Ever Ancient Ever New: Feasting at Easter!

Happy Easter!

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Now some of you might be thinking,

“hmmm….this photo looks suspiciously familiar.”

Or

“Haven’t I seen this before?”

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Well, my response is “yes and no!”

Although these photos are all brand new, they are, nonetheless, the same in their essential content.

And isn’t this just what Easter is all about? Isn’t Easter all about celebrating Christ’s Resurrection every year in precisely the same way?

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I think this answer should be pleasing, especially to all of the stodgy conservatives out there among the lionandox.com readership.

I mean, when you went to the Easter Vigil were you expecting to see something new?

Or were you, rather, hoping to see all of those same old dear traditions that you remembered from years past?

As a parish music director, I, of course, get an expansive loft-view of the relatively massive Easter Sunday turnout,  which is a well-known Catholic phenomenon. Churches are packed on Christmas and Easter.

One remarks to oneself,

“Wow, I had no idea that there were so many people in this parish!’

And then one is struck with the simultaneous realization that,

“Yes, everyone has come back to celebrate Easter and they all expect to see something very similar to the celebration that they saw last year, and the year before that, and hopefully even something similar to the Easter celebrations in the golden memories of their own childhood!”

Ever ancient, ever new!

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After the Sacred Triduum (which seems to be evolving into the Sacred Quadruum for those parishes which are adding Tenebrae Services on “Spy Wednesday”) we celebrated Easter Brunch at 1:30 pm!

I really don’t mind that parishes are celebrating their vigil Masses a little earlier these days. This sort of thing used to annoy me-I admit it. I used to be a staunch defender of the 11:30 pm Easter Vigil start time. But for those of us who have to attend three more Easter Masses the next morning, a 7:30 PM vigil does have an appeal.

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We mixed our Proseco with some cold orange juice.

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Easter is also about Hollandaise Sauce on a bed of asparagus!

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I have to say these sticky cinnamon rolls were scrumptious. Stephanie baked them just right. Chewy, soft and buttery. I think she followed a Paula Deen recipe.

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Five hours later, after a nap and a three-mile walk, we tucked into Easter dinner. This year we took the Spiral-Sliced Ham option. Together with scalloped potatoes and a buttery roasted multi- colored carrot medley, the day was complete.

It’s always tough for me to know just what to pair with ham. I chose a 2016 Mark West Pinot Noir and a bottle of 2015 Franciscan Estate Chardonnay from Napa Valley. We enjoyed both! I am not so sure that I am ready to defend the ham and Pinot pairing, nonetheless I did enjoy the Mark West (especially for the modest price – although at the very top of my wine budget).

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Happy Easter!

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Posted in beauty, breakfast, Dinner, Easter, Feasts | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Today, Sing “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?

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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.

Posted in beauty, Easter, Feasts, Sacred Music, Sacrosanctum Consilium, The Mass, The Passion | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Liberal Education Works Vol:18

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Wall Street Journal.

Why?

Well it’s simple. Some decision maker at the Journal has a predilection for classical studies. There is a calendar on the wall in their editorial headquarters on which they have scheduled semiannual columns that promote the study of the liberal arts.

Or at least that’s the way it seems.

For example take a look at Michael Zimm’s article entitled,

If You Want Your Child to Succeed, Don’t Sell Liberal Arts Short.

Now that is just fantastic isn’t it?

I liked it so much that it took me several minutes to recover from my initial confusion about just who the author was. Did I write it?

I do not remember submitting this article to the Journal, nor have I employed “Michael Zimm” as my nom de plume when I have submitted this or that article to this or that prestigious print publication.

So Mr. Zimm begins,

It’s college admissions season, and every parent is mulling the perennial question: “What major will help my child get a good job?”

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Yes Precisely! He’s got that right! He continues,

Standard answers today invariably center on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, often referred to as STEM. Given the skyrocketing costs of higher education, parents and students alike can be forgiven for viewing a college degree as a passport into the professional world, and STEM majors are seen as the best route to professional success.

Yup! I live a mile from Case Western Reserve University which is famous for its engineering program. And with the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital around the corner, one can’t throw a dead cat in Cleveland without hitting a doctor or nurse or medical student.

But my advice is to let your child know that a liberal-arts degree can be a great launching pad for a career in just about any industry. Majoring in philosophy, history or English literature will not consign a graduate to a fate of perpetual unemployment. Far from it. I say this as a trained classicist—yes, you can still study ancient Greek and Latin—who decided to make a transition into the tech world.

Wonderful!

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Zimm recites a brief but compelling litany of successful people who based their success on their initial pursuit of wisdom,

I am far from alone. There are plenty of entrepreneurs, techies and private-equity managers with liberal-arts degrees. Damon Horowitz, a cofounder of the search engine Aardvark, holds a doctorate in philosophy. Slack founder Stewart Butterfield and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman both earned master’s degrees in philosophy. The startup where I work employs computer programmers who studied musical composition and philosophy as undergraduates.

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Everybody’s favorite Ice Cream shop in Cleveland for that matter, Mitchell’s Ice Cream, was founded by a couple of philosophy majors.

Zimm further established his credibility with me when he referenced the Latin word itself from which the word liberal comes,

Throughout history it has been common for people to study subjects with no immediate relationship to their intended professions. In antiquity, education was intended to enrich students’ lives. Pragmatic benefits such as rhetorical ability, logical reasoning and business skills were welcome byproducts of a good education. The phrase “liberal arts” comes from the Latin word liberalis, meaning “worthy of a free person.” A liberal-arts education gives someone the freedom to participate fully in civic life.

After explaining the value of a liberal education at some length, he brings in Einstein. Always a good idea when proving a point!

“The value of an education in a liberal arts college,” said Albert Einstein, “is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”

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Read the article for yourself – and think kindly on the WSJ for printing it.

Zimm concludes,

So when parents ask themselves “What course of study will help my child get a job?” they shouldn’t think only about how the workforce operates today but how it will operate 10 or 20 years down the road. Though no one knows for sure exactly what the landscape will look like, we can be certain that critical thinking will still have value. And in that world, so will a liberal-arts degree.

Posted in classical education, Liberal Arts, liberal education, liberal education works, philosophy, Work | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Get Those Animals Out of My House!

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According to the Evangelists, Our Lord cleansed the Temple on at least two occasions. St. John describes the first cleansing as having occurred directly after the remarkable miracle in which He saved the day at the wedding reception at Cana. The other Evangelists do not record this cleansing, but they tell us about another time when Our Lord cleansed the Temple approximately three years later-just after He entered Jerusalem with palms bestrewed in His path and hailed with Hosannas – shortly after that, He was crucified.

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In this first cleansing, Our Lord seems particularly harsh on the animals. John says that “Jesus went up to Jerusalem,”

and found in the Temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: And when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the Temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;  And said to them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not My Father’s house a house of merchandise.

Now, doesn’t that seem a little harsh? On the one hand, I can see why Our Lord might fashion a “scourge of small cords” to drive out men who were apparently swindlers. Who can’t feel a little anger against men who are making a profit from the piety of those who come to the Temple to offer sacrifice? I am imagining the disadvantaged, the widows and the poor, the blind and the lame, having traveled a great distance on foot to offer a humble sacrifice of praise to the Lord, only to be cheated and swindled out of the little money they had at the very Temple entrance.

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On the other hand, I am not a big fan of animals in church either. Maybe I am wrong, but I have always imagined that the doves, oxen and sheep were probably in the Temple vestibule and not actually milling about in the Temple itself. In any case, that the animals were somewhere in the Temple is clear. Not a good idea.

But Our Lord who was born in a stable has always seemed to have been sympathetic to animals. Doesn’t it seem a little harsh that He would take his scourge to them?

He drove them all out of the Temple, and the sheep, and the oxen…..

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Now, I do notice that He did not try to scourge the doves, and that would be a little difficult anyway. But He displays none of His righteous anger to the doves beyond speaking to the dove sellers themselves saying,

Take these things hence.

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Aside from the literal signification of this passage, I am inclined to think that the naming of these animals, these three species in particular; oxen, sheep, and doves are meant for our edification in an even deeper way.

And, of course, we should be looking for something deeper here because Scripture is replete with wisdom and profound meaning if we just scratch, or perhaps graze, or even till beneath the surface!

I have to confess that I never would have thought anything more about this passage if it wasn’t for my favorite ‘go to’ book about the Gospel. What is that book?

The glorious Catena Aurea, or the ‘Golden Chain’ of St Thomas Aquinas! If I was a regular homilist, would I consult the Catena Aurea as a regular form of homily-prep?

You bet I would!

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The Catena Aurea is a great way to become familiar with the very best things that any Father or Doctor or great Theologian or Scriptural Exegete (prior to St Thomas of course!) had to say about any and every line in the four Gospels. St. Thomas (without the aid of Google mind you!), in his seemingly omniscient and encyclopedic grasp of everything that was ever said by anybody worth listening to, has simply gathered up all of the best and brightest thoughts and strung them together as a sort of chain-like commentary. Voila! The Catena Aurea!

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So what do we find in the Catena Aurea concerning this Sunday’s Gospel concerning the Lord’s first cleansing of the Temple?

Well, among many fascinating comments by Chrysostom, Augustine, Bede, and Alcuin, we also find this exquisite insight from Origen:

By the Temple we may understand, too, the soul wherein the Word of God dwells; in which, before the teaching of Christ, earthly and bestial affections had prevailed. The ox being the tiller of the soil, is the symbol of earthly affections: the sheep, being the most irrational of all animals, of dull ones; the dove is the type of light and volatile thoughts.

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In other words, the oxen, the sheep, and the doves could very well represent our affections or our emotions.

I am not completely certain that I am understanding Origen correctly, but his remark certainly does inspire me with the thought that this Gospel passage really does have everything to do with the right ordering of our passions or affections.

First, which scriptural exegete do you know who does not take the opportunity to speak about the passions when he talks about Christ driving the money changers from the temple with righteous anger? They ask,

Is it ever justifiable to be angry even to the point of using aggressive force or even some sort of violence?

And then of course, they answer,

Look at our Lord in the Temple when He fashioned a scourge, and then He forcefully drove the money changers out of the Temple! This is sure a case of righteous and justifiable anger. Yes, it is good to sometimes use our passions – such as anger- to get things done. Especially if we are directing our passions to the service of the Lord!

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So when our Lord cleansed the Temple, He certainly was illustrating a proper use of the passions, especially the irascible passions!

When we think about it, doesn’t Origen’s comment seem right on the money?

  • Oxen are sort of lugubrious slow tillers of the soil. They are plodders and difficult to move. They rarely demonstrate enthusiasm.
  • Sheep are …well just sheepish. They appear to lack self-confidence and are easily led by others.
  • Doves are light, flighty, and “volatile.”

If oxen are heavy-set and phlegmatic to a fault, Doves are just the opposite. They are light and superficially sanguine.

The Lord is demonstrating to us in a forceful way that His disciples, those who are in His service, those who worship at His Temple, are not to be

  • like oxen who are earthly and slow-moving. They are slothful and caught up in the dirt of the world.
  • like sheep who lack confidence and do nothing but follow the one in front of them. They are easily swayed to follow whatever the fashions and passions are of the moment.
  • like doves which become frightened at the first sight of danger. They quickly alight on this or that surface (or doctrine) which they find attractive but are just as easily put to flight.

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On the contrary, authentic disciples of the Lord are anchored in the truth which is Jesus Christ. They serve His will unwaveringly and eagerly, because they have set their hearts on Him. They are filled with love for Him and are moved towards His service with consuming passion,  but passion under the direction of reason.

His disciples are filled with rightly ordered affections, even zeal, for His service and for His Temple!

And thus, just as His disciples remembered the words of the Psalmist when Our Lord cleansed the Temple, so may others remember these words,

For zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up.

when they witness the behavior of Our Lord’s true disciples now consumed by no less zeal for the house of God.

Posted in Catena Aurea, Origen, passions | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Don’t Follow Your Passions

As the Israelites wandered forty years in the desert before entering the promised land, so Christians traverse the forty days of Lent (which might seem like 40 years to some of us!).

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God led the The Israelites out of Egypt through his servant Moses. Now, any good student of Latin knows that the Latin word for leading out is educere, from which, of course we derive the word education. Thus education is a sort of leading out. When a student is led out of his sleepy intellectual state, the foggy state of youthful ignorance, and is awoken and led into the warm light of the comforting truth, we may say that he is being educated.

When the Israelites were led forth from Egypt we may justly think of this period as their education. The desert was their school.

Deserts are unique environments with much to teach students.

Depending on how stubborn or “stiff-necked” a student is, it is not difficult to see why an education might take forty years or longer. On the other hand, perhaps their lengthy schooling serves as a reminder to us that education is a long-term project.

So just because, say, you have a high school or college diploma, don’t for one moment think that you have completed your education!

On the contrary the process of being led out of ignorance into the light of truth is precisely what life is all about!

That is, at least, what I try to tell my students.

But we also need to take this lesson from God’s education of the Israelites. Their education consisted largely in leading them out from slavery. And this is true of all education. All genuine education is an emancipation.

Now Catholic education, which at its maximum is liberal education, is also  concerned with leading us out of slavery.  That liberal education emancipates students should come as no surprise.  It is called liberal for a reason. No matter how you look at the word, liberal has something to do with the Latin liber which means free.

In particular, liberal education leads students out of three kinds of slavery.

The Slavery To Fashion

Those who do something simply because it is fashionable are slaves to fashion. Likewise, those who cease to do something simply because it is no longer fashionable are slaves to fashion.

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It is not necessarily wrong to read books which are on the New York Times Best Sellers list. But if this list were the sole principle, the overarching and determinative guide for making one’s reading selections, then we would have to say that for such a one, he is, indeed, a slave to fashion.

St Paul says (Philippians 4:8),

For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things.

He does not say,

….whatsoever is contained in the New York Times Best Sellers list…think on these things.

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The fashionable has something to do with what is new. We tend to be interested in “the latest,” the latest fashions, the latest trends, the latest thinking.

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But liberal education proposes the very opposite.

Liberal education suggests that we read what is old. It tells us to follow the tried and true. It advises us to follow those things which have passed “the test of time.”

But, mind you, genuine education does not propose that the student simply eschew anything that is new.  As is recorded in Exodus, the Israelites “stole” the gold from the Egyptians:

And the Lord gave favour to the people in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them: and they stripped the Egyptians.

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So too, the Catholic student needs to develop the vision for what is of true value in his own time and place.

But it is precisely by honing and exercising his vision on the treasures of the past that he is able to develop this vision.

That is why Liberal education suggests that we read The Great Books of the Western World for starters.

Thus Catholic education provides us with a significant key for unlocking the chains of fashion: Develop the power to distinguish things of worth from the transient worthless, yet alluring things that are often fashionable.

2. The Slavery to Passion

Aristotle makes reference to this kind of slavery in his Ethics.  He says that it is of no use teaching Politics to the young because of the influence of their passions.

Hence a young man is not a proper hearer of lectures on political science; for he is inexperienced in the actions that occur in life…and further, since he tends to follow his passions, his study will be vain and unprofitable… and it makes no difference whether he is young in years or youthful in character; the defect does not depend on time, but on his living and pursuing each successive object as passion directs.

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Now, given the effects of original sin, the Christian needs lots of grace – lots of penance and a great deal of mortification to finally gain mastery of his unruly passions.  But liberal education can also make a significant contribution in this regard.

Liberal education proposes that every human being should make an attempt to live his life in accord with reason. Virtue consists in allowing reason, rather than something else, like the passions, to direct our actions. Thus, liberal education teaches that we should attempt to bring all our passions under the influence of reason. This is an important contribution- namely that reason should rule, not the passions.

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Catholic education helps the student bring his passions under the control of reason by proposing that his primary pursuits should be: the True the Good and the Beautiful. These three things demand discipline, measure, restraint, humility, reverence and love.

We become like the things that we pursue. If we pursue the true the good and the beautiful we become like them. And these things are all measured by reason – ultimately by Divine Reason. They are not approximated by passion.

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How do we bring our passions under control?

In a word “catharsis.” Catharsis first signifies some kind of bodily cleansing or purgation. Such a physical catharsis might be brought about through exercise or perhaps through medicine. Education offers a more spiritual cleansing, a cleansing for our passions. It proposes that we purge our passions through reading great works of fiction. Liberal education proposes that we cleanse our passions and imagination through exercising our minds and hearts on works of beauty, works of goodness, and works of truth!

We cannot simply repress or sublimate our passions. We need to feed our souls on the wholesome nourishment of good literature and the fine arts. We need to exercise our passions on objects that will allow them to operate in a measure which is eminently reasonable.

How?

Well, among other things, we should read The Iliad.

We should sing Palestrina.

We should dance waltzes, act in Shakespearean plays and recite beautiful poetry.

Now it might take other things as well to bring the passions under the control of reason, but Liberal education does make a significant contribution towards this freedom.

3. The Slavery to Custom

A slave to ‘custom’ is one who has as his principal reason for thinking a certain way, or acting a certain way. nothing more than that he thinks and acts this or that way because this is the way of thinking or acting to which he is accustomed.

Catholic education proposes the examined life that Socrates proposes. The emancipated person acts and thinks the way he does as a result of an examination.

At some point we all need to examine our lives and our thinking. We need to examine our ideas and ask of each one of them “Do I think this because it is true, or do I think this because it is what I have always thought?”

Liberal education requires us to read and discuss the ideas and governments and thoughts of those who lived in other lands, and in other times and who lived under different political systems. This kind of investigation cannot help but to allow us to engage in a critique of our own ideas and customs. This kind of investigation allows us to think and act the way we do not only because it is our customary way of thinking and acting – but because we have considered it in light of different customs.

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The Israelites were educated for forty years in the desert. Through their education they were brought by the hand of God to the promised land. This is the goal of all education in some way or another.

Liberal Education Makes us Free

Liberal education is the education appropriate to free men and is a source of that freedom. Liberal education, this encounter with and conformity to the truth, frees man from enslavement to unruly passions, ignorance, current intellectual trends and public opinion. Once freed from these bonds, we might choose to live a good life, hold to the truth, and delight in beauty – not to please others or gain some practical reward, but simply because these things are good, or true, or beautiful.

Posted in catholic education, classical education, fashion, liberal education, slavery, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Christmas 2017: Feast Edition!

Although Christmas day itself has passed, nonetheless the Church insists that we keep up the celebration! As obedient sons and daughters, ours is the task to celebrate the feast as heartily as possible for as long as we can – or at least until Epiphany and even to the Baptism of The Lord. I do not think I will keep up the tree until February 2nd (i.e. the Feast of the Purification of Mary). The pine needles just get too dry and the city has long ceased its free curbside collection of trees by then.

Part of my celebration includes reflecting on Christmas day itself which again flew by too quickly!

This year we opted for a somewhat slimmer tree.

As I am a church organist, my family graciously agreed to wait for brunch until all the Masses were complete for the day. But the wait was worth it!

I have no idea how my daughter made this. Or what it is called. But this photo should demonstrate to everyone, once again, that liberal education works!

This year’s fruit salad was better than ever. For some reason, every blueberry was sweet but not mushy, and yet ever so tart. The pineapple was plump and juicy and the strawberries were luscious.

The photos make everything seem just a little more peaceful than I remember- they certainly do not reveal how excited I was nor how ravenous was my appetite!

Eggs Blackstone! (on sourdough)

 

 

As a sort of culmination to breakfast, my chefs made the annual Baby Jesus rolls. A soft roll swaddling the Christ Child with a sweet cream cheese filling.  Our Lord who said, “I am the bread of life” certainly would not object to such a breakfast roll!

Taste and see how sweet the Lord is! (and make certain to listen to the Cambridge Singers while eating!)

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Brunch completed, I had to take a two-hour nap, but when I awoke, my daughters Mary and Anna had already long since begun dinner preparations.

After “butterflying” the roast and submitting it to the tenderizing process for what seemed like a full forty-five minutes, Anna somehow magically wrapped it around a special stuffing that included mushrooms and a pound of Gorgonzola. Then she lovingly wrapped it in bacon.

After several unsuccessful attempts to locate cooking twine, I finally asked a helpful butcher at Zagara’s Marketplace. He promptly went to his loom and cut off two or three feet which I immediately and gratefully pocketed.

On Friday, my daughter Mary and I spent a wonderful hour at Cleveland’s famous Italian Supermarket on Euclid Boulevard, Gallucci’s! This is where I obtained my Gorgonzola as well as a half pound of Pancetta to mix with the Brussells Sprouts. Gallucci’s also has an incredible array of every other Italian food – and a fantastic sandwich and pizza bar.  Mary and I each chose the Italian sausage sub of the day!

Now for the twice baked potatoes! No photo is able to capture twice baked potatoes properly. But imagine a mixture of Gruyère, chives, bacon, sour-cream, salt and pepper.

Then, of course no dinner is complete with out the soft over-night buttery rolls.

Every year, my father sends each of his children a box of Enstrom’s Almond Toffee. In my opinion, Enstrom’s Toffee is simply the best toffee that money can buy. But that might be an opinion based on custom which the Poet Pindar says “is king.”

Merry Christmas!

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Posted in beauty, breakfast, Christmas, Custom, Dinner, Feasts, Fine Arts, liberal education works, Music | Tagged , , , , , | 4 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

We have been doing our best to prepare for His arrival by making our house fair, so to speak. We have been engaging in penances and spiritual practices and prayers and songs, all of which are ultimately directed at welcoming Wisdom!

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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.

It is, of course, through education that the mind is disposed towards grace. It is specifically through a 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!

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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!

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

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

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

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

Give us this day our daily bread.

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

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

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

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

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

Give us this day our supersubstantial bread.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“καὶ μὴ  εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν” 

and in CAPS,

“ΚΑΙ ΜΗ ΕΙΣΕΝΕΓΚΗΣ ΗΜΑΣ ΕΙΣ ΠΕΙΡΑΣΜΟΝ”

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean?

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

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

And here is the crux!

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

He finishes,

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

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

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

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

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

In other words the contest or competition is the trial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Aquinas, Lord's Prayer, The Passion | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Celebrating Christ The King Sunday In A Democratic Republic

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, Sacred Music | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Did You Know That Drinking Milk Is An Excellent Preparation For Eating Meat?

Sometimes St. Paul seems downright condescending!

For whereas for the time you ought to be masters, you have need to be taught again what are the first elements of the words of God: and you are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. (Hebrews 5:12)

There are some things in scripture which are like “strong meat”;

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the prologue of Saint John’s Gospel for example, or when Saint Paul says,

Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Strong meat indeed. He continues,

About this we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

Now, I know that in comparison to these passages there are others in scripture which are much easier to understand. These passages are “milk.”

A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you…

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A passage much more readily understandable, though still inexhaustible in its depth.

So I can understand that St. Paul’s use of the meat and milk metaphor is primarily referring to the relative accessibility of various teachings in Scripture. Some teachings are meat and others milk.

But with the “rule of charity” with which St. Augustine bids we interpret all Scripture, I would  like to extend the metaphor.

Before doing so, we might pause just a little to appreciate Saint Paul’s use of the food metaphor in his teaching. I find this comparison absolutely spot on, compelling, delightful and persuasive.  I count myself among the Hebrews whom St. Paul justly rebuked for their slowness and dullness, but when St. Paul talks food, I am completely on board. To my way of thinking, he could not be any clearer!

In other words, to those of us who are ‘not quite there’ yet with respect to our spiritual understanding, to those of us who are not intellectually mature, St Paul says,

You need milk, not solid food; for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature…

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And this brings me to my point.

In comparison to scripture, which in its transcendent wisdom is all meat, even the very best of Greek literature and philosophy might certainly be compared to milk!

Ordinarily, I would prefer to compare the literature of Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides to a fine Bordeaux. Among the pagan authors, Homer would be the Chateau Margaux!Image result for margaux chateau

The literature of the Greeks is wine in contrast to the tasteless literature of our own contemporaries, which could only be compared to water. ( Although I hate to insult water by the comparison – would Diet Soda work better?)

I would be remiss not to treat my readers with a few sips of this wine!

Through the Greeks we learn that the meaning of our suffering is not suffering, but the meaning of suffering is truth! As the watchmen says in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon

Zeus has led us on to know, the Helmsman lays it down as law that we must suffer, suffer into truth.

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And similarly, his chorus of elderly Athenians teach us that no matter how much grief there is in the world, the good will win out in the end!

Sing a  song of sorrow, a song of sorrow, but the good prevails!

And what better encomium of marriage could you find than what Homer teaches us through the mouth of Odysseus,

for there is nothing better in this world than that man and wife should be of one mind in a house. It discomfits their enemies, makes the hearts of their friends glad, and they themselves know more about it than any one.

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Or who can not be moved by Sophocles’ denunciation of the root of all sin, Pride, when through the mouth of the prophet Tiresias he says,

All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.

Nonetheless, as wise as the Greeks are, the wisdom of man is, comparatively speaking, childish in comparison to the wisdom of God.

A man is called childish compared to God; just as a boy, in comparison to a man. (Heraclitus, DK 79)

And so it seems to me that the wisdom of man, found predominantly in Greek literature, is aptly compared to milk, the stuff of which children are made.

I don’t mean to disparage the wisdom of man by calling it milk. Every child needs milk and so every intellectual child needs Greek literature.

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I don’t know much about milk except that, somehow, if a child drinks enough of it and for a long time, he will soon be ready for meat and other solid food. Don’t ask me how. Milk is wonderful, there is evidently something incredibly nourishing about it. The point is that the literature of the great pagans stands in just the same way to the developing souls of men as does milk to the bodies of children.

And so, as St. Thomas points out,

…it should be noted that sacred doctrine is, as it were, the food of the soul: ‘With the bread of life and understanding she shall feed him’ (Sir. 15:3) and in (24:29): ‘They that eat me shall yet hunger, and they that drink me shall yet thirst.’ Sacred doctrine, therefore, is food and drink, because it nourishes the soul.

And so we might ask:

Do you wish to dispose yourself towards the nourishment of the solid food that is Sacred Doctrine?

Do you wish to feast on the meat of Holy Scripture?

If your answer is yes to both these questions, then by all means imbibe at length, and in great quantity, the milk that is pagan Greek literature!

Posted in aeschylus, Aquinas, Augustine, catholic education, Heraclitus, Homer, Sacred Doctrine, Socrates | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments