An ancient chant, taken from Psalm 118:24. In the modern usage, this text is used in the Divine Office and for the Gospel Alleluia verse for all 8 days of the Easter octave, today through Divine Mercy Sunday. In Catholic tradition, Easter is too big a deal to fit into just one day, so the celebration of the day of Resurrections is extended over 8 days, and then a season of 40 days until the Ascension to celebrate the Risen Christ with us.
This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein. Alleluia.
verse for Easter Sunday: Give praise to the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. (Psalm 118:1) [Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us.]
verse for Easter Monday: Let Israel now say, that he is good: that his mercy endureth for ever. (Psalm 118:2)
verse for Easter Tuesday: Let them say so that have been redeemed by the Lord, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy: and gathered out of the countries. (Psalm 107:2)
Every great composer in the West set this to music for centuries, so, in addition to the epic and wonderful chant setting above, we have any number of other glorious versions:
Bach set this, because of course he did:
Happy, Holy, and Blessed Easter! He is truly risen!
In my 8th Grade history and Lit class, we recently read selections from the Ramayana. (1) In it, the rishi get that way by performing tapas, which are not, in this case, tasty Spanish nosh-fodder, but rather, are disciplines and austerities one performs in order to rid one’s self from bad karma, and gain spiritual enlightenment and power. A maharishi – a highest rishi, or greatest sage – has performed so many (much? not clear on the usage convention here) tapas that he has reached the highest plain of enlightenment and power this side of godhood.
It is clear from the stories, however, that such enlightenment and power do not include surrender of one’s will or even of one’s vices. Sages perform tapas to get power, to satisfy their ambitions, to get revenge, in response to jealousy or envy. In one early story, a sage’s excessive tapas make him a threat to the gods themselves, who throw temptations in his way to slow him down.
Viswamitra was a king who attained sainthood through terrible austerities. He had long ago exhibited his spiritual powers by starting to create another Brahma and a rival universe. He had gone as far as the creation of new constellations, but was prevailed upon to stop by the entreaties of the alarmed gods.
Only at the very end, after thousands of years of tapas and many setbacks due to his temper and falling to temptations sent by the gods, does the sage attain to brahma-rishi-hood, which entails some control over his own desires.
I’ve heard that Hindu rituals are all about cutting deals with the gods. Certainly, in the Ramayana, that’s all tapas are about: you do the discipline, and the gods appear to recognize your achievements and grant you power. Want more power? Do more tapas. In addition to tapas, the Ramayana also describes elaborate rituals similarly designed to get something. These rituals call down the power of the gods to the ends of the person offering the ritual. Doing it right is critical – sages and other experts are recruited to guide the preparation and ritual. If the gods don’t do as you want, you must have failed somehow.
Gods are clearly compelled: when the sage performs tapas, they, it seems, must grant him powers. When the ritual is performed correctly, they must grant what the boon sought. Nowhere, it seems, is anything like a personal relationship with a personal god a goal. Hinduism does seem to have a strong sense of duty built into it, including duties to one’s fellow man.
But for us, no deals can be cut with God. We can only beg that He remembers His promise of mercy, and does not judge us as out sins deserve. This Lent, perhaps the most important Lent of our lifetimes, we say, with the king of Nineveh, “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” There are no deals to be cut, no amount of tapas or rituals can earn us a reprieve from justice. If Nineveh deserved to be overthrown, if Sodom and Gomorrah deserved to be consumed with fire, how much more do we, who have sinned greatly in the greatest land of plenty and peace the world has ever know, deserve anything we get?
Old Scratch will have his day – but just a day. Americans have, sometimes, been very brave and generous, very neighborly and compassionate. Not always, not maybe even often, but – still. God is like the mom who cries when her kid gives he her a dandelion. He is looking for any opening, any sign, any flaw in our defenses through which He can sneak in and lavish His grace and love on us.
This is supposedly a popular retelling. The poem is very long and meandering; when wrestled into English poetry, I found it long and difficult. Hate to water things down for kids, but, just this once…
In general, brave people are simple souls. Not stupid, by any means, but simple. Such people will face up to outrageous evil because they cannot imagine doing otherwise. Many great saints suffered outrageous martyrdoms because they simply couldn’t be made to say what they knew was untrue.
A somewhat secular example is Captain Carter in Princess of Mars. He says himself several times in the course of the story that he took heroic action because he simply could not imagine doing otherwise. And that’s the trick – in saner times, honorable people saw it as their duty to raise up such people from the cradle, because that sort of simple heroism is what is needed to be honorable in everyday life, let alone at times of crisis.
And it is the right thing to do.
I am not that guy. At my roots lives a deep well of fear. From whence it comes, I can only speculate. It is not attached to anything I can confidently identify. Just as I cannot explain how it could be that I’m not an alcoholic – if I were, no one would be surprised, given my personality and weakness – I cannot explain why I do not spend my days rolled into a ball whimpering in the corner. God knows there are many days I would like to.
So, how comes it that I find myself, trembling, at least trying to stand up for the truth? Growing up, as we all have, amongst the People of the Lie, truth may appear a fragile thing, easily beaten down and ignored. Certainly, the idea that truth is a lion, that you just need to set it free and it will take care of itself, is not something one can often see over the number of years one is given to live. Defending truth, in other words, is generally expensive and fruitless, at least in the short run.
I would like to hear your stories of how you came to care about the truth, Dear Readers, if you care to share. If you put truth above tribe, you are a rare bird.
For me, the answer is 3-fold:
I have always been an outcast, and usually didn’t care. I never remember once obsessing over being a part of some group or other. In fact, I’ve never quite understood the desperate energy with which so many people strive to be part of the Kool Kids Klub, the Inner Circle.
I think the appeal of science, which I began reading compulsively at age 9 (in the form of Time/Life books, tbh, so not *that* precocious), was at least partly in that it provided some level of certainty, truth on some level. As I got older and realized science could not address any of the really important questions, I started reading philosophy.
When, in 5th grade, I made a fool of myself trying to straighten out our poor teacher on some minor point of astronomy, and found nothing by eyerolls and exasperation, I tuned out. These people, least of all the teacher, didn’t WANT TO KNOW. This was a profound realization, even if, at the time, I was not at all clear about it. What I was clear about: school was going to get the absolute minimum effort needed from me to get by.
So, more or less accidentally, I was immunized against caring what the school thought of me. 5th grade was also the only time I ever won the ‘merit pin’, given to the student with the best GPA. Found out that didn’t make me any friends or get me anything positive, either. So, from then on, the head-patting and gold stars and brownie points meant nothing to me.
But none of this makes me brave. I still avoid conflict, and tremble inside when forced to speak out against evil. I’m trying to overcome the fear, and am greatly encouraged by the example of my wife and children, who are brave in the way described above.
In a 10 days, the annual Walk for Life takes place in San Francisco. There is, of course, no rally, probably no mass, but people are planning to walk, my wife and children among them. I tremble, but I will go. Then, the 40 Days for Life starts up over Lent in February.
Word is the SF police are aware and will maintain order for the Walk. Over the 40 days, police in one local city have clearly been told to stand down, so that the harassment, screaming of obscenities’ and physical threats are allowed against the people praying. Our city so far has been better, but who knows? This is where the rubber hits the road. I’m terrified. I need to stand up anyway.
This post may be of interest to my Christian brothers and sisters who are not Catholic, as it may give some insight into what we crazy Papists are up to.
This nativity has it all: Angel choirs dancing above the stable; Faith, Hope, and Charity perched on the roof. To the left, an angel directs the Wise Men to the Babe; an overwhelmed and elderly Joseph (the typical medieval way he was imagined) sits bowing near the Infant. Mary, on her knees with folded hands, worships her newborn Son while the ox and ass look on. To the right, another angel directs two shepherds.
Below, three people are being embraced or perhaps lifted up by angels, cheek to cheek. Seven little demons flee, several impaled on the instruments of torture they carry.
Except for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, all the people are crowned or are being crowned with laurel – the crown of victory. The fat little Baby is reaching for his mother and sucking his fingers.
Subtler details: the stable is a cave, a part of the earth. Through the back of the cave one sees a beautiful forest – Eden-like, even. The scale of the forest seen through the cave doesn’t match the forest to the left, as if it’s not part of the same scene.
Although Botticelli was a Renaissance master, he still uses the medieval vocabulary of symbols. Christ was born not merely on the earth, but in the earth. He is not something added to the surface, but rather of the matter of our order of Creation. The ox and the ass in the same way are representatives of Creation itself worshipping the Son. Eden, which is the proper, intended order of Creation for Man, is visible through the cave, where Heaven and Earth meet in the Person of Christ. The veil is drawn back, so that angels rejoice and demons flee.
Ave fit ex Eva, as the medievals were known to say: the ‘Ave’ with which the angel greeted Mary is made from Eva, the pure and innocent Mary saying ‘yes’ replaces the pure and innocent Eve saying ‘no’. Through Mary, God restores, and then some, the proper order of Creation as remembered from Eden. The whole scene captures the wedding of Heaven and Earth, of angels and men, of earthly and heavenly creation.
There is a combination of general representatives and specific individuals. Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the Wise Men, and Shepherds are particular individuals we know from the story; the angels and the three men at the bottom of the picture are representatives of Heaven and Earth; the men in particular invite us to read ourselves into the scene.
The people for whom this picture was painted would understand that intended part of their reading of themselves into the story is the acceptance of a God-given role – Thy Will be done. Mary is glorious because she perfectly accepted God’s Will for her – the glory is all God’s, but she is its perfect mirror. In the same way, Joseph’s humble, silent acceptance of God’s Will makes him glorious by reflected light. Even the ox and ass are glorious in a similar way, although they act only as extensions of the human beings who raised them and put them in the stable. But that’s what we do – glorify God by how we use the gifts He entrusts to us.
Or how about this one:
Here, the artist uses a conceit – an unseen candle held by Joseph but shielded by his hand from us – so that he can show Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds lit by the reflected light of the Christ Child, the actual source of light in this picture.
A thousand years later, these ideas, of a cave, of light, of God-with-us Emmanuel, of our place in God’s scheme, of the meeting of Heaven and Earth and the redemption of all Creation, found expression in a thousand church interiors all across Christendom.
We’re used to well-lit interiors, thanks to Edison, but, as designed and used, the interiors of churches necessarily share much with the cave of the stable. In Gothic churches, during the day, at least, light enters filtered by stained glass; at night, only candles and lamps provided light, which would seem very dark to us.
But it is through that cave that we see the new Eden, lit by the Light of Christ.
The cave is also the Tabernacle of the New Covenant, the Holy of Holies, containing Jesus. Yet it is the only the second tabernacle. Mary, greeted by Elizabeth as ‘the mother of my Lord’ – the queen, in the usage of the time – is the first and primary tabernacle, the Holy of Holies as a person. Her humility is perfect, meaning she accepts the role God has given to her with complete abandonment of herself – full of grace.
Yet, because she holds nothing back and gives all to God, she is more perfectly herself than any other purely human person. But doing God’s Will is not passive. We are made in the image and likeness of the Creator and the Savior. Thus, Mary’s surrender – be it done unto me according to Thy Will – results in *activity*, creative, redemptive activity. Always, Mary’s actions in accord with God’s Will are reflections of that Will and activated by it. Yet God choose her and filled her with grace so that she could eternally serve Him, as the Mother of His Son.
The most common name given to Catholic Churches is some form of Notre Dame – Our Lady. You’ll find parish churches and cathedrals named Queen of the Angels, Mother of God, Queen of All Saints, Star of the Sea, Our Lady of Solitude, Our Lady of Victory, Visitation, Mother of Sorrows, and a hundred other names and references to Mary.
Catholics do this because each church is a tabernacle of the New Covenant, a place where the Incarnation continues through the priest when he, acting as Jesus commanded the Apostles, incarnates Him in the bread and wine. By the Divine Will, Mary’s perfect yes brought that Will into this world, uniting Heaven and Earth, making each of us members of a Royal Priesthood, made worthy to enter the Holy of Holies where Christ is present on His altar, the Lamb of God. We then become, each of us, that Tabernacle when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Christmas means all these things. We honor God by honoring Mary, Queen and Holy of Holies by His Will. The Child in her womb, the Babe in the manger, the Lamb of God on the Cross, the risen Lord, the Pantocrator – Mary was there for all of that. Her work of bringing Jesus into the world, in the image of God and reflecting and embodying His Will, continues eternally.
She always reflects His glory, always points to the Son, always does His Will. We, honoring her, always follow her lead and give worship and glory only to Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.
Have a Happy, Holy, and Blessed Christmas Season! (which runs from sundown today through the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Party hard till then!)
A. Agreed to teach some 8th and 9th graders history this upcoming school year. It will be weird: some outdoor, socially distanced in person classes, some zoom, all mixed: since nobody will be required to be there in the flesh, we’ll almost certainly need to set every class up as a zoom meeting. Sigh.
A couple of very energetic Catholic homeschooling moms are behind setting up a new ‘hybrid’ school, where homeschoolers, once they reach the point where the topics to be studied do, in fact, require more expertise and time than they have to give, they have more formal classes the kids can take.
This point has been determined to be about 8th grade, which seems about right, for many kids, at least. Around that age, a lot of kids get a switch thrown, where their minds now function as adults minds, minus adult level experience. So I will be introducing them to what would have been a typical college-level approach to learning 100 years ago. and, indeed, what a college prep high school age kid would have experienced in the not so distant past: formal – we will call each other Mr. or Miss Lastname; an hour or more a week will be ‘seminar’ style; more time spent preparing for class than in class; very little slack for tardiness or inattention; regular short essays; selected reading from the classics.
The other part of this, consistent with my unschooling attitude: I’m not forcing anybody to do anything. I will do zero threats or cajoling. You want to be there and learn? Then here’s what is required. You show up prepared and on time, and hand in the assignments on time. Or you do something else. No hard feelings.
8th grade runs from prehistory through the Roman Republic; 9th grade from the Empire to the Black Death. With forays into the rest of world history – China, India, Africa, etc. As I have long said, understanding other cultures requires you understand your own, we’ll start with and emphasize our own.
We start in September. As it stands: Four 8th graders, 7 9th graders. Two 90 minute classes a week for each group, meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays, about 90 minutes each. One is more lecture/talk with the students. I’ll assign very short essays every few weeks, and teach them by example how to write figure out what they mean to say, and say it (yea, like I know how to do that).
I have a ton of work to do. Prayers would be appreciated.
B. Highs have been over 100F here for the last 4 days, and is predicted to remain above 100F for 4 more. This morning, was awakened around 6:00 a.m. by long, rumbling thunder, went outside to take a look. Beautiful orange skies, thunder in the distance, rainbow, light rain – very beautiful. For the last 3 hours, thunderstorms have rolled through the Bay Area. Tiny amount of rain – .03″ near hear, a quarter inch at higher elevations. But any rain at all is a surprise.
Hot, sweaty weather with thunderstorms? We seemed to have moved to Texas without leaving California. Average rainfall in August here is some tiny fraction of an inch. In a typical year it doesn’t rain at all from June through August.
Very unusual weather. In a week, we went from an unusually cool and windy summer with the threat of an early fall, to an unusually hot and nasty stretch. My peaches had just begun to ripen in mid-August – very late, should have been over in July. With this weather, will be picking everything over the next few days. We only have 2 small peach trees, and one is evidently taking this season off. But still.
C. Speaking of the front yard orchard:
Figs amidst rain-soaked leaves.
D. An old friend, our late son Andrew’s godfather, was ordained a permanent deacon yesterday. Archbishop Cordeleone celebrated the ordination mass down the peninsula at St. Pius X parish in Redwood City, because of the on-going persecution of the Church in San Francisco. In San Mateo County, where St. Pius X is located, you can do an outdoor mass of up to something like 100 people, if masks and social distancing are enforced, and names and addresses are collected for possible contract tracing. So we had a much smaller crowd than would otherwise have been there. Each candidate for the deaconate could only have 9 ‘guests’ including his family.
The Cathedral in San Francisco, where this should have happened, seats thousands – you could put a few hundred people in there with everybody spaced 20′ apart, let alone 6′. Instead, we had to submit to humiliation rituals, and have a mass in 90F+ temperatures, with the sun beating down on the soon-to-be-ordained men – the way the various canopies and umbrellas were arranged, those poor men had to sit in the sun for about an hour. (Once ordained, they got to join the clergy in the shade.)
It was beautiful. I love and am so grateful for Archbishop Cordeleone. Good man, suffering mightily for his flock.
This COVID nonsense needs to stop.
D. I’m going to be very busy. Posts will probably be sporadic. More than usual, I mean.
E. A moment ago, huge very near thunder bolt shook the ground and set off car alarms. Rumbled for what seemed like forever. Got a couple minutes of decent rain.
The City of Philadelphia contains several high class public and private secondary schools, of which the writer had the pleasure of visiting the Roman Catholic High School and the Central High School. Dealing first with the Catholic High School, which was built some 12 years ago, with donations by Thos. Cahill, of the Knickerbocker Ice Company, the students number 300 (all boys), mostly drawn from the 80 parochial schools in Philadelphia. The staff consists of a Rector and Pro-Rector — both clerics — assisted by 18 lay masters. The course of study lasts four years, with a post-graduate course of one year for pupils entering the Universities, the curriculum being arranged by the diocesan superintendent. Candidates for admission must bring certificates of recommendation and pass an entrance examination which is fairly difficult, since out of 240 candidates last year only 120 were admitted. Of the 500 pupils ” graduated ” since the opening of the school, many have taken up the study of dentistry, law and medicine ; a few are drafted into the Seminary at Overbrook, and one or two have entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The course of study is a combination of Classical, Commercial and Manual Training, there being a common course for the first two years. In the third year Manual Training is replaced by Latin for the professional career, but no Greek is taught. The Manual Training consists of drawing, clay modelling, and wood carving, a special feature being that the pupils are taught to use both hands. Special rooms are provided for clay modelling, wood carving, architectural drawing and typewriting, the latter containing machines of various makes. A Chemical Laboratory holding 40 pupils and a Physics Room for 25 pupils are somewhat less elaborately fitted up.
Among the fine specimens of wood carving worked by the students were some types of Old English clock cases, an altar in the large Assembly Room, and vestment cases at the Churches of the Visitation and St. John the Evangelist.
This fine school, erected at a cost of £50,000, provides free tuition and books for all pupils from the Catholic Elementary Schools of Philadelphia, including the Catholic coloured schools.
No Greek?!? They call THAT a high school?
Seriously, most modern holders of Masters degrees couldn’t get into, let lone graduate from, this high school. (That’s because education, social services, and ‘studies’ degrees make up the bulk of master’s currently awarded, but you get my point.)
A more subtle point: the Catholics were in an arms race with the public schools at this time, as they were under constant attack for their poorly staffed and equipped parish schools. The public schools had yet to fall under the baleful influence of Dewey, whose goal was to prepare kids for the upcoming Revolution, not fill their heads with actual thoughts. Preparing kids to think for themselves, as Fichte observed, is not what schools are for. In addition, the public school advocates were in the process of ‘consolidating’ the one-room schools out of business, and thus had to show, somehow, that their big graded schools were better. Since the consolidated schools most certainly were not better in terms of customer satisfaction (students and parents tended to love their one room schools), cost efficiency (consolidated schools were about 4 times as expensive on a per-student basis), and time efficiency (6 hours a day plus homework for 9-10 months a year didn’t get better results than the shorter, less frequent school days of the rural schools), they mostly outspent the competition, while depriving them of government money at the same time.
So we got a glorious blossoming of well-equipped, well-staffed high schools with high standards in America that lasted in most places through the 1950s, or later if the schools were far enough from the major cities. Similar to the way moderns talk positively about Communism now that the bulk of Americans who knew first hand about it have died off, so the educators could move to fully implement Dewey’s (and Freire’s) ideas once those who had been educated outside the system died off or could be marginalized (e.g., Catholics and home schoolers). That’s the source not only of the dumbed-down woke death spiral in public education and the embrace of secular woo-woo by all ‘elite’ Catholic schools who still think they’ll get a seat at the cool kid’s table if only they conform to The Latest Thinking, but also of the perennial calls to ban homeschooling and private schools and to require public school attendance for everybody.
So the archdiocese of Philadelphia was moved to create what sounds like an excellent high school. Good times.
Possibly interesting stuff, perhaps not dead-on topic. We are at the Yard Sale of the Mind, after all.
You know how when you get a car, you immediately notice all the similar models driving around, that had, being just cars and all, previously escaped your notice? No? Well, whenever I delude myself into thinking I have an actual idea, it seems I notice similar ideas everywhere. On the one hand, it is comforting to think I’m not *just* a crazy poser; on the other, hey! That was *my* idea!
Regarding the Postmillennialism mentioned in yesterday’s post, David Warren did a post on Dickens, who was achieving literary success in England just as the Second Great Awakening was winding down in America. Many have noted the Romanticism in Postmillennialism, which elevates feelings over thinking. By comparison to the Puritans, with their rigid logic of predestination and the bondage of the will, and even Unitarian Universalists, and their equally logical, if less dour, conclusion that all are predestined to salvation, the rising sects of the Second Great Awakening had little use for thorough, logical theology. The Latter Day Saints, a pure product of that Great Awakening, are perhaps the cleanest and most Romantic of the participant sects. As a Mormon missionary will tell you, you question and study and pray hoping for that moment when the Spirit touches your heart, and gets your brain out of the way.
Which is almost correct. St. Teresa of Avila, who reasoned her way to faith as a child, and persevered and advanced despite no consolations – no sense of the Spirit touching her heart – for a decade and a half, and then was cautious ever after about her feelings even as she was enveloped in experiences of God’s love, is the full expression of the underlying truth.
As Chesterton points out somewhere: A lie is never so dangerous as when it is very nearly true.
Anyway: today Mr. Warren writes, to clarify his ‘paradoxical recommendation’ of Dickens:
He was among the writers (and artists generally) who contributed subtly to our post-Christian worldview, based on emotion, not remorseless thought. Who made, say, Christmas about giving presents to little children, rather than centrally about the birth of Christ. That doesn’t mean his works should be suppressed. On the contrary, they should be read and enjoyed, with this thought in mind. He moralizes, but in a way that may actually subvert morality, by substituting “feelings” for the hard truths, which are to die for.
There is a not-entirely-subtle rejection of rationality that permeates education reformers from Luther through Fichte and on to Harris and Dewey. Luther famously distrusted argument; Fichte rejected the very idea of objective reality and wanted education to destroy the free will of the student (there is no such thing as reason without a free will); Harris speaks of “substantial education” as producing automata.; and Dewey was a Marxist, asserting the bondage of the will (and thus, reason) to class consciousness. Masked in Enlightenment optimism, especially as expressed in Americanism, this embrace of Romanticism and its reliance of feelings is, at its roots, a type of despair. In its more positive form, it is despair of our human powers, as when we recognize that our best efforts most often still fail, and thus we are moved to await a Savior; its darker manifestation is the paradoxical belief that the ignorant and immoral can be fixed if only we Enlightened can control them through education. This tyrannical optimism becomes murderous despair when it encounters objective reality in the form of real, sinful human beings, especially the specimen in the mirror. It is not surprising, in this context, that objective reality was rejected by Fichte and Marx. Their projects collapse unless they can be preserved from contact with the real world. Communism has never been tried, right?
I was wondering who Henry Edwin Dwight, the fellow who wrote Travels in the North of Germany 1825-1826, was. He lived a short life, and there were no biographies I could find on the web. But then, in other readings, I came across educator and reformer Timothy Dwight, part of a large and illustrious Dwight clan. Henry E. was the 7th of 8 sons of Timothy, who was president of Yale. Timothy Dwight, while ‘tied to the past’ according to Blinderman, pitched for women to be educated – although pitch is all he did – and imposed a degree of discipline at Yale. According to numerous critics, including a number of graduates, college life in American at the turn of the 19th century was a joke, with rich playboys and rowdies learning very little yet getting awarded degrees anyway. Dwight sought to put an end to this at Yale.
Seems we’ve come full circle. Funny, that.
Finishing up American Writers on Education Before 1865, by Abraham Blinderman. Published in 1975, it reviews what American writers had to say about educational from the colonial era to the Civil War – kind of like what the title might imply. Anyway, it is enough of a product of modern academia that Progressive is used unironically as a synonym for ‘good’ and conservative for ‘bad’. As those terms were understood in 1975. Anything that tends toward or foreshadows the heights of 1975 academic thinking is of course praiseworthy; anything that contradicts it is backwards. Thus, the gradual secularization of education is a good thing, even though the point reached by 1865 is merely an attempt at ‘mere Christianity’ circa 19th century America: Episcopalians would grudgingly make room for Congregationalists and Presbyterians, and even look the other way for Methodists, Baptists and Quakers, who would likewise tolerate the stuffy, way too papist Episcopalians. The non-sectarian schools of the era all used the King James Bible and history texts that painted the Church as the Whore of Babylon and the Reformers as heroes. One simply agreed not to think too hard about the mutually exclusive doctrinal issues that created the myriad sects in the first place, let alone discuss them in school. The unifying principle was hatred of Rome.
In this sense, the ultimate secularization of the school was partly the fault of Catholics, who were the one large group of people at the time excluded from the ‘mere Christians’. Under pressure from Catholics, the common schools jettisoned the KJV and, eventually, all talk of Christianity. (And, eventually, so did the Catholic schools, pretty much. But that’s another story.)
The universal complaint of these early American writers is the low quality of the common school teachers and facilities. Teaching was a low-paying, low respect job, which therefore often fell to those with few other prospects, or those who needed a little cash before going on to a real career. Since school funding was left up to local communities, they tended to pay the teacher as little as possible, and equip the schoolhouse as cheaply as possible. If only – if only! – the state would tax everybody to pay for schools, give decent salaries to the teachers, and force all children to attend school, the Millennium of peace and justice was sure to dawn right here in America, the most enlightened and free country in the world. Education theorist never seemed to notice the conflict between means and ends: we will make everybody free and just by forcing them against their wills to fund and send their kids to school.
A. Once read a story about a severe case of psychosomatic illness, where a man was sure he had completely lost the use of his arm. Medical examination showed nothing unusual or unhealthy about the the limb. During a discussion with a doctor, the man reached over and picked something up with his ‘crippled’ arm – then returned it to its former crippled position. When the doctor pointed out that he had just used the very limb he was reporting as crippled, the man acted shocked and said no he hadn’t. His disorder was such that he really seemed to believe that he hadn’t done what the doctor, sitting right there, had seen him do.
This story was brought to mind by the poll results supposedly saying something like 70% of people support the lockup amd masks. Right – except when I’m out and about – scofflaw that I am – I notice and awful lot of other people out and about, many unmasked. Further, driving on the freeways, there’s nowhere near a 70% reduction in traffic – it might be down a little, but not so much as you’d notice. There’s still rush hour slowdowns, and, most telling, significant weekend traffic going and coming from Napa – just like there has been on nice sunny summer weekends for decades.
The most obvious cause is, of course, the use of supposed poll results to spread lies – a hoary tradition. But, based on more anecdotal evidence, I suspect there are a lot of people paying lip service to the lockup while largely going about their lives as if everything they want to do is some sort of exception that of course isn’t what the governors means by sheltering in place.
I would expect such people to be shocked by accusations of hypocrisy. I suspect many are not even clear-headed enough to recognize that’s what they’re doing.
Me, I go wherever I want, and grit my teeth for now and wear the damn mask whenever there’s a risk of getting somebody else in trouble, such as a store keeper or the local parish priest. I can just see some Karen suing them for letting me walk around like a normal person. But out on my own, walking around? They can go perform anatomically impossible acts of a private nature on themselves.
B. More anecdotal stuff: I have 4 medical professionals within my immediate family/friends. Two are retired nurses; one is an active nurse supervisor; one is an active surgeon. Two are cowering at home, terrified. Guess which 2? Yep, the retired nurses. The active nurse, who is in a position to know exactly how many COVID patients are being treated across a large medical medical system, is unimpressed. There’s no there there – single-digit patients admitted, and no deaths except where the patient was already seriously ill. The surgeon, who is a cancer survivor so in a theoretically much higher risk group, is furious at what has been done in the name of medical science, and scoffs at the lockup and masks.
Just some data points. Meanwhile, the bulk of the relatives are terrified rabbits. Friends, on the other hand, tend toward rational, data-driven skepticism no doubt politically motivated, conspiracy theory driven denial. Or something.
C. The method of education history research has evolved into this: I start reading a major work, currently Burns’s Catholic School System in the United States. When there is some interesting reference in that text, I see if it is available on line. If so – and, so far, it almost always is – I read some of it to see if it is applicable. If so, I tend to reads some more.
That second text likely has interesting references in it as well, causing me to repeat the process. Right now, I am reading or have just finished reading:
Burns, above, referenced in Walch’s Parish Schools, which I’m maybe 30% of the way through volume 1 or 2, wherein a reference is made to
Gordy’s Rise & Growth of the Normal School Idea in the United States, in which are references to
Dwight’s Travels in the North of Germany in 1825-26, which I have finished, and
Hall’s Lectures on School-Keeping, which I’m almost done with.
Hall’s little book contains a long list of recommended textbooks, some of which are no doubt available on line for free; I’m also reading the dead tree addition of American Writers on Education Before 1865, put together by an Abraham Blinderman and published in 1975, part of a 2 volume set, the second of course being on American writers on education after 1865. That book references some of the books I’ve already read or started! So maybe there is an end to this?
I’ve made it my practice to download these books whenever possible, paste them into an Open Office doc and save it locally – just in case. Unfortunately, since these works seem to have been scanned from old library hard copies through somebody’s patient, lightly remunerated toil, the text versions are full of artifacts and weird formatting. Thus, I find myself formatting as I read, doing some corrections where the text was really odd as scanned. I do this partly because I’m cutting and pasting sections of particular interest into a separate “notes on … ” Open Office doc, and want it more legible, and partly just because I hate stupid hard to read formats.
At the moment, there are 9 Open Office docs open on my desktop. There are a bunch more in the file.
Tomorrow, I need to work on the outline for Book A – the more rhetorical, less scholarly work intended to convince Catholics that we need to stop this nonsense of trying to be kinder, ever so slightly more Catholic versions of public schools, and propose an alternative framework. Book B, much less important, is the more scholarly work with all the references and research. I want to try to do it this way, in 2 seperate books, to keep from bogging Book A down with too much detail, but since I like detail, to put it in Book B for the masochists out there.
D. Next up: return to reading Burns, then on to the great Catholic educators: De la Salle, Don Bosco, Seton, with some notes on Jerome, Augustne, Thomas and more. These great saints are obviously much more important to this project from a positive action point of view, but knowing what we’re up against is also essential.
Either concurrently or next, I need to revisit this short book of Vatican teachings on education put together by a American bishop for the USCCB. First read it a couple years ago, and got that ‘cherry-picked’ vibe, in that the selections contained no mention at all of any possible conflicts between church and state, but rather supported the certainly correct in theory position that the Church should work with the state on their common educational goals. The actual, non-theoretical world we live in doesn’t contain very many cases where the state’s educational goals are not in stark and irreconcilable contrast to the Church’s educational goals.
In Dwight’s Travels in the North of Germany in 1825-26 he mentions a couple of times an odd thing, or, at least, something I was unaware of: the reticence of Germans throughout the German Confederation to talk about politics or religion:
An American, mingling in society in this country, is much surprised at the difference he observes in the topics of conversation prevalent here, and with us. The strict censorship which has for so long a period governed the press, as well as the dread produced by the daily sight of gendarmes, and by a consciousness of the accurate and extensive information which the government possesses through its system of espionage, prevents all appearance of political discussion in a mixed circle. The numerous diversities of creeds which exist in this country, as well as the very great indifference which most persons feel respecting the dogmas of the Lutheran Church, have excluded religion from among the topics of conversation in society. In conversing with a gentleman, if you introduce a political subject, he looks around him cautiously to see who may be near, and then replies to you in a whisper, conveying but an imperfect idea of his real sentiments. So accustomed are they to a restricted press, that there seems to be but one general feeling on this subject ; the necessity of silence. When alone with them, they will sometimes partially banish their fears, and inform you that every thing is not exactly as they would wish ; but there are then so many explanations and suggestions added before the conversation ends, that you are left in doubt as to their real sentiments. It makes my American blood boil when I see this cowardly spirit ; but I should probably feel very differently had my neck been galled by the yoke of submission, and were my fears ever alive lest my fate might become as mysteriously dark as that of some of their friends or acquaintances on whom suspicion has rested. Not only in Prussia, but in every country which I have visited, has it been my constant habit to express my thoughts on all political subjects, except as to the administration of the government under whose protection I happened to be at the time, with the same freedom as in my own country. I knew that my passport would protect me from personal outrage, and that the only inconvenience that could befal me, would be an order to leave the country ; a punishment less disagreeable to me than that of putting fetters on my mouth. When thus conversing, the Prussians look at me with surprise at my boldness, and by a continued silence, leave me in doubt as to their real sentiments, or give a whispered acquiescence.
So the Germans, at the time von Humboldt reformed their schools, were cowed into silence about political issues by threat of punishment. Since church, state, and school were all one, headed up by state, of course, religious or political discussions, insofar as those were substantively different, were carefully monitored and controlled in the universities and the gymnasia that fed student to them.
In my near complete ignorance of German history, I was unaware of what shook out after that whole getting conquered by Napoleon thing. The Holy Roman Empire was ended in 1806, the same year Napoleon won the Battle of Jena and humbled Prussia. After Napoleon was finally defeated and driven out in 1815, the German Confederation was founded by the Congress of Vienna, where representatives of the European powers tried to divvy up the mess left by the collapse of Napoleon’s French Empire. These were hard-headed politicians with no use for all that revolutionary republican claptrap – they wanted order, and a balance of power that would prevent more of the major wars Europe had just been through. This made for an awkward situation between Protestant Prussia and Catholic Austria, both lumped together in the Confederation even though they were competitors for German loyalty. Their inability to compromise crippled the Confederacy, making it hard to do anything. (Perhaps, to the rest of Europe, having Prussia and Austria unable to unite and get anything done might seem a positive?)
The European powers, having gotten a good close look at the results of the French Revolution, were not interested in progress and enlightenment, since, practically speaking, those ideals took the form of murder and mayhem. Yet, then as now, the Universities were hotbeds of the Latest Thinking. So when a liberal student named Sands murdered a famous conservative playwright Kotzebue in 1819, the government took the opportunity to crush anti-government sentiments and organizations in the universities and gymnasia:
The murder of Kotzebue furnished the governments with an admirable pretext for declaring that a conspiracy existed in the universities of Germany. Professors and students were arraigned before the tribunals, and the Central Untcrsuchungs Commission, which had been established some time before, was constantly occupied. Many on whom suspicion rested, were arraigned before it, and one Professor after another was displaced. Many of the students were imprisoned, and at the subsequent trials in Prussia, not a small number were sent to the penitentiaries ; some for life, and others from two to ten years. The governments were very glad of an opportunity of exhibiting their lower, in order to strike terror into the minds of the students. They pretended that these conspiracies existed all over Germany, and that the monarchs and the existing governments were in danger of being overthrown. The censorship was made much more severe ; the gymnastic establishments connected with the universities, which were believed to be one of the principal sources of this spirit of disorganisation [interesting choice of words – ed.], were abolished ; and the societies among the students were crushed by the strong arm of power. The number of the sufferers and the severity of their punishment, proved a most effectual lesson to those who had escaped, and the feeling which had been seen at the Wartburg festival, entirely disappeared. Instead of talking about their Fatherland, union, and liberty, the students found barely time enough to reorganise their Landsmannschaften, and fight the duels which according to their ideas, necessarily grew out of these institutions. On the subject of politics, not a mouth whispered, unless in the confidence of intimacy ; and a traveller passing at that time through Germany, might not have discovered that a single individual was dissatisfied with the governments. The Germans now speak more openly on the subject, and many of them do not hesitate to say, that the young men who were imprisoned, suffered most unjustly ; that the pretended conspiracy never existed ; and that the governments only availed themselves of this pretence to diminish the liberties of the people. They dreaded, say they, to have their conduct pass the scrutiny of the press, or of conversation ; and under a pretext of danger, they have seized this occasion to fetter our minds, and throw us back into the despotism of the last century.
The governments within the German Confederation succeeded, it seems, for a generation or two at least, in suppressing demands for a more democratic and republican form of government.
Yet the idea of revolutionaries in the universities and gymnasia is at odds with Dwight’s general observation on German government:
The Germans are doubtless the easiest people in Europe to be governed. They are much less ardent than the French or the other nations of the South of Europe, and it requires far greater aggression to rouse them to a public expression of their feelings. So long have they been accustomed to submit to a foreign or native master, that they appear to have no thoughts of making an effort to improve their condition. It is true that this subject made some noise in the universities a few years since ; but that excitement ceased with the abolition of the secret societies ; and at the present time, no one thinks of opening his mouth upon it. A powerful cause will produce no greater effect here, than one of a feeble character in France. Such a burst of national feeling as has recently been seen there, at the death of General Foy, will probably never be witnessed in this country, unless some great event should agitate the public mind. French blood is too hot, and too rapid in its movements to allow them to remain tranquil; and if they do not act, they will at least talk. This too they do in a manner which often excited my surprise. At table d’hotcs, in diligences, and in private circles, the proceedings of government are discussed with a freedom not surpassed by any thing in our political debates. The only latitude we enjoy that the French do not, is our liberty of speaking and writing as we please of the President of the United States, while they are compelled publicly to speak and write respectfully of the king. In private circles, however, they call him a bete, and a cochon. Nothing of this kind is heard here. If the monarch is ever alluded to, it is to pass an eulogium on some act of his life, or at the most to express a hope that he would pursue a different course.
This seems to be yet another case where elites want people who can easily be lead, without considering that such people may be lead anywhere. A goal of the schools, both in their Prussian origins and as adopted by Americans and the rest of Europe, is a certain uniformity of thought, framed up as training in the morality needed to be a ‘good’ German or a ‘patriotic’ American. The machinery thus established to this end can then be used by whoever controls it to whatever end the new masters want. In Germany, the Nazis eventually got to drive; in 2020 America, it is Critical Theorist and their useful idiots.
Perhaps having the schools cultivate, or at least not actively undermine, the natural loyalty of children to their family, village, and faith could help prevent battles over the reins of state schooling and the subsequent destruction of society.
Finally, and tangentially to our purposes here, Dwight visited Strasburg’s Gothic Cathedral. His description is interesting:
It surpasses, however, all Gothic edifices I have seen, in the solemnity of its interior. No other structure presents windows of such colouring, where light is thrown into hues so brilliant and so variegated, or where they blend and are contrasted with so intense beauty. It is the only edifice which ever made me feel the solemn gloom I had anticipated, on entering a Gothic cathedral of the old world. Here I found it more than realised, and felt how admirably such edifices are fitted to excite the passions of a superstitious age. The monuments which you meet in these structures, remind you not only that you will ere long be numbered with the dead, but, in the images and bas reliefs which adorn them, they tell you of the virtues of those who are there reposing. The paintings which rise above the altars, often relate the miracles of the great founder of our religion, or of some of the saints who imitated his example, in all the power of poetry ; a poetry, too, which more than the “poet’s pen, bodies forth the forms of things unknown,” and gives them a reality. Others delineate that awful day, when the graves shall open, and the Judge shall condemn the wicked, or present a view of that world of anguish whose gates are barred for ever. This art has done more for the Catholic religion, than the Inquisition with all its racks and tortures. It is more concise than logic or even mathematics, as it reveals at a glance all that the soul dreads or hopes for ; and not unfrequently carries a conviction to the heart, which no arguments can efface. Such paintings are doubly powerful from the gloomy light by which they are seen* which corresponds so admirably with the subjects delineated. To the ignorant, they reveal the future, and around it they throw a solemnity as awful as eternity. I could easily realize, that in the zenith of the Catholic religion, before the light of Protestantism had in some measure penetrated the gloom of these edifices, that no one could enter them without becoming still more superstitious, and without finding his reason at times overpowered by feeling, as through their almost holy light, he saw the solemn ceremonies of the Catholic church, when at the height of its power.
Dwight is doing his darndest not to let this whole Catholicism thing get to him:
Europe does not present a greater contrast than an Italian and a Protestant metropolis. Here the churches are the only constant external objects which remind you that you are in a religious country. South of the Alps the Catholic religion meets you wherever you turn your eyes. In the morning, when you awake, it appears in the consecrated wax candle, with a painted representation of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove ; in the crucifix ; or in the picture of Santa Maria, or of some one of the saints, which is suspended near your bed. Having left your couch to take a ramble, you perceive it in the hundreds of triangular hats and black and purple stockings of Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, and Novitiates. At the corners it presents itself in the form of a Madonna, with the infant Jesus in painting or in sculpture ; again in the crucifix carried through street after street, succeeded by a long procession of the clergy ; in men or women, with dominos covering their faces, and soliciting money for the mother of God; in a multitude of dirty, bare-footed, lazy monks, with faces as round as the moon, begging you to give something to a poor capuchin, or to one of some other order. At the next turn it appears in the sister of charity, arrayed in garments as black as Tarturus ; or in a prostrate multitude kneeling bareheaded to the host, and looking at you as you pass by them, with your head covered, as if, with the expression, “you will burn for this.” You hear it in the matin and vesper bell, and from every beggar who accosts you, smoothing his petition with the names of a dozen saints, to give more force to his entreaty. You hear it again in the devotee who stands under a picture or crucifix and counts his beads, while lie repeats and re-repcats his Pater Noster and Ave Maria, calling upon la Virgine beatissima as his greatest protector ; and in the music which precedes a procession in honour, not of God, but of the patron saint of the city through which you are passing. You taste it in the meagre fish dinners which you get on Friday. You smell it in the incense which you inhale as you enter one of the churches ; and your nose perceives its effects in the dirty priest or monk who happens to be near you. Sometimes you even feel it in the jog of the devotee, who reminds you that you must kneel, for Christ (viz. a wafer) approaching. In one word, it occupies all your senses ; being seen, felt, heard, smelt, or tasted, by every traveller who crosses the Alps.
He thinks, of course, that all this all Catholic, all the time stuff this is a bad thing. Huh.
From whom and from where do we get our identity? Who are we?
The question in the title is, of course, from the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus asks the Apostles who people say He is:
* 13 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi* he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist,* others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,* and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.
Peter, who over the course of the Gospels is revealed to be, at different times, a tempter of God, an impulsive hothead, and a coward, nonetheless knows who Jesus is. Because he knows Who his Lord is, that Lord is able to tell him who *he* is. He is defined, not by his talents or achievements, nor by his membership in an oppressed group, but by his role: Peter is the Rock upon which Christ’s Church will be built, he is the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Heaven, the holder of the King’s keys.
So the goofball – that Peter is no great shakes is a great comfort to us other goofballs – gets assigned a task of great glory. That he’s hardly up to the task doesn’t matter so much as his getting up and trying again every time he fails. He converts thousands with a Pentecost sermon; Paul rebukes him. He runs to the empty tomb; the Risen Lord extracts from him that very painful 3 part confession of love, and reinforces his assigned role: feed my sheep. He, and King David, are our examples and models of leadership under God: far from perfect, but faithful.
It will cost him. But it was worth it. He, with Paul, are the third rank of saints, behind only Mary and Joseph. Not bad.
I sit here, in my backyard, under the shade of two ancient walnut trees, flowers blooming, a light breeze blowing, a picture of homely contentment, much closer to the end of my life than to its beginning. Who am I? If I confess My Lord, and say Who He is, he will tell me who I am. I am a husband and a father – that’s my particular vocation. I am a brother, an uncle, a son. I am a friend.
I am a lamb under shepherds. I am a loyal citizen and patriot under temporal powers, a lover of the land of my birth because it is the land of my birth.
I am a beloved child of God. I understand little of this, but it give me comfort and reveals my purpose. It is our lot to need to rechoose this every moment, for we will forget, and not know who we are. We are always a moment of forgetfulness from losing ourselves.
We live among people, our brothers and sisters, who don’t know who they are. Since they will not confess the Lord, yet need someone to tell them who they are, they are doomed to believe they are whoever those who do not love them tell them they are.