Sunday, August 15, 2010

Contemplating OLSWA's Image - expansios and retractatios

Keep in mind that rectratatio as Augustine uses it hardly ever means 'retract' in the modern sense.

Yes, I am incorrigible. In the modern sense.

latinus, latinere, latinatus sum

I don't know why, but I have the feeling that some people think I am somehow against Latin. I am not. I love the language like to no other. It is my "favourite language", if one can have a favourite language. I really like Greek too, but I find Latin so much more orderly and scientific - which is important to someone like me who cannot be described as having a gift for languages. It is the language of my Church, more or less, and it is the language of my Augustine - what more can you ask for in a language? I am not against Latin at OLSWA. I am for it. I am concerned, however, about how our interest in Latin at OLSWA is being interpreted by others, especially by other bishops and clergy. I wouldn't want people to have the impression that it has anything to do with anti-Vatican II-ism. If there is any intense interest in that kind of thing it is not to be found among any of the faculty.

My last word on language at the Academy is that I wish we had more of it: especially Greek. One year of mandatory Greek would be just great, in my opinion. Hebrew as an elective - why not! Yes, those two languages are so Protestant, I know.

Languages are both the key to good education, and, sometimes, though rarely, obstacles to it. I'll discuss the second first since it is the simplest to explain. For most people saying it is an obstacle might conjure up images of French immersion in grade schools. I don't know much about that statistically. All my evidence on that is purely anecdotal. I do, however, have the strong opinion that in theology schools the very heavy requirements on languages are keeping people from mastering theology itself. For instance, at the PhD level at the Toronto School of Theology one must end up with the equivalent of two Modern and two Ancient languages. And these are not considered a part of your regular course load. You must have them to proceed onto the thesis stage, and they make no provision for you to get them. So, in addition to the time and distraction of stupid courses like environmental ethics and woman whatever theology, how much time and energy do you think is left for the core theology subjects - Trinity, Christology, Sacraments, Grace, Ecclesiology, Revelation, etc.? In fact, my college, St. Michael's, did not even offer sacramental theology at my level. I taught it at the graduate level and have never even taken a course on it! Part of the problem here was specific to the ecumenical setting of TST, and how that spilled over into each of the colleges. The Protestants want Greek and Hebrew front and centre, and have much less interest in dogmatics than the Catholic colleges, who are heavier on dogma and yet need to acknowledge Latin too. Hence the provision for "two Ancient Languages." You'd think that any Catholic theology school worth its salt would mandate Latin, and at least make room for Greek.

As I said before, all the grammar I know I learned the year I started Latin and Greek. Undergrads are expected to have the basics of grammar already in place. Nowadays they usually do not. OLSWA has the wisdom to have a "freshman writing course." Every school should have this. The mandatory literature course is meant to do this, but it usually won't since classes are too large to do much of the specialized one-on-one tutoring that this sort of process requires. There is no use circling all my grammatical errors only for me to repeat them on the very next assignment. If I don't know what a 'dangling participle' is, or a 'split infinitive,' or a 'comma splice,' I am doomed to repeat them. We were not assigned a textbook on this and the TA does not seem gifted with explanatory power...

Languages like Latin and Greek require a knowledge of the parts of speech to a greater degree of specificity than, say, French and English do. This is why someone who has learned Latin would never say, "Me and Sarah are playing." But they would say things like, "For whom the bell tolls." In fact, it is interesting to see how quickly English is losing what remaining declensions it still employs. How can anyone take the study of grammar seriously when most of the rules are not treated very seriously by the experts?

"The Only Real Catholic School in the Country"

That's not really true. There are some good Catholic schools: St. Augustine's Seminary, The Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Toronto, Christ the King Seminary in Mission, B.C., and, of course, Redeemer Pacific College. And there are a few that are passable in their Catholicity: St. Michael's and Regis. Now, out of that list, you'll not find one that offers a Liberal Arts education, in total fidelity to the Magisterium, that is primarily oriented to the laity. Redeemer offers all of its theology in fidelity, but outside of that, its students seem to study outside of this college at Trinity Western.

The reason why I bring this up is not to show how great we are, but, again returning to issue of OLSWA's image, how saying stuff like this does not necessarily help with our image. I suppose if we dropped the word 'only' the point is still being made: real Catholic education in Canada is rare and yet very important.

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