Thursday, May 30, 2013

"It is God who commands it!"

Today is the anniversary of the death of a young woman who has captivated the imagination of many - Joan of Arc. A saint in the Catholic Church, she has fascinated both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The famous American author Mark Twain deviated from his usual Mississippi setting and sardonic mockery to pen a fictional biography of Joan - Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by the Sieur Louis de Conte,  which is commonly referred to as Mark Twain's Joan of Arc. He considered it his best work and the one which he enjoyed writing the most. Many lovely children's picture books with Joan as the subject have been published. Catholic author Louis de Wohl, added Joan to his long list of historical novels. Paintings, illustrations, statues and holy cards with her image are easily found. Even Hollywood contributed with Ingrid Bergman's portrayal of the saint in the iconic Joan of Arc movie. 

Joan was only on the world stage for two short years, but two years filled with drama and pathos. Drawn forth from her peasant home by insistent voices, she became historically significant, showing once again God's use of the weak to confound the strong. The following account is taken from CTP's Light to Nations, Part I:

La Pucelle

hree years before the English victory at Agincourt, an obscure maiden was born in the small village of Domrémy, in Champagne. The daughter of the peasant farmer, Jacques d’Arc, this young girl was named Jehanne (Joan, in English). Like other peasant girls, Joan helped out on the family farm. She was skilled at sewing and spinning, but she could not read. Yet, Joan was unusual; years later, those who had known her testified that she was often at prayer in the village church and showed a tender love for the poor.
In 1425, when she was only 13, Joan began hearing “voices,” as she called them. Later she came to know these voices as those of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine, St. Margaret, and other saints. Over time she said her voices told her that she was to help King Charles VII in his struggle against the English invader.
The cause of Charles VII in his war against the English and Burgundians had grown more desperate. In October 1428, when the English were laying siege to the city of Orléans, Joan’s voices told her to present herself to Robert Baudricourt, Charles VII’s commander in the neighboring town of Vaucouleurs. Joan had presented herself to
Baudricourt once before; then he had told Joan’s cousin, who had brought her to Vaucouleurs, “Take her home to her father and give her a good whipping.” During her second visit to him, Baudricourt became more kindly disposed toward Joan. On February 17, 1429, after she told him of a defeat of the king’s army outside of Orléans (a fact Baudricourt learned a few days later and something that Joan could not possibly know by herself), he allowed Joan to visit the king.

Read the rest here.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Leisure and Lesson Plans

Recently a home educating parent asked if the Catholic Textbook Project had lessons plans available for the history books. While there are teacher's manual and workbooks for each book, there are no detailed lesson plans. The information in the teacher's manual could be used as lesson plans, since after each natural break within the chapters (with page numbers given) there is a section summary. Chapter overview bullet points, answers to textbook review questions, optional quizzes and tests, suggested activities and supplemental reading lists are also provided. The home education resource provider, Catholic Heritage Curricula has written lesson plans (which includes a suggested schedule and hands-on activities) for using Sea to Shining Sea in their comprehensive lesson plans for fifth grade.

However, CTP suggests that our history books not be read with the typical textbook schema in mind. The books were purposely written in an engaging journalistic style to bring history to life, much like good literature is written. And while they are printed in full-color with photos, illustrations and maps, they are not as "busy" as the typical textbook and are more conducive to concentrated, smooth reading. We've seen and heard of many children (and some adults) who pick up one of our history books and begin reading it and keep reading as if they were reading an entertaining novel. Information - or rather, the good story of history - is much more likely to be retained this way. So our preferred lesson plan suggestion is that children read our books at a leisurely pace so that they can more fully enjoy them. This is more easily done in a home educating situation than in a brick and mortar school.

Our first General Editor, Dr. Rollin Lasseter, wrote: "The element of storytelling on which the study of history depends has been ignored in favor of a spurious neutrality of factual narrative, deadly to read and deadlier to the imagination. New textbooks will be called for, and old textbooks and storybooks reclaimed, that draw students into history with the same power of imagination that the secular world uses to draw them away from their past and their Church." You can read his whole essay, Reclaiming the Catholic Historical Imagination here

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Father of English History

Today is the feast of St. Bede and it is an important day for the Catholic Textbook Project. In 2000 at CTP’s inception, our first General Editor, Dr. Rollin Lasseter chose to put the new venture under the patronage of Venerable Bede, Doctor of the Church. Besides finding it natural to seek help from the Catholic Church's patron saint of historians, Dr. Lasseter, as a convert from Anglicanism, wanted a bridge to the England that was once universally Catholic. He also found inspiration in St. Bede's honoring the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, as the greatest event in human history - a theme which remains unbroken throughout the CTP history books. Dr. Lasseter and his wife, Ruth, made a pilgrimage in 2000 to Durham Cathedral in England to visit the tomb of St. Bede where they prayed for his heavenly assistance and guidance of CTP. Upon the tombstone itself is inscribed one word:  "Bede." Above the tomb are inscribed words written by St. Bede himself:  Christ is the Morning Star, who, when the night of this world is past, brings to His saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day. Through the years that he wrote, until his death in 2008, Dr. Lasseter kept an image of Saint Bede on his computer screen and also in a small frame above his desk.

Who was this man that inspired Dr. Lasseter? In CTP's Light to the Nations (Part I, pg. 205) is written:
"A man who was said to be the most learned man of his time was a monk who rarely left his monastery - St. Bede, the Venerable. In 679 when Bede was seven years old, his well-to-do parents entrusted him to the care of Ceolfrith, co-abbot of Jarrow Abbey in Northumbria. The boy had a talent for language and words, a fine appreciation of poetry and music, as well as a prodigious memory. Bede spent the rest of his life in the confines of Jarrow, free to study and ponder the works in the large monastic library.
Bede is mostly remembered today for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, a history of England from the landing of Julius Caesar to Bede's own time. But Bede was more than just a historian. He wrote on many subjects, including grammar, music, and natural science. He was also a poet and a composer of hymns."

About two centuries before Bede's birth the Roman Empire had begun its slow decline, eventually dissolving with the dramatic invasions of the barbarian tribes from the North. Much of classical civilization and learning,  was in danger of being lost during the following chaos and social dissolution. Benedictine monasteries were invaluable in bringing peace amidst the destruction and preserving learning. St. Bede's scholarship contributed to remaking the Dark Ages into Christendom.

In the closing chapter of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, we see the method of Bede's historical writing: "Thus much concerning the ecclesiastical history of Britain and especially the race of the English, I, Bede, a servant of Christ and priest of the monastery of the Blessed Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, which is at Wearmouth and at Jarrow, have with the Lord's help composed as far as I could gather it either from ancient documents or from from the traditions of the elders or from my own knowledge." Another of trait of his writings, which to us moderns seems common practice, was unusual in his day - the noting of the passages he borrowed from other writers or referencing his sources. 

Historical scholar and fellow Benedictine, Francis Aidan Cardinal Gasquet, wrote of St. Bede's work:
When we compare the work done under the inspiration of Bede at Wearmouth and Jarrow with other literary efforts of the seventh and eighth centuries, one characteristic at once strikes us. The work of that northern school is what may be called 'thorough and scholarly'... It will bear the test of examination: it carries with it evidence of wide reading and full knowledge utilized with judgement and critical tact, and for this it became a model to subsequent generations... Reflect how his great record of our own country was composed. Remember that its author was a man who lived his whole life within the narrow circuit of a few miles; remember also the difficulty of obtaining information in those days. Still, to acquire knowledge, and accurate knowledge, he went to work precisely as the historian would at the present day, never resting till he had got at the best sources of information attainable at the cost of whatever time or patience or labour it might involve. It is only now, in this age of minute criticism, that we can realize the full excellence of Bede's historical methods
However, St. Bede's writing is not only know for it's scholarly quality, but also for its beauty. His history was not dry, but engaging, eloquent and at times, poetic. Dr. Lasseter hoped these qualities would also be the distinguishing marks of the CTP's books.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Birth of a New Movement

"At Easter the garden of the Church is abloom with beautiful blossoms, Christians newly baptized and confirmed. By Pentecost these blossom have developed and have matured into fruit, and now hang heavily upon the trees. The Gardener who tends the trees is our Savior Jesus Christ: the Sun that ripens the fruit is the Holy Spirit.”      - Dr. Pius Parsch, A Year of Grace

This past Sunday the Church celebrated the feast of Pentecost as the finale of the Easter season; yet it also marked a great beginning - the Holy Spirit's life in the Church on earth.

Pentecost was a Jewish feast, held fifty days after Passover. The celebration was two-fold: the commemoration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai and a thanksgiving for the grain harvest. Fittingly, the Holy Spirit descended on this day to seal the giving of the New Law and initiate the harvest of souls.

Traditionally, we say the Church was born on Pentecost. This birth was witnessed and visible, not only to those directly visited by the Holy Spirit – those leaders of this new movement – but also to “outsiders.” Hearing the mighty roar, those many peoples gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast, rush to the site of the disturbance and become witnesses to the great marvel of fearful, simple and unimportant men made bold and zealously asking others to follow them on this new venture. Humanly inexplicable, yet undeniably evident.

From this point, the Church becomes a visible institution with leaders, a governing body, a mission – to proclaim Christ and his teachings to all people and all nations – and rules to assist that mission and assure the integrity of its mission. The new venture, spearheaded by a handful of twelve unremarkable men, takes firm hold in the world and becomes one of longest surviving and most influential in human history. It spreads without an Alexander the Great, a Genghis Khan, a Julius Caesar. How does this happen when every other empire or institution has needed a gifted leader, armies or vast wealth to last even a bare 200 years? We, of course, already know why from the words of the Pharisee Gamaliel, “ If this is man’s design or man’s undertaking, it will be overthrown; if it is God’s, you will have no power to overthrow it.” (Acts 5:39) The Church is a divine, yet a very human institution and therefore it is inextricably entwined with the history of the world and there is no good telling of history unless this is acknowledged. 

"The followers of Jesus and missionaries like St. Paul brought a new hope to the empires great and small, rich and poor. Life without fear was promised to all who believed in Jesus and accepted him as Lord... In light of this hope, civilization could follow paths of thought and invention not possible before. Individuals could develop ideas and practices that had not occured to anyone caught in the old worship of nature." (Light to the Nations, Part One, pg 42) Follow Catholic Textbooks via Email