The Unexamined Essay is not Worth Writing

The Unexamined Essay is not Worth Writing:
What Socrates and Boethius can teach us about writing

I. The Tragedy of the five-part essay
II. Using the Essay as a Unified Argument
III. What Can We Learn from these Two Philosophers
IV. Socrates
A. Plato’s Teacher and Platonism
B. The Dialogues about His Trial and Death
C. The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living. Apologia
V. Boethius
A. The Heir of Plato and Aristotle
B. The Last Roman
C. His Legacy
D. Returning to His True Homeland
VI. Why is the Unexamined Life Not Worth Living
A. Self-delusion
B. The Viciousness of Wrong Ideas
C. Ambition over Humility
D. The Wrong People in Charge
E. We End by Murdering Those Whom We Should Hear

The unexamined life can only be deemed less than worthless, for having deceived ourselves, we are then only able to deceive others, and depending on how much we invested in our false knowledge, we tenaciously persist in our delusions, even to the point of seeing those who hold the truth as our enemies, and we kill Socrates and Boethius.

The unexamined life
can only be deemed less than worthless
for having deceived ourselves
we are then only able to deceive others
and depending on how much we invested in our false knowledge
we tenaciously persist in our delusions
even to the point of seeing those who hold the truth as our enemies
and we kill Socrates and Boethius.

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Some passing thoughts on today’s lectionary

Proverbs 14:30 – 31 “A sound heart is life to the body, but envy is rottenness to the bones. He who oppresses the poor reproaches his maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy.”

I take these verses from this morning’s lectionary reading, for the Monday of the fifth week of Lent. We now find ourselves in a rather sticky situation, beset on every side by isolation, deprivation, and for many, loneliness, all arising from the current distress of the coronavirus. I’ll not comment, at least at the moment, about the wisdom of what our government has done in handling this crisis. What I want to focus on is that we are in the midst of great Lent, and have been given several things that we should focus on during this period, namely prayer, fasting, and the duties of charity, though of course we should always focus on them. Continue reading

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Calvin and Servetus

Below is a link to an interview I did last year,  on the Credo Podcast, hosted by Matthew Barrett, an interview that was prompted by my Calvin’s Tormentors. It’s been some months since I did the podcast, so I thought I would make sure that I added some items in case they didn’t make it to the final edits (though I don’t think the host would have cut anything). All-in-all, I great enjoyed my time with Prof. Barrett, and I wish him well in his efforts.

I hope you all enjoy it.

Did Calvin Murder Heretics?

The one point that I wish to make, as the itro to the interview implies I’m giving Calvin a pass, is that while Calvin had no vendetta leading up to Servetus’s arrival in Geneva, so that he’d go out of his way to persecute Servetus, nonetheless when he came to Geneva, Calvin bent his energies to make sure he never left alive. Calvin had already given such a warning to Servetus so that the Spaniard would not turn up in Geneva.

Once the trial had ended, the Magistrates of Geneva sent letters to the other Reformers, requesting their opinions on what should be done with Servetus. Calvin sent his own letters, encouraging them to return the harsh reply. In this regard, Calvin’s previous antipathy toward Servetus had turned to open and violent hostility.

This is the great black mark on Calvin in the whole affair.

There are, of course, other black marks to hold against Calvin, but these pertain to his doctrines and ideas, and of course are comments for another day.

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St. Basil and the Holy Spirit

Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to paradise, our ascension into the kingdom of heaven, our return to the adoption of sons, our liberty to call God our Father, our being made partakers of the grace of Christ, our being called children of light, our sharing in eternal glory, and, in a word, our being brought into a state of all fullness of blessing, both in this world and in the world to come, of all the good gifts that are in store for us, by promise hereof; through faith, beholding the reflection of these graces as though they were already present, we await their full enjoyment . . . . If such the first fruits, what the complete fulfilment? (On the Holy Spirit 15.36).

Today we celebrate not only the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (about which you may read here), but also that of St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (Pontus), who reposed this day in the year 379.

St. Basil can easily labeled as one of the great polymaths of his day, educated in literature, oratory, astronomy, theology, and rhetoric. You can read a good synopsis of St. Basil’s life here.

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Racine and Myrrh Dripping Icons

I was making some items for coffee hour tonight and asked the local NSA bug to play Tchaikovsky’s Cherubic Hymn. The NSA bug said she didn’t recognize that, so I asked for Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, and she started playing something Anglican. Eventually she got around to playing Faure’s wonderful Cantique de Jean Racine. The text is taken from Racine’s paraphrase of Consors paterni luminis, a hymn of the hours, generally sung at Matins, asking of Christ that he might dispel the darkness of the night.

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Niggle’s Parish: Tolkien and St. Gregory of Nyssa meet in a Dantean Platonic Purgatorio

Apart from his letters, there’s little that Tolkien wrote that can be called explicitly Christian in the way that people think of theology or even Amish Romances. The one real exception is the wonderful Lay of Aotrou and Itroun. The next closest would seem to be Leaf by Niggle, a short story he published in 1945, and which should be read by anyone ever remotely interested in JRRT’s thought and philosophy of creation, subcreation, and eucatastrophe. Yet it is not merely an interpretive prism for understanding fantasy writing and the JRRT legendarium, for it as well speaks to Tolkien’s belief about the relationship of our life in this world to that which we shall have in that which is to come. Continue reading

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Crests and troughs: undulation in my last week of writing

So, I’ve been to the top of the Mountain, only to come down and find heretics waiting for me, and some rather confused ones at that. The mountain was the third Ancient Faith Writers and Podcasters Conference held at Antiochian Village last week. The heretics are a bunch of antitrinitarians from the sixteenth century, the subject of an article I am writing. It’s been a haul, but at last I’m down to revising now. At first, I was going to present the essay as my 20-minute contribution to a panel at Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in Albuquerque (about 2500 words). That was 18 months ago, but then my funding got pulled, fortunately, before I got my plane ticket and made lodging arrangements (a stunt pulled on me in the past). So, I sat on it for a while, but then a colleague who edits the Brill journal Church History and Religious Culture, put out a request for articles, so I dusted it off and told him I’d get it to him in late April. Missed that deadline. It’s all John Mark Reynolds’ and St. Constantine’s fault, I’ll have you know. And also, it’s because I am no longer at Eastern University, but working to start an Orthodox Classical Academy here in the Lehigh Valley, named, The St. Constantine School of the Lehigh Valley; at least that’s what the State of PA and the IRS will know us as. It was also Ancient Faith’s fault as well. Continue reading

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Victory is Never Final

Tonight marks the 204th anniversary of the allied victory at Waterloo. Wellington later called his triumph a close and uncertain thing, something unbelievable had one not been there, and you will read some histories that so depict it. Yet in truth Wellington chose to fight where he did and when did, for he knew that while he had fewer men than Napoleon, he had the defensive position he wished, and most notably, he knew that a Prussian army was but several miles away (something Napoleon did not know). The Prussians were commanded by Field Marshal Eberhard von Blücher, the only man who had ever bested Napoleon in a pitched battle, the 1813 Battle of Nations that ultimately led to Napoleon’s abdication and first exile, though the emperor actually bested Blücher several times after that battle before his abdication. Continue reading

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The Infinite Desire

It’s always good to plan. I had a high school teacher, John Weathers, who constantly quipped “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Quite often I have set goals for reading and only partially realized them, and these past two years which saw my name on two books, entailed a good bit of reading beyond what I normally get to just in my course of my own curiosity. The one, a festschrift for Fr. John Patrick Donnelly was a collection of edited essays, but they were a joy to read and work through. The other, my book on Calvin, had me pouring through reams of original sources, as well as the secondary literature. Yet I also sat down with lots of books I had planned to read through, and some I have just begun.

I should say that I read with delight Fr. Deacon Nicholas Kotar’s Raven’s Son series (well the first four books of it, as he hasn’t finished the others yet). I may well read them all again in anticipation of the next volumes (please, Fr. Nic, be quick to press!). I also reread Tolkien’s main works, The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and LOTR, as well as a good amount of his extra work (all in prep for the St. Basil Summer program). I also made my way through a large section of St. John Chrysostom’s Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles. Continue reading

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Only the free mind contemplates

“The thinking man, if he wants his thought about freedom to be complete, must also reflect—on the basis of his own experience—that freedom is inseparable from consciousness and the conscious experience of pursuing and discerning truth. If freedom is really free, it must be part of self-reflective thought, or logos; otherwise freedom would be identical with chaos.” Fr. Patrick Reardon, “Pastoral Pondering,” Sunday of All Saints, 2016.

Modern education has turned students into commodities, into cogs for some great machine, and nowhere is this more on display than how the powers-that-be treat what they expect from teachers and professors. Higher education’s current craze, indeed the mania of the last few decades, from state education boards, departments of education, university educational committees, and accrediting agencies, is constructing a pedagogy around outcomes, goals, objectives, and assessment, and all able to be placed in some index of metrics and measurable results. In short, they have turned teachers into technicians of learning. This is all the language of bureaucracy as applied to education, and is predicated on the fraud that the progress of the mind can be measured. Continue reading

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