Tag Archives: pagan

Review: The Song of Roland

The Song of RolandThe Song of Roland by Anonymous

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The student who opens his heart to Homer, Plato, St. Augustine, the author of The Song of Roland, Dante, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, doesn’t get, he gives; he learns to love these authors whose Beauty, Truth, and Good shine through the dark divine and human matter of their works like swarms of stars in the honey-combed night of time; he gazes on them with the thrilled fear we call “awe” and “wonder,” the way a lover gazes upon his beloved, who would be shocked and ashamed at anyone who asked what he was going to get out of her!

Quoting John Senior, James Taylor introduces me to the 12th Century French epic poem, The Song of Roland. The poem tells the story of Charlemagne’s nephew, Roland, as he goes to battle against pagan Muslims from Spain in the 8th Century. A traitor has betrayed Roland and Emperor Charles, leading to a battle between Roland and the Spanish Muslim king, Marsile.

The poem is reminiscent of Homer’s The Iliad, with graphic depictions of death and battle. It is clear that it was written from a Christian perspective, pitting the Christian God and against the Muslim Muhammad and their idolatry of Apollo. Similar to the Greeks and Trojans pitting the various Greek gods against each other. Of course, in stark contrast to the gods in The Iliad, who were arbitrary and capricious with their help, The Song of Roland shows a Christian God who is active in history and the affairs of kings and men and a Muslim god who is silent and helpless.

This is only my first read, and so I am learning to be hesitant to make any dogmatic statements about the stories I review, but there is a sense in which, like The Iliad, death just continues to lead to more death. There is no end to death, no repentance, no forgiveness. Something that seems to be missing from what should be a thoroughly Christian tale.

I might add that this book was recommended to me as a commentary on The Song of Roland, one that might correct or clarify my above thoughts.

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Should Christians Read Pagan Literature?

Classical Conversations’ Writers Circle recently published an article of mine, “The Benefit of the Classics for Youth.” It is a re-write of St. Basil’s famous work, “Address To Young Men On How They Might Derive Benefit From Greek Literature.” In which, I take his basic arguments and represent them in modern vernacular and with modern analogies.

Here’s an excerpt, you can read the rest at the link above.

Our youth need to hone their powers of discernment, and they can practice on the classics as part of maturing themselves in readiness for the solid food of Scripture. It is from the classics, even from the pagan texts among them, that our youth will learn to discern the difference between that which is good and virtuous and that which is injurious. They will attend to the former, and like the young child wanting to ignore his annoying brother, they will plug their ears and yell, “Blah, blah, blah, blah!” to the latter.

Five Reasons to Study The Classics by Saint Basil

Saint Basil wrote an “Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature.” In it he answers the question, “What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” He defends the right use of Greek literature, which is included in the body of works we might refer to as The Classics. Seventeen hundred years later, Christians are still asking the same question, are still struggling with the same answers.

A brief overview of some of his points:

1. The young cannot have a the understanding and appreciation for the deep thought of Scripture because of their immaturity. They study Greek literature to exercise their spiritual faculties with that which is a mirror to truth.

2. The young exercise their powers of discernment by learning to discriminate between the helpful and injurious in Greek literature.

3. The young need virtue and can only be helped by studying those passages in which virtue is praised; there is much of this in Greek literature.

4. In Greek literature, virtue is praised not just in words, but in the deeds of those who exemplify virtue. The young should study those deeds which line up with the words of Scripture.

5. The young, in studying Greek literature, store up a knowledge of the ideal which can and will be later matured by the study of Scripture.

Saint Basil, himself immersed in Greek literature, offers the youth of his day these words for their own maturation and growth. How wise are they still for the youth of our day?

Review: The Aeneid

The Aeneid
The Aeneid by Virgil

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I began reading this book I felt very strongly that Virgil was not quite the author Homer was. When I finished reading the book, I was less convinced of that opinion.

Virgil is clearly writing in imitation of Homer. But imitating greatness is not to be seen as a weakness or fault in Virgil’s own writing. In fact, quite to the contrary, Virgil was able to do in one epic poem what it took Homer two to do! Homer wrote one epic poem, The Iliad, to describe war for the Greeks. He followed that up with a second epic poem, The Odyssey, to describe the home and homecoming for the Greeks. He did both masterfully. Virgil, on the other hand, writes about both home/homecoming and war all wrapped up into one epic poem. He does it well.

I will be translating portions of this poem from the Latin into English with my Challenge 4 class (Classical Conversations) this year, as well as reading it again in English with them. I hope to discover more insights in the process.

This really is a must read–although I realize that Peter Leithart would beg to differ (at least his introduction to Heroes of the City of Man would seem to indicate) that any Christian *must* read the classics. So maybe I should say that anyone interested enough to read this review is someone who should probably read the poem.

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A Trinitarian Education

Paganism assumes only diversity.

Monotheism assumes only unity.

Trinitarianism provides for diversity within unity.

An education that emphasizes, whatever the reason, the study of only one branch or field of knowledge, such as math or science or literature, is pagan in that it chooses one aspect of diversity to study without regard for its unity and integration in other subjects.

In other words, to pretend that you could learn music without also learning math, astronomy, history, and literature, is to ignore the unity of that diversity. It is paganism infiltrating your otherwise Christian worldview.

Furthermore, to pretend that you could only learn music with any depth if you limited the focus of your study to that subject is to exacerbate the problem. For the study of music requires the integration of other subjects, and the greater your understanding of those subjects then the greater your ability to dig deep into the study of music. This is true of all subjects.

Specialization is important for a deep understanding of any subject, but specialization to the exclusion of other subjects is to ignore the Trinitarian nature of the world in which we live. Embrace the Trinity, embrace Trinitarian education, embrace a fuller knowledge, understanding, and wisdom of what you have learned. a

The Dangers of Classical Education?

We live in a world that for centuries trained up its children in the classics, by this I mean the seven liberal arts: grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, harmony, and astronomy. These were followed by the queen of the arts: philosophy/theology.

Throughout those centuries, Christianity grew exponentially, Christians believed and trusted in the Triune God and His Word.

Today, our world refuses (or fails) to teach the seven liberal arts and our world (since the Enlightenment, I suppose) doubts or outright rejects the Triune God and His Word. For those who identify themselves as Christians, a multiplicity of them–according to statistics–do not believe in absolute truth or that the Bible is the Word of God.

Yet, somehow, there are Christians who oppose classical education (I hear Francis Schaeffer was one of them) on the grounds that teaching our children the pagan classics will teach them to doubt absolute truth and the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Word of God.

Allow me to repeat myself: for much of our history we taught our children classically (including the pagan poets) and Christianity grew exponentially and Christians presupposed God and His Word. Today, we fail to teach those things and we have failed to produce Christians who presuppose God and His Word.

Studying the classics (pagan and otherwise–there are Christian classics, you know) does not teach children to doubt or reject God or His Word, it teaches them to think. Rejecting the classics prevents our children from thinking and therefore seeing through the foolishness of this world, a foolishness that rejects God.

Embrace the classics, embrace thinking, embrace God.