Before turning to a look at the week that was, let me first offer my prayers for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, who this morning announced his abdication of the Chair of Peter, effective February 28. This was a huge surprise and a highly unusual move (the first time in nearly 600 years a pope has resigned), but it seems the pope feels he no longer has the strength to lead the Church. This saddens me greatly. I admire and respect this man as much as any person on this earth. His pontificate was a great gift to the Church, and he showed himself to be an outstanding teacher and pastor of souls, a man of humility, gentleness, and quiet strength and resolve. May God bless him in his remaining years.
Let us pray, too, for the papal election which will happen in a few weeks. May God grant us the right man for the job!
(One side note: you may have seen various news reports disagreeing on when was the last time a pope resigned his office. The earlier date cited, in the 1200s, was that of Pope Celestine V, who stepped down due to his advanced age, and perhaps his lack of desire to be pope in the first place. The later date, in the 1400s, was that of Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in the midst of the Great Western Schism, when three men were claiming to be pope simultaneously; all three men resigned, and a new pope was elected that all factions agreed to recognize. I'm not sure why some news agencies aren't citing the latter example--perhaps they look at that turbulent time in Church history and aren't sure what to make of it. Anyway, the later date is the correct one, so far as I know.)
Now, to much more mundane affairs....
My prediction of a schola brevis for the first meeting of Philosophical Anthropology was proved accurate. I used the additional time, as well as most of the rest of the day, to do some reading for classes later in the week.
Yeah, Monday and Tuesday pretty much consisted of some combination of class-read-eat-read-sleep-class-read-eat-read-sleep-repeat. Busy, but just the sort of busy I want to be!
Wednesday added a little curve ball of a few hours of work instead of class, but the rest of the day was much the same as the previous two.
Thursdays will be LONG this semester: I start class at 8:10am, and don't finish for the day until 9:00pm. Oh, there are some breaks in there, but they're going to be marathons. This last Thursday proved no exception, with some interesting highlights:
-- In the first meeting of our Metaphysics class, we were introduced to Dr. Marga Vega, a diminutive philosopher from Spain with a kind demeanor and a three-month old baby. (Said baby was not present in class, adorable as that would have been.) This is going to be a heady course, but a good one, I think.
-- A classmate and I took part of the afternoon to grab a coffee and talk about his journey toward the Catholic faith. After discussing his sensitivities toward his non-Catholic family, he said to me: "All right, so: Mary. Just tell me your thoughts about Mary, without trying to answer any objections or anything like that." I said that Mary is the first and greatest disciple of Jesus Christ, whose last words in Scripture are "Do whatever he tells you"; that the relationship between a mother and child is the closest and most significant of all human relationships, so that the relationship between God Incarnate and His mother can't be something merely peripheral; and that Mary always leads us to Christ. This echoed things he had read elsewhere, and I think he found it helpful to have them reinforced by a real live person. I hope to have more conversations of this sort in future.
-- The evening saw the first meeting of our Patristic Spirituality class, led by Dr. Thomas Cattoi, a seemingly omniscient Italian who plucks quotes by everyone from Hans Urs von Balthasar to Theo the Studite out of thin air. He even knew of this very webpage! After I gave my little spiel at the beginning of class, answering my name, my school, etc., Dr. Cattoi added, "...and he has a blog." Apparently I turned a highly luminescent shade of red, and the fellow next to me said, "I believe that's known as a bust." Nice (and a bit intimidating) to know we may have a Ph.D. perusing these pages on occasion.
Saturday evening I joined a view friends for a viewing of the sci-fi classic Alien, which turned out to be much better than I remembered. Good thrills, good pacing, good dialogue, good twists here and there. Our one friend who had never seen the film before responded to the iconic "alien birth" scene by bursting out laughing--not the reaction I expected. Just remember: if you ever are on an alien planetoid and come across some leathery-looking eggs, DON'T NOT put your face in close proximity to them unless you want a squidy thing attaching itself to your mug.
Highlights from classes:
Medieval Philosophy: We've begun the course by discussing St. Augustine of Hippo, particularly his influence on philosophy. He lived in a time (350-420 AD) when there was no clear distinction between philosophy and theology; thus, no one would call it "irrational" when he asserted that human beings gain knowledge by being taught by the "inner teacher," that is, God. Augustine's thought on everything from the grace to the relationship between church and state would go on to be hugely influential on medieval philosophers and theologians. Our professor told us today (paraphrase): "Ancient philosophy effectively ends with Augustine." So, yeah. Kind of a big deal.
Philosophical Anthropology: In our first meeting, the professor set the agenda for the course by presenting us with a series of questions: What is the human being? What is the relation between soul and body? Do human beings have free will? He concluded with a wry smile, saying, "We'll answer these next time."
Metaphysics: Not much to report here yet, as the one class meeting was pretty much introductions and "housekeeping" items.
Patristic Spirituality: We discussed the 3rd century author Origen, who had some pretty unorthodox ideas on some things (e.g. pre-existence of souls, matter as a form of corruption, etc.), but whose work as a biblical commentator and exegete was hugely influential. He asserted that Christ was present in the Old Testament as well as the New, but in types and "shadows," pre-figurations. You'd be hard-pressed to find a Scripture commentary that didn't employ this sort of language. So, yeah. Also a big deal.