And The Rock Was Christ

Brethren, let not your instruments of music rest in your work: sing one to another songs of Sion. Readily have ye heard; the more readily do what you have heard, if you wish not to be willows of Babylon fed by its streams, and bringing no fruit. But sigh for the everlasting Jerusalem: whither your hope goes before, let your life follow; there we shall be with Christ. Christ now is our Head; now He rules us from above; in that city He will fold us to Himself; we shall be equal to the Angels of God. We should not dare to imagine this of ourselves, did not the Truth promise it. This then desire, brethren, this day and night think on. Howsoever the world shine happily on you, presume not, parley not willingly with your lusts. Is it a grown-up enemy? Let it be slain upon the Rock. Is it a little enemy? Let it be dashed against the Rock. Slay the grown-up ones on the Rock, and dash the little ones against the Rock. Let the Rock conquer. Be built upon the Rock, if you desire not to be swept away either by the stream, or the winds, or the rain. If you wish to be armed against temptations in this world, let longing for the everlasting Jerusalem grow and be strengthened in your hearts. Your captivity will pass away, your happiness will come; the last enemy shall be destroyed, and we shall triumph with our King, without death.

–St. Augustine, Ennarrationes in Psalmos, 136

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Conversational Pelagianism

Last year I had the good fortune to accidentally end up teaching Pelagianism to my Third Formers.  Like many accidents in teaching, it worked out very well and I think I’ll repeat the lesson this year.

As the academic year came to a close I realized I had a timing problem.  With only 3 or 4 class days left, I did not have time to teach my usual close-out lesson on the basic moral content of the Gospel.  Typically I take 5 or 6 class days to go through the Sermon on the Mount and the basic Pauline exhortations so that my students will have some idea what Catholicism is about outside of their primary source of information, the TV and the internet.

Since I was short on time, I let my students choose their final lesson.  I could teach a shortened version of my Sermon on the Mount material, or I could teach any topic they wanted me to tackle.  Any at all!  I have a lot of theological hobbies and many had come up over the course of the year without us having a chance to do more than touch upon them.  New astronomy?  Church history myth-busting?  Thorny scriptural interpretations?  Philosophy of science, the nature of numbers?

Most students were indifferent but the active voters lobbied for “cool-sounding heresies.”  I’d already covered the most famous ones–you can’t teach Trinity without talking about Arius, for example–and in fact I’d already covered Pelagianism indirectly.  It’s quite astonishing just how much of the basic Catholic catechism is influenced by a repudiation of Pelagianism and the later battles over the same topic (*cough* Protestantism *cough*).  But when I suggested Pelagianism they jumped, with one of them slyly asking me if I’d ever heard the tragedy of Darth Pelagius the Wise (that’s a Star Wars joke, for my non-nerd audience).  Topic settled!

So how do you teach Pelagianism to 9th-graders?  I’m glad you asked! Continue reading Conversational Pelagianism

Vergil to Augustine: Inanitas

My friend Adam has hit upon a quite nice little idea in his translating of the Aeneid.  The general idea is that Vergil is a cynic who ends all his most epic scenes by throwing shade on them.  I’ll let Adam speak for himself on the details, but I was pleased to play a small auxiliary role in the hashing out of the idea.

Initially I resisted his take on the pictura inani, or empty picture, that Aeneas used to feed his soul.  Why not instead stay local and contrast Aeneas feeding his soul (animus) with a soulless (inane) picture?  But once we got talking, his cynical read started to grow really nicely.

While Adam ran off to do some real work (prep for a class), I played the role of research assistant gunning down every use of the adjective inanis in the Aeneid.  Again, God bless the internet.  And indeed, it is quite remarkable how often inanis shows up just in an amateur little word search, and what it ends up modifying (hope, rage, tears, etc.).

It was also fun because our discussion of Vergil’s agenda–pro Augustan or not?–sparked an idea about another field full of expert scholarship: the writings of St. Augustine. Continue reading Vergil to Augustine: Inanitas

Read More: City of God

St. Augustine’s City of God is my white whale.  I have tried and tried and tried to finish this book, which I love and which I happily declare a masterpiece.  But. It’s. So. Long.  Every few months to a year I pick it up again and have to go back to the beginning to get back into it because I completely forget where I have left off.  I think I’ve read Book I maybe 12-15 times now.  I’ve read a lot of books of not-inconsequential length before, but this one somehow just slays me every time.

One of my enduring delights about City of God–despite being trapped in it like Groundhog Day–is St. Augustine’s ambivalent approach to the Roman gods.  It’s an ambivalence that I’ve shared for a long time, primarily thanks to reading a lot of fantasy literature as a kid.  Reading classics and especially medieval stuff like Ariosto has strongly reinforced it.  We may summarize the whole problem by taking a sharp left turn and considering a dinner-table conversation in my house.

“Dad,” sayeth the heir.  “Are the Greek gods real?”

Respondit the father, “Uh….” Continue reading Read More: City of God