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Logos [5-31-10]

May 31, 2010 Leave a comment

Furthermore, a civilization in opposition to the holy doctrines and laws of the Church is a civilization in appearance only, a mere name without the substance.  A remarkable proof of this is supplied us by the populations on whom the light of the Gospel has not shone.  In their life a species of exterior culture may be perceived, but the real and solid advantages of civilization are not found.  We cannot look on an audacious disdain of all legitimate power as a perfection of civil life.  Neither can we salute by the name of liberty the pursuit of a disgraceful and unhappy course that leads to the unchecked propagation of errors, the unhindered satisfaction of the worst passions, the impunity with which crimes can be committed, and the oppression of honest citizens of every class.  These are false, erroneous, and perverse principles.  They can assuredly not help to render human nature perfect, or to make it more prosperous, for “sin maketh nations miserable” (Prov. xiv, 34).  On the contrary, it is absolutely inevitable that these principles, after corrupting the spirits and minds of men, will by their natural influence precipitate the people into all sorts of misfortunes, so as to upturn all legitimate order, and sooner or later, end in the final destruction of the State and public tranquility.

If, on the other hand, we consider the achievements of the Holy See, what can be more iniquitous than to deny how well and nobly the pontiffs have deserved of all civil society?  Desirous of contributing to the welfare of the people, our predecessors engaged in struggles of every description, underwent the severest trials, and never hesitated to expose themselves to the most arduous difficulties.  With eyes fixed on heaven, they never bowed their heads before the treats of the wicked, or debased themselves so far as to be seduced from their duty by promises or flattery.  It was the Apostolic See which gathered up the remains of ancient society that had been destroyed, and reunited them.  That See was also the friendly guiding light which illuminated the civilization of Christian times, the anchor of safety in the midst of the most terrible tempest that ever tossed about the human race, the holy bond of concord which united far-distant nations of different cultures, and, of peace no less than the doctrines of faith and the instructions of religion.  Still more, it has been the glory of the Roman Pontiffs that they have constantly and unceasingly opposed themselves as a wall and rampart against the relapse of human society into the degradation of ancient superstition and barbarism.

[From the Papal Encyclical Inscrutabili Dei Consilio, “On the Evils of Society,” promulgated on 21 April 1878 by His Holiness Pope Leo XIII]

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The Wrong Idea of a University

May 29, 2010 2 comments

“A University may be considered with reference either to its Students or to its Studies; and the principle, that all Knowledge is a whole and the separate Sciences part of one, which I have hitherto been using in behalf of its studies, is equally important when we direct our attention to its students.  Now then I turn to the students, and shall consider the education which, by virtue of this principle, a University will give them; and thus I shall be introduced, Gentlemen, to the second question, which I proposed to discuss, viz., whether and in what sense its teaching, viewed relatively to the taught, carries the attribute of Utility along with it.”
– John Henry Cardinal Newman

On April 15, 2010, Southern Catholic College closed its doors a month earlier than planned, and likely for the last time ever.  Its closing was abrupt and, had but by a few, with little forecasting.  Many—parents, students, professors, supporters and advocates of Catholic higher education—were left bewildered; how had its end come so suddenly, so unexpectedly; where had the school’s finances gone, and why had more money not been given?  What led to Southern Catholic’s dissolution?  Many were quick, after its fall, to point fingers at the Legion; in no way was the minimal Legion presence responsible for the school’s faults or its downward plunge, but only of being unable to save what was quite possibly doomed regardless.

Part of what was taught at Southern Catholic was that in every action, in every set of actions, there are four ways to divide the causes of it happening: the first cause, the efficient cause, the material cause, and the final cause.  Money, in many ways seen as every cause of every action in modern society, is never in fact more than a material cause, be it an amount sufficient, deficient or excessive.  Money is always active only in someone’s hands; its employ is always dictated by an efficient cause; and an efficient cause is always dictated by (though at times identical with) a first cause—the instigator, the initiator.  The first cause too is moved by something other—the final cause, the goal, the raison d’etre of the whole ordeal.  This causal chain is present in every human action, and simultaneously nested within a larger chain: the good professor tells the student to close the door because he wants an uninterrupted discussion; he wants an uninterrupted discussion because he wants the student to learn; he wants the student to learn because the knowledge is good for man, and so on and so forth, up until one finds that all actions are nested within the act of God—a metaphysical speculation for another time.

In the case of Southern Catholic, money most certainly was the material cause of its failure as an institution; the efficient cause was its embarrassingly incompetent administration.  At this point in the causal chain, there are divergent explanations.  Certainly, the existence of the school as a whole was initiated with beneficence by Tom Clements and the original Board of Trustees, all of whom had in common the cause of a genuinely Catholic college in Georgia.  Unfortunately, while the wording of their goal was in harmony, their understanding of what is meant by a genuinely Catholic college was not.  Their idea was not bad—it was simply loose, lacking, ill-defined, and therefore ill-sustained.  Between the school starting and the school closing, the mission and vision statements saw roughly half-a-dozen revisions; it could never be decided precisely how to say what the purpose of the school was because it was never rightly established what the school itself was.

Southern Catholic College

Perhaps the easiest way to explain the school’s difficulties, in terms of its mission and vision, is the one statement that truly did remain constant, the one part of the vision that was definite and immutable: that Southern Catholic instructs and forms “moral and ethical leaders who enlighten society and glorify God.”  It is a noble goal, a wonderful idea, and much needed: the world does need moral and ethical leaders in all aspects of life, in every part of society.  Insofar as business, and medicine, and psychology, and science, primary and secondary education are important parts of the contemporary cultural framework, good Catholic leaders ought to be in those fields; there is a noble mode of being for each, and people of intelligent faith are needed to enact such a mode of being.  However, the formational process at Southern Catholic was never what it should have been.  For far too many of the students, the liberal arts became an obstacle, a stepping stone, to the pre-professional training in business, psychology, or science (many more in the two former than the lattermost; but what can be expected of a science program without a lab?).  The liberal arts became subservient to a practical, pragmatic career path; in short, glorified vocational training.  Perhaps the situation would have been acceptable (though far from ideal) had the three programs truly integrated an understanding of the faith and the liberal arts; had the lessons learned in literature and philosophy been shown as applicable to psychology and business—but they did not, and as a consequence, the campus was unable to form an intellectual unity; and thus, it was also divided in spiritual practice.  The ambiguity of the school’s intent attracted a diverse crowd—in itself, a good thing; but sadly, the diversity was more divergent than dialogical; those who favor the traditional liturgy were unable, by intellectual divide, to communicate with those that persist in the charismatic movement of praise and worship.

This inability for the school to be unified, to be universal in the sense of proclaiming one Word amidst its various words, left it with no honest image to show to the world.  Promotion of the school has, for some years, been noticeably vapid, nondescript.  Diversity, it turns out, does not paint a good picture.  A visitor might see a group of young women singing praise and worship songs by the pool—and 30 feet away see a group of young men smoking (though the office of Student Affairs did all it could to make sure no one could see the smokers) and discussing the metaphysical implications of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Meanwhile business majors could be seen studying quietly in a common area.  All-in-all, this would be alright… if it, and like divisions, were not diurnal occurrence, if there were some attempt, some possibility, some force that motivated all towards the same truth.  What could any one group say to visitors, prospective students, and the curious outsider?  Naturally, each would think his niche superior, in some sense, to that of the others (however egalitarian people may be, they always select something because they find it better somehow—but that is a digression for another time).  How can it be said that Susie Praise is on the same page, or even reading the same book, as Joe Trad, when the tangible, tactile evidence is so strongly to the contrary?

This fault of disunity and consequent schizophrenia, however, is not the fault of the students.  Part of the attraction of Southern Catholic, for at least a good number of the students in the classes of ’09 and ’10, was that there was a lot of opportunity on campus for actual leadership.  Most of the frustration of those same students was that their attempts to lead were suffocated by manipulative and selfish administrators who lacked all understanding of not only what the school could have, should have been, of its potential, and of the Catholic faith, but of the very concept of the University.  It was said repeatedly in the early days that the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman’s Idea of a University was an essential document in the foundational ideas of the school, next to Ex Corde Ecclesia.  It is doubtful, however, that the majority of the administration—including the school’s president from inception through 2009, Dr. Jeremiah Ashcroft—ever read either.  Neither work’s teachings were fully implemented, and the administration, particularly the office of Student Affairs, did much contrary to both.  Were more attention paid to academics, to the spiritual life, and less to diversions and distractions; were more money spent on more good teachers for the humanities, and less on incompetent administrators—four of them to do one person’s job, to be frank; were a dialog concerning the nature of the liberal arts nestled in the tradition of the Faith encouraged instead of smothered, perhaps the school would preparing for a new class and rising seniors, rather than desperately, sadly, trying to sell the same vague vision.

The problems that brought Southern Catholic to dissolution are not, however, greater than what good it does have, despite the school ultimately capitulating to them.  The school did have a core of interested students, who pursued the humanities with alacrity, who would discuss liturgy and theology, the Church, politics, and the world as a whole; who pursued the Truth in Faith and Reason, intertwined.  They valued the school for its professors, for its smallness and communal intimacy, and greatly for its priests, and they were indeed given a gift that is capable of being articulated only in their development as persons, as academics, and as Catholics.  As Fr. Brian Higgins, chaplain from 2007-2009 stated in the commencement speech given to the Class of 2010, there is no pity for those who were the school’s students—only for those who will now never get to be the school’s students.

An edited-in addendum: it should be noted that these incompetent administrators were also grossly overpaid, as is a matter of public record.  The Vice President of Student Affairs made at least $110,000 every year, Dr. Ashcroft at least $185,000, both after taxes and with additional retirement contribution.  While this is comparable to other small schools, other small schools also had money coming in.  Southern Catholic has lost money every year of its operation, and is in considerable debt.

Logos [5-28-10]

May 28, 2010 Leave a comment

“I read ‘Be angry and sin not’ (Ps. 4:5).  How I was moved, my God!  I had already learnt to be angry with myself for the past, that I should not sin in future.  And I was right to be angry.  For it was no race of darkness of another nature sinning through me, as the Manichees say, who feel no anger against themselves and yet ‘treasure up for themselves anger in the day of wrath and of the revelation of your just judgement’ (Rom. 2: 5).  But now the goods I sought were no longer in the external realm, nor did I seek for them with bodily eyes in the light of this sun.  In desiring to find their delight in externals, they easily become empty and expend their energies on ‘the things which are seen and temporal’ (2 Cor. 4:18).  With starving minds they can only like the images of these things.  Would that they were wearied by hunger and would say ‘Who will show us good?’ (Ps. 4:6 f.).  So let us say, and let them hear: ‘The light of your countenance, Lord, is signed upon us.’  (Ps. 4:7).  For we are not ‘the light that illuminates every man’ (John 1:9).  We derive our light from you, so that we ‘who were once darkness are light in you’ (Eph. 5:8).  If only they could see the eternal to be inward!  I had tasted this, but was enraged that I was unable to show it to them, even if they were to bring their heart to me, though their eyes are turned away from you towards external things, and if they were to say, ‘Who will show us good?’  In the place where I had been angry with myself, within my chamber where I felt the pang of penitence, where I had made a sacrifice offering up my old life and placing my hope in you as I first began to meditate on my renewal: there you began to be my delight, and you gave ‘gladness in my heart’ (Ps. 4:7).  And I cread out loud when I acknowledged inwardly what I read in external words.  I had no desire for earthly goods to be multiplied, nor to devour time and to be devoured by it.  For in the simplicity of eternity I had another kind of ‘corn and wine and oil’ (Ps. 4:9).

[From The Confessions of St. Augustine]

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Logos [5-27-10]

May 27, 2010 Leave a comment

I have said that all branches of knowledge are connected together, because the subject matter of knowledge is intimately united in itself, as being the acts and the work of the Creator.  Hence it is that the Sciences, into which our knowledge may be said to be cast, have multiplied bearings one on another, and an internal sympathy, and admit, or rather demand, comparison and adjustment.  They complete, correct, balance each other.  This consideration, if well-founded, must be taken into account, not only as regards the attainment of truth, which is their common end, but as regards the influence which they exercise upon those whose education consists in the study of them.  I have said already, that to give undue prominence to one is to be unjust to another; to neglect or supersede these is to divert those from their proper object.  It is to unsettle the boundary lines between science and science, to disturb their action, to destroy the harmony which binds them together.  Such a proceeding will have a corresponding effect when introduced into a place of education.  There is no science but tells a different tale, when viewed as a portion of a whole, from what is likely to suggest when taken by itself, without the safeguard, as I may call it, of others.

Let me make use of an illustration.  In the combination of colours, very different effects are produced by a difference in their selection and juxtaposition; red, green, and white, change their shades, according to the contrast to which they are submitted.  And, in like manner, the drift and meaning of a branch of knowledge varies with the company in which it is introduced to the student.  If his reading is confined simply to one subject, however such division of labour may favour the advancement of a particular pursuit, a point into which I do not here enter, certainly it has a tendency to contract his mind.  If it is incorporated with others, it depends on those others as to the kind of influence which it exerts upon him.  Thus the Classics, which in England are the means of refining the taste, have in France subserved the spread of revolutionary and deistical doctrines.  In Metaphysics, again, Butler’s Analogy of Religion, which has had so much to do with the conversion to the Catholic faith of members of the University of Oxford, appeared to Pitt and others, who had received a different training, to operate only in the direction of infidelity.  An d so again, Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, as I think he tells us in the narrative of his life, felt the science of Mathematics to indispose the mind to religious belief, while others see in its investigations the best parallel, and thereby defence, of the Christian Mysteries.  In like manner, I suppose, Arcesilas would not have handled logic as Aristotle, nor Aristotle have criticized poets as Plato; yet reasoning and poetry are subject to scientific rules.

It is a great point then to enlarge the range of studies which a University professes, even for the sake of the students; and, though they cannot pursue every subject which is open to them, they will be the gainers by living among those and under those who represent the whole circle.  This I conceive to be the advantage of a seat of universal learning, considered as a place of education.  An assemblage of learned men, zealous for their own sciences, and rivals of each other, are brought, by familiar intercourse and for the sake of intellectual peace, to adjust together the claims and relations of their respective subjects of investigation.  They learn to respect, to consult, to aid each other.  Thus is created a pure and clear atmosphere of thought, which the student also breathes, though in his own case he only pursues a few sciences out of the multitude.  He profits by an intellectual tradition, which is independent of particular teachers, which guides him in his choice of subjects, and duly interprets for him those which he chooses.  He apprehends the great outlines of knowledge, the principles on which it rests, the scale of its parts, its lights and its shades, its great points and its little, as he otherwise cannot apprehend them.  Hence it is that his education is called “Liberal.”  A habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are, freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom; or what in a former Discourse I have ventured to call a philosophical habit.  This then I would assign as the special fruit of the education furnished at a University, as contrasted with other pacles of teaching or modes of teaching.  This is the main purpose of a University in its treatment of its students.

[From The Idea of a University, by the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman]

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Logos [05-26-10]

May 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Clearly, “free verse” can manage every tone from the pompously ceremonial to the apologetically informal.  But this is not to imply that as a technique whose flowering is associated with American intellectual and emotional configurations in the mid-nineteenth century, free verse does not itself seem to generate certain specific themes, which such devices as unpredictable line-length and unadvertised rhythms seem to trigger.  From the beginning of its development by Whitman, the subtle rhythmic patterns discernible in sequences of free-verse lines have been likened to sea-waves, it being widely assumed in Whitman’s time that the “natural” rather than the artificial and conventional is what governs the imperatives of art.  To Whitman, the sea itself is a great free-verse poem, whose “lines” are “the liquid, billowy waves, ever rising and falling, perhaps wild with storm, always moving, always alike in their nature as rolling waves, but hardly any two exactly alike in size or measure.”  In theme as well as theory, free verse has shown an affinity with the sea, inviting us to trace a thematic tradition from Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” all the way to A.R. Ammons’s “Corson’s Inlet,” with stops along the way at Lawrence’s “The Sea,” Robinson Jeffers’s “Night” and “November Surf,” and Marianne Moor’s “A Grave.”  When we consider literary history it seems no accident that the nineteenth- and twentieth-century discovery of the sea as a useful emblem of infinity or freedom or wonder and the seashore as a venue of illumination is virtually coincident with the rise to popularity of free verse.

[From Poetic Meter & Poetic Form, by Paul Fussell]

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The Pierian Spring

May 25, 2010 Leave a comment

“A little learning,” wrote Alexander Pope, “is a dangerous thing.”  What constitutes a little?  What constitutes a lot?  The amount of learning that an individual can acquire will vary according to that individual, both in their natural abilities and in their circumstances.  Some will have more time for leisure—that is, school and study—than others who must dedicate their time to work, family, and particular demands of vocation.

And yet in a sense, learning is part of the vocation of man’s nature.  No one is excused from the pursuit of the Truth.; least of all those that are given the opportunity to pursue it most fully.

That is why there is something unnerving about the curriculum of many contemporary liberal arts schools.  Were all of the students entering their undergraduate careers previously well-grounded in the traditional trivium—grammar, logic, and rhetoric—then perhaps something efficacious could be done in a mere handful of classes oriented towards the truth itself.  But when one enters from a public high school, and is given no more than three or four philosophy classes, when literature is a course taken either because it is mandated or it seems a curious elective,  when theology and history are given foundations in a young soul but no structure is erected upon them, when a student seeks an education pertinent to life in the world and therefore races through his core classes, then something has gone wrong.

Can a school rightfully lay claim to the liberal arts when the humanities compose less than half of the overall number of necessary credit hours for graduation?  If someone enters a school with the intention of becoming a business major, a psychology major, or a science major, what view are they going to have towards three semesters’ worth of courses in the humanities?  Will they be deterred from entering the school by their presence, or will they simply view them as a minor impediment?  Will they be disposed to embrace the subject matters, to seek excellence in the classroom, or will they merely consider such classes as a means to an end?

“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.”

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Logos [05-21-10]

May 21, 2010 Leave a comment

St. Thomas, however, did more than integrate Aristotelian metaphysics into a comprehensive theological vision of truth.  He gave Aristotelianism a new orientation, a deeper significance.  For he distinguished, as Aristotle had not, between the essence, the nature of an object, and its existence.  The latter he conceived dynamically as the act which imparts being to essence, which of itself is but the possibility of existing.  Existence actualizes this possibility within the limits imposed by the distinctive nature of the essence thus made actual.  “This distinction”, writes Professor Knowles, “between essence and existence is vital, it is the shibboleth of Thomism.”

In God, however, there is no distinction between essence and existence. For God’s essence, his nature, is precisely to exist; his nature is existence in its plenitude.  “God”, writes Gilson, “is the Being whose whole nature it is to be such an existential act: this is the reason why his most proper name is, He is.”

This metaphysical existentialism, as Gilson has emphasized, derives its origin not from any pagan philosophy, concerned rather with essence, but from the Christian understanding of God’s words to Moses: “I am that I am”: I am the self-subsistent Being, Existence pure and simple, and therefore the source of all created existence.

It was in fact this distinctively Jewish-Christian existentialism which enabled St. Thomas to complete Aristotle’s philosophy of essence and impart it to a novel dynamism.  It was not, however, that he added a revealed doctrine to the insights of philosophic speculation.  Rather his Christian theology, his Christian experience, enabled his intelligence to perceive a metaphysical truth, to advance further along Aristotle’s road than the philosopher himself.  A revealed truth was for St. Thomas a lens focusing his philosophic vision on a metaphysical truth otherwise unseen.

[From The Formation of Christendom by Christopher Dawson, published by Ignatius Press, 2008]

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