CHRIST OVER THE CLASSICS

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Thank you to guest blogger, Dr. Lindsey Scholl.

It seems that classical educators have to work too hard to justify their existence in America. Why should we need arguments for Latin, when Latin mottos are inscribed on every coin in the nation? Why should we waste time defending Greek and Roman studies when we label ourselves both a democracy and a republic, call our chief governing body the Senate, and model most of Washington D.C. on Greco-Roman temples? To argue for classical education in America should be as redundant as telling the child of Bill Gates that he ought to know something about computers.

Despite these realities, classical educators frequently have to defend their own existence. Yet what’s more surprising is that these proponents of the classics are not just defending the study of Homer and Plato. They are defending Homer and Plato and Thomas Aquinas. They want Milton and C.S. Lewis added to the classical canon. They are teaching Latin, but it’s ecclesiastical Latin. In short, those advocating classical education are marrying it to Christian education.

This trajectory is unavoidable. In order for Greco-Roman culture to live, it had to go through a transition. It had to meet Jesus Christ, and Jesus taught it many things. He showed the Romans how to forgive. He taught the Greeks that divine love is not Zeus sleeping with a woman and then turning her into a cow. The love of God saves individuals; it does not endanger them. He reminded all ancient societies that each human is made in God’s image, thus slowly removing their grip on dehumanizing slavery.[1] He boldly proclaimed that there is no Greek or Jew, no slave or free, no Scythian or barbarian, but Christ is all and in all. And what God has joined together, let no man separate.[2]

But perhaps Christianity made the classics worse. After all, atheists like Voltaire and Bertrand Russell might say, “Look at what Christendom has produced. Narrow-mindedness. Corrupt bishops. Illiteracy.” I would respond that it is time to separate Christ from the Christendom we associate with the ambitious European monarchs or burning at the stake. Men and movements can claim the name of Christ all they want, just like the deist Thomas Paine can cite the Bible, but the message of canonized Scripture, Catholic or Protestant, is clear: the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. To the extent medieval and early modern Europeans practiced these traits, they behaved like Christians. To the extent they did not, they betrayed their faith. It was this betrayal of the Christian name, not Christianity itself, that produced the Borgia popes, the Protestant violence, and  the monastic greed that outraged enlightened thinkers like Voltaire.

But Voltaire would throw baby Jesus out with the bath water. He did not see that it was He who kept the bath water from turning into something worse. Because He was crucified, crucifixion stopped being practiced. Because He was a child, the west slowly stopped endorsing infanticide. Because He healed the sick, his followers founded hospitals.[3]

Christ did not need the classical world. He could have been born at any time, in any place. But the classical world needed Him, and any study of it without Him would be meaningless: a cross without a savior, law without forgiveness, and plenty of lions, but no triumphant Lamb.

 

Lindsey Scholl is a teacher of humanities and Latin at Trinity Classical School in Houston. She holds a doctorate in Roman History from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In addition to teaching, she is a writer and speaker on a variety of subjects, including education, and the author of The Advocate Trilogy, a youth fantasy series. She is married to Dr. John Scholl, a St. Thomas Episcopal alumnus.

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[1]For an overview of the various ways the Olympians treated their beloveds, see Edith Wharton’s Mythology  (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1942).
[2] Colossians 3:11; Mark 10:9.
[3] For Jewish and Christian positions on infanticide, see Josephus, Ap. 2.202, Justin Martyr, First Apology 27, et al.  For the founding of Catholic hospitals, see James Joseph Walsh, “Hospitals,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 7.(New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910), accessed http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07480a.htm, November 1, 2016.

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