Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With

Reading is romanticI recently read an article about why readers, scientifically speaking, are the best people to fall in love with. I agree! I married a woman who loves to read, and loves to learn! She read all the right books while growing up! (Incidentally, she took Wes Callihan’s Great Books courses online in high school).

The article points to several benefits that reading will bring a reader. It enables them to speak to someone in a meaningful way. It allows a person to understand other people; it teaches the art of empathy. And it gives wisdom that years of actual experience could never give.

Because reading is something that molds you and adds to your character. Each triumph, lesson and pivotal moment of the protagonist becomes your own.
Every ache, pain and harsh truth becomes yours to bear. You’ve traveled with authors and experienced the pain, sorrow and anguish they suffered while writing through it. You’ve lived a thousand lives and come back to learn from each of them.

This is very similar to what Wes Callihan says when he encouraged the reading of imaginative literature, which he called “bootcamp for life.”

Stories are Bootcamp for Life

So read often, read good books, and read varied books!

If you want to be guided through the reading of the greatest books, check out Old Western Culture!

Germanic Jesus | Peter Leithart

The following article was written by Peter J Leithart as a guest post for Roman Roads Media. 

Germanic Jesus

A Roman mosaic which is said to be the head of Christ

A Roman mosaic which is said to be the head of Christ

The Germanic presence in Northern Europe posed a significant challenge to Christian missionaries, writers, and poets, which are well described by Peter Brown at the end of his Rise of Western Christendom.

On the one hand, there was the intellectual difficulty. Christianity originally arose within the Greco-Roman sphere, and even though it was Jewish, the Judaism in which Jesus and Paul operated was nestled within the Roman Empire, and had been flavored by compromise and  conflicts with various Gentile powers since the Babylonian exile. Sorting through how Christian faith related to Greek and Roman culture was tricky, but there was at least biblical warrant for seeing the Roman empire as the providential context for the Messiah’s coming and the rise of the church (Daniel 2, 7, eg).

But the empire weakened and “barbarians” invaded, the Germans posed a new problem: How did the Germanic peoples fit into a Christian account of history? Some Christian writers argued that the Lord had raised up the Germanic tribes to discipline a degenerate empire, Christian only in name. Once the Northern tribes converted, though, how were Christians to make sense of the Germanic past? The church fathers had viewed Greco-Roman culture, for all its paganism and flaws, as a preparatio evangelii, a preparation for the gospel. Was Germanic civilization the same?

9th century depiction of Christ as a heroic warrior (Stuttgart Psalter, fol. 23, illustration of Psalm 91:13)

9th century depiction of Christ as a heroic warrior (Stuttgart Psalter, fol. 23, illustration of Psalm 91:13)

There was also a political dimension to this problem. As Brown points out, northern European kings who promoted Christianity and protected the church depended on genealogy for their legitimacy. Their pagan ancestors gave them legitimacy in the Christian present. They couldn’t simply discard their pagan past without undermining their basis of power. Further, the pagan past, expressed in oral legends and poems – though very little was written – provided a “rule book” for the Germanic aristocracy, embodying the ethos of the ruling class, which was shaped by these poems and sagas and legends as ancient Greeks were educated by Homer.

As Brown puts it,

“They knew very well what it was to be noble. They grew up in an overwhelmingly oral culture which was awash with stories and maxims. These told them how to behave as noble men and noble women. To be noble was to stand out. It was to live well and to be seen by others to live well. It was to foster with gusto the memory of a past which lay on the edge of the Christian present. This was a past which was always a little larger than life. It was a past where human glory, human tragedy, and the working out of human obligations were so much more vivid and so much more clear-cut, so much more brimming over with magnificent lack of measure, than was the grey, Christian present. To be noble was to toast one’s companions with great drinking-horns that carried as much liquor as a present-day bottle of Moselle; to engage in high talk and loud laughter; to listen to the ancient sound of the harpist.”

Germanic rulers had a vested interest in preserving ancient stories and legends. Charlemagne, for instance, saw himself as “Roman,” yet according to his biographer Einhard he had “the unwritten laws of all the tribes that came under his rule to be compiled and reduced to writing. He also directed that the age-old, non-Latin poems in which were celebrated the warlike deeds of the kings of ancient times should be written out and preserved.”

They preserved not only legends about the exploits of ancient kings and warriors but myths about the wars and loves of pagan gods. Brown writes that the gods ” were seen as part of a glorious past. The past still gave a charge to the present. Hence the gods remained. Solemn figures even in their decline, they were like an ancient dynasty which had once ruled the earth until forced to abdicate in favor of the Christ of modern times. Without a touch of the gods ‘in the blood,’ as it were, modern kings could not be great. And if they could not be great, they could not act as effective defenders of the Church.”

Monk copying a manuscript

Monk copying a manuscript

In one of the deepest ironies of Western culture, Christian clergymen and monks were responsible for writing down, often for the first time, the pagan legends and sagas and epics of Northern Europe. Brown puts the point dramatically: “there is not a word which was written about northern paganism that did not pass through the pens of Christian monks and clergymen. Apart from the writers of runes . . . the clergy remained the only literate class in northern Europe. And yet it was the clergy who went out of their way to consign to writing – and so have made available to us – all that we know of the pre-Christian narratives, the poetry, and the laws of Ireland, England, Scandinavia, and Germany.” Brown argues that “those who wrote down the legends and poetry of the pre-Christian past in Ireland, Anglo-Saxon England, and Iceland were not grudging recorders, catching in written words the last vestiges of a pagan mythology doomed to extinction by the coming of the Christian church. The situation was not like that at all. Rather, Christian monks and clergymen should be seen as the last great myth-makers of northern Europe. They transformed a living pagan past, so as to use it in their own, Christian present.”

In this way, the legends and epics of heroic northern Europe became part of the heritage of Christendom. Given the power of the “cult of the classics” in the modern world, we often forget that from the eighth and ninth centuries at least, the culture of Christian Europe drew on Jewish and Christian sources, but was also inspired by Greek, Roman, and Germanic paganism.

Figure carved on the Frankish grave stele of Niederdollendorf (7th century), known as the earliest material witness of Christian presence in the German Rhineland; the figure is presumably a depiction of Christ as a heroic warrior wielding a lance, with a halo or crown of rays emanating from his head

Figure carved on the Frankish grave stele of Niederdollendorf (7th century), known as the earliest material witness of Christian presence in the German Rhineland; the figure is presumably a depiction of Christ as a heroic warrior wielding a lance.

Entering Christendom Germanic culture was considerably modified, as of course was Greco-Roman culture. The portrait of the hero in Beowulf, for instance, is quite other than the image of the heroic warrior in the Greek and Roman epics. Northern Europe also formed a new kind of hero, the saint, shaped by the cult of the saints that challenged the brutal power of heroic warriors.

Beowulf is the most subtle example of the tension between pagan past and Christian present. It is far from the only example, and some lesser-known works have more evangelistic aims. One of these is the remarkable ninth-century Saxon poem, Heiland, “The Savior,” a series of songs that retell the story of Jesus that is translated for the Germanic warrior culture. Jesus is called a “Chieftain” and the disciples are depicted as his earls and warriors. The feasts are Saxon, with ring givers and apple wine, and an angel warns John the Baptist not to drink hard cider all his life. Heaven is “God’s meadow,” and Jesus’ teaching is described as “runes” and his teaching on prayer is described in terms of teaching a new “spell.”

In song 58, during Jesus’ arrest, Peter intervenes to protect him. As one commentator points out, he acts like one of the Nordic warriors called “berserkers” who were transformed by their battle rage into a superhuman incarnation of battle lust. Peter cannot contain his rage and is so angry he cannot speak, and the description is a typical epic battle description with vivid wounds and lots of blood.

Gǣð ā Wyrd swā hīo scel! Fate goes ever as it must. ~ Beowulf~

Gǣð ā Wyrd swā hīo scel! Fate goes ever as it must. -Beowulf

Like Beowulf, Heiland refers occasionally to fate or “wyrd,” the force that determines when a man is going to die. This pagan concept is synthesized with an emphasis on the sovereignty and creativity of God, so that wyrd is transformed into something like natural law: God initiates everything, puts new processes to work, but then they develop according to an immanent power that God has infused into them. Talking about John the Baptist, the poet says that the “power of God. . . .was felt” and Elizabeth became pregnant, but then “the woman awaited the workings of wyrd,” that is, the day of birth.

In his treatment of fate, we can see what the poet is doing. Even as he’s “heroizing” Jesus, he is Christianizing heroism. Within the apparent germanization of the gospel, the poem aims at an evangelization of the Saxons. The Germanic warrior code is all here: Fate (wyrd) has a prominent place, death is certain but the timing is impossible to know. Yet Jesus overcomes fate, as He lays down His life in the way and at the time He chooses, and then overcomes death itself in His resurrection.

In the poem, mortality is linked to blindness, especially blindness about fate and the future. When he heals a blind man in Jericho, it is described as a triumph over fate. Christ cures the blindness that is inherent in the human condition, and this makes him the greatest of all heroes, as He fulfills the hopes and aspirations of Saxon warrior culture. Unlike John’s birth, Jesus’ birth is described without reference to fate at all. Jesus does all things by his own power because He has unique power over all things.

The poet contextualizes the sermon on the mount to the Saxon warrior ethic. While it makes the sermon as palatable to warriors as possible, it also challenges their way of life at a fundamental level. Love for enemies and the prohibition of vengeance, after all, strike at the foundations of the warrior culture.

St. Boniface, cutting down the "Woden tree"

St. Boniface, cutting down the “Woden tree”

The poem contains several allusions to Boniface’s felling of the tree of Woden. Words for “felling” trees are used, but instead of trees, pagans are cut down, and the axe is the word of Jesus. Christ is presented as a power greater than Woden. The Spirit-dove on His shoulder rivals and replaces the raven on the shoulder of Woden. Jesus is a teller of secrets and revealer of runes. He walks on water and comes from heaven, like Thor.

Heiland is, in short, not only a example of the synthesis of Germanic-Christian culture, but illustrates some of the ways the church filled the wineskins of pagan heroic culture with the wine of the gospel, until paganism burst open and something new was born.

Peter LeithartDr. Peter Leithart received an A.B. in English and History from Hillsdale College in 1981, and a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1986 and 1987. In 1998 he received his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in England. He has served in two pastorates: He was pastor of Reformed Heritage Presbyterian Church (now Trinity Presbyterian Church), Birmingham, Alabama from 1989 to 1995, and was founding pastor of Trinity Reformed Church, Moscow, Idaho, and served on the pastoral staff at Trinity from 2003-2013.. From 1998 and 2013 he taught theology and literature at New St. Andrews College, Moscow, Idaho, where he continues to teach as an adjunct Senior Fellow. He now serves as President of Trinity House. He and his wife, Noel, have ten children and five grandchildren. He currently blogs at First Things

History: A Moral Requirement

Quote

The study of history is a moral requirement for Christians. 
Think of the Israelites who were required to remember the past. 
Think of Paul in the NT: ‘These things were written for our instruction.’

- Wesley Callihan, Porch of our Fathers

History: A Moral Obligation

John Adams to his son: Read Thucydides

Thucydides by William Smith, AM

Thucydides, translated by William Smith, A.M.

John Adams wrote to his son, John Quincy Adams, soon after the Declaration of Independence, exhorting him to read Thucydides as a way to be best prepared for the days ahead of him as a leader. Here is the full letter:

My dear Son,

As the War in which your Country is engaged will probably hereafter attract your Attention, more than it does at this Time, and as the future Circumstances of your Country, may require other Wars, as well as Councils and Negotiations, similar to those which are now in Agitation, I wish to turn your Thoughts early to such Studies, as will afford you the most solid Instruction and Improvement for the Part which may be allotted you to act on the Stage of Life.
There is no History, perhaps, better adapted to this usefull Purpose than that of Thucidides, an Author, of whom I hope you will make yourself perfect Master, in original Language, which is Greek, the most perfect of all human Languages. In order to understand him fully in his own Tongue, you must however take Advantage, of every Help you can procure and particularly of Translations of him into your own Mother Tongue.
You will find in your Fathers Library, the Works of Mr. Hobbes, in which among a great deal of mischievous Philosophy, you will find a learned and exact Translation of Thucidides, which will be usefull to you.
But there is another Translation of him, much more elegant, intituled “The History of the Peloponnesian War, translated from the Greek of Thucidides in two Volumes Quarto, by William Smith A.M. Rector of the Parish of the holy Trinity in Chester, and Chaplain to the Right Honourable the Earl of Derby.”
If you preserve this Letter, it may hereafter remind you, to procure the Book.
You will find it full of Instruction to the Orator, the Statesman, the General, as well as to the Historian and the Philosopher. You may find Something of the Peloponnesian War, in Rollin.
I am with much Affection your Father,
John Adams

The translation of Thucydides mentioned is available as a scanned document from Google Books! You can see and read it HERE.

Wes Callihan guides students through Thucydides’ great work, “History of the Pelloponnesian War,” the same book mentioned above, in The Histories unit of Old Western Culture.

Why Roman Roads Media?

The goal of Roman Roads Media is to make the classical subjects friendly to the homeschool. Many curriculums are designed by educators with the classroom in mind. The curriculum we produce has the homeschooler in mind from conception to delivery, with emphasis placed upon communicating a love of learning.

Preparing Younger Kids for a Great Books Education

Preparing Younger Children for a Great Books EducationOne question that often comes up as we talk to parents of younger children is “How do I prepare my younger children for a Classical (Great Books) education?”

What a great question! There is a lot to consider: do my kids need to learn Latin and Greek, do they need to be learning ancient history now, do we need to study the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) in elementary?

To help families with younger children, we’ve published a wonderful e-book by one of the top thought leaders and teachers in the world of classical, Christian education today - Wes Callihan of Schola Classical Tutorials, as well as the author of the Old Western Culture curriculum.

The e-book is called “How to Prepare Younger Children for a Great Books Education” and we would love to share it with you for free.  

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The Cincinnatus of the West!

Cincinnatus

Statue of Cincinnatus outside Cincinnati.

Yesterday I posted a “flash quiz” on Facebook: What US city is named after a Roman citizen from the 5th century BC?)

The answer is: Cincinnati!

Name after Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who became dictator of Rome for a 6 month term by request of the senate in order to fight off invading forces. Cincinnatus defeated the enemy, leading the charge himself, and famously resigned from office a mere 15 days after being put into power, and returned to his farm.

12 ton statue of George Washington by Horatio Greenough

12 ton statue of George Washington by Horatio Greenough

George Washington was compared to Cincinnatus on many occasions. The comparison is almost painfully obvious in works of art like Horatio Greenough’s 12 ton statue of Washington (left), dressed in Roman garb, surrendering his sword. King George the III said that if Washington resigned his command, that “he would be the greatest man in the world.” As Carl Richard points out in The Founders and the Classics, “The king’s confusion epitomized his inability, throughout the Revolutionary conflict, to comprehend the enormous emotional power which classical Republican ideals wielded over American minds” (pg 71). The title of the post comes from a poem by Lord Byron, in which he called Washington “The Cincinnatus of the West.”

Learn all about Cincinnatus and how many of the famous men of Rome deeply influenced the American Founding fathers in year two of Old Western Culture: The Romans! Cincinnatus is specifically covered in lesson 2 of The Historians.

Cincinnatus leaves the plow for the Roman dictatorship  Juan Antonio Ribera, c. 1806

Cincinnatus leaves the plow for the Roman dictatorship Juan Antonio Ribera, c. 1806

Three Reasons Why Video Courses are the Future of Homeschooling

Video Courses in the homeschoolI was greatly benefited by video courses while being homeschool through High School.
As video curriculum grows in popularity, I wanted to take a moment and highlight what I believe are its greatest strengths. In this post I list three factors for parents to consider as they seek to make the best choices for their children’s education. Click the image on the right, or the link below:

http://www.romanroadsmedia.com/resources/3-reasons-video-courses/

Summer Reading Program from Exodus Books

summer-reading-programOscar Wilde once said, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

Summer is the time of year that students have the most leisure. Encourage them to spend that time reading good books!

Exodus Books is hosting a 2014 Summer Reading Program, and is giving away a bunch of prizes. One of the prizes for the high school level is a complete year of the Old Western Culture curriculum!

Here is a brief explanation of the reading list offered:

The Outside of a Dog Book List offers 50+ titles for each grade. Full of genuine classics and family favorites, it doesn’t promote a liberal agenda, cater to the lowest common denominator, or present books designed to make anyone look smart. It’s a list meant simply to open the wide doors of reading to kids turned off by more standard fare, to help kindle a love of reading.

So sign up your reading kids of all ages, and win some great prizes!

Blessings,
Daniel Foucachon

Related: hear what Wes Callihan has to say about imaginative literature: