20 February, 2010

Non posse stare sinceram theologiam

Dear readers,

In my first posting to this blog, I would like to explicate a bold statement of Luther’s, both in terms of what it must have meant at his time and what it could possibly mean today: Ego persuasus sum, sine literarum peritia prorsus stare non posse sinceram theologiam [“I am convinced that without literary training, pure theology is not able to stand upright;” WA Br. 3.50].

Luther most likely has in mind here the study of what we today would call “the Classics.” (In sixteenth century Germany, “German literature” did not yet exist as a disciplinary subject any more than “English literature” did; there was nothing but Greek and Latin and possibly Hebrew) So “literary” here should be understood to refer to ancient texts like Aesop’s fables, Cicero’s philosophical and rhetorical writings, Terence’s comedies, Virgil’s Aeneid, and, of course, the Bible, among others. And by “training,” Luther meant the development of a set of intellectual skills that built upon the work begun in the trivium at a young age and that continued throughout the course of one’s education and life.

Ah, the trivium. These foundational elements of a traditional liberal education (careful, attentive reading; clear, sensible thinking; eloquent, persuasive speaking and writing) were seen as having practical applicability in the 16th century (just as they had had for Ambrose and Augustine and Chrysostom in the 4th) for a wide spectrum of jobs and professions that required verbal acuity. (For more on the three cornerstones of a liberal education, namely, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, the reader may wish to check out a web site that I have developed on the subject. Click here.)

Luther was not a reactionary. He was interested in educational reform and attacked the cathedral and monastic schools of his own day with his customary scatological vigor. (He referred to textbooks used in monastic schools as “asses’ dung.”) And he was no elitist, either. He wanted education to extend much more broadly to all elements of society, to include most notably girls. But in other ways his reformation of education was conservative, reflecting his reformation principles in general. He did not throw out ecclesiastical elements unless he felt they were entirely out of sync with the Gospel. He reformed them. Like fellow humanists, his instinct was not to go a little ways backward but to return all the way to the historical roots, ad fontes [“to the fountainheads”].The curriculum of the Lutheran gymnasium would not have struck Isidore of Seville or Martianus Capella or Varro as all that unfamiliar.

One could describe Luther’s approach to intellectual formation as “backing into the future.” Ordinarily, humans can guess at what the future might hold, but the only thing they have a fairly good shot at understanding is the historical past. So instead of facing the blank future and turning our back on the richly detailed past, as we are used to doing today (especially in America), the “premodern” pedagogical idea was to move into the future backwards, as it were, keeping one’s eyes fixed on what could actually be seen, known, and studied, namely, the past. Over the centuries, Lutherans have learned to worship as Lutherans by singing the ancient melodies of the church in the words of David, and Ambrose, and Luther, and Catherine Winkworth. Even so, when it comes to learning how to read and think and speak, the Lutheran mind has traditionally been trained by studying the language, thought, and art of Isaiah and Plato, Paul and Cicero, Virgil and Bach, and others who have historically shaped the Lutheran tradition. This isn’t an entirely reactionary ideal, because it is only by understanding fully one’s historical identity that it will be possible to bring the past alive for the future. As Goethe put it so memorably: "Was du ererbt hast von deinen Vätern, erwirb es, um es zu besitzen” [“What you have inherited from your fathers, make an effort to possess it for yourself.”]

The significance of Martin Luther’s enthusiastic and weighty support of the liberal arts often goes relatively unnoticed. His scholarly colleague, Philipp Melanchthon, aptly dubbed praeceptor Germaniae, certainly did much more of the actual work in helping to shape the curriculum of Lutheran schools and universities along humanistic lines than Luther did. All the same, imagine what would have happened if Luther’s support for the classical curriculum had been only luke warm! He made it clear often and unmistakably that he valued the ancient languages highly. He praised the works of Virgil and Cicero and Aesop in hyperbolic terms. And he let everyone know that he cherished the art of music next to theology itself. Without his personal and public advocacy for the liberal arts, it may well be that the anti-intellectual ideology of contemporaries like Carlstadt and the Anabaptists would have won out in the 1520s.

There are, of course, a number of other ingredients besides “literary training” which Luther considered crucial for theological formation, including the generous gifts of the Holy Spirit, prayer, meditation, and, most famously, the experience of wrestling with Satan’s attacks (tentatio or Anfechtung). None of these other constituent elements, however, lend themselves as readily to the conventional classroom instruction that makes up so much of the Lutheran theologian’s formal education as literary study, an important component of the bonae artes (cf. WA TR 3.312).

So, of all the arts one could study, why should literary studies be considered so essential for sincera theologia? The Lutheran reformers were deeply concerned to distinguish their approach to theology from that of contemporary Roman Catholics or “enthusiasts” who relied far less heavily on the written word of God. Grammar, rhetoric, logic, history, and the study of languages and literature were so important to Lutherans because of their distinctive emphasis on sola Scriptura. Historically Lutheran clergy and laity haven’t interpreted dreams or heeded an inner voice or listened to the siren songs of charismatic leaders in order to discern the will of God. No, they have read, interpreted, taught, preached, and sung the written message of the Scriptures. Without the ability to read God’s word accurately and sensitively what other source for inspiration and guidance from above could a Lutheran theologian have? Without the verbal skills to expound, declare, and apply the Word of God to contemporary situations and audiences, how could a Lutheran theologian effectively function?

But, someone might object, that was then and this is now. The world has changed radically since Luther’s day and never more so than in our own lifetime. Screens have replaced books. Numbers trump words. There is a real and growing reaction in American higher education against the traditional liberal arts. Students are gravitating in ever increasing numbers to majors like Nursing and Pharmacy, demanding ever more applied courses (e.g., “Spanish for Engineering”), and they are growing increasingly impatient with coursework that does not have an obvious connection with vocational preparation. It is somewhat gratifying to discover that such indifference to literary studies or even to the life of the mind is not at all new. At Luther’s time there was a common saying: Gelehrte sind verkehrte [“the learned are crazy”] and Luther himself was keenly aware of this opposition. In his 1524 address To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany, Luther bluntly described as “brutes and stupid beasts” those educational minimalists of his own day who questioned why it was necessary to teach “Latin Greek, and Hebrew and the other liberal arts” instead of just using “German for teaching the Bible and God’s word, which is enough for our salvation” [LW 45, 341 ff.]

Some might argue that Lutheran higher education is somewhat immune from the current educational trend here identified. Seminaries and schools of theology still do value the liberal arts and literary studies, don’t they? Possibly. But while it is not uncommon for Lutheran seminaries to recommend an undergraduate major in the Classics for undergraduates who are planning to study theology, how often is fundamental preparation and demonstrable aptitude in the liberal arts actually required? And no wonder, when so many second-career candidates, with an undergraduate degree in engineering or business, are admitted to seminaries with the sole proviso that they take a crash course in New Testament Greek, if that. And how seriously are the liberal arts really taken as part of the training of parochial school teachers, “directors of Christian education,” “staff ministers,” and others whose jobs will require them to deal on a daily basis with the Word of God?

These curricular suggestions sound awfully Euro-centric today. Christianity has spread to continents of which Luther wasn’t even aware. What about “literary training” in Chinese or Spanish, some might ask. Why not indeed? Suggesting the study of one set of curricula doesn’t necessarily have to be an attack on the other. Why not encourage real glossalalia? The study of Latin could be just the beginning. At the same time, realistically speaking, vita brevis est, ars longa. It is unlikely that any student could ever master more than just a couple of languages (to say nothing of bodies of literature) in a lifetime. And it is important to appreciate the serious particularity inherent in the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. Curricular proposals can be very broad. Learning objectives can be as sweepingly ambitious as we want to make them. But life itself is quite particular. It was to a particular region of the world, at a particular point in history, and in the midst of a particular cultural milieu that God sent his only Son to be born. Everyone has to start somewhere. Why would Lutheran theologians not start by immersing themselves in the languages, literatures, and cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world in which Jesus lived and where the first apostles began their evangelical work?

This all will seem excessively “ivory tower” to some. What about all the practicing theologians today who spend little of their time in the study and must work in the bustling modern world? They manage schedules and budgets, handle difficult personalities, plan for the expansion of physical plants, etc. Maybe these untheological duties might be better delegated to others who are better trained in these areas and who are not theologians. But even so, the liberal arts don’t have to be regarded as entirely useless in this regard. Luther saw precisely this kind of education as a great “ornament, profit, glory, and benefit, both for the understanding of Holy Scriptures and the conduct of temporal government” For him, it wasn’t only about the studying per se, but also what could be done with the results of that study. A liberal education, it has been said, “desires to educate for wisdom and virtue, not power and vanity; finds tiresome the present age’s preoccupation with utility, speed, novelty, convenience, efficiency, and specialization; and refuses to justify education as a means to wealth, power, fame, or self-assertion” [see Richard M. Gamble, The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being (Wilmington, 2007), xviii]. If Lutheran theology is a theology of the cross, it is hard to imagine any education more practically suited for the development of sensitive, persuasive, and wise exponents of it than the kind Luther prescribes.

Posted by Carl P.E. Springer

16 February, 2010

The Unbearable Burden of Tuition and a Radical Proposal

As writers of comments on this blog have pointed out, and as one of the bloggers, Erik Ankerberg, has pointed out, the tuition drive in higher education has an ultimately corrosive impact on liberal education when it comes to what is offered, delivered, and gained. It's an understandable, and clever, business plan that students, parents, college administrations, and, therefore, also faculty, have: $$ in must = $$ out. Who can argue with it? The result is, as we've had occasion to point out, a constant wearing away at the core of liberal education, also in the Lutheran higher learning. What is to be done?
A radical proposal: create, or reform, a Lutheran college not just in its curriculum, but in its very governance, and back that reform up with a financial reform that would eliminate tuition. I love to return to Newman, and here a point he makes about tying liberal education to external goals bears repeating: the education that has specific vocational outcomes in mind (vocational as in "vocationalism") will never be liberal as in liberating, but always servile, as in enslaving. You can chew on that one for a while. But his logic is irrefutable, and evidenced in scads throughout Lutheran higher education today.
But in terms of tuition: the curriculum has been taken captive by pressures derived from the tuition drive. If that can be removed, the curriculum can be freed and can provide a truly liberal education, in the Newmanian sense.
This is, of course, predicated upon articulating a theologically faithful and intellectually responsible rationale for liberal education, instantiating it in curricular form, and then approaching influential laity, congregations, and pastors who can support the endeavor morally and financially--and financially to a point wherein tuition is taken out of the equation. Simply what this means is that the core endeavor of a college--its instruction--must be fully underwritten by drafts on endowed funds, or in other words, that every faculty position be an endowed chair.
Radical? Yes. Achievable? d.v. Utterly necessary? certissime!

More Indications from the Confessions: Lutheran Catholicity and Liberal Education

In the ears of many contemporary Lutherans, the creedal phrase, "one, holy, Christian [or catholic] and apostolic church," has a ring that is very much here-and-now, organized around and from the viewpoint of the speaker who says "I believe." That is, when I speak the phrase I mean that right now I am part of a group of people (a church) that has a unity (one) in its confession of Christ (Christian) by whom it is made holy. On this account, the view of the Church's catholicity is decidedly synchronic: if I can make the leap out of the walls of my own congregation's building, the definition embraces the Chinese, African, German, Brazilian Christians, et al., who inhabit the world on this Sunday in the 21st century.
But the confessional language of AC 7 comes at what the church is, viewed from its catholicity, in another way. It begins with a diachronic articulation, or gloss, on what "one" and "catholic" mean. German: "Es wird auch gelehret, daß alle Zeit musse ein heilige christliche Kirche sein und bleiben [It is also taught that at all times a holy, Christian church must be and remain.]" Latin: "Item docent, quod una sancta ecclesia perpetuo mansura sit. [They also teach that one, holy church shall remain in perpetuity.]"
It's these phrases, alle Zeit and perpetuo, that are of interest, because they figure catholicity not as an eternity of extension, but as a continuity of extension. Alle Zeit means "at every point in time;" perpetuo means "without interruption," and in church Latin is frequently paired with aeterne, as in the phrase perpetuo et aeterne ~ "continuously and eternally." This emphasis in AC 7 even seems to correct some earlier "egotistical" articulations of catholicity, as in Luther's 1528 Bekenntnis, where he defines the catholicity of the church against the papacy by its extension beyond the papacy (WA 26.506), and even the Schwabach Articles that, pace the eds. of BSLK, do not emphasize Luther's synchronicity, but come at catholicity diachronically, but not as continuity, but eternity. AC 7 thus conceives of the catholicity of the church as consisting in a basic diachronic continuity, recognizable at every point, even the here-and-now, as AC 7 goes on to demonstrate, on the basis of its kerygma (bei welchen das Evangelium rein gepredigt; in qua evangelium pure docetur ~ "amongst whom/in which the Gospel is purely preached/taught") and right administration of the sacraments (die heiligen Sakrament lauts des Evangelii gereicht werden; et recte administrantur sacramenta ~ "the holy Sacraments are administered in accord with the Gospel/rightly").
So what's the point? The point is that the Church of the Augsburg Confession, wherever it finds itself in space and time, whether in the U.S. today or in Norway 250 years ago, recognizes itself as part of a diachronic continuity so that it makes its confession together with the church of all ages and places. It is the height of egotism to claim contemporary novelty as an embrace of the confession of this church. It is thus the height of arrogance and egotism to do theology in a vacuum that does not recognize the uninterrupted continuity of the church. As Paul puts it, "We have not what we have also received." [1 Cor. 4.7] The Church of the Augsburg Confession thus operates with an intellectual and spiritual humility, though not uncritical, in the face of the dominical promise of the catholic continuity of the church.
The Reformers also modeled this attitude toward the intellectual and spiritual tradition of the church in their approach to higher education. Ad fontes, the famous Renaissance cry embraced also in Wittenberg, was not a haughty boast to the effect that we have finally got it right. In fact, this was precisely the criticism the Wittenberg Reformers leveled against late Medieval scholasticism. Rather, it was a humble recognition that other people at other times and places woven into the great fabric that we call humanity had thought important thoughts, stated important statements, created beautiful, just, true, and noble creations worth studying and emulating. In a very real sense, then, the education envisioned in the Reformation slogan of renascentes Musae is an embodiment, in another realm, of the attitude of the Church of the Augsburg Confession toward itself that recognized itself as something located in a specific space and time within a larger theological and spiritual framework: it was decidedly biblical, Augustinian, and Western, and this had come down to Wittenberg in 1530 as an uninterrupted continuity. It was, in a very real sense, a creature of its historical genetic material. So, too, the intellectual framework: it was part and parcel of the great web of the West, beginning with the Greeks and continuing with the Romans, embraced by Augustine, obfuscated, but not snuffed out completely, in the Middle Ages (so the thinking went), and reprised in the Northern Renaissance through a living appropriation.
The ancients had called it an ἐγκύκλιος παιδεῖα (enkúklios paideîa) a "universal education," not by way of asserting a sort of superiority over the past, but by way of laying hold of "the best ever written and thought," by now, of course, regarded as a naïve and quaint notion. But in its quaint naïveté, it recognizes a truth about itself that revels in the fact that in the here-and-now it has a share in the diachronic continuity of something much larger than itself, a formed and informing intellectual tradition that is, by the certain logic of history, inescapable.

Philipp Melanchthon, Confessor

Today, 16 February, the birthday in 1497 of Philipp Schwarzerd, is also observed in the Lutheran Church as the Commemoration of Philipp Melanchthon, Confessor. We at renascentes Musae are quick to add that his epithets include the following: humanist, educational reformer, Graecist extraordinaire, and praeceptor Germaniae. Read the devotion for the Commemoration of Melanchthon from Memorial Moments.

15 February, 2010

Vocation, Vocationalism, and Liberal Education Lutheranly Conceived

One facet of American modernity that stands in sharp contrast to Lutheran theology is the reduction of vocation (vocatio, Beruf) to vocationalism. While it is not clear that all use of modern terminology built on the "vocat-" stem bears intentional animus toward the more fulsome, Lutheran theological sense of the term, it is the case that what moderns mean by one's "vocation" differs dramatically from what Lutherans mean by one's vocation. Untangling the mess, that is, extricating vocation from vocationalism, is thus a key element in building the theological and intellectual substructure of confessional Lutheran liberal education.
Again, the confessional documents come quickly to our aid in this endeavor. The human being, who is constituted by being addressed by God in His Word--both in His Law and in His Gospel--, is subject, first and foremost and universally, to God's directive, "You shall have no other gods before Me," meaning: "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things." All else, all other human action, must, at least paradigmatically, flow from obedience to the First Commandment. Thus, for example, Commandment Four means that "we should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them." The human being addressed by God in His Word is also socially located, and that social location does not remove God's address to him. Rather, because he stands under God's universal address in the First Commandment, within his social location, his "station in life," his action within that realm flows from his first being addressed by the God who is to be feared, loved, and trusted above all things. In other words, no matter in what situation the Christian finds himself, he remains as he has always been: addressed by God, "called" by God. His vocation is therefore first and foremost to act in the way that a creature addressed by God is to act, by keeping the Ten Commandments. Note that there is no prescription for a certain career-path, no age-limit top or bottom, no boundary set but that set down by the fact of one's calling, one's being addressed by God.
Second, it is specifically under the Gospel that the God who presents Himself in the First Commandment demonstrates Himself to be worthy of the fear, love, and trust He demands. Put differently, Christ in His cross reveals the merciful heart of His Father. 1 Corinthians 2.16: "'Who has known the mind of God to take counsel with Him?' We have His mind--Christ." This self-disclosure of God the Father's heart in the cross of Christ evokes, calls forth, the confession that "God has made me and all creatures; He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, etc." The cross of Christ--that element of Pauline kerygma that the saint gleefully exclaims he had determined to know nothing other than among his hearers--becomes the flash-point, the locus of revelation, through which and in which the gracious will of God the Father is made known and through which and in which the Christian is able to confess, "God has made me and all creatures, etc." The Christian ethical entailment of this is simply a repeat of the chorus in the Ten Commandments. "We should fear and love God so that we don't..., but do...." ~ "For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him." Again, no specified career path, no age limit. The Christian's vocation is determined by his being addressed by God, first in the Law and then in the Gospel.
The creedal explanation, however, "thank and praise, serve and obey," not only recalls the obligation laid upon me as a creature addressed by God and expressed in the Ten Commandments, but also reflects back to those gifts of God given to me under the First Article of the Creed. My thanks and praise, my service and obedience, to God, are carried out through the profitable use, the exercise, and the development of His gifts attached to me as addressed and confessing subject. This is how Luther puts it in the Explanation of the First Article in the Large Catechism, §19, 23:
Now, all that we have, and whatever else is in heaven and upon the earth, is daily given, preserved, and kept for us by God. Therefore, it is clearly suggested and concluded that it is our duty to love, praise, and thank Him for these things without ceasing [1 Thess. 5.17–18]. In short, we should serve Him with all these things, as He demands and has taught in the Ten Commandments.... In this way the heart would be warmed and kindled to be thankful, and to use all such good things to honor and praise God. [ed. Paul T. McCain, et al., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2nd ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), pp. 400–401; bold print added]
Lutheran higher education thus falls (a) under the First Article of the Creed; and (b) within the realm of Christian vocation, not [Christian] vocationalism, and is that intellectual and social space wherein the gift of the reason is, in a special and focused way, profitably used, exercised, and developed. As such, confessional Lutheran higher education seeks to use tools uniquely adapted to the development of the mind to ends that honor and praise God, above all to aid the recipients of such an education to use their reason faithfully to confess the God of the Creed. In precisely this service, the Wittenberg Reformers enlisted the "human arts," the arts that are at the center of being a human being endowed with reason, the "liberal arts," and the best of the human arts that had come down through the Western tradition. This was undertaken without regard for one's station in life--undertaken without a sense of vocationalism, but in the pursuit of vocation, lutheranly understood. Even more specifically, it was undertaken in pursuit of the godly and profitable use, exercise, and development of that uniquely human quality and good, the reason.

Faith & Reason: Something Worth Thinking about...

Jim Peters, a good friend, fine Christian thinker, author of The Logic of the Heart, Professor of Philosophy at The University of the South and chair of the Department of Philosophy, has the following to say about the natty matter of faith and reason. Listen to it on Issues, Etc. Click here for the audio.

10 February, 2010


I've become a fan of Dean Dad's musings on higher education in his blog at insidehighered.com. Here is link to a recent posting about two ways to consider "productivity" in higher education:


A quote from the posting:

"From the standpoint of an individual instructor, the controllable variable (at least to some degree) is the quality of instruction. That's also what you care the most about, what you pride yourself on, and at a really basic level, why you're there.

From the standpoint of trying to make payroll, though, the opposite is true. A thrilled student doesn't pay any more than does a barely-contented student. (There's presumably a minimal level at which attrition becomes an issue, but I'm assuming at least basic competence.) Students pay by the credit, the course, or the year; they don't pay by the breakthrough. The 'extras' that a great class can generate don't show up in the budget. Worse, some students actually prefer classes that don't ask very much of them. (If you doubt the truth of this, spend a day at in-person registration, just listening.) The mutual non-aggression pact between an instructor who doesn't ask very much and students who'd rather not be bothered is one of the open secrets of American higher ed, and it fits short-term institutional needs disturbingly well. There's a reason that Rocks for Jocks and Physics for Poets still exist."

While Dean Dad is certainly speaking about the interplay of these forces in a secular environment, the pressures he describes impact contemporary manifestations of Lutheran higher education. Of course, our ethos should inspire us to provide students with a rigorous synthesis of the best that our Lutheran faith and the Western tradition has to offer. But that's the supply side. I think one of the great challenges Lutheran higher education faces today is working with various constituencies, the demand side: students, obviously. Their families, of course. But, we also know we must never tire of taking every available opportunity to educate the synodical officials, the pastors, the lay leadership, in short the good people of various Lutheran stripes that this kind of instruction enriches young people's lives and prepares them to live faithfully here, in time, and hereafter, in eternity. So, I'll ask our sage readers: How can we best work to influence and educate our fellow Lutherans about the benefits of this kind of education?

Greek Just for Reading the NT? A Wittenberg Answer

An unequivocal "No!" from Melanchthon:

It was not apart from an extraordinary divine plan that it came about that the teaching of the Gospel was first and most powerfully committed to writing in the language of this people [the Greeks] and thus entrusted to posterity, even if it was to be spread throughout the whole world. For since this language [Greek] already encompassed the teaching of character, of discipline and culture, that is, of the divine law, since it was already the mistress of the best arts and of those arts most necessary to cultured life, a ταμεῖον [tameîon/storage room] of deeds wrought and of the history of the world, God [because He chose to commit the Gospel to men in Greek] willed also that treasure [outlined above] to be bestowed upon the human race through the service of this very language, in order to demonstrate that it was this gift of His kindness that, amongst His other kind gifts, ought especially to be sought out and embraced.

Non absque singulari consilio divino factum est, quod evangelii doctrina, etsi per totum orbem spargi debuit, tamen huius gentis lingua primum ac potissimum descripta atque ita ad posteros transmissa est. Cum enim haec lingua iam ante doctrinam morum, disciplinae et humanitatis, hoc est legis divinae, contineret, cum optimarum artium vitaeque humanae summe necessariarum magistra esset, cum rerum gestarum et historiae mundi ταμεῖον, voluit Deus et hunch thesaurum per eiusdem linguae ministerium humano genere impertiri, ut ostenderet inter cetera beneficia sua hoc beneficium vel praecipue expetendum atque amplectendum esse.

[Philippus Melanchthon, Oratio de studiis linguae Graecae a Vito Winshemio dicta, pp. 23–38 in Karl Hartfelder, Philippus Melanchthon. Declamationes, 2. Heft (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1894), pp. 29–30.]

08 February, 2010

Classics (Now) and Humanism (Then)

The student of the Wittenberg Reformation quickly realizes that today's academic field of classics is but a shadow of its former self. Put more elegantly than I could, Joshua Hayes, a Renascentes Musae reader, has this observation to make:
The spirit of humanism no longer lives in Classics. The two are not mutually exclusive by an means, but they are distinct. Classics is more of a modern, "scientific" endeavor--an observation of things classical. Latin (and Greek), therefore, is more of a tool of the trade. It is akin to the scientist's microscope. It gives him insight to another world, but it is not a goal in itself. Thus most classicists are perfectly content to be able merely to read Latin, but they read (usually by translating into a quasi English-Latin hybrid) just to get the info. Style and beauty of expression are seldom noticed or appreciated. I do not say never, but seldom and only secondarily.
The spirit of humanism, on the other hand, is not primarily observation, but participation in things classical. This, I believe, is the distinguishing factor. Humanists don't just observe, they want to participate in Latin (and Greek). They don't just want to translate Latin to cull information; they want to read Latin, appreciate its beauty, speak it, live it. That sort of activity is the goal of humanism: improving the self, participating in studia humanitatis.
Sic. Which means that Greek and Latin aren't even at home in their own living room any longer. The Wittenberg approach to classical antiquity is not dissection, but living appropriation.

07 February, 2010


Over the weekend, as you'll note in the right-hand sidebar, we have added 2 new bloggers to Renascentes Musae, both experts on Lutheran higher education: Erik Ankerberg and Carl P.E. Springer.
Ankerberg is Associate Professor of English at Wisconsin Lutheran College. He holds the Ph.D. in English from Marquette University. Springer, Professor of Classics at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, holds the Ph.D. in classics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Between the three of us, we have decades of experience in higher education, both as students and as faculty, a great many of those years spent in Lutheran higher education: Northwestern College (Springer), Concordia Ann Arbor, Concordia River Forest, and Wisconsin Lutheran College (Ankerberg), and St. Olaf College, Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, and Bethany Lutheran College (Bruss). In addition, we share an abiding zeal for the Lutheran intellectual tradition, literae humaniores, "the languages," and confessional Lutheran theology. Over time, I have no doubt you will learn more about each of them from the links off this blog to their personal profiles.
As you can see from what's above and what has been posted elsewhere on this blog, Renascentes Musae is something of an "ecumenical" endeavor: it is a blog for (and now of) Christians of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession regardless of their synodical affiliation. We support every embrace of the Wittenberg ideal no matter where it may be found. Indeed, two of us are Missourians, another a Wisconsinite. Two of us were raised in Missouri (not the same 2 as are in Missouri today), one by a long-standing Missouri Synod family, the other in a family that came to Missouri from the ALC; the third of us was raised a Protéstant, if my recall serves me correctly. All three of us have been educated in synodical institutions of higher education: one of us in the ELS and erstwhile ALC, one in the LCMS, the third in WELS. Two of us are laity; one is ordained. Two of us have the Ph.D. from secular land-grant institutions, one from a Jesuit institution. Perhaps these facts bear witness to the strength and persuasiveness of the Lutheran intellectual and theological tradition: it has the power, as a shared inheritance, to make possible this conversation across synodical lines and institutional affiliations.
In any case, I have every confidence that the addition of these two writers will in every way enhance the content of what is written and increase the blog's appeal to established readers--and to readers as yet unidentified--as Renascentes Musae continues to offer historically, theologically, and intellectually well-grounded ideas for reprising the Wittenberg ideal in Lutheran higher education in North America in the 3rd millennium. Gott hilf uns allen!

05 February, 2010

The Gospel's Not for Sharing, Blogs Are

The Gospel's for proclaiming. But enough silliness.
The point of this post? To invite you, the reader, if you think what Renascentes musae, the blog, is doing is worthwhile, to send a link to this blog (http://renascentesmusae.blogspot.com/) to your favorite armchair theologians, concerned Lutheran laity, and other potentially interested parties. No treasure stored up for you in heaven, I'm sorry to say, but I hope it will be worth your while anyway.

AC 18 and Lutheran Higher Learning

Two posts ago I promised to return to AC 18 and what it might have to say regarding Lutheran higher learning. In the last post, I briefly laid out some fundamental differences between the way in which various local reform movements and Humanism interacted. I return now to my promise, building on the preceding post. AC 18:
On the free will they teach that the human will has some freedom toward effecting civil righteousness and choosing matters that are subject to reason. But it does not have the power, without the Holy Spirit, to effect God's righteousness, that is [seu] spiritual righteousness, since "the natural man does not perceive the things that belong to the Spirit of God." [1 Cor. 2.4] This, rather, comes about in hearts when the Holy Spirit is received through the Word. Augustine says as much in so many words (Hypognosticon, Book 3): "We confess that all men have a free choice (albeit that possesses the judgment of reason), not that it is thereby suited to begin or, certainly, complete in respect of those things that have to do with God, but only in respect of those works of the present life, both good and evil...."
The Wittenberg settlement between Christian teaching and Humanism (last post) honors this Scriptural assignation of powers to the free will. Humanism is one of those good works spoken of and belongs to left-hand realm of God, where the free will does have a choice. (Get ready for the next sentence; sorry it's a Teutonic doozy.) And just as choices in congregational life such as whether to build a new nave or not belong to the left-hand realm but impact for better or for worse the right-hand realm, where God rules through His Word and Sacrament, so too does the choice under the purview of human judgment and within the realm of the free will, the choice of Humanistic vs. scholastic learning, or, in short, the choice of the kind of learning that the Church wishes to support and pursue, have an impact for better or for worse on the right-hand realm, where the human task is rightly to understand, speak, confess, and proclaim God's Word. In Lutheran theology, that choice remains right where it belongs: in the realm of the left. That is, it does not, as with Zwingli and Erasmus, drive the theological agenda. However, it is not a value-less choice, but one undertaken only in the face of what can and does properly support the understanding and teaching of the Gospel--not just for clergy-to-be, but for all Christians.
Faced with precisely that choice, and informed by their theological agenda, the Wittenberg Reformers adopted Humanism, literae humaniores, the classics, along with the languages, as that vehicle that surpassed every other in aiding a solid understanding of (a) the realm of the left; and (b) the realm of the right. But it was a choice, consciously undertaken. It didn't fall on their laps, and in fact they went to great lengths over the course of Luther's and Melanchthon's lifetimes not only to reform the university in accord with it, but to defend it from the pretenders of obscurantism (Müntzer and those of his ilk) and the scholasticism which remained a powerful influence in late Medieval life.

Of Humanism[s] and Reformation[s]

Alister McGrath's Christianity's Dangerous Idea is worth looking at for a number of reasons. Without quibbling about some details where he has certainly gotten Luther wrong, I point out that a major benefit of this volume is to demonstrate with some degree of clarity that the social, theological, economic, and intellectual factors that served as drivers for reform movements throughout Northern Europe in the early and middle 16th century resulted in fundamentally different Reformations. True it is that Reformation and Humanism go hand-in-hand. But how the two interacted in each reform movement (Zürich, Wittenberg, Geneva/Genff, Erasmian neo-Catholicism, etc.) was fundamentally different.

McGrath doesn't quite put it this way, but what emerges from his broad-stroke depiction of the various reformational movements is that Wittenberg was unique in placing the theological reform of the Church ahead of the humanistic reform of manners. To be sure, Wittenberg co-opted Humanism, just as Luther was, at least early on, co-opted by the Humanists (Erasmus cheered from the sidelines until his disastrous defense of a free will overagainst God in his Diatribe, and Luther's subsequent, wholesale, and irrefutable articulation of biblical teaching on the freedom of the will, or lack thereof, in his 1526 De servo arbitrio).

The De servo/libero arbitrio incident itself demonstrates the difference between humanistic reform that also concerned itself with theology, on the one hand, and theological reform that used the tools of Humanism, on the other. For Erasmus, the center of the issue in the debate over the will was human manners: how, he reasoned, if humans have no free will, can we Northern Europeans emerge from the pigsty that is our life? For Erasmus, Scripture is subsumed under humanistic tenets.

For Luther, on the other hand, the question in front of him had nothing to do with human manners, which before God (coram deo) were, even at their best, filthy rags, even if before men (coram hominibus) some degree of righteousness could be ascribed to them. But here's the key: in the argument put forth by Luther in De servo arbitrio, he uses the tools of Humanism (rejection and refutation of scholastic argumentation, for example; close examination of the primary text, Scripture, even, albeit citing largely the Vulgate, with reference to the thought underlying the Latin expression based upon original Hebrew and Greek; use of typical humanistic tropes, such as the author's professed lack of eloquence [on which see the many Wittenberg declamationes, Ciceronian and learned in the highest degree, but accompanied by the disavowal of any real skill on the declaimer's part]), but Scripture is the driver of the argument.

This distinction between Wittenberg thinking and the thinking of other reformational movements is fundamental. The driver of Huldrych Zwingli's Zürich Reformation was humanistic: humanism shaped his critique of contemporary life, the way he read Scripture, and the ends to which he engaged in churchly reform, which was, in the end, a reform of manners in whose pursuit theology was enlisted.

Here again the genius of the Lutheran Reformation shines through: even with the darling of the Renaissance and Christian Humanism, Philippus Melanchthon, quite literally on campus at Wittenberg, Humanism was kept safely where it belongs: in the left-hand realm of God. To be sure, Humanism did aid in the pursuit of the theological aims and goals of the Wittenberg Reformation, but it did not define them. Much as the two realms of God, the left and right, resist any sort of finalizing separation of one from the other on this side of the eschaton (in my role as Hausvater in our home, I participate simultaneously in both realms, just as I am, paradoxically, also saint and sinner at one and the same time), so also was there an interpenetration in Wittenberg of Humanism and Christian theology. But there was never any doubt which was Queen.

02 February, 2010

Of Economics & Higher Education

What is happening in higher education today—the collapse of the job market for Ph.D.s, salary freezes and cuts, firings, and whole-sale re-evaluation of institutional costs—is not something that prognosticators could not have foreseen many years ago. In the flush years of the go-go 90s and into the new millennium, colleges and universities expanded offerings, majors, faculties, facilities, programs curricular, non-curricular, and extra-curricular, and administrations as if, well, there were no tomorrow. Today we live in “no tomorrow.” This hasn’t impacted only the little leaguers, but even the big leaguers—even the Ivy League. This from David J. Skorton at Cornell, as quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The current economic downturn should also be a sound opportunity to make bold changes to sharpen our focus and enhance our quality and impact—changes that would be much more difficult to make in more prosperous times... We are unlikely to control the cost of higher education, or improve overall quality, if we simply add new programs on top of what we already offer.”

There’s nothing like a good economic shock to bring us to our senses, and perhaps instead of lamenting what we’re losing, we can focus on what we ought to keep: a lean, mean, and clean liberal arts curriculum that prepares not for a job, but for a life or, as we Lutherans might put it, for one’s vocation. A liberal arts curriculum, which is not only the best education for the propagation of confessional Lutheranism, is also the cheapest, directest way to accomplish it.

Because it is not a fad, it is not constantly shifting (and thereby costing money). Because it is concerned with a way of thinking based upon time-tested “greats,” it doesn’t require a massive library—just a few good books. Because it is not professional preparation, it doesn’t compete for faculty with industry and commerce—it just needs a few good, faithful, thoughtful faculty concerned above all not with the number of notches in their scholarly belts, but with students, what they learn, and how they develop.

Lean, mean, and clean not only makes curricular sense, it makes economic sense. Rightly endowed, in fact, lean, mean, and clean, absent non-essential frills that are frankly a distraction from liberal learning, is self-perpetuating. Like a good liberal arts education that can’t be taken away from anyone, a lean, mean, and clean liberal arts institution is the antidote to deleterious economic impacts on Lutheran higher education.

01 February, 2010

AC 16 and Lutheran Higher Learning

The Lutheran Confessions do not have a great deal to say directly about higher education; rightly so, since it's something squarely in the category of adiaphora or Mitteldinge, to use the Confessions' language; and higher learning is nothing on which one can stake his salvation. But this doesn't mean that it's impossible to extrapolate some sort of guidance from the Confessions about higher education and to locate it within the horizons of the Confessions.

Key here, then, are two articles in the Augsburg Confession, 16 "On Civic Matters," and 18 "On the Free Will." [I shall return to the latter in another post.] In the first, Melanchthon discusses the Christian's freedom in respect of converse in society:
Concerning civic matters, they [the teachers of the Augsburg Confession/"our churches"] teach that legitimate civic orders [legitimae ordinationes civiles] are good works of God [bona opera Dei], [and] that it is permissible for Christians to function in magistracies, to carry out judgments, to judge matters on the basis of imperial and other applicable laws, to determine punishments on the basis of right, to go to war on the basis of right, to serve in the military, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to swear before magistrates when they require it, to take a wife, to be married.... They also condemn those who do not locate evangelical perfection in the fear of God and faith, but in the desertion of civic offices.
This pronouncement of the confessors at Augsburg stands in stark contrast with that of Müntzer, Karlstadt, and other radical reformers, and is not only a positive confession but also an intentional self-distancing from the extreme measures of Müntzer, Karlstadt, et al., who radicalized the Wittenberg Reformation by overthrowing social structures. This radicalization resulted both in the Peasants' War and, closer to home, in the late 1520s in Wittenberg, in an obscurantism advocated by the university students that rejected not only scholasticism (as did the Wittenberg Reformers) but also the liberal arts. Put another way, the university as a social structure [Uni-Wittenberg belonged to the Elector!] was threatened by the radicalization of the Reformation. AC rejects this radicalization, instead insisting that such social structures are, in fact, "good works of God [bona opera Dei]."