Vol. 2, Issue 8
April 23, 2007
If you follow the news at all, you know that some horrific stories have been dominating the airwaves, print, and websites. But if you've been following the news for very long, you also know that this is nothing new. Recent events are indeed tragic and we ought to be involved if we can. But we also ought to remember to keep our heads above water.
One reason many of us believe so strongly in "classical" education is that its emphasis on history gives us perspective, a larger view, a hilltop on which to stand and see the context of the events that swirl around us, good and bad, so that the immediate horror does not overwhelm us. And one reason many of us believe so strongly in "Christian" classical education is that it emphasizes what we know to be true about history: that history and current events are part of a plan, a narrative, a story, whose Author has not lost control or ceased to be merciful. As C. S. Lewis suggests in his essay "Learning in War Time", sometimes the best response to cultural chaos is to brew a good cup of coffee and hit the books even harder.
IN THIS ISSUE:
1) SCHOLA NEWS - New tutorial service, Schola Cleveland picnic, Summer Academy
2) COGITEM - The Necessity of Greek and Latin
3) DE ASTRIS - Regulus
4) ANNO DOMINI - Eastertide
5) SIC LOCUTUS: Martin Luther
1. New Tutorial Service highly recommended by Schola
Great Books 1 and Logic will be offered this fall by Aaron Wells, of Artesian Wells Classical Tutorials. Mr. Wells is a former Schola student, having gone through all four years of Great Books as well as logic, Rhetoric, and Latin. He was the "Official Schola Historian" and retains his title emeritus; he remains an icon of early Schola history. Mr. Wells graduated from New St. Andrews College in Moscow, ID, and is now teaching at Logos Christian Academy in Fallon, Nevada. If you are interested in online Great Books or Logic tutorials, I urge you to visit his website and then contact Mr. Wells (his email address is on his website). You won't be disappointed.
2. Cleveland area Schola Picnic May 18
If you live in the Cleveland area, or within easy driving distance of Cleveland, please join us for a Schola Picnic, Friday evening, May 18, at 5:00 in Chagrin Falls, on the east side of Cleveland. For more details, email Schola and I'll put you in touch with the local organizers.
3. Schola Summer Academy 2007 July 13-15
Schola's Fifth Annual Summer Academy will be held July 13-15 in Lancaster, PA. If you are a Schola student 16 or over, or a Schola alumni, please consider joining us!
COGITEM -- The Necessity of Greek and Latin
Many "classical" Christian schools and homeschools add Latin as an additional subject to their curriculum, perhaps even as an important subject. Few consider Greek important and fewer still consider Greek and Latin to be central and essential. I've argued repeatedly -- here, on my blogs, in my classes, and in lectures around the country -- that Greek and Latin are not just important but essential. "Essential" in the fullest meaning of the word; that is, that the essence of classical education is the study of Greek and Latin. But the argument bears continual repetition, so let me summarize again the argument that the classical languages (and let's include Hebrew, although only a miniscule number of people talk about it) are not just important but absolutely essential to classical Christian education.
First, the Scriptures have a context. The Incarnation of the Word, the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and the birth at Pentecost of the Church, Christ's body, and its subsequent growth for many centuries, took place in the Roman Empire, a Greco-Roman culture formed by the growth of Roman power and its absorption of the Greek language and culture. The New Testament was written in the Hellenistic Greek of the age, and even the Old Testament translation used by the apostles and early church for several centuries was the Greek translation called the Septuagint. The New Testament and the writings of the early church fathers were all written to Christians in that Greco-Roman culture and those works assume an audience who thinks like children of that culture. We cannot hope to understand the New Testament or the early Christian writings of the first three or four centuries without a knowledge of that world and of the ideas, books, poems, and philosophies that formed the mindset of that age. The first Christians were indeed Christians but they were Hellenistic Romans too, just as we are Christians but are also Americans or Canadians or English or Japanese. Being a Christian doesn't mean you're not a part of a culture, and the New Testament and early church was a part of the Roman culture. It is essential to know Greco-Roman history, literature, and language in order to really understand the Scripture.
Second, translations and textbooks are never neutral; they are always commentaries, and their biases are those of the translators, not the original authors. Although one might argue that we don't need to read the originals because we have translations, and that we don't need to read primary sources since we have modern textbooks, it doesn't take much thought to see how utterly unsatisfactory this solution is. Textbooks are someone else's distillation and interpretation of the primary sources, and why should we rely on that second-hand commentary when we can read the primary sources ourselves? Consider this: why do we read the Bible instead of just relying on what preachers and commentaries say? Whatever our answer to that question is, it applies to textbooks about history too. But having accepted the argument that we should read primary sources, why must we learn the original languages? Why not read translations? The reason is that translations are commentaries too. Every translator of every book has to choose from a number of possible meanings or renderings in order to make his translation, but we are never told what the other options are, only the ones he chose. And his choice is determined by his assumptions and his own cultural background, which he holds in common with us, not with the ancient world. In other words, any translator shares our modern biases and presuppositions, and that is exactly what we do not want when we read old books. We want to read the ancient works, including the Bible, and let them speak to us unmediated and unfiltered so that we can escape, to some degree, the bondage of our modern assumptions and see what the older assumptions were. Not that older assumptions are necessarily better, but at least they were different; and until we see those different assumptions we'll never be able to unearth and examine our own to test their validity.
So we should study Greek and Roman history, and we should do so in the original languages.
For these reasons Christians everywhere, in all cultures and all nations and all parts of the world, from now till the end of time, will have to make classical languages and culture a central part of their curriculum. Of course they should study their own culture -- not only should that go without saying but it is unavoidable anyway. But if we -- whether we are Americans or Persians or Chinese or Africans -- are going to teach our children to know the Bible and the history of the Church which they are part of, we will have to teach them Greek and Roman history and the Greek and Latin languages. That is the particular garden into which God entered in His incarnation,and the particular soil from which He chose to bring forth His Church.
DE ASTRIS -- Regulus
In the last issue of Scholegium I promised to tell the story of Regulus, the great Roman general whose name is shared by the bright star of Leo. Historians of astronomy tell us that the star Regulus is not named for the ancient Roman general, but let us dismiss their shallow pedantry with an airy wave of our hand and, because the name reminds us of the old patriot whether it derives from him or not, let us regale ourselves with this story. It was one of the most famous legends of ancient Rome, told and retold to children to inspire them to courage and virtue.
After some successful campaigns against the Carthaginians during the Punic War of the mid-3rd century BC, there were setbacks. Regulus was taken prisoner. The Carthaginians wanted to exchange some Roman prisoners of war and offered to let Regulus go free to Rome to persuade the Senate to agree to the exchange, but only on the condition that he swear to return to Carthage if he failed in his mission. Regulus returned to Rome and argued precisely the opposite, persuading Rome never to agree to the Carthaginian terms. Then, though all Rome and even his family tried desperately to persuade him that he need not keep his word and that he should stay home, because of his vow he returned to Carthage and certain death, feeling bound by his word even given to an enemy. In Carthage he was shut standing up in a narrow upright coffin-like box with finely sharpened nails driven into it on all sides, and unable to sleep or even slump when overcome by utter exhaustion, he died, either of the exhaustion or from blood loss from slumping against the nails.
Augustine tells this story (one which Cicero and Horace, among many others, had told centuries earlier) to illustrate the virtues of the older Romans, which still did not earn the protection of the gods they were so devoted to.
A worthwhile story to remember the next time you gaze at Leo.
ANNO DOMINI -- Eastertide
The Easter season, the celebration of Christ's resurrection at the time of the old Jewish Passover, has dominated the Christian year for two millenia. Every Sunday throughout the year we celebrate little Easters pointing to this big one. The intermittent nature of Scholegium over the last couple of months has meant that I must skip over many glorious tidbits about the history of Lent and Easter (perhaps next year I can pick up more of those) and, with a little background, move right to the Easter season, called Eastertide.
First, the name. "Tide" simply means "time" or "season". The name "Easter" has been thought by a great many people to come from an old Germanic fertility goddess named "Eoster", but this is based solely on a statement by the Saxon historian Bede in the eighth century. However, there are no other ancient witnesses at all to a Germanic goddess by this name, so it may well be that Bede simply mistook the name of the seasonal celebration for the name of a goddess. There certainly was a pagan celebration of "Eoster", but the word ultimately comes from the same root as our word "East", the direction of the rising sun, and the celebration was most likely simply that of the sun's coming back to the true East at the time of the spring equinox. And of course, it's wonderfully fitting that the celebration of Christ's resurrection falls at the time of the spring equinox, the beginning of the astronomical year, the beginning of spring, and the beginning of the calendar for much of western history.
Next, the celebration. Eastertide is the fifty days from Easter Sunday through Pentecost -- it was originally, in the early medieval church, a season devoted generally to celebrating the effects of the resurrection: justification, redemption, re-creation, restoration of the world, etc. But from the later middle ages on, it began to be a season when specific implications of the resurrection are celebrated in chronological order. For example, yesterday, the second Sunday after Easter, used to be called Good Shepherd Sunday, because of the passage in the Prayer Book associated with that Sunday, and because the Good Shepherd seeks and saves that which was lost by sacrificing His own life for them -- and then rising to give them His life. I'll mention more of these in the next issue of Scholegium. Suffice it for the moment to say, however, that Easter, like Christmas, is a season, not just a day. We have not passed Easter -- we are "in" Easter.
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Christians greet each other during this season with "Christos Aneste" (Christ is risen), and the response is "Alesthos Aneste" (He is risen indeed).
As we love the gospel, let us hold fast to the languages. God gave us the Scriptures in two languages, the Old Testament in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. Therefore we should honor them above all other languages... and let us remember that we shall not be able to keep the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is hid. They are the casket in which this treasure is kept. They are the vessels in which this drink is contained; they are the storehouse in which this food is laid by; and, as the gospel itself shows, they are the baskets in which these loaves and fishes and fragments are preserved. Yea, if we should so err as to let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall not only lose the gospel, but it will come to pass at length that we shall not be able to speak or write correctly either Latin or [our own tongue].