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!
(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!)