Vol. 2, Issue 2
January 21, 2007
Welcome to the second 2007 issue of Scholegium. The past week's hiatus was a result of getting registrations for the fall underway. Now we're back on track. I hope. And in answer to a number of questioners; yes, I'll return to the subject of courtship soon. I tremble. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy today's bouquet of musings.
IN THIS ISSUE:
1) SCHOLA NEWS: Registration for 2007-2008 classes
2) COGITEMUS: The Christian Roman Empire
3) DE ASTRIS: the Gate of Souls
4) ANNO DOMINI: Give us Peace
5) SIC LOCUTUS: Flannery O'Connor
SCHOLA NEWS: Registration for 2007-2008 classes
Students and families who are registered in Schola classes this year are now re-registering for next year ('07-'08). They have priority till March 1, at which time registration opens to everyone. If you are not currently registered in Schola but are interested in online liberal arts tutorials for your children or yourself (adults are welcome in the classes too, although if space becomes tight I give preference to the teens), please feel free to visit the Online Tutorials Information page (click the link in the left pane). Read over the course listings and if you'd like to sign up your son or daughter (or yourself!) for classes, email Schola (click Contacts and Personal Information in the left pane of the homepage) and you'll be put on the waiting list and then contacted around March 1.
Note especially the newest offering, a course based on reading Edward Gibbons' The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. That's right, we'll read through all six volumes. The first three cover the history and fall of the Empire in the west (up to the end of the fifth century after Christ) and the last three cover the history and fall of the Empire in the east, commonly known as the Byzantine Empire (up to the end of the fifteenth century). In other words Gibbon's work covers nearly fifteen hundred years.
The Decline and Fall is one of those books everyone has heard of and wishes he could say he's read but no one actually does anymore. Do a little research into this work and you'll see that the common consensus of critics everywhere is that, while later historical research has fleshed out some details and modern historians are less certain than Gibbon was that we can know causes of declines and falls, still Gibbon is considered the great master of Roman history. No one ever has equaled his incredible research into primary sources and no one has ever rivaled his literary magnificence. Winston Churchill, who won the Nobel Prize for literature based on his six volume history of World War Two, credited his masterful style on his long careful reading of Gibbon during his military service in the colonies. To study Gibbon is an education in history and the English language.
COGITEMUS: The Christian Roman Empire
Most people today are unaware of the fact that Roman civilization, from the founding of the City (753 B.C.) to the fall of Constantinople (A.D. 1453), lasted over twenty-two hundred years. That's roughly a third of the entire history of civilized man. When we think of the Roman Empire we often think of the Age of Augustus, as though that one stretch around the time of Christ was the entirety of the history of that civilization. Classicists are especially guilty in this regard because we focus on Ciceronian Latin and Golden Age style, Augustan reforms and the rise of the emperorship, and we love the wild chaos of the Civil Wars and Julius Caesar's age. But The Roman Empire alone, from Caesar Augustus to the fall of Constantinople, lasted more than seven times longer than we Americans have lasted so far. Did you comprehend that? It was around half again as long as England has been around, counting from William the Conqueror. And - here's the weird part - it was Christian for the great majority of that time. The Roman Empire was a consciously Christian Empire for twelve hundred years. Most people think of the Roman Empire as the great pagan empire, but it was Christian far longer than it was not. That is to say, it was a civilization whose cultural life was dominated by the Christian worldview. Christianity wasn't just one interesting facet, it pervaded everything, it altered the very air and light of that long-lived world.
Of course, that first paragraph needs some qualifications, because it ignores the subtleties of history, grossly over-generalizes, lacks due scholarly caution, traffics in artificial period division, and probably broke the speed limit too. But someone else can qualify, get subtle, under-generalize, be cautious, blur historical period divisions, and drive 55. The main point I'm trying to make here is that a recognizable civilization - maintaining certain structures, attitudes, cultural forms, and traditions - dominates our past and our view of our past and thus our present too. And that civilization lasted a mind-bogglingly long time. The Roman Empire was THE great empire of western civilization, which is OUR civilization, and it was a Christian one.
One obvious qualification which my first paragraph should make (but since it refuses, I'll do it instead) is that this view of the longevity of the Roman Empire is based on following the Eastern Empire, the Byzantine Empire, after the Fall of Rome, not on following the western half into collapse and the middle ages. From our western perspective, because we're heirs of what happened in the European Middle Ages in the aftermath of Rome's collapse, we see the fall of Rome as the fall of the whole empire. But it was not. While our western half plunged into decay (the Dark Ages) for hundreds of years, only climbing out again under Charlemagne and Alfred the Great, the Eastern half of the Roman Empire carried on, un-fallen, un-collapsed, and doing nicely, thank you very much, for another thousand years. From the perspective of the east, the Roman Empire lost its western half but oh well, life goes on. And it did.
The history of the Roman Empire is wonderfully fascinating. But since it was Christian (I'm ignoring the other obvious qualification, the one about what "Christian" means in these statements), it is especially important for Christians to study it, because it's part of the Church's heritage. Not that the Empire and the Church are the same, but rather because it was the Roman civilization into which the Church was born and grew up. For that reason alone, we Christians would be terribly foolish not to study it.
DE ASTRIS: The Gate of Souls
Around mid-evening these days, the faint constellation Cancer is climbing the eastern sky; at midnight it's at its highest. Any sky map will help you find it - it's between Gemini to the right (west) and Leo to the left (east). It looks like an upside down capital Y. Near the junction of the Y, there is a faint fuzzy blur, which is called The Beehive Cluster. It's a open cluster of several hundred stars about five hundred light years away. In ancient Greece, the Pythagoreans believed that this faint fuzzy spot was a thin spot in the sky, the gateway through which souls came to earth to be reincarnated into bodies. Directly opposite Cancer, on the other side of the celestial sphere, is Capricorn. This constellation was supposed to be the exit, where souls went back into the heavens after the body died.
Last Sunday was the second Sunday after the Epiphany, and today (January 21, 2007) is the third. The Collects (prayers for use on a particular Sunday and all the following week) appointed for these Sundays and their following weeks are concerned with peace and our need of God's help in the face of spiritual or physical enemies. The Collect for the second Sunday was composed in the tumultuous sixth century, when much of the European world was torn apart by struggling kingdoms in the aftermath of the collapse of the western Roman empire. Life was difficult and frightening, and the Latin of the collect says, "grant Thy peace in our times", reflecting concern in that chaotic and violent age. The Prayer Book in English now says, "grant us thy peace all the days of our lives," a reminder that although we live in relative peace in our time, there's no guarantee of its continuance. The Saxon monk Alcuin, who so advanced education in Charlemagne's Frankish court around 800, chose this collect for the second Sunday after Epiphany and it's been there ever since. (As a related bit of trivia, one of Charlemagne's bishops, Theodulf of Orleans, who knew Alcuin, wrote the lyrics to the hymn "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" which many of us still sing in our churches.)
Collect for the second Sunday after the Epiphany: "Almight and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth; mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and grant us thy peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
The collect for the third Sunday after the Epiphany (today) likewise appeals to God's mercy in the light of our weaknesses, physical and mental and spiritual, and begs for His defence on our behalf: "Almight and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
I hope this one will be a girl and have a fierce Old Testament name and cut off a lot of heads.