February 27, 2012
February 15, 2012
I was cleaning out old e-mails and found a few from you. I hope all is going well for you and the program.
So I may be accused of lacking humility here, but I thought I might share a bit of “our” success with you since I truly believe any academic success Pamela has can be more attributed to your efforts than mine. As you may recall, she enrolled in the Philosophy, Politics, and the Public Honors program at Xavier University in Cincinnati. She is thoroughly loving the program and earned a 4.0 last semester. This semester her history/philosophy block class involves coming to class prepared to critically discuss 40-60 pages of pre-assigned reading and writing concise analysis. Would it surprise you that the first class she lead the discussion and the professor was astounded at her critique so early in the semester? She called later to say it was like being back in Great Books and it felt so good!
Thanks again for giving Pamela the tools she’s need to succeed. So far, she’s doing super!
With highest regards,
January 2, 2012
Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Aquinas both presented their views of man as being either animal or a mix of animal and angel respectively. Machiavelli sees man as an animal. He sees no need to treat man with respect. He believes it is perfectly acceptable to use others for your own needs and profits. On the other hand, Thomas Aquinas sees man as a cross between animal and angel. He believes that the angel part of us is what gives us compassion towards one another and draws one closer to God for it is in His likeness that we desire to do good. It can be shown that although Machiavelli understood the animal part of human nature, Thomas had a more complete understanding of our true complete nature.
Machiavelli states that man is a combination of a fox and a lion. He explains that man has the cunningness of a fox and the prowess of a lion. He considers that this is man’s true nature and if used accordingly will bring success. He affirms, “Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves” (Machiavelli, 84). He explains that one needs to be like a fox to discover the plots against them and to be able to outsmart one’s enemies. One should be like a lion in order to have one’s enemies fear them. In Chapter XVIII of The Prince, Machiavelli goes into great detail explaining why it is better to be feared than loved. He concludes that to be feared like a lion a person can control others through their fear. He believes that love and devotion can change and therefore are uncontrollable. One can not control how much someone loves them; however, one can control how much someone fears them (78). Furthermore, he reasons that one should be as cunning as a fox and trick others into thinking that he do have love, compassion, faith, and religion. He concludes that others are more easily tricked if they think you have compassion and love for them (86). Machiavelli brilliantly shows through example after example of how acting like a fox or a lion can bring power, wealth, and control. However, the question can be asked, is this our true nature? Are these the things that bring and happiness?
Thomas Aquinas discerns that man not only has an animal part, but also an angelic spirit which is essentially our soul, our likeness to God. It is the part that allows us to give love and compassion. Thomas asserts that man is half “corporeal organ”, animal, and half angelic intellect, a soul (Aquinas, Pt.1, Q. 85, Art. 1). He declares that we have corporeal body that is the form of our angelic soul creating a half corporeal and half angelic form. He goes on to further explain this by stating that our “phantasm”, spiritual soul/form, exists in “corporeal organs”. He deems that we do have an angelic part that supplies us with an intellect that allows us to reason and thinks about consequences which ultimately will bring us closer to God (Pt. 1 Q. 85, Art. 2). He believes that we are complete when we use not only the animal part, but also the angelic part. It is only when we use both that we can feel complete joy and bring happiness to others. Thomas speaks about the importance of doing good deeds for others. It is in this manner that we find joy in the contentment of others (Pt. I-II, Q. 4, Art. 8). Thomas concludes that loving God is enough to bring happiness to the soul, but if there was a neighbor there, love of him would result in perfect love of God thus bringing true happiness (Pt. I-II, Q. 4, Art. 8). Thomas speaks of our likeness to God. He explains that we are not identical, but are made in His image in as much as we come from Him (Pt.1, Q. 4, Art. 3). Thomas speaks of humans trying to imitate God, but because God is perfect they fall short. It is in that desire to be like God in his goodness that brings us pure joy when we achieve it.
Although Machiavelli skillfully demonstrates how one has the characteristics of both a fox and a lion, Thomas reminds us of our likeness to God. Machiavelli advises people how they should use one another, lie to one another, and trick one another for ones own personal gain. Even thou this may bring success in one’s status and personal gain is there true joy? Thomas answers that question quite simply by reminding us of our likeness to God, and that our desire to do good is innate; we can not separate from it. When we do good deeds we are at our happiest. Our true nature is not only our human qualities, but also an angelic qualities, our likeness to God.
December 23, 2011
By Dr. James S. Taylor
A new movie being released this last month of Advent is called, “The Darkest Hour”. The national release date? December 25, Christmas day.
This is not a mere coincidence. Producers and marketers of films always know what they are doing. It doesn’t matter that the film is about aliens disintegrating animals and human beings in Moscow, Russia, and elsewhere. The title of the film and the emphasized release date — “Christmaaas Daaay!” (as the deep voiced announcer proclaims), is enough to perceive the intent.
Am I judging the motives of the promoters of this film? Without hesitation. There’s no hidden conspiracy here. There was a time not too long ago that all non-Christians would avoid such an obvious collision of secular ideas and Christian beliefs from a general regard for Christian sensitivities as well as fear of backlash from the Church leadership. Today, no reaction. Singer-songwriter, Don McLean, prophetically wrote, in 1971 in “American Pie”:
… not a word was spoken,
The church bells all were broken.
The world again has preferred “the darkest hour”, rather than the Light that has come into the world. The release date of this movie on Christmas day, the world’s “finest day” from the Christian perspective, when the Son, second Person of the Trinity, enters the world, is a small indication of a deliberate plan to pit the traditional day of Light of, “He [who] was the Light, the true one, which enlightens every man coming into the world,” and the secular world’s anemic sense of irony. Now, like the image used by Winston Churchill for World War II, “the gathering storm”, now there is another force to reckon with that cares nothing for religion and has a particular hatred for Christianity. This force, gaining global energy, will eventually fail, of course; however, in its self-destruction it will do much damage before its end arrives.
Regardless, it would be a mistake to give too much publicity to the sad and angry people, the poor and weak who appear rich and powerful of the world and their works. We return to celebrating the Light. Even the darkness in which Christianity begins, is transformed into the blessed covering with stars as Mary hastens to the cave in the cold night outside Bethlehem — the hour of Light had come. Then, thirty-three years later, Christianity appears to end on a bitter, dark Friday afternoon on Golgotha. The day ends, dark as hell in another cave, the tomb where Jesus’ body is laid.
Yet again, the night is nothing to fear; it simply is the divine cradle of darkness that holds and comforts the Light of Christ that, first, conquers the Ancestral Sin by the Cross, then conquers Hades and Death, the last enemy, as He emerges in the early morning sun of the Resurrection.
So the time of Advent is not one of just waiting for the birth of the Savior of mankind, but for embracing within the fullness of the Promise of Genesis that all, in some way suited perfectly to them, must pass through the darkness of the Cross, to conquer Death itself. This is to live with the eternal Light that has come into the world, a light so healing that all the darkest hours of human failure will never again dim its mysterious brilliance.
This, and nothing else, is the Good News: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 )
December 15, 2011
“It offers something entirely new to Catholic higher education: worldwide access to a relatively inexpensive, authentically Catholic, high-quality, liberal arts program…” the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic Colleges on the Angelicum Great Books Program
Sensory data, information, knowledge, understanding, wisdom – this is the hierarchy of what we know, beginning with the lowest form and proceeding up to wisdom. It is not until we gain understanding – the knowledge of the causes of things and hence of universal ideas – that we possess something unique to human, for even animals possess sensory data and types of knowledge. Higher still is wisdom – the knowledge of first causes, universally transcendent ideas and their proper ordering – which is the ultimate goal of any education worthy of the name.
Great ideas are not the objects of knowledge, as used above. That is why the grasp of them is not conveyed by a telephone book, dictionary or even discreet articles in a general encyclopedia. When we think about the matters of common human societal interest, we begin to connect the dots across the various disciplines or categories of knowledge and we begin to understand. As our understanding enlarges it also deepens – this opens the door to the acquisition of wisdom.
The study of the great books, books that contain the wisdom acquired by the most profound thinkers of Western civilization, which is the most widespread and influential civilization on earth, takes students by leaps and bounds beyond what they could discover on their own, even over the course of several lifetimes. It allows us to stand on the shoulders of giants and thus to see far beyond our own limited horizons and prejudices. No other such shortcut to wisdom exists, unless one has the great good fortune of knowing genuinely wise mentors – few of whom are alive at any one time. But through their books we can communicate with the sages of the past, even going back to the origins of civilization. This is why we study the great books, and why they are the most important objects of study once one has acquired and somewhat perfected the liberal art of reading.
Along with Robert M. Hutchins, the first editor of the most widely read collection of Great Books, “we believe that in the passage of time the neglect of these books in the twentieth century will be regarded as an aberration, and not, as it is sometimes called today, a sign of progress. We think that progress, and progress in education in particular, depends upon the incorporation of ideas and images included in the Great Books into the daily lives of all of us, from childhood through old age. In this view the disappearance of great books from education, and from the reading of adults, constitutes a calamity. In this view education in the West has been steadily deteriorating; the rising generation has been deprived of its birthright; the mess of pottage it has received in exchange has not been nutritious.” The public school system has woefully failed in its primary duty of transmitting the hard-earned wisdom of the past to the present.
As we have amassed a comparatively rich life of material comfort, we have become poorer morally and intellectually because of the absence of great books in our educational systems and in our daily lives. Mortimer Adler called the great books the backbone of authentic education – “the education that everybody ought to have, and that the best way to education in the West is through the greatest works the West has produced,” which in our view, is the best educational idea there is. That is why the founders and advisors of the Great Books Program consider great books the best instrument for education today.
It is not surprising that people unfamiliar with the Great Books do not appreciate their profound value for our society, and even oppose them in preference for other approaches, so we do not expect support or even interest from all quarters. However, we do believe this option should be made available worldwide for students who do appreciate their value. –PSJC
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A taste of the wisdom of Socrates – the first philosopher
Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for. –Socrates
All men’s souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine.
A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true. – Socrates
An honest man is always a child. –Socrates
As to marriage or celibacy, let a man take which course he will, he will be sure to repent.
Be as you wish to seem. –Socrates
Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant. –Socrates
Beauty is a short-lived tyranny. –Socrates
Beauty is the bait which with delight allures man to enlarge his kind. –Socrates
Beware the barrenness of a busy life. –Socrates
By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher. –Socrates
Death may be the greatest of all human blessings. –Socrates
False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil. –Socrates
From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate. –Socrates
He is a man of courage who does not run away, but remains at his post and fights against the enemy. –Socrates
He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature. –Socrates
December 1, 2011
Bethel University, located in St. Paul, MN, has agreed to accept 30 hours of Great Books Program credits towards its bachelors’ degrees.
November 9, 2011
I’ve found that the more exposure I get to the different ideas from the online discussions about the Great Books reading, the easier it is to shuffle my mental rolodex cards and organize them. Even when I don’t add to the conversation I enjoy the listening. My father loved discussing all kinds of topics when he invited the base chaplains to the house for dinner, so the conversation was varied and lively.
Growing up I learned quickly how to keep the conversational ball moving and how to entertain when things slowed down, which is why I don’t mind putting a zipper on my lips once in a while. I particularly enjoyed your remarks on the lines about the wedding in the poem and found them moving. It’s pleasant to hear a man speak of marriage in this way. From someone else it might have sounded a little like a fairy tale, but it was beautiful. During the poetry discussion there is invariably a ‘ramble’ such as this that will act as a blessing on my heart. Is it any wonder that I’m enjoying class so much? My previous experiences with college classes have not been this pleasant.
Again, I thank you. Maria E.