A Special Note From the Angelicum Academy: The Church in Need in Eritrea

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Eritrean Family

Eritrean Family


These are tough economic times for many in the United States, and elsewhere. However, if you are able to assist fellow Catholics who may be worse off than your family now, please consider the following.

Since 2000, the Angelicum Academy has been sending assistance to the Catholic Bishop of Asmara, the capitol of Eritrea. Eritirea is one of the poorest nations on earth.

ERITREA (darkened, to the upper right in the Horn of Africa)

Based on World Bank Development Indicators published in July 2006, here are the 7 poorest countries in the world. GNP per capita for each country is shown in US dollars.

Seven Poorest Countries

1. Burundi … $90

2. Ethiopia … $110

3. Democratic Republic of Congo … $110

4. Liberia … $110

5. Malawi … $160

6. Guinea-Bissau … $160

7. Eritrea … $190

Obviously the difference in income in these nations is insignificant -it ranges from 25 to 50 cents per day. In addition drought has devastated the Horn of Africa, including Eritrea. The famine is made a lot worse by lack of democracy, legitimate and responsible governance, and respect for human rights. The ruler of Eritrea is a Marxist dictator. Could it get much worse? Well, yes. Try being a part of the Catholic minority in Eritrea.

Catholic Cathedral Asmara Eritrea - Catholic elementary School

Catholic Cathedral Asmara Eritrea - Catholic elementary School

Although reliable statistics are not available, it is estimated that half of the population of Eritrea is Christian, mostly Orthodox. Approximately 3 percent of the population (about 150,000) is Roman Catholic. There are two Catholic rites in Eritrea: the Latin Rite and the Ethiopian Rite spoken in the ancient Ge’ez langauge. There are three Catholic dioceses (called Eparchies) in Eritrea.

The Catholic major seminary is in the capitol, Asmara. This seminary was almost closed prior to receiving financial assistance from Americans who responded to our first call for assistance years ago. It now has 44 seminarians. Following is a recent email from the seminary rector, Abba (Father) Kesete Ghebreyohannes (GabrielJohn), who refers to the Bishop Emeritus of Asmasa, Abune (Bishop) Zekarias Yohannes (Zachary John):

The Peace of Christ be with you,

First, let me introduce myself to you. This is Abba kesete Ghebreyohannes who is the spiritual son of Abune Zekarias Yohannes, in Asmara Eritrea. Yes, he is my beloved spiritual father. I became a priest thanks to his encouragements and prayers. I was ordained to the priesthood in 1992 by him. Then, Abune Zekarias sent to me to Rome and Washington DC for further education. He is very greatful. He had been receiving the previous letters. He thanks to you very much. He is doing very well. He told me to write for you on behalf of him. If you can, send to him some money to help the poor, but if you can’t, do not worry. Now, I am the formator and rector of the Major Seminary, in Asmara. We do have 44 Seminarians.

Once again, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! God bless you,

On behalf of Abune Zekarias Yohannes

Abba kesete.

Following is a recent letter from the present Catholic Bishop of Asmara, expressing his wish that we send this email appeal to help the Church in Eritrea:

Abune Menghesteab Tesfamariam

Abune Menghesteab Tesfamariam

Thank you for the prompt response. I hope and pray that your Christmas celebration was fine and full of blessings. I would certainly be glad if you did what you propose in your e-mail. The minor seminary, the year of the priests, the elderly priests and the parish houses are the four main projects which need special attention this year. May the Child Jesus help you in your efforts and bless you and all our benefactors. As you may know our Christmas will be on Jan 7th.


Happy New Year to all.

                                Abune Menghesteab Tesfamariam, MCCJ


Funds are needed to keep the minor seminary open, to fund some activities for the conclusion of the Year for Priests, for parish rectories (some priests are presently in what are little better than tumbledown shacks), for the major seminary, which has a very hopeful large group of 44 seminarians, and for the poor.

If you can help the Church in need, there are few places more in need, if any.

Donations may be sent directly to the

Angelicum Academy

PO Box 47

Manitou Springs, CO 80829

(make out check to “Angelicum Academy” with memo: “Eritrea”)

or, to:

Fr. Peter Ciuciulla

Comboni Mission Office

1318 Nagel Road

Cincinnati, OH 45255

(make out check to “Comboni Missions” with memo: “for Asmara, Eritrea Eparchy”)

It is inadvisable to send funds directly to Eritrea as they may be seized.

100% of all funds received will be delivered to the Catholic Bishop of Asmara.  Thank you for your generosity. May God bless you abundantly in the New Year!

Patrick S.J. Carmack


The Angelicum Academy

Eritrean Girl

Eritrean Girl


Why Are We Still Reading Dickens? by Jon Varese


Editor’s note: We have a movie recommendation at the end of this post.  If you have never read any of Dickens’ books, this movie is a good place to start.  Angelicum Academy students read his novels in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. 


The great Victorian is probably even more ubiquitous now than he was in his lifetime. How he remains such vital reading is an intriguing question . . .

It seems that you cannot turn a corner this year without bumping into Charles Dickens. So far we’ve seen the release of four major novels based on the Victorian icon’s life: Dan Simmons’s Drood (February), Matthew Pearl’s The Last Dickens (March), Richard Flanagan’s Wanting (May), and Gaynor Arnold’s Girl in a Blue Dress (July). Earlier this year BBC’s lush new production of Little Dorrit was nominated for five Bafta awards in the UK, and 11 Emmys in the US. Newspapers and magazines have run stories on his relevance to the current global economic crisis. And with the Christmas season now only four months away, it seems that there is no getting away from him any time soon.  As someone who teaches and writes about Dickens, the question of why we still read him is something that’s often on my mind. But that question was never more troubling than one day, nearly 10 years ago, when I was standing as a guest speaker in front of a class of about 30 high school students. I had been speaking for about 20 minutes with an 1850 copy of David Copperfield in my hand, telling the students that for Victorian readers, Dickens’s writing was very much a “tune-in-next-week” type of thing that generated trends and crazes, much as their own TV shows did for them today.  Then a hand shot up in the middle of the room.

“But why should we still read this stuff?”

I was speechless because in that moment I realised that, though I had begun a PhD dissertation on Dickens, I had never pondered the question myself. The answer I gave was acceptable: “Because he teaches you how to think,” I said. But lots of writers can teach you how to think, and I knew that wasn’t really the reason. The question nagged me for years, and for years I told myself answers, but never with complete satisfaction. We read Dickens not just because he was a man of his own times, but because he was a man for our times as well. We read Dickens because his perception and investigation of the human psyche is deep, precise, and illuminating, and because he tells us things about ourselves by portraying personality traits and habits that might seem all too familiar. His messages about poverty and charity have travelled through decades, and we can learn from the experiences of his characters almost as easily as we can learn from our own experiences.

Shining a light on his audience … Dickens giving a reading. These are all wonderful reasons to read Dickens. But these are not exactly the reasons why I read Dickens.

My search for an answer continued but never with success, until one year the little flicker came – not surprisingly – from another high school student, whose essay I was reviewing for a writing contest. “We need to read Dickens’s novels,” she wrote, “because they tell us, in the grandest way possible, why we are what we are.”

There it was, like a perfectly formed pearl shucked from the dirty shell of my over-zealous efforts – an explanation so simple and beautiful that only a 15-year-old could have written it. I could add all of the decoration to the argument with my years of education – the pantheon of rich characters mirroring every personality type; the “universal themes” laid out in such meticulous and timeless detail; the dramas and the melodramas by which we recognise our own place in the Dickensian theatre – but the kernel of what I truly wanted to say had come from someone else. As is often the case in Dickens, the moment of realisation for the main character here was induced by the forthrightness of another party. And who was I, that I needed to be told why I was what I was? Like most people, I think I knew who I was without knowing it. I was Oliver Twist, always wanting and asking for more. I was Nicholas Nickleby, the son of a dead man, incurably convinced that my father was watching me from beyond the grave. I was Esther Summerson, longing for a mother who had abandoned me long ago due to circumstances beyond her control. I was Pip in love with someone far beyond my reach. I was all of these characters, rewritten for another time and place, and I began to understand more about why I was who I was because Dickens had told me so much about human beings and human interaction.

There are still two or three Dickens novels that I haven’t actually read; but when the time is right I’ll pick them up and read them. I already know who it is I’ll meet in those novels – the Mr Micawbers, the Mrs Jellybys, the Ebenezer Scrooges, the Amy Dorrits. They are, like all of us, cut from the same cloth, and at the same time as individual as their unforgettable aptronyms suggest. They are the assurances that Dickens, whether I am reading him or not, is shining a light on who I am during the best and worst of times.  Posted by Jon Varese, September 2009

Recommended movie: BBC’s David Copperfield (1999):

David Copperfield lives a nearly idyllic existence with his beautiful mother Clara and their housekeeper Peggotty. His life changes forever when his mother re-marries. Mr. Murdstone is a no-nonsense businessman and a strict disciplinarian who believes in corporal punishment. David is soon sent to a strict boarding school but when his mother dies, his stepfather sends him to London to work in a foul smelling factory. He forms a close friendship with Mr. Micawber and moves in with the man and his loving family but as the Micawbers are forced by circumstance to relocate, he seeks out his aunt Betsey Trotwood. She sends him to fine school and he lodges with Mr. Wickfield and his daughter Agnes. As he grows older David is apprenticed to a law firm where he soon meets the senior partner’s daughter, Dora. Life’s challenges continue to confront him but with the help of friends and family, he overcomes adversity including his aunt’s loss of her savings, the death of his wife and the satisfaction of seeing the conniving Uriah Heep sent to a penal colony.

In Memoriam: Mortimer Adler – December 28, 1902-June 28, 2001

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In his own words…


Early in life I learned a lesson from Aristotle. Whether or not we succeed in having lived a good life is not entirely a matter of free choice and moral virtue. Virtue is certainly a necessary condition; it may even be the most important factor; but by itself it is not sufficient. The other necessary, but also insufficient, condition is having good fortune. Fortune, good or bad, plays a part in everyone’s life.  The accidents of fortune are the things that happen to you. When good luck happens, you may aid and abet it by seizing the opportunities it affords, but its happening to you is beyond your control. The only things entirely within your own power are the things you freely choose to do, and even some of these require attendant good fortune for them to be fully achieved.

You may take care of your health by virtuous conduct on your part, but your achievement of a healthy body may also require a healthy environment, which may or may not be your good fortune to enjoy. (In my youth, I went through serious influenza and poliomyelitis epidemics unharmed. Through diligent care by my parents I escaped being ill but, that was still a blessing of good fortune.) In a book in which I have recited the free choices I made to devote myself to teaching and learning, to writing books and editing them, and above all to the vocation of philosophy, it seems fitting that at its close I should briefly recount the incidents of good fortune with which I have been blessed. With the exception of one’s mate, one does not choose one’s family—parents, siblings, offspring, and in-laws. In these respects, I experienced good fortune, but not entirely. My parents came from good stock, as evidenced by their longevity and my own. I am grateful to them not only for the genes they bestowed on me, but also for their wise and benevolent treatment of me as a child, a schoolboy, and a college student. 

My mother was a schoolteacher, disposed to encourage study on my part. My father’s German upbringing led him to demand excellence in that performance. Anything less than an A-A-A report card from school was severely frowned upon. In addition,I had the good luck of being their firstborn child, as my sister, Carolyn, will testify about the less-privileged status of being the second child. Though marriage falls within the range of free choice, it is also partly attended by unforeseeable consequences that are in the realm of chance. I was less fortunate in my first marriage than in my second. At my eightieth birthday party, I proposed, with regard t0 marriage, the maxim that if you don’t succeed at first, try again. I did, and it has worked wonderfully well.

I think I summed this up at Caroline’s fiftieth birthday party, when I toasted her as “my best friend and severest critic.” It has been said that the smile on Adam’s face in the Garden of Eden betrays his enjoyment of the fact that he had no mother-in-law. In spite of the fact that Eleanor Pring, Caroline’s mother, was my mother-in-law, I still smile about my association with her and with Caroline’s two sisters, Polly and Margaret. The family I married into by choice has been, by good luck, as good for me as the family of my birth. Having two adopted sons in my first marriage with Helen was clearly a matter of choice. My second marriage with Caroline gave birth to two children, both boys, also matters of choice. But how Mark and Michael, the first two, and Douglas and Philip, the second two, have turned out has not been entirely within my control, or within Helen’s or Caroline’s.

I found the job of being a father taxing and difficult. I am quick to confess that I sometimes shirked my duties, did not devote enough of my time and energy to being a parent, and, in addition, was probably not temperamentally inclined to do better. Much that happened in the course of their upbringing may have been my fault, which I regret and for which I have tried to make amends, differently in each of the four cases. The four boys have matured at different rates of speed and under different circumstances, but the good fortune that I can now report is that they have finally developed into good human beings, enjoyable to be with, as well as good citizens.

Only the first two, Mark and Michael, are now married and have children—my grandchildren—to whom they are good parents. I hope I live long enough to see the other two, Douglas and Philip, married and with anticipated offspring.  After one’s family, comes one’s friends. Here, too, I have been extremely fortunate. In a sense, of course, one chooses one’s friends, but acquaintance with the individuals with whom one later elects to develop a friendship is a happenstance.

Two individuals whom I became acquainted with accidentally because they happened to be students of mine in my early years of teaching at Columbia University, Clifton Fadiman and Jacques Barzun, have developed into lifelong friends, and have also become the friends of my wife, Caroline. I cannot recount all the ways in which friendship with them has influenced my life and my work; I am grateful that they have grown old along with me and are still alive.

The third friend of my early years, no longer alive, was Robert Hutchins, but as long as he lived, he and I were close friends. But my good fortune in meeting Bob in 1927 when he was acting Dean of the Yale School, was both so accidental and so consequential, that I must repeat here the story about it that I told in Philosopher at Large. (pp. 107-111)  In 1925-1926, I wrote my first book, Dialectic, published in 1927. In it, while describing the process of argument and disputation, I dropped a footnote which said that this process is exemplified in the Anglo-American law of evidence. C. K. Ogden was editor of the series in which that book was published, and while visiting Hutchins at the Yale School early in 1927, Ogden was carrying the page proofs of one thirty-two-page unit from my book. It just happened to include the page in which I had placed that footnote about the Anglo-American law of evidence. While talking to Hutchins about other matters, Ogden mentioned me in a complimentary fashion and gave Hutchins the thirty-two-page unit of page proof he had been carrying in his pocket. So far, everything that happened was pure chance.

At that time, Hutchins was not only Acting Dean, but was also Professor of the Law of Evidence. The footnote caught his attention and, in June, he wrote me a letter, mentioning the footnote which he thought signified that I had a lively interest in the law of evidence. He invited me to come up to New Haven sometime that summer to discuss with him problems in the laws of evidence on which he was currently working. Now free choice came into play. Up to that point, I knew just enough about the law of evidence to make that footnote I had written substantially correct, but nothing more. I must have thought at the time that the invitation from Hutchins opened up an academic opportunity of which I should take advantage. So I wrote to Hutchins accepting his invitation and setting the time for my visit to New Haven in early August.  I then spent the intervening time in July studying the law of evidence, by taking out of the law library J. H. Wigmore’s five-volume classic textbook on the subject. Since the brief opening pages of each chapter contained Wigmore’s explanation of the law on that subject, followed by pages of discussion of cases in the federal and the forty-eight state jurisdictions, I could read through Wigmore’s five volumes, skipping all the pages dealing with cases.  As it turned out, when I met with Bob Hutchins in August, I appeared to him to have a firm grasp of the underlying principles of the law of evidence, and we hit it off in general. Shortly after my visit, I received a letter from him inviting me to leave Columbia and join him in New Haven to work with him on some essays he was planning to write about the psychological and philosophical aspects of certain rules of evidence, especially the hearsay rule.

I turned his invitation down, for no other reason, so far as I can remember, other than my unwillingness to change my residence from Manhattan Island, where I had been born and reared, to what, in comparison, was the sleepy little village of New Haven. My refusal to move to New Haven did not divert Hutchins from his aim to get me involved in work on the law of evidence.  He came down to New York to persuade Young B. Smith, then Dean of the Columbia Law School, to have me work with Jerome Michael, his Professor of the Procedural Law of Pleading and Evidence. I did so, while still remaining an instructor in psychology. We co-authored a book, entitled The Nature of Judicial Proof: An Inquiry into the Logical, Legal, and Empirical Aspects of the Law of Evidence, published in 1931.

Not only did that result in my friendship with Jerome Michael as long as he lived, and with whom I wrote another book, Crime, Law and Social Science, published in 1933, but it also led to a whole series of fortuitous consequences that represented a train of good fortune at work in the making of my life. First of all, when Hutchins in 1929 became, at the age of thirty, President of the University of Chicago, he invited me to join him there as an associate professor in three areas—in the philosophy and psychology departments and in the law school. My salary as a Columbia instructor, $2,400 a year, was to be increased to $6,000. Quite apart from that advantage, I had the good sense to perceive greater academic opportunities for me at Chicago than I would have had had if I had remained at Columbia. Since I was not yet disillusioned about the “Joys” of academic life, I went to Chicago, not only to teach in the philosophy and psychology departments and in the law school, but primarily to conduct a great books seminar for entering freshman in the college, with Bob Hutchins as my co-moderator. That was an opportunity I could not turn down, and my taking it has had many consequences, all fortunate for me. William Benton had been a classmate of Bob Hutchins at Yale.

After he retired from the advertising firm of Benton and Bowles, Hutchins brought Benton to the University of Chicago, appointing him Vice-President in charge of Public Relations. Through my close association with Bob, I naturally came in contact with Bill Benton. This developed into a friendship that had many fortunate consequences for me, principally among which, after Benton became CEO of Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., was my becoming Bob’s Associate Editor of the first edition of Great Books of the Western World, my producing the Syntopicon that went with that set, my eventually succeeding Bob Hutchins as Chairman of the Britannica’s Board of Editors, and my becoming Editor in Chief of the second edition of Great Books of the Western World. That is not all the good fortune that derived from my friendship with Bob Hutchins. He departed in 1951 from the University of Chicago to become Vice-President of the Ford Foundation. By that time I had become completely fed up with academic life, and, as a result of my creating the Syntopicon, I wished to spend my philosophical energies on producing the Summa Dialectica, a project I had conceived in 1927 when I wrote Dialectic.

I could not do that as a Professor of Law, which I had then become at the University of Chicago. In 1952, through Bob’s good auspices, I received a large grant from the Fund for the Advancement of Education, established by the Ford Foundation to establish the Institute for Philosophical Research, of which I have been the President since 1952. The Institute produced the two volumes of The Idea of Freedom, after eight years of research and writing. It later produced dialectical treatments of the ideas of justice, happiness, love, progress, beauty, and religion and, after operating in San Francisco from 1952 to 1963, it was moved to Chicago by Bill Benton when he wanted me there to work editorially for Encyclopaedia Britannica, while at the same time directing the work of the Institute for Philosophical Research.

As I have said earlier in this book, if I had remained at the University of Chicago after Bob Hutchins left it, I could never have done the philosophical work that has been the joy of my last forty years. Bob’s enabling me to leave the University of Chicago and all the distractions and intrigues of academic life, and his enabling me to establish the Institute for Philosophical Research as the ivory tower in which the kind of philosophical work I wished to do could be accomplished, was certainly the greatest stroke of good fortune In my professional life. I am still not finished with Bob Hutchins as my guardian angel. It was through his friendship with Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke that I also became their friends, and it was through them (as I have related earlier) that I became involved in the Aspen Institute after Walter established it in 1950. Meyer Kestnbaum, CEO of Hart Schaffner and Marx, another friend of Hutchins and mine, brought the Institute for Philosophical Research to the attention of Arthur Houghton, Jr., at a conference held at the Corning Glass Works that Arthur attended.

I subsequently met Arthur at a conference in New York, which was sponsored by the Institute for Philosophical Research while it was working on the idea of freedom. That led to Arthur Houghton’s becoming a substantial contributor to the budget of the Institute after the Ford Foundation grant expired; and, more important than that, Caroline and I developed a close friendship with Arthur, with whom we traveled extensively abroad. There is still one further consequence of my friendship with Bob Hutchins. He introduced me to Henry Luce, the co-founder of Time magazine, and to his wife Clare, both of whom, as I have related, came to Aspen in August of 1950. We became friends and Caroline’s and my friendship with Clare continued many years after Henry’s death.

I do not know this for a fact, but I think Clare had something to do with the cover story in Time about me and the Syntopicon, written by Henry Grunwald, who was then Senior Editor under Otto Fuerbringer as Managing Editor. In any case, I have enjoyed my friendship with Henry Grunwald in the subsequent years when he became Managing Editor of Time and then Editor-in-Chief of Time Inc.; and, after retiring from that position, became U.S. Ambassador to Austria. Caroline and I visited him and his wife Louise in Vienna and spent an enjoyable weekend at the Ambassador’s residence there.

Mentioning my involvement in the Aspen Institute as a fortuitous consequence of the great good fortune of my friendship with Bob Hutchins, I must also mention one other fortunate happenstance. Larry Aldrich, a famous dress designer, came to Aspen to participate in one of my seminars there early in the 1970s. Since then, Caroline and I have become close friends with Larry and his wife Wynn. We have traveled with them on many pleasant excursions here and abroad. Larry, having retired from the dress business, established the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, in Ridgefield, Connecticut. His knowledge and expertise in the field of the visual arts has enriched my life; Wynn’s knowledge of cuisines and gourmet skill in cooking, which my wife Caroline shared, sent them abroad together to cooking schools in Paris and Bologna.

I hope I have now made clear how one stroke of great good fortune—in this case, my friendship with Bob Hutchins—led to a train of consequences, all of them fortunate happenings. There are still others that I have not so far mentioned, friendships that have been fortunate for me, but not connected with Bob Hutchins. One was the influence on my life of my friend Arthur Rubin, a friendship that began in the library of the Psychology Department at Columbia when I was still an undergraduate student in the college. This continued until his death. He saw me through the ordeal of my divorce from Helen and later celebrated my marriage to Caroline. He was extremely helpful to me in the rearing of our children. One thing that I should not forget to mention was the inspiration I got from Arthur for the production of the Summa Dialectica at the time I talked to C. K. Ogden about the idea for my first book. That, by the way, was another lucky happenstance. I met Ogden at a tea party given by Gardner Murphy, an associate of mine in the Psychology Department. Ogden mentioned a book he was editing by Boris Bogslavsky, to be entitled The Art of Controversy. It was that title, I think, which prompted me to outline another approach to the clarification and resolution of philosophical conflicts. Whatever I said caught and held Ogden’s attention. He then and there invited me to submit a draft of the book I had outlined. That was in November. I wrote the book over the Christmas recess and during the January examination period, and delivered it to Ogden on the first of February.Another of my lifelong friendships began when I taught a course in the Laboratory School of the University of Chicago. Philip Rosenthal was a student in that class. After that chance encounter, we met again many years later when we were both guests of Mortimer and Janet Fleishhacker on a cruise of the Greek islands. He helped me through many difficulties in my last years in San Francisco, difficulties both personal and professional.

Since then, Philip has spent many summer weeks with Caroline and me in Aspen where, auditing my seminars, he has renewed our relationship as student and teacher. A third has been the friendship that Caroline and I developed with Andrew and Shawn Block in Chicago, resulting from the fact that their children and ours were pupils in the elementary grades at Francis W. Parker School. Shawn and Caroline were thrown together by their interest in the affairs of the school. Out of that blossomed the warm friendship that has enriched our subsequent years in Chicago. Glancing over the pages of Pbilosopber at Large to jog my memory of blessings that have befallen me, I found one of great importance to my life as a whole, one so important that I should not overlook it here. It is the fact that, with very few exceptions, all the work I have done in my life has consisted of activities that I consider leisuring rather than tolling; in other words, ctivities that one would engage in if one did not need monetary compensation for doing so, as opposed to the kind of drudgery that no one would undertake without being compensated for it. Let me quote the paragraph from Philosopher at Large that eloquently describes this fortunate circumstance.

Looking back on my life since I left home, I count myself unusually fortunate that, during more than fifty years of earning a living, almost all the work I have elected to do has consisted of tasks that I would gladly have taken on even if I had had an independent income. If leisure work, as opposed to drudgery, comprises all those activities in which one would engage for reasons of intrinsic reward and without need of extrinsic compensation, then most of my paid employments have been largely leisure pursuits…. In between the extremes of subsistence work that is drudgery and leisure work for which one is paid, there lies a spectrum of occupations in which both aspects of work are found in varying degrees of admixture. My good fortune has been that I have had the opportunity to choose the occupations of my life so that they would be predominantly filled with leisure [pursuits].Last but not least was my good fortune to have been invited to teach a great books seminar with Mark Van Doren beginning in October 1923, after I had just completed my two-year stint of reading and discussing the great books with John Erskine in my junior and senior year in college at Columbia University.

Suppose that that had never happened. Suppose that after being graduated from college, I went to law school or into business. I might never had gone back to reading the great books again, under the illusion that I had mastered them in my first reading of them. After all, had I not graduated with honors? For all intents and purposes, was not my superior literacy confirmed by the high grades I received? In my first two years of reading the same books that I had read as a student with Erskine, but now reading them again in order to collaborate with Mark Van Doren to discuss them with our students, my eyes were opened to the fact that I had not understood them very well, if at all, on my first reading. In the next five or six years, that discovery was repeated again and again, as I learned more each time I reread the same books I had read before.

Now at the end of my life, still rereading the great books that I started reading seventy years ago, I can summarize this whole process by repeating two insights mentioned before in this book: (1) the great books are the books that are inexhaustibly rereadable for both intellectual pleasure and profit: (2) understanding the ideas to be found in the great books develops slowly in the course of one’s whole life, bearing its best fruits in one’s mature years after fifty or sixty. This does not complete my recollection of the wonderful seven years I spent co-moderating great books seminars with Mark Van Doren. I became close friends with Mark and his wife Dorothy, quite apart from our academic association as teachers. I gazed upon their two sons, Charles and John, when they were still in their cradles at the hospital in which they were born. Both Charles and John have been my friends ever since they have grown to manhood. Both have been my associates at the Institute for Philosophical Research, in editorial work for Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., and in the Paideia school reform project. I cannot recall all the details of that friendship with the Van Dorens while I was still living in New York and teaching at Columbia, and when I went on many visits to New York after I moved to Chicago. But bright in my memory is Scott Buchanan, whom I met at Columbia, whose first book Possibility was published by C. K. Ogden along with my first book Dialectic, and who later, after coming to the University of Chicago to work with Hutchins and me, became Dean of St. John’s College, and innovator of the New Program there. He and I were closely associated in our friendship with the Van Dorens. All of us spent our summers in Cornwall, Connecticut, where the Van Dorens had a house on one side of the valley, and where Scott and Miriam Buchanan had another house on the other side, which Helen, my first wife, and I shared.  I recently found in my files two items that help to complete the picture of those years. They paint a portrait of me that is flattering to an embarrassing degree. I hope I can be forgiven the immodesty of quoting them here. I do so because I cannot myself remember the details of my behavior in the ambience of my relationship to the Van Dorens and the Buchanans.

The first item is an excerpt from the Foreword written by Dorothy Van Doren to a collection of her husband Mark’s letters. It follows: Another friend with whom my husband corresponded was Mortimer Adler. Mark knew Adler slightly as a student, but shortly after Adler graduated, they shared a section of the General Honors course, the forerunner of the humanities series. Adler was lively, enormously energetic, a great talker, and incomparably intelligent. They had a great time together, and my husband felt that he had to work his hardest to keep up with this volatile, yet deadly serious student. In his Autobiography, Mark writes, “he would talk so fast that his tongue, as I told him, fell over itself.” Soon they began to see each other away from the university, and as with so many of Mark’s friends, the wives were included. After the General Honors class, on Wednesday evenings as I remember, I would meet the two men at the Adler apartment and Helen Adler would make muffins for us. I particularly remember the four flights of stairs I had to climb, as our son Charles was born that winter. My husband has always said that he learned everything he knew about philosophy from Adler and Buchanan, and a great deal from Adler about poetry, which Adler denies. At any rate, the friendship flourished for more than forty years. 

The second item is an excerpt from a letter written by Mark Van Doren to his son John in 1946: I have been thinking over one part of your letter, the part about wise men, and have collected this thought about Mortimer [Adler]. He may not be wise, but he makes other men wise; he is almost the necessary condition for wisdom in others. They resist him, correct him, soften him, relax him, interpret him, and in the process feel superior to him; but there he is all the time, furiously thinking and speaking, and fanatically faithful to the truth-and that is precious too. He has amde Scott wiser-by reaction-than he was, and so I think with each of his friends. He is an angelic dope, and as such they worship him. They couldn’t do what he does even if they tried. Their wisdom has a negative feel when he’s around, as God’s does, maybe, when he contemplates the sons of men. He is greater than they, but only they could make him know it. This, I’m sure, is one reason he loves them. Or put it this way, Mortimer alone among the men we know is irreplaceable.

The rest are more or less wise, but whatever he is, he is absolutely . . . As I now reread these two extracts, I can only say that I think William Wordsworth was wrong in that line of his about the Child being father of the Man; though I share the sentiment expressed in the two lines that follow: And I could wish my days to be bound each to each by natural piety. 

Members of the Angelicum Academy with Mortimer Adler - 2000

Members of the Angelicum Academy with Mortimer Adler - 2000

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

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Article Written by Marilyn Gardner  One of the best gifts earlier generations of parents gave to their children was a simple command, delivered again and again: “Go out and play.” Those four little words offered an antidote to boredom, an outlet for youthful energy, and above all a firsthand look at the wonders of flowers and bugs, pine cones and clouds. Woods and fields beckoned, and nature became an everyday part of childhood.

Today unstructured outdoor activity has largely disappeared for many American children. Tethered to TV and video games, they lead sedentary lives. As one fourth-grader in San Diego puts it, “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

Apprehensive parents, fearful of everything from “stranger danger” to traffic and crime, also keep offspring close to home. A study of three generations of 9-year-olds found that in 1990, the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to a ninth of what it had been in 1970. For latchkey children who return from school to an empty house, there is a stern new parental command: “Don’t you dare go outside.”

The result is disastrous, says Richard Louv in his important and original book, “Last Child in the Woods.” Children can speak knowledgeably about the environment – the disappearing rain forest and the growing ozone layer – but many have little firsthand acquaintance with the flora and fauna outside their doors. Nature has become an abstraction, the stuff of PBS specials rather than daily life. Some children have never climbed a tree, picked violets in the spring, or watched a pale green cocoon on a milkweed leaf metamorphose into a monarch butterfly.

The loss is everyone’s, says Louv, a child advocate and journalist who coined the phrase “nature-deficit disorder.” He argues persuasively that children’s total well being is at stake. New studies suggest that direct exposure to green growing things can reduce the incidence of Attention Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder. It lessens stress and heightens children’s creativity and concentration. Above all, it increases their joy in life.

Louv finds many culprits conspiring against a nature-oriented world. Eighty percent of Americans live in urban areas, which often lack park space. In suburbs, bulldozers chew up vacant lots and woodlands, replacing them with housing and asphalt. Many condominium developers refuse to let children play on the grounds.

“Countless communities have virtually outlawed unstructured outdoor nature play, often because of the threat of lawsuits, but also because of a growing obsession with order,” Louv states. Simple playhouses and tree houses require building permits.

Yet Louv remains optimistic that the trend toward the “de-naturing of childhood” can be changed, or at least slowed. Doing so will require a diverse army of parents, teachers, city planners, leaders of youth nature programs, and environmentalists. Even employers can help by giving parents flexible summer work hours. That in turn could encourage families to introduce children to nature through gardening, camping, and birding.

Louv calls for a nationwide review of laws governing private land and recreation, especially those involving children. But he concedes that dealing with the legal tangle of outdoor play will present a difficult challenge.

The rewards for such efforts will be manifold. “Nature – the sublime, the harsh, and the beautiful – offers something that the street or gated community or computer game cannot,” Louv states. “Nature presents the young with something so much greater than they are; it offers an environment where they can easily contemplate infinity and eternity.” The book occasionally feels repetitious. But, as Louv so eloquently and urgently shows, our mothers were right when they told us, day after day,

“Go out and play.”


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Today is the vigil of the Nativity of the True Messiah. This astonishing, unprecedented event, alas, has nothing to do with Christmas today. Christmas as understood by anyone several hundred years ago is far removed from the crowded and frenzied stores along Wanamaker Road in Topeka (where I live). Compared to the cold and clear and starry night that enveloped a Bethlehem cave, now about six miles south and west from the center of Jerusalem, well, there is no comparison in contemporary culture.

But there is hope: The Incarnation of Jesus, God and Man, the Emmanuel, God with us, is just as distant and forgotten by the world as He was 2000 years ago. That’s good news? In the unworldly world of the Wonder Worker, this can be Good News indeed, though it requires a humble (as in humiliated) topsy-turvy way of seeing, a change of heart, a change of mind. But first a brief look at the conditions in Galilee at the time of Jesus’ birth. The level of social and economic justice in Galilee was declining fast in the face of new building projects by the corrupt ruler, Antipas. Why the disparity? The witless rich and powerful had done it again: created poverty in their greed.

How? Largely, because the space needed for this new ruling class and its vain monuments (mostly to themselves) meant confiscation of the land from the native farmers and shepherds. In the meantime, scribes, tax collectors, and soldiers who had moved into Galilee like parasites were now crooks and on the take, mostly patsies of the Herodian regime. All this was taking place in the constant presence of the greatest occupying military force in the world, the officers and soldiers of the garrisoned Roman army. How much different are the displaced folks in shelters today, and those children in homes with neither presents nor love, hard case prisoners, the sick and the dying, the angry uprooted farmers, the lonely soldiers of today?

Nothing has changed in this regard: They remain closer to the God-Child of Bethlehem than any of us. That’s crazy, it may be said; no, it’s Christianity. And it gets crazier: These are the same as the criminals, prostitutes, the abused innocents, the ignorant, the cruel, the doubters, the worn out and hard-hearted, who brushed against Him unawares in the days of Herod and Pilate. In suffering and even degradation, we are quite close to the One born for us now. His presence then and now is why He was born. But, the cry of defense continues: I am not a thief! I am not a prostitute! I give to the poor! I harm no man! I am happy! Later in His ministry when visiting Bethany, just east of Jerusalem, Jesus makes the distinction between good works , and the gaze of the Love for God. He speaks to two sisters and acknowledges that the one, Mary, staring at Him, has chosen the best part. Of course, Mary, the sister of busy Martha, cleans and cooks too. But not in the presence of the Lord. Her broken heart won’t allow it in the presence of her Healer. I truly hope it does not dampen your good spirits to recall that our Infant Messiah lying in the manger of an animal stall was born to die, as all humans; but He, on the other hand, dies unlike anyone who had ever lived: for in His death, He tramples death, ridding the world of Sin and Death once and for all, and for all. Eventually He tells His friends and his enemies why He has such power and love, since we could scarcely utter what seems an unspeakable truth: He is the Son of God, He is God and Man and Savior. And more: it is this Babe Who as Man demonstrate that Death, His and ours, is no more.

The Light in the darknass of Bethlehem looks forward already to the Light within the Light of the Resurrection. This is why all Creation is already singing, and sings today if you listen, this is the Joy of the Light of the new born Babe Whose presence lives in hearts, Who enlightens all men who come into the world . Even the gifts brought by the Magi are ceremonial and liturgical, mysteriously significant and important to us all, but they are not really personal  presents . This what the clear and cold and starry night sings down around the humble place of the Birth: O Cave, prepare yourself to receive the Mother who bears Christ within her womb. O Manger, receive the Word Who destroyed the sins of all. O Shepherds, keep watch and then bear witness to the awesome wonder. O Magi, come from Persia, and bring your gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the King. For the Lord has appeared from a virgin Mother, yet she bowed to Him as a servant and spoke to Him within her bosom, saying: How were you conceived in me? How did You grow in me, my God and Savior.

“Eye Exam” Artwork by Angelicum High School Student


Editor’s note: This is great.  Very original!  Beautiful attention to detail!  Thanks so much for sharing. 

The Proper Role of the Study of the Classics in Christian Education

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On occasion, the Angelicum Academy is asked about whether it is appropriate to study the Classics (primarily Greek literature but also conventionally viewed to include Roman and other generally recognized Great Books of Western Civilization). Many Catholics are surprised to learn that this question was answered by the Fathers of the Church in the Fourth Century, and that most of the Latin and Greek Fathers, Doctors of the Church and many Saints were not only educated with the Classics but encouraged the study of the Classics as part of Christian Education.  The following commentary on the view of St. Basil the Great on this issue as well as several other Fathers of the Church is offered to those parents interested in the proper role of the study of the classics in Christian Education. The work referred to in the commentary is Saint Basil’s Address to Young Men on the Study of the Greeks is also posted below in its entirety.

— Thomas R. Orr, J.D., Director of Angelicum Academy

In 1933, two authoritative commentators addressed the issue of the importance of St. Basil’s Address to Young Men on the Study of the Greeks and its influence on education to this day.  In the context of discussing St. Basil’s work and influence, the commentators also addressed the position of other Latin and Greek Fathers of the Church (St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and others) on the proper role of the study of the classics in Christian education, thereby debunking any notion that the Church or the Fathers were opposed to the inclusion of classical literature in education–rather, that such was indispensable:

“St. Basil’s Address to Young Men on the Study of the Greeks

is a short work, but one that has attracted great interest at all times. . . . Basil wrote the essay when he was advanced in years, for he himself speaks of “my advanced age” as one of the reasons which urged him to accomplish the task.  Some time had thus elapsed since he had resigned his chair of rhetoric . . . The work sums up Basil’s ideas, towards the end of a life of wide experience, on a question much-mooted in his day:–Should the study of pagan classics of Greek literature form an important part of a system of Christian education? And since the work was published, Basil undoubtedly intended that it should perform as widespread a service as possible and not be limited to his own seminary or surroundings.
That St. Basil knew classical Greek literature as a whole very well we might conjecture from what we know of his education. A careful reading of his works, however, brings this out very clearly and shows that he was well conversant with certain types of Greek literature.

Although Basil comparatively rarely cites authors, he mentions among the poets Aeschylus, Euripides, Archilochus, Simonides, Solon, Theognis, Hesiod and Homer (citations omitted). There are other references that can be traced to Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and perhaps Aristophanes. . . . He quotes or alludes to Hesiod at least four times and to Homer twenty-three times. The bulk of Homeric references or quotations have to do with the Odyssey, about one-third as many with the Iliad; and the Homeric Hymns and the Margites, long attributed to Homer, are referred to once each. All the instances from Hesiod are from the Works and Days.


Basil seems well acquainted with the legends and history of Greece.  There are eighteen references that are easily traceable to Herodotus, two to Thucydides, two to Xenophon, and twenty-four to Plutarch. Throughout his works Basil’s use of history and legend is literary or rhetorical and never scientific. He mingles the history and legend indiscriminately.
In the use of the philosophers, or such authors as are usually classed among the philosophers, Basil borrowed most from Plato. In this he was like most of the other Fathers, both Latin and Greek, who found much in Plato’s writings which so approached the Christian ideals and was so beautifully expressed that they were inclined to draw upon Plato’s phraseology freely.  Aristotle’s influence on Basil was far less direct than that of Plato, but that Basil knew Aristotle thoroughly is evident from Letter CXXXV. In this letter, after expressing a very sound opinion of the rhetoric of his day, Basil very discerningly characterizes at some length the literary styles of Plato, Aristotle, and Theophrastus. The influence of the other philosophers is rather difficult to find, although some remarks may be referred to Diogenes Laertius.  He also cites Anaximander, Anaximenes, Democritus, Leucippus, Empedocles, and Xenophanes of Colophon.

In Attic literature the only men whom Basil seems to have left off his ready references are the Attic orators. A single mention (Letter III) is made of Demosthenes, but Antiphon, Andocides, Lysias, and others, who were widely known and admired do not appear. An orator’s works do not lend themselves to a moralist for quotation so readily as the verses of poets or the apophthegms of the philosophers. 

Basil’s education was obtained at the pagan university of Athens, and the pagan Greek classics formed the main part of the curriculum .  For four or five years he read and studied these works with a zeal and intelligence that drew attention and compliments from all his teachers. His ready reference to the productions of the old masters, and his insight into their spirit, are evident.  In view of these facts alone, his attitude towards pagan classics would seem to need no explanation. But in his Address to Young Men, Basil confirms his almost obvious stand by direct statement, saying specifically that when the pagan writers teach what is good, and noble, and true, they are to be read, while if they teach vice they must be shunned. There exists no more explicit declaration of the right position of the classics in education than this.  Every educator from Plato down has maintained similar views. “If anyone,” says Basil, “praises the good thus, we shall listen to his words with satisfaction, for our objects are in common.”  And again, “Thus, then, we shall be influenced by those writings of pagan authors which contain an exposition of virtue.” His position is definite enough. The pagan classics have a place in Christian education, and, when properly selected and intelligently taught and received, their influence in education is beneficial and necessary.
As a matter of fact, no one of the Fathers has expressed himself as opposed without compromise to pagan literature in its entirety. Traditionally, St. John Chrysostom has had the worst reputation in this respect.  Without making any serious investigation of the vast bulk of Chrysostom’s sermons, historians and literary critics from E. Gibbon down to E. Norden have repeated the charge that Chrysostom was either profoundly indifferent or irreconcilably hostile to pagan culture and literature.  The former attributes to him “the judgment to conceal the advantages which he derived from the knowledge of rhetoric and philosophy.” A. Naegele was the first to evaluate properly Chrysostom’s real attitude and to show conclusively from Chrysostom’s own statements that he deserves a place beside Origen, Basil, Augustine, and others who advocated a compromise between Hellenism and Christianity.


Icon written by Angelicum 8th Grade Student

Icon written by Angelicum 8th Grade Student

For all practical purposes such a compromise was established in fact by the middle of the fourth century. The Christian Fathers of this period were all thoroughly imbued with classical culture and gave evidence of it in their writings.  Theoretically, however, opinions were divided as to whether or not Christian thought should be set forth in the polished language of the pagan classics. Some of the Fathers, like Augustine and Gregory Nazianzen, wavered in their attitude.  Some of Gregory’s bitter invectives against pagan writers and rhetors give the impression that he is altogether hostile to profane literature, while other of his statements show him in favour of enlisting its formal beauty in the exposition of Christian doctrine.

Chrysostom’s attitude is similar.  He sometimes allows his zeal to carry him too far, to censure not only the errors and vices of paganism, but profane writers and literature in general, and this has led critics like Norden to pronounce him “the most bitter foe of paganism in the fourth century.” But although as applied to pagan error and immorality this statement is true, yet a sympathetic study of his sermons will show that at heart Chrysostom is not hostile to the refining and cultural influences of antiquity.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

St. Basil stands out alone among the Fathers in the quiet restraint, the Atticism, as it were, of his style. While being just as intensively opposed to the error and immorality of paganism, he does not indulge in extravagant tirades that include blindly the good with the bad of paganism. His statements present exactly what he means and rarely permit misinterpretation. Accordingly, Basil’s attitude towards the pagan classics appears as the most enlightened and well-balanced of his time. This attitude which he expresses throughout his works may be summed up as follows:

Basil’s acquaintance with pagan literature is that of an understanding friend, not blind to its worst qualities, but by no means condemning the whole on that account. However, it is clear that Basil recommends the study of pagan Greek literature on ethical and not aesthetic or scientific grounds. The chief value of this study in his mind is to stimulate the practice of virtue and to prepare the reader to understand Holy Scripture.  But this emphasis on the ethical side does not exclude a genuine appreciation of the best in pagan Greek literature on Basil’s part, and the range and familiarity of his knowledge of the latter revealed in all his works show that he had drunk deeply from its fountains. 

Icon written by Angelicum 8th Grade Student

Icon written by Angelicum 8th Grade Student

The essay [Address to Young Men] . . . has exercised a unique influence in the history of education, whether through being employed as a guide and defense for the study of pagan literature or through being read for its own worth as a Christian classic, and it is without question the best known and most widely disseminated of Basil’s works

.  Before passing to a consideration of the more important separate editions, in themselves excellent evidence of influence, a few concrete instances of this influence will be of interest. A detailed account of the treatise’s Fortleben does not exist as yet, although it could well be the subject of a valuable monograph.
 .  It was the first Greek work translated by Leonardo Bruni in the Renaissances, his translation being gratefully dedicated to Coluccio Salutato, to whom with Chrysoloras he owed his knowledge of Greek. Bruni employed the treatise as a defence of humanism against men like Dominici and Dati, who, in fact, were closer to the mind of Basil in their attitude than he himself. Aeneas Sylvius quotes from the treatise in his work on education and interprets it wholly in the spirit of Basil. The work in Latin translation was being regularly expounded at the University of Paris in the early sixteenth century, as we learn from a letter by Josse Bade to Nicholaus Chappusotus in 1508Basil was recommended for Reading in the Ratio Studiorum of the Jesuits, and the present treatise was undoubtedly among the selections chosen, for an edition of the work by Hieronymus Brunello, S.J.was published in Rome in 1594. In the Schulordnung of Herzog August of Braunschweig for 1651 Basil’s treatise is commended to the masters for study as praeclara illa Basilii, magni de utilitate ex Graecis auctoribus capeinda ad adolescentes Christianos oratio. Johann Friedrich Reinard, in a memorial on the education of Saxon Kurprinz, written in 1709-1712, recommends reading of Basil’s treatise in the following terms:

St. John Damascene

St. John Damascene

The work was evidently esteemed by the later Greeks, for St. John Damascene quotes it in several places in his Sacra Parallela and it is quoted more than twenty-five times in the collections of maxims from St. Basil ascribed to Symeon Metaphrastes

Austatt eines Probirsteins, wornach der Poeten carmina zu examiniren, diene des Plutarchi Buch, quomodo juventuti audienda sint poemata, und des Basilii M. oratio ad juvenes, quo ratione cum fructu legere possint Graecorum libros, welche beyde scriptores H. Grotius in dien lateinische Sprache ubersetzet, unde die, cum ejudem varientibus lectionibus et notis, Johann.  Potter in Oxfurt e Theatro Scheldoniano anno 1694 ediret.

And to come closer to our own times, in the last century St. Basil’s little treatise played a prominent role in the Gaume controversy, and again made its appearance in school curricula. These few notices taken at random are enough to show the significance of the treatise (Greek phrase omitted) in the history of education.”
This treatise [Address to Young Men on the Study of the Greeks] was the first of Basil’s works to be printed, making its appearance, however, not in Greek, but in the Latin translation of Leonardo Bruni. The editio princeps of this translation was printed by Christopher Valdarfer at Venice c. 1470-1471. Before 1500 at least nineteen editions of Bruni’s translation came from the presses in the following cities: Venice, Parma, Buda, Milan, Nurnburg (two editions), Ulm, Mainz, Leipzig (five editions), Burgos (three editions), Zamora, Salamanca, and Pamplona. The Greek text seems to have been printed first in Venice by Z. Calliergus c. 1500 in an edition containing also the Pinax of Cebes, the (greek omitted) of the Pseudo-Plutarch, and the Hiero of Xenophon.

The text which we have used is that of Garnier and Maran, compared with that of Fremion . . .

  — Roy J. Deferrari and Martin R.P. McGuire, Prefatory Note to Basil the Great’s: To Young Men, On How They Might Derive Profit From Pagan Literature, pp.365-76, Vol IV St. Basil Letters, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 4th Ed., 1970 (prefatory note written in 1933)


Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

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