Friday, January 03, 2003

Tolkien as a fantasy author
To me, to say that one doesn't like The Lord of the Rings because "fantasy isn't my genre is like saying "I don't like The Brothers Karamazov because murder mysteries aren't my genre." I say this as someone who likes murder mysteries and has never been able to make it all the way through The Bs K. There are some books that, no matter what my tastes are, are simply great literature, no matter what the genre. If I don't like it it only points to my own limitation, not to "a matter of taste." For instance, Ulysses is great literature, even if Joyce isn't my cup of tea. Same for Shakespeare.
Here is a web page dedicated to Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. I saw a notice about it on Oswald Sobrino's weblog.
Book of the moment
Other people have a book of the week or book of the month, or Latin phrase of the month. I've thought of doing something like that, but have been discouraged by my undisciplined, disorganized way of life. So, what I've decided to do is just go through my bookshelf and blog on whatever book I come across that I have something to say about. I've got LOTS of books on my shelf, so this could keep me busy for a while or two.

My first book, since it happens to be the first book on my shelf, will be A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education, aka, the Blue Book, which is the founding document of Thomas Aquinas College in California. Having been a great bookie from way back in my time in the Program of Liberal Studies at Notre Dame, I am certainly interested in a truly Catholic liberal education which focuses on reading the great texts in a faith context. TAC does this in spades and this book is the blueprint. In this proposal, there is a strong emphasis on wisdom and wonder, as well as a clear delineation of the hierarchy of liberal arts, philosophy and theology. As one might expect, the pespective is Aristotelian and Thomistic. Even the language at times approximates a scholastic argument. I would certainly love to learn and teach in this environment.

I do have a couple of reserves about the whole approach, some based on this text and some based on my knowledge of TAC itself. First, I understand why they say that poetic and fictional literature is intrinsically less valuable that theology and philosophy, but I can't quite bring myself to agree with it. First of all, the Bible itself, which is greater than any work of theology and philosophy on the face of the earth, is often in the form of poetic literature (although not fictional; it is more mythological in the sense that Lewis and Tolkien used it). And it has to be read as literature in order to be fully appreciated (this not discounting its historical value). The is a kind of wisdom that is best expressed in poetry, which is why the Bible isn't simply a collection of treatises. Actually, I think, for instance, reading Dante, Shakespeare and Tolkien is just as valuable as reading Kevin Miller (I just had to say that, Kevin.).

Second, I believe that students must also be intitiated into the contemporary converstion as well as the great one. In other words, they really ought to read what some recent scholars are writing about a subject, including theology, and should read some contemporary literature. My ideal formula for studying theology is a) 1/2 Greats, b) 1/3 moderns (since Leo XIII, say) and c) 1/6 contemporary. In actually fact, I read much too much contemporary and not nearly enough greats, both for myself and in my classes. Students of Catholic theology, for instance, ought to read some de Lubac (and even, Rahner), as well as Augustine and Aquinas.

Thirdly, I think in our day it is imperative for us to be familiar with the eastern wisdom in preparation for evangelizing those cultures. Besides, these wisdom traditions have intrinsic value. We can and ought to learn from them, as I did at Notre Dame when I read the Baghavad Gita and Lao Tzu, etc.

Finally, I don't know why the productive arts are not an intrinsic part of a free man's education. I would think that some kind of mastery over material universe is a prerequisite for authentic freedom. Otherwise, why bother having a body in the first place? I especially think everyone should be trained in a musical instrument.
Happy Birthday, J.R.R.!
Today is J.R.R. Tolkien's eleventy-first birthday!

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Sobrino site
Stephen Hand, former editor of the semi-defunct TCR page, has asked me whether I would post a link to Oswald Sobrino's weblog. I am happy to do so. Sobrino's essays are careful, thoughtful, and faithful to the tradition of the Church, including the Second Vatican Council. Many of these essays appeared previously on TCR, so in a way it is a continuation of that apostolate. As I've said before, I don't necessarily agree with every jot and tittle of Sobrino's writings, but I do think they are an important contribution to the current conversation on Church and world affairs.