Saturday, June 29, 2013

Giveaway for the Apostles

In honor of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, we are giving away a CTP history textbook of your choice with accompanying support materials. To enter leave a comment. The drawing will be open until July 3rd, the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle when we will choose a winner.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why Study History? Part II

Cognosce Teipsum --- Know Thyself

By Christopher Zehnder
General Editor, Catholic Textbook Project

Imagine waking one morning to discover that, except for the previous five years, you had forgotten all your past. You can recall your name; you know the identities of your spouse and children. You can identify your place of employment and possess the knowledge of your trade or profession. But you have forgotten who your parents are, where you came from, the experiences of your childhood and youth, how you met your spouse, and even how you learned your profession.
Historia, by Nikolaos Gysis
            Anyone finding himself in such a position would suffer from more than a mere amnesia of events; he would, to a great extent, have forgotten his very self. Our self understanding draws not only from a consciousness of who and what we are in the immediate here and now; it depends on our memory of our past. We know the world around us through our experience of it, and we know ourselves through our experience of ourselves, from the earliest events we can remember to the present. Why do we act the way we do? Why are our thoughts so formed? What are the sources of our peculiar affections? It is on memory that we must draw to answer such questions. Memory, too, helps us in regulating our personal behavior. To whom should we show honor, and why? What situations should we avoid, and which ought we to exploit for our betterment? Memory is indeed the repository of the knowledge of our very selves. It is the indispensable instrument for the ought regulation of one's life.
            History is analogous to personal memory; it stands to a people or culture as personal memory stands to the individual. A people with a knowledge of its own history is a people that knows itself. It has often been said that “those who do no know history are doomed to repeat it.” A true enough statement, but it fails to plumb the depths. It is rather, those who know no history are doomed to be ignorant of themselves.
            Nations, like individuals, possess a tendency to self-deception. We think our people invariably just, generous, noble-hearted, gentle, kind, and brave. It is history that disabuses us of such hubris. Through history, a people sees not only when it has acted nobly, but when it has behaved disgracefully. It recognizes, not only its ideals, but how it has measured up to those ideals. History thus serves as a kind of examination of conscience and indispensable aid to corporate amendment and reform.
            History, too, helps individuals understand themselves. Each of us is born into a culture, and every culture is the fruit of an historical process. It is the “personality” of a people, long-developed over centuries. In turn, culture influences and molds the personalities of those who belong to it. Culture is second nature. One's habits, even the way each of us thinks about and considers the world around him, are born of culture. To be ignorant of history, then, is not only to fail in one's understanding of his culture and people; it is to fail in the very understanding of himself.
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Why Use A Textbook?

Currently among some educators there is an aversion to textbooks. Some of the antipathy is just because some textbooks are poorly written, sounding as if they were composed by an uninspired committee trying to come to a routine consensus. Also prevalent is the idea that contact with great minds and ideas should be undiluted, that the student should go straight to the source instead of reading what others have thought on a subject. Why read a book about Greek philosophy when you can read the philosophers’ writings yourself? In place of the shunned textbook, original sources or living books are preferred. Thus, if a student were studying American government, he would not read a civics book, but only the original founding documents of the country. If he were studying the Roman Empire, he might read Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novels. While there are many good elements to this approach, is it sufficient and is it good for every subject?

A textbook is broadly defined as a manual on a particular subject. The material therein is organized according to some kind of system with a goal of imparting a certain level of knowledge on that subject. The writer studies and combs through various sources until he finds the information he thinks is pertinent to his subject and appropriate for his potential readers. When he is satisfied with his research, he writes his own manual on the topic. This saves the reader much time and effort, and if we find the author reliable and honest, we can entrust him with our education on the topic.

A classic example of a textbook is St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. It was written as guide to those studying theology. St. Thomas used many sources – Greek philosophers (preeminently Aristotle), Holy Scripture, the writings of the Church Fathers (favoring St. Augustine of Hippo) and Tradition – to compile his defense of Catholic teaching. He wrote his arguments in a repeating pattern: the question, possible answers (called objections) to the question, the correct answer from authority, then the same answer with its reasoned argument, and finally the answers to the objections. The Summa is very dense and is not read for literary enjoyment, but it is essential to the making of good theologians and the Church has proclaimed St. Thomas the premiere theologian because of his work. St. Thomas began the Summa when he was a professor, in essence writing his own textbook for his students. Through his systematization of theology, he made the subject accessible to many more fledgling theologians.

We can imagine the textbook’s birth originating with a simple request by a student for a written copy of the texts his professor was quoting in class. Then the professor’s thoughts on the studies and other sources he did not have time to pass on in class might be included in the writings. Eventually, especially if it is popular, the work is organized into a cohesive body of study. The famed Catholic philosopher Dr. Frederick Wilhelmsen wrote, “Every professor of philosophy who is worth his salt writes his own text, a text which is his course, whether he publishes it or not. The text exists in his notes or in his head. If he does not ‘write’ this text down in one way or another, he is not a professor because he has nothing to say about his subject.”

A textbook is a tool – one of the many tools – in education. In the learning relationship between teacher and pupil it can be a good tool if chosen well and used properly. In independent or home study, a textbook can be used as a “spine,” providing backbone or structure to the subject.

In the study of history, where many people, events, and ideas are converging and dispersing, it is very important to keep everything connected in some way and have an order to follow. The reading of original sources, biographies and historical fiction is an aid to deepening historical knowledge and appreciation, but it cannot substitute for an organized course of study. There are not “living books” for every important era, event, or person. For instance, there are very few “living books” written about World War I and the ones that exist – like All Quiet on the Western Front – are inappropriate for children. There are saints who made great contributions to history, but have not had biographies written about them, sometimes because they have not captured the popular imagination. The Catholic author Louis de Wohl wrote a biography of Pope Pius XII – a man he had met and had impressed him deeply. Arguably, Pope Leo XIII was just as impressive a man and his reign was filled with drama, but de Wohl did not attempt his biography. There are many living books with the Middle Ages as the subject or background; yet given that that time period covers 1500 years, there are proportionally fewer books written about it in comparison to books written on the five-year American Civil War. Some ideas which had a great influence on civilization cannot be easily understood by young readers through original sources. A sixth grader should not be required to slog through Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations or Karl Marx's Das Kapital to understand capitalism and communism and their shaping of events and peoples.

Those missing stories are found in a good textbook. Age-appropriate explanations are found in a good textbook. Such a book fills in those gaps and omissions, making for a more comprehensive grasp of the pageant of history.

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Anniversary of A Catholic Radical

2013 marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Catholic Worker Movement in New York City. The following is from the soon-to-be-published (on CD) high school history book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America.

Dorothy Day, founder of Catholic Worker
Catholic Anarchists

It is ironic that it took a communist and free-love radical to understand the sense of the Catholic bishops’ 1919 message that “charity is also social virtue.” Dorothy Day, the daughter of a journalist father in Chicago, had from her teen years felt a deep concern for the lot of the poor. She had read such books as Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and Little Dorritt, which had inspired her with a keen sense of the injustice of the world. But it was Sinclair Lewis’ The Jungle, which detailed the filth and degradation of the meat-packing industry in her own Chicago, that stirred her to her depths. Walking the streets in working class neighborhoods, she learned to see beauty in the lives of the poor. “From that time on,” she later wrote, “my life was to be linked to theirs, their interests would be mine: I had received a call, a vocation, a direction in life.”

Read the rest here.
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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why Study History?

By Christopher Zehnder
General Editor, Catholic Textbook Project

I suppose I was an annoying student to my high school teachers. I was wont to ask them what I thought trenchant questions that, to them, must have seemed merely contentious. I recall once asking my algebra teacher why I had to study algebra. He replied that algebra was useful in a number of professions, and he listed them for me. When he had done, I thought I had him. “But I don't want to be any of those things,” I told him. I recall that, rather than betraying any indication of discomfiture, he looked me straight in the eye, arched one eyebrow, and said: “O.K., fine. But, do you want to pass the test?” I did not find his reply at all intellectually compelling, but I could feel the force of it all the same. I went home and studied my algebra and (I think) I passed the test.
Historia, by Nikolaos Gysis
            I admit, having taught high school myself, that I feel more sympathy for my algebra teacher than I do for my erstwhile self. He dealt with a smart aleck in what he thought the most effective way. And it worked, at least to some extent. (I was not a stellar math student.) At the same time, I conclude that his answer was not as convincing as my question was honest. I was not simply being difficult; I did want to know why. His answer betrayed that he, perhaps, knew no better than I did why any but a narrow category of people seeking to enter certain professions should study algebra.
            It is this and similar experiences that convinced me of the importance of giving a good account, at least to older students, of the why of a subject. Students need to understand why a course of study is more than a mere hurdle they need to clear in order to graduate. Students need to see that what they study has intrinsic worth or, at least, is of import to them as human beings and not simply as potential members of a work force. I am speaking here, of course, not of subjects studied in vocational training but of the academic disciplines (such as mathematics, grammar, literature, music, natural science, theology, and history). For it is the aim of these disciplines (at least as they have been traditionally understood) to form the inner man, not to train the working man.
            It is not my intent to give a justification for each of the academic disciplines. I shall, instead, limit myself to the why of history. Personally, I never needed to know why I needed to study history, for I have always loved history. When I was young, if anyone had asked me why I read so much history, I would have said, “because it is interesting.” However, as many teachers and home schooling parents have experienced, not every student loves history. Some are indifferent to it. Others find it boring and irrelevant. Such students ask, “what importance do all these dead people and past events have to me and the world in which I live?” Indeed, there might even be teachers and parents out there asking the same question.
            Over the next few weeks, I shall write a series of posts giving various reasons why the study of history is important and necessary to a well-rounded academic program. It is my contention that history is not simply interesting but important to the full development of a student as a human person. Moreover, I shall argue that history is not only relevant but central to the formation of a truly Catholic sense of the world in which we live and the part each of us plays in it.
            Please join me in this discussion. 

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Of Oaks and Axes

June 5, Feast of St. Boniface, bishop and martyr.

St. Boniface is to Germany what St. Patrick is to Ireland. Like Patrick, Boniface brought the Catholic faith to a land and people not his own. Christened in England as Winfrid (“friend of peace” in his native Anglo-Saxon tongue) he was given the name Boniface (“doer of good” in Latin) by Pope Gregory II when he was consecrated bishop. Besides being a saintly man, Boniface was a well-educated man and a gifted teacher and preacher, famed beyond the monastery walls of his Benedictine abbey. Although the prospect of a great ecclesiastical career was before him; his compelling desire was to undertake the formidable missionary work of bringing the Gospel to the untamed and hostile territory of northern Germany. He was granted permission to leave his homeland in 719.

St. Boniface is often pictured with an oak tree and axe. These emblems come from a dramatic episode in his attempts to convert the pagans. Germanic pagans worshiped many gods, who represented the uncontrollable and powerful forces of nature. Sir James Frazer in his comprehensive collection of myths and religions, The Golden Bough, writes: 
In the religious history of the Aryan race in Europe the worship of trees has played an important part. Nothing could be more natural. For at the dawn of history, Europe was covered with immense primaeval forests, in which the scattered clearings must have appeared like islets in an ocean of green. Down to the first century before our era the [European] forest stretched eastward from the Rhine for a distance at once vast and unknown; Germans whom Caesar questioned had traveled for two months through it without reaching the end. Four centuries later it was visited by the Emperor Julian, and the solitude, the gloom, the silence of the forest appear to have made a deep impression on his sensitive nature. He declared that he knew nothing like it in the Roman empire.
We, who are in large part surrounded by cleared farmland and second growth forests, can hardly imagine this. But there still exist a few ancient forests and trees, and one can readily feel the awe and even reverence they inspired and still inspire when driving through the redwoods of California or sitting at the base of a majestic oak.

In Norse mythology an immense ash tree holds the cosmos together, its trunk reaching to the heavens and its roots to the underworld. Sacred groves and tree-worship were common among the ancient Germans, and the chief of their holy trees was the oak. The oak was dedicated to the strongest of their gods – Thor, the god of thunder. It was Thor who sent rain and wind and fine weather and abundant crops. He was to the Germans what Zeus was to the Greeks and Jupiter, to the Romans. Frazer notes that the oak is more frequently struck by lightning than any of the other trees in the European forest and that pagans "might naturally account for it in their simple religious way by supposing that the great sky-god, whom they worshiped and whose awful voice they heard in the roll of thunder, loved the oak above all the trees of the wood and often descended into it from the murky cloud in a flash of lightning, leaving a token of his presence or of his passage in the riven and blackened trunk and the blasted foliage." From this worship grew numerous superstitions connected with the oak, and even the mistletoe that grew on it. One of the old German penalties for those who dared to peel the bark of a standing tree was: “The culprit’s navel was to be cut out and nailed to the part of the tree which he had peeled, and he was to be driven round and round the tree till all his guts were wound about its trunk. The intention of the punishment clearly was to replace the dead bark by a living substitute taken from the culprit; it was a life for a life, the life of a man for the life of a tree.”

St. Boniface viewed this tree-worship and the pagan customs it inspired as a hindrance to conversion and as a stumbling block to recent converts. He therefore challenged Thor to single combat: Boniface announced that he would fell the sacred oak of Thor, the largest of oaks on the summit of Mount Gudenberg at Geismar. An expectant crowd gathered, waiting to see the awful punishment that would surely descend upon this outrage. Perhaps some were gathered in admiration, since the Germanic peoples highly admired bravery and the fight against impossible odds. Boniface attacked the tree with his axe, the huge tree crashed and split into four parts. No thunderbolts nor lightning destroyed the holy man and the people had to admit that the God St Boniface preached was more powerful than Thor and his divine companions. In a similar manner Moses had shown God's omnipotence over the Egyptian gods with the ten plagues and so strengthened the faith of the Israelites. From the wood of Thor's tree, Boniface built a chapel dedicated to St. Peter, and from that time evangelization advanced steadily.

Further reading: Light to the Nations, Part I - Chapter 8
                            The Letters of St. Boniface

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Monday, June 3, 2013

A Battle Maiden's God

Sainte Clotilde.JPG
A sculpture of Saint Clotilde, 12th century
About 900 years before Joan of Arc fought for her French king and country, another woman was planting the roots of France as “the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church.” St. Joan of Arc is honored as the patron saint of France, but St. Clotilde, whose feast was historically celebrated today, could legitimately lay claim to the title as well.

Daughter of a king, from a race of Teutonic warriors, Clotilde was given a name which means “famous in battle.” Many traditional Germanic names reflect the warrior cult of the barbarian tribes: Gertrude – “spear of strength”; Matilda – “might in battle”; Hildegarde – “fortress”; Kriemhilde – “battle mask”; Brunhilde – “battle armor”; Adelheid – “nobility.” Clotilde’s father, Chilperic, was king of Burgundy – an area in what is now part of France, settled by the Germanic tribe of Burgundi after they received it from the Romans. It was through the Romans that Christianity was brought into the area. By Clotilde's birth in 474, the heresy of Arianism was widespread among Germanic peoples, yet Chilperic and his wife Caretena remained faithful Catholics and raised their children in the faith. Clotilde's only sister took religious vows at the convent of St. Victor in Geneva.

In her 18th year, Clotilde became the wife of Clovis I, King of the Franks. The Franks were a Germanic tribe from the lower Rhine area, who, crossing that river, had pushed into Gaul and become allies of the Romans. Because of their contact with the Romans, the Franks were the most educated and literate of the Germanic tribes. St. Gregory of Tours in his history notes that the Frankish kings wore their hair long, flowing over the shoulders. When the Roman Empire collapsed, much of Gaul came under the control of the Franks; and Clovis, becoming a Frankish king in 481, continued to extend his kingdom through the conquest of more territories. The Franks were pagans, but Clovis was on friendly terms with the bishops of northern Gaul and did not see Clotilde's religion as a hindrance to their union. Too, Clotilde's family probably did not think it wise to deny one of the most powerful men of the region his request for their daughter. 

Baptism of Clovis by St. Regimius
It seems to have been a happy marriage, and Clotilde had great influence over her husband. Yet her efforts to persuade him to embrace the Catholic faith were not immediately successful, although he did allow their first two sons to be baptized. It was written of Clovis, "how he, a man of keen intelligence would not yield until he was convinced of the truth." Yet, when he did convert, it was in a dramatic fashion. During a battle against the Alemanni, another Germanic tribe, when his men seemed on the point of succumbing to the enemy, he appealed to "Clotilde's god" for aid, vowing to accept the Christian faith if he was granted victory. He won and was baptized in Rheims cathedral on Christmas day, 496. At the same time, 3,000 of his Frankish warriors also were baptized. It is easy to cynically assume that Clovis's impetuous conversion was not genuine, yet every evidence of the time proves that it was sincere. The conversion of his men made sense according to the mindset of the warrior class. Clovis was their lord, and they had vowed allegiance to him - where he went, his men followed. The Catholic faith naturally spread throughout the Frankish kingdom under the influence of Clovis and Clotilde. It was thus that a large area of what was later named France became Catholic and the eventual defenders of Catholic interests in the West.

Clovis died at the age of 45 in 511 and was buried at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Paris. Clotilde's next 34 years of widowhood were not happy. It was the barbarian custom to divide power among the dead king's sons. This had its roots in the pagan idea that the kings were descended from the gods. Thus "divine blood" flowed equally in the veins of each of the king's sons and one could not be chosen over the others to reign. All must share in the kingdom. In the warrior spirit, this naturally led to feuds and eventually fratricide. The Franks had accepted Christianity, but they were not yet far removed from their barbarian culture and attitudes. Clovis's kingdom was divided between his three living sons, who caused their mother much anguish in their fierce and often bloody rivalry. Clotilde, the first Catholic queen of the Frankish kingdom, died in 545 and was buried beside her husband.

File:Image-Battle between Clovis and the VisigothsRemarde.jpg

Further reading: Light to the Nations, Part One - chapter 5
                            Saint Clothilde: The First Christian Queen of France Tells Her Story