Vol. 2, Issue 1
January 6, 2007
Happy New Year! I hope you've all had a wonderful Christmas season and are enjoying the beginning of the New Year and the Epiphany season (more on that below). I also hope this arrives in a relatively timely fashion -- I sent the last Scholegium on Christmas Eve but it apparently didn't get to most of you till several days later. Ah well, you had plenty to do anyway what with all that merry-making and eating you should have been devoting yourself to.
IMPORTANT NEWS: There are now TWO Schola newsletters. One is an announcement list called The Bulletin (clever, eh?) solely for registered students and families currently in Schola; the other is this one -- the good old Scholegium for everybody. Students (and their parents) currently registered in Schola must subscribe to the Bulletin; they and everyone else are also warmly invited to continue subscription to Scholegium.
I hope you enjoy today's bouquet of musings.
IN THIS ISSUE:
1) COGITEMUS: "courtship"
2) DE ASTRIS: The Royal Stars
3) ANNO DOMINI: Christmas and Epiphany
4) SIC LOCUTUS: Bede
For various reasons, the word "courtship" has been on my mind. It's become a buzzword in American evangelical Christian circles but the variety of conceptions attached to it is breathtaking and often leads to serious misunderstanding. The best way to get a grip on what a word means is to look at how it's been used in the past, so let me drag down my Oxford English Dictionary (thank you, Schola students!) and Oxford Latin Dictionary.
The word "court" comes, originally, from the Latin word for a garden or plot of ground, "hortus". From that came the word "cohort", which was a tenth (approximately) of a Roman legion, or the number that would fit in a certain plot of ground (a garden of soldiers! like the Greek myths of sowing teeth and growing men). From there the word grew, through the late Roman world and the middle ages, to mean a legal jurisdiction (law courts), or the area (garden, plot of ground) from which a king and his cohort ruled, and from there to mean the reverence or homage offered a king or ruler when standing in his garden, plot of ground, cohort, court. And from there the word expanded metaphorically to mean the homage offered, as to a king, to any person of power or influence (or beauty) whose favor you desire, and of course that may include the young lady with whom you are so desperately smitten.
So "to court" is to seek to win favor. When you go into a king's court, you and the king do not mutually court each other - the king isn't seeking your favor, you're seeking his. You have to do all the work and you hope he buys it. Likewise, young men and women do not court each other, though one often hears the mistaken phrase "we're courting". No, courtship is something the man does, hoping the girl will buy it. If she does, the courtship is over and now they get engaged. Courting is the attempt. If the much-desired favor is already won, there is no more attempting, there is only negotiation -- for the contract, for the position in the king's retinue, or for the wedding date.
Furthermore, just as several men may seek to win a particular favor at the king's hand but only one ultimately wins (or several companies may legitimately seek to win a fat contract but only one can succeed), so several young men, in theory, can court a young lady at the same time. Courtship is *not* engagement. If there is an expectation of commitment on both sides then there is no courtship - the relationship has moved beyond courtship to something else. Courtship is what the guys do, and the girl owes nobody anything until she chooses. If she already has a favorite (and lets it be known) there is no more courthship - one of the guys has already won. On the other hand, if the king discovers that the seeker of his favor is also courting another king elsewhere, the first king is perfectly justified in tossing the seeker out on his ear. Likewise, though the young lady may have several simultaneous suitors, it doesn't work the other way round -- they had better not be pursuing some other young lady elsewhere. The lady is not committed during courtship, but the man is. If a girl's father gives a feller permission to court her, he is not excluding the possibility of other young men also courting her.
We can use words any way we like, but we have no right to expect others to understand us. The common ground we can all appeal to in order to understand what a word should mean, or at least what it *does* mean, is it's history.
DE ASTRIS: The Royal Stars
In early evening at this time of the year, three of the four stars called by the ancient Babylonian Magi "the royal stars" can be seen. These four stars dominate each of the four quarters of the heavens (and were therefore the "princes" of those quarters according to Babylonian astrology), but at the Christmas season all but one of them can be seen at once. Fomalhaut (in Piscis Austrinus, below the Great Square of Pegasus) is low in the southwest, almost setting, while Regulus (the bright star in Leo) is rising almost due east. And Aldebaran (the bright star in Taurus) is almost exactly at its midpoint in the sky. While the ancient world called the host of heaven "gods", the medieval Christian world knew the celestial host to be God's servants. In light of the discussion below about Epiphany, it seems particularly appropriate that these "royal stars" studied so diligently by the ancient pagan gentile nations now announce, like the Three Kings of the Orient, the season of the celebration of Christ's birth and manifestation to the nations.
ANNO DOMINI: Christmas and Epiphany
The Christmas Season is over. Christmas has had a pretty varied history -- by the end of the first millenium it had become so important in the Christian world that it began the church year, although in the tenth century Advent became the beginning. Throughout the high middle ages Christmas was hugely popular, widely celebrated, and a major influence on Christian life - and it was celebrated *as* a Christian feast, not just an occasion for merrymaking. However, the Reformers tried to tone down the crowding of feasts in the calendar and what they saw as a worldly and supersitious excess, and in the seventeenth century the Puritans almost completely obliterated it -- in some instances both in England and America there were punishments for taking the day off! Since the church celebration was suppressed, the merrymaking continued in homes and communities without the church connections, and in later centuries (not until the mid or late eighteen hundreds) when there were revivals of the Christian (not just civil and popular) celebration of Christmas, they were seen as "new" rather than as the very old keeping of Christmas that dates back to the early church.
Epiphany is the end of the Christmas season. It's sometimes called Twelfth Day (hence Twelfth Night the evening before) because it's the twelfth day from Christmas. The famous Twelve Days of Christmas are those from Christmas to Epiphany. They include the Feast of the Innocents (commemorating the slaughter by Herod of the children), the Feast of the Circumcision (commemorating Jesus' parents keeping the law by having him circumcised on the eighth day), and the Feast of Stephen (commemorating the first martyr).
Epiphany itself began in the very early Eastern church as a nativity celebration but by the middle ages it became, in the Western church especially, a declaration of the manifestation of Christ to the nations as the Hope of the Nations. The Magi were Gentiles, and thus represented the nations, and so in Christian story they became kings, who are heads of their people, because of all the prophecies of kings bringing their kingdoms to the Messiah: "kings will walk in the brightness of thy rising."
So Epiphany is a glorious celebration of the King of the Nations, the Ruler of the World, the Eternal Augustus, the Everlasting Princeps, whose empire has no end in time or space. When we pray "Thy kingdom come", we should remember that Christians have already been praying that for two thousand years and the answer to that prayer was immediate (Already) and is still growing (Not Yet). In his birth, life, death, and resurrection, Jesus Christ triumphed (past tense) over his enemies, and He will reign till He has put all His enemies under His feet, and that will indeed happen. He wins, they lose. Epiphany is a wonderful time to remind ourselves that that phrase in the Lord's Prayer MEANS SOMETHING. This is 2007 A.D. -- In the Year of the Reign of Our Lord and King Jesus Christ. He owns the world.
My chief delight has always been in study, teaching, and writing.