Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Restoring the Seven-Storied Tower"

Our Lady of the Annunciation
A Catholic Cultural Legacy- by Br. Phillip Anderson, Abbot [Part 1]

From August 11th to 14th, 2011, Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey, in Hulbert, Oklahoma, hosted the John Senior Colloquium.  More than two hundred attended the Colloquium during which a number of conferences and other addresses  were presented.  We have collected in this book the written texts of the principal interventions.  The entire Colloquium was recorded (audio) and can be purchased in MPG3 format from Clear Creek Abbey (www.clearcreekmonks.org).

In Plato’s famous—and no doubt greatest—dialogue, the Republic, there is a telling moment, when Glaucon, who is discussing with Socrates the ideal form of government as an image of the just man’s soul, makes a rather shrewd comment, saying:

You mean the city whose establishment we have described, the city whose home is in the ideal, for I think that it can be found nowhere on earth (IX, 592).

This could have been the critique that demolished in an instant the whole thrust of Socrates’ line of reasoning, since a perfect city existing merely in the ideal, but not in reality, would have little importance in the end.  But Socrates, far from being disconcerted by Glaucon’s observation, --on the contrary--makes use of it as a platform from which to raise the dialogue to heights hitherto unattained.  His reply seems almost to anticipate the Christian view of things held by a Saint Augustine, not to mention Saint John in the Apocalypse:

Well…perhaps there is a pattern of it laid up in heaven for him who wishes to contemplate it and so beholding to constitute himself its citizen (ibid.).

            In many ways the Catholic cultural ideal expounded so brilliantly by John Senior after his conversion to the Church, especially during the years of the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program (later simply the Integrated Humanities Program, or “IHP”), was like the Republic described by Socrates: to be found “nowhere on earth”.  How many of his students, having become teachers at some level once they graduated from the University of Kansas, set themselves courageously to implementing the principles of education they had learned from him, without ever quite succeeding in re-creating the enchantment of the IHP?  How many heroic but tragic (or, perhaps, comic) failures occurred as others strove to establish the true Catholic village, in the wilds of Canada or in rural America?  Nor have we monks attained the ideal once set down by John Senior, when he declared with all the seriousness in the world that “real monks should only ride donkeys”.
            However, the very fact of your presence here tonight bears witness to the many fruits that the teaching of John Senior has borne, even if the earthly realization never equaled the “pattern of it laid up in heaven”.  As we look back now, forty years ago exactly, to the official opening of the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas, we can, perhaps, make a certain assessment of all that has been accomplished through the work of “Dr. Senior” (as we respectfully and affectionately used to call him), the teacher and the man of profound faith.  The ever-quotable G. K. Chesterton reminds us that “something worth doing is worth doing even badly”.  Thus our poor efforts may have had some purpose after all.
            Of course, to speak of John Senior is to evoke at the same time the other two figures that made up the ineffable triumvirate of the Pearson lectures.  When Mr. Tim McGuire first spoke to me of the possibility of organizing a symposium of some sort centered on John Senior—an idea that corresponded to something I had carried in my heart for some time—Dr. Dennis Quinn was still of this world.  It did not seem appropriate to include in this symposium, or “colloquium” as we finally called it, a man whose waning moments demanded our respectful discretion.  Likewise, the “shade” of Dr. Franklin Nelick might have taken offence somehow (Heaven help us!) should we have dared to include him without his inseparable Dennis.  So we are gathered here for several days to appreciate the legacy of John Senior, but the other two, both united with him now—as we firmly hope—in that “upper pub” we call Heaven, will in no way be left out of the conversation.

If you do not know me, I am Father Abbot Philip Anderson.  On behalf of all the monks of Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey, I welcome you to this John Senior Colloquium, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the official beginning of the Pearson Integrated Humanities Program, that great educational “adventure in tradition” as it has been called, whose first regular class began in September of 1971 at the University of Kansas.  As you know from the program you received, these days are organized around seven principal lectures, two colloquia (discussion groups: from the Latin cum, loqui, “speak together”) and several other presentations and events that you will discover with joy as we proceed.  It is my hope that many other discussions—outside those planned—will occur as we go forward.

Although I am not here to present anything quite so learned as a lecture, I would like, in all simplicity, to touch upon some of the aspects of John Senior’s legacy that would seem to have a particular importance.  In so doing it is my hope to “open the door” as it were for all that will follow, like the monk who greets the pilgrims and guests at the monastery gate, according to the Rule of Saint Benedict.

No comments:

Post a Comment