A New Science, a New Poetry Meter, and a New Liturgical Season!

Hello, everyone! I hope you’re having a great Holy Week!

The semester is winding down a bit, but there’s still lots more to come in the last few weeks. In Latin, we’re been reading and translating some liturgical hymns, such as the Stabat Mater and Pange Lingua. These poems are different from any we’ve studied before, because the meters are based on patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables rather than long and short syllables. This is the type of meter used for most English poetry. Also, these hymns are the first poems we’ve studied that rhyme, since rhyming wasn’t used in the earlier days of Latin. To make this even more awesome, these hymns are ones that are traditionally sung for the Triduum liturgies, so it’s the perfect time of year for learning them!

In science we’ve moved on from astronomers and started learning about the early days of chemistry. We’ve read some of Lavoisier’s writings, and learned about early ideas of atomic structure. Just yesterday we got to the discovery of the periodic table of elements, and the first people who experimented with radioactivity. Although this was going back to astronomy a bit, Dr Townsend also mentioned the “blood moon”, or total lunar eclipse, which happened early Tuesday morning. Unfortunately it was too cloudy here to really observe it, but it was a good reminder of what astronomy really is: observation of the skies and their phenomena. If it weren’t for the clouds, our campus is a really great place to observe the sky, since the small town doesn’t cause much light pollution.

In history yesterday we learned about the Fourth Crusade. Professor Lane gave us a fairly detailed lecture on the matter, noting that many people misunderstand the crusades in general and this one in particular. It was a complicated and unfortunate series of events, which started out as a mission to protect Christians in the Holy Land and ended as the sack and capture of Constantinople by Venetian, French, and German crusaders. Professor Lane was very informative about the financial problems, cultural clashes, and political motivations that contributed to the disaster, and showed how there were things the crusaders certainly did wrong, but which the Church and the Pope himself had explicitly forbidden. The problems came mainly from honest confusion as well as people disobeying what the Church decreed, not from the Church herself. As a Catholic, I find it very helpful to learn history as part of a liberal arts curriculum, since the Church has always been an influential part of the shaping of the world since her beginning, and learning about controversial issues like the crusades helps to put everything into its historical context and be able to investigate the issues honestly.

Speaking of the Church, this is the third day of the holiest week of the year! We’re all on break from our last classes today until they start again on Tuesday. It’ll be a good break to let us all get caught up on sleep and relaxation before the final few weeks of the year. I wish everyone a blessed Triduum and a happy Easter!

Contradictions, Comparisons, Contrapassos, and Composites

Greetings, everyone! This is a post I’ve been looking forward to writing all week, so I’ll jump right in with literature and move on from there!

We’ve finished the Inferno and have moved on the second canticle of the Divine Comedy, Purgatorio. So far, it is a radically different experience. Purgatory is depicted as a high, steep mountain, which is very difficult to climb in the beginning and gets easier and easier as one moves closer to Heaven — the exact opposite of Hell, where everything got worse as it went down. At the top is the Garden of Eden. The souls Dante and Vergil meet as they climb the beginning stages of the mountain are souls who didn’t repent until the very end of their lives, and perhaps lived very sinful lives, but God recognizes even the tiniest last-minute repentance, and gives them the ability to be purified and enter heaven. This canticle is beautifully written, and makes use of some particularly lovely and symbolic epic similes (lengthy comparisons used in epic poetry). Contrapassos continue as well, since all the souls are still doing penance, but this time the punishments are redemptive and purifying, and the souls undergoing them have hope, continually asking for prayers rather than pity. The whole poem is a beautiful reminder of the truth that God really does forgive even the worst sins, as long as we are at least a tiny bit sorry.

In theology, we’re moving speedily through the commandments, and recently finished discussing the Catholic doctrine on just war, a major part of the 5th commandment. This is a topic of particular interest in our modern age, when wars or quasi-wars appear all the time, for all kinds of complicated reasons. As part of the discussion, we learned about how to decide if a war is just, when a Catholic may or may not participate in a war, and how to navigate the issues of civilian deaths and other evil side effects of war. We also discussed the issue of when it is justifiable to fire the first shot in a war. As usual, I found that having everything laid out clearly and in full detail, with references to the catechism paragraphs needed for further research, was extremely helpful and my understanding of Church doctrine was furthered in yet another relevant area.

I’ve saved the best subject for last, though. Dr Cuddeback’s philosophy class has had an amazing week, even more profound than usual. On Thursday, we reached the real culmination of the course, the summit and the most important puzzle piece of the whole semester. After learning about intellection, and how that immaterial part of the soul works, we started learning about how the soul relates to the body. A philosopher named Averroes once argued with St Thomas Aquinas about the human soul, and claimed that no soul could be rational. His argument, put very briefly, was that if it was rational, it had to be immortal, but if it was a soul, it was the soul of a body, which by nature would be mortal. Therefore, even the phrase “rational soul” was a contradiction in terms. But Averroes didn’t know that one does not simply win an argument with St Thomas! Thomas replied to him by basically saying that the best way to prove that a thing is possible is to show that it is actual — that is, if a thing exists, it must be possible. So the fact that humans exist shows that a rational soul must exist. This simple fact takes a lot of complex argument to really prove, but it is true, and its implications, as Dr Cuddeback has been showing us, are tremendous. If humans really are composed of a material body and a rational, immortal soul, then there must be some connection between that soul and that body. We are not, as Dr Cuddeback once put it, angels shoved inside of aardvarks. Instead, we really are body-soul composites, completely unified and connected. This means that we really will have these exact bodies for all eternity after the general resurrection, and that until the general resurrection, our souls will be sort of “floating” in heaven, unable to use any of their powers in the natural way because the body is gone. This also means that what we do with our bodies both expresses and affects what happens in our souls. Although I’ve always known that these facts were true, knowing the full “why” of the matter, or as much of it as humanity every can know, makes a dramatic difference to how I think about almost everything. As Dr Cuddeback explained yesterday, manners, entertainment, and even such mundane things as how we walk have a profound impact on our souls, and vice-versa. He gave the example of genuflecting: we genuflect over and over, every single time we go into church, partly because it is a natural sign of respect for God, but also to remind ourselves, and to really ingrain in our souls, the fact that God is present there and deserves respect. Continuously building a habit with the body can help to build a virtue in the soul as well. This is why every action we ever perform is so important, no matter how small it seems; and not realizing this fact is a big part of why so many things go wrong in the world.

So, to sum up: Everyone should come to Christendom and take Philosophy of Human Nature! I promise, finally understanding how those puzzle pieces fit together is one of the best feelings in the world, and it will truly change your life.

Roman Romance, the Deepest Circle of Hell, and Decision-Making

Salvete, followers! It’s been another great week at Christendom, which I’ll put into words to the best of my ability!

In Latin 202 we’ve finished with our study of Vergil’s Aeneid and begun studying some different types of Latin poetry. So far, we’ve read a few love-poems by the Roman poet Catullus, and it’s a very marked difference from Vergil in both subject matter and style. Instead of an epic, these are lyric and elegiac poems, so the rhythms are different, with different patterns of long and short syllables and often a different number of them depending on the length of the line. It’s also interesting to see what each type of literature we’ve studied says about Roman culture: the epic mainly shows the Roman ideas of legend, history, war, fame, and virtue, while Catullus’ pining after a woman named Lesbia and asking her for thousands of kisses shows a very different side of life! Both, however, are beautifully written and both require a lot of care when translating, to try to preserve the meaning as well as the artistry.

In literature, meanwhile, we’re nearing the end of Dante’s Inferno. Dante and Vergil, his guide, are entering the last and deepest circle of hell, near the center of the Earth, where traitors are punished. They’ve already seen a number of different punishments being inflicted upon sinners of every kind, and as the layers go deeper, the punishments get worse and worse. Dante’s descriptions of them are graphic and detailed, and his character is alternately disgusted and filled with pity by the horrible sights he sees. However, we readers know that we’re nearing the end of the worst part of the journey. Dante and his guide have gotten nearly to the very center of the Earth, the lowest place they can possibly go, so they’ll have to start going back up soon and see Purgatory, then Heaven. Meanwhile, I’m fascinated by the idea of the contrapasso, which is the idea of the punishment being fitted to the sin, so that what the sinner wanted, or thought he wanted, is often given to him in a way that causes him torment. For instance, those who caused schisms or civil wars or any other kind of breach in societies that should be united as one body, are punished in the Inferno by being sliced apart themselves. Those who were greedy for wealth in life have to roll rocks around, which is heavy work with no reward. This kind of poetic justice pervades the whole epic, and is a beautiful metaphor for divine justice and the the beautiful ordering of the divine plan.

In other news, registration for the fall semester is fast approaching, which means it’s time to decide what classes to take next year. Of course, as a sophomore, I’ll still be required to take the 201 core classes in history, literature, theology, and philosophy, and we are also required to take two semesters of political science as part of the core. My problem will be deciding what foreign language class to take next, since I’ll be finished with LATN 202. There are upper-level Latin classes being offered in the fall, as well as beginning Greek and French. I’m thinking I’ll take the Latin class on the Confessions, but it’s hard to decide between continuing with Latin or trying some Greek. This is a good problem to have though — it shows that even though Christendom is small, there’s an amazing array of options!

Valete until next week!

Intellection and Intelligence — The Effects of a Christendom Education

Hello, and welcome back to Core Knowledge!

In Theology, with the wonderful Professor Raymund O’Herron, we’ve finished discussing the necessity of the Church for salvation and now we’re working our way through the ten commandments, learning exactly what each one covers and what the particular sins against them are. As usual, this is somewhat of a review for most of us, but it’s also a much more in-depth look at these subjects than most of us have ever gotten before. There’s always something more to learn about, and something that makes you want to search deeper. Mr O’Herron is especially good at clarifying terms and being very precise with his language, encouraging us to do so as well to avoid confusion about the most important subject of all — the one that pertains most to our salvation. For instance, today as he talked about the second commandment (Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain) he went through a list of terms that people tend to conflate or confuse when talking about bad language, and defined each one, explaining whether each one is always or just sometimes a sin, and whether it pertains to the second commandment. Blasphemy, obscenity, cursing, swearing, and profanity all have different, very specific meanings in theological terminology, and carry different degrees of weight. It might sound like a strange thing to learn about in theology class, but it’s something that definitely pertains to morality in the modern-day world, so why not?

Philosophy is also moving along swiftly, and, as Dr Cuddeback has informed us, we are now at the very epicenter of the course, the part where we learn about all the powers of soul that only humans have. It’s hard to choose the most amazing thing we’ve learned in the last week, but definitely on the list would be the fact that there are actually several steps to the process of intellection — first the intellect refers to a phantasm, then it extracts the intelligible species from that phantasm, then the intellect speaks an interior word to itself, and that word is the concept. If you didn’t understand that in the slightest, don’t worry — I didn’t until about a week ago, and I’m not sure I completely understand it even now, but Dr Cuddeback is an amazing teacher and is always very precise and thorough in his explanations. He tries to draw us along and help us come to answers and conclusions at least partially on our own, but is always there to correct us and to challenge us to get a complete grasp of the material. One thing is for sure: I’m certainly using my intellect a lot just to understand intellection!

Although philosophy and theology are two of the toughest subjects in the core curriculum, they are also two of the most interesting and useful. Many of us find ourselves referencing what we’ve just learned in theology when we’re discussing literature or history, or using philosophical terminology to analyze a movie. This is proof that even now we are using our Christendom educations to think about the world more intelligently and freely. (Just imagine how we’ll be once we graduate!)

Midway through the Journey of our Semester…

Hello again! We have returned from spring break and are back to classes for the second half of the semester. What with St Patrick’s Day on Monday and St Joseph’s Day today, it’s already been a week full of celebration!

For Latin class on Monday, we read in the Breviary Lives of the Saints about — who else? St Patrick! His vita or “life” talks about his immense holiness and commitment to his mission of converting the Irish people, and his impressive prayer regime (which included praying all the Psalms every day!) He was the cause of conversion of the entire nation from paganism to Christianity, which led to there being many Irish saints and religious who spread the faith and helped to preserve it (as we’ve been learning in history). This led to him being called the apostolus Hiberniae, or Apostle of Ireland. St Patrick’s Day may have turned into a cheesy celebration of leprechauns and green shamrocks for a lot of people, but St Patrick was truly a great saint, and his life was very influential in the western world, besides just being a great thing to read about in Latin!

In history yesterday we began learning about the rise of Islam and its impact on the empires and kingdoms of Europe and the Middle East in the 7th and 8th centuries. We read a small portion of the Qu’ran which told the story of Joseph and his eleven brothers, but from a somewhat different perspective than we Christians normally hear. It is a fascinating piece of literature from a historical standpoint, and even though it is a non-Christian religious text, it sheds light on the time period in the same way the Rule of St Benedict or St Augustine’s Confessions do; that is, it is a primary source which any historian can read and find useful for the sake of history, whether or not he agrees with it religiously. I think it’s very interesting to learn about, and also shows that just because this is a faithful Catholic college doesn’t mean we can’t learn from people of other backgrounds. We read things written by polytheistic ancient Greeks and Romans too, and as St Basil says, there is nothing wrong with reading things from other religions as long as we know what we can learn from and what we should ignore. This particular work shows us that Christian and Jewish scriptural stories had certainly been heard of in the Arabian peninsula by that time, and that Islam shares some of the same tradition, while still being very different. This, as Professor Lane told us, will help to understand many of the historical events that occurred in the ensuing time periods.

This morning in literature we began discussing Dante’s Inferno, the first canticle (or book) out of three (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) in the Divine Comedy. We’ve only read the first three cantos (sort of like chapters) so far, but it’s already obvious that Dante was a well-read author who built on tradition and classical works. The poem is written in the first person, with Dante symbolizing any ordinary man, “midway on the journey of our life”, who has strayed from the truth and righteousness and needs to repent and turn back to God. Virgil appears as his guide in the very beginning, and they set off into hell to see God’s justice at work on unrepentant sinners. It might sound a little bleak, but so far it is really a beautiful work, and uplifting in spite of its theme. Although the sign above the entrance to hell reads “Abandon all hope you who enter here,” Dr Stanford made sure to remind us that this is called a divine comedy—so we know the ending will be a happy one! It seems sort of symbolic for how we are right now: at the midway point of this semester, some of us might be getting a little discouraged because of tests, papers, Lenten penances, the soggy weather, etc, but we all remember that this is temporary—Easter will come, grass will grow again, and summer will be here before we know it!

Sts Patrick and Joseph, pray for us!

Almost Halfway Already?!

Hello again! It’s the last week before spring break, and there are midterms galore, but every day is still another day of learning something amazing!

In philosophy, we’ve been learning about the external senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell) and the interior senses (imaginative power, estimative power, memorative power, and common sense), which are all things that we and other animals have in common, but just yesterday we delved into the intellect, which is particular to man and higher beings. This was an exciting moment, and Dr Cuddeback especially made sure to impress us with how important this is. Everything we had learned up to that point had to do with human nature as well, but the intellect is part of what makes humans different from all other animals and unique in the created order. It can be easy to take the power of intellection for granted, but really it’s one of the most amazing things God gave us, and learning about how it works with our other powers will definitely be amazing too. This material is a little tricky to understand, but, like all the professors here, Dr Cuddeback makes himself very accessible and open to questions, inside and outside of class, and he even added extra office hours today to make sure everyone could get their questions answered before the midterm tomorrow.

In Latin, we’re still working our way through Book II of the Aeneid, and taking note of how Vergil used the meter, word order, and the sound of individual words as well as their meanings to convey the moods of the story. His descriptions are so vivid, it can be hard sometimes to capture them in translation, so once again I am grateful to be able to read this epic in the original language. We have still been working on the Lives of the Saints as well, and recently read about St Peter Damian. Sections from both of these works will be on the midterm on Friday, and then after spring break, each of us has to recite a passage of Vergil from memory. This is partly to strengthen our grasp of Latin poetry and pronunciation and help us exercise our memorization skills in general, but also because it’s just the epitome of cool to be able to recite lines of Vergil whenever you want!

In literature, we’ve just finished reading Beowulf, and after the midterm (covering Beowulf, the Aeneid, the Dream of the Rood, Caedmon’s Hymn, and the Dream of Scipio), we’ll start reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, the first truly Christian epic. I’ve never read it before, but I think it will be extremely interesting and enjoyable, especially since it builds on famous literature from the past which we’ve read already, last semester and this semester.

It’s hard to believe we’re almost halfway to the end of the semester. Time flies when you’re busy! It will be nice to have a break, but of course coming back will be awesome too, and the epic journey will continue. See you all in two weeks!

The Divine Tapestry of History

Salvete, Readers of Core Knowledge!

Midterms and papers are picking up speed here at Christendom, but we’re all holding on tight for the next week and a half before spring break! Lots has transpired this past week, but I’ll do my best to distill the most important.

In theology, on Monday, we started talking about the four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Purgatory and limbo are also included in this section, and it’s been very helpful and enlightening to learn exactly what the Church does teach definitively and what she does not. Professor O’Herron lays everything out plainly, making sure we all understand which things are Church doctrine and which are simply common theological opinion, and also mentions the common errors people tend to make about these topics. We have also learned all about how baptism works, and how people who have never learned about Christ can be saved through implicit desire for God. It is truly amazing to see the precision and detail that goes into the development of doctrine, and also to learn, to any tiny degree, how God’s enormous plan for the world works. When discussing the general judgment that will come at the end of time, Mr O’Herron explained that at that time the entire plan of created history will be revealed, and every consequence of every action will be made known. He then mentioned an analogy that is a particularly beautiful illustration of this: God’s plan is like an elaborately woven tapestry, and for now we see a tiny part of the back of it, but in heaven we will see the entire picture.

History, too, is a way of learning a little about God’s plan. We just began the era of the Western Roman Empire’s fall, and the invasion/migration of the Germanic tribes, the Islamic groups, and the Huns. Even though this entire time period is full of changes and shifts, decline in literacy, and lots of battles and wars and power struggles, we can see the Catholic Church as a constant force for good and peace through it all. The community worship and the missionaries that went out to even the most barbarous tribes in the most out-of-the-way places helped to bring nations together and connect them with the thread of religion. The monks copying and preserving texts from the classical period and saints writing new works kept learning alive, as did St Benedict’s rule for the monastic life which required monasteries to have a school. When the Islamic tribes swept in from the east and from northern Africa, they sometimes took classical texts and ended up preserving them in Arabic translations, which then eventually made it back to the western Christians, and would have been lost otherwise. It seems evident that God was at work, moving all the tribes and peoples at the right times to make sure what was needed of antiquity was preserved, especially the Church.

Some of the texts we use for philosophy and science, such as Aristotle’s Physics, are works that were preserved in this way and known by thinkers of both Christian and Islamic nations. Without those exact people doing exactly what they did at those exact times, not only would much more knowledge of ancient history, literature, and science be lost, but also Christendom College probably wouldn’t exist! Divine Providence makes everything work together and fit perfectly into the tapestry of the big picture. Every little stitch is planned, from the beginning of time to the end, even the ones for each of us little Christendom students. (Maybe there’s a stitch here for you too!)

Lines and Landmarks

Christendom is finally thawing out from the “snowmageddon” that came through on Thursday, and it’s business as usual once again! We’re coming to the part of the semester where tests and papers start popping up, and lots of transitions and changes are happening.

For instance, in literature, we reached the massive landmark of finishing the Aeneid, the last substantial pagan work we’ll read as part of the core curriculum, and have begun to move into studying early English literature. On Monday we spent a brief class period (a makeup session since our Friday class was snowed out) discussing The Dream of Scipio (Somnium Scipionis), which is part of Cicero’s De Republica. It describes a fictional dream in which Scipio the younger finds himself in the outermost sphere of the universe looking down upon the tiny earth, and speaking with Scipio Africanus the elder about the importance of focusing on the eternal things rather than the worldly. The work is a beautiful piece of literature in itself, and seems amazingly “Christian” for being a pagan work. It also began a new genre of literature, the dream-vision, which was to become very popular in the ensuing years, and is a perfect example of the transitionary period from classical antiquity to the Christian Middle Ages. After reading this, we read “Caedmon’s Hymn”, which is the first known poem written in English (Old English, to be precise), and “The Dream of the Rood”, which is a Christian example of the same dream-vision genre as Somnium Scipionis. In this last poem, the poet speaks in the first person about a dream he had in which the Holy Rood (or Cross) spoke to him about the experience of having the Son of God die nailed to him, and symbolically describes how a person can undergo the same transformation the cross did: starting as an ugly and shameful thing, a symbol of sin and crime, and ending as a glorious symbol of hope and witness for God. Next, we’ll be reading Beowulf, one of the most famous and exemplary works of Old English literature we can read today.

At the same time, in science, we’ve been studying the Ptolemaic view of the universe, which is the theory that the earth remains still at the center of everything while concentric spheres rotate around it. This is the view that was widely held for hundreds of years, and the most accurate and reasonable idea of the universe known during the time of Cicero. It is this notion he uses in Somnium Scipionis, positing that heaven is in the outermost sphere, and that souls float there when they are freed from the “trap” of their bodies. We might think this sounds silly now, but at the time, without the aid of modern scientific advances or Christianity to help them, the ancients managed to discover a model of the universe that explained the apparent motions of everything they saw in the sky, and could even predict eclipses and the like. Now, we’re beginning to transition into learning about Copernicus’ and Galileo’s modern heliocentric idea of the universe. Just as Caedmon’s Hymn was part of a switch from writing mainly in Latin to writing in the vernacular, these men’s discoveries were a sort of switch to a new scientific language.

Of course, the new ideas would take time to catch on. Transitions can be slow, and sometimes gradual is better. Latin wasn’t dead as soon as Anglo-Saxon came into existence, and the heliocentric theory took a while to be fully accepted. We students, meanwhile, still have to write a paper on the Aeneid while read our Christian literature. We’re on the line between winter and spring…. So why not be on the line between antiquity and medieval times? Then we’ll be fully into the Christian era just in time for Lent!

As always, thanks for reading and valete until next week!

More Saints and their Inspiring Words

Welcome back! In spite of cold and impending snowstorms, Christendom’s classes are forging ahead, as positive, challenging, and interesting as ever.

The class that I probably find the most positive, challenging, and interesting is philosophy with Dr. John Cuddeback. We’ve been reading short sections of the Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas, in order to learn more about souls and their powers. The format Aquinas wrote in is essentially a defense of objections people might raise against various truths, with references to Aristotle as well as the saint’s own thoughts. The writing is heavy with terms that have to be defined for us beginners, and sometimes it seems daunting, but Dr Cuddeback encourages us to read very carefully and challenge ourselves to extract the main information from the reading, even if we can’t comprehend everything. Then in class, we discuss the ideas presented in the text, and Dr Cuddeback asks us questions to get us to think for ourselves and reach the proper conclusions. It’s always intense, and even tiring at times, but the result is that I always come out of that class feeling as if I’ve achieved something monumental. The moment when a concept finally “clicks” and makes sense is hugely rewarding, and I look forward to it before every class. I have to admit, I thought reading the Summa would be pretty dull, but now I see why it’s considered one of the greatest written works of all time by Catholic theologians and philosophers. St Thomas was certainly a genius to be able to write it, and reading it and being able to understand it even to some extent is one of the best things about a Christendom education.

Another text I had originally thought would be boring was the Confessions of St Augustine. In history we’re reading it, both because it is a primary source about late antiquity, but also because it is an essential part of any good Catholic education. It’s a sort of autobiography, written kind of like a prayer addressing God, and recounting Augustine’s journey from being a troublesome child, then training to be an orator, then rejecting Christianity for the Manichean heresy, and then eventually coming back to the true Faith. His style is open and straightforwardly honest, but also elevated and sublime. After just a paragraph or two, I was hooked, and I can honestly say it’s one of my favorite books I’ve read at Christendom so far.

It’s been a very saintly few weeks in Latin as well. We’ve been alternating our reading of the Aeneid with reading short biographies from the Breviary Lives of the Saints. It works out nicely that we get to read about saints as their feast days approach, and learn more about the ecclesiastical style of Latin as well as the classical. We’re nearing the end of the life of St Cyril of Alexandria, who battled the Nestorian heresy, and it’s very interesting and enjoyable.

Overall, this past week has been another good week in the life of a Christendom student, full of saints and their inspiring written words. I’m awed all over again at the power and influence that Catholic saints have over history, and how much the Church has contributed to every aspect of civilization. It’s also inspiring to know that every single person is called to be one of those saints and be a part of that Church, to change the world.

And with that inspirational thought, I leave you until next week!

Saints, Sins, and Similarities

Hello again! This last week has been another busy, full one, with lots of exciting new curricular adventures in all areas.

In theology this morning, we finished up the unit on grace, and began the part on the forgiveness of sins, talking about the different types of sins (mortal and venial) and contrition, attrition, etc. It’s a little bit of a review for most of us who were raised Catholic, but there’s always something more to learn or some new problem to solve, some little thing here and there that I had forgotten, or never even thought about before. The class will never stop being interesting and useful in many different situations.

The highlight of history in this last week was reading the Life of St Antony written by St. Athanasius. Both saints were incredibly interesting men to learn about, both for religious and historical reasons. Antony is considered the father of the monastic tradition, since he was one of the first to live as an ascetic in the desert of Egypt for the sake of holiness. As Professor Lane explained to us, the monasteries would soon become one of the key elements in holding Western civilization together, since for hundreds of years monks were the ones to preserve and copy writings from long ago. They are the reason we still have as much ancient literature as we do. When I think about how easily scrolls and parchment could have burned or disintegrated, and how fragile historical documents and manuscripts were back then, I want to thank all the ancient and medieval monks for going through so much work to keep what we do have alive.

Speaking of literature, we’re pushing on through the Aeneid, and just discussed Book VI in class today. Dr. Thomas Stanford had encouraged us all to notice similarities between the Aeneid’s depiction of the Underworld and the Odyssey’s. There are similarities between all three epics in many instances throughout the books, from major thematic schemes to tiny details (like someone missing the dove they were trying to shoot and hitting the string that tied its foot instead). Every bit of the Aeneid is packed with symbolism and portents, with carefully placed references to the literature of Homer, and hardly a single sentence is without a double meaning. Vergil is known to have read Book VI to Caesar Augustus after completing it, and Dr Stanford pointed out passages that seem to show that Vergil was very pointedly giving his emperor advice through the book, while honoring him at the same time by making him a character in it. The skill it must have taken to weave the whole story together is truly astounding, and I think everyone’s appreciation of Vergil is only growing as we move through this great work of art.

I could go on and on about everything that’s happening, but all these exciting things mean lots of homework. So, valete until next week, readers!