Vol. 2, Issue 11
May 29, 2007
Welcome to all the new subscribers to Scholegium! Thank you for signing up; I hope you enjoy these semi-regular meditations. Three weeks have passed since the last issue of Scholegium -- the burst of activities associated with the end of the school year for Schola and the local college we're involved with, a trip from which I've just returned, and my own natural indolence stalled this issue, but here we are again. Today was Memorial Day and this issue's Cogitem is related to remembering the Christian dead. I hope you enjoy this bouquet of musings.
IN THIS ISSUE:
1) SCHOLA NEWS -- What is Schola Classical Tutorials?
2) COGITEM -- Cemeteries and Dormitories
3) DE ASTRIS -- The Three Twilights
4) ANNO DOMINI -- Pentecost
5) SIC LOCUTUS -- Groucho Marx
SCHOLA NEWS -- What is Schola Classical Tutorials?
Schola Classical Tutorials is a service, beginning its eleventh year this fall, started and run by Wesley Callihan which offers live group tutorials for high-school aged teenagers over the internet in the subjects of a classical Christian liberal arts curriculum: the classical languages (Greek and Latin), the great books of literature and history, and rhetoric. These are the subjects that teach students the skills of thinking and learning, the history of the ideas that have shaped our culture, and the taste for wisdom, beauty, and virtue. These skills, and a knowledge of these ideas, are the foundation for further study and for a lifetime of learning and intelligent participation in our culture.
Schola's tutorials are offered for Christian students who are willing to devote themselves to a course of serious liberal arts study before they enter college or the world of employment and family. Schola's tutorials provide guidance for the self-motivated student who understands that the real work of learning takes place in his own study time with a book, a pencil, and an active mind. Participants in Schola's tutorials, both teacher and pupil, constitute a body of followers of classical education.
As I argued in the last issue of Scholegium, the essence of real education is reading good books and talking about them with like-minded people. Schola Classical Tutorials is my attempt to make that a possibility for those young people and their parents who want such an education. I think it's been successful so far, thanks to the blessing of God.
COGITEM -- Cemeteries and Dormitories
Some of us love cemeteries. They're peaceful places, and full of hope -- for Christians, that is. The Moravians used to call them "God's Acre", because cemeteries are gardens where God sows the seed, the bodies of the righteous, in order to raise a harvest at the Resurrection.
A "cemetery" is an area devoted to burial apart from a church, whereas "graveyard" refers to a burial ground attached to a church property. The distinction is not much maintained anymore, more's the pity.
The word "cemetery" itself comes from a Greek word meaning "sleeping place" -- it is the exact equivalent of the word "dormitory", which comes from Latin and means precisely the same thing, a sleeping place. The first letter of Paul to the Corinthians contains the famous passage on the resurrection (chapter 15) in which he argues that "Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who sleep", and the Greek behind the words "those who sleep" is the same from which we get "cemetery". In the Latin Vulgate, those words are translated with the same word from which we get "dormitory". So, but for an accident of linguistic history, we might have called college on-campus housing "cemeteries" and burial grounds "dormitories" instead of the other way round!
Burial grounds are called "cemeteries" because of the influence of Christianity in western civilization whereby its attitude that the death of the body is sleep, not extinction, prevailed; the Church has always taught that the body will be raised someday just as Christ's was, and that to deny the resurrection of the body is heresy. The great hope of the Christian is not immortality of the soul (even the pagans believe that) or floating around ethereally in clouds (only readers of The Far Side believe that), but rather the great hope of Christian is the resurrection of the body (Apostle's Creed), the resurrection of the dead (Nicene Creed).
In old cemeteries you often see verse on tombstones -- less frequently on modern ones, unfortunately -- and many are full of glorious hope. Recently I wandered through a cemetery in southern Ohio and found an obelisk of pink marble on which is written this quattrain:Life's labors done as sinks the clay,Blest not because he is free from the body (the Platonic heresy) but because he's free from the corrupt one and will soon be raised, physically, in glory. Another low marker from the early twentieth century says simply, "Because I live, ye shall live also" -- a verse from John 14. Another says, "I am the resurrection and the life." Another marker in the same cemetery is a bit bleaker:
Light from its load, the spirit flies,
As heaven and earth combine to say
How blest the righteous when he dies.Remember, friend, as you pass by,Bleak, perhaps, but this is a most salutary sentiment, the kind St. Jerome was known for, and you might remember the skull that often appears on his writing desk in paintings of him. We need to meditate on our mortality in order to appreciate the doctrine of the resurrection. As another prophet says (the movie What About Bob?): you're going to die. We're all going to die. There's no escape. What the movie left out, though, is that we will not stay dead if we are in Christ when we die.
As you are now, so once was I.
But as it is, we all must die.
A good way to do this reflecting on our mortality and consequent need of the gospel is to wander through a cemetery. Sit and think. Read the epitaphs. Read the dates, especially noting how short some lives are. And think of the cemetery as a garden full of seeds; God's Acre.
The first great Church historian Eusebius tells us that during the persecutions in Gaul in the third century, the Roman persecutors would sweep the ashes of the martyrs into the river to prevent their resurrection. Of course this shows how little they know of the power of God but it also shows how well they were aware that the hope of God's people is the resurrection. The early church made a huge, noisy point of declaring that. Even some of their practices which later became subject to gross distortion, like keeping relics of dead saints, or venerating icons, were originally laudable and physical arguments for the goodness of the material world (Genesis 1), the Incarnation of the Word (John 1), the resurrection of the body (I Corinthians 15) and God's consequent love for and care for the dead bodies of His children. When we stand by Grandma's grave and the little child says, "why are we here? I thought you said Grandma is in heaven with Jesus?" we might very properly answer, "that's right, but God still loves her body, because it's part of who she is and how He made her, and this is its resting place until He raises it and gives it back to her."
How unlike the modern church where we tend to talk only about dying and "going to heaven", as though that were the ultimate goal. If it were, and if God cares nothing for the dead bodies of His saints, then we have no good answer for the child. But as the Lord lives, it is NOT the ultimate goal. Being apart from the body is a temporary state and the ultimate goal is to be raised, as Christ was raised. Paul says, again in I Corinthians, that "if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised; and if Christ be not raised, then your faith is vain: ye are yet in your sins.... But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept."
God has my Dorm Room ready. But college is not forever; there will be a Graduation Day.
DE ASTRIS -- The Three Twilights
The best time to identify the bright stars in the sky is not at full dark but at twilight, when the thousands of fainter stars are not yet visible to confuse the picture overhead. It's a great pleasure to be able to predict about where the bright stars will appear as the sky grows dark -- an easy thing to learn to do just by observation over a few twilights spent lying back in your favorite lawn chair -- and then to see them appear just where you thought they would.
But did you know that there are actually three twilights between sunset and full dark, and in the morning hours before sunrise? The first is "civil twilight", which is that approximately half-hour period of time between the sun's setting and reaching six degrees below the horizon. During civil twilight you can still see by natural light and don't need artificial illumination.
The second is "nautical twilight", the next half-hour period until the sun reaches twelve degrees below the horizon. During nautical twilight you need artificial light: drivers are required now to turn on their headlights, and if it's hunting season you are no longer allowed to shoot. It's called nautical twilight because the horizon is still visible but the bright stars are too, so navigators at sea can take readings with their sextants (those who still have a knowledge of that lost art).
The third is "astronomical twilight", the third half-hour period till the sun reaches eighteen degrees below the horizon. During this period you can no longer see the horizon but it is not full dark yet. At the end of astronomical twilight the sky is as dark as it will ever get all night long; it does not continue getting darker. Reverse these three periods for morning twilight.
The farther south toward the equator you live, the shorter the twilights will be, and the farther north you live the longer they will be, and other variables affect the length but a half-hour for each period is the average in the mid-lattitudes of the earth where most of us in North America live.
ANNO DOMINI -- Pentecost
The Easter season comes to an end with Pentecost, the "fiftieth" day after Easter -- "Pentecost" comes from a Greek word meaning fifty. In the Old Testament Pentecost was a harvest festival fifty days after Passover involving the first fruits, and it was also called the Feast of Weeks, because it was counted as seven weeks from Passover and was the second most important of the Hebrew festivals.
For two thousand years the Christian Church has celebrated Pentecost as the day on which the Holy Spirit was poured out onto the gathered Christians in Jerusalem, as recounted in Acts 2, and the beginning of the explosive growth of the Church.
Pentecost as a major holy day of the Church is attested as far back as Origen and Tertullian, both around the end of the second century and early third century (late 100s to early 200s). By the time of John Chrysostom, it nearly (but not quite) rivals Easter.
In England it is often called "Whit Sunday" ("Whitsun Day", as you will sometimes see it, is incorrect) from the white clothing worn by those to be baptized. For most of Church history Easter was the time for baptism but in the colder climes of England, Pentecost made more sense.
Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.