Editorial: Volume 4

The Braniff Graduate School, and the University of Dallas as a whole, has tasked itself with the recovery and renewal of the Catholic-Christian intellectual life and the Western tradition of liberal education. But how one carries this out is a matter for ongoing discussion. Christopher Lynch’s essay, which opens the present issue of the journal, lays out the disparate approaches of three of the luminaries of great books education—Jacob Klein of St. John’s College, Leo Strauss of the University of Chicago, and Louise Cowan of the University of Dallas. We are not all Cowanites, not even here at the University of Dallas. Nor do I believe Louise Cowan would want it that way. Her 2001 essay “The Necessity of the Classics,” which Lynch cites, is first and foremost a call simply to recover the classics; for to lose them, Cowan says, is “to lose a long heritage of wisdom concerning human nature, something not likely to be acquired again.” Cowan views the classics primarily as poetry, but we are all engaged in the recovery of our heritage, regardless of our different disciplines and approaches, which, Lynch speculates, might derive “from the very nature of things.” However, Lynch also cautions that we must recognize “the necessity of studying those realms of being which are emphasized by the others.” So we are not all Cowanites, or Straussians, or Kleinians, except that we must be all of them if we wish to approach the great books holistically. This high, somewhat paradoxical standard of what Lynch calls “independence-and-dependence” is a key characteristic of the Braniff Graduate School, which combats the deadening specialization of modern academia by bringing the disciplines into conversation with each other while nonetheless respecting their independence. By hewing to Braniff’s high standard in their readings of the classics, the authors of the present collection of essays have given us a great deal to think about in our own re-readings.

The Greeks dominate this year’s collection, beginning with Homer. First, Matthew Spring contrasts W. H. Auden’s “Shield of Achilles,” a poem that imagines a shield created by a twentieth-century Hephaestus, with the shield forged by Hephaestus in the Iliad. In Auden’s poem Thetis cries out in dismay because Hephaestus has depicted only what Achilles wanted to see. The wisdom of Homer’s Hephaestus, on the contrary, is attending to life’s necessary juxtaposition of joy and sorrow. True to the human condition, the shield forged by Homer’s long-suffering, cripple-god—and the enduring songs of the blind, beggar-poet as a whole—give “voice and breath to both our song of mortal sorrow and our song of mortal joy.” Carle T. Mock also draws from the wisdom of the Iliad, tracing the quest for honor from the beginning of the poem but focusing mainly on the chariot race, the first of the funeral games for Patroclus in Book 23. Achilles carefully accounts for such intangibles as divine whimsy and human guile in rewarding the competitors according to their aretē. “Rewarding excellence,” says Mock, “not only contributes towards the common good of the citizens through encouraging the most skilled warriors to save the city during a war with enemies, but it also promotes unity and peace within the city itself.”

In practice, however, justice, particularly divine justice, is often not fully understood or accepted as such. In her provocative ink-on-cotton relief “Hand of God,” Jessie Martinez depicts this difficulty with the knife wielded either for protection or for the administration of justice. Martinez can only take comfort, she states in her description, in “knowing that there is a plan far greater than I can comprehend.” In his reading of Euripides’s Bacchae, Michael D. Terranova associates wisdom with acceptance of another bringer of uncertainty to the human condition—the Dionysian powers. Acknowledging these “deep, primordial desires and powers in human nature,” Terranova says, reminds us “both of the peace and flourishing that human law strives for and of the deep desires and powers in the human soul that link it to the cosmos and make every form of peace and prosperity possible.” In his responsible practice of political philosophy, Pavlos L. Papadopoulos argues, Aristotle sought to balance man’s natural desire for order with the seeking of the political good. Papadopoulos discusses Aristotle’s rejection in the Politics, on the one hand, of Hippodamus’s embrace of innovation and, on the other, of Aristotle’s oblique treatment of the Republic’s “noble lie” that the city’s inhabitants were born into predetermined castes—and that the traditional is inherently good. In his political philosophy Aristotle does not irresponsibly accept innovation for innovation’s sake; he is seeking the good, which, Papadopoulos says, may also conflict with the stability of the traditional. Ultimately, Aristotle “indicates his intention to improve politics despite the risks involved.”

Christian theology, often associated with St. Anselm’s famous phrase fides quaerens intellectum (“faith seeking understanding”), begins with belief and then seeks to account for what it believes. John F. Rico explores a related phrase of Anselm—ratio fidei (literally, “the reason of faith”)—arguing that it “is more dynamic in its expression and more pregnant with meaning than may readily be apparent” to modern readers. Rico traces Anselm’s use of ratio fidei through several of his important treatises. Faith bolstered by constant prayer and monastic life, Rico concludes, “leads one along to a world of reason even broader and more encompassing, in the very mind of the beloved and beautiful God.” In particular, Rico argues that the reason of faith lends “youthful confidence” and “almost a recklessness” to Anselm’s writing. For Michael A. Farmer, the creation of art is an intuitive process that he also hopes viewers will emulate. Farmer describes his relief print “Intuition” as “an uneven, scarred matrix symbolizing the matrix of intuitive and a posteriori, or empirical, knowledge that characterizes human living.” William Turnage’s perceptive translations of Paul Valéry showcase the French poet’s own re-making of the world around him in light of the Western heritage. “Objects,” Turnage notes in introducing us to Valéry’s poems, “though they remain the same (or seemingly the same) as the objects of ordinary perception, are brought into a new harmony with the whole of our psychic sensibilities. While we all experience these states at fortuitous times, the office of the poet is to induce such a state through the use of language.”

We are not all Cowanites at the University of Dallas. Nor are we all Catholics. The university, however, is intentionally so, according to Richard J. Dougherty in his closing essay specifically focused on UD’s undergraduate Core Curriculum. Dougherty traces the early resistance of American Catholic universities, which actively sought to foster growth in intellectual and moral virtue, to a wholly elective curriculum such as that adopted by Harvard in the late nineteenth century. The animating principle of UD’s undergraduate Core is that “truth in fact does exist, and that we are called to pursue that truth. That is, there is something we identify as intellectual virtue, and it is a quality of mind that we ask all students to assimilate into their own make-up.” The Core develops from there: “One looks for those [works] that give the fullest and deepest insights into our focal points—God, man, and nature.” Although the University of Dallas is intentionally Catholic, many non-Catholic seekers also find a home here—perhaps even more so for graduate students in Braniff than for undergraduates in Constantine College—specifically because UD’s Catholicism frees it from the chains of prevailing ideologies and orients it towards the pursuit of wisdom and truth. Here, all-comers are free to drink deeply from the Western intellectual tradition—what Louise Cowan calls our “long heritage of wisdom concerning human nature.” We, the editors of the fourth issue of Ramify, hope that this is readily evident in the present collection.

Franz S. Klein
Editor in Chief
Feast of St. Isidore the Farmer

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