march!

I will never forget the 2019 March for Life, nor will, I think, our students. They marched for those who could not. They lent their feet in witness to life. But they also lent their beautiful voices and demonstrated, like so many other young people at the March, that life is beautiful!

Posted in beauty, catholic education, education, Fine Arts, Music, Sacred Music | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Do Children Know How to Educate Themselves?

Whatever one may say about our twenty-eighth president’s views about The United States’ role as promoter of democracy and capitalism and interventionism throughout the world, I think we have to give him whole-hearted applause for his views on authentic liberal education.

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Take this for example,

When you say a young person must be prepared for his life-work, are you prepared, is he prepared, are his parents prepared, to say what that life-work is going to be?

The answer to this is NO!

He proceeds,

Do you know a boy is going to be a mechanic by the color of his hair? Do you know that he is going to be a lawyer by the fact that his father was a lawyer? Does any average and representative modern parent dare to say what his children are going to be?

Again the answer to the first two questions is “no” and “no,” but there certainly are more than a few average modern parents who do in fact dare say what their children are going to be, or at least dare to say what their children won’t be. Witness the shortage in religious vocations for example.

Wilson hits the nail hard on the head when he says,

My chief quarrel with the modern parent is that he does not know, and that he hands that question over to the youngster whom he is supposed to be advising and training.

The elective system of education which began in the university (where it properly belongs), and crept back into the college and has now permeated most high schools and is even seeping into (if you can believe it!) the primary school, is an exact exemplification of what Wilson is saying.

These days parents say to their children,

“Son, daughter, you must be successful in life. I don’t know what you are going to be or how you are going to accomplish this. I who am older and wiser than you don’t know how you should be educated. I don’t know what precise path you should take. I will not prescribe a certain path for you to follow. No… making these important decisions  about your life and your success must all be left up to you who are relatively ignorant about all things. Every choice about your intellectual formation must be made by you according to your own whims and passing fancies.

That is what the elective system is isn’t it? I just can’t get over how silly it is on the face of it. It represents a complete abdication of responsibility  on the part of those who are supposed to know better.

It would be like a pediatrician saying to a child ,

As your doctor I recommend health to you. But what health is and how you should acquire it is completely up to you. You must make your own diagnoses and choose your own prescriptions.

You might think that this comparison is too strong.

You say,

Yes- that would be ridiculous for doctors to let their patients diagnose themselves and write their own prescriptions. But the health of the body is a very delicate and important thing. There are very precise methods, rules, and best practices that must be adhered to in order to obtain and maintain health.

But Socrates would reply,

What is more important, the health of the body or the health of the soul? Which is more easy to achieve? If the health of the body requires certain precise methods and practices, how much more would the health of the soul require these!

It is not difficult to understand why parents abdicate their responsibilities as primary educators and why as a consequence, the children themselves, or rather the passions, whims and fancies of the children, become the primary architect of their own intellectual formation. The reason is that many parents no longer know what an education is. And so they substitute the imagined idea of their child’s success in a career, a career which they know not, for education.

This unknown career becomes the child’s purpose in life, and the school is asked to educate the child in order to make him “college and career ready.”

As Wilson says,

“…when he says he wants his son’s training suited to his purpose of life he must admit his son has no purpose in life. Then we are asked to suit our processes to this undestined youth.”

Now this is a predicament. The school must educate children to be successful for a myriad unknown careers. Wilson writes about the state of education in the early part of the twentieth century,

“With this complexity, what has the modern school attempted to do? It has attempted to do everything at once. It has said: Here are a lot of boys and girls whose future occupations we do not know and they do not know. They must be prepared for life. Therefore we must prepare everybody for everything that is in that life. We haven’t found it amusing. We haven’t found it possible. We have attempted it and we know we have failed at it. You cannot train everybody for everything. Moreover you are not competent to teach everything. There is not any body of teachers suited in gifts or training to do this impossible thing. Neither the schools nor those who guide them have attempted to make any discrimination with regard to purpose or to settle upon methods which will promise some degree of substantial success. That is the situation we are in.”

Wilson said this in 1909 speaking to the New York City High School Teachers Association.

More than a century later …. progress?

Posted in classical education, education, liberal education, truth for its own sake | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Trim the Hearth and Set the Table 2018

As we have mentioned before, one of the great joys of Christmas springs from the fact that while it is renewed every year, it nonetheless is renewed precisely because it encapsulates and brings forth the things from of old. It is an annual renaissance of the same Christ born 2000 years ago, and is celebrated in each family by the rebirth of each family’s  traditions and customs.

Everyone looks forward to recapturing the grand things that have made past festivities so memorable. Certainly we might mix in some variation- but everyone is pleased when the special joys that formed past memories are recaptured and come alive in the present!

And so once again, after playing the organ for five separate Christmas Masses, and after receiving the generous help, in their contributions of extraordinary musical talent of my own children and friends, we were able to commence our own family festivities at about 2:00 pm Christmas Day! I suppose the three youngest kids deserve special commendation for the great patience which they exhibited by having to gaze at all the presents under the tree from 7:00 AM to about 3:00 PM. They were terrific. Nonetheless, brunch helped immensely! I returned from the 12:00 PM Mass at the beautiful Immaculate Conception church with my four daughters (3 Sopranos and one Alto), and the first thing I saw was the table disposed and aptly arranged….but for what?


Now fruit-salad is ideal at any brunch- and certainly a regular feature in our tradition. Every year the fruit seems fresher than I remember. How is this possible?  Persimmons, blackberries, raspberries, pineapple, grapes and strawberries.  IMG_1705

Aside from the fruit-salad for its own sake- I also think it is handy for plumping some of those strawberries in the mimosas!

I suppose one might find a better “champagne,” but I really do find that I enjoy any thing that says “Brut” on it. But why would anyone mix an expensive bottle with orange juice and strawberries?  Nonetheless, if one is buying an inexpensive bottle of Champagne, or Sparkling Wine or Cava, there is always the expedient of wrapping it carefully in a napkin to keep the label discretely out of sight of anyone who has a more discerning taste (or a thicker wallet!)


One of the traditions we have at brunch is what is affectionately called “Baby Jesus Bun.” It is a delicious bun with a creamy sort of filling. Now of course we know that the early Christians were accused of “Thyestean feasts” by the Romans and that one Athenagoras spent considerable efforts defending Christians from the charge of cannibalism. And so without making light of the seriousness of those charges and with apologies to Athenagoras, I will admit that these Baby Jesus Buns are absolutely scrumptious!


It’s time for us to obtain a new Italian coffee maker. We love the coffee from these Italian espresso makers- and I still can’t figure out the physics of the thing. The water starts in the bottom and then through the wonders of heat and pressure, it somehow mysteriously is forced up through the finely ground fresh coffee beans. The lid of my coffee maker fell off years ago, but it doesn’t seem to matter much. The coffee does not come spraying out in an upwards direction. The only drawback to this coffee maker is that it only makes two strong cups at a time. (I know, I know- we could use a demitasse, but who really wants to pretend that a there is enough coffee in a demitasse for anyone!?)


Last Christmas we had “Eggs Blackstone” which I suppose is one of the many variations on Eggs Benedict. Whereas Eggs Blackstone includes poached eggs atop some sourdough bread with tomatoes and bacon, this year we had Eggs Benedict atop a slice of smoked salmon atop Thomas’s famous English Muffins!  My daughter Mary made the Hollandaise Sauce- somehow managing to obtain the ideal creamy texture and flavor!



In addition to the smoked salmon we included small and large beef sausage patties.


Stephanie managed to collect an assortment of candles throughout the year. All different sizes and lengths for the various candle-holders.


My plate- of course a little Cayenne pepper!


The biggest challenge this year was how to squeeze both a brunch and a dinner in on the same day. After opening presents I took a two hour nap!


But I awoke as if no time had passed to the smell of Anna’s famous buttery dinner rolls! A sure sign that dinner was imminent.


This year marked the first time that I can remember for this delicious green dish. An arrangement of Green Beans, Asparagus and Fennel – cooked al dente and topped with a spinkle of olive oil.


Stephanie’s home-made gravy gathered from the sheer goodness that oozed out of the roast.


A rich risotto flavored by a magical cremini mushroom concoction!


At long last – the coup de grace- Beef Wellington!


Now to be perfectly honest, I have no idea how Stephanie made the bread-y cheesy wrap around the marvelous fatty roast that I obtained (from Costco). It was steaming and cooked to perfection- wonderfully done on the outside but still pink in the center. Satisfaction for everyone’s taste. I think Stephanie had actually chosen a superior and less expensive and leaner roast – but as she was pushing the shopping cart, I was suddenly taken with the idea of substituting a richer fattier cut. Given the overall richness of the meal, I think her instincts were far better than mine (as usual). Nonetheless, what a Wellington!




Nothing contributes to the sacred aura of the Christmas feast more than candles.


I forgot to take a photo of the delicious Californian 2016 Pinot Noir from Monterey County. “Aromas of red cherry and bright strawberry followed by flavours of plum and black cherry,” I will take the vintner’s word for it.


To finish everything off, my daughter baked this star-shaped sweet bread. A sweet dough interlaced with a plum jam of some sort or another. (Special thanks to my son Mark for all the photos!)


Merry Christmas!

Posted in beauty, breakfast, Christmas, Dinner, Feasts, Fine Arts | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

We Don’t Need No Education

Sometimes in life we need to face difficult truths.  If we have been on the wrong side of an issue, we need to be open to change, and open to declaring an “about-face.” Even if it hurts!

And so, after thirty years of teaching and promoting education, after thirty years of giving largely unsolicited advice to parents about educating their children, after thirty years fighting an uphill battle to help market education for struggling schools that purport to “educate,” I think it is now time to consider a different point of view. Do we really need to educate our children?

Why not just baptize them and give them a good training?

There is no need to pull down the current institutions of learning – our current schools colleges and universities. No need whatsoever, because they have all already abandoned education for at least a century now…that is, they have abandoned everything that the word stands for but have kept the word itself. And so there is no need to change marketing materials. We just need to understand that every time we hear the word ‘education’ nowadays, we should simply understand that what is really meant is “training.”

I wish to provide five excellent reasons why parents should avoid giving their children an education and should, rather, do all they can to give them a proper training– but before beginning, let us distinguish our terms just a little.

Education concerns itself with the refinement of the intellect so that it might bring all things to bear on the truth. Education is about forming the mind so that it can look throughout the world and the cosmos and see the various orders that exist.

To gaze upon the orders that exist – whether the orderly beauty amidst the ranks of the humblest creatures’ (even inanimate!) spheres of existence, or whether it is to gaze upon the order that exists among the sphere in which man himself lives – in society and in his own soul, or whether it is to marvel at the order that exists in the spheres above him-

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the starry heavens and even among the separated substances – and perhaps whether it is, at last, to gaze upon the Divine cause of all this order Himself, God.

This is, roughly, what education is about.

Training has to do with adapting the mind and making it excellent at special works; making the mind, and the hands, adept at the performance of specific and productive tasks.

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Training involves developing a single-minded focus on a limited sphere of activity and developing the habits that belong to performing that activity with excellence! Whether managing a portfolio, or performing heart surgery, or installing fiber optic cables,

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or designing efficient systems for selling anything on the internet! What a wonderful thing training is! Thank goodness we have schools, colleges and universities which are “doing first-class work as training-schools.” Really, we can’t have too many of them.


In 1937, the American Libertarian Albert Jay Nock  had already noticed a confusion of these terms (i.e. Education and Training) and wrote about it in his famous essay “The Disadvantages of Being Educated”. When examining what was going on in the colleges and universities at the time, he said that the ‘education’ they purported to impart,

aimed at what we used to call training rather than education; and it not only did very little with education, but seemed to assume that training was education, thus overriding a distinction that formerly was quite clear. Forty years ago a man trained to proficiency in anything was respected accordingly, but was not regarded as an educated man, or “just as good,” on the strength of it. A trained mechanic, banker, dentist or man of business got all due credit for his proficiency, but his education, if he had any, lay behind that and was not confused with it.

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In other words, if a man is educated, that is something quite apart from whether he is trained to be ‘successful’ in the world. Education does not have a direct bearing on what is meant by success. If anything, education is something that lies further back in the soul. It is something “behind” training, without being necessary at all to training.

An interesting pastime for every teacher is following the path and careers of his former students. Teachers of course are naturally interested in what happens to their students after they leave their charge and make their path off to college or simply dive directly into the world.

It has often struck me, although I am not yet ready to make a sweeping generalization, that very often the students that appear to have the most intellectual talent and are perhaps the most industrious in their studies, do not, surprisingly, appear to be identical with the students that appear to make their way in the world in a manner that would be recognized as being the most “successful.”

Education, says Albert J. Nock,

“…leads a person on to ask a great deal more from life than life, as at present organized, is willing to give him; and it begets dissatisfaction with the rewards that life holds out.”


“Training tends to satisfy him with very moderate and simple returns. A good income, a home and family, the usual run of comforts and conveniences, diversions addressed only to the competitive or sporting spirit or else to raw sensation – training not only makes directly for getting these, but also for an inert and comfortable contentment with them.”

I hate to say it, but could it be that education might actually be counterproductive? Suppose you would like to have a successful son, could it be that insisting that he obtain an education might be to do nothing other than to place a sizable obstacle in his path?

I think so, and here are five excellent reasons why everyone should avoid being educated:

  1. Education instills in the mind of its suitors an interest in things that are of very little interest to most people.

This is easy to understand. Just go ahead and pick up a book of Euclid’s’ Elements. Here is  how it begins:

“A Point is that which has no part.”

What does that mean? And suppose we try to find out? Where will that leave us? Who really cares about what a point is anyway? What does this have to do with the price of a loaf of bread and a gallon of gasoline? Nothing really.  Can you blame anyone for not really caring about what a point and a line are?

Anyone who studies Euclid’s Geometry will quickly develop a taste for theoretical truth and, sometimes, a corresponding distaste for anything that smacks of the practical. And this leads to our second excellent reason.

2. Education fosters a distaste for practical things.

This point is again illustrated very well by the story told by the fifth century compiler of Greek manuscripts, Stobaeus:

… someone who had begun to learn geometry with Euclid, when he had learnt the first theorem, asked Euclid, “What shall I get by learning these things?” Euclid called his slave and said, “Give him threepence since he must make gain out of what he learns”.

A proper education, that is a liberal education, is called liberal precisely because it is not at the service of things practical. That is why it appears to have been only an education that the wealthy or aristocratic could afford to obtain. They had what they needed already for living well – at least as regards food, shelter and clothing.

3. Education tends to be divisive and isolates the one who receives it.

This reason was clarified for me by Mr. Nock. He says,

Education deprives a young person of one of his most precious possessions, the sense of co-operation with his fellows. He is like a pacifist in 1917, alone in spirit – a depressing situation, and especially, almost unbearably, depressing to youth. “After all,” says Dumas’s hero, “man is man’s brother,” and youth especially needs a free play of the fraternal sense; it needs the stimulus and support of association in common endeavour.

The student who makes the ill-fated decision to become educated will in that decision unknowingly cause the separation between himself and all of his peers, and indeed, perhaps even the greater part of humanity.

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Why is education divisive? Well, just think about Socrates for a moment. He was a gadfly! In his relentless pursuit of truth he could not help but to uncover and expose the lack of wisdom in anyone else who claimed to have wisdom. I am afraid that this is an inescapable characteristic of anyone who wishes to be educated or wise, he must walk in the footsteps of Socrates.

Training, on the other hand, brings one into society and helps one to fit in as a normal participant in the human race. Mr. Nock remarks,

At present one can afford only to be trained. The young person’s fellows are turning all their energy into a single narrow channel of interest; they have set the whole current of their being in one direction. Education is all against his doing that, while training is all for it; hence training puts him in step with his fellows, while education tends to leave him a solitary figure, spiritually disqualified.

4. Education creates a distaste for barter and exchange.

Now this is a real disadvantage for anyone who happens to live in this world. Liberal education, as was mentioned, arose out of man’s desire to know for its own sake. Liberal education arose out of the divine instinct for knowledge,  implanted by the Creator in our souls, an instinct that we call ‘wonder.’ Wonder is the desire to know something in its causes, and for its own sake. The person who wonders about something does not wonder because he wishes to make money or do something with the knowledge. He simply wishes to know. He is like a child in this regard.  Like a child he chants in his best Trochaic meter,

Twinkle twinkle little star,

How I wonder what you are!

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The child does not wish to sell the star. Socrates was poor. He did not sell his knowledge to students like the sophists of his day. Wisdom is not for sale. Like a beautiful lady, one does not court her for her wealth or for her connections or for some other advantage. She demands of her suitors that she be loved for her own sake. And just so does Lady Philosophy appear to Boethius in his prison cell after he has suffered the terrible ups and downs of fortune’s wheel.

By a liberal education, the mind of the student is habituated towards a love of things that cannot be bought or sold. Unfortunately, those who develop this love cannot help but develop a corresponding clumsiness and even distaste for things that are measured in terms of dollars and cents.

This leads us to the fifth reason why education should be avoided.

5. Education tends to produce a person that no longer has a place in society.

Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman famously said,

Liberal Education makes not the Christian, not the Catholic, but the gentleman.  

Or a lady! Newman did not mean that liberal education produces a man (or woman), who dresses and adopts the fashions of the day as they are set forth in say Gentleman’s Quarterly or some-such other worldly standard.  No, he meant that liberal education produces a refinement of mind, manners, speech, and bearing such that its recipient becomes properly responsive to beauty, goodness and truth!

Here are some highlights of the lady or gentleman according to Newman:

he is one who never inflicts pain…He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him;  … The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast;… He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absurd; …he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. … He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort…

In this world we are taught that a person must “market” himself, and do what one may to make himself desirable over others in order to “get ahead.”

In the words of Mr. Nock,

Again, education tends towards a certain reluctance about pushing oneself forward; and in a society so notoriously based on the principle of each man for himself, this is a disadvantage.

And so it is clear that those who seek an education thereby seek at least the five disadvantages that I have enumerated. There are undoubtedly more, but these alone are enough to demonstrate how difficult life will be for the educated person.

Therefore, parents take note!

Do you desire successful children?

Do you hope that your children will fit in as normal and ‘happy’ participants in society?

Do you love your children to the extent that you hope they will live comfortably and harmoniously in this world?

Well then, if your answer was “yes” to these questions, then by all means, don’t educate them!

Posted in education, liberal education, Newman | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

This School Choir May Have Just Made History

In what might be a new world record, or perhaps simply a first of its kind choral accomplishment, the fifty-five voice Lyceum Choir sang back to back liturgies – one in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, celebrated by Cardinal Raymond Burke, and the other in a Hierarchical Liturgy of the Byzantine Rite, celebrated by Bishop Milan Lach, S.J.!Cardinal Burke Processing with Blessed Sacrament

Bishop Milan

Now I have been a choir director for about thirty years and have had numerous occasions where I have been asked to prepare choirs for this or that solemn liturgy, at which this or that Bishop would be celebrating. Every such occasion is exciting for a choir, and of course these opportunities are events for which ordinarily a choir will attempt to do its very best. Of course cathedral and basilica choirs are habituated to such events. That is why many of them consist of both volunteer and professional choristers among their ranks.

The students of The Lyceum Choir know that they are primarily singing ad maiorem Dei gloriam, but it’s not every day that one gets to sing with a Cardinal in the morning and a Bishop in the afternoon!


As it was the feast of The Immaculate Conception, and as Cardinal Burke had been invited to celebrate the Mass at the gorgeous Immaculate Conception Church in Cleveland, we knew we had to meet such an occasion with every ounce of preparation we could muster. After all, this was a visit by the highest ranking Church prelate to the church since its cornerstone was laid in 1878!

Immaculate Conception Church

The students arrived an hour early to warm up for the 10 AM Mass in high spirits. Although the church itself is fairly large, its architect did not envision both a pipe organ and a fifty-five voice choir in the loft. Consequently we made the decision to locate the choir in the last four rows at the back of the church. Given that the church was packed, this was no easy feat.

Carindal Burke at Throne


Now some of you might be thinking,

Ok…that’s pretty impressive….. but any school choir might be able to sing a Pontifical High Latin Mass with preparation. What’s so difficult about singing the Missa de Angelis along with a couple easy motets?

Well, just take a look at this program:

  • Introit – Gaudens Gaudebo (Gregorian Propers- in full!)
  • Kyrie from the Missa Brevis – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
  • Gloria – Missa Brevis – Palestrina
  • Graduale – Benedicta es tu, Virgo Maria (Gregorian Propers)
  • Alleluia – Tota Pulchra es (Gregorian Propers)
  • Credo III (Gregorian)
  • Offertory- Ave Maria (Gregorian Propers)
  • Offertory Motet – Alma Redemptoris – Palestrina
  • Sanctus – Missa Brevis – Palestrina
  • Agnus Dei – Missa Brevis – Palestrina
  • Communion- Gloriosa dicta sunt de te– (Gregorian Propers)
  • Communion Motets
    • Dixit Maria – Hans Leo Hassler
    • Rorate Coeli – Christopher Tye
    • Ave Maria – Jacob Arcadelt
    • Sicut Cervus – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

And then, to top things off, the Mass ended with a glorious procession of the Blessed Sacrament complete with the regular congregational settings of O Salutaris, Pange Lingua, Holy God, and Immaculate Mary.

Cardinal Burke Insensing Blessed Sacrament

Top view Procession

After finishing this glorious experience which lasted for about two and half hours, the students quickly boarded a bus which transported them to St. Stephen’s Byzantine Catholic Church in nearby Euclid, Ohio.  Timing was of the essence given that the students were to provide the choir for the Solemn Profession at 1:30 PM for a nun from Christ the Bridegroom Monastery.

Now, it goes without saying that a choir cannot sing well at any liturgical function unless it is familiar with the rhythms and movements and traditions that are peculiar to it. Successfully providing the liturgical music for any liturgical event or service requires a choir that is able to cooperate and has the requisite skill to exercise flexibility so as to adapt to the various tones, pacing, and idiosyncrasy of this or that celebrant (or congregation).

It is not any choir that can sing a full polyphonic Palestrina Mass and then seamlessly make the transition from west to east- singing the music for the incensation of the church and the Antiphons and Troparia and Kontakia and Trisagion and Prokeimenon and Anaphora – not to mention the many other regular polyphonic prayers like The Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

The young are especially adapted for making such swift transitions without blinking!

Divine Liturgy procession

Pope John Paul II famously said in his Encyclical Ut Unum Sint,

the Church must breathe with her two lungs! In the first millennium of the history of Christianity, this expression refers primarily to the relationship between Byzantium and Rome… we understand clearly that the vision of the full communion to be sought is that of unity in legitimate diversity.

Now although Pope John Paul II meant to signify the Church as a whole, as opposed to individual members of the Church when he said “the Church must breathe with both lungs,” I still think that he would have been very proud of the fifty-five students who sang a Solemn Pontifical High Latin Mass in the Morning and a Hierarchical Liturgy of the Byzantine Rite that very afternoon.

Could there be a more effective response to Saint John Paul II’s encyclical? Singing certainly requires lungs! And anyone who is familiar with the harmonies of the east will agree that if the western music of Palestrina is produced from one lung, it certainly might seem that the music of the Byzantine Church is produced from quite another lung!

Choir at Divine Liturgy

These students certainly sang from both lungs that day. They sang from 9 AM to nearly 4 PM!

And because of their youth, because of their reverence, because of their goodwill and because of their beautiful voices, they enhanced the beauty of two very significant liturgical events. They also inspired the many hundreds of people who came to witness these events.

They demonstrated that there is much reason for hope!

Cardinal Burke Benediction


Posted in beauty, Catena Aurea, Feasts, Sacred Music, Sacrosanctum Consilium, The Mass | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Sun Shall be Darkened: First Sunday of Advent.

No one can hear the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent without feeling at least a twinge of dread. I mean, Yikes!

People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.

Our Lord undoubtedly meant to inspire some of us (the stubborn ones!) with just a little bit of holy fear. And let’s be honest, fear can be an excellent motivator!

The Lord has my attention now!

Instead of commencing our preparation for Christmas with a comforting description of Yuletide cheer…

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…the Church has chosen the passage from Saint Luke where he records the bone-chilling and downright scary words of our Lord that describe His Second Coming.

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St. Luke says,

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.

And St. Matthew says,

after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven.

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Luke continues,

Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

What are we to make of all of this? Will the sun really be darkened? The moon will not give light and the stars will fall from the sky?

Now, I am not certain just what to say from an astronomical standpoint, except that I suppose there might be a time when the sun will burn itself out. Then, of course, the moon will no longer be lit up. But as far as stars falling from the sky, I am not certain just what that could mean physically speaking. My present scientifically naive understanding is that the fixed stars are in their positions not having any sort of down or up. They do not really have anywhere to fall? Maybe I am wrong.

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But St. Augustine has a fascinating thing to say about this,

I think what has been said may be better understood to apply to the Church. For the Church is the sun, the moon, and the stars, to whom it was said, Fair as the moon, elect as the sun. And she will then not be seen for the unbounded rage of the persecutors.

Now, as interesting as this interpretation is, I do not find it very consoling. I figure the Sun will not burn out in my life time. As a matter of fact, according to at least one article the sun will still be around for another five billion years! Phew!

St. Augustine is saying that the Church is sometimes referred to as the Sun and the Moon, as we read in the Song of Solomon,

Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?

And if someone were to suggest that the Church is currently “not seen” I think I would have to agree. That is to say, the Church’s doctrines, Her sacraments, and Her timeless wisdom seems to be quite obscured at the moment.  At least judging by the number of empty pews which I inadvertently count every Sunday when I should be praying.

St. Ambrose agrees that the Church is figured in this passage. He says,

While many also fall away from religion, clear faith will be obscured by the cloud of unbelief, for to me that Sun of righteousness is either diminished or increased according to my faith;

This is what is meant by “the sun shall be darkened.” Ambrose continues,

and as the moon in its monthly wanings, or when it is opposite the sun by the interposition of the earth, suffers eclipse, so also the holy Church when the sins of the flesh oppose the heavenly light, cannot borrow the brightness of divine light from Christ’s rays. For in persecutions, the love of this world generally shuts out the light of the divine Sun;

And finally he says,

the stars also fall, that is, men who shine in glory fall when the bitterness of persecution waxes sharp and prevails. And this must be until the multitude of the Church be gathered in, for thus are the good tried and the weak made manifest.


Thus the earth is a figure of the flesh (and “worldly” desires) which block the rays of Divine light. And the stars that fall are the saints or the men “who shine in glory” even while on earth, but fall during times of persecution.

Happy Advent!

Posted in Advent, Ambrose, Aquinas, Augustine, Catena Aurea | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Can a True American Celebrate Christ the King Sunday?

Can we all just admit it? The chief disadvantage of living in the “greatest nation on God’s green earth” is that we Americans find it just a little tougher to sympathize with and even celebrate Monarchy.

I mean, wouldn’t we rather celebrate “Christ the President of the Universe?” This idea of Christ as the king is practically a frontal assault on all of our inclinations as patriotic Americans!

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In other words, if we all know that the democratic republican form of government under which we live is the most suitable government for mankind, doesn’t this realization dampen our enthusiasm a wee bit for celebrating monarchy and kingship- and therefore, all that is entailed by theme of the last Sunday of the liturgical year?

The fact that Pope Pius XI added this feast to the Roman calendar fairly recently (1925) makes me think that he knew it would come as a little bit of a shock to free thinking and independent Americans. I am sure he meant to give a slap in the face to  the rising and militant secularism of the time – and certainly he was thinking about the aggressive and violent assault on religious liberty in Mexico. Is there a greater antithesis to the mind of the secularist than the concept of Christ as the king of the universe?

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As a High-School teacher, it often befalls my lot to read Herodotus,’ The Histories, his legendary and not so succinct account of the “Persian War.” Herodotus details the rise and “worldwide” dominance of Persia, until it was thwarted in its inexorable western expansion by a relatively small group of democratic free thinking Greeks, at such places as Marathon and Thermopylae.

If there is a lesson to be learned from Herodotus, it is certainly this: As mighty as the Persian monarchs were, as massive as their armies grew, as multitudinous as were their servile and oftentimes sycophantic minions, they were nonetheless no match for the wits and bravery of a free thinking democratic people. For heaven’s sake, Athens was the very cradle of democracy and yet according to Herodotus, Athens very nearly single-handedly put a stop to the seemingly all-powerful and haughty King Xerxes!

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One cannot read Herodotus without feeling a twitch of exultation about the wit and resourcefulness and spunk that seems to arise when men think for themselves and agree by mutual compact to band together in a great cause. One cannot refrain from thinking that there is something beautiful about men who rule themselves democratically!

And so how is an American Catholic supposed to feel this Sunday? The very fabric of our society, our notions of law and reason and science and culture were bequeathed to us by the Greeks. Americans pride themselves on self direction. If I remember correctly our War of Independence was directed against overthrowing the rule of a monarch.

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And although the French were exceedingly helpful to us in our efforts, we have never been quite comfortable with them either for all of their aristocratic leanings. Many Americans like Thomas Jefferson were at first quite sympathetic about the overthrow of the Catholic monarchy in France during their so-called “Revolution.”

But again here we are, patriotic Americans confronted with celebrating the very thing, the defeat of which, provided a foundation for the American Republic- Monarchy!

As a church organist and the “official four hymn selector” for my parish, I will choose the following hymns:

  1. Alleluia Sing To Jesus, His The Scepter His The Throne!
  2. Crown Him With Many Crowns!
  3. The King of Love My Shepherd Is.
  4. To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King.

I like these hymns and given the fact that I am not singing the “Gregorian Propers” as I think I should be, these hymns are the next best thing. But notice the unfamiliar-to-Americans trappings of monarchy!

We have sceptres!

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And (gasp!) Crowns!

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And thrones!

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Oh the horror! How can Catholics celebrate such things if Monarchy is an unsuitable form of government?

I wonder if many Christians simply take in “Christ the King of the Universe” Sunday like many other things that the Faith proposes. After all the Church proposes all sorts of things for our belief which are simply not consonant with sound science and ordinary reason. So it’s perhaps best not to think about such things.

As if to say, perhaps there is a very real divide between faith and reason. When one goes to church or to worship, it is best to simply hang up one’s coat and hat and intellect on the rack outside the church to be donned only upon exit.

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Could it be that Kingship or Monarchy is indeed the fitting rule for mankind? This is not to say that this or that specific group of humanity should adopt a monarchical form of rule immediately. This is not to say that the American representative form of government by which we govern ourselves is not in fact the very best form of government available to us right now on our own time and place. Perhaps that form of rule is best relative to the manners customs and mores of this or that people.

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But if one had to choose the form of government that is simply best without qualification, what would one choose? What form of government did God Himself choose to rule his universe? Did he choose the best government? Is it relevant to our eternal happiness that He is a monarch? I guess the answer is obvious.

It is a fundamental rule of Christian living that the habits and affections that we develop on earth are significant in disposing our hearts towards heaven. As St. Thomas Aquinas was fond of saying “Grace perfects nature.” We are disposed towards the things of grace by the things of nature. Faith and reason are not opposed but rather the more we strive to reason aright, the more we provide an intellectual disposition for the gift of God’s grace.

That Christ is a monarch is a significant part of our faith. Insofar as we might identify various Christian monarchs that did not overstep their authority or abuse their power, perhaps every Christian might gather some lessons concerning how we ought to think, behave and feel in the presence of a monarch? Perhaps there are minor and major points of reverence and courtly behavior that are lost on the disciples of Democracy? Most importantly, perhaps there is a lesson to be learned about humbly and immediately adapting our will to that of his sovereign majesty, Christ the King; deference to a king is something a little more difficult for we rugged American individualists, who are accustomed to think it always right to have a say in our own affairs.

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Notwithstanding any obstacles in our path ascribable to our own political custom, I suspect that our celebration of Christ The King of the Universe this weekend will strike most Christians with the fitting annual realization that “Yes! Christ is the King! Christ should be enthroned in the very center and principal place in our hearts. Every Christian will undoubtedly be struck with the fitting thought that inasmuch as we have earthly concerns and earthly rulers, nonetheless Christ is ultimately in charge and we are to do nothing except it be his will!

Viva Christo Rey!

Posted in Aquinas, Herodotus, Sacred Music | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

It’s Never Too Late to Become Educated

Every serious discussion about Catholic Liberal Education (which I call “Catholic Classical Education” sheerly for marketing purposes) must perforce dwell at considerable length from time to time on Homer and his works- especially the Iliad and the Odyssey.

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And this is because, as someone said long ago,

Homer is the teacher of Greece.

Now let’s indulge ourselves in a little syllogism with a large conclusion.

  1. Homer is the teacher of Greece.
  2. Greece is the teacher of the world, that is Greece is the teacher of all.

Therefore Homer is the teacher of all!

Now isn’t that a large conclusion? As a matter of fact it is so large I think it deserves to be said in Latin.  And fortunately, I think I can just manage this myself!

Homerus Omnes Docuit!

Sometimes one meets a person who has awakened late to the realization about education. Suddenly he realizes that attaining a liberal education is not really an option but is, rather, an obligation that human nature places on each person. This is what is known as an intellectual awakening.

And this is of course a wonderful thing to see in anybody! It is never too late to realize this. It’s never too late to start a liberal education!

Dum vita est spes est!

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Although admittedly those who realize this earlier have a small head start. Nonetheless, like the parable of the workers in the vineyard, there are many stories of those who have commenced their own liberal education at the “eleventh hour,” so to speak, for whom the rewards of wisdom have equaled or even surpassed those who may had started in their childhoods.

Now, I am not endorsing death- bed conversions to liberal education. My own livelihood as a teacher at a classical school depends on a fairly early realization that all children should have a liberal education. But in a spirit of snootiness, I submit the parable as a consolation for all of you “Liberal Education Johnny Come Latelys” just to bolster your spirits.

Nonetheless, the question arises for the person who suddenly realizes,

“I have completed my education, but miserabile dictu! I am not educated!”

This person is blessed. What humility! I have even heard stories of highly degreed people that make this realization. It may not be true, but I like to think that Robert Maynard Hutchins was such a person, perhaps through contact with people like Mortimer Adler.

There are many such people, and inevitably among the first thing they think to themselves is,

I need to start reading! But where shall I begin?!?

To which we reply with confident placidity:

Homer, of course!

As a matter of fact, I think I would just go ahead and put the Chesterton down. One would not want to go to one’s grave having read Chesterton and not Homer. What a spectacle that would be. Imagine having to explain that one to St. Peter!

As if to make the very point that I am making, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI went ahead and beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman in 2010!

Now you may be asking yourself, “What does the beatification of Newman have to do with reading Homer?”

Well, the connection is fairly plain for anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear. Listen to Newman (whom I think we should just go ahead and call “the Apostle of Liberal Education”),

The great poet (Homer) remained unknown for some centuries,—that is, unknown to what we call fame. His verses were cherished by his countrymen, they might be the secret delight of thousands, but they were not collected into a volume, nor viewed as a whole, nor made a subject of criticism. At length an Athenian Prince took upon him the task of gathering together the scattered fragments of a genius which had not aspired to immortality, of reducing them to writing, and of fitting them to be the text-book of ancient education. Henceforth the vagrant ballad-singer, as he might be thought, was submitted, to his surprise, to a sort of literary canonization, and was invested with the office of forming the young mind of Greece to noble thoughts and bold deeds. To be read in Homer soon became the education of a gentleman; and a rule, recognized in her free age, remained as a tradition even in the times of her degradation. Xenophon introduces to us a youth who knew both Iliad and Odyssey by heart; Dio witnesses that they were some of the first books put into the hands of boys; and Horace decided that they taught the science of life better than Stoic or Academic. Alexander the Great nourished his imagination by the scenes of the Iliad.

I tell my students (at the prestigious little school at which I am privileged to teach) that a liberal education used to consist in having simply read the Odyssey and the Iliad. That alone would substantiate legitimate grounds for the conferral of a diploma.

Now, over time, Newman explains, education became a little more complicated.

As time went on, other poets were associated with Homer in the work of education, such as Hesiod and the Tragedians. The majestic lessons concerning duty and religion, justice and providence, which occur in Æschylus and Sophocles, belong to a higher school than that of Homer; and the verses of Euripides, even in his lifetime, were so familiar to Athenian lips and so dear to foreign ears, that, as is reported, the captives of Syracuse gained their freedom at the price of reciting them to their conquerors.

I love that! The Syracusans evidently understood what liberal education really is. If one is not liberally educated then one is a slave of sorts– and might as well be in chains! As soon as one learns to recite Homer by heart, however, certainly such a one is a slave no longer but a free man; a liberally educated lady or gentleman and therefore must be set free at once!

The father of the Atomic Theory, Democritus, knew why an education in Homer might constitute a complete liberal education.

“Homer, obtaining by fate a divine nature, built a cosmos of all kinds of verse.”

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One cannot be liberally educated unless one has some education about the universe in all of its parts. Unfortunately, there are many who think that being educated in one thing or another, limiting their intellectual formation to this or that specialty, is an appropriate pursuit for a human being. Psssshawwww! Foooooo!

These ones would seemingly prefer the kind of life that Polyphemus the Cyclops enjoyed, if one can say “enjoyed.”

Those who have one eye have no depth perception, and therefore live life on the surface- and a very narrow surface at that.

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In defense of Polyphemus, my understanding is that he was born with one eye, whereas those who narrow their vision by premature specialization appear to pluck an eye out voluntarily!

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But Homer wrote a cosmos in verse, and in reading Homer one is educated in the cosmos. That is to say, in reading Homer one is educated in every aspect of life and the world; he is educated in ethics, political science, the philosophy of nature, worship, the fine arts, the soul, the family, friendship, marriage, architecture, and much, much more….even cuisine!

If you doubt me, there is only one solution.

Read yourselves some Homer!

Posted in catholic education, classical education, Homer, Homer Sightings, Latin, Liberal Arts, liberal education, Wisdom | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment