Aaaand… We’re Back!

Salvete! We’re finally back from a wonderful three-month summer break! At least, three classes of us are back, while the seniors of last year have moved on, and there are around 122 freshmen who have never experienced Christendom College before! This year I’ll be documenting the sophomore portion of the core curriculum as my classmates and I progress through our second year. (If you want to read about what the freshmen are doing, start with my first post from a year ago, or use the archive of last year’s posts!)

As you may know, sophomores at Christendom still typically take six classes in the core curriculum, and we’ll declare our majors at the end of the year. Literature of Western Civilization III, History of Western Civilization III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Theology 201), Ethics (Philosophy 201), and Political Theory (Political Science 201) are the required 200-level courses, plus a foreign language. Since I’ve already finished Latin 202 (like many others who took Latin in high school), I’ve technically fulfilled my language requirement already, so I can go ahead and take an upper-level course to get a little ahead on my major or minor. I chose a new class taught by Dr Andrew Beer called St Augustine, Rhetorician, which focuses primarily on Augustine’s Confessions. It can be taken for credit in classics, theology, philosophy, history, or literature, so I’ll probably put it toward my prospective literature major or history minor.

Speaking of St Augustine, I attended the first session of that class on Tuesday, and was highly impressed. I definitely enjoyed reading the Confessions by St Augustine last semester in history, and it’s amazing how studying just this one man and one of his major works of literature really can enlighten you in so many areas. In our first class all we did was learn a little about his life and background, but already the class sounds exciting as well as useful. Dr Beer told us that as a large part of our final grade, we get to come up with our own project to do—a research paper, an artistic translation, a philosophical analysis, etc—on any 100 lines or so of the Confessions. We also will be doing recitations from the work in Latin. If first impressions count for anything, I think it’ll be a challenging but ultimately very rewarding class!

My first Ethics class with Dr John Cuddeback was yesterday as well, and in it, after the usual run-through of the syllabus and class policies, we delved right in. Dr Cuddeback had us imagine being asked what we want to do with our lives, and then think about how different people have extremely different answers to that question. He asked us whether we thought there was any standard by which we could judge a person’s answer to the question, which ultimately led us to consider how we know that there is a standard of good and evil, and if so, what it is. Of course, we all know that there is because of Divine Revelation, but philosophy is about arriving at the truth, or as much of it as we can, through human reason. As usual, the discussion made us think deeply, and it will probably keep us thinking all semester. We didn’t arrive at a conclusion because, as Dr Cuddeback assured us, it was a far more tricky question than what it first looked like. However, we did come to see that if there is no standard, there is no way to even begin to study ethics, since ethics is all about the goodness of human actions. I’m excited to keep wrestling with this question and hopefully reach a logical conclusion as the weeks move on!

Today, I had my first political science class, with Dr Bracy Bersnak. I didn’t really know what to expect, since I hadn’t taken college PoliSci before, but as Dr Bersnak explained today, political theory is the philosophy of politics. Every different political theory, he said, answers three questions: 1. What is the best type of political community? 2. What is happiness or human flourishing? and 3. What is the relationship between politics and human flourishing? He explained briefly how the ancient classical political theorists had a few different answers to these questions, but couldn’t fully answer them without Revelation. Then Aquinas, who had Revelation, answered them more fully, but afterwards modern political philosophers began to answer them incorrectly, leading eventually to many of the problems we have in our society today. This class looks as if it will be one of the most immediately practical classes at Christendom, since we students are Catholics entering into the adult world, and hoping to be good citizens and good voters, and, in some cases, maybe even good statesmen. I’m looking forward to learning more in this class too, possibly more than in all the others!

Theology this semester is on the Old Testament, which is important for many reasons. Professor Eric Jenislawski explained to my class yesterday that he wants us to come out of this semester being comfortable with reading the Bible, rather than feeling lost and overwhelmed by the Old Testament. Though he didn’t mention this point, I think this class will also be valuable for apologetics, because it will help us Catholics give scriptural evidence for our beliefs, and also break the stereotype among Protestants that we never read the Bible. In fact, Scripture is emphasized in many aspects of the core curriculum and in the campus life at Christendom, so this class should help all of us gain even more knowledge of how best to make Sacred Scripture a part of our lives. Scripture, of course, is mostly important because it is the Word of God, and therefore (as our chaplain reminded us in an address just last night) it is extremely important to read and meditate on the Bible as part of a daily prayer routine.

Lastly, I’ll mention literature! This morning I had my first class with Dr Ben Reinhard, who started off by having us remember what the first two semesters of core literature were about. Lit 101, of course, was on Greek epics and tragedies, and then 102 was more of a mix, with the Roman Aeneid, the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, and the Italian Divine Comedy. He had us try to decipher why this coming semester is on the works it’s on: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and a number of other works, including Paradise Lost and Swift’s A Modest Proposal. It seems as if the line between the 102 bunch of literature and the 201 bunch is a little arbitrary, until, he reminded us, we look at the dates. 201 covers roughly 1400-1750, an era of much poetry and literature concerning chivalry and courtly love. This is partly because of the end of the crusades, when the knights were suddenly left without conquests in the East to pursue, but still needed something honorable to turn their minds toward. It also has to do with the fact that Eleanor of Aquitaine, and her daughter Marie, were suddenly two very powerful figures in European government, which was unusual for women at the time. The literature reflects these changes, and places women in more prominent positions, making them more detailed and important characters. This literature is also from the time when there was plenty of good literature in middle or modern English, so we’re studying things that mostly haven’t had to be translated. Overall, I think it sounds like an extremely interesting semester, and I’m looking forward to learning about the stories and lyric poetry that came after the epics.

So, in conclusion, this semester is another exciting-looking one, full of all kinds of mysteries to be uncovered. I can’t wait to dig deeper into everything, and to share it all with you!

Valete!

(P.S. My history class with Dr Shannon was cancelled today because he had a family emergency. Please keep him in your prayers, and stay tuned to hear about history next week!)

Ave Atque Vale (Hello and Goodbye, a title stolen from a Catullus poem)

Hello, one more time! This is the last day of classes, and the last Core Knowledge post of the year. Everything in this school year has come to a peaceful conclusion and finished true to the comedic style: on a higher note than where it began.

In literature, we started the year with Homer’s epics, and studied Greek tragedies and then the great Roman epic, the Aeneid, at the beginning of this semester. These works were truly great in themselves, reaching the upper limit of purely natural goodness and literary genius. Then, we studied Beowulf, a semi-Christian work, which showed the transition of a culture from paganism to Christianity. Finally, we studied the Divine Comedy, that great Christian epic by Dante. From the center of the earth in the deepest pit of hell all the way to Dante’s indescribable experience of the Beatific Vision, the Comedy has been the best fulfillment possible of all the epics we studied throughout the year. This is the excellence of human genius with the added supernatural element of Christianity, depicting the greatest journey that ever happens to man: his climb to salvation. As we hurried to finish the last few cantos of Paradiso this morning, I thought about how perfect it is to be finishing this journey of the first year of college in the place where we should finish life: in heaven, contemplating God.

Latin class has also reflected this pattern to some extent. We’ve studied a variety of pagan and Christian works over the course of the year, and learned many writing styles from different time periods in Latin’s long and rich history. After studying Caesar, Vergil, and the lives of the saints, we studied Catullus’ poetry and Christian hymns, and concluded the year this morning by reading the opening chapters of St Augustine’s Confessions. Augustine begins by contemplating his own existence and God’s existence, and, with remarkable subtlety of language which is even more evident in Latin than in translation, he ponders how God can fill all of His creation, and yet creation cannot contain Him, and how we are inside of Him and totally dependent on Him, and yet somehow He is in us too. Like Dante’s combined joy and bewilderment at seeing Heaven, Augustine (and his readers!) are in awe and yet full of peaceful joy, contemplating what we can never fully understand.

Yesterday in history we finished our second semester tying the whole time period together, from 30 A.D. to the end of the High Middle Ages. Between the beginning of the scholastic year and now, we’ve covered the history of the Western world and of salvation from creation, to the Fall, to the Incarnation, all the way to the period of most flourishing and influence for the Church. The broad picture of the Church’s importance in literally holding civilization together throughout the last two thousand years, and the extreme importance of the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans in forming a world and culture that was ready to support such a Church in its inception, is painted much more clearly for me than it ever was before. I am exceedingly grateful to be attending a college that teaches history as part of the core curriculum, since everything really does make more sense when you can see where it fits into God’s plan and the story of the world.

Philosophy too has settled out into what I can only call a beautiful conclusion. Last semester laid down the foundations for studying philosophy, teaching us the history, terminology, and logical skills necessary to begin to become philosophers. This semester taught us what is necessary to begin to become ourselves. It taught us what becomes us as humans. It taught us, or at least taught me, a way of thinking that completes and strengthens my religious beliefs about the body and soul, and fills in all the logical chinks in the apologetic arguments I had heard before. From Aristotle’s Physics to the Summa Contra Gentiles, the complex terminology and syllogisms were well worth the end results. We finished the year reading The Hungry Soul by Leon R Kass, a modern book which goes back to traditional philosophical principles and explores what a human’s anatomy, and especially the way humans eat, says about who man is. After all the intense studying we did this semester about vegetative, sensitive, and rational powers, the book provided an interesting and extremely helpful practical application of those studies, and reinforced the things Dr Cuddeback said about how much our outward actions both express and affect our internal dispositions. The truth about humanity, that our bodies and souls are really and truly linked and need each other to make us fully human, means that everything from TV to table manners, manna to medicine, is extremely important. Philosophy alone in the past year was worth all the studying and time and effort that goes into the college life.

Introduction to Scientific Thought ended yesterday with one more test, covering the last few topics we learned about, namely the histories of chemistry, geology, and biology. We focused particularly on Darwin at the end of our studies, reading an excerpt from The Origin of Species. Although the Catholic Church, as well as many scientists, rejects aspects of Darwinian theories, studying Darwin’s reasoning and examples was interesting and helped shed some light on the confusion that often occurs in science today. Darwin proposed a theory that all species evolved from a common progenitor, including man. It is an interesting and rather convincing idea on the surface, but it remains unproven, despite being preached as truth to most science students today. However, aspects of it are also perfectly compatible with Catholic beliefs, and have not been disproven. Just like the Galileo case, this is a situation in which the Church is often mistaken to be against scientific progress, so studying it is essential to evangelization. Having taken statistics last semester, I am now done with the math and science credits I have to take here at Christendom, and don’t plan to take any more (since language is more my forte) but for the scientifically and mathematically minded, there are classes in physics, algebra, calculus, and more. Christendom College wants to form the whole person, and that includes providing math and science classes for those who are brave enough to take them! I have been blessed to be challenged and strengthened in the areas of math and science this year, and to have developed a greater appreciation for the wonder of every aspect of God’s creation.

And finally, theology! This year has been a year of some review for most of us, but I feel safe saying that everyone has had their eyes opened to some point of doctrine or morality that we didn’t know before. We concluded our study of the sacraments this week and then had our last class this morning, on indulgences. In just two semesters, we’ve covered revelation, grace, morality, the commandments, the sacraments, the virtues and vices, the Trinity, Christ’s two natures, sin, redemption, and everything else of importance to salvation. This puts all new students, regardless of background, on the same page as far as catechesis, and prepares us all to study scripture next year, and apologetics and other areas of theology after that. I am grateful to have been able to study theology, which, as we learned today, gives you a partial indulgence! Not only will putting what I’ve learned about morality and doctrine into practice be helpful for salvation, but simply studying for the final will get me to heaven faster!

So, the year began on a high note, and ended on an even higher one, with everything in some way or another focusing in on salvation and eternal life. Christ has risen, and God is good. I am extremely thankful for this year at Christendom, and for being able to share what I’m learning, at least a little bit, with all of you who read this blog. Thank you all for reading it, and have a great summer! I hope some of you will be joining me as a student on the other side of it. If so, I wish you as good a freshman year as mine was. Valete, one last time!

Endings and Eternal Bliss

Salvete once again! It’s our last full week of classes before finals, so loose ends are all being tied up, final tests and papers are due, and everyone is looking ahead to exams and then summer!

In Latin, we just finished reading Cicero’s “First Oration against Catiline”. It’s a rousing speech given in the Roman Senate by a master of rhetoric against a traitor to the Roman Republic, and not something you’d want to be the object of! The speech is famous around campus as “the Dr McGuire speech” since he is known for reciting it in Latin from memory, complete with shouting and picking out one student to be Catiline. (I’m told he does it at the Experience Christendom Summer Program if you’re interested in hearing it!) However, Dr Beer was able to guide us through understanding what it means, and helping us to notice the way Cicero made use of Latin grammar structure (with the verb normally at the end, following all the direct objects if there are several) to build each sentence up to a climax and emphasize the most important and menacing words in the sentence. In a good English translation, the speech is alright, but there’s nothing like reading Cicero in the original!

In literature too we’ve reached a climax; we’re finally done with Purgatory and have entered Paradise! Dante’s final Canticle in the Divine Comedy is a little hard to understand, since it deals with a state of being that none of us can possibly imagine. However, it does shed light on theological points, such as the fact that everyone in heaven is perfectly happy, and yet everyone exists in heaven in a different state of blessedness. This fact confuses Dante’s character, and sparks a discussion in the story, which was continued in class by us students and Dr Stanford. One helpful illustration is thinking of every person as a glass, and each person’s glass is full to the brim in heaven so that no one can possibly be more happy than they are, and yet each person’s glass is a different size. Whether you’re the size of a thimble or a gallon jug doesn’t matter to you, since you’re perfectly happy. Dante does an excellent job of showing people in different “parts” of heaven (shown in Dante’s character’s vision as different heavenly bodies such as the moon and planets) all as perfectly happy, and professing that they could not possibly be more full of joy or love of God. They have reached the final end of man, their own fullest potential for bliss.

The year itself is coming to a close, and I think the image of being different-sized glasses is helpful for us students too. Every class here this year has helped me develop in almost every area, especially in learning to reason logically and in learning about the Faith. Learning more about the faith makes the glass grow bigger, so you have a greater responsibility to live well, but also a potential for a greater happiness. Those who never get to take theology or never read Dante will still be able to go to heaven and be perfectly happy, but the more we learn, the more there is for God to use to work through us. I think I was a thimble before I came, and now maybe I’m a shot glass… Or just a slightly bigger thimble. But either way, I’ve grown, and so will you if you come here!

Valete until next week!

Nearing the End: Heaven and Home

Christos anesti! (Greek for Christ is risen!) We’re back from Easter break, and ready for one last month—or less!— of our year at Christendom!

In literature, we’re nearing the end of Dante’s Purgatorio. Dante’s character has reached the top of the mountain and finds himself in earthly paradise, the Garden of Eden. Dr Stanford pointed out this morning that all through Inferno and Purgatorio up to this point, Dante has had to ask permission from Vergil (who symbolizes right reason) before stopping to talk to anyone he sees, or going to one place or another, but once he has reached the garden, he doesn’t have to anymore. Vergil declares him his own master, since now his will has been purged, and it’s impossible for him to want to do anything but what is best. This is the fulfillment of human perfection, as we know from theology, and this is the state we, like Dante, have to reach before entering heaven. After reading the first two canticles, I’m excited to start Paradiso, and finish off my first year of college reading about what heaven is like!

In philosophy too we sort of talked about heaven, since we were learning about the final cause, or end, of man. We had already learned about the formal cause (soul) and material cause (body), and so the next important cause to learn was the final, the whole reason we exist and what we are made to achieve. In other words, we learned what the meaning of life is! Turns out, it’s to understand God, which is what we’ll do in heaven much better than on earth. Both faith and reason back this claim up, and St Thomas Aquinas demonstrates it with a number of logical facts in his Summa contra Gentiles. Now we’re finished with all the powers of the soul, and all the most important parts of Philosophy of Human Nature. However, I’m sure the last few weeks will still be interesting, and leave us all looking forward to taking Ethics in the fall.

In theology, we’ve finished the Commandments and moved on to the sacraments. So far we’ve covered the three sacraments which leave indelible marks on the soul: baptism, confirmation, and Holy Orders. I think it’s fascinating that Jesus chose to use ordinary substances that were already meaningful and useful to humans, such as water, bread, wine, and oil, combined them with simple words, and gave them the power to confer grace, God’s own life, on people. The idea that a symbolic washing can actually wash the soul, and leave it marked as a Christian and a member of the Church forever, is very beautiful, and it ties in well with what we’ve learned in philosophy— that man is a body-soul composite, and has to use both in order to get to heaven.

Near the end of the year, everything seems to be converging on the one thing that is most important—heaven! We’re all looking forward to going home for the summer, but more importantly to going Home forever. Three months without exams and papers may not be paradise really, but it sounds a little like it! ;) Actually, I think we freshmen will be a little sad to leave Christendom for so long, but the break will give us a rest and get us ready to start another great year next August. Meanwhile, we’ll make the most of every day in these last three weeks.

Happy Easter!

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!