Vol. 2, Issue 5
February 19, 2007
Greetings once again. It seems as though a long time has passed since the last issue. I've missed writing for Scholegium and I hope you've missed reading it. Speaking of time, the Cogitemus essay below entitled "The Decay of Time" is one I wrote for Credenda/Agenda magazine a number of years ago; you can find it and others by going to "Published Writings" in the left pane of Schola's homepage. Speaking further of time, my wife and I celebrate our 27th anniversary this week; I hope all of you have something to celebrate as well. And I hope you enjoy this bouquet of musings; please forward it to your friends.
IN THIS ISSUE:
1) SCHOLA NEWS: Latin-In-A-Week
2) COGITEMUS: The Decay of Time
3) DE ASTRIS: The Sun In Its Train
4) ANNO DOMINI: Lent
5) SIC LOCUTUS: Evelyn Waugh
SCHOLA NEWS: Latin In A Week
Every summer Schola conducts several "Latin In A Week" sessions around the country, including an annual one sponsored by Veritas Academy/Press in Lancaster, PA. You can see a complete description of the LIAW program here. LIAW grew out of John Schwandt's Greek In A Week program and has been conducted all over the U.S. since 2001.
Latin In A Week is more than an intensive language survey course -- it's an introduction to classical education. Every new element of Latin grammar is illustrated by sentences drawn from the classics and most are accompanied by a brief account of the significance of the word, phrase, or sourcetext in the history of western culture. The cumulative effect is, we hope, to show how important the classical languages are to education, and, we further hope, to inspire the particpants to pursue a classical education for their children *and* themselves.
This summer there will sessions in Walnut Creek, CA; Lancaster, PA; and Houston, TX. See the webpage for more information.
COGITEMUS: The Decay of Time
I have several watches. One is an analog -- that is, it has a face and hands -- and the others are digitals. None of them is fancy; one of the digitals has a stop-watch built in. I prefer the analog.
I may be a reactionary for having resisted computers and favoring pens. I use a computer to write with now, but I think something tends to be lost in the transition, although I've been hard-pressed to say what that may be. I have the same sort of feeling about the promiscuous use of digital watches, but here at least I can articulate my reasons, and perhaps an argument by analogy will apply to computers. This may not be a complete repudiation of all modern technology, but it may lead to interesting observations about the technical culture we surround ourselves with and never think about.
Those observations should be about context, about the unconscious impact on our minds of using technologies that deny context. They are observations that many unbelievers have already made; Marshall MacLuhan and Neil Postman, among others, have argued more or less the same point: that the medium is a message.
A watch with a face and hands has the great advantage of indicating not only the present time, but the relationship of the present to all other moments in the day. For example, if I glance at my watch and the hands tell me that the time is three o'clock in the afternoon, I also see in that glance the relationship of three o'clock to noon and to six in the evening. This is so because all the hours are displayed at all times on the face of the watch, no matter which hour is being pointed to by the diligent hands. I can see noon and dinner time and midnight; I can comprehend the whole day at a glance and know, not only through simple memory, but visually, imaginatively, where I stand in relation to it.
Now this may seem to be a trivial point. But consider the following analogy. Suppose that driving in the country I become lost and ask someone where I am. If he tells me only my location, I have indeed gained information, but what good is the knowledge of my location if it bears no relation in my mind to any familiar place? I need to know not only where I am, but where I am in relation to other landmarks in order for "where I am" to be meaningful. Suppose further that I do have a rough idea in my head about the lay of the land; now if the local tells me the name of my position, I can place it mentally and perhaps find my way back home. But if that local pulls out a map, points to my location and says, "You are here, but you came from there, and you're headed there," then the names bear a relation to one another that makes all the difference in terms of meaningfulness for me.
A fact has meaning only if it has a known bearing and distance from other facts. This truth must be consciously acknowledged and accommodated by anyone who pursues an integrated and coherent understanding of the world and his place in it.
It is true that most people who wear digital watches understand their relation to the rest of the day's hours -- there would be no point in wearing a watch at all if they didn't. I do not wish to be accused of overlooking the obvious. However, overlooking less obvious things can be dangerous too.
The digital watch accommodates itself to an age wherein facts are regarded as valuable acquisitions in themselves; one in which the importance of the relations of things to other things is neither understood nor valued. The face watch accommodates itself to the mind that wishes to have before it the connections that give meaning. It also accommodates itself to the mind that understands that time really, in the final analysis, is a function of our relation to the great celestials and their dance. The open face of the analog timekeeper reflects the history of our understanding of celestial movements, of hours, of sundials. Indeed, the "analog" timepiece is "analogous" to the movements of the celestial host of which it was said, "Let them be for signs," and it is analogous to those instruments of man's dominion, such as the sundial, which reflect most closely those celestial movements. Why do an analog watch's hands move "clockwise"? It's because that's the direction the sun's shadow moves on a sundial in the northern hemisphere. "Clockwise" means "sunwise".
Does the opposition say I must take the logical step of returning to sundials? Nonsense. Sundials are marvelous objects, but we need not oppose technological advance per se. The change from analog to digital watch, however, is not one of degree but of kind, and it is that which we ought to consider: the flashing digital may accommodate epistemological rebellion; it breaks away from its inheritance, denies the past, shows on its blank face no past or future, only the present instant. "Live for the moment," it cries, "for there is nothing but the present!" But the analog's face and sweeping hands call to the wise, "You are a child of the centuries. You are separated only by the movements of the stars from Solomon, from Aristotle, from Augustine, from Shakespeare. You are a part of history. You have a place in time."
DE ASTRIS: The Sun In Its Train
Today and for the next few weeks there is a glorious chain of celestials crossing the sky together although you can only see one -- Sol himself. Each day MARS leads the way across the sky, just ahead of the sun, between the constellations Sagittarius (the Archer) and Capricornus (the Sea-Goat). Just to the east (your left as you're facing south) comes NEPTUNE, to the left of Capricornus. Then comes the SUN, MERCURY, and URANUS, all in Aquarius. And finally, VENUS and the crescent MOON clinging tightly together in Pisces. These seven celestial bodies today cover about 65 degrees of arc (about six big handspans) across the sky, with the sun roughly in the middle. The moon will be the first to break this chain -- it's been moving west to east (right to left) through this chain but after today it's moving out of it as it continues at its normal pace of about 12 degrees per day. Of course, the moon is really moving east to west from our perspective, but the sun, stars, and planets are moving in the same direction faster, so the moon appears to move west to east against the background of everything else. Every day it drops further behind all the other celestial objects until it comes around in a month to the same place. Venus and Mars stay close to the sun all the time; Mars will catch up to the Sun, Venus, and Mercury in May and June, then start dropping behind again.
ANNO DOMINI: Lent
Yesterday (Sunday, February 18) was Quinquagesima (meaning "fiftieth"), the Sunday before Lent. Tomorrow (Tuesday, February 20) is Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras; the next day is Ash Wednesday, the actual beginning of the Lenten season, one of the major segments of the traditional church calendar, which lasts until Easter.
Lent (from the Anglo-Saxon word "leinte", which simply means "spring") has been the major season of penitential fasting and prayer since the 6th century when the bishops of Rome (popes) established it, and the approximately forty days of fasting go back even earlier -- "quadragesima" ("fortieth") is mentioned in Athanasius's festal letters, letters he sent out every Easter season to alert the faithful as to the proper date of Easter that year, as well as give other instructions. This newsletter will contain more about Lent in future issues.
But the pre-Lent days have an equally long and interesting history. They were meant to prepare the faithful for the coming penitential season: thus, Shrove Tuesday was the day to be certain you had confessed your sins and been absolved (shriven) so you could pray and fast with a clean conscience. It was also the last day to consume all those perishable foods you couldn't eat during Lent, such as milk, butter, cheese, eggs, fats, bacon, etc. It was important to consumer all those fat foods so they wouldn't just go to waste and therefore Shrove Tuesday was also called "Mardi Gras", which means "Fat Tuesday" in French. In Ireland it was sometimes called Sulky Tuesday, because of the gloom of those girls who hadn't got a husband yet, as marriages were forbidden during Lent. And of course, because of the extremity of the fasting required during Lent, Mardi Gras was the last day to party and enjoy the things one had to abstain from during Lent. It's easy to mock the hypocrisy of such an attitude, but in charity, it's also easy to forget how very rigorous the fasting laws in the Middle Ages often were and Medieval Christians took these quite seriously (more later on how lenient they could quite often be as well).
Ash Wednesday was so called because the priest would make the sign of the cross on your forehead with ashes, repeating a phrase reminding you of the dust and ash from which you sprang and to which you'll return.
Finally, although many of the canonical laws and requirements were done away with in Reformation countries, it's worthwile noting that many Proestants did not abolish the keeping of Lent entirely; even the hard-core Puritans retained various fasts during the Lenten season in their desire not to depart entirely from communion with the historical, universal church.
I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.
--Evelyn Waugh, Scott-King's Modern Europe