Thursday, March 27, 2014

Online History Classes

The Catholic Textbook Project's General Editor, Christopher Zehnder, has been teaching an online history course, "The Making of the Modern World," through Homeschool Connections. Last semester's classes were recorded and are now offered through Homeschool Connections Unlimited Access. The second semester classes will be available late May. 

Light to the Nations, Part II: The Making of the Modern WorldMr. Zehnder's course is based on the CTP text Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World and he describes the course as follows:
This course examines how the Modern World --- our world --- came to be. It looks at the revolutionary ideas that created, first in Europe and then the entire world, an understanding of man and his relationship to God, the Church, and the state that was in many respects radically different from the understanding of these things that prevailed in the Middle Ages. Ideas influence deeds, and thus the course examines historical events, showing how they flowed from the struggle between those who held to traditional conceptions and those who embraced the new ideas. Events influence ideas, and thus we study how the events of history helped modify and develop both the new ideas and the traditional vision of the world. The course is divided into two parts. Part I (first semester) begins with the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries and concludes with the attempt to reestablish the ancient regime after the fall of Napoleon's empire. Part II (second semester) continues the story, beginning with a study of Romanticism and concluding with Vatican II and the post-conciliar world. 
For more information on Homeschool Connections Unlimited Access or to sign up, go here.
To view Homeschool Connections Spring/Summer 2014 Recorded Course Catalog, go here.

For the 2014/2015 school year, Mr. Zehnder will be teaching a course using Light to the Nations I: A History of Christian Civilization through Homeschool Connections. Information for registering for the live, interactive classes will be posted soon. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

This Day in History

March 23, 1801
Assassination of a Tsar
This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here. 

It was night. All was quiet in the Michailov Palace in St. Petersburg. The members of the imperial family were in their beds, asleep -- all except the grand prince, Aleksandr Pavlovitch Romanov. He would not sleep that night. Agitated and fretful, he paced his room, fully clothed, waiting. At last, he threw himself on his bed. The night seemed endless.

Mikhailov Palace, St. Petersburg
The reigning tsar and emperor of Russia, Pavel (Paul) I, had made the Michailov Palace into a sort of fortress. The short, balding, and ugly Pavel had had a difficult life. His mother, Katerina the Great, had deposed his father, Tsar Pyotr III, who then was killed under strange circumstances. Katerina reigned for the next 34 years - years during which her son, Pavel, thought he rightly should have been ruler.

Tsar Pavel I
Upon becoming tsar after Katerina's death in 1796, Pavel proved that he was not an entirely bad ruler; indeed, many of his policies had been wise. Yet Pavel was insane, and his insanity led him into acts of cruelty and into a strange admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte. Pavel had made many enemies, powerful enemies -- Russian nobles and leaders of the Russian army. To protect himself, he had raised towers and battlements around the Michailov Palace.

It is said that Tsar Pavel feared his own sons, the Grand Prince Aleksandr and his brothers, and was contemplating imprisoning them. At least, this is what Pavel's enemies may have told Aleksandr. Such a tale, along with Pavel's increasing insanity, is perhaps what convinced the grand prince to agree to a plot that the tsar's foes had suggested to him -- the deposition of his father.

Thus, on the night of March 23, 1801, the 23-year-old Aleksandr, fearful and alone, awaited the news that the plot against the tsar had succeeded. The hours passed slowly until about 1:00 a.m. on the morning of March 24, when Aleksandr heard a knock on his door. The prince sat up on his bed as in walked Count Nikolai Zubov.  Standing before Aleksandr, Zubov said in a hoarse voice, "All is over."

Grand Prince Aleksandr, 1800
"What is over?" said the astonished prince. Zubov would not say, but he addressed Aleksandr as "Sire" and "Your Majesty" -- titles given only to the reigning tsar. Frightened and full of foreboding, Aleksandr questioned Zubov further -- until Zubov was forced to tell the whole story.

Tsar Pavel was dead. The conspirators, including Zubov, had climbed by a back stairway into the apartments of the imperial family in the Michailov Palace. They had entered the tsar's apartment and demanded that he abdicate and name his son, Aleksandr, tsar in his place. Pavel refused. What happened next is uncertain; but in the end, Pavel lay dead on his bed. He had been strangled. Horror overcame Aleksandr. He had agreed to his father's deposition, not his death. What now would he do? How would the Russian people react to his father's murder? Would they blame him? How could he justly take up his father's authority, purchased at the price of his father's blood?

A Composer Who United East and West

Dmitry Bortniansky (1751-1825) was a composer of Ukrainian origin who, beginning in 1796, served as director of the Russian Imperial Chapel Choir under both Pavel I and Aleksandr I. A prolific composer of opera and instrumental works, Bortniansky is perhaps most well known for his compositions of Russian Orthodox liturgical music. His liturgical works have elements both of Western and Eastern sacred music, including polyphony, which Bortniansky had studied in Italy. The following piece is an example of Bortniansky's genius.

Dmitry Bortniansky, Let My Prayer Arise, 
Russian Icon Painters

Friday, March 21, 2014

This Day in History

March 21, 1800:
Power Politics and a Papal Coronation

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here. 

It was no easy task to gather the cardinals for the conclave to elect a new pope. Scattered over Italy after the exile of Pope Pius VI and unable to meet in Rome, the cardinals finally 
decided to gather in Venice, a city under the control of the Holy Roman emperor. Emper-or Franz II had offered to pay most of the expenses of the conclave -- a welcome offer, since the curia and individual cardinals had very little money. So it was that on the First Sunday of Advent, November 30, 1799, in the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, 34 cardinals out of an expected 46 gathered to begin their deliberations over who should be the next pope.

Cardinal Consalvi
The man chosen to oversee this assembly was the able cardinal-deacon, Ercole Consalvi. As the secretary of the conclave, Consalvi had to use all of his diplomatic skills -- for the cardinals were a cantankerous bunch of men, princes of the Church though they were. The cardinals were as divided among themselves, as were the political leaders of the time.

Cardinal Hrzan had come from Austria to represent the emperor, who wanted a pope who would favor the interests of the Habsburgs. Opposed to Hrzan and other pro-Austrian cardinals was another group of cardinals that stood for Fernando IV, the king of Naples, who wanted a pope who would favor his family, the Bourbons. A few cardinals, including Cardinal Jean-Siffrein Maury, wanted a pope who would be friendly to France. Cardinal Maury represented Louis XVIII, who claimed to be the rightful king of France. Yet, though he wrote frequent letters to Louis XVIII describing the events of the conclave, Maury wanted a pope who would not be hostile to the new French government of the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte.

Cardinal Jean-Siffrein Maury
Split by these factions, the cardinals could not agree on a papal candidate. Weeks and months dragged on, but no one man could obtain the required number of votes to be elected pope. Cardinal Hrzan used the emperor's veto to block the election of a cardinal who had received enough votes to be elected. (According to the canon law of the time, the emperor could veto the election of any candidate, even if a majority of the conclave voted for him.)

The winter of 1799-1800 passed, spring approached, and still no pope had been chosen. It was Cardinal Maury who finally found a candidate that could please all the factions. He was Cardinal Barnaba Luigi Chiaramonti, the bishop of the northern Italian city of Imola. With another cardinal, Maury began working for the election of Chiaramonti and was able to win over a number of important cardinals to his cause. On March 14, 1800 (nearly four months after the opening of the conclave), the cardinals elected Chiaramonti, who -- after some hesitation -- accepted the choice of his brother cardinals.

The Bishop of Imola 

Chiaramonti once told how his mother, the Countess Chiaramonti, had foretold that he would be elected pope and, as pope, undergo bitter sufferings. Young Barnaba doubtless did not wish for such an honor; at age 16, he had joined the Benedictine monks of Santa Maria del Monte, near his hometown of Cesena in the Papal States. By becoming a monk, Chiaramonti cast aside hopes of worldly glory for a life of contemplation. 

Cathedral of Imola
Such a life, however, was not to be his, for the Chiaramonti family had a special friend -- Pope Pius VI. In 1782, Pius made Barnaba Chiaramonti the bishop of Tivoli. Three years later, the pope sent Chiaramonti to Imola and named him a cardinal. The quiet, contemplative Chiaramonti proved to be a very devout and able bishop. He was gentle, firm, and kindly. He welcomed exiled French priests to Imola and spent nearly half of his income on the poor. So much did Cardinal Chiaramonti lavish on the poor that, to attend the conclave in 1799, he had to borrow money for travel expenses from another cardinal.

Northern Italy in 1799.
The Cisalpine Republic appears in green.
Though many bishops had abandoned their sees when Napoleon invaded northern Italy in 1797, Chiaramonti remained with his flock. Seeking to spare his people from violence, he preached a sermon on Christmas 1797 and exhorted them to obey the new Cisalpine Republic. Democracy, Chiara-monti said, is not opposed to the Gospel of Christ. If the people of Imola "respect other people's rights" and "fulfill their own duties," said Chiaramonti, there will be true equality -- the "equality that teaches man what he owes to God, to himself, and to his equals."

"When you are wholly Christians," said Chiaramonti, "you will be excellent democrats."

Imola's neighboring city, Lugo, did not follow Chiaramonti's advice. It resisted the French; and when Lugo was conquered, the French General Augereau ordered it sacked. For three hours the pillage continued, until Chiaramonti appeared before Augereau and, on his knees, begged him to spare the city.

General Augereau
Yet the bishop did not love the French republic. When the Austrians later entered Imola, Chiaramonti exhorted his people to receive them as liberators. The French again took the city, but even then Chiaramonti did not flee. Appearing before his French conquerors, he justified his support of Austria. Because of his courage, the French did not carry out their threat to exile him from Imola.

It was because of Chiaramonti's willingness to make peace with the republic that Cardinal Maury thought him the right man to be pope. He knew, too, that Chiaramonti was willing to abide by the Peace of Tolentino, even if it meant that the Papal States would never recover their lost territories. Bishop Chiaramonti thought preserving the pope's spiritual authority was far more important than salvaging his temporal power as lord of the Papal States.

Peter Returns to His People 

Pope Pius VII
The coronation of the new pope on March 21, 1800, did not occur in Venice's beautiful San Marco cathedral but in the humble chapel of the monastery of San Giorgio. There, in that church, so unlike St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the man who had taken the name of Pius VII underwent ancient ceremonies that proclaimed the glory of his office and the smallness of his humanity. He watched and listened as, thrice, they burnt a tuft of cotton and thrice repeated the words, "Holy Father, so vanishes the glory of the world." He rose as a deacon removed the episcopal miter; then another deacon, approaching with the triple crown, placed it on his head. He heard the words of wonder and fear, spoken in papal coronations century after century, and trembled when he realized they were now addressed to him: "Receive the tiara with the three crowns, and know that thou art the father of princes and the leader of kings, yea, the vicar of our Savior Jesus Christ on earth!"

Following his coronation, Pope Pius VII prepared for his journey to Rome. It had been over two years since Pius VI had been forced to leave the city and, during that period, Rome had suffered much under what had been called the Roman Republic -- a tool of French power in Italy. But in the summer of 1799, the Austrians and Russians had taken Rome and overthrown the republic. The pope could now return and take up both his spiritual and temporal power.

...And 26 years later, the premier of a "Horror"

On March 21, 1826, Ludwig Van Beethoven's Quartet 13 in B Flat Major (Opus 130) premiered to what was probably a rather puzzled audience. Quartet 13 is one of Beethoven's "Late Quartets," which the contemporary composer, Louis Spohr, called "indecipherable, uncorrected horrors." Very different was the judgment of the 20th century composer, Igor Stravinsky, who said the Grosse Fuge (the last movement of the quartet) is "an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will remain contemporary forever." Let your own ear be the judge of whether this piece is indeed a horror or a rather great musical work.

Beethoven String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, 
Op. 130 (Grosse Fuge) - American String Quartet

Monday, March 17, 2014

Read Aloud!

Learning in An Artful Way

Michael  Van Hecke, President of the Catholic Textbook Project and Headmaster at St. Augustine Academy, Ventura, shared the following advice with parents.

I recently read an article that exhibited, so well, the great and simple beauty of literature. In an age of ever-increasing standards and evaluative data requirements, it was a breath of fresh air. 

While it is still worthy to study literature’s style, elements, and structure in order to become a better practitioner of rhetoric, it is essential to keep that in check. It is very important to keep as part of the weekly (or daily) schedules a time for reading – just reading. While our children were growing up we ended up reading to them most nights for a little while. Some nights it was hard because other duties seemed to be pressuring us to not fit in reading. Some nights we were just so tired. And yet, even on most of those nights we made sure to read at least one chapter of the story we were enjoying.

On the far side of this exercise, we have seen the powerful and lovely benefits of this practice. Our lives and the lives of our children are much richer for the friends we met - Tom Sawyer, Bilbo Baggins and Alice and the Cheshire Cat; the places we visited - Dickens’ London, Dante’s Inferno, and the raccoon’s den where we wait till the moon is full; and the things we saw - trolls, cows jumping over the moon and Pa swinging his ax. Goodnight Moon! 

I shared before the great benefits of reading aloud to the children – it should be a high priority for young children, and a priority which may re-arrange but not disappear even for older children. One suggestion I read for Lent was to decrease “electricity time.” Spend LESS time with TV, radio or the computer - especially the internet where much time is truly wasted in social surfing and Enquirer-like news sites. [The top two trending news stories on right now - ”Texans Cheerleader” and “Chipoltle Guacamole.”]  NOW, take that time and spend it on more human endeavors like playing a game, hand-writing a letter to a friend or relative, or reading a book! 

Consider this letter from Teddy Roosevelt to Mr. Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows. 

My mind moves in ruts, as I suppose most minds do, and at first I could not reconcile myself to the change from the ever-delightful Harold and his associates, and so for some time I could not accept the toad, the mole, the water-rat, and the badger as substitutes. But after a while [my wife] and two of the boys, Kermit and Ted, all quite independently, got hold of The Wind Among the Willows [sic] and took such delight in it that I began to feel that I might have to revise my judgment. Then [she] read it aloud to the younger children, and I listened now and then. Now I have read it and reread it, and have come to accept the characters as old friends; and I am almost more fond of it than your previous books. Indeed, I feel about going to Africa very much as the sea-faring rat did when he almost made the water-rat wish to forsake everything and start wandering! I felt I must give myself the pleasure of telling you how much we had all enjoyed your book.

As Professor Anthony Esolen reflects, “[W]e do not read The Wind in the Willows in order to build knowledge about talking rats, or to broaden worldviews, whatever that term from political sloganeering is supposed to mean. We read The Wind in the Willows to enter the world of The Wind in the Willows, and maybe learn something about ourselves in the process. But the aim of  reading the work is simply the joy and the wonder of it; it is a good book, because it tells us good and true things in an artful way."