Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Christians and the Imagination

There is an art series being produced by an artist at my school. It is called the Glory of God Collection. The collection contains some beautiful paintings. The artist of the collection is an excellent artist. Eventually, the artist plans to add commentary on the paintings to tell viewers what they mean. The idea of adding commentary to the paintings puzzles me. Why does the artist think he needs to interpret the paintings for the people? Recently, I heard a musician explain her lyrics on NPR. The host asked her what was her intended meaning for one of her songs? She was reluctant to tell the host because she thought that different people would interpret her music differently. A third example of our topic is how some Christians want to interpret everything in the Bible literally. This essay will try to engage these experiences by interacting with this week’s readings.
            The first reading came from William Lynch’s Christ and Apollo. The first characteristic of the imagination is its connection to the particular. Lynch asserts, “No matter what form the vision takes, however, or what its final goal--whether that be beauty, or insight, or peace, or tranquility, or God--the heart, substance, and center of the human imagination, as of human life, must lie in the particular and limited image or thing” (Lynch, 11). You must start below to get to the above. This is an example of the descent and the ascent. The path to the truth for the imagination is through images. Lynch tells of some wrong ways to get to the universal through the particular. Two of these ways are barely touching it to “produce the mystical vision” (16). Another is to touch lightly the particular to get to the self; to create particular feelings in the self. Lynch’s own position “pictures the imagination as following a narrow, direct path through the finite” (21). This is a description of the descent of the imagination which “also shoots up into insight” (21). Lynch asks how the literal and transcendent can be brought into harmony. His answer is that the reader should “discover symbols . . . [that] can make the imagination rise indeed, and keep all the tang and density of that actuality into which the imagination descends” (30). A good example of this would be Augustine’s principles of interpretation. He believed that Scripture had both literal and figurative meanings.
            The second reading was “Formalist and Archetypal Criticism” by Leland Ryken. He states that formalist theory “seeks to define the distinctive knowledge that literature and the arts express” (Ryken, 3). Is it scientific, historical, or some other truth? We might call it poetic truth. Formalist critics argue that literature “does not primarily convey ideas or scientific facts but instead embodies the very quality of human experience. Literature does not tell us about reality but recreated by various techniques of concretion” (4). Literature shows us through particular images. This is similar to what Anthony Esolen describes in his interview with Ken Myers. Esolen described how ironies time, power, and love characterizes the Christian faith and the Bible. First, time is not neutral. The particularity of time intersects with divine providence. The author of time can work in all kinds of turns and surprises. Another irony of Scripture is the irony of power. The incarnate Son of God comes as a servant and he suffers crucifixion at the hands of men, but it is through the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension that people are redeemed. The incarnation of the Son of God is a particular example of the intersection of the temporal and the eternal. Lynch notes, “St. Paul seems to attribute the ascension of Christ into heaven causally to His descent into the earth, and generally we ourselves will be stressing the great fact of Christology, that Christ moved down into all the realities of man to get to His father” (23). Christ comes down to redeem creation and rises for their justification. In addition, the incarnation shows both temporal man and eternal God existing in the same being. Third, is the irony of love. The continual witness of Scriptures is that God is love. He comes to earth not as a ruler, but as an innocent baby. God is unlike the Greek gods and Allah because He love his creation and He wants them to love Him in return.

            Each of these readings provides possible ways to engage our three examples. First, is the example of the artist who adds commentary to his paintings. Is this a good thing or is this a bad thing? Ryken states that the “Christian tradition has long held that truth comes to us in the image as well as the concept” (13). We could say that the image is the painting and the commentary is the concept. It seems we have two expressions here. One is the painting and the other is the commentary. It seems best to keep these expressions separate. Second, the musician’s words seem to answer our first example too. She says that people come away with different interpretations from her music. It seems adding commentary to the painting is forcing its view on the viewer. The last example is the experience of Christian believers forcing a literal interpretation on all parts of the Bible. Augustine instructs us not to interpret the literal figuratively and not to interpret the figurative literally. In addition, he seems to argue that the same passage can have both a literal and figurative meaning. It would be good to remember that Ryken stated that the Bible communicates through images and concepts. We must not confuse the two. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Christian Hermeneutical Reading

A Christian Hermeneutical Reading
By
John E. Shaffett

            Hermeneutical thinking was changed in the twentieth-century because of the failure of Romantic Hermeneutics (Lundin, Hermeneutics, 157). Romantic hermeneutics argued that to interpret a book, “we are facing a creative projection of truth that has arisen from within another human being. In understanding that creation, we cannot rely on our membership in a community or tradition to mediate its unique truth to us” (Lundin, 155). Basically, we need the “see the world” through the author’s eyes. Much of this theory was influenced by Rene Descartes who believed that to get “at the truth of things” required the thinker to set “aside all of his preconceptions about God, the world, and the self” (Lundin,158). This Cartesian tradition would be challenged by Martin Heidegger. He questioned Descartes’ claim “about our ability to cast aside our pre-understanding as we search for knowledge” (Lundin, 159).  He asserted that there was “no such thing as direct, unmediated perception. All of our judgements of things are informed by prior conceptions we hold” (Lundin, 159). This is the famous hermeneutical circle. Stanley Fish argued, “the text is accessible only through their interpretations of it, which determine what they see in the text” (Walhout, 274). In other words, the text is not separate from the reader’s personal beliefs. He does not see what is plainly there. The reader cannot understand or interpret without using his pre-understanding. Therefore, there is no escaping the fact that the reader is interpreting from some tradition. Since everyone reads or interprets from prejudices, according to Gadamer, what is the Christian reader to do? The reader should test their interpretation by the written text. Gadamer thought of understanding as a “form of dialogue in which the horizon of our prejudices is fused with that of the text we are reading or the individual with whom we are conversing, as we both attend to the object or truth in question” (162). For example, the author has certain ideas about a particular subject that he puts in a book. The reader has certain ideas and beliefs about the subject already. The reading of the book is a dynamic interaction between the reader and the book, a fusion of understanding. Different readers might draw different conclusions from the same book. What are the implications of the changes brought about by Heidegger and his followers for a Christian Hermeneutical reading?

            One implication is that there are more than “one legitimate way to read a text” (Lundin, 165).  Saint Augustine is an example of a person who practiced Christian hermeneutical reading. He thought that rival interpretations of a text could be true. Second, he believed there could be multiple meanings in a text. Augustine’s criteria required that each interpretation of Scripture should cultivate love of God and love of neighbor. He taught that certain virtues contributed to good interpretation and practicing charity in reading could develop particular virtues. For example, in his steps to wisdom, he names virtues like fear, piety, knowledge, and so on. Walhout thinks a Christian hermeneutical theory would seek to “discover what kind of critical practice advances shalom” (Walhout, 290). Shalom is human flourishing. A Christian hermeneutical theory would “recognize the role of the Christian virtues in critical orthopraxis” (290). For example, what does it mean to interpret a text with charity and justice? The work of Gadamer and others in his tradition can help Christians develop a Christian hermeneutic of reading from their own Christian tradition.

A Christ-Centered Education

Dean Brackley, "Higher Standards" in A Jesuit Education Reader edited by George W. Traub. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2008.

I have been reading A Jesuit Education Reader for a few weeks now and enjoying it. I read this essay this morning and I thought I might share some of its ideas. The author is talking about Jesuit/Catholic Education, but it can be applied to all Christian Education. Basically, the author states that we should pursue excellence in all areas: academic, spiritual, and moral. It is a shame that we usually have one without the others. We usually have a emphasis on academics or the spiritual life, not both. Why not pursue all three? Visiting Spring Hill College, we were told that Jesuits believed in Holistic education: educating the mind, soul, and the body.

First, the Christian college/university "should strive to understand the real world" (190). Ignacio Ellacuria, a Jesuit educator who was murdered in El Salvador "used to insist that reality is the primary object of study" (190). Jesuits believe that we cannot promote the faith or serve the faith without promoting justice for all. This has been a weakness from some evangelicals who believe you can separate preaching the gospel from working for social justice. Students should not graduate from college with little knowledge of the poor, the oppressed, homelessness, and their country's frequent wars. Many Americans are quite ignorant of "vital political issues;" not being able to distinguish between accurate news and fake news.

Second, the Christian college should "focus on the big questions" (190). Wisdom, not information, is the goal of education. Of course, we need to study "obscure insects and obscure authors and master the periodical table of elements" (190). But let us study about the meaning of life and what give life meaning. Let us study about truth, goodness, beauty, and God. "Let the most important questions structure learning--questions about the drama of life and death, about justice, and liberation, good and evil, grace and sin. The cross is at the center of our faith. Christ says we must go outside the camp and suffer. It is at the cross that we receive a better focus for our world.

Third, the Christian college needs to "free us from bias" (190). Teachers must listen to questions students are actually asking. Students must be taught to distinguish fact from fiction. They need to know how to spot sophistry and propaganda. "How are teachers to help students unmask deception today, when war is waged on false pretenses and Fox News claims to be impartial?" Seeking truth includes of being aware of our own hidden biases and interests. "Discovering truth requires reason integrally considered--that is, rooted in experience and practice and nourished by contemplation, affectivity, and imagination" (191). Only a reason "that engages the whole person" will result in wisdom. The use of reason is not enough. Education must engage the whole person. For example, service learning that engages the student in working with the poor and the suffering is part of a holistic education. It is important for students to serve others; to learn more about their world.

Fourth, a Christian college should "help students discover their vocation in life--above all, their vocation to love and serve." Spring Hill College, for example, has a four year plan to help students discover their vocation or calling. It is set up in three parts: first year, second/third year, and final year. Life is more than a paycheck. Christians are called to make a difference in the world. Students need help in discovering why they were put on this earth. They need a purpose for living.

A fifth standard is "economic diversity" for Christian colleges. Nelson Mandela stated that schools must develop students to solve the world's problems. He asserted that their central mission was the pursuit of the truth. He, then stated, that entrance to college should not be determined by our wealth; instead, full access should be given based on the student's ability. The diversity that schools encourage should include economic diversity. Ways needs to be developed that how much money a person has should not determine their access to a quality education.

A sixth standard is "truth in advertising." Christian colleges should welcome people from other faith, including people with no faith. Of course, our schools must be places where our faith studied, debated, and passed on. We should beware if our students are graduating with a first-rate education and a kindergarten faith. On the other hand, we should be ashamed if our schools do not provide a first-rate academic experience.

Lastly, Christian college should "speak to the wider world" (193). The American University in El Salvador calls this the "social projection." This term means that the "university communicates, or projects, social criticism and constructive proposals beyond the campus into the wider society" (193). John Paul II asserted, [Catholic Colleges must] "demonstrate the courage to express the uncomfortable truths, truths that may clash with public opinion but that are also necessary to safeguard the authentic good of society" (194). Christians must proclaim the gospel in word and deed.

Christian colleges have a high calling. They must pursue academic, spiritual, and moral excellence. They must not sacrifice the life of the mind by indoctrinating students, instead of educating them. They must provide opportunities for the students to develop both morally and spiritually as they mature intellectually. Christian colleges need to offer a holistic education. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Reading with Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine, On Christian Teaching, translated by J.F. Shaw.

Reading with Saint Augustine
By
John E. Shaffett

            Saint Augustine’s On Christian Teaching provides rules to help the reader to interpret Scripture. These rules can be used to develop a Christian theory of reading the Scriptures and other literature. Some of these guidelines are: the difference between things and signs; the rule of love; the seven steps to wisdom; diversity of interpretations; diversity of meanings; and distinguishing between literal and figurative interpretations. This essay will demonstrate the usefulness of these guidelines for developing a Christian theory of reading.
            Augustine believes it is important to distinguish between things and signs. He states, “All instruction is either about things or about signs; but things are learnt by means of signs” (8). Augustine teaches that some things are signs also. For example, smoke is a sign of fire. Second, some things are for use and some things are for enjoyment. Augustine asserts, “There are some things, then, which are to be enjoyed, others which are to be used, others still which enjoy and use. Those things which are objects of enjoyment make us happy. Those things which are objects of use assist, and (so to speak) support us in our efforts after happiness, so that we can attain the things that make us happy and rest in them” (8). Augustine is saying it is important to distinguish ends from means. The only thing to enjoy is what is able to make the reader happy. The only thing that can make him happy is God, and all other things is to be used to help him in his journey to God. He argues, “The true objects of enjoyment, then, are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are at the same time the Trinity” (9). What are these things that will help the reader in his journey to God? They are the steps to wisdom.
            There are seven steps to wisdom: First, fear of God; second, piety; third, knowledge; fourth, fortitude; fifth, love of others; sixth, purification; seventh, wisdom. The man who fears God will seek “diligently in Holy Scripture for a knowledge of His will” (53). This fear will make us aware “of our mortality and of death that is before us;” and the judgement that awaits us after death. This fear will make the reader pious before God and motivate his pious listening to God. The reader will be humble and meek and will not rebel when the Scriptures speak of his sins. The student will through the knowledge of Scripture learn about his sin and the need for repentance. He will learn that God’s will is for him to love God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love his neighbor as himself. This will require both resolution and fortitude in living out God’s command. To love as he ought, his heart will need to be purified. In addition, his eyes will need to be purified to see God. Once he reaches this step, he will be ready to make the ascent to wisdom. The seven steps to wisdom show that a Christian theory of reading will emphasize spiritual transformation, not just intellectual knowledge.
A second important guideline for a Christian theory of reading is distinguishing between literal and figurative interpretations. A literal passage should not be interpreted figuratively, and a figurative passage should not be interpreted literally. How will the reader know when to interpret a passage literally? Augustine answers, “Whatever there is in the word of God that cannot, when taken literally, be referred either to purity of life or soundness of doctrine; you may set down as figurative” (58). Augustine tells the reader if a passage of scripture interpreted literally cannot pass the rule of faith test or the rule of love test, it must be interpreted figuratively. For Augustine argues, “Now Scripture enjoins nothing except charity, and condemns nothing except lust” (58-59). Augustine’s hermeneutics is a hermeneutics of love because he asserts, “Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought. If, on the other hand, a man draws a meaning from them that may be used for building up of love, even though he does not happen upon the precise meaning which the author whom he reads intended to express in that place, his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception” (22). The Scriptures are to be interpreted with charity and it is to cultivate love of God and neighbor. How does one interpret the Scriptures with charity? The interpreter of Scripture or some other book interprets charitably when he pays attention to what the author is saying. He works hard in seeking to hear what the author is saying. The reader reads with humility and a teachable spirit. He seeks to understand before making a critical judgement of the text. A Christian theory of reading will develop a hermeneutics of charity.
Augustine’s final guideline to be considered in this essay is that there can be multiple interpretations and multiple senses in a passage of Scripture. First, Augustine affirms that various interpretations of the same passage can be true. He asserts, “When, again, not some one interpretation, but two or more interpretations are put upon the same words of Scripture, even though the meaning the writer intended remain undiscovered, there is no danger if it can be shown from other passages of Scripture that any of the interpretations put on the words is in harmony with the truth” (67). Second, Augustine affirms there can be multiple meanings in the same passage of Scripture. He argues, “For, what more liberal and more fruitful provision could God have made in regard to the Sacred Scriptures than that at the same words might be understood in several senses, all of which are sanctioned by the concurring testimony of other passages equally divine?” (67) A Christian theory of reading will allow for multiple interpretations and multiple meanings as long as they are supported by the work.
Augustine’s On Christian Teaching provides guidelines for developing a Christian theory of reading. First, it will emphasize that reading should be used for spiritual transformation, not just intellectual knowledge. Second, it will distinguish between literal and figurative interpretations. Third, it will cultivate a love for God and neighbor. Last, it will accept multiple interpretations and multiple meanings if they are supported by the text. 


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Saint Augustine, Harry Potter, and Gadamer

Several years ago, J.K. Rowling came out with the announcement that she had always saw Albus Dumbledore as gay. Of course, this would give the anti-Harry Potter people in the Conservative Christian community more ammunition to condemn the series. Why did she come out with the announcement years after the series was published? This event forced me to face the controversy about the intentions of the author. I was taught by my own Christian tradition that there was one interpretation, a literal interpretation; and that the job of the interpreter was to determine the author’s intention. So, J.K. Rowling said that she thought of Dumbledore as gay, and if I was to follow my tradition, I would agree with her. The problem I did not see Dumbledore as gay, and I had read the series at least three times. A second problem was that I thought literature could have multiple interpretations and they all could be true. For example, a literal interpretation, a moral interpretation, and a spiritual interpretation.
            In my course on scholarly writing with Dr. Stark, one of the required readings was Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Philosophical Hermeneutics. I was glad this book was on the reading list since I was dissatisfied with the Biblical hermeneutics I had been thought. Reading this book addressed many of my questions about hermeneutics and created others. One thing he did say was that the author did not own the interpretation; in fact, once the book was published, he was on a similar level with other interpreters. This reminded me about reading Walker Percy’s interviews and the secondary literature on Percy. Interpreters often disagreed with Percy on the interpretations of his own work. Then, you have Ray Bradbury disagreeing with readers of Fahrenheit 451 that the book was about censorship. Can Saint Augustine help us solve these issues?

            Saint Augustine, in his work, On Christian Teaching, addresses many of these issues. In some sense, he both agrees and disagrees with these different positions on author’s intention. Augustine believes that a good interpretation of Scripture will lead to love. He asserts, “Whoever, then thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought” (22). This seems to imply that if the author’s intended meaning conflict with the love rule, the love rule will overrule it. Augustine distinguishes between signs and things. Some things are only things, but some things serve as signs. Words are signs that point to things. Augustine does think the intention of the author is important: “Whoever takes another meaning out of Scripture than the writer intended, goes astray, but not through any falsehood in Scripture. . . . if his mistaken interpretation tends to build up love, which is the end of the commandment, he goes astray in much the same way as a man who by mistake quits the high road, but yet reaches through the fields the same place to which the road leads” (22). Augustine seems to think that the scripture is a thing to use, not enjoy. The purpose of scripture is to lead us to God. So, he accepts multiple interpretation as long as it fulfills the purpose of leading us to God. The goal of scripture is not a correct interpretation; instead, it is a transformed life.  

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Christian Poetic

Longinus in his work, On the Sublime, calls for both an elevation of thought and simplicity. In this work, he presents to the reader “an art of the sublime or lofty” (1). The Oxford Color Dictionary defines sublime: “1. Of great beauty or excellence. 2. Extreme or unparalleled.”[1] Longinus states that sublimity “is a certain distinction and excellence in expression” (1). The effect of sublimity on the audience is “transport,” not persuasion. He thinks the reader can resists persuasion, “but the influences of the sublime bring power and irresistible might to bear, and reign supreme over very hearer” (1). Longinus seems to be saying that the sublime creates in us an aesthetic experience where we meet the author in elevated thought. It is a work of imagination more than a work of reason. This is accomplished by “skill in invention and due order and arrangement of matter, emerging as the hard one result not of one thing or two, but of the whole texture of the composition, whereas Sublimity flashing forth at the right moment scatters everything before it like a thunderbolt, and at once displays the power of the orator in all its plentitude” (1). The order and arrangement of the composition is one of the principles of the sublime. Longinus essay on the sublime seems to demonstrate some of the things he is arguing. For example, his epistle is organized around his five principles of elevated language: 1. Power of forming great conceptions; 2. Passion; 3. Formation of figures; 4. Noble diction; 5. Dignified and elevated composition. How might sublimity inform a Christian poetic? This essay discusses how these five principles of the sublime could inform a Christian poetic.
            The most important principle, according to Longinus, is the “elevation of the mind” (6). Our souls must be nurtured on noble thoughts. It must be free of “low and ignoble thoughts” (6). This great soul is a person of moral character who has deep thoughts. This person has intelligence and wisdom from moral teaching and long years of practice. Noble thoughts will be demonstrated in the language used by the writer. Longinus surprisingly refers to Moses, “Similarly, the legislator of the Jews, no ordinary man, having formed and expressed a worthy conception of the might of the Godhead, writes at the very beginning of his laws, ‘God said’--what? ‘Let there be light, and there was light; let there be land, and there was land” (7). The author indicates great souls by mentioning people like Moses, Homer, Plato, and Sophocles. These are people above the ordinary. These are people that had great thoughts and wrote great words. These are authors that people continue to read thousands of years later. Longinus states, “When a thing is heard repeatedly by a man of intelligence, who is well versed in literature, and its effect is not to dispose the soul to high thoughts, and it does not leave in the mind more food for reflection than the words seem to convey, but falls, if examined carefully through and through, into disesteem, it cannot rank as true sublimity because it does not survive a first hearing. For that is really great which bears a repeated examination, and which it is difficult or rather impossible to withstand, and the memory of which is strong and hard to efface. In general, consider those examples of sublimity, to be fine and genuine which please all and always” (5). Are their Christian works that meets this high standard? There are many Christian works that demonstrate these characteristics: Dante’s Divine Comedy, Spencer’s The Faerie Queene, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and others. Examples of Modern Christian Art would be the writings of Flannery O’ Connor, Walker Percy, and William Faulkner, Graham Greene, Saul Bellows, and Wendell Berry. The author does not have to be Christian nor does the work need to address Christian themes directly to be considered Christian art. A Christian poetic will seek to emulate noble thoughts and lives, and it will transport the reader beyond their own world.
Two good models that demonstrate principles of a Christian poetic are C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It seems to fulfill all five principles of the Sublime. First, it forms conceptions of great power. Tolkien and Lewis creates uniques worlds which transports the reader to another time and place. They are works that call for repeated readings. They illustrate noble actions and noble character. Second, they illustrate “vehement and inspired passion” (5). For example, you have betrayal and the death of Aslan in The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. You have Frodo helped in fulfilling his mission by Golem’s biting off the ring and his finger. These works demonstrate the due formation of figures. For example, in The Silver Chair, Lewis gives us picture of the existence of truth, goodness, and beauty. It alludes to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Longinus states that authors should imitate and emulate “previous great poets and writers” (12). A fourth characteristic of the sublime described by  Longinus is “the choice of proper and striking words [that] attracts and enthralls the hearer” (24). Both Lewis and Tolkien through their language, diction, metaphors lift the reader out of their current context to a different world which ennobles them, delights them, and makes them wiser. The last principle of the sublime is “the arrangement of the words in a certain order” (30). This is seen by all the parts working together to produce a work of great power. The reader thinks about all the different parts of The Lord of the Rings and how they are different, but they all work together to depict a work of excellence. Longinus, On the Sublime, provides the Christian writer with five principles to help them create works of grandeur. In addition, we have Christians like Lewis and Tolkien to lead the way.



[1] The Oxford Color Dictionary edited by Angie Stevenson with Julia Elliott and Richard Jones. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 701.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Knowledge is Not Owned

James V. Schall, "Knowledge is not Owned" in Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught. South Bend, Indiana: ST. Augustine's Press, 2016.

I am giving my third read-through of Fr. Schall's book, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught. Schall is one of my favorite authors. Last week I was reading Horace's The Art of Poetry last week. It is an essay on how to write poetry. Horace was a Roman poet who lived before Christ. In this work, he states that an author should both delight and teach. This has been my experience in reading Schall is that I am both delighted and taught.

Schall wrote an essay that I have read many times. The essay is "What a Student Owes His Teacher." This is a surprising thought to students that they owe anything to their teacher. Schall states that the student owes the teacher the "willingness to do the sometimes hard work of learning." This idea might seem strange to many people since many people think students must be entertained. It is also a shock that to learn the important things requires hard work. A significant point that Schall makes is that this is one thing the teacher cannot give the student. The student must be willing to make the effort to learn. The primary agent is learning is the student, not the teacher. The teacher serves more like a guide. Learning is not something you can pour into the top of the student's head. To learn anything, the student's intelligence must be engaged. This willingness to learn is what Schalls calls docilitas.

Schall, in speaking about the desire to learn, asserts: "As a course progresses through a semester or a year, this willingness to be taught should rouse in the student something more. He should find in his soul a conscious desire to learn, a fascination with the whole enterprise, a sense that something exists out there that he wants to know" (3). This makes me think that the most important thing that we receive from education is the feeling of the incompleteness of our education and the desire to keep on learning. I started college over thirty years ago and my desire for learning has not left me. In reality, it makes me realize all that I do not know. Even a whole lifetime is not enough time to know all that we need to know. Schall asserts, "At the end of a course, a student ought to walk away satisfied that he learned something. But he is still fully aware that much is still there to know, deeper, more profoundly" (3). This reminds me of Plato's allegory of the cave which is an allegory of learning. We must rise from things that exist to the truth of things. We must contemplate the great ideas of beauty, truth, goodness, virtue, happiness, and other great ideas. This task cannot be accomplished in our schooling; it can only begin there.

Another truth is that learning facts are not the most important thing. Do not get me wrong; facts are important. However, we will forget more than we remember. The important thing is to have the desire to learn and keep on learning. We might even say that the student needs a passion for learning. Schall also says that the student "should experience a genuine pleasure" in learning. Schall adds, "this excitement and delight are not things that a teacher can give to a student" (3). A teacher can model this eagerness for learning. In addition, the teacher can introduce the student to the world of learning. The student, however, must have this desire for learning within themselves. They need to pursue the truth with a passion. Plato even said that the student needs an eros for wisdom. Schall is a good guide for the student with an eagerness to learn.

 

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Utilitarian View of Reading

Leland Ryken lists eight ways to misread great literature. The third way is to “look upon the classics as ‘improving literature’ (10).” One way to consider Ryken’s point is to think of reading as a spiritual exercise to improve one’s character. It is similar to listening to a sermon, praying, or listening to a lecture. Ryken suggests “that we view the classics as a form of entertainment first of all” (10). Cicero in his essay on the value of literature provides different reasons for the value of literature. Some of these reasons are: “provides my mind with refreshment after the din of the courts; . . . soothes my ears to rest when they are wearied by angry disputes” (395); provides material for his many speeches; better than participating in riotous living; and others. The argument in Cicero’s essay and a good bit of this week’s discussion seem very utilitarian to me. A typical definition for utility is “the state of being useful or profitable.” This post will argue that utility is an insufficient goal of reading.
Is Cicero really arguing for the utilitarian view of reading? First, is Cicero really arguing for a utilitarian view of reading. It seems like he does. Many of the reasons he provides for the value of literature are legitimate. Reading both refreshes and relaxes the reader after a hard day of work (395). It does provide material for speaking and writing (395). It does provide models worth emulating (396). Lastly, it does have a “broadening and enlightening effect” (397). Cicero, however, seems to be over-arguing his point which leads me to believe that he is trying to justify the extensive amount of time spent reading books. For example, he states that reading has not prevented him from helping people (395-396). He seems to be justifying when he says “I cannot therefore, I submit, be justly rebuked or censured if the time which others spend in advancing their own personal affairs, taking holidays and attending Games, indulging in pleasures of various kinds . . . the time they spend on protracted parties and gambling and playing ball, proves in my case to have been taken up with returning over and over again to these literary pursuits” (396). This is not evidence of someone with a utilitarian view of reading. Cicero was a person who practiced the liberal arts and he saw reading as a liberal art. It was something that was an end in itself.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

To Censor or not to Censor

Plato bans the poets from the ideal state in his Republic because he believes that dramatic poetry will corrupt the morals of the people. He thinks that the poets have “a terrible power to corrupt even the best characters, with very few exceptions” (Plato 203). He provides an example to prove his point. He tells how we enjoy the free exercise of emotions in attending a dramatic performance, but we would restrain from doing this in our personal life. For example, we would admire a man acting “womanish” in a play, but in real life we would react with disgust to a man acting this way. Plato thinks that allowing our emotions a free reign in attending a dramatic performance will make it “difficult to restrain our feelings in our own” life (204).
            In some sense, Aristotle agrees that the poets could have a negative influence on morals. He thinks this applies more to comedy than tragedy and epic poetry. For example he states, comedy “is an imitation of people of a lower sort, though not in respect to every vice; rather, what is ridiculous is part of what is ugly” (Aristotle 25). In addition, he thinks the spectacle “is the component most foreign to the art and least inherent in poetry” (29). It is the least important of the different means “to draw the soul” (29). In contrast, he thinks tragedy and epic poetry can have a positive impact on the soul. He gives the following definition of tragedy: “Tragedy, then is an imitation of an action of serious stature and complete, having magnitude, in language made pleasing in distinct forms in its separate parts, imitating people acting and not using narration, accomplishing by means of pity and fear the cleansing of these states of feeling” (26). This definition provides positive characterization of tragedy. First, it dramatizes a serious action that has magnitude, beauty, and is pleasing because of its skill. Second, by means of pity and fear, it cleanses the feelings of the soul.
            It seems that both Aristotle and Plato admire the skill of Homer. Socrates tells Glaucon: “you may agree with them that Homer is the best of the poets and the first of tragedians” (204). At the least, Plato is saying that Homer is a poet of great skill. Second, he acknowledges the influence Homer has on people, even himself. Socrates asserts, “let us freely admit that if drama and poetry written for pleasure can prove to us that they have a place in a well-run society, we will gladly admit them for we know their fascination only too well ourselves” (204). Plato is saying that he would love to have the poets in the city, but because of the possibility of the corruption of morals, the poets must be banned. He does, however, leave the option of the poets defending poetry in prose “and proving that she doesn’t only give pleasure but brings lasting benefit to human life and human society” (205). This seems similar to the common argument that literature should delight and inform.
            Plato’s argument that the poets must defend themselves in prose is ironical. It reminds me of some of the comments made by Scott Cairns in his interview with Ken Myers. He acknowledges that poetry is both content and form. Cairns said that people look at words in two different ways. One way sees words as transparencies because you look through them to the ideas they present. In other words, you can describe the ideas in prose. Leland Ryken argues against this idea in his article on the classics. These ideas will look like a “collection of lifeless platitudes” (Ryken 8). He states that many of the ideas in Shakespeare's plays could have been written by a mediocre writer. C. S. Lewis thought reducing literature to its ideas “is an outrage to the thing the poet has made for us” (Ryken 9). The second perspective is that words are opaque, things in and of themselves. So, according to this second way of looking at words, the poets cannot look through their words to get to the ideas behind the words.

            Both Aristotle and Plato saw certain vices in the poets. They both admired the skill of Homer. Plato even remarked that Homer had a certain power over them. Aristotle, however, saw the usefulness in tragedy and epic poetry. Aristotle even thought that the poets could produce wonder and that this was “the mark that is end at which the art itself aims” (62). One might even say that through pity and fear, poetry humanizes us. Plato seems to emphasize the harm that the poets could cause; while, Aristotle emphasizes how poetry benefits us. It seems Plato, like the modern sensor, says if there is anything bad in the book, get rid of it. In contrast, Aristotle says keep the book if there is any good in it. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Letter to MY Anxious Christian Friends

David P. Gushee, A Letter to my Anxious Christian Friends: From Fear to Faith in Unsettled Times, WJK, 2016, 130 pages, ISBN 978-0-664-262686

The 2016 Presidential election reveled the deep divide or polarization in our country. The presidency of Donald Trump has been a lightening rod. Many Christians feel unsettled in our changing times. Many Christians unsure how they should respond to hot button issues, such as race, police, sex, abortion, immigration and other issues. David P. Gushee is the Professor of Christian Ethics and the Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. He has felt the anxiety and observed it in the Christian community. He seeks to help Christians to better understand these issues. Gushee's background is evangelical and his major intended audience seems to be white evangelicals who strongly identify with the Republican party. Gushee does not hope for "any kind of recovery of a religious or moral consensus" (16) Neither does he think that there is "hope for some kind of traditional Christian resurgence or conservative movement to 'take back America.' Our divisions are two deep, our differences too entrenched, and the raw exercise of political power by Christians to coerce adherence to values many people have abandoned would be both bad governance and bad Christian witness" (16).

A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends should be a helpful resource to hep Christians explore difficult and complicated issues. Some of the issues explored in this book are homosexuality, guns, immigration, Obamacare, climate change, abortion, and others. The author seems to explore these issues in a calm manner, guiding the reader between the polarization of the right and left. This book includes twenty letters (chapters) to begin a conversation on these issues. The author seems to be a more than capable guide to the reader through these highly relevant political and social issues. The first few chapters discusses the relationship between Christians, America, and democracy. The author believes we should not give ultimate loyalty to any political party. In his letter on the fracturing of America, he states that "large parts of our media have joined the polarization" (34). We have seen this in the reporting of Breitbart, Fox News, NY times, and other news outlets. In his letter on race, he states, "white racism became a deeply woven part of American culture" (54). In his letter on the police, he asserts that it is tough to be a black parent "afraid that your son or daughter won't make it home from a white section of town because they might be killed by a police officer" (62). He argues that the immigration issue seems to never go away. He thinks a good solution is a "type of comprehensive immigration reform that finds a way to welcome most of the eleven million who are here but also finds a way to secure our borders" (80). On his letter on guns, he believes that the "premises of our gun culture need to be challenged. The most dangerous of these is that having three hundred million guns in civilian hands makes us safer" (87). He point out a major source of the disbelief in climate change: "A sense of mission focused exclusively on the eternal salvation of human souls rather than anything much that happens here contributes to a kind of constitutional indifference to human affairs. An overall distrust of modern science, especially natural science, remains a residue of the evolution fights that have never really gone away since Darwin" (99). Other issues discussed are war, executions, education, and healthcare.

David Gushee seeks to explore these issues from a Christian perspective. Every reader will not agree with his conclusions. He seems to handle the different positions taken on these various issues.

Hymn Book for Pilgrims

Hymnbook for Pilgrims

Hugo Meynell states, “Novels, plays and poems convey insights and stimulate reflection, but by an indirect mode of operation, in which the immediate effect of the words is to evoke images, memories and feelings.”[1] This is a good way to describe the reading of literary works. Nonfiction works communicates directly. In contrast, literary works operate indirectly through images and feelings. The book of psalms was the hymnbook of the Jews. It was recited and sung in the temple. Reading the psalms invokes different feelings: joy, sorrow, celebration and anger. For example, Psalm twenty-three is read frequently at funerals. It is probably my favorite psalm. I have ready it many times over the years when I have experienced feeling low. It always encourages me. Psalm twenty-three portrays God as our shepherd. This brings to the memory the image of human shepherds and how they care for their sheep. The reader can picture the sheep lying content in the grass after eating. Another image is the sheep drinking from still waters. The reader knows that the sheep will not drink from moving waters. These are two basic needs that everyone has. The psalmist is saying that we can trust God to take care of our basic needs.
            Another human need is guidance. The psalmist says that the shepherd will guide the sheep by “quiet waters.” In addition, “He leads me on pathways of justice (78).” This has always been a comfort to me that God will lead and guide us. As a shepherd leads his sheep in the path to follow; so will God. The shepherd will also be with the sheep in difficult times. The psalmist asserts, “Though I walk in the vale of death’s shadow, I fear no harm, for you are with me (79).” This is very comforting to know that God will be with us through difficult times. One of the things that many people fear is death. The psalmist encourages by telling us that we will “dwell in the house of the Lord for many long days (80).” This psalm tells us that God will be with us through all our days. We do not need to fear because God is our Shepherd, and we will not want any good thing. Psalm twenty three like all good literature provides images that gives us insight about God’s care.
            Psalm one is another psalm I have read many times overs the years. One of the biggest questions of life is how am I going to live my life? This psalm provides help in this question. We can learn from both good and bad examples. Literature often provides insight by portraying both good and bad examples to follow. In Psalm one the psalmist describes the path of the righteous and the wicked. The psalmist asserts, “Happy the man who has not walked in the wicked’s counsel, nor in the way of offenders has stood, nor in the session of the scoffers has sat” (3). This seems to portray a progression from listening to the counsel of the ungodly to scorning the way of the righteous. Instead of listening to the advice of the counsel, we are to meditate day and night on God’s word. This Word will provide direction for our life. As another Psalm says, Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light to my path.” The psalmist portrays the ultimate result: the righteous will be like a “tree planted by streams of water, that bears its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (4). The righteous will prosper all their days. The image of a tree and fruitfulness indicate the attractiveness of this way of life. The wicked, instead, are like “chaff that the wind drives away” (4). A tree is rooted and stable; chaff, however, is unstable and is blown here and there.
            Psalm seventy three is another psalm that has impacted my life. Nonfiction works tells us what is the truth; literature, in contrast, shows us the truth. This psalms helps us experience the experience of someone who questions justice in this world. He explains that his “feet had almost strayed” because he envied the wicked (252). The reason he did is because they prospered and the godly suffered. The wicked were arrogant and spoke against God, but they did not seem to suffer. This is a concern of many people: why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? One can think of Job and the tragedies he experienced. The psalmist even thought, “But in vain I have kept my heart pure” (254). How many young people who live good, moral lives and are not popular and are sometimes derided or scorned? They often question if it is worth the effort to live moral lives. The psalmist states that it was not until he entered the sanctuary did he see the truth. God had put the wicked “on slippery ground, brought them down to destruction” (255). He saw things from God’s perspective and that justice will be served in the end. This psalm teaches us that we can trust God. It teaches us that we serve a just God and the wicked will reap what they sow. This psalm promises that God will guide us with His counsel and lead us to glory. It portrays God as a rock that we can depend on.
            I could have written about many other psalms that have made an impact on my life. We can see that the book of psalms operate in the reader as good literature. It connects with us in all our different feelings: joy, sadness, anger, and others. It provides insight and perspective about living our lives as pilgrims in this world. In addition, it speaks indirectly to us through images, symbolism, and metaphors. Finally, it can be recited or sung. It is the hymn book for Christian [1] [2] pilgrims.



[1]Hugo A. Maynell, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Bernard Lonergan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 97.  



Christians Should Read the Classics

Christians Should Read the Classics
By
John E. Shaffett

In Ken Myers interview with Craig Gay, both Myers and Gray asserts the importance of language, especially words. Language and words should be even more important for Christians than Non-Christians since the supreme revelation of the Christian faith is communicated through words. Despite this truth, many Christians are non-readers. Why should Christians read the classics? Leland Ryken states that a classic “modifies our very being and makes us feel . . . that we are not the same men and women we were when we began” (On Classics 1). Ryken provides different characteristics of a classic. First, it is a book that endures, that is characterized by permanence. For example, the Book of Psalms has endured for thousands of years, but it still is read with great profit. A second characteristic of a classic is that it “possesses excellence in both content and form” (Ryken 2). It is the best book of its class (genre). Homer’s works are the best Greek epics; Shakespeare’s plays are the best of the Renaissance drama; Dante’s Divine Comedy is the best or one of the best works of poetry for all time. In other words, these type of works demonstrate excellence in both what it communicates and how it communicates. Another characteristic of a classic is that it greatly affects the experience of the reader. C.S. Lewis states that great works of literature enlarges one being.

What are some of the obstacles to Christians reading the classics? Some Christians are opposed to reading great literary works because they believe that fictional works tell lies. They think only non-fiction books tell the truth. An argument can be made that great literary works are more truthful than non-fiction works. Madeleine L’Engle asserted, “the encyclopedia gives us the facts but the arts give us the truth” (Ryken 4). Ryken believes that fiction can “illuminate human experience better than facts ordinarily do” (Ryken 4). A second obstacle is that Christian readers think that “everything in a work of literature is offered for our approval” (Ryken 4). This is a reason many conservative Christians only read Christian fiction. They think they would have to read about things that they have strong feelings against. Literature, however, presents both good and bad examples. It shows what it is like to live in a fallen world; it motivates the reader to confront the great questions of life. Other obstacles to reading classics is that Christians are opposed to reading works authored by non-Christians because it does not tell the truth. On the contrary, even non-Christians can tell the truth because God is the author of all truth. Because of common grace, both believers and nonbelievers, are enabled by God to perceive truth, beauty, and goodness. The last obstacle is that some Christians do not think that old books are relevant today. Universal truths spoken by old books are still relevant today. In addition, old books keep us from being taken captive by modern culture.   

Friday, August 11, 2017

Two Essays on the University

Josef Pieper, What Does "Academic" Mean?: Two Essays on the Chances of the University Today. Translated by Dan Farrelly and introduction by James V. Schall. South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine's Press, 2015. 82 pages. ISBN 978-1-58731-933-4

This short book contains two lectures that Josef Pieper presented at the University of Munster in Germany in 1950. This is the first time it has been published in English. These two essays analyzes the purpose of the university and what does the word "Academic" mean and how its meaning is related to the purpose of the university. Pieper traces the word, academic, to Plato's academy. Pieper thinks the primary thrust of the academic is theoretical, not practical. The second essay focuses on how philosophy's subject is the totality of being.

James V. Schall wrote the introduction to this book. He states that a university "is not an economic or business corporation, nor is it a political institution. It is not a church, a union, or a club. While it has relations to and dealings with all of these otherwise existing institutions of culture and public order, it is itself. It is 'set apart' lest the highest things we can know through serious reflection be neglected" (ix). Schall is saying that the university has its own purpose and that purpose is to know the truth of things. It is a place where "everything can be discussed--not just discussed, but known as true or false. We need to know the purpose of the University to know whether or not it is achieving its purpose. It does seem that the university tends to seek other things, instead, of its true purpose.

An important point of this book is the role of philosophy in the university. Pieper says that philosophy is not really a subject, it is an act. It is the act of philosophizing. Schall asserts, "philosophy means individuals in every discipline, students and thinkers, who think philosophically, who have the habit of confronting what actually is " (x). Philosophy is openness to the whole of reality. This point and this book is related to Pieper's book on leisure. There must be a place set apart from to normal business to contemplate the whole of reality.

Another point made by Pieper is that philosophy must be open to knowledge in all disciplines, even theology. In addition, he believes philosophy "exists in conversation and listening as demonstrated in Plato's dialogues. He believes that Plato's Academy is still the model for the modern university. He states that Plato's academy was a philosophical school. Based on this fact, academic means philosophical and an academic institution is a philosophical one. Philosophical means theoretical, not practical. Theoretical basically means, "an attitude towards the world which is only concerned with the fact that things reveals themselves as they are." This requires a silence, and a listening to what is.  To be "aiming at truth and nothing else is the essence of theoria" (8).

Josef Pieper has covered much ground in this short book. He helps us to remember the purpose of the university and the role of philosophy in the university. In addition, he shows us that the focus of the university should be achieving truth or knowing the truth of things and this is achieved through focusing on the theoretical.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pope Benedict XVI: Faith, Reason and the University Part 2

Outline of Pope Benedict's Lecture

  1. He reflects on his early days as a professor at the University of Bonn. 
  2. He states how the theology faculty shared with the other faculties the responsibility for the "right use of reason."
  3. The university was proud of the theology faculty, and this faculty inquired about the reasonableness of faith.
  4. He says that it is still reasonable "to raise the question of God through the use of reason."
  5. He states that violence is "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul." It is against reason and God to spread the faith through violence.
  6. God is a God of reason. There exists a "profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the Biblical understanding of faith in God."
  7. In the gospel of John, the evangelist says that God is logos which means reason and word--"A reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason."
  8. The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought happened because of God's providence, not chance.
  9. During the Hellenistic period, Biblical faith and the best of Greek thought were mutually enriching.
  10. It was in the late Middle Ages that Greek thought and Biblical faith was first separated by Dun Scotus and voluntarism.
  11. The pope disagrees with Muslim teaching that says God is not "bound to truth and goodness" because He is exalted beyond them. Instead, the Christian faith has always asserted that a real analogy exists between reason and God.
  12. There are three stages of Dehellenization. The first occurred with the Protestant reformers because they thought that in scholastic theology they confronted a "faith system totally conditioned by philosophy." A faith system alien to the Biblical faith. The principle of sola scriptura sought faith in a pure form as originally found in the Biblical record. Metaphysics was considered a foreign source. When Kant stated that thinking must be set aside to make room for faith, he carried the reformers program further than they probably would have wanted to go.
  13. The liberal theology of the 19th and 20th centuries ushered in the second stage of DeHellenization. Adolf von Harnack is its leading representative. Harnack's basic idea was to return the man Jesus to his simple message before it was layered with theology. 
  14. Another part of this stage is the synthesis made between Cartesianism and empiricism. This synthesis "presupposes the mathematical structure of matter." It is that structure that makes it possible to understand nature. In addition, it emphasizes exploiting nature for our own benefit. Third, "only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield decisive certainty."
  15. Only the kind of certainty that comes from the mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Therefore, history, psychology, sociology, and philosophy is forced to "conform to this science of canon of scientificity." Of course, this method leaves out the "question of God." If science is only this, then it leads to the reduction of men and women, "for the specific human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by science, so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective."
  16. We are in the third stage of DeHellenization. Because of cultural pluralism, it is said today that the "synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was an initial inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures." The pope disagrees. He thinks that the "fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and human reason are part of the faith itself."
  17. The pope's reason for this critique of modern thought is for the purpose "of broadening our concept of reason and its application." I have always preferred Thomas Aquinas' view of reason than modern man. The pope is asserting that reason is broader than the empirically falsifiable. 
  18. Theology belongs in the university as "inquiry into the rationality of faith." Both philosophy and theology in "listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding."
  19. It is the task of the university to rediscover this breadth of reason.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pope Benedict: Faith, Reason and the University

Gained Horizons: Regensburg and the Enlargement of Reason edited by Bainard Cowan. South Bend, IN: ST. Augustine's Press, 2011. 128 pages ISBN 978-1-58731-325-7.

Pope Benedict delivered a lecture at the University of Regensburg on Faith, Reason, and the University on 12 September 2006. It became quickly controversial because he reflected on some comments made by the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paeleogus. Muslims reacted violently because of remarks made by the Byzantine emperor and reflected on by the former pope. Basically, the comments had to do with Muslims and spreading the faith by violence. The offensive words was: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was knew, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached" (112). The pope's point was that spreading the faith by violence was unreasonable. In addition, "violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the soul." The main point was that acting in violence was acting against reason which was contrary to God's nature. The Muslim teaching taught that God was transcendent, and that His will "was not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality'(113).  The pope is using this historical event to lead into his address about the relationship between faith, reason, and the university. He ties the nature of God with logos-reason. He believes that the university and modern culture must broaden their concept of reason. It must discover the breadth of reason. Modern man's view of reason is too limited. The pope argues there is a real harmony between the best of Greek thought and the Christian faith. He discusses three different stages of dehellenization: the reformation; liberal theology of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the separating faith and human reason.

Gained Horizons: Regensburg and the Enlargement of Reason is a collection of essays that responds to the Pope's lecture. The contributors addressed the lecture from their different disciplines: philosophy, theology, political thought and literary criticism. It analyzes the "broader nature of reason" and the modern forces that work against it in "politics, culture, and education." Some of the leading thinkers are represented in this volume. Jean Betheke Elshtain states that the God approachable by reason is the source of rulers being subject to laws. Peter Augustine Lawler discusses human and divine reason as expressed by the American founders. Marc Guerra discusses how reason and faith was mutually nurtured in the Western Tradition. Nalin Ranasinghe argues that reason as developed in the Greek tradition is an "essential" part of Christianity. It cannot be de-hellenized without harm. Bruce Fingerhut states that voluntarism addressed in the lecture was a source of the violence that reacted to it. However, the greater impact was the voluntarism  in Western theology beginning with nominalism in the Middle Ages. Glenn Arbery shows how people are imprisoned in theory in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. R. R. Reno criticizes the modern university because of a lack of ambition in regards to reason. He shows how Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict were defenders of reason. Mary Mumbach discusses the courage shown by Benedict in his lecture. The book contains the complete lecture delivered by Pope Benedict in the appendix. Both the pope's lecture and the essay responses argue for the importance of reason and its harmony with the Christian faith.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Jesuit Model of Education

"The Jesuit Model of Education" was a lecture given at a conference for educators, especially principals, in 2004 by Fr. Michael McMahon. He does a good job in describing the history, objectives, religious emphasis, ends or purposes, means, teaching, curriculum, the role of the classics, and so on. Many of the points made by the authors could be applied to Protestant education.

First, the author describes the history of Jesuit education. He states that even those who criticize Roman Catholicism recognize the great good accomplished by Jesuit education. The Jesuits was founded in 1540 by Ignatius Loyola. The Jesuits were organized for evangelization and apostolic ministry. They quickly realized that the "way to defend the Faith was through education." Jesuits have been educating Catholics for almost 500 years. The Jesuit model of education is based on the Ratio Studiorum,, the Jesuit manual of education. McMahon states, "The landmark achievement of the Jesuits was to give order, hierarchy, structure, unity, and methodology to education." The Ratio Studiorum does not emphasize the theoretical side of education; instead, it focuses on the practical method of organizing and "conducting" schools.

Objectives

Why did the Jesuits make education an important work of the order? The founder of the order helps us understand the motivation of the Jesuits: "The end of the Society is not only to care for the salvation and perfection of their own souls with divine grace, but with the same [divine grace] seriously devote themselves to the salvation and perfection of their neighbors. For it was especially instituted for the defense and propagation of the Faith, and the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine." In other words, the motivation was the salvation of their own souls and the souls of others. The Jesuit philosophy of education combined the scholastic philosophy with the teachings of the church, faith and reason. What was of utmost importance was a correct understanding of "human nature as created by Almighty God and the ultimate destiny of man."

We can say that Jesuit education was preparation for both life in this world and for "everlasting life." Their goal was to form the souls of young people for God. The concept of "form" is very important to the model of Jesuit education. They are trying to create a certain type of person. The author notes, "We are intimately involved in the formation of citizens for heaven, souls made for the beautific vision." The Jesuit model of education is not just speaking about the training of the mind. They emphasize the formation of the whole person, mind, body, soul, and character. In addition, they believe the religious end of man or religion needs to permeate every class, not just religious classes.

The Ends

The ultimate end of Jesuit education is to "lead students to the knowledge and love of God." They want to form students a love and knowledge of God, a love and knowledge of the Catholic faith, an enthusiasm for the Catholic faith, and people who will manifest the importance of the Catholic faith in their lives. They are attempting to form Christ in each of their students. McMahon states, "The proximate educational aims are, first, to develop all the powers of the body and soul. It's the whole man that is being formed: his body, senses, memory, imagination, intellect, and will. It is developing, disciplining, and directing all the capacities of the human personality." This is what Jesuits think should be the purpose of education. The Ratio Studiorum states, "The development of the student's intellectual capacity is the school's most characteristic part. However, this development will be defective and even dangerous unless it is strengthened and completed by the training of the will and the formation of character."

Curriculum

The first principle of the curriculum is that "The curriculum is to achieve formation, not just information." I have already mention how important the word form or formation are to the Jesuit model of education. McMahon states, "The curriculum is structured to develop the intellectual and moral habits to form the character." It was a consistent theme of Christian education to form both the mind and character. Part of the goal is to create in the student the skills of learning. There is similarity with the Jesuit Model of education and Mortimer Adler's padeia proposal. The author states that simply providing information does not form the soul. The methodology of Jesuit education was to form the man in such a way that he will be able to think for himself. To think well is accomplished by developing intellectual and moral habits in the student. The second principle of the curriculum is that the "study is to be intensive rather than extensive." Since the goal is to form, not simply to inform the student, and the way to do this is by being intensive, "by studying in depth a relatively small number of subjects rather than superficially studying a large number." It also emphasizes studying the most important things thoroughly. There seems to be much wisdom in the two principles of the curriculum. It does seem that modern education puts too much emphasis on inputting information, instead of forming the student by developing intellectual and moral habits. It also seems true that studying less is studying more.

The Classics

McMahon said for the high school, Jesuits thought that studying the humanities--literature, language, and history was the most important thing. They thought that studying these subjects, without excluding others, "contributed to the balanced formation of the human being, making him a fit receptacle for the grace of God." This is true because the humanities teach "abiding and universal values for human values." They emphasized studying the great classics, books, and authors. They believed the great books were helpful in forming the person. They believed "The great thoughts and the noble deeds seem to make the pages palpitate life." Homer's heroes and their deeds, for example, "flames in the mind long after the music of the language died from the ear, and the beauty of the imagery has faded from the memory." It is these things and things similar that calls for the best in humans which educates them. It should teach praise for what is noble and scorn for what is base. Much of the truths learned through reason will fits snugly with the truths of the Christian faith. McMahon states, "By utilizing these perennial works, the Jesuits formed the soul by noble deeds and great acts; inspired their students and provided a vision for the young mind. These are abiding concepts in education and is why it is so necessary to build our schools upon them. By such studies, the Jesuits fostered in their students the ability to think worthwhile thoughts and express them effectively." In addition, the Jesuits emphasized providing worthwhile knowledge, not just learning anything; encourage students to think things through with their teachers and their peers; to organize their knowledge in a workable form, and to express it effectively. All three columns  of Adler's Padeia Proposal are emphasized in the Jesuit model of education. The Jesuits emphasized the eloquenta perfecta: "knowing the right things, knowing them well, being able to organize them properly, and express them in the proper manner."

These are some of the important points I noticed in the presentation of the Jesuit model of education. Many of these things would be useful for evangelicals in educating their students. One might question the emphasis on memory work, and the emphasis on the teacher. Jesuits have been educating students for over 400 years. It seems that not only Catholics, but other groups should utilize their principles of education.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Paidea Proposal: Mortimer Adler's Proposal to Reform Education

Mortimer J. Adler, The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto, Simom & Schuster, 1998, 84 pages, ISBN 978-0-684-84188-5.

The Padeia Proposal is Mortimer Adler's proposal for reforming public education. This book presents his philosophy for reforming K-12 public education. Paideia is from the Greek pais, paidos: the upbringing of a child. It is similar to the Latin humanitas related to the term humanities which refers to the general learning that is needed to become an educated human being. Adler's basic proposal is how schooling can help students to become educated persons.

Adler believes that this type of education is required because of two advances in Western Civilization: "universal suffrage and universal schooling." Universal schooling refers to the privilege that all people once they reach a certain age have the right to vote. The second is that individuals are required to go to school for several years. One requirement of this schooling is to prepare students to fulfill their citizenship duties.

Adler believes there should be "a one-track system of schooling." In other words, he believes there should be one type of education for all students. In disagrees with the two track system of sending one group of students to college prep courses and another group of students to vocational courses. He believes that the best education for the best should be the best education for all. He thinks schooling should prepare students "for the duties of self-governing citizenship and for the enjoyment of things of the mind and spirit that are essential to a good human life." The end of education should determine the means of education. John Dewey said that vocational training is "not the education of free men and women." Adler agrees that students are "educable in various degrees," but he still believes that all students should receive the "same kind and quality of education."

Adler sees education as "a lifelong process of which schooling is only a small but necessary part." He believes schooling is to provide the tools to become educated in a lifetime. He thinks the ultimate goal of schooling "is to help human beings become educated persons." He generally thinks that people do not become educated till they reach their fifties. He believes that becoming educated requires both schooling and experience. In addition, he thinks schooling that "does not prepare the individual for further learning has failed, no matter what else it succeeds in doing." Schooling should not only prepare the student for further learning; it should also "prepare all of them for the continuation of education in adult life."

How can schools accomplish this task? Adler argues that they can do this "by imparting to them the skills of learning and giving them the stimulation that will motivate them to keep their minds actively engaged in learning." The skills of learning are basically the liberal arts: read, writing, speaking, listening, measuring, evaluating, and thinking. By having these skills the students will be able to be lifelong learners. To live well involves both learning "as well as earning."

The Padeia Proposal includes four parts. The first part covers the philosophy of schooling citizens of the rebublic which was covered above. The second part discuuses the "essentials of basic schooling." These include: The same objectives for all; the same course of study for all; overcoming initial impediments; and individual differences. The chapter on the same objectives for all discusses why the Padeia Proposal "advocates the same objectives for all without exception." He believes that having the same objectives for all is the way to achieve the goal of preparing the student to continue learning after they leave school. Students should be able "look forward not only to growing up but also to continued growth in all human dimensions throughout life." A two track system works against this goal. It provides only some students the means to achieve this end. A second reason is the need to prepare students for citizenship duties and responsibilities. The third reason is the student will need "to earn a living in one or another vocation."

In chapter four he describes the method of proving this basic schooling for all students. He divides schooling into three columns of learning. Column one is the "acquisition of organized knowledge." This is acquired through lectures and responses, and textbooks and other aids. The second column is developing the intellectual skills through "coaching, exercises, and supervised practice" by performing the operations of reading, writing, listening, speaking, calculating, problem solving, measuring, estimating, and exercising critical judgement. The last column is enlarging understanding and values through socratic questioning and active participation in the discussion of books (not textbooks), and involvement in other artistic activities. Schools today tend to spend most of their time if not all their column of column 1--didactic instruction and the use of textbooks.

Part three discusses teaching and learning. It includes a chapter on preparing teachers and  a chapter on the principal. Another chapter describes some things that need to be kept in mind. First, "all genuine learning" is active, not passive. It exercises the mind, not just the memory. How do we involve the mind in learning? We do it "by inviting and entertaining questions, by encouraging and sustaining inquiry, by supervising helpfully a wide variety of exercises and drills, by leading discussions . . ." All learning is by discovery either with aid from someone else or no aid from another. Most learning is done by receiving assistance from someone else. Someone who knows what needs to be learned. However, it is not by poring the information in the student's head. This is a form of brainwashing, not teaching. The main actor in learning is the learner himself with assistance from another. The teacher is like a midwife helping a woman to deliver a baby. It is the pregnant woman who is doing all the work. The midwife is assisting the woman to deliver the baby. Adler thinks Dewey's assertion that learning is by doing is often misinterpreted. He believes Dewey is talking about intellectual doing. The student learn to read by reading, to write by writing, and so on. The teacher is to guide the student in helping them to develop the intellectual skills of learning. Adler believes the third column needs to be emphasized more where the student both asks and answers questions.

The last part of The Padeia Proposal discusses issues beyond basic schooling. The first chapter of this part is on "Higher Learning." Dewey said, "The goal at which any phrase of education, true to itself, should aim in more education." In other words, basic schooling should prepare the student for more learning. As long as we are breathing, we should be learning. It takes a lifetime to become an educated human being. Another chapter discusses "earning and living well." Basic schooling has two goals in mind: "One is equipping all the children of this country to earn a living for themselves. The other is enabling them to lead good human lives." Aristotle's Ethics is a good guidebook on living well. It is prospering in all areas of our life. It is the goal of living a full and meaningful life. By acquiring the skills of the liberal arts, the student will be able to accomplish both these goals.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Catholicism and Intelligence

James V. Schall, Catholicism and Intelligence, Emmaus Road, 2017, ISBN 9781945125287, 165.

Catholicism and Intelligence by Fr. James V. Schall is a collection of essays that shows the relationship between Catholicism and intelligence. Some might even think there is not a relationship between Catholicism and intelligence. Schall would argue otherwise. Schall is a modern-day Chesterton who speaks truth to the heart. He agrees with St. Thomas Aquinas that the "greatest service we can offer our neighbor is to know the truth, to speak the truth" (xvii). This book is based on two premises: "First, what is peculiar or distinct about Catholicism is this: what the faith holds is intrinsically intelligible even if not always understood by given persons. And second, intelligence has its own structure or form that is rooted in the principle of non-contradiction--'Nothing can be and not be at the same time in the same way.' 'Intelligences' or understandings that maintain that everything is true even if contradictory cannot stand" (xviii). Schall emphasizes in all his books the truth of what is. He has claimed many times in his writings that Catholicism is a religion of intelligence. It respects the truth and what we can know by our mind. It believes faith and intelligence are compatible with each other. If you like other Schall books, you will like this one.

Schall says that "the essence of all ideology is that, at some point in explication, it does not conform to the way things are" (64). It is through intelligence that we make sense of the world. In chapter one, Schall asks the question, Why do I exist? This is an important question that needs to be asked by everyone. He criticizes Descartes idea that we have to go through a tortuous exercise to prove that we exist. Schall states, "That each of us exists and know that he exists need not be proved from something more clear. Nothing is clear" (2). One can always rely on the fact that Schall will speak sense. From Descartes, Schall goes on to discuss many issues. In answering the question why we exist, the reader needs to consider the fact "that a universe, with actual rational beings in it, has a source" (12). Schall believes that we exist to "participate in eternal life, that is in the inner life of God as it is made known to us" (14). There are some things we cannot know without revelation. It takes both reason and revelation to know why we exist.

Chesterton believes that what Chesterton saw 100 years ago has come True. He notes, "Catholicism almost alone defends reason that is based on the integrity of the mind related to what is" (50). To deny revelation is to "make us less capable of knowing and see what is. It takes both revelation and reason to know what is. It is wrong to think either is sufficient by itself. Schall states, "Of these curious things that we cannot figure out by ourselves, revelation sheds light on our minds" (58).

In his essay, "On What Replaces Christianity," Schall thinks the central idea is that "man can save himself." He needs no other Savior. Nothing is wrong with him that he cannot fix by himself. In addition, he does not have a "transcendent destiny." Life in this world is all that exists. Schall argues, "Without a theory or reality in which each human being has a transcendent origin and destiny, the whole record of mankind on this planet seems to mean nothing ..."(74).

Another good essay is "On the Openness to the Whole of Reality." Philosophy was meant to be open to all that is. "Knowledge is not to be reduced to what could be established by this or that method" (81). This is what is called reductionism. Reality is much bigger than our methods for acquiring truth. Every method is limited. Aquinas argued, "nothing we come across in reality, including revelation, can be excluded from our consideration on the grounds that the truth of what is does not arise from human reason alone" (81). Revelation is not closed, but open to reason. Revelation, actually, speaks to reason. Schall notes, "Revelation was itself addressed to reason. Through reason, revelation is addressed to the whole man. Thus, revelation was not conceived to be irrational. In seeking to understand the meaning of revelation, reason in fact became more, not less, reasonable" (85). There are other excellent essays contained in this book. Fr. Schall once again gives us much to chew on.