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.

VDMA

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.

20 February 2011

Readin', Writin', and Absolute Multitude. Academics 2011.

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

Festschrift on the Anniversary of the University of Iowa, 25 February 1847.
Or, Back To School -- Oy!

When it's almost back to school time, along with all the sales in the stores there's also all 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:

I. How and Where It Started
II. What the Seven Liberal Arts Actually Are
III. The Modern University
IV. How It Fell Apart
V. Where We Are Now
VI. 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 Emperor 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 in the Empire but the state religion , the Catholic Church, defined and established by the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius and the Western Gratian and Valentinian II in the Edict of Thessalonica on 27 February 380. 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 of The Academy sought haven in the Persian Sassanid Empire, then 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, by then 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, meanwhile 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.

So The Academy. Its best graduate 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 it ceased to be. Its location was rediscovered in 1996, just east of modern downtown Athens. The word Lyceum 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 Philology, communicated information, and the remaining seven are textbooks in each of the seven arts we will detail below. The books were largely based on existing ancient works, and the whole thing was pretty much an encyclopaedia of its time, but later, 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 its content at 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, trivial matters originally being not minor details but what you learn in order 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. 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 (Grammar), evaluate whether the written or spoken thoughts of others are well written down or written to hide or disguise things (Rhetoric), 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 (Logic).

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 2011, published 21 September 2010, the very first university in the modern sense, University of Bologna, founded 1088, is still among the best in the world, coming in at #176. Oxford even better at #6, and Cambridge even better yet, coming in at #1 in the world! Harvard, named for its original benefactor, Cambridge alumnus John Harvard, is #2, and Yale, founded by Harvard alumni, is #3. 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 #177 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 #188 worldwide, not too shabby for a relative newcomer only organised 25 February 1847 in what had just become a state only 59 days before! It is also listed among the "Public Ivies", a list of 30 public US institutions considered to offer an educational level comparable to the "Ivy League" schools. 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.

Oy.

(Textual Note: This post is a complete revision of my original similarly titled one, incorporating additional material from 2009 and new material in 2010, and slightly revised for 2011.)

14 February 2011

What's A Septuagesima? Gesimatide 2011.

[I help off posting the 2011 edition of the "Gesima" post until after the St Valentine's Day post, due to how things fall this year. I am honoured that Pastor McCain on 13 February posted the 2009 edition on his blog Cyberbrethren.]

The Change From Christmas Season To Easter Season.


There's been some joyous events these last few weeks -- the birth of Jesus, his naming and circumcision, the first Gentiles to find him, and his baptism. On various dates and combinations, from place to place through the ages, the Christian Church has offered its members celebrations of these things in its church year.

But a change is coming, one already present amid the joy. We know as we celebrate his birth that he was born for us so he could die for us. We know as his blood was spilled in circumcision, putting him under the Law, his blood would be spilled on the Cross, to redeem us from under the Law. We saw that the Gentiles who found him had to return by a different way, as the way of all who find him is different afterward. And after his baptism, Jesus will spend forty days in the desert before beginning his public ministry, wherein he will be tempted to make himself into the various false Messiahs into which Man so ofter makes him anyway. We will soon imitate those forty days for our own devotion with the season of Lent, on the way to the Cross, without which Easter is but another metaphor or myth. A change is coming.

So the church provides a transitional time between the first and second of its three great seasons, as the joyous events from preparing for his birth to his baptism, Advent-Christmas-Circumcision-Naming-Manifestation-Baptism, now turn to the literally deadly serious reason why they happened, sin and our redemption from sin. Just like with the Christmas related season, this has taken various forms in various places and times but always within the same general pattern, and the universal practice of the Christian Church since ancient times (well, until 1960s Rome messed with it, but we'll get to that) has been to provide a transition from the beginnings of Jesus' earthly life to the end of it.

The Transition In The West And In The East.

The Western and the Eastern Churches also calculate Easter, and thus the forty days before it, differently, but the overall pattern is the same, as is a transitional period between what leads to Easter and the Christmas season just past. In the Eastern Church this transitional period is framed by five Sundays, after the last of which Great Lent begins on Clean Monday; in the Western Church it is a little over three weeks with Lent starting on Ash Wednesday. Either way, it is there.

Candlemas is the last feast dated with respect to Christmas. The 40 days of purpose, from Jesus' birth to his mother's purification in the mikveh and his presentation in the Temple, end then. Those 40 days are fixed, reckoned forward from Christmas, from 25 December through 2 February. The next 40 days of purpose are not fixed, and are reckoned backward from that to which they lead, Easter, which is not a fixed date either and reckoned differently in the West and in the East. In the West, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, will never be earlier than 4 February, so that always works out even if by just two days after Candlemas.

But, the transitional period, Gesimatide, can overlap with the concluding Epiphany part of the Christmas season. For the West, adding three weeks to forty days is approximately seventy days, and even with the earliest possible Easter will fall no earlier than 18 January, so Gesimatide will still always fit between the end of the Christmas cycle itself on 14 January, after the octave of the Epiphany and the Gospel portion relating the baptism of Jesus is read, and whenever Easter falls, early or late, in any given year.

What The Names Literally Mean.

Septuagesima is simply another word for Seventy Days, that's all. The modern English word is derived from Middle English, in turn from Old French, in turn from the actual Late Latin word septuagesima meaning seventieth day. The septua- part is the same prefix for seven or multiples by ten of seven seen in other English words -- septet, an ensemble of seven; septuagenarian, someone in his 70s; the Septuagint, the translation into Greek of the Hebrew Scriptures by seventy scholars -- and the -gesima part derives from the Latin for days, dies.

Seventieth day from Easter, no more complicated than that!

So, Septuagesima is 70 Days, Sexagesima is 60 Days, Quinqagesima is 50 Days. Simple.

With the Seventieth Day, or Septuagesima, the change is apparent on various levels. The white vestments of Christmastime joy give way to purple or violet of repentance; the joyful exclamation Alleluia and other joyful expressions like the Te Deum and the Gloria (there ain't no This Is The Feast) are not used, and the readings, especially if one follows the hours of prayer, the Divine Office, begin their way through the sorry history of Man, from his creation then fall then going forward, which the Holy Saturday liturgy will recapitulate.

On Septuagesima itself, the Gospel reading is Matthew 20:1-16, the story of the workers in the vineyard, wherein we see Man the same as ever from the start in Eden, trying to impose his ideas of what is right on to God's, this time arguing over whether the same wage is fair for those who worked all day, those hired at the last, and everyone in between, as if we deserved anything from God and it were not his to give and not ours to presume or demand anyway. So we argue with God and each other over the denarius rather than taking it in gratitude from him who owed us nothing! Kind of the whole problem in a nutshell.

The Eastern Church uses the following on its five Sundays in the Pre Lenten Season: 1) the story of Zacchaeus, 2) the Publican and the Pharisee, 3) the Prodigal Son, 4) the Last Judgement, and 5) the Sunday of Forgiveness.

The World Has Its Own Transition Too.

The world, which has ever had its early Spring celebrations, has in many lands timed them on Lent, so pre-Lent attains a nature as opposite from its Christian meaning as the gift buying and partying season before Christmas has become from Advent. At the beginning of Lent, fasting in some form is observed, usually involving abstaining from meat, and the most likely origin of the the name for the worldly pre-Lent, carnival, is a farewell to meat (flesh), from the Latin root carne- for meat or flesh (as in carnivore) and vale, good-bye (as in valedictory). In most but not all places, Septuagesima is the start of carnival season, to end just before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. As the church prepares for the penitential season of Lent the world enjoys the flesh, in all senses of the word.

But now in the Western Church, if one follows the lead of the Great Whore, Rome, as unfortunately many have, the transitional pre-Lenten period has been abolished altogether! And not only is this important transition dropped, the period of time it formerly took is simply counted as Ordinary Time. That would be bad enough if ordinary here meant what ordinary ordinarily means. Ordinary here means the literal meaning of ordinary, which is, something that has no particular name or identity but is simply numbered. So in the novus ordo and the various adaptations of it, this significant time of transition from the Christmas cycle to the Easter cycle simply ceases to exist, in numbered anonymity, in the face of nearly two millennia of Christian observance in varying forms, and the continuing observance of those who do not follow suit. Well, when you're the Whore of Babylon, you do stuff like that, maybe even have to do stuff like that. Not a lead for the church of Christ to follow.

Actually, at first in English the word Lent just meant Spring, and what we now call Lent followed the Gesima pattern and was called Quadragesima, meaning forty days, the duration of Lent in the West, which was also the name of the first Sunday in Lent. This still survives in other languages. For example in Spanish the word for Lent is Cuaresma. No word yet on whether Rome can get languages like Spanish to quit calling Lent after a pattern it has abolished. The world, though, seems securely attached to its traditions; Carnival season endures though Pre-Lent is done in. Who knows? Maybe the next council can get Ash Wednesday moved to the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, for "pastoral reasons" of course, like they jacked around the date of Epiphany, or move it to the Monday after and call it reclaiming our ancient Greek roots.

The Eastern Church still has its Pre Lenten Season.

The Start Of The Church's Transition East And West.

In the Western Church, the earliest Septuagesima can fall is 18 January and the latest 22 February. This year, 2011, it's 20 February. Join the Christian Church, East or West, in this transition, whatever your church or church body may have chosen to do, as we turn to the preparation for Lent, the observance of that for which he whose birth we recently celebrated came to die and then rise again, and the Easter and Pentecost joy to follow in anticipation of the eternal joy of heaven!

We start with learning from the workers in the vineyard not to haggle over the denarius but understand whose it is and that it is a gift, or, from the call of Jesus to Zacchaeus, who collected taxes for the foreign oppressors, that he doesn't have to climb a tree to see him, that he is coming to his very house -- which btw produced more grumbling about what is right and just -- after which Zacchaeus repented and made restitution to his brethren. The Son of Man has indeed come to seek and save the lost -- don't worry about being seeker-sensitive, HE is the seeker -- whether that be those who cast aside their own people for power or those who are idle because they are not hired, as we all seek first our own gain by nature and are all "unemployable" before the justice of God, who instead shows us mercy in Christ Whom He has sent.

The Plan Of The Western Transition, Gesimatide.

Here are the readings for the three Sundays of Gesimatide. This is particularly of value for us Lutherans, because the readings for each of the three Sundays of Gesimatide correspond with what came to be called the three "solas" in the Lutheran Reformation!

Septuagesima Sunday, "70 Days". By Grace Alone. (20 Feb 2011)

Introit.
Psalm 18:5,6,7. Verse Psalm 18:2,3.
Collect.
O Lord, we beseech Thee favourably to hear the prayers of Thy people that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by The goodness, for the glory of Thy name, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Saviour, who liveth etc.
Epistle.
1 Cor 9:24 - 10:5.
Gospel.
Matthew 20:1-16. The Workers in the Vinyard. Sola gratia, by grace alone.

Sexagesima Sunday, "60 Days". By Scripture Alone. (27 Feb 2011)

Introit.
Psalm 44:23-26. Verse Psalm 44:2.
Collect.
O God, who seest that we put not our trust in anything that we do, mercifully grant that by Thy power we may be defended against all adversity, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, who liveth etc.
Epistle.
2 Cor 11:19 - 12.9
Gospel.
Luke 8:4-15. The Sower and the Seed. Sola scriptura, by scripture alone.

Quinquagesima Sunday, "50 Days". By Faith Alone. (06 Mar 2011)

Introit.
Psalm 31:3,4. Verse Psalm 31:1.
Collect.
O Lord, we beseech Thee, mercifully hear our prayers and, having set us free from the bonds of sin, defend us from all evil, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, who liveth etc.
Epistle.
1 Cor 13:1-13.
Gospel.
Luke 18:31-43. Healing the Blind Man. Sola fide, by faith alone.

13 February 2011

"Precious Lord". A Love Story, For St Valentine's 2011.

THE BIRTH OF THE HYMN "PRECIOUS LORD"

Back in 1932, I was a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago's south side. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn't want to go; Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child, but a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis. I kissed Nettie goodbye, clattered downstairs to our Model A and, in a fresh Lake Michigan breeze, chugged out of Chicago on Route 66.

However, outside the city, I discovered that in my anxiety at leaving, I had forgotten my music case. I wheeled around and headed back. I found Nettie sleeping peacefully. I hesitated by her bed; something was strongly telling me to stay. But eager to get on my way, and not wanting to disturb Nettie, I shrugged off the feeling and quietly slipped out of the room with my music.

The next night, in the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: YOUR WIFE JUST DIED. People were happily singing and clapping around me, but I could hardly keep from crying out. I rushed to a phone and called home. All I could hear on the other end was "Nettie is dead. Nettie is dead.'"

When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that same night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn't want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well.

But then, as I hunched alone in that dark apartment those first sad days, I thought back to the afternoon I went to St. Louis. Something kept telling me to stay with Nettie. Was that something God? Oh, if I had paid more attention to Him that day, I would have stayed and been with Nettie when she died. From that moment on I vowed to listen more closely to Him.

But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor Frye, who seemed to know what I needed. On the following Saturday evening he took me up to Madam Malone's Poro College, a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys.

Something happened to me then. I felt at peace. I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody, one I'd never heard or played before, and the words into my head -- they just seemed to fall into place:

'Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn,
Through the storm, through the night, lead me on, to the light,
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.'

The Lord gave me these words and melody, He also healed my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring power. And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.

-Rev Thomas A Dorsey (1 July 1899 - 23 January 1993)
published in Guideposts in 1987
http://www.snopes.com/music/songs/precious.asp

06 February 2011

The Transfiguration of Jesus, 13 February 2011.

There are many miracles recorded in the New Testament, but this one is different in that it is the only of those miracles which happens to Jesus himself.

The Gospel accounts of this event are Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36. 2 Peter 1:16-18 and John 1:14 may also refer to this event.

There is much to be learned from this miracle. For one thing, it gave the Apostles, and now us as we read Scripture, something of a preview of the glorified and complete life in heaven. For another, it shows Jesus as the Messiah, he to whom the Law, represented by Moses, and the Prophets, represented by Elijah, point.

Those two things tell us much about Jesus, but there is something about us we can learn too. What was the Apostles' reaction to this event? They wanted to stay there, and devote themselves to basking in this event. But they were told not to, that there was work ahead in Jerusalem, and not only that, they were told to not even speak of it until after the Resurrection which they did not yet even understand.

Are we not also like that? We want to preserve sublime moments in this life and create conditions to produce them, literally or in monasteries of the mind, isolating and exempting ourselves from, even protecting against, what we are called to do in the rest of life. And are we not told that we cannot remain in these mountain-top experiences but must now go into the Jerusalem of our own lives where there is much to be done, some of it endured? And though we live after the Resurrection, do we not also not fully understand what lies ahead in our own lives?

Jesus both calls us to these sublime moments, and also calls us to go forth from them.

There's more, which relates to all three points and drives them further home. In Lutheran observance, the commemoration of this event is located within the church year where it falls in the progression of the life of Jesus, between Advent and Christmas and Epiphany and his Baptism, and the Gesimatide preparation for Lent, Lent itself, the Holy Week commemoration of his suffering and death, and Easter his resurrection.

In the Roman rite and Eastern Orthodoxy, it is celebrated on 6 August. This was always one of several dates on which it was celebrated. But, on 6 August 1456 news reached Rome that the Kingdom of Hungary had broken the Siege of Belgrade by the Ottoman Empire, which actually happened on 22 July, in honour of which Pope Callixtus III made the Transfiguration a feast to be celebrated in the Roman rite on 6 August. In Eastern Orthodoxy it is the 11th of the Twelve Great Feasts, and also the middle of the Three Feasts of the Saviour in August.

We of course are not bound by that, and there is good reason to locate it where we have, as the point of the church year in the life of the church is to celebrate and know the life of Jesus. There is though an interesting co-incidence (?) about the 6 August thing, Centuries later, on 6 August 1945, another type of transfiguration would happen. About 70,000 people died instantly and tens of thousands died later from the effects of the transfiguration, so to speak, of the first use of atomic weapons, in Hiroshima, Japan.

Thus the date of the news of one key military victory becomes the date of another. Even if either or both of these victories are seen as a turning point for the right side, Jesus calls us to another type of bodily transfiguration altogether, one not brought about by breaking a siege or nuclear radiation, and not a turning point in worldly events but the final triumph of God over the sin and its wages death brought into his Creation by us.

And another coincidence (?), 6 August 1991 was the start of the World Wide Web, a service available to the public, on the Internet which allows us to go down into "Jerusalem" in ways previously not possible. Now, for example one can go to the top sidebar element on this blog and donate to our beloved synod's effort to bring relief to people in Haiti following the devastating earthquake and the consequent devastating cholera outbreak.

Some things to ponder about transfiguration and going down into Jerusalem, whether we celebrate the Transfiguration on the last Sunday before Gesimatide, which this year is 13 February, or on 6 August. Or even if one is subjected to a wannabe version of the miserable revisionist Roman novus ordo, which does away with Gesimatide altogether (a post on what is Gesimatide and why you don't want to miss it is coming shortly here) and celebrates it as the last Sunday of a revised Epiphany Season on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, this year 9 March.