The Beautiful Result of Overcoming the Alluring Power of Distraction

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,…”

— 1 Peter 1:8 ESV —

 

Paradise is often beyond reach. It is a place of the imagination before it is a place of residence. Vergil’s Aeneid explores the journey required of Aeneas and the Trojan exiles as they journey to a new homeland a place where a new race will be birthed and a new culture established. This new city with its deified future required much suffering and tragedy along the journey. Being the result of competition between the gods, these tragedies shaped the journey and strengthened the imagined beauty of a homeland yet to be. However, along the way, Aeneas and the wearied Trojans would be tempted to divert their journey to comforts at hand. It is often at the end of a tiresome struggle that any immediate rest is sweet and tempting. The alluring comforts of rest delay the journey while at the same time shape the final discovery. Although Aeneas is the hero king, he is also mortal and when weakened by tiring seas and the tragic loss of Troy, beautiful distraction in Dido and comfortable Carthage serve to be evil rather than a divine blessing. Jupiter intervenes to keep the dream of Rome alive by causing Aeneas to leave Dido. The beauty of the unseen future homeland was made more grand as Aeneas’ experience of overcoming the allure of Dido’s Carthage forced him to return to his original destiny.

Vergil’s Aeneid tells of various stops in Aeneas’ exile from Troy. As they land in Crete, his men occupy empty homes for the taking. Since Crete was the ancient home of their fathers, they felt this was a good place to settle. The young married and crops were planted. However, this new settlement was not to last as sickness ran through the people and the crops failed. What appeared to be an end to the exile, turned out to be the wrong choice. “Do not shirk Hard travel to a new home, since Apollo Did not intend your settling here in Crete.”#Along the journey to paradise were appealing distractions. Aeneas learns through further tragedy at Crete the choices were not in the will of the gods. This in turn results in his constant push to obtain the favored land where prophecy would reveal the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Aeneas received a prophecy to seek a new land of hope. As Aeneas and his Trojans were tossed upon the sea they were driven by the winds to the African shore. After seven years of wandering the seas landing in Carthage seemed to be a gift from the gods. Although the desire was to land in Italy, Aeneas and his ships were ready to receive any hope of rest. Since the journey on the seas were directed by the gods, upon landing on the African shore one would assume that this was the gods’ desire. Doubt and frustration lent to the desire to stay and journey no further. “The god’s wings rowed him Through the vast air, to stand on Libya’s shore.” Weakness will come with exhaustion and new lands become very alluring. Aeneas obviously questions whether perhaps the initial prophecy was being altered. “Is this our new realm, won through righteousness?”

Because Aeneas had not yet seen the city that would be Rome, the beauty of Carthage brought hope. As Aeneas waited for the Queen Dido, he marveled at the beauty of the temple and was struck by the frescos depicting battles of Troy. Familiarity gave him a sense of settledness. This prepared his spirit to be tempted and led away from his journey all the while thinking the gods will was at play. Certainly, with the familiarity of Troy in the stories of the art, they would be at home in Carthage.

One could argue that the stops in Crete and Carthage were not part of the journey set forth by the gods. If this be the case, then the question remains as to whether the relationship of Aeneas and Dido served good or harm to the journey leading to Latium. On one hand, the relationship was called out by Jupiter as wrong and was intentionally a distraction established by Juno. Had Aeneas remained in Carthage, then surely Rome would have failed to come about. So in this sense, the fated relationship had faults. On the other hand, the opening lines of the Aeneid indicate that the the founding of Rome was costly. If then the road to Roman dominance required so much, then would it not then stand to reason that all events in that journey caused the value of Roman society to be heightened. And if this was the case, then perhaps the diversions in the journey had value as well. The beauty of Rome was made much more so by the contrasting struggles to obtain the paradise.

The promises of the gods can be mistaken as an easy blessing. After all, any divine guidance implied to the mind of man the peace and comfort of the divine Other. Anchises called on the gods for safe journey. “Deities who rule land and sea and storms: Be gracious, send a wind, make our way easy.”# However, time and again Aeneas is reminded in the Aeneid that the road to Rome will not be easy.

As Aeneas finished his tale of struggle and woe, deeper passion grew in Dido toward the hero. Although through the conniving of the goddess Juno, Aeneas and Dido unite in passion although not true marriage.# True marriage would be the honorable path, but the relationship between the two royals was merely a distortion of the truly beautiful union of marriage. Blinded by the beauty of Dido and Carthage, Aeneas settled into comfort. Yet the task before him remained. Rome was his destiny. This distraction felt right, but was not. Due to the nature of Aeneas fate, the gods would not allow this to persist and intervened in miraculous fashion. Mercury sends the message. Aeneas is struck with alertness to his folly.

Aeneas proves again his honor, his pietas.# Although his choice to remain in Carthage resulted in anguish, the suffering produced deeper conviction. His heroism in leaving Carthage by command of the gods proves his loyalty to the cause. “Just as relentless were the words that battered the hero. In his noble heart he suffered, but tears did nothing. His resolve endured.” The founding of Rome required endurance. And endurance was only proven through opportunities of testing. Aeneas time and again showed the fortitude necessary to take his people to Italy. The stops along the way merely enriched the history of his people showing that nothing could stop the glorious beginnings of a wonderful culture. The beautiful result of overcoming the alluring power of distraction was a glorified Rome. The adventurous tragedies along the way brought beauty to the unseen future of Rome.

Dorothy Sayers on Creative Incarnation

Mind of the Maker - Dorothy Sayers A Quote from Dorothy Sayers on A Good God who Makes things that become Evil and His Creatively Holy response to it through the Incarnation.
“We must not, that is, try to behave as though the Fall had never occurred not yet say that the Fall was a Good Thing in itself. But we may redeem the Fall by a creative act.

That, according to the Christian doctrine, is the way that God behaved, and the only way in which we can behave if we want to be ‘as gods.’ The Fall had taken place and Evil had been called into active existence; the only way to transmute Evil into Good was to redeem it by creation. But, the Evil having been experienced, it could only be redeemed within the medium of experience–that is, by an incarnation in which experience was fully and freely in accordance with the Idea.”

– “Maker of All Things-Maker of Ill Things,” ch. 7. p 86
Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers (9th edition, 1947)

I am Grateful for Tertullian and Jerome

Readings in Christian Humanism

I am grateful for Tertullian and Jerome.

As all of us in the Great Books Honors Program consume our energies with reading the great works of Christianity and Western culture, it is refreshing to read the passion of Tertullian and the confession of Jerome. I find myself often being drawn to the great philosophers due the wealth of wisdom found in their work. Yet, I must confess to my neglect of scripture as my mental energies are focused on the great works.

Although some have expressed dislike for Tertullian’s boastful style, I found his words a refreshing reminder of the focus of our mental faith. The works of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, etc. are rich treasures. They are truly gifts from God. But I am grateful for Tertullian’s reminder that our faith is not in the works of the Greek philosophers, but rather in the sacrificial redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tertullian states: “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?…Our instruction comes from the ‘porch of Solomon,’ who had himself taught that ‘the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.’ ”

Tertullian’s reminder to me is encouragement in that my faith should, “…want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief.” (Readings in Christian Humanism – p. 92)

Likewise, Jerome’s confession to seeing his library of Cicero and Plautus as idols above Christ reminds me of the proper perspective of my studies. He writes, “O Lord, if ever again I possess worldly books or read them, I have denied thee.” (p. 103)

I am reminded by these honorable Patriarchs of the Church the proper perspective in studying the great works of the pagans. While there are great truths to be found, and great methods for study and discussion learned in them, my primary love is that of Scripture, and the great works by men of God.

—–

Shaw, Joseph M. Readings in Christian Humanism. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

Amazon link here

‘Noah’ as Fable – reminder to read the original story

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I have yet to see the new blockbuster film ‘Noah’ out today.

Yet I have heard personal opinions from many of my Evangelical Christian friends and pastors. This even before the film was released. I am a skeptical Christian when my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ assume that any film from Hollywood distorts Christian perspectives. So I wanted to wait until the film was released before commenting.

I do not know if I will see this film. I will not see the movie because of harsh attacks from the Christian Right, neither will I view a film based on the encouragement of the Christian Left. I choose to voice my opinion only after careful thought.

The reason I will most likely not see this film is due to my own prayerful thought based on trailers and interviews with directors and actors. But I must admit that the articulation of Dr. Ken Ham on this film has persuaded how I will articulate my final opinion. Please read his comments in TIME here. He writes:

But we have an obligation to send out a warning, and in so doing also to communicate biblical truths and undo the possible damage that might be caused by this sci-fi fantasy

If the film is more of a mythical fable and a “biblically-themed” work rather than a biblical work, then I must stay away. Even if the film did not quote scripture verbatim, but still ran with the theme of honor to God, then I might consider seeing the film. But by redirecting the nature of the Noah narrative to a mythical fable akin to the ancient heroes of Greece and Rome, Aronofsky’s film has changed completely the purpose of the Noah story. God is the center of the Flood narrative. Not man. Not creation. Not magic. This despite the mention of giants and mighty men of old in the Noah narrative. [Genesis 6:4]

I do not call for a boycott on Hollywood. Actually I am a proponent of film as a great story-telling medium. But if Hollywood wishes to tell a story well, they must decide to tell a story correctly. This can be done creatively. It can be done with great special effects and inspirational drama. But to change the focus of a story to a myth or fable changes the meaning of the original story all together.

However, I must conclude my thoughts with a challenge to Evangelical Christians nationwide. Instead of taking joy in bashing Hollywood or condemning with eagerness those who patronize the NOAH film, take this time to re-read the Noah narrative again. Genesis 6-9.

Perhaps we can all be revived in our own bible study in order to articulate the differences between the NOAH film version and the original story. Unless we can tell the original story well ourselves, we cannot criticize Hollywood for changing it. When a friend or co-worker talks with a Christian about this movie, will the Christian respond with actual accounts from Genesis 6-9? or will the Christian respond with vitriol and hatred toward anyone who dare make a film?

Keep On Walking: The Need for Intentional Solitude.

Are we ever truly alone? James V. Schall asks this question in his essay, The Metaphysics of Walking. Theologians and social scientists have wrestled with the question of an over busy society for longer than man can imagine. Although our contemporary Western culture is filled with activity, man has always found things to occupy his time. The struggle for survival alone can make one’s occupation overwhelming in trying to provide the basics of life. But as modern society in the West has continued to grow, so has the demands on our time. The twentieth century saw a radical shift in the modern age away from times of contemplation to a fast-paced information saturated culture. In a time of history when information and answers are at the click of a keyboard, it would appear that more leisure time would be easily accessible. But with all modern conveniences it seems like the importance of leisure in the priority of the day has become less and less a priority.

A new kind of slavery has entered Western work environments in that the cubicle has replaced the cage. Laborers remain at the desk for endless hours with very little movement or exercise. Even though many large corporations provide exercise rooms, the responsibilities and expectations of the workday rarely allow for the use of these facilities. The office worker will find it easier not to move the body in order to strengthen the mind. Reports on Google’s innovative work culture is the envy of most American office workers. If what is seen and reported is true at Google, then it is not surprising that the creativity that comes from there is so high.

Social interaction is important for the nourishing of ideas. The weekly Google hangouts in the Great Books Honors College at Faulkner University model the importance of this interaction. The encouragement and motivation in these discussions provide ideas that could have never been contemplated alone. But in order for these discussions to be productive participants must find time to contemplate prior to the meeting so that ideas can take shape. However, with many family and work responsibilities one finds it difficult to carve out the important alone time necessary for great thinking.

Sitting at a desk does allow for the focus of reading the works and taking notes. But most will often find that if the mind becomes stale and the eyes and body tired, the most refreshing thing to do is to get up, go outside, and go for a walk. Something as simple as changing scenery provides a new fuel for the mind. The combination of physical movement with contemplation is always the best formula for philosophy. If then this is an important priority, a schedule must shift for the philosopher and for anyone serious about great thoughts.

If then the problem of obtaining leisure is that busy-ness gets in the way, the easy response would be to simply find less to do. In order for this to occur a simple word must become part of one’s vocabulary. This word is no. This is not to say to reject all responsibility, but rather to prioritize requirements on time. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is reported as prioritizing his time amongst the huge demand of his ministry. It is recorded that many people, gathered often simply to catch a glimpse of the Master. Matthew 4:18 records a time where Jesus was walking. On this stroll by the Sea of Galilee he calls his first disciples. Matthew 4:23 indicates that while teaching in synagogues and proclaiming the gospel, Jesus’ fame spread throughout the region. The gospel of Luke records, “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

It is important to acknowledge when walking in times of solitude one is never truly in isolation. When the priority of discovery takes precedence over the busy-ness of drudgery, one’s mind is never fully alone. The irony is that when one is alone on a walk many more faults and realities occupy the intellect. It seems that in order to be most productive one must find times that seem the least productive. Perception is not always reality so when one is seen walking alone he or she is never truly alone. Writing on Cicero, Schall said that, “he was never less idle than when he was by himself.”

The revelation of a walk comes in that one realizes the importance of just being. With no other demands on the time and intellect a much grander, more accurate, perception of reality occurs. Schall writes,

“Metaphysics is the science of being qua being, of the first things and their causes. We are astonished that something, including ourselves, stands outside of nothingness. Even to meditate on nothing, we must begin with something not ourselves.”

Perhaps this is the value of a walk. Physically moving from one space to another physically shows man’s place in the world. Reality is simply not what we make it to be. Reality is much bigger than ourselves and in order to understand that, we must experience the bigger reality by taking our self outside of ourselves and interacting with that outside.

Mars Hill audio tackles this same concept in the discussion on the decline of reading among Western culture. Most notably among young adults. Reading for a small child seems to be an exciting time. Their minds are shaped by imagination and fantasy and are eager for stories. But as that small child grows and develops into adolescence, future adulthood looms over them. Struggles with identity replace the creative imagination of childhood as changes come physically and mentally for the adolescent.

It is easy for someone who is no longer an adolescent to proclaim solutions to this problem of declining reading among our teenagers. But is it not the responsibility of those adults to shape and guide these young adults as they become mature? Although there are great demands on the intellect and mind of teenagers, it is the parents who determine what is allowed in the home. Multitasking for the millennial generation is normal but not necessarily beneficial. It is the ease of multitasking that distracts one from the importance of solitude. Physical walking outside of urban areas, or even in a city park, is important even for the adolescent. The structures of the academic day for a young person must include times of walking in silence. No matter how difficult it is for the teenager, these young people do follow a schedule structured by others.

There is a problem. It’s called busy-ness. Yet with all the technological conveniences of our day, it seems that we are never settled. What is the answer? Personal responsibility and acknowledgment that priorities are missing amongst the multitasking must occur. Whether it be the individual taking responsibility him or herself, or academic administration reshaping the schedule of the academic calendar, priorities must shift away from busy-ness to leisure. Open spaces are abundant where people may go and simply experience a world outside of themselves. However, it is far too common that the spaces are not discovered unless a crisis occurs forcing one to seek out these places of solitude. The burden of multitasking and busy-ness in our culture will weigh down so heavily upon the shoulders and minds of our citizens, I am afraid a crisis must occur in order for one to see the damage happening. Perhaps a breakdown in a place of solitude, is the only way for some, not all, to realize the truth.

__________________

Bibliography

  1. Schall, James V. “The Metaphysics of Walking.” In The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking, 91-107. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2008.
  2. Gioia, Dana, interviewed by Ken Myers. Mars Hill Audio Journal, MHT-90.2.1. 2008.

The Right of an Education: a perspective from a Homeschool Dad

The beauty of freedom in United States of America includes the freedom to obtain an education. Thomas Jefferson advocated public education for the betterment of the country and I fully agree with this vision. Education is valuable not just to the individual but to the society as well. An educated citizenship results in a healthier more productive and prosperous culture. Lack of resources including food, shelter, finances, and education drag a culture down. Likewise, an abundance of the same resources creates a more stable society. It is education that enables a people to be stronger, more creative, and more united.

Although the right of an education is granted to all Americans, compulsory education has been distorted to an entitlement rather than a right. I once was a high school graphic arts teacher. My class was a vocational class, a trades class. No one expected to be challenged intellectually while learning the printing business. But once students began to apply the trade of the graphic arts, they quickly realized that a foundational education in mathematics and imaginative learning were crucial to creating commercial art and printed pieces. This example goes to show that education is more than just getting a job. An education is the development of the human mind and personality of the student. All knowledge, whether scientific, mathematical, literary, artistic, or mechanical, is valuable knowledge that interacts with all areas of society and work.

The right of an education for American citizens has expanded beyond the fundamentals of learning to the public universities and colleges where all citizens of the state have a right to attend these institutions. Yet what we now have in many public universities, but not all, is not an attitude of the right to an education rather to an entitlement to a degree. Russell Kirk reflects this sentiment when he says, “every man and woman and intellectual king or queen, with an Oxbridge degree!” His comments are sarcastic. Yet he fully agrees that the original intention of the University has been changed to a factory mentality. The original intent of the University was, “to develop right reason and imagination, for the sake of the person in the sake of the Republic.” If then education benefits the nation, it behooves the nation to ensure the integrity of learning.

While the dream of a college degree is admirable, the needs of everyday living to obtain food, shelter, clothing and finances is a true reality that cannot be ignored. The answer to improving education is not then to supply the financial needs of all citizens in order for them to pursue education. Again, the root of all problems in education rest in an entitlement mentality. If citizens are then entitled to be cared for this will not help the state of higher education. Those who work hardest are those who benefit most from the labor. Hunger is a great motivator. Ironically physical hunger will motivate one to work in order to satisfy the physical need. In order to work to satisfy the need, one must also learn and be educated in order to provide basic human needs. So the answer to all higher education problems is not to give away an education, but to make this occasion desirable. If a student is not hungry a student will not work.

I must admit that I have benefited from the grace of many teachers in my educational career beginning in kindergarten and continuing in my current doctoral program. This statement must come first in order to understand the opinion that standards must be in place and expectations enforced to bring value to an education. Academic standards that expect students to push further and obtain quality, will in turn cause hunger in the mind. Lax standards merely breed slothful mentality resulting in entitlement.

John Dewey has been criticized for his philosophy of education in that education has become a religion under his tutelage. Writing on Dewey, Christopher Dawson says concerning education, “it exists simply to serve democracy; and democracy is not a form of government, it is a spiritual community, based on the participation of every human being in the formation of social values.” John Dewey’s influence on compulsory education shifts the very nature of education away from strengthening the mind to strengthening the society alone. While it is true that an educated populace makes for a stronger society, the education citizens receive should be that education which liberates the intellect rather than conforming the soul. If then John Dewey has changed the concept of education so radically, perhaps it is imperative to undo his philosophy.

It is perhaps too late to influence the current generation of students to radically turn around the direction of higher education as it is today. Yet if problems exist to the extent that damage has been done, it is the responsibility of current scholars to begin to speak on and write on the problems at hand. In offering a solution, I would argue, in the spirit of Dawson, that motivation for higher learning begins in the primacy of the development of the mind. The atmosphere in which one lives at a young age does affect later learning. However this is not to say that the youngest mind is the only area of influence. I myself have been introduced to and inspired by many great teachers in my higher education years. But in order to redirect the ship, the rudder must be turned.

Influence on a society begins with the highest thinkers. Those thinkers must motivate current scholars, who will be future leaders, in ways of living apart from the current state of mind-numbing entertainment. The entitlement philosophy shapes not only education, but the way in which a society exists. If computerized ways of doing dominate the way one thinks, then the way one thinks will reflect the instant information atmosphere that computers create. Although I am grateful for the advancement of computer technology in the areas of research and accessibility to books that are no longer in print, I must caution myself often in depending on the search engine results as the top possibility for all of my research and thinking. True humane thinking requires time to ponder information in order for it to become knowledge. If instant information is then replacing what has traditionally been known as knowledge, it is important to delay the effects of the computer until after one’s mind has begun to grow in rational and imaginative thinking. It is the lack of creative problem-solving, not just in education, but also in normal everyday living, that has affected the way education is approached. One no longer is required to solve the problem of everyday living needs like obtaining food, clothes, yard and home maintenance, and even cooking recipes. Everything is available at the touch of the keyboard. If we do not know how to bake an apple pie,  a computer can tell us how within just a few seconds. No research needed. No problem to solve exists.

Perhaps the solution to the decline of higher education standards, rests in a fundamental shift in the approach to everyday living. This can only begin at home. Dire circumstances in the economy and in the culture, will require many to go back to the basics. But as long as problems have immediate answers, solutions will evade the seeker. If immediate answers substitute solutions, higher thinking will not be necessary. I do not propose that issues that need to be resolved can be resolved by one opinion alone. But in a time of history where all opinions matter and no opinion is more true than others, I wonder if any solution can be widely accepted as the best direction to begin solving the problem.

In a postscript thought,  I do believe that making education available for all is a very important freedom. But I must clarify my opinion, education is not an entitled right. All education is valuable. But the learning of an economic trade is not the same as higher liberal arts learning. If one’s aptitude is more in line with vocational training, that person must be given the freedom to choose that route. While if one’s aptitude is more in line with higher academic learning, that person must also be given the freedom to pursue that route. But it is not the role of the state to determine who is eligible for a particular trade or education. The role of the state must be that which enables all the opportunity to explore and pursue what is best for their skill set. This can easily be done while also providing academic standards that do not discriminate. I do not believe that state-funded education is always the best, but it is necessary and important. Those without financial means to a higher education must climb through the state schools in order to get there. I am grateful for my state sponsored education. This was the step up I needed to pursue higher forms of thought.

————————–

Bibliography

Gamble, Richard M., ed. The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007.

Kirk, Russell. “Humane Learning in the Age of the Computer” in The Wise Men Know What Things are Written on the Sky (Washington: Regnery Gateway, 1987), 90-100.

Kirk, Russell. “The Conservative Purpose of a Liberal Education” in Classical Teacher, Spring 2007.

EXPOSITION: EXPLANATION OF A TEXT LEADS TO THE DIVINE

“Every analysis begins from things which are finite, or defined, and proceeds in the direction of things which are infinite, or undefined.” [1]

— Hugh of St. Victor —

Reading a difficult work is always worthwhile. Yet in order to benefit from the mental exercise, one must learn to analyze a text to understand and then explain the meaning of the text. The reward of this effort always leads to a greater awareness of that which is unknown and can never be fully known. Exposition of a work of great value brings the student from the defined finite knowledge to the higher undefined infinite mystery. Illumination of what is hidden in great works is the duty of great scholars.

All Great Books have a deeper truth to the text than can be attained through first reading. What is required of the scholar is the mastery of analysis, methods of discernment, that lead one deeper into the meaning of the text and thus higher to the truths of God. Hugh of St. Victor taught in his De Sacramentis,

“All the arts of the natural world subserve our knowledge of God, and the lower wisdom — rightly ordered — leads to the higher.”  [2]

Exposition means to explain. When great ideas are rightly ordered the meaning of the text is revealed through work and deeper meaning leads to a higher truth.

Exposition is the duty of the clergy in that the church, and those outside the ecclesia, are shown what God says. Where the clergy exposit Scripture, academia exposits Great Works of wisdom. Rhabanus Maurus emphasizes the duty of the clergy in broadly understanding Scripture through also understanding language and forms of expression. “A knowledge of these things is proved to be necessary in relation to the interpretation of those passages of Holy Scripture which admit of a twofold sense; an interpretation strictly literal would lead to absurdities.”[3]  Absurd reading of Scripture leads one not to the infinite, but to the finite. It is those things infinite that require accurate exposition to fully grasp.

Hugh of St. Victor taught; “Exposition includes three things: the letter, the sense, and the inner meaning.”[4]  This three step process is the model to accurate exposition of both Scripture and Great Books. Often the higher meaning of a work is sensed in an initial reading of the text. Knowing how to read the text itself, through language and grammar, is the first form of knowledge that must be mastered well in order to exposit well. The medium of words is a mastered skill that must be understood. A plumber must know pipes and water flow in order to master the art of plumbing. Likewise an expositor must know grammar and language well in order to read and exposit what is read well. In reading the text, one then has an initial sense of the meaning of the text. This may not be an absolute formula of meaning. But the sense is an intuition based on previous skills of grammar and language and a greater sense of feeling about the piece. The inner meaning of a work is best understood by both the science of language and the enigmatic sense, or feel, of a text. Neither aspect alone grants a full exposition of a work. The work of the finite individual through grammar and language studies, combined with the hidden feeling of the infinite source behind the work leads one ultimately to the higher mystery of a great idea within a great work.

In summary, exposition is that effort which leads one to grasp, or merely taste, the higher infinite meaning of a great idea or work by both finite and enigmatic means. Defined absolutes of grammar and language are ordered by inspiration of, or directly by, undefined uncertainties that lead to a higher meaning beyond the lower mind. Exposition is work. But is also led by feeling. A sense of what is read and known ultimately leads to the prize of the inner meaning of a work. This is the purpose of exposition and analysis and the role of the scholar.

___________

[1] Richard M. Gamble, The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007), p. 261.

[2] Ibid, p. 255.

[3] Ibid, p. 251.

[4] Ibid, p. 260.

Painful Truth seen in Dante’s Paradiso

“Nevertheless, with every falsehood scrapped,

let everything you’ve seen be manifest,

and where they’ve got the mange, let them go scratch.”

— Dante, Paradiso, xvii.127

My hand was screaming with pain. The blood flowed more freely than I wished to witness as my good hand grasped the wounded limb with pressure to stop the flow. I had been laying hardwood floor in my new home and was nearing the end of a long project. One more row of tongue and groove boards and the entire first floor was finished. We could move in by Christmas. Exhausted, yet excited, I had a unique piece to cut that would go down around an A/C floor vent. As I ran the board over the table saw blade, a kickback caused the wood to fly up and backward. My hand came with the board and scraped the circular saw leaving a deep gash in my left palm just below my thumb. The shock started with numbness.

Painful experiences follow false assumptions of safety. But the value of truth is often not appreciated until after what was assumed to be easy becomes obvious as a falsehood. The value of painful memories brings greater appreciation and clarity to what was true all along. Rushing to judgment inevitably leads to pain after the fact. Ironically, truth is sweetest as truth is never in a rush to be discovered. Truth is always present, even amidst the hurry and assumed ease of the false.

Paradise is appealing. No pain. No suffering. All is beautiful. All is perfect. But in order to understand paradise, we must deal with pain and suffering. Otherwise, paradise is not valued as it should be. Paradise contrasted with suffering is more sweet than sour. Dante’s journey to Paradise is recognized as a journey of discovery. Although irritants cause one to scratch and bleed, it is only through the misery that recovery occurs and truth is understood.

“Nevertheless, with every falsehood scrapped,

let everything you’ve seen be manifest,

and where they’ve got the mange, let them go scratch.

For if your words are sharp at the first taste,

they’ll leave behind a living nourishment

when they have been digested at the last.” [1]

The lesson emphasized in Dante’s prose is that to appreciate and revel in the beauty of Paradise, the truth about falsehoods and pain must also be understood. There is truth in defining the false. The truth of falsehoods is deception. To not learn this truth is to believe a lie and that is not truth. Paradise is then only realized in discovering the truth about false wisdom.

The celestial city on the hill is an image desired by Christians throughout the history of the church and the appeal to such a distant objective is the future hope of deliverance from suffering and pain where we are now. The truth of human existence is that pain and sorrow are prevalent. Yet the hope of the faithful is that someday the suffering and pain will cease. The truth of the gospel is that without the pain we endure, the passion and desire for Paradise would not be present, or at least not as strong as it could be. Desire for life without lies, deceit, and suffering is what drive the Christian on to seek Paradise. David Lyle Jeffrey in discussing the struggles of interpretation of Scripture writes about the journey to the celestial city;

“By contrast, the celestial Jerusalem toward which the faithful travel through history cannot be reached or conquered by human effort. One must set out in faith, joining the vulnerable company of the blessed en route, but in the end the New Jerusalem is not so much to be attained (by works) as granted (by grace), as it descends.” [2]

Along the journey of knowledge and wisdom, experience teaches humility. Pain and suffering shape the journey in ways that I wish they would not. But it is in the mistakes learned through the deceit of lies and false truths that I see more clearly, and appreciate more honestly, the glory of Paradise. My Lord suffered much more than I suffer.

Although never deceived by the promise of lies, Jesus did gain stronger authority by standing against false truth. In his conviction after an illegal trial, Jesus willingly suffered so that I would not be enslaved to the lies of sin and death. Slave trader and converted pastor John Newton knew the power of grace after living a life of tragic mistakes and penned the simple but profound hymn Amazing Grace. In one of his sermons he preached,

“We call ourselves the followers and servant of him who was despised of men, and encompassed with sorrows. And shall we then ‘seek great things for ourselves,’ as if we belonged to the present world, and expected no portion beyond it? or shall we be tremblingly [sensitive] to the opinion of our fellow-creatures and think it a great hardship if it be our lot to suffer shame for his sake, who endured the cross, and despised the same for us?” [3]

Although I do not applaud misunderstood ideas as an academic method of discovering the truth, I do recognize the value of failure in appreciating the truth. When mistaken ideas are a way of knowing, the only result is destruction. Yet, when mistaken ideas are understood in light of what is true, then strength in wisdom leads the sojourner further up the path to Paradise.

I look forward to the day when table saws no longer inflict pain as the result of my mistaken sense of safety. But I do not regret the lesson learned and the respect I now have for the process of building. The journey to completion contains many lessons along the way that will not be pleasant. The journey to Paradise is not an easy one, but nonetheless, the journey is a valuable one.

___________

[1] Alighieri Dante, Paradise, trans. Anthony M. Esolen (New York: Modern Library, 2007), [Canto xvii, 127-132, p. 187].

[2] David L. Jeffrey, Houses of the Interpreter: Reading Scripture, Reading Culture (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009), p. 34.

[3] Ibid, p. 84

The Metalogicon — Education from a Christian Perspective

John of Salisbury. The Metalogicon: A Twelfth-Century Defense of the Verbal and Logical Arts of the Trivium: Translated by Daniel D. McGarry; Paul Dry Books, Philadelphia. 2009. 305 pp. $25.50.

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Classical Christian education has much to benefit from this medieval academic work from John of Salisbury. The Metalogicon, literally about logic, is a timeless insight into the value of grammar, dialectic, and logic to the development of the mind. Completed in 1152, the outline of education found in The Metalogicon is crucial to the current renaissance of Christian Classical education among Christian institutions and home school families. John of Salisbury weaves the wisdom of ancient philosophers (i.e. Plato, Aristotle, Seneca), and Christian fathers, (Augustine, Jerome), to argue for a solid academic life that not only brings eloquence to the student, but more importantly God’s wisdom to a place of treasured honor.

Although John writes this work as a rebuttal to the influence of Cornificius, he argues successfully the importance of defending the trivium as the means to prepare the uneducated mind for a life of philosophical defense of the gospel. Original reason, God’s Reason, then defends truth from deception (224-25). The low state of man should not be abandoned, “…even though he is oppressed and handicapped by the burden of his earthly nature and the sluggishness of his physical body, man may still rise to higher things.” (9) That which is highest is God’s wisdom and grace. “This appetite [for truth, goodness, and reason] has been implanted in man’s nature by God; but it cannot obtain its objectives by nature alone, for it also needs the assistance of grace.” (246).

The relevance of The Metalogicon in today’s academic world is that debate over educational curriculum and method is not new. John of Salisbury wrote defensively against contemporaries who argued the lack of need to study and learn the art of eloquence. Rather than training the intellect for eloquent expression of truth, the philosophy that education is merely rote memorization of facts is opposed. That only those with the gift of eloquence can speak and debate philosophy is opposite of John’s defense (24).

The telos of education for John of Salisbury is morality rather than intellectual sophistry. For John, Logic is an art and like the skilled craftsman, devotion to the craft produces fine results of the mind (25). “One who can with facility and adequacy verbally express his mental perceptions is eloquent.” (26). But John shapes the perception of eloquent learning well in that the skill of logical eloquence grows with time and practice. His opponents who argue that logical reasoning is a gift granted have difficulty defending John’s argument that, “Who has ever, by nature’s gift alone, and without study, had the privilege of being most eloquent in all tongues, or even in only one language? If it is good to be eloquent, surely it is better to be very eloquent.” He further argues, “Although some of the arts pertaining to and imparting the power of eloquence are natural, still the art [of eloquence] which is practically as we would want it cannot be known by nature since it is not natural.” (31).

John of Salisbury begins his philosophy of logical reasoning with the beginnings of knowledge in poetry and the imagination. The emphasis on the poet is then directly connected to the emphasis of the divine end, the telos, of education. If wisdom begins with God’s wisdom, then the telos of educating fallen man must lift his state from the primitive mire to the heights of salvation. All great journeys begin somewhere and man’s intellectual journey through to the divine begins with the imagination. Imagination and wonder are that which was, and still is, present before the development of language and grammar. “Speech was invented as a means of communicating mental concepts; and figures [of speech] are admitted as far as they compensate by their utility for whatever they lack in conformity to the [rules of the grammatical art].” (56)

John of Salisbury is a strong advocate for logic and eloquent defense of true wisdom. “That Poetry is the cradle of Philosophy is axiomatic. Furthermore, do not our forefathers tell us that the liberal studies are so useful that one who has mastered them can, without a teacher, understand all books and everything written?” (63). The study of Great Books yields the purpose of a journey to wisdom and understanding and finally with God’s glory. He sees the philosophical journey for the scholar as not mastery of one’s own making. Yet in order to successfully navigate the path of knowledge, John strongly cautions to learn independence lest one be dependent on false teachers. “Sensation deceives the untutored.” (221). Likewise, eloquence is necessary to be prepared to defend true wisdom” (199).

John of Salisbury promotes Goodness, Truth, and Reason as the transcendentals that lead one to the higher aspects of ultimate truth, God. “One who aspires to become a philosopher should therefore apply himself to reading, learning, and meditation, as well as the performance of good works, lest the Lord become angry and take away what he seems to possess.” (65). The study of the Great Books is not something created by man alone. This passion for knowledge is implanted in man by God. Appetite and desire motivate the imagination to seek Who imparted the hunger for Truth. “For God, breathing life into man, willed that he partake of divine reason.” (227). “This appetite [for truth, goodness, and reason] has been implanted in man’s nature by God; but it cannot obtain its objective by nature alone, for it also needs the assistance of Grace.” (246) “It is clear in particular cases that subordinate things cannot exist or be understood without superior ones.” (122).

The point of logic is to guide one to God’s wisdom and divine revelation of Himself. Logic is not the tool of Man’s own self advancement. Rather, man exercises the intellect given by God to think and reason in order to ultimately see the divine beauty of God himself who is unknowable. Man is then humbled, seeing himself in light of God who is all wisdom and understanding. (266-271). The Metalogicon does not mention “Beauty” but I do think that it is implied in reference to the Transcendentals when John repeatedly mentions “Goodness, Truth, & Reason.” His argument for the Trivium was for the attainment of eloquent wisdom and brings a great defense that reason and logic are Beautiful.

John’s emphasis on sensation and imagination as the foundation of philosophy (214-220) shows that philosophy itself is not simply logic alone. This is part of the genius of John of Salisbury’s work. The value of education is not simply robotic logical absolutes. True logic begins with, and often includes, sensation. “Accordingly, bodily sensation, which is the primary power or initial operation of our conscious soul, constitutes the basis for all the arts, and forms the initial knowledge which both clears and makes ready the way for first principles.” (216).

The journey of intellect and wisdom rests on the rising growth of the imagination. As the soul perceives things, images are retained and as the mind recalls these images, imagination rises higher (217). This building of imagination then leads to contemplation and rationalization resulting in logical dialog and reasonable conclusions. John of Salisbury’s strength in this argument is that he never abandons the importance of sensation and imagination in the development of wisdom. The defense of logical reasoning must benefit from and never abandon the imaginative.

The source of desire and hunger for knowledge begins with sensation as God, man’s creator, breathed this desire into man for reason. John states that, “…reason is defined as both a power and the activity of a power.” (226). That power being God. “For God, breathing life into man, which comes from, and will return to God, alone contemplates divine truths.” (227). John of Salisbury never abandons the truth of the Christian faith in his effort to defend philosophy and logic. The Metalogicon never abandons faith for logic, rather the work sees faith as crucial to the purpose of logic. Since God is the original reason (225), it is then logical to conclude that the role of reason and logic is to lead on to the origin, that is God. John of Salisbury writes, “In this connection, I believe that wisdom derives its name from the fact that good men have a discerning taste for the things of God.” (231). If good men then have a taste for all things good, the resulting journey to satisfy the taste resides in wisdom that is God’s wisdom. “For if it is to fecundate the soul to bear the fruits of philosophy, logic must conceive from an external source.”(100). Man’s wisdom alone is not the goal of the philosopher. Godly wisdom is the goal. Godly wisdom is what satisfies the craving for wisdom and is thus the purpose for developing the logical mind.

Great Books Honors College on Conversational Learning

On September 7, 2013, I participated in a colloquium about conversational learning with faculty and other students of Faulkner University’s Great Books Honors College. Before the colloquium, participants read selections from Mortimer Adler’s, How to Speak, How to Listen and Plato’s Republic.