Vol. 2, Issue 4
February 5, 2007
Welcome to February. The name comes from Latin relating to cleansing and purification because of the ancient Roman rites conducted in what was then the last month of the old year. The Christian season of Septuagesima described below is also related to this idea of a time of cleansing and purification, as is the brief meditation about the necessity of moments of tranquility. I hope you enjoy this bouquet of musings.
IN THIS ISSUE:
1) SCHOLA NEWS: Upcoming Events
2) COGITEMUS: Time to Reflect
3) DE ASTRIS: The Andromeda Galaxy
4) ANNO DOMINI: Septuagesima
5) SIC LOCUTUS: Pliny
SCHOLA NEWS: upcoming events
You can see upcoming events that involve Schola by going to the Online Tutorials page (follow the link in the left pane of the homepage) and clicking on Summer Events 2007. There's not much there yet, but more will be added as details are ironed out. I always enjoy being able to meet friends when I travel, so if you will be near any of the places on my schedule and think you'd have a chance to visit over a cup of coffee, please contact me.
COGITEMUS: Taking Time to Reflect
The quotation from Pliny at the end of this issue is taken from a letter he wrote to a friend in the early second century in which he describes the constant activity he experiences in the city contrasted with the tranquility he finds at his country estate. We don't all have country estates. But we all know the feeling he describes in the letter of reaching the end of a busy day and looking back at a great deal of activity and things checked off the to-do list, but the simultaneous and discouraging feeling that it was all just busy-ness. How much of it contributed to the growth of wisdom? How much of it really made you or someone else better? What things did you do that actually fed your mind and soul? Were there any peaceful moments of any length at all in which your mind and soul had time to settle and stabilize for half an hour or more, in which you could actually reflect and sort through and evaluate the day and your own thoughts? Often the busy-ness is part of obedience to the duties that are on our plate. But is it possible that we would do those things better and with more peace, good cheer, and grace, if there were some real moments of tranquility in our day? The answer is obvious.
I'm not talking about "devotions" -- we certainly should be doing that. But I'm talking about making time for simple reflection, undisturbed for at least a short period of time, in which we contemplate in a relatively disciplined way the day and its lessons or delights. If we don't do this, we're like someone who is constantly dumping pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle onto a table -- as though accumulating more pieces were the goal -- and never taking time to sit down and contemplate the arrangement into which they are supposed to be fitted.
DE ASTRIS: The Andromeda Galaxy
If you find the Great Square of Pegasus in the southwest evening sky (see Scholegium Vol. 1, Issue 6, "the Jeweled Cross"), you've found the body of the Flying Horse. He's upside down when high in the sky, but these days as he sinks into the west he's going head down toward the horizon and his hind legs are outstretched straight up into the sky above him. Just ahead of the mid-point of his forward hing leg you can see a small blurry smudge if the skies are dark and no lights are nearby. You can see it easily with binoculars. The smudge is the Andromeda Galaxy, also called M31, and it is the most distant object in the universe visible to the naked eye. Everything else you see in the night sky is within our own Milky Way Galaxy - everything, without exception -- except the Andromeda Galaxy, which is the only object outside our galaxy that we can see. The most distant object within our galaxy is perhaps 70,000 light years away, according to astronomers. But they tell us that the Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 MILLION light years away.
If you could suddenly shoot away from the earth at the speed of light, with the typical science fiction image of all light bending into a single point in front of you, or light rays streaming past you Star Wars-fashion, and assuming of course you could survive such acceleration and speed without messing up your freshly-combed hair, you would reach the moon in a little over a second, but it would take you over eight minutes of this screaming, mind-bending velocity to reach the sun, and over four hours to reach Pluto.
It would take you over four YEARS to reach the nearest star - streaking through the cosmos hour after hour, day after day, month after month, season after season, year after year (ok, I recognize that time is another problem at this speed but give me a break) -- and eight years at this unimaginable speed to reach Sirius, the brightest one we see. But you would have to do this for two and half million years to get to the Andromeda Galaxy. We can't even imagine that. We say the numbers but we really can't imagine it. And yet we can see Andromeda's light.
What all this suggests for the Creation/Evolution debate is for another time and place and for a better philosopher than I am (not that that keeps me from opining about it now and then). But these interstellar scales stagger the imagination, and our imaginations need to be staggered now and then -- and looking up at the Andromeda Galaxy is a good way to induce some staggerment. Especially when we think about who lives out there and how many of them there must be (remember, they sang for joy at a very early moment, and oh yes, they visited some shepherds once) and how easily they cover these distances.
ANNO DOMINI: Septuagesima
If you read P. G. Wodehouse or Dorothy Sayers, or many other older English authors, you've run across the term Septuagesima. Well, that's where we are now in the church year. Yesterday, Sunday February 4, was Septuagesima, or Septuagesima Sunday, in the western traditional liturgical calendar (there is a somewhat similar season in Eastern Orthodoxy called Triodion); it begins the pre-Lenten season which ends with Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras.
After that comes Ash Wednesday, the day beginning the forty day Lent season itself. The name "septuagesima" is Latin for "seventieth", and it refers to the third Sunday before Lent, roughly seventy days before Easter. Historians of the church still argue over the origin of the word, some saying it refers to the roughly seventy day period (it's not exact), others arguing that was originally a commemoration of the 70 years captivity in Babylon. Most agree that since the first Sunday in Lent is called Quadragesima from the forty days till Easter, the previous Sundays later simply got named by extension Quinquagesima (fiftieth day before Easter), Sexagesima (sixtieth), and Septuagesima (seventieth), even though they're not exactly that many days before Easter.
The pre-Lenten season is a preparation for Lent, which is itself a preparation for Easter. Just as Lent is a time of sobriety, reflection, restraint, and even mourning as we recall the sin of man which necessitated the crucifixion of Christ, so Septuagesima is a preparation for that Lenten season, and the standard Alleluias and Glorias (among other things) drop from the liturgy now and are not sung again till Easter -- the joyful parts tone down or disappear to reflect the coming self-restraint, introspection, and melancholy of Lent.
Evidence for the season in the church calendar goes back at least to Gregory the Great (late 6th century), and the liturgical lessons may go back even further. The Collect, which dates to the 6th century and both acknowledges the justice of our trouble in this life and also asks God for relief, reflects the tumult and chaos of that century. The Gospel reading for Septuagesima has always been Matthew 20:1-16 (the parable of the vineyard and the hired laborers, some coming early and some coming late but all being paid the same) and the agricultural motif is suitable for the time of vineyard and field preparation. Church fathers from Chrysostom to Luther have preached Septuagesima homilies on this passage, with themes ranging from God's unfathomable generosity no matter what class of humanity we belong to (Chrysostom) to God's free electing grace depending on nothing in us (Luther). The Epistle has always been I Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul's analogy of athletes exercising for the games. This is also fitting for the beginning of the pre-Lenten season and its focus on self-discipline.
Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima were phased out in the mid-twentieth century liturgical reforms of Vatican II in Roman Catholicism and similar reforms in the Anglican/Episcopalian community, simply calling the three Sundays before Lent by the innovative title of (follow me closely
here) the "three Sundays before Lent". It's now considered "Ordinary Time", which simply means calendar time that's numbered but not named, like everything after Pentecost up to Advent. But traditionalists retain the old names, and if you love Wodehouse and Sayers (and the church calendar of
course) it's good to know about it.
Nulla spe, nullo timore sollicitor, nullis rumoribus inquietor, mecum tantum et cum libellis loquor.
(I am troubled by no hopes or fears, I am disquieted by no gossip; I converse only with myself and my books.)
--Pliny the Younger, Epistles 1.9