Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologirt.
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit id es semper esse puerum.
Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.


Verbum domini manet in aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6,8. Motto of the Lutheran Reformation.

Fayth onely justifieth before God. Robert Barnes, DD The Supplication, fourth essay. London: Daye, 1572.

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Robert Barnes, DD, before he was burnt alive for "heresy", 30 July 1540.

What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Martin Luther, Dr. theol. (1522)

For the basics of our faith right here online, or for offline short daily prayer or devotion or study, scroll down to "A Beggar's Daily Portion" on the sidebar.

29 August 2009

Readin', Writin', and Absolute Multitude. Academics 2009.

What's up with that? Don't I mean 'Rithmetic?

Back To School -- Oy!

When it's almost back to school time, along with all the sales in the stores there's the usual stuff for sale too about the value of education. Trouble is, there's about as many ideas of what is an education, not to mention of what is its value, as there are kinds of pens, notebooks and clothes in the stores.

So let's start with the good old liberal arts education. We'll look at 1) How and Where It Started, 2) What the Seven Liberal Arts Actually Are, 3) The Modern University, 4) How It Fell Apart, 5) Where We Are Now, 6) Where We Could Be, and a little concluding note you might enjoy.

I. How and Where It Started.

You don't hear much about it these days, but the ideas of liberal arts education, like democracy, originated in Greek antiquity, in societies where those who were going to participate in democracy, and have such an education as to do that, were not burdened by having to "work"; that was done by a slave class. Leisure, not work, is the basis of culture and society; "liberal" comes from the Latin for free, and a liberal art originally meant not what we think of now but something appropriate to the free class, not the slave class.

"Academy", "academic" and like words come from the school Plato founded in a sacred grove dedicated to Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, called the Akademia. Hekademia originally, actually. It lasted from about 387 BC to 83 BC. Its most famous graduate -- Aristotle.

The Academy was refounded on Platonic philosophy in 410 AD and lasted until closed by the Roman Emporer Justinian I in 529. Well, Eastern Roman Emperor, but the Western Empire was gone having collapsed in 476; Justinian was out to stamp out anything but the state religion, "Christianity", in the Empire, which he pretty much did, the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 saying nothing happens in the church without the emperor. For which reason the 529 closing of the refounded Academy is often called the End of Antiquity.

The scholars sought haven in the Persian Sassanid Empire, and when the Persian and Byzantine empires made peace in 532, some of the scholars removed to Harran in what is now southeast Turkey. After the Sassanids lost to the Arabs, now Islamic, in 651, Harran became the first great centre of Islamic learning as the knowledge of classical antiquity was translated from Greek to Syriac to Arabic, while Europe, where all this stuff came from, was a complete mess. Helluva guy that Justinian, huh. The Eastern Orthodox think he's a saint, which I suppose makes sense for his old state church, but unfortunately so do some of us Lutherans.

Aristotle in turn founded the Lyceum in Athens in 335 BC, right beside the temple of Apollo of Light, Apollo Lykeios, hence the name. The Romans trashed it in 86 BC, and at an unknown point thereafter ceased to be. Its location was rediscovered in 1996, just east of modern downtown Athens. The word survives in modern European languages for roughly what we call high school in the US.

Here's how these ideas passed from the end of the ancient world with the fall of the Western Roman Empire to later times in the West. First was a guy named Martianus Capella, who sometime after Alaric, King of the Visigoths (Germanic types), trashed Rome in 410 wrote a book called De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii et de septem Artibus liberalibus libri novem, which means "On the Wedding of Philology and Mercury, and the Seven Liberal Arts, in Nine Books". The first two books are an allegorical love story about how Mercury, the pursuit of learning, actually learns by way of communicated information, Philology, and the remaining seven are textbooks in each of the seven arts we will detail below. They were largely based on existing ancient works, and the whole thing was pretty much an encyclopaedia of its time, which, when that knowledge began to show itself lacking, the whole thing started to appear lacking, and scholars now routinely diss him, when what is needed then as now is separating the system itself from the content of any given time.

Which is pretty much what the rest of this post is trying to establish.

Second was a guy named Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, who lived shortly thereafter. His best known work is On the Consolation of Philosophy (De consolatione philosophiae), written while awaiting execution by the Arian Western Roman Emperor Theodoric for supposed treason with the catholic Eastern Roman Emperor Justin. Boethius translated a bunch of ancient Greek works into Latin. In his rather free translation of Nicomachus' book on arithmetic he also set out the liberal arts, giving them the trivium and quadrivium names. In his On Music set out the three-fold division of music we shall detail below. His books remained standard authorities in universities for hundreds of years, and the Consolation is one of the most influential books ever written. While not part of the church's general calendar, in some places he is commemorated as a saint, St Severinus, with feast day 23 October.

You might hear that the liberal arts were originally seven, the first three being grammar, rhetoric and logic, also known as dialectic, a three-part way known in Latin and consequently to the West as the Trivium (from which our word trivial comes too, trivial matters being those you learn to get on to the heavy lifting of reality itself), and the last four being arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy, the four-part way called the Quadrivium.

Nice to know, but doesn't tell you a damn thing about what this was all about, though it looks like it does, which is most of the problem understanding this stuff.

II. What the Seven Liberal Arts Actually Are.

Here is the structure of the Seven Liberal Arts.

The Three Part Way, the Trivium.
1. Grammar.
2. Rhetoric.
3. Logic (dialectic).

The Four Part Way, the Quadrivium.
4. Arithmetic. (Absolute Multitude)
5. Music. (Related Multitude)
6. Geometry. (Stationary Magnitude)
7. Astronomy. (Mobile Magnitude)

Again nice to know, but again doesn't tell you a damn thing about what this was all about, though again it looks like it does.

The Trivium was not grammar, rhetoric and logic exactly as we mean them now, nor even something learned for its own sake, but rather it was learning the tools by which one learns anything at all, just as a tradesman learns the tools of his trade before learning how to use them in the trade itself. Basically, Grammar was the study of how thought is written down in symbols (language), Rhetoric was the study of how thought is communicated from one person to another, and Logic was the study of how to think to reach supportable conclusions. Thus a person will be able to write down or speak his own thoughts rather than just let them rattle around in his head, evaluate whether the written or spoken thoughts of others are well written down or written to hide or disguise things, and evaluate his and others thoughts as to whether the content is supportable or based on unsupportable assertions and/or hidden assumptions which are deceptive.

Here's what the names of the liberal arts in the Quadrivium mean. Once you learned how to study anything at all, the stuff to be studied was divided into two big categories, things that are what they are as combinations of units, and things that are what they are as units that divide into further units. The former were called Multitudes, and further divided into those that are not applied to anything but abstract, which was called Arithmetic, and those that are applied to something, and that is called Music. The latter were called Magnitudes, and further divided into those that do not move, called Geometry, and those that do, called Astronomy.

Arithmetic then simply meant the study of number in the abstract, not applied to anything, just how numbers can be combined and used -- what is generally called math to-day. Music was using numbers to understand a phenomenon, and was further grouped into three areas: musica mundana, using number to quantify and understand the world outside ourselves, thus including what we generally call to-day physics, chemistry, and the like; musica humana, using number to quantify and understand the world inside ourselves, thus including what we generally call to-day biochenistry, psychology and the like; and finally and at the lowest level, musica instrumentalis, using number to understand the tones and combinations of tones produced by the instruments that produce them, including the human voice, which is what we generally now only mean by music, except, it includes only the understanding part, the actual making of this kind of music being simply a skill and not included for its own sake but left to the uneducated. Ironic: from a skill left to the uneducated, these days, being able to strum a few chords on a guitar and belt out a few words seems to immediately confer that status of prophet, revelator, visionary, and authority on whatever one belts out about.

Education had nothing whatever to do with earning a living. When the idea began, work did not ennoble, it debased, it was done by a class that, precisely because it had to work, could not possibly have time to learn what one needed to know to participate in democracy or high positions. Later, trades, something learned for the purpose of making a living, were learned in guilds, not universities, with the interesting twist that guilds formed first and universities began by borowing their ideas of how to organise from them! So show a little respect to the repairman that shows up next time you need one.

So, it's a system, first for learning how to learn, then for classifying what is to be learned, in order to be educated to fulfill the responsibilites of democracy and high office.

III. The Modern University.

In the original universities, a person who had completed a course of studies in the Seven Liberal Arts, and passed final examinations by his masters (teachers), was awarded the degree Bachelor of Arts.

What does this mean? Not what you would think based on the ordinary current meanings of these words -- the same problem again. "Arts" does not mean painting or sculpture or whatever, but the Seven Liberal Arts. "Bachelor" does not mean an unmarried male, but comes from the Latin baccalaureus, and originally referred to the lowest class of knight, a squire, or apprentice, to a knight, or a knight in the service of another knight. The word itself seems to have come from baccalaris, a man employed on a dairy farm. Bacca was a variant of late Latin vacca, which still survives in Spanish as vaca -- cow. The progress is similar to that of a guild learning a trade.

A Bachelor could then go on to further study, and then participating in and moderating disputations (disputationes). These were highly formalised debates on the truth of specific propositions, usually based on arguments from appropriate authorities (argumentum ad verecundiam), which are inappropiate to syllogistic logic, in which the syllogism is true or false based on its on its correct process and not who does it, but are common in informal logic, where since no-one can be an expert on everything one relies on those who supposedly are experts on this or that thing, and which is the origin of the ad hominum (against the man), which refutes a statement on the basis that the authority cited is no authority at all. On such further study and activity, a person would be awarded the degree Master of Arts, the Arts being the Seven Liberal Arts, and "master" deriving from the Latin magister, which looks like master but actually means teacher; one may now teach the Arts.

Luther's so-called "95 Theses" were an invitation to exactly such a Disputation.

A degree was simply a step, in Latin gradus, to becoming a teacher or master, hence the term "graduate", a progression again similar to the trade guilds and still seen in the apprentice, journeyman and master structure of qualification in the trades. Since the masters were teachers, they were also called doctors, from the Latin for "to teach". Over time, since the three higher fields of study were Law, Medicine and Philosophy, masters who went into these fields earned a a final doctor degree in them, and the doctoral degree in these higher faculties came to be regarded higher than the master teachers/doctors, eventually becoming the present Bachelor, Master, Doctor hierarchy, with later fields coming under the division of philosophy along with philosophy itself.

The story of the modern universities begins with the schools attached to monasteries, generally Benedictine, real monking monks, not just monked over, preserving some light against the darkness of the times, which times are known as the Dark Ages. Karl der Grosse, known to some as Charlemagne, who forged the first more or less unified state in Europe since the Roman Empire, was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day 800 at St Peter's Basilica (the old one; the current one is on the same site) to re-establish a Western entity against the still standing Eastern Roman Empire, and thus is considered the Father of Europe. Among his many accomplishments, he encouraged education. With the reforms of Pope St Gregory (died 12 March 604) for learning to include more than liturgy but also theology and canon law, bishops began to establish schools in their cathedral parishes to teach things beyond the monastery schools. Then, with demand far in excess of supply, plus the original town and gown tensions between students and townspeople, which were not pretty with rape and murder not uncommon and often protected by clerical immunity, schools gravitated to big cities.

The word university comes from the Latin phrase "universitas magistrorum et scholarium" which described and denoted these institutions, associations of students and teachers chartered by civil and/or ecclesiastical powers that be in their cities, with degrees granted by the institution itself, at bachelor, master and doctor levels. rather than licences or certificates from individual teachers as before, which adapted from the trade guilds the advancement stages of apprentice, journeyman and master onto a model drawn from the madrasahs of the Islamic world. (Notice how all this stuff, from Plato's Academy to the modern university, begins with schools attached to houses of worship? Hmm.)

Thus first of the modern degree-granting universities, growing out of existing centres of higher education, was established in Bologna (1088), followed by Paris (1160), Oxford (1167) and Cambridge (1209). The final step was recognition by papal bull of a university's autonomy from the city, the church, and each other, meaning non-interference from the state, the church (the proverbial "academic freedom") and also that a graduate from one could teach anywhere jus ubique docendi, with no further examination.

In Bologna, the students ran things, hiring the teachers; in Paris, the church hired and paid the teachers who ran things, and in Oxford, the crown did. These differences had major consequences. Bologna was not a comfortable place for teachers and fell into decline; Paris became the leading university and really the great granddaddy of the modern university but was abolished in the French Revolution centuries later; government sponsorship of Oxford and the later Cambridge (1209) allowed them to survive the replacement of the church with the state Church of England.

A student entered the university at about age 15, and after a six year curriculum in the Liberal Arts, usually with an emphasis on logic, if they passed graduated a Bachelor of Arts. Courses were not by subject so much as by the authoritative book studied, often from Aristotle, the Bible, or the Thoughts (often called the Sentences, from the Latin title Quattuor libri sententiarum, or Four Books of Thoughts, still reflected in the idea that a "sentence" should express a complete thought) of Peter the Lombard, who taught in the cathedral school at Paris. Having graduated from the Faculty of the (Seven Liberal) Arts one could go into the world, or continue in one of the three other, further, fields of Law, Medicine or Theology, which would take another 12 years or so.

IV. How It Fell Apart.

So what's the point of all this -- I'm into old stuff that isn't the way it is any more and think you should be too? No, and hell no. For as much "old stuff" as I post on this blog, I wouldn't consider any of it worth a ginger snap if it didn't do two things for us now: make where we are a little clearer and more understandable by seeing how we got here, and make where we are a little clearer and more understandable by seeing what was the idea of where we were supposed to be going in the first place.

Here's what happened. New knowledge did not replace invalidated knowledge in the system as it should have, but was confused with the system itself and brought the system down, and thus we have the start of our fragmented knowledge and view of learning to-day. This began when difficulties in reconciling Aristotle with Christian doctrine became more and more apparent, and the bishops of Paris issued a series of formal Condemnations, most notably those of 1277 by bishop Etienne Tempier, which had the effect of allowing scientific investigation to proceed without reference to Aristotle the great authority.

Which was great for science, but also had the effect of making everything previously held now seem possibly wrong or soon to be found out to be wrong.

A new direction in thought arose, best summed up in the maxim of the English Franciscan William of Occam, entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, or no more things should be thought to exist than necessary. This was a lex parsimoniae or law of parsimony that brought about a new way of thinking that was skeptical to agnostic, and consciously saw itself as a new way and called itself such, the via moderna or modern way, as opposed to the trivium and quadrivium which became the via antinqua or old way. This turned up in every field, in music (as we use the term now) it was called the Ars nova, a term first used by the theorist Phillippe de Vitry in a book by the same name of in 1322.

Music that was not monophonic chant but polyphonic, with secular themes being placed over a base of a piece of chant, music in duple time rather than triple reflecting the perfection of the Trinity, music written this way for religious purposes -- utterly revolutionary, and part of the shift in the times happening from the arts to theology itself. What a modern irony that some to-day will perform the motets of Machaut, the greatest of ars nova composers, and be thought to be real fuddy duddys, but Machaut himself in his day was thought of as an affront to everything right and proper for worship!

It was into this world turned upside down and inside out that Martin Luther, having graduated from schools that focussed on the trivium, enrolled at 17 in University of Erfurt in the first year of the 16th century, 1501, graduated with a Master degree in 1505, and went on to the Law school following his father's wishes and the usual pattern. He soon dropped out. Questioning everything, positing as little as possible, and so on was all fine, but at what point did it yield reliable results, also known as answers, which is particularly upsetting regarding the claims of Christian doctrine which have some pretty extreme claims of salvation and damnation.

There being no answers, he sought one in what was available, the rigours of the actions of monastic life, to the extent that his superior, Johann von Staupitz, Vicar General of the Augustinian Order in Germany, had him continue an academic career in theology to take his mind off his own salvation, and also spoke to him about the Means of Grace and salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ, which, though Staupitz was no Lutheran and lamented the breaking of visible church unity, got him put on Rome's Index of Forbidden Books!

V. Where We Are Now.

Seems long ago and far away, but it is into exactly this same world turned upside down and inside out than we are born now, just with better means of communication. Each age along the way seems to think it has started a new age, a new way, a modern way, an Age of Aquarius, an Enlightenment, or whatever, simply repeating the confusion of the via moderna with better technology. Likewise our supposedly enlightened modern world, where graduates can't count back change in their minimum wage jobs, or reliably point on the map to where the people came from toward which they have been taught warm inclusive fuzzies, or hear a news report with an ear to whether or not it contains unexamined assumptions from which supposed conclusions are drawn.

Those first universities are still around right now. US News & World Report puts out school rankings annually, one for the US, but one world-wide based in turn on the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings. This would be then a list of the top universities in the world, 400 in all. In the rankings for 2010, published 18 June 2009, the very first university in the modern sense, University of Bologna, founded 1088, is still among the best in the world, coming in at #192. Oxford and Cambridge even better, coming in at #4 and #3 respectively! (BTW, who's #1 and #2? Harvard and Yale, respectively.) The University of Paris, though it was abolished per se by the French Revolution, has a number of institutions with historical links to it, some of them using the locational name Sorbonne, and several of them are ranked.

For that matter, if one wants to look beyond the modern degree-granting university to institutions of higher education generally, arguably the oldest degree-granting institution is one of those madrasahs, now the University of Al-Karaouine, in Morocco, dating from 859, when Europe was a bloody mess barely held to-gether educationally by the grand and glorious hard working and uproarious Benedictines. Along the lines of universities not originally universities in the modern sense, the line goes back much further, to Nanjing University, which is now a modern university but was founded in China in 258, and after a ton of bumps along the way you know what, STILL hangs in ranked #143 in the world!

Recent decades have seen an astounding increase in the ability of thoughts and information to be communicated, starting with mass printing some time ago but exploding first with the coming of radio, then TV, and now the Internet and other forms of digital media; and at the same time have seen an alarming decrease in the apparent ability of people to form, communicate and evaluate thoughts and information. Where the ability to smarten up exists to an unprecedented extent, the fact of dumbing down is seen everywhere.

Amid an unprecedented ability to communicate information, people seem to have less information and less ability to critically evaluate information than ever. And this largely not because people are any more smart or stupid than before, but because educators themselves have nearly totally lost sight of this, that the magnificent increase in the media of communication does not invalidate but in fact makes more needed than ever the basic tools for forming, setting forth, and understanding what is communicated.

This general dumbing down of society is not new, it was noticed decades ago, but it has assumed warp speed as the very means of communication develop at warp speed too. One of the earliest, and still best, more applicable to-day to the means that did not exist when it was written than ever, is an essay called "The Lost Tools of Learning" by Dorothy L Sayers in 1947. She was best known for her detective novels, a genre generally considered "low brow", and that such a magnificent and magnificently educated mind as hers should equally well write best selling detective novels exemplfies what this is all about.

Her essay is online now. You can read it here:

Another, and more recent, modern exposition of these tools of learning is by Sister Miriam Joseph of the Sisters of the Holy Cross at St Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, called, guess what, "The Trivium". Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2002. Available through Amazon easily.

VI. Conclusion. Where We Could Be.

So, again, the Liberal Arts are a system for first learning how to learn, the Trivium, then for classifying what is to be learned in order to be educated to fulfill the responsibilities of democracy and high office, the Quadrivium. It's not at all about going back to the "Music of the spheres", in which the mathematical ratios in tones and in the orbits of the sun and planets around the earth were though to be the same, reading Aristotle, learning Latin, or anything like that -- though there's good reason to do the last two. What happened was, as some of the knowledge taught within the system was later found to be either incomplete or just false, like what orbits around what, the system itself and more importantly the overall unity of things which it expressed also came into question.

The point of the Lutheran Reformation was not to create a new church or even split the one there was, but to bring back to front and centre the Means of Grace through which salvation is communicated and the message of salvation through the blood of Christ itself -- to paraphrase Luther, making the most clear things about the church what had become the most obscure amid the Roman confusion. The direction in which the later more general Reformation went, which began even in Luther's lifetime, was as opposed by Luther and Lutherans as the errors of Rome.

Perhaps another reformation is needed, not a religious but an educational one, where the tools of learning are actually taught, where a person is then taught how to handle abstact operations, operations applied to things as they add up, how complicated things break down and how that is applied to things. Perhaps that would be education, the basics for participating in our society, open to all now, rather than the latest theories of what is "enlightened" this week, which are handed down as so modern but amount to no more than secular articles of faith handed down "ex cathedra" from an authority which, when it takes itself to be such, violates the very parsimony and science it thinks it passes on, as it neither guarantess a correct conclusion nor prevents a false one and may not even be applicable to a particular field, and if applied to all fields as a universal principle, violates its very definition!

Oh Yeah, an Addendum.

There was this second cousin of Martianus Capella, with a variant spelling of the last name, Antonius Cappella, who wrote thousands of pieces of music, in a wide array of styles but all vocal, that are still performed to this day. You can spot them easily. They are all identified by the way he signed his name, A Cappella.

OK, I'm just jacking around now. A cappella actually means "from the chapel" and was used to designate purely vocal Renaissance polyphony generally for the church from the later Baroque concertato style which featured alternating vocal and instrumental parts in a piece of music. Oddly enough, we now know those "vocal" motets were often doubled on instruments, but the first modern "musicologists" didn't know that, so singing "a cappella" has come to mean pretty much any music that is singing only, no instruments.

Except for a small school of hard cores, in a city named for its big reeds, Acapulco de Juarez in Mexico, who wouldn't use the reeds for instruments, so the style is also called singing Acapulco. OK I'm jacking around there too.

But for real, I'm happy to say my alma mater, the University of Iowa, from which I got my MA and PhD degrees, ranks #219 worldwide, not too shabby for a relative newcomer only organised 25 February 1847 in what had just become a state only 59 days before! And I'm also happy to say that Luther thought the plays of Terence, after whom I was named IRL, were excellent for children's learning.

And what's an "alma mater"? Hoo boy. It's Latin for "nourishing mother". In the Roman Empire it meant the Mother Goddess, Venus, the Roman version of Aphrodite, who was called Venus genetrix, Mother Venus. In the Roman Church this morphed into Mary, Jesus' mother, Mater dei genitrix. As an academic reference it comes from the phrase "alma mater studiorum", which means nourishing mother of studies. In 2000 it was adopted as the motto of, guess who, the oldest modern university, the University of Bologna, right on the heels of the 1999 signing of the Bologna Declaration signed there by the ministers of education of 29 European countries, which while aiming at a greater standardisation of European higher education, seems to do so from the standpoint of corporations and the World Trade Organisation (WTO)-- cutting costs, getting a job. getting competitive -- read, winning against or at least getting your slice of the pie with other players -- etc.


(Textual Note: This post is a complete revision of my earlier similarly titled one, also incorporating my immediately prior one plus additional material.)

27 August 2009

Where are the universities now?

On 22 April 2009 I posted "Readin', Writin' and Absolute Multitude. Lyceum 2009", about the whole idea of higher education since ancient Greece. So where is it now?

This time of year, a lot of school rankings come out, and I got interested to check them out. A very often used one is published by US News and World Report. There's two actually, one worldwide, and the other for the US. The latter is broken down into various categories, making it hard to just flat out rate them -- of course, flat out rating them is hard too, and some say impossible -- so I'll stick to the worldwide one, dated 18 June 2009, which is in turn based on the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings. This would be then a list of the top universities in the world, 400 in all.

I guess we like top ten lists, so here's the first ten, in order: Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford, Cal Tech, Imperial College London, University College London, U Chicago, MIT and Columbia.

The highest ranking institution in continental Europe is ETH Zurich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, founded 1854, at #24. However, the highest ranking institution outside of the present or former British Empire or Commonwealth is the University of Tokyo, founded 1877, at #19.

The original universities in the modern sense, mentioned in the earlier post, are still hanging right in there. The oldest university, from which we even get the word university, University of Bologna, founded 1088, is still hanging in there, ranked among the finest in the world at #192. Good show, old girl!

It's a little hard tellin' from there. The University of Paris may be next oldest, founded 1160 or maybe a little before, but then again it doesn't matter as the University effectively ceased to exist with the French Revolution. Some time later it was revived, sort of, now supposedly is an association of thirteen universities, but that only dates from after student strikes in the late 1960s, and is reorganising again, so while several of the current thirteen are ranked, it's not exactly the old University of Paris.

Oxford may be the second oldest anyway, depending on what you take as its founding date. 1167 is often given, but there was teaching before that at least since 1096, however it really took off in 1167 when King Henry II banned English students from going to University of Paris. It's holding up pretty well though, #4 in the world. Cambridge rounds out the list, being founded in 1209, though there was teaching there before that, by Oxford scholars upset that the town actually hung scholars for murder -- "Academic freedom" was supposed to cover that -- and is still hanging in at #3.

So, of the current top ten, two (Oxford and Cambridge) are among the very first six universities, and of those six three still directly survive, and not only survive, two of them (Oxford and Cambridge) are in the top ten now, and the third, the oldest and first (Bologna), is STILL among the ranked, and of the other three, one (University of Paris) has several ranked later institutions with historical links to it, and the other two have historical links to the unranked University of Modena and Reggio Emilia.

Well, what the hell. All these resulted from applying structural elements from the trade guilds to models from Islamic schools anyway, the madrasahs, which like their later Christian counterparts grew out of schools attached to houses of worship. The oldest of those Islamic schools, and arguably then the oldest degree granting institution in the world, is the University of Al-Karaouine, in Morocco, dating from 859, when Europe was a bloody mess barely held to-gether educationally by the grand and glorious hard working and uproarious Benedictines.

The madrasahs did not grant degrees from the institution itself, but rather licences granted by each specific teacher, and if one looks away from the institutional degree that characterises the modern university, the line goes back much further to Nanjing University, now a modern university but founded in China in 258 and after a ton of bumps along the way you know what, STILL hanging in ranked #143 in the world!

I'm happy to say my alma mater, the University of Iowa, from which I got my MA and PhD degrees, ranks #219 worldwide, not too shabby for a relative newcomer only organised in 1847 in what had just become a state only the year before!

20 August 2009

St Monica and Vatican II For Lutherans. 27 August 2009.

We Lutherans -- that is, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, insofar as the name has not been removed or hidden so people don't think we're some kind of frozen chosen, maintenance rather than missional mentality, wannabe Catholics stuck in a Eurocentric liturgical straight-jacket for worship rather than ablaze to bring you to a critical event and get you all on fire with our praise band -- are about to celebrate the Feast of St Monica on 27 August.

Thing is, the Feast of St Monica is 4 May.

Huh? Who cares? What difference does that make? And who is and why bother about this Monica anyway? The last Monica anyone heard about was Lewinsky! Besides, it's all adiaphora, right, why trample on my Christian Freedom with all this dead weight from the past?

Monica was the mother of St Augustine. Geez, whozzat? Well, arguably the most influential Christian theologian ever. We'll leave whether that was for better or worse, as well as biographies, to your searches or Wikipedia. Except for this part: Augustine was quite non-Christian, anti-Christian really, and a celebrated figure in his time, and his conversion was brought about by the example and prayers of his Christian mother, Monica, which is why the church honours her.

When the church sets up a day in honour of someone, the traditional practice is to choose the day on which the person died, if known, since that is the day they were born into eternity. St Augustine's date of death, his heavenly birthday, is 28 August 430, so 28 August is his feast.

St Monica's feast day was not a part of the overall observance of the Western Church for about three-fourths of its elapsed history to date, until about the time of the Council of Trent in the Sixteenth Century. However, it was long observed by the Augustinian Order. Geez, whazzat?

The "Augustinian Order" is a rather motley assortment of religious associations rather than a clear cut single entity -- in this way rather like my guys, the Benedictines -- all of them tracing their origin to St Augustine and his rule of life, or regula in Latin. That's what it literally is to be regular -- you live under a regula, or rule. Readers here may have heard of one such Augustinian. Guy named Martin Luther. Anyway, in the Augustinian Order but not the church as a whole there was, besides the observance of the feast of St Augustine on 28 August, another one whose focus was his conversion to Christianity, which conversion in turn influenced the entire church.

This Augustinian feast, the Feast of the Conversion of St Augustine, was/is celebrated on 5 May. So they celebrated the single biggest human factor in bringing about that conversion, the example and prayers of his mother, St Monica, the day before, 4 May. The Conversion feast never did make it into the overall Roman Calendar, and when St Monica's did, since her date of death is not known, the traditional Augustinian date was retained, 4 May. Simple.

Until the Revolution. Er, Vatican II.

One of the stated aims of the "liturgical reform" at Vatican II was to pare down the historical hodgepodge of stuff into something more straightforward and accessible. So they effectively banned the old stuff and came up with an entirely new order (novus ordo), sporting four "Eucharistic Prayers", several new options for other key parts of the Mass, a new lectionary of readings spread out over three years, and a new calendar -- a new hodgepodge crafted from an even wider spread of historical sources! Oh well, it was the 1960s after all. I guess you gotta make allowances for that.

One small item in this was relocating the Feast of St Monica to 27 August, the day before the feast of her son. There's a logic to that. And as far as the institution of Christ and fidelity to Scripture goes, you can celebrate the Feast of St Monica on 4 May, 27 August, any other day, or not at all.

However, it's not the 1960s any more. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to learn or be taught that we honour St Monica because of her example, particularly her example of the power of persistent prayer, in the conversion of her pagan son, who went on to be one of the church's greatest saints, and we do so on 4 May because in the religious order that looks to her son as their patron saint they had long celebrated it on 4 May, the day before they celebrated the conversion of their patron on 5 May. And to stay connected to and become a part of that ongoing history by leaving it there rather than turning one's back on all that and relocating it.

Sorry, Roman dudes. There already was a liturgical reform. It was to pare down all right, but in view of what contradicts Scripture, not our ideas of what makes something more "accessible", and to zealously guard and defend the worship of the church's existing order, not invent a new one. It's called the Lutheran Reformation. You're a few centuries late to the party. If the Roman hierarchy and associated academics are going to busy themselves with something other than preaching Christ and him crucified, and along the way explain the history of this movement, let them put off the period clothes, get married and raise a family and learn something of real benefit to their fellow man, like heating and air conditioning repair.

Yet, we and other Christian bodies now fall in line with them as if there had been no Reformation! The 1960s Roman novus ordo, with emendations and adaptations, is now the common property of pretty much all other heterodox Christian denominations with liturgical aspirations, rather than the traditional order of the Western Church.

And "our beloved synod" falls into line too, even those parts of it trying to remain true to our Confessions in the Book of Concord. We moan and groan why other parts of our beloved synod seem to be heading off on all sorts of tangents, or rather, variations on the tangent of chasing after the success in attracting numbers of the American suburban "evangelical" megachurches that will drive you with purpose and give you your best life now.

We wonder how our people could be taken in by these false hopes and promises, yet, why should our people not wonder why these are not also valid options when we set before them as confessional "options" modelled after 1960s Rome equally with our common catholic history, this historical mass and that Vatican II For Lutherans mass, this historical lectionary and that Vatican II For Lutherans lectionary, this historical calendar and that Vatican II For Lutherans calendar. Why not listen to Willow Creek and Saddleback and Lakewood too? Why should they not think it's all about options, personal preference, all OK? We let something in through the back door then wonder why it comes knocking at the front!

Even in a small matter like when a saint's day is observed the whole rotten Roman mess in the church is revealed, and its adoption/adaptation by other church bodies!

St Monica gave St Augustine physical birth, but her greatness for which we honour her is not that but in her role in his spiritual birth in this life. Therefore she is better honoured by leaving her day where it is for the reason it is there, or better yet finally inserting the Conversion into the Calendar, rather than moving it from a day which does have inherent reference to her to the day before her son's feast, which does not.

Once again, the calendar, lectionary and ordo of Vatican II all miss the mark, even of its own intended reform, the product not of the Christian church but one denomination headed by an office bearing the marks of Anti-Christ -- regardless of its current occupancy by a nice and learned German guy -- and now the common property of all heterodox liturgical churches in the West, utterly irrelevant to Christ's Church and therefore should be utterly irrelevant to Lutherans.

Right along with Saddleback, Willow Creek and Lakewood, Rome no less than they offers "contemporary worship" whose forms derive from and express a content that is not ours and rejects ours, derived from an agenda that is not ours and rejects ours, and therefore into which our content does not fit nor should we try to make it fit, and abandon that part of our mission which is to zealously guard and defend the mass, for the most part retaining the ceremonies previously in use, when we do.

08 August 2009

15 August. The Dormitory of Mary.

Yeah I know, it's the Dormition of Mary, aka the Assumption.

Dormition, dormitory all from the Latin for "to sleep". One of the dormitories where I went to university was called St Mary Hall, formally. It was just "Mary Hall" otherwise. Everyone went there whether they had a room there (I didn't) or friends there (I did) or not. Reason being, St Mary Cafeteria, or Mary Caf -- the culture may include tendencies which may strike those unfamiliar with it as unduly familiar, even slightly irreverent -- which wasn't so much a cafeteria as an on-campus restaurant and gathering place.

Mary Caf was not the regular cafeteria where those with a meal plan, which being a rural campus not in any town was just about everyone, ate. Rather, it was where one ate burgers and stuff like that on their own time, and dime. So why is a restaurant called a cafeteria when it really isn't? Well, the regular cafeteria wasn't called a cafeteria either, but a refectory, so the word was available.

Holy crap, what's a refectory? Comes from the Latin reficere, to restore, which gave rise to the word refectorium, a room where you get restored, ie eat. It's a monk thing, and being a Benedictine institution we were all about that. Now, in a real refectory, according to the Rule (as in Rule of St Benedict for monasteries, geez do I have to explain everything?) meals are eaten in silence, one guy reads from Scripture or the saints (that's lectio divina, or divine reading) and no meat from mammals except if you're sick.

However, in the very heart of the most venerable tradition, Benedictine in particular and Catholic in general, it ain't really like that. As more and more "feasts" came in to the church calendar, the meals got better, and, by the time it took four digits to write the year, the obvious solution was to eat other better food in another room. Not have your cake in one room, eat it in another. Perfect.

And in a student refectory, where the teaching monks ate too, as distinct from the monking refectory of the monkatorium itself, there ain't no lectio divina and ain't much of anything done in silence either.

So it don't get no more Benedictine than to have the refectory and Mary Caf, the official restoring room and the other one on the side. Hey, don't laugh, the Eastern Orthodox, as usual, amp it up even more. In their monkeries the refectory is called the Trapeza, always with at least one icon and sometimes a ruddy church unto itself, altar, iconostasis and all.

And they got this Lifting of the Panagia to end the meal too. What's a Panagia? It's the prosphoron from which you take a chunk in honour of the Theotokos. What the hell izzat? The former is the loaf used in the Eucharist, the latter is Mary. After the service, the refectorian (don't freak, it's the monk who runs the refectory) cuts a triangle out of it, cuts the rest in half, puts it on a tray, the boys go over to the refectory with the tray in the lead, and after the meal there is a ceremony in which the refectorian says "Bless me, holy fathers, and pardon me a sinner", the assembled holy fathers say "May God pardon and have mercy on you" (as if he had not already done so at Calvary, but I digress), then he says echoing the liturgy "Great is the name" and the boys chime in with "of the Holy Trinity", then comes "O all-holy Mother of God help us" and the reply "At her prayers, O God, have mercy and save us" (as if he ..., oh well), then accompanied by a dude with censer offers it, each holy father taking a piece between thumb and forefinger, running it through the incense, and eating it.

Now that's some serious monking. Judas H Priest, we're a bunch of Bavarians, or at least the joint was founded by them: closest we came to anything like that was to make sure you went back for more of the good dark bread before they ran out. Closest I'm gonna come to it now is the lifting of the Panera. They got wi-fi too. I still don't like white bread, though, and will take a wheat or dark bread every time. Every time. Still call a dining room the refectory once in a while too. It's a spiritual thing.

So we had our refectory and our "cafeteria" named for Mary. Later, the food service would open a more night oriented spot, Der Keller, which means the cellar or basement in German, in the cellar of the old main building, though it took a new food service director who was a Baptist from Alabama to come up with the idea. Now that's my kind of Baptist! Also my kind of refectorian. Hell, with the secular and ecclesiastical sides of the 1960s both raging, he was more German and Benedictine at heart than the German Benedictines.

And Mary? Just as Gabriel said, full of grace, the Lord was with her; blessed is she among women and blessed is the fruit of her womb, Jesus. And if you're looking for a little direction, there is no better example than her submission in faith to God -- for which she for all she knew at the time ran the risk of execution as an adulteress, to survive that only to see her son executed as a criminal, if one's cost of discipleship is seeming a little high -- and no better direction than she herself gave to those wanting her to sort things out one time at the wedding in Cana, "Do whatever he tells you".

01 August 2009

"Our Father", Our Kaddish.

It may surprise some Christians to know that the "Lord's Prayer" is not a new prayer written by the Lord. The bigger surprise is, once it is understood where the prayer comes from, what the Lord was about in giving us this prayer becomes much richer and fuller.

The Lord's Prayer is given in the New Testament in two places. One is Luke 11:1-4, the other is Matthew 6:9-13. In Luke, the context is, Jesus had finished praying, and a disciple then asks him to teach them how to pray, as John the Baptist had done. In Matthew, the context is rather the Sermon on the Mount, in the course of which Jesus says not to go on and on with repetitions and many words, thinking God impressed with that or Man might be. The prayer then given is not identical in all details.

What does this mean? There really is no Lord's Prayer, or if there is there were two traditions of it, so in any case this is not really something from Jesus but rather from the believing community confessing its faith, or on the other hand it is an original prayer by Jesus and therefore new, different, and above all others?


The prayer would have been instantly recognisable to his hearers as a concise Kaddish.

What does this mean? Let's start with what a kaddish is. The word means "sanctification". The prayer began as a doxology. Oh oh, what's a doxology. That word comes from the Greek doxa meaning "glory"; a doxology is a set prayer of praise to God. The kaddish began as a prayer of praise to God after a rabbi had delivered a sermon on the aggadic aspect of Scripture. Yikes, what's an Aggadah? Simple. Discussion of the legal stuff in the Hebrew Bible is called halakhah; discussion of anything else about the Bible is called aggadah.

So, a kaddish is a doxology after an aggadic discussion, or in other words, a prayer of praise to God after a sermon on the non-legal things in the Bible. It began when Aramaic was the everyday language of most Jews -- still the case in the time of Jesus, whose everyday language that was -- and soon became a regular feature in services, and is said in Aramaic to this day in the synagogue. It is always said standing, and facing Jerusalem.

The Kaddish opens based on Ezechiel 38:23, and continues with a congregational response based on Daniel 2:20. Centuries later, variant forms came to be associated with mourners, and to the extent Christians may have heard of a kaddish at all, it is usually in this late context, which was established by the Crusades, not a favourable event to Jews, in the 13th Century.

There are now four main forms of the Kaddish: The Chatzi Kaddish or Half Kaddish; the Kaddish Yatom or Mourner's Kaddish; the Kaddish Shalem or Whole Kaddish; the Kaddish d'Rabbanan or Rabbi's Kaddish. They reflect the original Kaddish, the later one for mourners, a longer Kaddish which ends the synagogue service, and one more for use after rabbinic teaching and study in a service or a class, respectively. The Kaddish, along with the Shema and the Amidah, which we will treat elsewhere, are the three main prayers of Jewish non-Temple public worship.

What is now called the Half Kaddish is the basic one, and is said between the sections of the synagogue service. One such is after the reading of the Torah portion, meaning the particular section of the Books of Moses read that Sabbath from the annual reading through of the Torah. The Torah portion is then followed by the Maftir portion, a reading of a related section, called the haftorah, from the Prophets. This btw is where the Christian practice of reading a Gospel portion and a related Epistle portion at services comes from.

It is an honour to be called up to read these selections. It's called the Aliyah, or ascent, as one comes forth to read, and is exactly what Jesus was doing in Luke 4:16-21 when he was called up to read the haftorah from Isaias, and the basic Kaddish would have been said just before, at the conclusion of the Torah portion.

Just as it would have knocked their socks off -- well, if they were wearing socks, but you get the point -- to hear "To-day this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing", so would his giving, whether as part of an open-air sermon or as an answer to a disciple, not some great new way to pray but his statement of the basic kaddish as how his disciples are to pray! Just as his later transformation of the familiar Passover kiddush (don't freak, that's just Hebrew for a sanctification, a blessing) into "This is my body" and "This is my blood" would too.

What does this mean? That Jesus really said nothing new, the "Lord's Prayer" is really no big deal, he really was just an observant Jew after all, we have nothing here all that remarkable?

Nothing of the sort.

Everything about Jesus is exactly like the prayer he gave, and the prayer he gave is exactly like everything else about him. Jesus was nothing new only and strictly in the sense that he fulfilled what God gave before, namely, the preparation that was the Law toward the fulfillment of his promise of salvation after Man's revolt against him, often called the Fall, in the Gospel. This was not a break but a fulfillment and transformation; one does not break what one fulfills and transforms.

Just as he fulfilled the Law with the Gospel or Good News of his death and resurrection for us, just as in his Divine Service he fulfills the synagogue service with the Service of the Word and the Passover with the Eucharist, just as in his Divine Office he fulfills the daily times of prayer and Temple sacrifice, so here he fulfills the Kaddish in both its public and personal uses.

This is why we pray it exactly as a kaddish, our kaddish in the form he gave us, at mass, at baptisms, in our morning and evening prayers (whether in the Divine Office or simpler formats), at marriages, at meals, at all times from celebration to desperation and everything in between, with the sick and the dying, and yes, as mourners at funerals.

In doing so we are connected both to him, and with him then as with everything about our life in Christ to that to which he is connected, the whole course of the fulfillment of the promise of God his Father now Our Father, to Jew and Gentile alike, which is our full, complete, and free salvation!

Which is why the name of the prayer is traditionally the Our Father, not only from the Hebrew custom of naming a text after its first word or two, but because that custom reflects the gift that is ours in the Kaddish he passed on to us -- not just a god, or even God out there somewhere, but Our Father, Vater unser, Padre nuestro, Pater noster, because of his Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ.

And while we're at it, we might note that when he taught us to pray, he specifically did not do and in fact warned against, any coming up with some new prayer and worship as if that will really put us over with Man or impress God, but instead referred us to what we already have, fulfilled in him.