At Christmas, Families are the Guardians of Tradition.

Nothing makes us aware more poignantly that our permanent home is not on this earth than the Catholic traditions that surround our major feast days. No matter where our earthly home is, it is our Catholic traditions that remain permanent despite the ever flowing Heraclitian world of flux through which we travel as strangers and sojourners.

Lion: Well, that is quite a mouthful! And, if I might say, a rather melancholic opener for the fifth day of Christmas!

Ox: Yes indeed, what does Heraclitus have to do with the spirit of Christmas?!

The Weeping Heraclitus by Hendrick Terbrugghen in the Cleveland Museum of Art

Lion: Too much eggnog?

Ox: I shouldn’t wonder!

Thank you my friends, I am quite well. My thoughts are merely provoked by the passing years and the changing circumstances that attend the mere fact of living in this mortal sphere. Yet there are some things that remain the same else where would we be? Some things must remain permanent for us, and, as I was suggesting, there is a powerful permanence in the Catholic traditions that surround our major feast days.

Lion: Ah, I see. Langley is alluding to his recent move from the lush green North East to the rather arid Martian climes of Colorado.

Ox: Martian climes?

Lion: Yes- Martian. The soil is red just like it is on Mars.

Ox: Well, Colorado is rather reddish-but your comparison, Lion, is offensive! There are no pine trees on Mars! Colorado is nothing like Mars! Where are the Bristlecone pine trees on Mars? Where are the Blue Spruce? The Douglas-fir? Where are the Engelmann Spruce and the Limber Pine? Mars has no Lodgepole Pine nor any Narrowleaf Cottonwood! No Quaking Aspen. No Piñon Pine. No Plains Cottonwood or Ponderosa Pine. Lion, there is quite simply no comparison between Mars and Colorado. Where are the Rocky Mountain Juniper on Mars? Where are the Subalpine Fir and White Fir?!

Lion: My apologies Ox. I didn’t realize this was a sensitive subject. I was only referring to the reddish color of the earth. I suppose the very name “Colorado” has something to do with this?

Ox: Yes- but that is as far as the comparison goes Lion….

My good friends, excuse me, but I merely meant to make a comment about the importance of Catholic traditions in establishing human identity and reminding us of where our permanent home is. I will admit that my family has experienced some momentous changes in the recent past, and that has made me more reflective on the reality of change itself. Yet some things remain the same and, most importantly, those are the things wherein Christians find their identity! Without these things – these permanent spiritual realities so beautifully reflected in the physical traditions-or rather enfleshed and concretized and instantiated in the simple beautiful traditions that surround the Faith- I say without these things then where would we find ourselves?!

For example take the simple matter of these delicious Baby Jesus buns! Nothing says Christmas Morning better than these soft scrumptious buns with a cream cheese filling! Together with a rich hot cup of coffee (freshly ground coffee mind you!) freshly ground from a medium roast whole bean! (I enjoy the Kirkland Home Blend even if it was roasted by Starbucks!)

Now in addition to those Baby Jesus buns, my wife makes a cheesy Egg Strata, with fresh Iowa sausages bestowed upon me by an overly grateful student as an appreciation for her class with me reading Herodotus! Now, these sausages were delightful and, as I learned, came directly from her mother’s family’s farm. Apparently, this family has raised pigs for generations and as a newcomer to the western regions of the country, my family has now become a beneficiary of the cultivation of the most delicious sausage ever!

Now every Christmas morning the question arises concerning the right Cava to employ in our Mimosas. This year we chose M. CHEVALLIER CARTE NOIR CAVA BRUT which I recommend for two reasons: 1) it is inexpensive and therefore one does not mind mixing it with orange juice 2) it is Brut! which signifies that it is dry- surprisingly and counterintuitively dryer than the sparkling wine that advertises itself as “Extra Dry” Apparently “Brut” means dry – nonetheless one would have thought a sparkling wine or Champaign advertising itself as extra dry would in fact be drier. But again, this is simply not the case. In my opinion one should only purchase a sparkling wine, Cava, or Champaign that advertises itself as Brut!

We keep the ingredients unmixed until they are combined in the glass according taste.

Now, that fruit salad is essential on Christmas morning is self evident. But it is also nice to have a few berries to throw into one’s mimosa. This year something happened to the price of strawberries. They appeared to be roughly double the cost that I am used to. Fortunately, raspberries seemed to be more than reasonably priced as were the pineapples!

It’s always tough fitting everyone around the table, but fortunately my wife’s father built a couple of strong wooden benches that do the trick. There is just no way to fit sixteen or seventeen people around a table without benches.

The more the merrier!

Merry Christmas!

Posted in beauty, breakfast, Christmas, Feasts, Heraclitus, Herodotus | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Make Your House Fair as You are Able!

What is Christmas about? What is Advent about except to prepare for and celebrate the arrival of Wisdom Himself, in the form of a little baby, into the warm hospitable stables of our own hearts!

Old Stables of the 'Dolpinn' Inn, Lincoln | Art UK

We have been doing our best to prepare for His arrival by making our house fair, so to speak. Ideally, we have engaged in some penances and spiritual practices, prayers and songs. Why? Well to welcome Wisdom of course!

And so Christmastide provides us with an excellent opportunity to reflect on many things surrounding the birth of Our Lord, not the least of which is Catholic education.

Christmastide and Catholic education? “What on earth does Christmas have to do with Catholic education?” you ask!

Quite simply “Everything!”

It is, of course, through education that the mind is disposed towards grace. It is specifically through a Catholic liberal education that the minds and hearts of the young are formed into more fitting homes for the arrival of Wisdom Himself.

I suppose some might use the fact that Our Lord arrived in a stable to play down the importance of making a suitable home, in their own souls, for the arrival of Jesus. But this is not a good interpretation of the stable. One would not want to say,

Jesus was born in a stable, so certainly he will also not hesitate to be ‘born in my mind’ even if is a veritable intellectual pig pen!

No, it would be far better for us to say,

Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table!

Granted of course that Jesus, on His part, is ready to meet each of us wherever we happen to be, but that doesn’t mean that we, on our part, should not try to the best of our ability to give Him a fitting reception.

And that is the point of a Catholic liberal education-to do what we can on our part to give Jesus a fitting reception into our hearts. And by “on our part” we might say in virtue of those gifts that we have received through our human nature, as opposed to the gifts that we have received through our participation in the sacramental life of Christians.

And everyone is capable of engaging in a Catholic liberal education to a greater or lesser extent. As a matter of fact, although it pains me to have to point this out, I think we have to admit that acquiring a Catholic liberal education is a requirement of our nature.

It is an obligation placed on all.

This is what Robert Maynard Hutchins was getting at when he said,

The liberal arts are not merely indispensable; they are unavoidable, Nobody can decide for himself whether he is going to be a human being. The only question open to him is whether he will be an ignorant, undeveloped one or one who has sought to reach the highest point he is capable of attaining. The question, in short, is whether he will be a poor liberal artist or a good one.

Now there are some who perhaps still think that I am saying that Jesus prefers the company of the educated and the intellectually gifted. As if to say He only came for the wise men and not the shepherds.

But don’t tell me that those shepherds were hell-bent on avoiding liberal education like so many of our contemporaries. It wasn’t as if they were keeping watch in the fields by night completely distracted, “wired” and engrossed in the ugly music or “social media” of their day!

The angel who said “fear not” would not have said “fear not” if they were, in fact, actively engaged in pursuits which were adverse towards the arrival of Wisdom! The shepherds did not reject liberal education and substitute the pursuit of temporal goods in its place.

I take it as a self-evident matter that those shepherds were practicing liberal education to the utmost of their ability! When they were not looking in awe at the stars they were probably soothing their souls with beautiful music on their pipes. They lived the  Quadrivium!

A shepherd playing the pipes by Johan Baeck on artnet

You laugh and say I stretch the point.

No, listen to the wise Duke  in As You Like It as he describes the education of those who, like the shepherds, might be said to be in a certain kind of “exile” but who manage to find “tongues in trees,” and  “books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything”!

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we not the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference; as the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
‘This is no flattery; these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.’
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
I would not change it.

Those shepherds were following the advice of Heraclitus better than most when he said,

Wisdom is to speak the truth and to act, according to nature, giving ear thereto.

The shepherds were doing the best they could in developing their hearts and minds and the gifts of human nature in the circumstances in which they were placed, and consequently they were rewarded with Wisdom.

All the more should we!

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Advent, Christmas, classical education, Custom, education, Fine Arts, Heraclitus, Liberal Arts, liberal education | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Why Has Education Collapsed?

Over the course of my thirty years as an unwitting member of a loosely knit community that might even amount to a ‘movement’-an education reform movement-I have certainly met many whom I feel fortunate to call friends, who care deeply about Catholic education, and out of sheer goodness (and often at great personal cost!) want to do something better for their own children and the children of others, but who are, unfortunately and through no fault of their own, victims of the very education that they seek to reform.

I believe it is too optimistic to say that education is in crisis. Like sailors having survived, for the moment, a torpedo at sea and are perhaps floating about in the water staring at the sinking ship, the word crisis no longer seems relevant. Disaster, catastrophe and collapse seem like words more apt for describing the present educational state of affairs.

What Does It Take to Sink a Ship? | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

No breaking news here. The catastrophe in education runs very deep and it is possible to identify a great many possible causes for it. Those of a religious persuasion will immediately point to the obvious and diabolical absence of school prayer and Godlessness. Or my politically minded friends rail against the neglect of teaching history accurately and the use of insidious and false history texts. They say “If only they would teach history, these kids might have a clue!” Literary folks bemoan the abandonment of the great works, Shakespeare, Dante, and Cervantes – even Homer! I myself often complain about the destruction of education when Harvard University jettisoned its Latin and Greek requirement (somewhere around the year 1900!). And of course the entire educational establishment had to follow in lockstep. Others might point to the deleterious encroachments that technological advances have made on the minds of our students eroding their imaginations and memories, enabling them to substitute technology where hard work used to be required.

But these days, I am almost embarrassed to mention any of these defects when I hear what destructive forces are at work in the schools and what is being imposed on the minds of children against the will of their parents! One shudders.

Nonetheless, after the hurricane hits, we ordinarily pick up the pieces, gather up what can be salvaged and try to restore order as best we can. But here is the point. In restoring order to education we cannot, and should not, pick up the pieces that led to the collapse!

Southwest Louisiana still picking up the pieces after back-to-back  hurricanes

To be specific, a significant error stands in the way of education that involves a question at its very roots. The question is, how should a curriculum be divided?

Now, I know that to many people, discussions about ‘the way things should be divided’ might seem like a petty question of ‘semantics.’ It took me a long time before I realized that working out fundamental divisions on an intellectual level is really a matter of chief importance. St. Thomas Aquinas and Julius Caesar taught me that division is the first task in either tackling an important intellectual problem or a difficult enemy.

Gallia est omnis divisa est in partes tres | Sewanee: Latin 300-Caesar,  Advent 2012
Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres!

St. Thomas never attempts to answer a question of any significance without first discussing its divisions. Amateur Thomists, like me, always skip these discussions. Years later we realize that St. Thomas was not spending time on his divisions simply out of an overly zealous desire to be thorough. Actually, it is in getting fundamental divisions correct that the lion’s share of important intellectual work is accomplished. Likewise, mistakes in fundamental divisions are where important battles are lost.

Those involved in education, at some time or other, need to tackle the question of school curriculum. After all, a school’s main activity, as surprising as this might be to some, stems from its curriculum. Schools are still thought of as a place where students go to learn. And they learn through a set of ‘courses’ and the entire set of courses is what we call a curriculum!

Therefore, the question, for us would-be reformers, becomes this: What is/are the most fundamental division/s in a curriculum?

It is in getting this primary question right that we may have a chance at having what we might call a well-designed and thoughtful curriculum. If we get this question right, we might actually have a chance at constructing an excellent school. On the other hand a wrong answer might condemn our efforts to amounting to nothing more than piling more rubble on to the educational mess that was left by the original disaster.

Now what has been the prevalent answer to this question over, say, the last century, during the latter part of which we especially have detected the educational disaster? What is the modern division of the curriculum that governs the thinking at nearly every college, university, secondary and even primary school in the known world?

The modern division is this: Every curriculum is wholly divided into two parts! On the one hand we have the sciences and on the other we have the humanities.

Omne curriculum in duas partes divisa est!

Now, we need to recognize this division as a very bad one.

Please understand, I do not cast a stone here, because I too have been a victim of the intellectual custom of our day. It is well nigh impossible to escape serious errors, and especially those to which we have become habituated through the sheer force of custom, which Shakespeare calls a tyrant and Pindar calls a king.

Why do we say that the moderns’ division of the curriculum into science and the humanities is a bad one? Why does this division undermine the efforts of those who wish to restore Catholic classical education? We need to examine each of the terms first.

In his excellent essay on this very subject, my old philosophy teacher, the late Marcus Berquist sets forth the modern understanding of these two terms (i.e. science and humanities) with incisive clarity (despite the nebulous understanding of them by the moderns themselves!).

Humanities and Social Sciences : SLU

According to the current understanding of these terms, the distinction between science and the humanities is the distinction between the natural and the human. The natural sciences, like Biology, Chemistry and Physics are thought of as sciences by which we can know (and hopefully manipulate!) the objective world of nature. The term science these days appears to especially signify what we might call the mathematical sciences, and the more any particular field of study can mathematize itself the more scientific it becomes!

But what precisely is meant by the term ‘humanities’?

Professor Berquist begins to explain this term saying,

…no matter what we do with the term “humanities,” there is no getting the “human” out of it, so that any intelligible interpretation of the term involves some reference to man and the things of man: the things he does, the things he makes, the things he thinks. Accordingly, it would seem that certain disciplines are named “humanities” because they are about man or are pre-eminently referred to man in some way.

The humanities will often include subjects like Literature, History, and Philosophy. Catholic schools might even include Theology as among the humanities! According to this view, the humanities are those studies whereby man achieves his freedom by becoming more human. These studies humanize him. As Berquist brilliantly says,

There are several ways of understanding this, but what it seems to mean in the present context is that man becomes himself more fully through self-discovery and self-awareness. Since art, literature, history, and philosophy are all expressions of his humanity, he becomes conscious of himself as man through studying them. In this view, then, man is liberated insofar as he is humanized, and he is humanized by becoming conscious of himself through the study of culture. Liberal studies are the same as humane studies.

This might sound sort of convincing at first glance- perhaps because of the ancient adage, “Know thyself.”

Hey Company, Know Thyself | Enstoa
γνωθι σεαυτον

Certainly there is a sense in which the entire life of the mind is built on that injunction given by the seven wise men of Greece. So what is wrong with the division?

The first problem is that those who surrender, wholesale, the understanding of the term science to the moderns betray the very highest science to which the entire Catholic educational enterprise is ordered – namely Theology, the “Queen of the Sciences.” I should add that along with this betrayal of the Queen of Sciences is the betrayal of her entire court- namely philosophy and all her minions (e.g. the seven liberal arts).

The Queen of the Sciences - Metanexus

The second problem is that the division of curriculum into sciences and humanities orients the intellectual life of man in a way that is antithetical to its proper orientation.

For a better understanding of this remember that it was Thales, the first philosopher, who taught us that our intellectual aspirations should be pointed heavenward. It was Thales who, with his head tilted to the stars gazing in admiration, was said to have fallen into a ditch. The moderns would have us keep our gaze focused on the sublunary sphere, the sphere of the mathematical sciences and the world as it is in reference to man.

The Astrologer who Fell into a Well - Wikipedia
Perhaps we also need to look down from time to time!

These assertions may seem easily refutable by those who misunderstand the point advanced here. We do not deny that the mathematical sciences occupy an important place in the intellectual life of man. Nor do we assert that subjects like literature and history are to be neglected!

We do, with some indignation, reject the overly narrow understanding of the sciences to exclude the highest of sciences Philosophy and Theology. To deny the Aristotelian and Thomistic understanding of science (later expounded by St. Boethius) is to deny the heart and soul of the intellectual life.

Finally to imply that Philosophy and Theology are artifacts in the same sense as the fine arts or literature is to level a death-stroke at the subjects which should be held at the pinnacle of Catholic education. Philosophy and Theology are not defined as ‘what man has thought‘ or ‘human thoughts about nature and God.’ They are, rather, understood as intellectual endeavors whereby man himself can raise himself above his nature to the greatest extent possible and even become more like God.

In a tear-inspiring passage, Aristotle expressed substantially the same point nearly 2500 years ago, perhaps addressing those who like Protagoras held man as the measure of all things,

If reason is divine, then, in comparison with man, the life according to it is divine in comparison with human life. But we must not follow those who advise us, being men, to think of human things, and, being mortal, of mortal things, but must, so far as we can, make ourselves immortal, and strain every nerve to live in accordance with the best thing in us; for even if it be small in bulk, much more does it in power and worth surpass everything.

Posted in Aquinas, catholic education, classical education, Custom, education, Liberal Arts, liberal education, Sacred Doctrine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

After a lengthy hiatus, Lion and Ox engage in a lazy summer dialogue in which they compare certain aspects of their own mode of eating to the habits of the philosopher.

Ox: Ah, summer once again Lion! A time to stand around for hours idly, yet contentedly chewing the cud in the warm summer sunshine. Think of it! All that ruminating and digesting. Frankly, I pity you, you carnivores that only appear to enjoy your food for a brief moment!

Chewing the Cud | GRACE in TORAH

Lion: Ox, thank you for your expression of pity, but to be honest, the digestive habits of your class, Bos Taurus, disgust me. I mean no offence! For my part I am thankful to our beneficent Creator that He was so kind as to not not create me Kine. (chuckling) I hope you appreciate my pun, Ox! Get it Kine and Kind? (chuckling some more)

Ox: A rather simple pun, Lion if we can even call it that. But then again you always did enjoy simple humor. Your humor is based on the mere superficial likeness in sounds of words! The more sophisticated mind takes delight in a deeper sort of puns – puns that explore various layers of meaning that a single word has.

But here again, you exemplify my point. Your class, those of the mammalia carnivora felidae, particularly you panthera, are not especially known for deep cogitation.

A closer look at lion evolution offers hope for saving the big cats

Lion: I don’t quite grasp your point, Ox

Ox: Of course you don’t Lion. You simply do not have the stomach for it. (chuckling) You see, think of the rich analogy between the digestive system in the Bos Taurus and the intellectual habits of the true philosopher! No beast without a quadruplexed digestive system in which the same food is digested for hours even days on end, could possibly understand the life and daily pastimes of the authentic philosopher!

Lion: your analogy is lost on me, my dear Ox!. I see no similarity between the intellectual habits of the authentic philosopher and your disgusting digestive tract.

The ruminant digestive system

Ox: It’s too obvious and I confess it would pain me to be compelled to spell it out more explicitly. You know… ars est celare artem, and all that.

Lion: Ox, if I may offer a little advice, I think you would be more effective if you ‘cut to the chase’ as I am fond of saying …and doing! (chuckles) You spend too much time making yourself unclear. Certainly you are a master of circumlocution, and I suppose this reflects your circumambulatory habits, but really, who among us has the time?!

Ox: I merely mean to highlight the reflective, pondering habits of the philosopher who loves nothing more than to think about something for a long time.

The genuine philosopher ‘chews’ on an idea and thoroughly squeezes each thought carefully, lest something of nourishment might be neglected.

He is never content with thinking about something once, but is always happy to ‘bring it up again,’ so to speak, return to a matter a second and third time, and often even again throughout his entire life.

He is a man of second thoughts. And third thoughts and so on!

In fact the philosopher is apt to say that it is only those ideas that are capable of endless reflection that really have any value at all!

In short, the philosopher might be called the chief and paradigm of those who ruminate!

Rodin's The Thinker | Cleveland Museum of Art

Lion: It occurs to me that you really have overthought this matter Ox.

Ox: Lion, what else are these bodily matters for other than to stir our minds towards the spiritual? The body is an organ of the soul! And these mere bodily matters provide rich fodder for the soul’s contemplation! Doesn’t the analogy delight you?

Lion: I admit that you have succeeded in drawing some likeness of the intellectual method of the philosopher to your habits of consumption and perpetual munching and digesting, but, for that matter, I can see an even more delightful analogy – a more appealing likeness between the philosopher and my own methods of satiating the inclinations for nourishment!

Ox: You can?

Lion: Indeed, I can!

Ox: Well, I would be delighted to hear something meaningful about your carnivorous manner, which, on the face of it, has the appearance of a rather violent, ultimately unsustainable, and expensive habit!

Lion: I will be more than delighted to share my thought with you.

Ox: Please do then- and do so without further ado!

Lion: Now you are talking my language Ox!’ Cut to the chase and be done with it,’ right? Isn’t that more appealing than perpetually ‘chewing the cud’?

Ox: Provided that what you say will be as rewarding as you promise!

Lion: It will be, and there is no need to fear Ox, that I will not deliver on my promise. We lions always get our prey!

Lion hunting only makes sense if it's part of a package of interventions

Ox: Well then, why don’t you proceed at once lest anyone accuse your sonorous and deep voice to be more impressive than your actions!

Lion: Excuse me Ox, but If that is not the pot calling the kettle black then the adage has no fitting application whatsoever!

Ox: Pardon me Lion, I will listen, with docility, for your analogy without any further expressions of impatience.

Lion: Well then…..Ox, how many times have you heard it said that philosophers are those who pursue the truth?

Ox: Many times indeed, Lion

Lion: Are not philosophers lovers of wisdom? Is not that what the very word philosopher means? You know ‘φιλοσ σοφοσ’…

Ox: Yes spare me your tedious Greek derivations…everyone knows that Lion! Philosophers are those who are named after the love of wisdom. But do be careful Lion- that does not mean that philosophy is the love of wisdom! quod verbum significat non necesse est quoad verbum imponitur…. after all- let us not name the master science, philosophy, after an act of the will. Nonetheless, I do grant your point Lion.

Greek Philosophers. Philosophers – “lovers of wisdom” Sophists – “workers  of wisdom” – Teachers – Teachers phileo = love sophia = wisdom If sophia =  wisdom. - ppt download

Lion: And is not a pursuit very much a hunt?

Ox: I suppose it is

Lion: We might say, technically, every hunt is a pursuit, but not every pursuit is a hunt

Ox: Yes, I think that would be more precise

Lion: Nonetheless, the two words might aptly be interchanged. For example the fox hunts the hare might just as well be understood as the fox pursues the hare.

The Fox And The Rabbit | Rocky Mountain Shito-Ryu Karate-Do

Ox: I am ready to accept the words as nearly identical in meaning.

Lion: And yet we think of the hunt as particularly belonging to those sorts of mammals which belong to the carnivorous class don’t we?

Ox: I think so. Hunting has the sense of not only pursuing, but also killing that which is hunted. Hunting is a sort of blood sport, no question about it- very carnivorous!

Lion: Precisely! We don’t say an ox, such as yourself, hunts for grass. That would be an odd way of putting it wouldn’t it?

Ox: Yes, I think ‘hunting for grass’ would be an imprecision.

Lion: But philosophers are those who hunt the truth, are they not? They do not just pursue the truth, they catch it as best they can!

Ox: Well, I suppose so.

Lion: And was it not Socrates who famously asserted that finding justice and its definition was something of an epistemological hunt!?

Ox: To be candid Lion, I don’t know what you are talking about?

Lion: Surely you remember the discussion between Socrates and Glaucon as they were seeking the nature of justice in that great dialogue The Republic?

Plato's Republic Explained | History Hit

Ox: Why don’t you remind me?

Lion: I can do no better than to read it to you from the text itself, from my favorite passage where Socrates compares the philosophical search for the definition of justice to a hunt!

“Now then,4 Glaucon, is the time for us like huntsmen5 to surround the covert and keep close watch that justice may not slip through and get away from us and vanish from our sight. It plainly must be somewhere hereabouts. Keep your eyes open then and do your best to descry it. You may see it before I do and point it out to me.”

Isn’t that marvelous? Searching for the truth is very much like hunting! And the truth is not such as to be caught except by those who are actively engaged in the hunt!

Something we animals of the predatory class know very well!

Ox: Well, I suppose the analogy holds to some extent.

Lion: And the philosophical life is not simply about searching as some would have it. There appear to be those who enjoy the pursuit more than the actual final snatching of the prey as properly belongs to the notion of hunting!

Ox: Yes hunting is something beyond the mere search and pursuit.

Lion: Yes- there are those who enjoy arguing about the truth as if they pursue it, but really they appear to revel in the search for its own sake. They enjoy the stimulating excitement of the pursuit, and perhaps even deny the reality of the object which they pretend to pursue. How sad that they never get to enjoy the prize!

Ox: How sad indeed!

Lion: And there are several other minor gustatory likenesses between the enjoyment that hunters, like me, have to true philosophers.

Ox: Do tell.

Hamlet - Wikipedia

Lion: Well don’t we say that real thinkers are those who bite into the “meat of the matter?” Indicating the very substance of some subtle doctrine or other. Carnivores understand what this phrase means. Getting into the meat of the matter means going deep!

And what about this? Do you remember when Hamlet said to Horatio,

They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase

soil our addition; and indeed it takes

from our acchievements, though perform’d at height

the pith and marrow of our attribute.

Isn’t that a beautiful carnivorous metaphor?

Ox: But surely you are only speaking of the marrow here Lion?

Lion: No I was speaking of the pith and marrow ox!

Ox: Lion, I think you may misunderstand. Marrow of course refers to the bone marrow, (which you carnivors love the most!) but pith is, of course, something more to my liking!

Pith is to the plant stem what marrow is to the bone. Both pith and marrow are the savory innermost substances of each kind of thing. But to speak of pith is to appeal to those creatures that enjoy the consumption of plants.

Lion: I had not thought of that.

Ox: Well, I think it is no great calamity to your overall point Lion – as superficial as it is even when fully understood.

We will admit that philosophers do indeed ‘hunt for truth’ and when they find it they ‘bite into the meat,’ and perhaps even so deeply that they bite right to the marrow. Philosophers are to some extent comparable to those of the carnivorous class.

Lion: That is very generous of your Ox. You have granted my point and have even restated it quite well!

Ox: Lion, as much as I hate to admit, sometimes there is something to be learned even from those whose personal habits and way of life are repulsive to us.

Lion: That is very kind of you to say, Ox.

Ox: Let’s not grow overly sentimental, Lion.

The Peaceable Kingdom

Posted in philosophy, Shakespeare, Socrates, socratic dialogue | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating Catholic Classical Education with Cardinal Burke

I hope some of you might be able to participate in our annual school Gala by clicking on the live stream link below.

The Lyceum Spring Gala

Saturday, April 17, 2021

with guest of honor

 Cardinal Raymond Burke

“Catholic Education, the Family,
and the Transformation of Society.”

Livestreaming tonight at approximately 8:00 p.m. EST.

Posted in classical education, Sacred Music | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Resurrexit! Easter Brunch 2021!

My chair (the one that I grew up seeing my wife’s father sitting in at every major celebration!) looks ready to celebrate Easter brunch., even if the table is not. But it knows the virtue of patience and is confident that a multitude of blessings will always attend those who wait with expectant hope!

But soon with the arrival of the flowers and Easter decorations things are looking auspicious!

Time to put the Hazelnut Chocolate Star Cake in the oven!

Twenty five minutes later…voila

Out come the breakfast sausages.

Third comes the egg cheesy bacon thing! (i.e. Buttery Croissant Strada – with spinach, gouda and prosciutto!)

Fruit salad and Maimosa’s poured. Time to say the blessing!

Happy Easter!

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

Where there is love… Ubi Caritas

Today, Holy Thursday, is the day for singing the ancient chant Ubi Caritas!

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Which I translate freely,

Where charity and love are, there is God. The love of Christ has gathered us into one. Let us exult, and let us take delight in Him. Let us fear and let us love the living God. Let us love out of a sincere heart.

This of course is only the first verse. But it is beautiful! And totally appropriate for today’s feast!

Apparently this chant was composed sometime between the fourth century and the twelfth century. Now how is that for historical precision?

Image result for ubi caritas

According to one, Mr. Aaron Green,

What began as a Gregorian chant that some music scholars believe originated before the formation of the Catholic Mass, “Ubi Caritas” (“Where Charity Is”) has evolved into many iterations and compositions. The actual origin of the chant is unknown and ambiguous, although musicologists and researchers believe it was written between 300 and 1100 CE

I am not sure what Mr. Green means by “before the formation of the Catholic Mass,” given that Our Lord formed and instituted the “Catholic Mass” on the Thursday before he died.

Image result for last supper

In Sacrosanctum Concilium we read,

47. At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity [36], a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us [37].

Nonetheless, when I open my Liber Usualis (“The Usual Book” which contains all the normative and usual Gregorian chant that anyone would ever need- except of course in unusual times and circumstances!)

Image result for liber usualis

I find Ubi Caritas, on page 664, as the last antiphon offered to be sung during the washing of the feet ritual. There appear to be at least nine (yes, count’em, nine!) different antiphons that can be sung during this ceremony.

Now it seems ambiguous to me (are we really supposed to sing them all?), but the instructions in my Liber says,

After the Gospel, whilst the Priest performs the ceremony of the washing of the feet, the following chants are sung.

I have always admired the choir that can sing all nine antiphons before the priest washes twelve feet. Perhaps this is an indication of how much time the priest should spend washing each foot. Or, speaking as a choirmaster with nine antiphons and psalm versicles to sing, maybe there should be mandatory policy that requires washing both feet! With twenty-four feet to be washed, I think we could squeeze in all those antiphons and maybe even repeat a couple.

Image result for catholic feet washing

Who composed the prayer? Who composed the music? When precisely was it composed?

Although Ubi Caritas is certainly among the most beautiful hymns in the chant repertoire, this side of heaven we will never know the answers.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

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All Souls’ Day and Dies Irae: The Four Most Profoundly Influential Notes of Gregorian Chant

I am certainly not the first one to make note of the fact that the Sequence, Dies Irae, for All Souls’ Day appears to have made a profound and far ranging contribution to American Culture.

Dies irae | Gregorian Chant Hymns

From blockbusters like Star Wars to Lion King to It’s a Wonderful Life to The Hobbit to Jurassic Park to Ground Hog Day and to who knows how many other movie sound tracks, the sublimely doleful tune, reminiscent of the last things, has touched untold millions.

Of course, the musical “quotations” or allusions, sometimes subtle sometimes obvious, are only recognizable to those with a passing familiarity of the original; nonetheless the presence of the chant in these movies makes them all the more substantive and powerful.

Now, I am certain there are others who are able to make a solid case for the influence of Gregorian chant in western civilization. Students at conservatories and music schools everywhere are taught the significance of the Solfege Scale and the significance of Gregorian chant in the foundations of the music of western civilization. I am not the one to make this case with the compelling clarity that it deserves.

Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song | The Community of Jesus
The Solfege Scale

Nor do I intend to make any attempt to launch a more scholarly treatise manifesting the enormous impact that Gregorian chant had on the great musicians of the Renaissance, like William Byrd, Thomas Tallis and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. I will not attempt to trace the influence of chant in the music of the Baroque period, in the music of, say, Bach and Mozart. Such an attempt far exceeds the level of my musical literacy. That Gregorian chant is foundational in western music, and is therefore foundational in the consciousness (perhaps subconsciousness) of the western mind, is, nonetheless, indubitable.

Mozart - Requiem, K. 626 Selections for Trombone Quartet – Cherry Classics  Music

The task of demonstrating the profound impact that Gregorian chant has had on civilization is far, far above my power!

But isn’t it interesting how the timeless strains of a melody composed by some anonymous Catholic monk in the thirteenth century is still used to stir the minds and hearts of those in the twenty- first?

The Enduring Day of Wrath (Chapter 13) - Biblical Poetry and the Art of  Close Reading

I will simply suggest the truth of my thesis based on the first four notes of the Dies Irae, and rely on the compelling case it has made in It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey makes his ultimate choice on that bridge!

Or perhaps my point is really about the principles of western civilization. Sometimes enormous things arise out of very small beginnings. Think of the oak! Likewise, think of the relative simplicity of the eight notes of the Solfege Scale (i.e. the Do Re Mi Scale) and the mere four notes that begin the Dies Irae.

Just so, the principles of Christian civilization arise out of relatively few principles: twelve articles of faith and two laws of charity.

Or perhaps we might say that Christian western civilization arises out of the contemplation of the four last things; when we remember death, judgement, heaven or hell. Civilization arises from the “memento mori.”

Albrecht Dürer | The Last Judgment, from The Small Passion | The Met

Catholic civilization is the basis for all civilization and even four simple notes surely inspired by the grace of God are able to give us a glimpse of the transformative power of His grace in our world.

As an organist and choir director, I am inclined to argue that the sacred music of the Catholic church is a “treasure of inestimable value.” And as the first four notes of Dies Irae demonstrate by their universal appeal, so the entire treasury of Catholic sacred music is a gift of inestimable value to the entire human race.

Posted in beauty, catholic education, Christendom, Sacred Music, Sacrosanctum Consilium, The Mass, William Byrd | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How Does Anyone Love the Lord God With the Whole Mind?

In this last Sunday’s Gospel we hear,

You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.

Now I think most people are familiar with the first two thirds of this injunction- we should love God with our whole heart and soul. The phrase ‘heart and soul’ is fairly common. We often hear of someone who “put his whole heart and soul” into some enterprise.

Heart And Soul - Main Piano Melody Pattern - Easy Sheet Music With Note  Letters - YouTube

When we put our heart and soul into a project we devote our energy and enthusiasm to it. We commit ourselves to the success of the project ‘holding nothing back’. We are fully invested. We are “all in.” Think of a serious athlete preparing for a major competition. Think of the entrepreneur launching his first business.

This day in sports: Jesse Owens sets three world records - Los Angeles Times

Those who do something ‘halfheartedly’ by contrast are clearly not marked for success; the ‘halfhearted’ denotes a person who does something with a lukewarm effort, with tepid enthusiasm at best for seeing the work done- like an Algebra II student approaching another homework assignment!

And so Our Lord advises us that, should we wish to win an everlasting crown, we need to engage in the task whole heartedly!

But if we have already engaged our whole heart and soul in some enterprise, what more does the phrase ‘with the whole mind’ add? What could be lacking in the effort of one who has already invested his heart and soul?’

One church father, who apparently is not St. John Chrysostom, but whom we call “Pseudo Chrysostom” interpreted our Lord thus:

But to love God with the whole heart, is to have the heart inclined to the love of no one thing more than of God. To love God again with the whole soul is to have the mind stayed upon the truth, and to be firm in the faith…. He only loves God with his whole mind, whose intellect ministers to God, whose wisdom is employed about God, whose thoughts travail in the things of God…

I think Pseudo Chrysostom, whoever he is, has hit the nail on the head. The one who loves God with his whole mind is the one whose intellect ministers to God.

Men Saint Icons: St. John Chrysostom Icon | Monastery Icons

But how are we to do this? How do we develop minds that minister to God?

Well, I think the answer is clear, but rather than say it outright, it is probably better to “talk it up” a little. One should never just blurt out answers! And so we need to ask a few questions.

First, what does it mean to have a mind that ministers to God?

Central to the business of the mind is knowing. That is to say, that the mind’s main work is ‘to know.’ So I think it is safe to say that that the mind which is able to minister to God is the mind which is able to know God.

Now you might say,

Well that’s easy because every mind is able to know God!

That’s true, but only in the sense that every mind is able to do calculus. Or that every child can play the violin. In other words, there is ‘able’ and there is ABLE.

For example, everyone (who can read) is able to read St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. But in point of fact, the reason St. Thomas’ masterwork about the knowledge of God is so universally neglected is that the mere ability to read does not mean that everyone can read this work, that is, with any understanding.

Even though St. Thomas himself introduces this work saying,

we purpose in this book to treat of whatever belongs to the Christian religion, in such a way as may tend to the instruction of beginners

….. sadly the beginners he is speaking about happen to be those who have already completed a complete course of study in Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy and Music.

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And after the student has completed his study of the seven liberal arts, St Thomas is assuming that his ‘beginners’ have also completed a thorough study of the central works of Aristotle.

And of course these beginners, who are ready to read the Summa Theologica, have more than a passing knowledge of Plato’s Dialogues (well…at least the most popular of them!)

Burn the Midnight Oil: Finals… | University of Northwestern, St. Paul

…and a pretty decent working knowledge of the works of Saint Augustine. (e.g. Confessions, On Christian Doctrine, City of God, etc.)

Having the liberal arts, the works of Aristotle and Plato and Augustine under one’s belt, so to speak, really does give one an advantage for reading the Summa Theologica. But let’s not forget the study of Latin (and maybe even just a little Greek!). After all, how can one really attempt to study the Summa Theologica seriously without at least a passing knowledge of Latin.

Nothing is Written: The Browning Version (1951)

Sure- it would be great to be able to read the Summa in Latin with facility. But I only mean that a student ought to be able to at least check this or that text in the original, simply for clarity about what Latin words are being used. Often the precise word used in translation may cause an impediment.

Furthermore, nobody can seriously read the Summa Theologica who has not at least cursorily read the Bible from cover to cover at least once. Scripture is the “soul” of Theology as the church has affirmed more than once.

Of course the ability to read and study all of these assumed a prior study in a student’s younger years of what we might call all the “good books.” These good books are the books that were pivotal in developing a student’s ability to read in the first place. The books that stocked his intellect with a rich and memorable storehouse of experience, stuffed his imagination with a plentiful resource of good and beautiful images, enlarged his vocabulary, developed his focus and extended his intellectual resources.

Two Simple Ways to Prepare the Soil of the Imagination for an Education | |  Wildflowers and Marbles

We will not even mention how a large experience of the fine arts disposes the mind of the student towards the knowledge of God. But St. Thomas is not excluding the ‘habit of beauty’ in his assumptions concerning the ‘beginner’ for whom he wrote his Summa.

General and particular — Blog — The Way of Beauty

So what does it mean when we are commanded to love God with all our minds?

It means that we need to engage in a lifetime of learning in which we study every aspect of God’s creation, every science, every art, every discipline so that we can discover the God who is the cause of all His manifold and wonderful works.

To love God with all our mind entails a lifetime application of our greatest resource, our intellect, in a tireless attempt to know the invisible things of God through the visible things of the natural world.

He only loves God with his whole mind…whose wisdom is employed about God, whose thoughts travail in the things of God

As St Paul says,

For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.

Glorious Sunset - Scene Again Images: Photography by Cliff Davis

We certainly do not want to confront St. Paul one day and see him wagging his finger at us and saying, “You are inexcusable.”

Who are inexcusable?

Those are inexcusable who fail to live life ministering their minds to God. They are inexcusable who bend their mental and intellectual efforts towards ‘knowing’ this or that aspect of the natural world but somehow miss the “invisible things of Him” that “are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”

Those also are inexcusable who have never respected the ultimate purpose of their minds but have only employed it for the sake of utility- that is, those who have refused to engage their mind in anything but the pragmatic.

To put it bluntly: When our Lord enunciates the greatest commandment, saying

you shall love the Lord, your God…and with all your mind

He might as well have said,

in order to love God with your whole mind, you need to know God. In order to know God you need to know the visible things of the world through which God is clearly seen. In order to know the visible world, you need to engage in a lifetime orderly pursuit of this knowledge…

To me it is obvious what this all means. It means that everyone should pursue a liberal education. Everyone should pursue a Catholic classical education to the extent that it is possible. Everyone should desire to educate one’s children with a Catholic liberal education or run the risk of meeting St. Paul one day who will say to those who do not follow this advice, “You are inexcusable.”

Man and woman reading by a fireside, 1950. by Photographic Advertising  Limited at Science and Society Picture Library

Sure, many of us might have been cheated out of a Catholic liberal education when we were young. But, thankfully, liberal education is never a project that becomes too late to undertake.

Vincent van Gogh - Old Man Reading - Van Gogh Museum

A classical liberal education has always been thought to be the education which is concerned with knowing the world around us for the sake of ultimately knowing God. That is to say, it has always been a tenet of liberal education that every field of knowledge, every art, every science, every discipline is ultimately ordered to the knowledge of God.

This simple truth is what St. Thomas Aquinas proposed when he taught that Sacred Doctrine is the’ Queen of the sciences.’ In his Summa Theologica he writes,

Other sciences are called the handmaidens of this one: “Wisdom sent her maids to invite to the tower” (Proverbs 9:3).

Woman Reading by Candlelight, Peter Ilsted | Reading art, Woman reading,  Female art

Theology, or Sacred Doctrine, has always been considered the ‘head’ or ultimate goal of the curriculum at a Catholic school, college, or university. Not that every student at such a school is meant to be a theologian formally speaking, but rather that every study, every intellectual pursuit, granting its usefulness and nobility considered by itself, is nonetheless something that finds its highest fulfilment in serving sacred doctrine and preparing the mind of man for the knowledge of God.

And so we have arrived at our thesis which is quite simply, it is only by a Catholic liberal education, or a Catholic classical education, that a person is able to render his whole mind to the service of God.

Posted in beauty, Catena Aurea, catholic education, classical education, education, Liberal Arts, liberal education | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Pope Pius XI: Encouragement for Teachers From a Teacher’s Pope

No matter what ails the nation, turmoil in the inner city, conflagrations, and riots, anxiety over the upcoming election, fears rational and irrational, nonetheless, along with the season of fall there arrives the insuppressible feeling of a new academic year!

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Almost akin to the instinct that irresistibly directs the feelings and actions of our friends in the animal world, the instinct that the Catholic French entomologist and scientist par excellence, Jean Henri Fabre, so eloquently and compellingly observed and wrote about,

Jean Henri Fabre Photograph by Granger
Jean Henri Fabre (1823-1915) observing insects under a glass dome

so too does an instinct, a yearning for learning arise in teachers and students and parents and just about everyone who ever went to school during early youth and perhaps even through college and graduate school!

This is the time of year when even those who no longer attend school still might saunter through the back-to-school aisles at the local store eyeing the three-ringed binders and composition books, perhaps grabbing a pack of new gel pens (with the rubber grips!) or mechanical pencils. Such is the power of that instinctual feeling of the season.

Where to Find Back to School Deals

Aristotle, of course, explains all of this aptly when he says “All men by nature desire to know.” I don’t know that he made a mint off the proposition but Walmart and Target sure did. There is no surer way to a profit than basing one’s business plan on the most fundamental of human desires. Interestingly, teachers at classical schools appear to be at the tail end of the profit trail. But that’s probably as it should be since no teacher worthy of the name should be teaching for the sake of profit- at least profit in the green sense of the word.

But the point is that no matter what world upheavals might be taking place, no matter what kind of cataclysmic events, whatever is the crisis du jour, the task of education will go on. This is most undoubtedly the case because life itself is ordered to the knowledge of the truth.

Pope Pius XI quoted St. Thomas Aquinas to this effect, 

Prius vita quam doctrina: vita enim ducit ad scientiam veritatis.

which I translate freely,

Life is first, then doctrine (teaching): for life leads to the knowledge of the truth.

Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti (PP XI) 1857-1939

In Studiorum Ducem Pius XI quotes his predecessor John XXII in perhaps the single most astoundingly powerful tributes to the mind of St Thomas:

He alone enlightened the Church more than all other doctors; a man can derive more profit in a year from his books than from pondering all his life the teaching of others.

Imagine that! Of course, Pius XI attributes this remarkable fact to the great humility of Aquinas, citing Leo XIII’s praise for him in Aeterni Patris:

because he had the utmost reverence for the doctors of antiquity, he seems to have inherited in a way the intellect of all.

The fact that Pius XI’s reign was between the two World Wars and the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, and the persecution of the church, particularly in Mexico and Spain, accentuates how significant Catholic education was to him; how essential Christian education was to the life of the church and of the world.

Indeed, his last speech consisted of an address to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences (which he established) speaking, from no prepared text, on the relation between faith and reason.

Pius XI was indeed a teacher’s pope. And such was his respect for the profession of the teacher that he quotes the fourth-century bishop of Constantinople, St. Gregory Nazianzen, when he says that teachers practice, “the art of arts and the science of sciences.”

Saint of the day: Gregory Nazianzen | Angelus News
Saint Gregory Nazianzen 329-390

Here is how Pius XI said it in Divini Illius Magistri,

All these [teachers] labor unselfishly with zeal and perseverance in what St. Gregory Nazianzen calls “the art of arts and the science of sciences,” the direction and formation of youth. Of them also it may be said in the words of the divine Master: “The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers few.”

Life is ordered to the possession of the truth, which is to say that life is ordered to Christ, who is the Truth.

And the art or the science that brings about this possession would therefore be the chief art, or the chief science. The art by which human beings are united with the truth would be the art of arts. What science, what art could then be more noble or excellent than that art, that science by which souls are instructed towards the possession of the truth? Teaching is, indeed, “ars artium” and “scientia scientiarum!” (the art of arts and the science of sciences).

At the outset of the new academic year, let Christian teachers aspire to the wise words of Pius XI. Let teachers recognize the nobility of their profession and be heartened by the pride that the church itself takes in its teachers.

Let teachers recognize that when they form the minds of the young in goodness, beauty, and truth, they are practicing the “science of sciences.” The good of families and the good of countries depends upon their work. For, As Pope Pius XI says,

 Perfect schools are the result not so much of good methods as of good teachers, teachers who are thoroughly prepared and well-grounded in the matter they have to teach; who possess the intellectual and moral qualifications required by their important office; who cherish a pure and holy love for the youths confided to them, because they love Jesus Christ and His Church, of which these are the children of predilection; and who have therefore sincerely at heart the true good of family and country.

I suppose such a consideration immediately brings up its opposite. Namely, that the corruption of the best is the worst, or as the Romans would say,

Corruptio optimi pessima

In other words, as fortunate as one is to have good teachers, there are few misfortunes worse than having bad teachers.

No wonder then, that Pius XI says that the formation of teachers should “be one of the principal concerns of the pastors of souls and of the superiors of Religious Orders.

From a Pope, reigning just after World War I, from a Pope reigning during the bloody persecution of the church in Mexico, Spain and Russia, from a Pope witnessing the rise of Hitler, such testimony to the truth and to life and to the significance of teachers is timely and powerful.

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