I just learned that Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen) has resigned as primate of the Orthodox Church in America. He submitted his letter of resignation this past Friday, July 6; the bishops of the synod, meeting by conference call, accepted his resignation the following day, and, today, appointed Archbishop Nathaniel of Detroit as locum tenens and Bishop Peter of New York as temporary Administrator of the O.C.A. The text of Metropolitan Jonah’s letter of resignation, taken from the OCA website, reads as follows:

“To the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America,


“As per your unanimous request, as conveyed to me by Chancellor Fr. John Jillions, I hereby tender my resignation as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and humbly request another Episcopal assignment.

“I had come to the realization long ago that that I have neither the personality nor the temperament for the position of Primate, a position I never sought nor desired.

“It is my hope that due consideration will be made for my financial situation, both in any interim and in consideration for any future position. I am the main financial support for both my parents and my sister, beyond my own needs.

“I will appreciate your consideration in this, and beg forgiveness for however I have offended you, and for whatever difficulties have arisen from my own inadequacies and mistakes in judgment.

“Asking your prayers, I remain faithfully yours,
“Metropolitan Jonah, Archbishop of Washington”

One fact that comes to light in this letter is that the synod of the O.C.A. had unanimously requested Metropolitan Jonah to step down. One wonders why.

An ache

June 11, 2012

I went to the doctor’s today, to report an ache. The doctor prescribed some medicine. I went to the drug store, gave them the prescription, and told them I’d be back in 20 minutes. When I got back, the pharmacist said to me, “Oh, Mr. Gilbert, we need to ask you a question before filling out this prescription. Your insurance doesn’t cover this medication; are you sure you still want it?” I asked how much the medication cost; she said “Two fifty.” I said I could afford two fifty. When the cashier rang up the bill, I got out my two dollars and fifty cents. Then, as I began to contemplate the cashier’s quoting a somewhat longer figure, it dawned on me: the cost of the medication was $250.

Moral of the story: Don’t get sick.

Grades were sent in today; I still need to send students their graded final exams; will probably get around to that task tomorrow. But, for the time being, while my potatoes are boiling on the stove, I will do something I have not done for some months, and attempt to post something to this blog.

The long hiatus in my writing anything on this public space has been entirely necessary. For much of the past nine months, in my work as a teacher at the Lyceum School, I have attempted to teach six (at times seven) separate subjects: Ancient Greek, Latin, Algebra, Medieval History, Biology, and New Testament, with lately also a class in drawing thrown in for good measure. One visible result of this activity is a noticeable increase in grey hairs on the top of my head. I am worn out, and need a vacation.

It is, however, not merely excess of work that has kept me from this forum. It is also the necessity to remain circumspect. I was asked, early in the school year by someone whom I shall not name but upon whom my paycheck depends, not to express certain political views on this blog; I have complied with that request, largely by writing nothing. It is just as well; there is nothing very important that I have had to say.

Nevertheless, at the risk of disseminating illicit political opinions, I will give here a sentence from our Latin exam. I made up the sentence, in part to illustrate certain grammatical points (especially, the use of the passive periphrastic construction and the future participle), but also because I agree with the proposition that the sentence asserts. Here it is:

Mundus servandus est pro postea vîcturis.

Perhaps one of you bright people out there in blog-readership land will know what this sentence means. If not, it is a sign that you need to enroll at the Lyceum School outside of Cleveland.

(Incidentally: vîcturis is not from vinco, vincere, but from something else.)

Yesterday evening I gave a lecture here in Cleveland at the Lyceum School before an audience of ten people. It is, I confess, a somewhat haphazard discussion, having been thrown together in the past few days in the midst of my work teaching six separate subjects; I could wish that it were better. The Q&A that followed the lecture was, however, excellent; some very important topics were raised. The following is the text of the address, with slight revisions.

My name is Peter Gilbert; I have been, for the past three months, a teacher here at the Lyceum School. Because the manner in which I came to be at this school is, in some ways, pertinent to the subject matter of this lecture, I shall very briefly provide you with some historical background. In 2005, at the time that I was still teaching at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but was preparing to leave, I made the acquaintance of Luke Macik, now the headmaster of this school; at that time, Mr. Macik served as a lawyer in Gallup, New Mexico. I had heard of him through a mutual acquaintance, Mr. Joe Cieszinski, manager and proprietor of Cornerstone Books, who one day told me about a project that was underway to found an Eastern Catholic great books college near Chicago; he mentioned Mr. Macik, a parishioner at his church in Albuquerque, as one of the men spearheading this endeavor. Through him I obtained Mr. Macik’s telephone number; I called him, then drove down to Gallup to visit him, and the rest, as they say, is history. Eventually I became closely involved in the project to found what was to be called Transfiguration College; unfortunately, for various reasons, including the downturn in the economy, the college never managed to become a reality. At the time, I found it striking how often people who heard about this college would say what a great idea it was, and how it filled a real need. I still think that such a college is a good idea, that there is a real, felt need for it, and that a marriage of the traditional, theological content of Eastern Christianity with the methodology of great books, liberal arts education makes inherent sense. It is doubtless because he knows that I think this that Mr. Macik asked me, some months ago, to deliver this lecture, to talk about why such an education makes sense.

But I have to preface this talk by stating that to attempt to talk about both liberal education and Eastern Christianity, and to accomplish this in the space of a half hour or 45 minutes, is to undertake a fairly impossible task. There are too many things that must be left undefined and unexamined. What do we mean by “Eastern Christianity”? What do we mean by “liberal education”? One could spend well over 45 minutes trying to define just one of these two entities; to attempt to speak of both is perhaps foolish.

So let me start by saying that it is not my intention this afternoon to spend the time allotted to me making an apologia for this or that brand of Eastern Christianity. I am, myself, an Orthodox Christian, and am grateful for my baptism in the Orthodox Church; but I am also an Orthodox Christian who is convinced that many Orthodox arguments commonly used to justify the continued separation of the Churches do not measure up to scrutiny. I am quite a newcomer to Cleveland, but I have lived here long enough to notice that there are various neighborhoods in town where one finds, at one end of the block, a large church with an onion dome on top of it and a sign on the front gate saying “Orthodox,” while, at the other end of the block or the street, one finds another large church, perhaps equally splendid and ornate, with perhaps even more onion domes on top and a sign on the front saying “Catholic.” I could wish that reasons of frugality, if not the better motives of Christian love and peace, might dictate an end to such unnecessary duplication. It is, indeed, distressing to see Eastern Christianity as a kind of permanent illustration of Jesus’ words about a house divided.

Much of my research over the past half decade or so has been devoted to reading and translating people who also were distressed by this division and who sought to do something to end it. In particular, I have translated some of the works of John Bekkos, who was Patriarch of Constantinople during the short-lived Union of Lyons (1275-1282); he supported that union, and argued at length that it was theologically sound. Most Orthodox do not like John Bekkos; in contemporary Greece, he is commonly portrayed as an arch-villain, a sort of Judas or Benedict Arnold who sold his priceless birthright of Orthodox truth for a mess of Frankish porridge; mythological stories are invented about him having descended upon Mount Athos with Latin mercenaries, wreaking destruction and slaughter upon the courageous monks who resisted his impious doctrines; one particularly strident commentator on my blog maintained last year that he had seen, with his own eyes, John Bekkos’s bones, preserved somewhere upon Mount Athos in some sort of liquid medium, perpetually boiling as a sure sign of his eternal damnation; how John Bekkos’s bones ended up on Mount Athos when he was buried hundreds of miles away in an unmarked grave in Asia Minor, inside a government fortress, the ardent commentator never saw fit to explain, nor how he recognized the bones as actually belonging to John Bekkos and not to some other individual.

For myself, I have no special revelation regarding the eternal destiny of John Bekkos’s soul, but I am persuaded that Bekkos was a sincere Christian and a man who loved peace and truth. Bekkos was, I think, not only a good man, but a good liberal artist; indeed, I suspect that these two things, being a good man and being a good liberal artist, have something to do with each other. What these two things have to do with each other is perhaps the most important thing we need to clarify today. But, to say a bit more about Bekkos: he accepted the Union of Lyons because he sought to inherit Christ’s blessing upon the peacemakers, because he believed it was right, and in accordance with God’s will, to seek the unity of God’s people, and because his studies of the fathers had led him to conclude that the Greek-speaking fathers of the ancient Church were not as dogmatically opposed to Latin Christian formulations of doctrine as were later Greek Christians like Photius and Michael Cerularius; he thought that the later theologians, under the pressure of nationalistic rivalry and dogmatic controversy, had emphasized those things in which the churches seemed to differ and had minimized those things that might allow those differences to be seen in a better light. Bekkos even thought that he could see, in Greek patristic literature, a teaching on the Holy Spirit akin to the Latin doctrine of the Filioque; he found evidence for this in writers like St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Epiphanius, but also in the Cappadocian fathers themselves, in St. Athanasius, in St. Maximus, and in many others. When St. Cyril says that the Holy Spirit is “poured forth substantially from both, that is to say, from the Father through the Son” (De adoratione et cultu in spiritu et veritate, lib. I; PG 68, 148 A), and that the Spirit is “both proper to [the Son of God] and in him and from him, just as, to be sure, the same thing is understood to hold true in the case of God the Father himself” (Commentarius in Joelem prophetam 35; PG 71, 377 D), and when St. Gregory of Nyssa says that the Son “is conceived of as before the Spirit’s hypostasis only in concept, with respect to causality” (Contra Eunomium I; PG 45, 464 B-C), or when he compares the Trinity to three candles, in which the flame of the first is communicated to the third through the second one (Adv. Macedonianos 6; PG 45, 1308 B), John Bekkos infers from these statements, and others like them, that the fathers in question knew of a certain mediation of being within the Holy Trinity, that the order of the persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is not merely based upon the order of the persons’ manifestation in time, but it has a basis in an eternal order of relationships within the divine Trinity itself. Undoubtedly, there are those who disagree with this interpretation of the Greek fathers; each side has its own set of proof-texts, to which it invariably appeals. But, for the purposes of this lecture, my point is basically this: John Bekkos is one example of an Eastern Christian who is also a liberal artist, a man who makes use of his intellect in the pursuit and defense of truth. He is certainly not the only example, and probably is not even the best one, but he is one whom I happen to know pretty well. He knew that texts have more than one level of meaning, that you cannot always rely upon the currently fashionable interpretation of them, that it is important to go back to the original sources and see for yourself what they are actually saying, and that this activity is not only intellectually but also morally good; it is one of the ways in which Christ the Truth is served. In reading the texts in this way, I think he has some insight into the mind of the fathers; they also were liberal artists, who served the Truth with their intellects; they knew that, while reason cannot get us to faith and knowledge of the triune God, reason does have its proper place in defending faith and in differentiating truth from falsehood. It is not for nothing that St. Peter tells his readers to yearn after “sincere, logical milk” (1 Peter 2:2, τὸ λογικὸν ἄδολον γάλα).

Of course, someone may say that the fathers were much more than liberal artists; they were saints, and their speech about God proceeded, not merely from a mastery of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, but from prayer and spiritual experience. There is a saying commonly cited in works on Orthodox Christianity, a saying which, I think, goes back to the fourth century writer Evagrius of Pontus, to the effect that the theologian is not, primarily, the one who sets forth a propositional system, but the one who prays. The type of the theologian is Moses, the man who ascends Mount Sinai, enters the darkness there, and speaks with God face to face. It is perhaps dangerous to say this in a school called the Lyceum, but it must be acknowledged that Aristotle is not universally held in high esteem in the Christian East; there were various attempts to baptize him (much of St. John of Damascus’s work The Fount of Knowledge, for instance, consists of a summary presentation of Aristotelian philosophy), and the fathers often rely on Aristotelian categories more than they care to admit, but, by and large, the one whom St. Thomas refers to as “the Philosopher” is not, in the Christian East, presented as a model for emulation; St. Gregory the Theologian says that we need to speak of God ἁλιευτικῶς, μὴ ἀριστοτελικῶς, that is to say, like a fisherman, not like an Aristotelian. Greek Christian hymnology is full of lines like those found in the Akathist Hymn, where the Mother of God’s miraculous childbearing is said render eloquent orators as mute as fish, and to shred to pieces the “word-webs of the Athenians.” One may also recall the response of a certain Georgian delegate to the Council of Florence to the Aristotelian argumentation of the Dominican John of Montenero; he said: “What’s this about Aristotle, Aristotle? A fig for your fine Aristotle…. What is fine? St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Basil, Gregory the Theologian; a fig for your Aristotle, Aristotle.” (Cited by Joseph Gill, The Council of Florence [1959], p. 227.) More particularly, the idea that theology should be thought of as a “science of revealed truth,” a rationally adumbrated propositional system, is almost universally looked upon within the Christian East with suspicion and misgivings; this, I think, probably holds true for many Eastern Catholics as well as for most Eastern Orthodox.

All of this makes one wonder whether the subject of Liberal Education and Eastern Christianity is genuinely a fruitful topic, whether these two phenomena can be related otherwise than by mere negation. I think that they can be, although we have to be careful not to misrepresent one or the other. I remember that, when we were having our discussions about a curriculum for Transfiguration College, a proposal was made that we should structure our whole theology curriculum around the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Probably the thought behind this was that some figure was needed comparable to the role St. Thomas plays in Western Catholic thought, that is, someone who gives the East a “Neo-Platonic” synthesis, parallel to the Aristotelian synthesis Thomas supplies the West; the fact that Thomas quotes Pseudo-Dionysius so frequently was probably an added benefit. I fervently sought to shoot down this trial balloon before it got too far off the ground. First, because I am not persuaded that the Dionysian corpus is all that representative of Eastern Christian theology; it probably arose in Monophysite circles, and only became fully accepted in the Byzantine world through the interpretations of St. Maximus. But, secondly, I don’t know how many of you have actually attempted to read the works of the Pseudo-Areopagite, but I have; they make Kant’s and Hegel’s writings appear as models of expository clarity by comparison. This does not mean that one should ignore them; they are in fact important. But, as in mountain-climbing, one should start on smaller hills, and only attempt the Matterhorn or Mount Everest after one has worked one’s way up and gained a certain facility, so likewise it seemed to me folly to be sentencing undergraduates to four years of prolonged exposure to the Pseudo-Dionysius, with his super-this and his hyper-that, and his paradoxical affirmations of God as not-Being and not-Love; I could think of no surer way to guarantee high attrition.

One way to approach this subject of Liberal Education and Eastern Christianity might be to give a brief historical survey of the kinds of education Eastern Christians have actually received over the years, in their various home countries. Such a survey would not be without interest, and perhaps it would help to balance exalted philosophical claims about what constitutes an ideal education; one would like to see such speculations grounded in facts and history. For instance, I find it somewhat curious that even the very expression “Liberal Education” [rather, the expression: “Liberal Arts Education”] seems to be confined mostly to American educational discourse: people in Europe do not seem to know what a “liberal arts college” is, or at least, they have very few institutions that would answer to that description. Earlier in my life, I spent two years studying in England; one of the things I observed there is that the British educational system directs young people into an academic specialization much earlier than the American system does; in America, most students do not choose a college major until about their Junior year; in Britain, students are already taking specialized tests, their “O-Levels” and “A-Levels,” in their mid-teens, at a time when most American students are muddling through high school. It seemed to me at that time that this British system, with its earlier specialization, reflects the fact that Britain is a smaller country, there are fewer openings within the economy and more competition to fill them; thus, the competition perforce starts earlier, and children are allowed a shorter time in which to grow up. They are forced earlier to decide who they are, and are given less opportunity to explore different possible futures. Perhaps that makes for a certain maturity, or perhaps it creates, in some cases, a certain grim acceptance of inevitability, an inability to imagine new possibilities. On this point, I prefer the American system, with all its faults; I like the fact that we allow ourselves a little more time to grow up, in spite of the danger this entails that some of us will never grow up at all.

Some of the early Christians of the second century went about in the habit of philosophers, like St. Justin Martyr; these men were generally recognized as teachers and accepted students. But it is not till nearly the beginning of the third century that we find the first Christian school, and we find this in Alexandria; the catechetical school there, founded by a man named Pantaenus, featured in time famous teachers like Clement and Origen, and, later, Didymus the Blind. Of Origen’s teaching methods we have a detailed description from his student St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, who gave a panegyric on Origen in the year 238; by this time, Origen had relocated to Caesarea in Palestine, but his teaching there probably followed the same pattern as at Alexandria. St. Gregory describes Origen as an inspired teacher who brought people to Christ, not by keeping secular knowledge from them, but precisely by engaging with it, accepting in it whatever was good and rejecting what was bad, but all the while subordinating all worldly knowledge to the inestimable prize of knowing Christ. At times, St. Gregory compares Origen to Socrates, probing the students’ ideas and cutting down anything of feeble growth, so that the ground could be cleared for genuinely worthy fruits. He says that, along with giving instruction in dialectic and in the mathematical and physical sciences, Origen also introduced his students to every school of Greek philosophy, “selecting and setting before us all that was useful and true in all the various philosophers, and putting aside all that was false.” “He deemed it right for us to study philosophy in such wise, that we should read with utmost diligence all that has been written, both by the philosophers and by the poets of old, rejecting nothing, and repudiating nothing (for, indeed, we did not yet possess the power of critical discernment), except only the productions of the atheists, who, in their conceits, lapse from the general intelligence of man, and deny that there is either a God or a providence.” (In Originem oratio panegyrica, 13; PG 10, 1088 A-B; tr., Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 6, p. 34.)

Origen’s Christian school, nevertheless, was not widely emulated in later times. It cannot be stressed enough that, in the Christian East, the idea that Christians should avoid secular schools never obtained much currency; quite the opposite. In the fourth century, it was quite normal for Christian teachers to teach secular subjects, and numerous saints of the Church attended secular schools and had pagans among their teachers; this was the case, for instance, with St. John Chrysostom, who studied under the pagan rhetorician Libanius, as well as with St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory the Theologian, who studied at Athens during the decade of the 340’s; one of their teachers of rhetoric was the Christian Prohaeresius; the other was a pagan named Himerius. Among their fellow students was a member of the imperial family, named Julian; while at Athens he became a secret pagan, and he openly espoused paganism at the time that he became emperor (360/361). One of Julian’s acts was to issue an edict commanding that all public teachers be approved by the emperor; the intention of this was to exclude Christians from the teaching profession. Julian’s reasoning was that the ancient classics are pagan literature, and do not belong to the Christians; Christians have no right to teach such things. St. Gregory of Nazianzus retorted that classical literature belongs to us in respect of our being human; letters are a gift from God, just as language is, and the proper cultivation of the mind cannot be rightfully withheld from any person. One result of Julian’s edict was that Christians increasingly sought to provide Christian substitutes for the classical literature that was the traditional basis for instruction; two men named Apollinarius, father and son, set to work translating the Bible into classical meters, St. Gregory the Theologian, likewise, composed great quantities of classical verse, and, in the Latin-speaking world, men like Pope Damasus and Prudentius and St. Ambrose wrote hymns and poems and epigrams; even St. Augustine tried his hand at this, producing some verses against the Donatists.

Nevertheless, in spite of all this literary work, the basic classical curriculum did not change much. Nearly a thousand years after the Cappadocians and St. John Chrysostom, John Bekkos, in the thirteenth century, still received basically the same kind of liberal education as these fathers did when he studied under his tutor George Babouskomites; he read Homer and the other Greek poets, studied grammar, logic, rhetoric, perhaps a bit of mathematics and the sciences; a similar kind of education was received by Bekkos’s chief adversary, George of Cyprus. Neither of them saw such an education as conflicting in any way with traditional Orthodox belief. One has to remember that, until the final capture of Constantinople by the forces of Mehmet the Conqueror in the year 1453, the Eastern Christian world had never known the same sort of extinction of classical learning that the West had undergone in the succession of barbarian invasions from the fifth century onward, until learning finally began to revive under Charlemagne. The East did not experience such a hiatus, and consequently the Church was not looked upon in the same way as the sole repository of knowledge — although later, during the Ottoman period, it was indeed the parish priest who was mainly responsible for keeping the Greek language alive.

* * *

Is there, then, a specifically Eastern Christian form of education? Should there be? Or should an Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic believer simply receive the best education that is available, from whatever source, and leave the specific details of Christian doctrine to what can be picked up at home or in church?

As mentioned earlier, I still think that the idea of an Eastern Christian great books college, or some application of great books methodology to the study of Eastern Christianity, is a good idea. There have been at least two attempts that I know of to make that idea a reality; one of them, Transfiguration College, I have already spoken of; an earlier, Orthodox attempt, Rose Hill College, actually opened its doors in Aiken, South Carolina in the late 1990’s for about the space of a year; it finally had to close down because the president of the college, a man named Owen Jones, who had bankrolled the whole operation, had essentially spent all his fortune on it and was going broke. Currently, an Orthodox professor of philosophy named Bruce Foltz, who teaches in St. Petersburg, Florida, is one of the main people pushing the idea; he makes the claim that an Orthodox Christian, by virtue of being an Orthodox Christian, will be a better reader of the great books than other people, a claim which seems to me theoretically bold but not easily verifiable; it is not, in any case, a claim that I would be prepared to defend. Another man who still publicly argues in favor of Eastern Christian great books education is the sometime dean of Rose Hill College, Dr. James Cutzinger; my worry is that he seems a bit too enamored of the religious theosophy of Frithjof Schuon, whose works are sometimes to be seen in New Age bookstores and which teach the doctrine that all religions are one.

My own claims about the liberal arts and liberal education, claims that were embodied in the Transfiguration College Statement on Educational Policy and which I would still be prepared to defend, are the following:

Education is necessary for our humanity. Unlike frogs, which cannot be more or less frogs, or oak trees, which cannot be more or less oak trees, human beings can become more or less human; being human is a task to which we are called. We can fail to live up to our nature. One way of speaking about this difference is to say that, unlike frogs and oak trees, human beings are created in the image of God; we possess that image as our birthright, but we can also fail to live up to it, in which case we are judged by our Creator.

Part of our being made in the image of God consists in our ability to speak; the first thing we find Adam doing is that he gives names to the animals. We have what the Greeks call λόγος; we have reason. This reason pertains to our being in the image of God; just as God speaks, so do we, and we are, perhaps, most rational when we recognize God’s speech, echoing in manifold ways in the world around us, when we hear God’s word and do it.

In hearing and doing God’s word, all of us, children of Adam, have fallen short, all of us have in various ways disfigured the image of God that dwells within us. To restore that image, God sent his Image, his Word, his Son, into our midst, so that we, by believing in him, might again be rendered reasonable and be reckoned children of God.

Being restored to the image of God is not a thing which any liberal education, as such, is able to deliver. The only truly liberal education, that is able to free us and restore us to our proper humanity, is that education which is afforded in Christ’s Church, that school in which Christ is not only the Teacher, but the daily bread on which the students feed.

But this does not mean that liberal education, in the common sense of the term, is useless. Our nature as thinking, deliberating, moral beings has to be educated; we cannot make right choices if we deprive ourselves of the means of knowing what choices there are to make. We need to learn how to read, to weigh evidence, to test possibilities; this also is part of learning to recognize God’s word in the creation. And we need to learn how to speak, so as to persuade others of the truth and dissuade others from fallacy and wrong; this also is part of doing God’s word. We cannot do these things, or at least, cannot do them well, if we are illiterate and ignorant.

St. Paul is very clear: the world, by its wisdom, did not know God (1 Cor 1:21); and, he says, he does not come to the Corinthians with excellency of speech, or enticing words of man’s wisdom; he knows that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor 1:25). Those of us who are in the business of education need to remember this, that there is no inherent guarantee that a person who studies the liberal arts, who has read all the Great Books backwards and forwards, who perhaps speaks with the tongue of men and of angels, may not turn out to be an utter scoundrel. It is a sad fact about the fallenness of our nature, that intellectual excellence is able to coexist with moral depravity. But St. Paul also says that “that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them: for the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Rom 1:19-20). Even if the world, in its wisdom, did not know God, it had no excuse for not knowing God; God had, in fact, left sufficient evidence of himself in the world, for anyone who had eyes to see. It pertains to a Christian education to have the eyes to see, to point out the hand of God in his works, to remind those who might not see or hear that there is in fact a Creator who will judge us. If that is what a Christian education is supposed to do, then that is also what an Eastern Christian education is supposed to do.

I need to end this talk; there is much more that could be said about this subject; we have hardly touched at all upon large questions, like the meaning of “freedom” that is implied in the word “liberal” (what is it that liberal education purports to free us from?). And much could also be said about the ambiguous stance that various thinkers, both within Byzantium and in later Russia, took towards the value of the liberal arts; if Dostoevsky famously said that, “Two and two makes four; yes, but, ‘Two and two makes five’ is sometimes also very charming,” what does this tell us about his estimation of the claims of rationality? But these are eternal questions, and a lecture, fortunately, is not eternal, but has a time limit, so I shall herewith bring this talk to a close. Thank you.

Something worth reading

October 12, 2011

From the website We Are the 99 Percent

I’ve paid taxes, including medicare and Social Security since I was 11 (and a farm worker). They have been my retirement fund, and I’ve never begrudged a penny collected for social services or education programs. Now I worry every day about the future my four children will face.

I don’t mind buying everything except food second hand. I do mind that certain Americans, by virtue of their economic status, are exempt from paying into the funds that provide social safety nets. All of us are a chronic illness away from foreclosure, poverty, homelessness.

I am the 99%


September 11, 2011

Remembering the men, women, and children who died ten years ago today, without warning and unprepared, in the attack upon New York and Washington, D.C.

Memory Eternal.

On August 1st, I moved into an apartment in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and, since then, I have been slowly adjusting to the new circumstances. Most of my belongings arrived safely, although one or two things were slightly broken and, in particular, a box that I sent by the U.S. Postal Service was mauled in transit and some of its contents were lost. For a time I was worried that I had lost all my neckties and refrigerator magnets; this past Tuesday, however, I found them in a plastic box in the hall closet. I have a next door neighbor named John, a native of the area, who smokes, has three dogs, and likes to sit outside and engage me in conversation when I walk by. The neighbors directly upstairs from me have very heavy feet, and have a custom of pacing back and forth agitatedly across the floor every night from about 10:30 p.m. to about 1:30 or 2:00 a.m.; this has occasioned some adjustments to my sleeping habits. I have yet to see Lake Erie. I have not yet visited the town just north of here, East Cleveland; it has — what shall I say? — a bad reputation. Nearby my apartment there is a neighborhood called Coventry (most of the streets in Cleveland Heights, for some reason, are named after towns in England); during the early 1970’s this neighborhood apparently acquired a reputation as a center for hippie culture and drug experimentation, and, to commemorate this, the street signs to this day are printed with psychedelic colors. There are some good restaurants there, a few bookstores, and some boutiques that sell busts of the Buddha, incense sticks, bottles of wine, and other paraphernalia suitable for gracing the homes of aging hippies. On the basis the evidence of the books in the Coventry branch of the Cleveland Heights library, I would judge there to be a substantial Russian-speaking population in the area; so far, however, I have not encountered many Russian speakers here, aside from the librarian. There is, however, a large and very visible Orthodox Jewish population, not so much in my immediate neighborhood as a few blocks down, on South Taylor and Cedar; I can recommend the Jerusalem Grill on Cedar Road for their excellent falafel sandwiches.

I hear police sirens here a lot more than I used to in my small town in New Jersey.

The Greek church on Mayfield Road is having its Greek festival this weekend. I was asked to put in some hours working there, but gave a noncommittal answer, and, in fact, will not go; I am very preoccupied preparing for six classes at the Lyceum School, which are to start in a little over a week.

The people at the Lyceum School have been very welcoming and kind. I will see how things go once the actual teaching starts.

I have not visited the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Nor have I, as yet, seen the Cleveland Indians play, although they are doing well this season, and the idea has occurred to me that it might be a pleasant diversion to go watch a game. I have been to the Cleveland Botanical Garden, and purchased an annual membership.

I noticed, when listening to the radio the other day, that the locals pronounce the word “vary” and the word “very” indifferently; that is to say, the short “a” sound is pronounced with a sort of sharp nasal twang.

The maple trees here are suffering some sort of blight, a brownish blotch in the middle of the leaves. Yesterday evening, when walking back to my apartment before a thunderstorm, I saw bats flying in the darkening sky; it was kind of creepy.

One day soon I will learn about Moses Cleaveland, after whom the city was named. As yet I know very little about him, except that he came from the east somewhere, early in the nineteenth century, with a commission to settle the “Western Reserve,” about which I know nothing. I doubtless offend loyal Ohioans by thus professing my ignorance concerning the glorious history of the Buckeye State, and by failing to notice all the glories and beauties of the city that should be captivating my eye, and by failing to say complimentary things about the Cleveland Orchestra; but I have been living here only for a little over two weeks now, and must be allowed some indulgence.


July 15, 2011

This morning, around 10:00, I went down to the basement to put a couple of things away, one of them a vinyl mesh grocery bag that I usually keep in my car. I stepped into the garage to put the bag back in the car. As I walked towards the car, I noticed on the floor of the basement a small, grey ball of fur; my first thought was that this was something that had been left by a mouse. On closer inspection, I saw that it was a mouse. On closer inspection still, I saw that there were three such living balls of fur on the basement floor, sitting quietly, moving slowly, to the right of my car in a spot where the sun was shining and underneath an old hole that, long ago, had been gnawed away in an air vent on the ceiling. The sight was so strange, and so disturbing, that I quickly put the bag in the car, closed the garage door, and went back upstairs.

Putting two and two together, I came to the following explanation. Throughout this past winter I had been having mouse problems in my kitchen, and these problems had not gone away, as I had hoped, with the advent of summer; when I returned from a trip to Long Island and Boston recently, mouse droppings were everywhere, even on the kitchen table (previously, mice had not ventured there). I determined to stop this, and set out fresh mice traps. When these did not work (the mouse in question was adept at licking the cheese off the tray without setting off the trap), I finally sought out more effective means. I had scrupled against purchasing glue traps, because they cause the mouse a slow, painful death (“simply deposit the trap, with the mouse, in the garbage” it says on the package, neglecting to tell the buyer that the animal, thus deposited, probably will remain alive for some hours to come until it dies of exhaustion or suffocation). But, at a visit to the supermarket on Monday, I found non-glue traps that looked promising; one of them involved placing bait inside a small, plastic chamber, into which the mouse walks; when, inside the chamber, the mouse steps on a platform upon which the bait is set, the guillotine is triggered. I bought this, along with a couple of other traps, and set them in places I thought the mouse or mice would frequent. The next morning, sure enough, I found a dead mouse on the floor of the kitchen near the kitchen sink; the chamber trap had worked. I took the dead mouse outside and dropped it under some bushes. That was, I think, Tuesday morning. Since then, I have seen no fresh droppings in the kitchen.

My guess is that this mouse was the mother of the three young mice I saw this morning. Not having been fed in awhile, they are weak; perhaps they may even have tumbled out of a nest somewhere in the air vent.

I decided that they had to go out of the house. I put on some rubber gloves, went back down into the garage, opened the garage door, got a shovel and a rake, and nudged and raked the mice onto the shovel. (One of them went willingly; one, the weakest of the three, rolled upside down as though unable to stand; eventually, he got back on his feet.) I carried the shovel, with its three passengers, outside to the corner of our property, and set them down on the road, near the curb and a public sewer. There, I am afraid, they must fend for themselves. It is possible that they may live, and it is possible that a bird or a cat may come by and eat them. It is also possible, of course, that they may simply die there for want of nourishment. I am sorry, but life is hard, and I cannot set up an orphanage for these creatures. When it comes to dealing with mice, I am a Tea Partier and a Republican.

The Lyceum School

July 9, 2011

All right, I’m able now to make it public. Starting this fall, I will be teaching at the Lyceum School, near Cleveland. It is a Catholic private school, grades 7 through 12, which emphasizes the Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and, to some extent, the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, though, so far as I know, not much astronomy), and does this, to a great extent, using a Great Books methodology. The school was founded by Mark Langley, a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, and the present headmaster, Luke Macik, is also a graduate of that college, which may give readers some indication of the school’s educational philosophy and character: it is intellectually rigorous and theologically conservative. A number of the students, I am told, have won national awards for their proficiency in Latin; also, their choir is very impressive. I gave my Filioque lecture there nearly two years ago, both before the students, in the morning, and before the general public in the evening; the students asked good, sharp questions, and, in general, in the few times I have seen them at work, I have been impressed with their maturity and dedication. (Luke Macik, the headmaster, asked me also to let readers of this blog know that, at the Lyceum School, they do “the extraordinary form of the mass” once a month. That is to say, there is, I believe, a weekly mass for the school at the church next door, with the students forming the choir; once a month, this mass is said in Latin in the Tridentine form.)

I am going to be teaching the following classes this fall:

  • Greek (New Testament)
  • Latin (Level One)
  • Medieval History
  • Algebra
  • Botany
  • Biology

This may seem like a lot, and, in fact, it is a lot. Perhaps I will also be supplied with a cape and a Superman outfit, so that I may fly back and forth from the school to my apartment while doing Greek and Latin paradigms in my head. But, probably, I will dress like any normal person, and will do the Greek and Latin paradigms while taking public transportation.

In any case, this schedule may give readers a better idea of why, recently, I let it be known that this blog is likely to see some serious interruption in the coming months. I clearly have a lot of work to do. And that, all in all, is a good thing.

Some while ago, Dr. William Tighe recommended to me the book The Church in Rome in the First Century by George Edmundson, published in 1913. I found the book on-line on Google Books, and began reading it; it is, indeed, a very persuasive study. I finally decided that I would like to own a physical copy of the book, and, last week, ordered such a copy from Amazon.com. My copy arrived yesterday; today, I plan to send it back. Below I give my reasons why, in a review of the book which is still pending publication on Amazon.com’s website. (Note: I gave the book one star, mainly because I thought that, if I gave it no stars at all, someone might think I had simply overlooked that section of the evaluation; also, because there was no procedure for registering negative stars.)

I received this book yesterday, delivered by UPS. When I opened the box and began reading the enclosed reprint of Edmundson’s book, I was shocked at what I found. Edmundson’s book is, itself, an intelligent, persuasive study, and very worth reading; but this printed edition of it is not what he wrote. It is essentially an OCR of a scan of the original text that has been hastily printed out, put between covers, and sold, without even a minimal attempt at proofreading. The first thing I noticed was that the Greek, in the original book, appeared as gibberish; here is a random example, from p. 18:

“5 Compare Rom. ix. 3: Tfox MI “f p andflf/ta eleai ainbs iyu air!/ rov virep ruv asf ipiav ov, Tuv ffvyytvuv fiov Kata ffdpka, otrivfs fiffiv Iffpa At 3 liffiraffaffsf vspdvatov Kai Iovviov Tovs irtryytifls ov Kal ffvvaixfia otriwl flfftv iiriffrifiol Iv To?! iiroo-rijAoir, ot /to! irpb ifiov ytyovav iv Xpiffrif. It is possible that lovviav might be feminine = Junia, but it is generally taken as masculine, Junias being an abbreviation for Junianus.”

The second thing I noticed is that all the original footnotes in the book appear within the body of the text; that is true of the above citation; here is another example, from p. 32:

“The language of Clement of Rome2 in his Epistle to the Corinthians leaves no doubt-for it is the witness of a contemporary-that Peter was martyred at Rome. But leaving ancient examples let us come to the athletes who were very near to our own times, let us take the illustrious examples of our own generation. Peter who through unjust jealousy endured not one or two but many sufferings and so having borne witness-/j ptvp a-ai-departed to the place of glory that was his due. The 48 ASCENSION OF ISAIAH 1 Lanciani, Pagan and Christian Rome, p. 125.
2 In that portion of the fifth book of the Sibylline Oracles which was probably written 71-74 A. d. the flight of Nero from Rome is thus described; V. 143 4ifv etai Ik Ba0v uvos andva tpofifpbs icol
Clement Rom. 1 Cor, v.
statement in the apocalyptic Ascension of IsaiahiI-also the work of a contemporary-that a lawless king, the slayer of his mother, will persecute the plant which the Twelve Apostles of the Beloved have planted.”

And so on. The whole book reads in this vein; it is, quite literally, a piece of junk, and a scam.

The book was printed in the year 2010 by an outfit named “General Books,” Memphis, Tennessee, USA (website: www.General-Books.net). On the page behind the title page, one finds, along with the legally required information about the publication, explanatory comments. Under the section titled “How We Made This Book for You,” one reads that the book was made “exclusively for you” using patented Print on Demand technology, and then learns that a robot flipped and scanned each page of the original, rare book, and that the “typing, proof reading and design” of the book were automated using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software.

Further down on the page, there is a section titled “Frequently Asked Questions.” The first “Frequently Asked Question” is the following: “Why are there so many typos in my paperback?” The answer provided is the following:

“We created your book using OCR software that includes an automatic spell check. Our OCR software is 99 percent accurate if the book is in good condition. Therefore, we try to get several copies of a book to get the best possible accuracy (which is very difficult for rare books more than a hundred years old). However, with up to 3,500 characters per page, even one percent is an annoying number of typos. We would really like to manually proof read and correct the typos. But since many of our books only sell a couple of copies that could add hundreds of dollars to the cover price. And nobody wants to pay that. If you need to see the original text, check our website for a downloadable copy.”

Thank you, but I have a downloadable copy already, from Google Books. I ordered this paperback copy of the book because I wished to be able to read the book when I am not at the computer. The copy you have so lovingly and carefully prepared for me does not allow me to do that; as mentioned above, it is a piece of junk. I will send it back to Amazon.com, and ask for my $19.42 to be refunded.

That Amazon is willing to be the go-between for such publishing scams lessens my trust in it. It needs to clean up its act.