15 July, 2010

Do ut des

One of the sources of social grease in the ancient classical world was reciprocity. Aristotle even defined friendship in terms of reciprocity: far less than being constituted by the self-immolation we on the basis of millennia of Christian formation today think of as being true friendship, it was built upon the mutuality of loyalty, trustworthiness, and all the friendly virtues. This, at least in the study of Roman religion, is known as the do ut des principle: I give so that you will give.

Well, in that spirit, and having been given to, it's only fair, I think to draw attention through this e-medium to the many folks and sites who have graciously advertised "Lutheranism & the Classics" for us. Readers may even wish to visit these sites in the hopes of finding new friends, new ideas--in fact, that's the hope. Meanwhile, to all of them, Renascentes Musae and "Lutheranism & the Classics" offer their thanks!

rogueclassicism (scroll down to 9 July 2010)
LCMS (front page, under news)
Concordia Theological Seminary (under events: conferences)

If you know of other venues where we could get the word out about "Lutheranism & the Classics," please drop us a line. Academic or non-, cleric or lay, if you have a blog or a church or personal website and would like to post a word about "Lutheranism & the Classics," we will be pleased to send you an appropriate blurb.

12 July, 2010

Ecclesiae opus est toto illo doctrinarum orbe

In Non posse stare on this blog Carl Springer gives a lively defence of Luther’s estimation that “real theology cannot stand without knowledge of literature.”

Luther’s quip was not an isolated judgment, a one-off, an exception that just proves another rule. It was, rather, a crystalized echo of the entire Wittenberg educational endeavor, that schema in which the Reformation was born and given its shape. Far from being viewed by the Wittenberg Reformers as window-dressing on a theological education, a finishing touch in the formation of theological dandies, the arts provided the intellectual framework in which to do any sort of serious theological work. Without them, conversely, the theological project was bound to fail.

Here I draw attention to one of the several pieces from Melanchthon’s hand fundamental to understanding this key element in the Wittenberg educational plan, his Oratio de philosophia (CR 11.278–284). Many of these orations have been handsomely translated, edited, and published in Philip Melanchthon. Orations on Philosophy and Education, Sachiko Kusukawa, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), a highly recommended volume for everyone interested in the Wittenberg educational project. What follows here is a handful of “greatest hits” from the 1536 Oratio de philosophia delivered at the conferring of the M.A. in that year.

I ask you...to be warned not only to flee the foolish judgements of those who do not believe that the Church needs liberal education at all...but also to execrate those people themselves like the most loathesome pests and fearful monsters. [Kusukawa, 127]

Altogether the most prevalent in an Iliad of evils is ignorant theology. [ibid., 127]

Since, therefore, ignorant theology has so many ills, it is easy to judge that the Church has need of many great arts. [ibid., 128]

“The many great arts” are necessary, so Melanchthon, because:

there is a certain cycle of arts [orbis quidam artium] by which they are all bound together and connected, so that in order to grasp individual ones many of the others have to be taken on. Therefore the Church has need of the entire cycle of sciences [quare ecclesiae opus est toto illo doctrinarum orbe]. [ibid., 129]

I entreat you, for the sake of the glory of God, which we must set before all other things, and for the sake of the welfare of the Church, which must be most dear to us, to resolve that the most excellent disciplines that philosophy contains are to be safeguarded, and to devote yourselves to them with greater effort, so that you may obtain for yourselves teaching that is genuine and useful for mankind. [ibid., 131]

Finally this:

So let us defend with great spirit the study of letters, and let us consider ourselves put in our position by divine providence, and because of that, let us do our duty with greater care, and let us expect the reward for our toils from God. I have spoken. [ibid., 132]

Et ego.

09 July, 2010

Just in Case You Forgot...

But how could you?

Lutheranism & the Classics, 1 and 2 October, 2010, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The Age of the Reformation was also the Age of the Renaissance, a period to which the birth of the modern discipline of classics may be traced. The classics provided a rich source for the thought, intellectual undergirding, and polemic of the era. Classics thus became part of the cultural DNA, as it were, of the Reformation and post-Reformation Church in the West. Of particular interest to this conference is the reception of the classics in the Wittenberg (Lutheran) Reformation. There, the darling of the Northern European Renaissance, Philipp Melanchthon, appropriated the classics in the service of the Gospel and drew them to the fore as an integral part of the reformational program in Saxony and much of Northern Europe. Papers at “Lutheranism & the Classics” explore this watershed period in the history of classics reception and its ongoing impact on the Evangelical Lutheran Church. For more information, visit www.ctsfw.edu/classics. Inquiries may be addressed to one of the three organizers: John Nordling (john.nordling@ctsfw.edu); Carl Springer (casprin@siue.edu); Jon Bruss (jonbruss@yahoo.com).

01 July, 2010

Campus for Sale

Dana College in Blair, Nebraska, announced yesterday that it is closing shop. You can read the full report in The Chronicle of Higher Education's daily electronic update by clicking here. Dana is--or, better, was--a college associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

For now, officials at Dana are blaming its demise on the North Central Association, an accreditation outfit that schools depend on for the green light for government and government-backed loans and grants for students. The accreditors apparently failed to okay the plans of an outfit that had set out to acquire Dana to develop a residential campus cum online offerings.

But here the accreditors have become just the whipping boy blamed at the last minute for what cannot but be a long line of failures that led to the critical moment at which it was sell or die for Dana.

First, like so many of the once-vibrant "sectarian" colleges, Dana came to offer what amounted to a hotch-potch of majors, with no central controlling narrative and a great deal of confusion between vocation and vocationalism. This is a story told time and again in the Lutheran higher educational institutions of the erstwhile Synodical Conference, as well. The survival of the institution, and not what it stands for or once stood for, becomes the brass ring, and this trips a downward spiral in which central mission fares in inverse proportion to the number and variety of courses of study. The idea, of course, is to become a player in the universe of regional competitors (in Dana's case, UNO, UNL, SDSU, etc.). The net effect, however, is to lose the raison d'être. The initial constituency, Danish Lutherans in Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota, no longer finds a reason to support the institution financially, morally, or by attendance. The Danish Lutherans haven't gone away; their college has left them.

Location, too, may have been a factor, but I rather doubt it. Blair, a town of nearly 8,000, is only 38 miles from Omaha, a nearly ideal setting: far enough removed not to be too expensive and for students to occupy the necessary "space apart" from distractions, but close enough to benefit from the many cultural offerings of a larger city.

Finally, however, it's not difficult to understand how the theological erosion that has occurred in the ELCA since its inception 1988 is a factor in the demise of Dana. The mainline churches in the States have become increasingly difficult to distinguish from the increasingly banal culture they inhabit and from which they take their spiritual and moral cues (in the pursuit of relevance?). Of course, like so many of the once Lutheran colleges in the States, Dana from its inception lacked the vim and vigor of a UAC commitment and, like so many Scandinavian Lutheran groups, any real appreciation for the precising of the Augustana that occurred in the Formula. As a result, because confessional subscription and the Confession itself was up for grabs, it could not but help fail to become merely window dressing, an understood, if unwritten, writ of divorce between the intellectual project and the spiritual project, leading to what Robert Benne has called a sort of "pietism," in which the Christian element of the institution is expressed through acts of piety, not through a vigorous integration of faith and learning.

Once a Lutheran college starts down this road, it has two choices, it seems to me. (1) Pursue the secularizing agenda with a vengeance and so try to catasterize oneself in the constellation of the Top-50 or Top-100 liberal arts colleges. Places like St. Olaf College have managed this quite well. (2) Continue on a path of mediocrity in all respects (in curriculum, admissions and graduation standards, and church relations), attempting to compete with regional "multi-versities" but without success and ultimately shuttering the campus. Dana's road is the one more travelled, and there's a lesson to be learned here.

And oh, by the way, apparently there's a campus for sale.