Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Radde-Gallwitz on Divine Simplicity

Another fine book I've just finished is Andrew Radde-Gallwitz's Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity

I first became interested in the doctrine of simplicity a couple of months ago, in connexion with a number of other things. I've really been enjoying the books in the Oxford Early Christian Studies series - they are all top-notch. So I picked up this one to explore a bit deeper as to how simplicity functions for some of the Fathers.

First, let me say that RG writes with great clarity in a fairly tricky field. The arguments that occupy his book involve complex Greek debates over theology, language, and ontology. RG's main line of argument is to reject Christopher Stead's over-simplification (!) and dichotomisation between (a) the identity thesis, and (b) radical apophaticism.

The first couple of chapters look at figures such as Ptolemy, Marcion, Clement of Alexandria, Dionysius of Alexandria, etc.. I'm going to pass over them to focus on the later chapters which deal in depth with Aetius, Eunomius, Basil, and Gregory of Nyssa.

In picking up the argument with Aetius, the debate of the late 4th century with the Heterousians becomes very clear through RG's treatment. For Aetius, and Eunomius after him, 'ingenerate' names God's essence, and so we get a version of the identity thesis. The identity thesis is simply that God is his attributes, self-same and identical. For Eunomius, building on Aetius, this means that all God's attributes must be synonymous, since language and ontology must map 1-to-1. So, since ingenerate names God's essence, all other attributes of God are synonymous to ingeneracy. For Eunomius the alternatives are dire: an inability to say anything about God. To know God is to know his essence.

Basil's response is to chart a course between total apophaticism and Eunomius' identity thesis. Basil makes a number of moves. Firstly, he believes that language about God is fixed by common usage firstly, so that (contra Eunomius), 'father' is not a case of homonyms, two separate words in the case of God and humanity, but rather 'father' is applied with the same meaning to God and to humans, yet it also must be 'purified' of creaturely connotations. Further, Basil underlines a number of distinctions that preserve knowledge about God without requiring that we know the 'whatness', the essence of God.

Basil's distinctions destroy the ability of 'ingeneracy' to name God's essence, by showing that it is a relative term, which never names essences. Furthermore, he develops an account of propria, those things which properly belong and identify a thing, without being definitional, partitional, or complementary. That is, God's goodness does not define, nor constitute, nor go to making up, nor function as a predicate complement, to God's essence, but is a coextensive property not destructive of simplicity.

Moving into Gregory's defence of Basil, RG does a great job of teasing out the distinctives and the contributions. Gregory takes up Basil's account of conceptualisations, also key, which is a way of speaking about our understanding of God without either denoting the essence of God, or engaging in sheer fiction. That is, conceptualisations are second-order reflections on primary truths about God, primarily revealed through scripture, that allow us to make distinctions that exist conceptually, even where such distinctions do not exist ontologically in the simplicity of God.

Part of Gregory's work is to develop an account of Basil's propria as 'the goods', the unmixed and unlimited virtues that are God's idiomata, which are mutually entailing and so also co-extensive. This involves a more detailed treatment of true and false goods for humanity as well.

I fear I have not given a good account of RG's work. He is clearer than I am, by far. What is particularly enjoyable is that clarity, and to see how Gregory of Nyssa in particular develops Basil and provides a strong case for simplicity which involves a philosophical complexity that avoids total apophaticism, as well as the identity thesis of Eunomius, which is a hyper-rationalist account of Christianity that destroys orthodoxy. The Cappadocians' work is not always appreciated in its depth and nuance, and this fine volume goes someway to correcting this. It also helped me understand Eunomius a lot better, which is important for my thesis in other ways.

Weinandy on Impassibility, III

It has been some time between drinks on this series. We are looking at Weinandy's Does God Suffer?
Posts one and two.

In chapter 8 of his book, Weinandy turns to an examination of the Incarnation in relation to impassibility. Those who adopt a passibilist position effectually make the suffering of God ahistorical, and thus render the cross meaningless.

Weinandy's theological starting point is to spend considerable time exploring the significance of the communicatio idiomatum (the communication of properties). For Weinandy, The C.I. embeds this statement: "Jesus is one ontological entity, and the one ontological entity that Jesus is is the one person of the divine Son of God existing as a complete and authentic man." (p174), and every christological heresy departs from both this proposition and from the C.I.

In particular, Weinandy contests that it is misapplication of the analogy of soul-body union in the human person that leads to many of these difficulties; furthermore, it's a misunderstanding of Cyril of Alexandria that is similarly problematic. The effect of Weinandy's reading becomes apparent on p201. Who is that suffers? The Divine Son. In what manner does he suffer? As man. The unity of the natures undergirds that it is the person of the Son who suffers, the distinction of the natures undergirds that the Impassible God suffers in his assumed (taken-to-himself) human-nature.

If the Son suffered in his divine nature (p204), the incarnation was pointless; If the impassible Son suffers in his divine nature, then the Godhead is diminished; yet it is fully in the human existential 'I' that the one person of the Son lives, and so suffers.

This leads into chapter 9, which is Weinandy's attempt to work out the redemptive nature of Christ's sufferings. Again he is covering a large amount of biblical material. Most of it quite well in my opinion. Firstly he explores how Christ suffers the necessary, intrinsic, inevitable consequences of sin: death and separation from God. Furthermore, Jesus' death is not a mere experiencing of our condemnation, but an atoning suffering, which effects reconciliation to God for us. I am not convinced entirely at this point, at which Weinandy argues that sin itself demands the sacrifice, and denies a doctrine of propiation for one of expiation. Simultaneous with his death as death for sin, is the putting to death of sinful humanity, which Jesus assumed in his incarnation, which death (and resurrection) makes possible our re-creation as human persons to an unfallen (fallen yet restored) nature in the New Creation.

For Weinandy, the Resurrection firstly establishes the Father's love for the Son. Impassibility will mean that the Father suffers no deprivation, no evil, in the death of Jesus. Indeed the scriptures speak more plainly of the Father's joy in the Son's obedient death, than grief. Further, the resurrection is the vindication of the Son, and the manifestation of the new creation, the new and complete humanity that is in Christ, which then makes possible the new provision of the age of the Spirit.

Chapter 10 rounds out Weinandy's book nicely, as he explores the significance of our sufferings as well. I do not agree with all that he writes in this chapter, as he draws on Roman Catholic ecclesiology and sacramentology. Nonetheless, I believe his basic thrust is correct: "The mystery of the Father’s response to the mystery of human suffering." (p243), and so human suffering only becomes explicable in light of the Son's human suffering and death. Furthermore incorporation and unity in Christ makes in some sense his suffering ours, and our suffering his. All of which is triumphed over in the cross, so that the Cross is the "Glory of Man". Those who hold to a passible God, in Weinandy's view, have so contained God that their understanding of human suffering can only ever be that of the passive victim. Rather, the suffering of the Impassible God in the cross has "salvific significance" (p281), and so our suffering is transformed by that suffering.

In conclusion, let me say that it was a real pleasure to read Weinandy's book. Almost every chapter delivered a sense of clarity and epiphany to me, as I realised how true this doctrine rings, and how sweetly it sings of God's great sovereignty, goodness, love, and redemption. In a few weeks I'm scheduled to preach at the college chapel, and impassibility will be the theme of my sermon. I will perhaps post some notes to accompany that also.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Post #352

If it's not obvious by now, I mainly blog because when I have ideas in my head, it's best for them to find expression. That could be a sermon or it could be a written exposition, it's rarely conversation (that's not my temperament!). So blogging helps me process my thoughts into communication.

I like to keep some kind of tab on who wanders past here. Mainly for curiosity's sake. I'm always intrigued by weird search terms that land people here, or unusual countries.

With the rise and rise of RSS-readers, it's hard to know who's reading these days. People are not likely to comment in passing, as I myself know - there's 156 feeds on my reader and I rarely take the time to follow a link to the site proper and leave my opinion. Only things that get me going, one way or the other, get that level of interaction.

Which leaves the blogging experience with a kind of shouting in space feel. I'm aware that there are more readers than I can place a finger on, and there must be regular readers, and some of them I even know, in one way or another. But it's the most amorphous kind of audience to write for.

All of which essentially to say, I hope you enjoy, or benefit from, the words that pass along here. And if you'd just like to say hi, this is the post for that. Carry on, then.

Brief summary of current side-projects

It's certainly one of my sometimes unhelpful proclivities to take on side projects. At present I can think of 3 that I am seriously working on:

1. The Gregory Nazianzus reader. Trying to create a reader's version of the 5 Theological Orations. Currently I'm working through the list of all words, and condensing them by noting down their frequency. This is rather time consuming. Anyway, it's a good project and I look forward to the next few stages. I also don't mind data-crunching mechanical work that much.

2. McGuffey Readers. I only started this the other day. The idea is to translate the Eclectic Readers of McGuffey into both Greek and Latin. Already it's proven to be beneficial to myself. Learning words for cat, hen, etc., and thinking through some translation issues. I expect as the complexity of texts increases that it will be both more personally beneficial, and of greater use to others.

3. The Greek Colloquial handbook project (that I mentioned in the last post). This too I've just started, but I think it will be a really useful resource. I'm hoping it can serve as a bit of a basis for working on Greek conversation with people.

All of which takes time that I don't have a lot of. I try and refrain from doing any of this during my 8-4:30 study day, so that I can that time focused on study and thesis-work.

Here are some additional projects I'm contemplating:

4. I'd really like to take up podcasting again. I think I'd pick up Rouse's Greek Boy and start recording readings from it again, probably with a Buthian Reconstructed-Koine Pronunciation.
5. Beyond that, it would be good to record podcasts to go with Kendrick as well.
6. Thirdly in the podcast realm, writing 5 minute scripts and recording one of those per week would be another beneficial work. This might have to follow on from project 3 above.

7. Lingua Latina, Greek style, would be something of a holy grail. I'm aware (though haven't seen), the Italian Athenaze. Rouse's Greek boy comes close. But if we had a genuine Greek text built on the same principle as Oerberg's LL, its usefulness would be astounding. As it is, anyone interested in Attic as a living language has to try and gather together a half-dozen (excellent, let me be clear) resources and make the most of them. 'Lingua Graeca' would be a complete course, something one could teach from, all in Greek. Some adjustments might need to be made (it's relatively easy for a Latin-alphabet-using-language-speaker to pick up LL and get started, the Greek alphabet and pronunciation are a little more of a stumbling block. Audio would be an essential complement)

Okay, enough dreaming for now.

Latin to Greek?

Is anyone aware of a Latin-to-Greek Lexicon? I've done a little bit of searching, but no success so far.

I've started working on a very helpful document. It's basically a Latin conversational guide, arranged topically, with exercises and so forth. A teaching document really. Anyway, I'm trying to port it across to Greek, because there are so few Greek resources of this kind. This is not the only kind of Latin->Greek work I have been trying my hand at. That's why a Latin-to-Greek lexicon would be really helpful. Sure, I can go Latin->English->Greek, but it's more cumbersome and often there is a closer overlap between Greek words and Latin words, that would work better in the texts.

Monday, June 28, 2010

If I ran your languages department

In most universities in Australia, a student normally takes 4 courses per semester, and a language course takes up one of those slots. So a language stream through university is 1/4 of the load, perhaps with some double courses here and there. If you were in a classics major, you'd round that out with extra literature courses, some ancient history, and so on.

Seminaries are a slightly different kettle of fish. Those modelled on universities have to slot languages into the same kind of structure, and so are far less likely to hold a stream of language right through, unless from the 2nd year on they simply integrate it into biblical-exegesis classes.

Back to universities for the time being. Fairly standard for an Arts subject is 3 hours contact time, to be matched nominally (but rarely) by 9 hours of private study. This is the basis for how I'd revise a languages program.

Raise your contact hours to 10.

If comprehensible input is going to be the main driving force of your language acquisition, you need to do everything possible to maximise that input, and raising the contact hours is the first step. It's what's going to let you actually communicate and engage with the language, rather than memorising paradigms at home and doing translation exercises.

So, argue that your languages course should be more like a Science course with labs and pracs and so on, and far less like an Arts course where you can lecture some content and assign some reading.

How are those 10 hours a week going to be filled?

Firstly, the main teacher should pick a text, or write their own, that is going to be adaptable to a communicative model. In Latin, there's no substitute for Oerberg's Lingua Latina. I'd make it the basis of my classes and syllabus. Teach through TPR and TPRS and work through the text, always in Latin.

Secondly, assign reading-labs. Gather a significant amount of graded Latin reading and require students to work through them in their own time, but not as homework. Maybe use or something. The idea is that students should spend two hours or so a week simply reading Latin extensively, without seeking to translate.

Thirdly, employ your second year and third year students to run conversational classes. These should build off the readings and the text/main classes, and look and feel like a modern languages class. Students can be discussing everyday life, a topic, the reading for the week, etc.. In terms of getting 2nd/3rd year students to run them, I'd just block that in as a requirement and part of the hours for the 2nd/3rd year subjects. It will certainly help them develop more communicative fluency, it reduces the main teacher's overwhelming contact hour burden, and they should be far enough ahead of the new students to be teaching them something. 3rd years could run a similar thing for 2nd years. 3rd year students should be able to run their own conversation times.

The final 2 non-contact hours should involve working on assignments, some home composition assignments, and maybe even listening to audio. It isn't so necessary to schedule this time.

With such a course I think you'd move fairly quickly. You should be into reading unadapted but simple original materials in the second semester. By the third semester I'd also set Donatus or Dionysius Thrax as reading, alongside a modern grammar, and be teaching some critical grammatical analysis (since most programs will not want to abandon this). The gains of an acquisition-orientation should pay off in the second half of a 3-year program, with the ability to set much longer texts/portions of texts for study, as well as requiring in language analysis and discussion.

In a seminary I'd readjust the system slightly. I'd assign more Koine reading than in a secular university, and integrate it into the NT courses. In 2nd and 3rd year the Greek reading should be integrated with doctrine as well, and in the right setting that would include Latin (come on you slackers!). Hebrew could undergo the same treatment. Of course, the seminary program is generally overloaded anyway. The student who turns up with some knowledge of Greek and/or Hebrew is off to a flying start.

Probably I've said all this before. Never hurts me to repeat myself (especially on the internet)

Assorted News

I've now recently had two separate individuals contact me to talk about some conversational Attic Greek in Sydney. So, if you're in Sydney, AUS and also interested, now is a good time to come out of the woodwork, and maybe we could form a small group together.

Last week I had the idea to start turning McGuffey's Readers into Greek and Latin. I realise not all will appreciate either the content or tone (I, too), but such a continuous graded public-domain reader makes excellent source material. I've made a start on the first reader, lessons 1-5. I think my plan will be to post them up sequentially over at cotidie, and to make some links available here when I complete major milestones. Feedback will be certainly welcome.

A few more ideas are simmering away in my brain, we'll see what comes out later this week.

Lastly, congratulations to my friends Russ & Aimee, married in Bendigo over the weekend. A lot of driving to be there but it was well worth it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More ideas than time

That is certainly one of my problems. I have about 5 new ideas a day for things to do, and rarely any time to execute them.

1) I notice that there are a stack of neo-latin colloquia over at And some attempt to turn them in to podcasts. That was a good move, but more needs doing in that area.

2) What if we translated the old, and now out-of-copyright, McGuffey Readers into Greek and Latin? That would be a great translation challenge, and produce a huge store of useful reading material, graded, and ready for audio recording.

3) Today I started reading Donatus' Ars Grammatica. It's quite straightforward to read (in the Latin, to be clear). This is how I'd do grammar in a communicative language course: set Donatus (or Dionysius Thrax) as part of the second year of the course, alongside parallel sections of an English-language grammar (a formal grammar, not an introductory one). This is not so much a project as an illustration of how I come up with new things to do.

No new posts for a few days, but will write something more about language learning next week, to be sure.

Krashen’s Hypothesis No. 5: The Affective-Filter Hypothesis

The final hypothesis of Krashen’s basic theory of language acquisition is the Affective-Filter hypothesis which “states that attitudinal variables relating to success in second language acquisition generally relate directly to language acquisition but not necessarily to language learning.” [1]

This is a way of recognising that there are other factors, a Filter, that influence how well a person acquires language when presented with comprehensible input. For instance, a positive attitude towards speakers of the language will lower the filter, while a negative attitude will increase it. A need to function in the language will generally lower the filter, but anxiety and early-forced-production can raise the filter.

A function of the Affective-Filter is that test for aptitude in the area of language tend to test language learning rather than language acquisition. These are not necessarily correlated. For example, a test question that gives you a number of language patterns and their meanings, and allows you to inductively work out the differences, generally reveals a person’s ability to inductively analyse grammar, not their potential to acquire language.

This impacts the general snobbery of classical language students and teachers, who think that only the more capable will succeed in the classical languages. that certainly is true if what we mean by ‘succeed’ is language learning. Those who genuinely thrive on Grammar-Translation are in the minority (and I’m probably one of them which is why I got so far but also why I write about this stuff); that minority though is terribly reinforcing.

No, the evidence of the world at large is that most people, given exposure and enough reason, will learn to function communicatively in a second, third, seventh language even. A fellow student in my graduate program from Africa has about seven languages to his credit, most of which he can function communicatively in. This is not unusual outside the west, and especially outside monoglot-English-language contexts.

Its second consequence is in shaping language courses. Not only should they aim at providing meaningful and interesting comprehensible input as messages, but they should aim to provide a context which works to lower the Affective Filter. In this manner, hypothesis five speaks to language teachers as facilitators of language acquisition, not imparters of conceptualisations.

This concludes my short series looking at the core of Krashen’s work on Second Language Acquisition. I hope it’s been enlightening to you, revealed some of the theoretical framework out of which I operate, and challenged some of your assumptions and methods. Given that this stuff is on my mind at the moment, I imagine you’ll get a few more posts on the topic area in days to come.

For more information on Krashen, the best thing to do is go to his website. He has several books readable online that outline this theory in more depth. The address is:

Earlier posts in this series:
Hypothesis 1
Hypothesis 2
Hypothesis 3
Hypothesis 4

[1] Krashen, S & Terrell, T. The natural approach : language acquisition in the classroom Oxford [Oxfordshire] ; New York : Pergamon Press ; San Francisco : Alemany Press, 1983. p37-8

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Krashen’s Hypothesis No. 4: The Input Hypothesis

90% of the effort you’ve spent on biblical languages was a waste of time.

If not more.

Sure, I do like to start with controversial statements. But as we turn to hypothesis 4, which is at the heart of Krashen’s theory, that is again the conclusion you should come to. The Input Hypothesis, “states simply that we acquire (not learn) language by understanding input that is a little beyond our current level of (acquired) competence.” [1]

This goes back to “the central hypothesis of the theory is that language acquisition occurs in only one way: by understanding messages.” [2]

If the Acquisition/Learning distinction is true, and the Input hypothesis is true, then most of that time spent memorising paradigms, rote-learning vocabulary, and translating to and from Greek, has contributed meagrely, if at all, to acquisition. That is why you don’t know any Greek, and that is why you probably never will. You’ve been wasting your time.

You haven’t been wasting your time if your aim was to learn grammar and do grammatical analysis!

Okay, but that aside, any hope of becoming proficient in Latin rests on being exposed regularly to Latin at a level that is just a bit beyond what you already know. This goes for both reading and listening (notice that it is only Input, not Output, that contributes to acquisition. There may be important reasons (indeed, I believe there are) for having speaking and writing in language programs, but they do not themselves contribute to acquisition).

Krashen puts it helpfully like this. If our language competency is at level i, then we need exposure, comprehensible input, at i + 1. Simple, brilliantly simple. If we get i + 10, we will be bewildered. This is why deep-end immersion is not so helpful. If we get i + zero, we don’t get anything new (though reinforcement is important too!).

How do we understand the +1, since it’s new? In two ways: we either gain an understanding of it by context or by extra-linguistic information.

Context is a great help. Whether it’s context within a conversation or within a passage, the flow of communication builds up our expectations about what it could mean, and often gives us enough information to figure it out. Extra-linguistic information covers a range of things: non-verbal clues, actions, pictures, activities, and so on. I would also say that glosses and translation also count as ‘extra-linguistic’ because they are pieces of information outside the language that is being acquired. This is why the Grammar-Translation method does produce some acquisition: translation is one, albeit poor, way of rendering input comprehensible.

What does this mean for the classical languages? That if our aim is acquisition, then our methods must aim for comprehensible input of increasing complexity. We do best to read things we mostly understand and can figure out the unknown. We’d be greatly aided if we had monologues, dialogues, and conversations in which we heard the language spoken and used. All these would contribute to language acquisition. If, however, we prefer to stick to paradigms and grammars, and analysis, we will continue to get what we have always got from this method: grammarians who can barely read the text and pastors whose language died in the summer after seminary.

Hypothesis 1
Hypothesis 2
Hypothesis 3

[1] Krashen, S & Terrell, T. The natural approach : language acquisition in the classroom Oxford [Oxfordshire] ; New York : Pergamon Press ; San Francisco : Alemany Press, 1983. p32.
[2] Krashen, p1.

Krashen’s Hypothesis No. 3: The Monitor Hypothesis

Krashen's third hypothesis helps us understand how Acquisition and Learning fit together in communication. It says "that when we produce utterances in a second language, the utterance is 'initiated' by the acquired system, and our conscious learning only comes into play later." [1]

How does this break down? When I want to communicate in Greek, it is the language that I have acquired that creates the speech. This is more obviously so in the case of spoken language production than written, but it is still the case in the latter. The 'Monitor' is my brain working to bring to bear language learning, that is my formal, conscious, explicit knowledge of the language's grammar.

So when I think ἔστι παῖς Ἑλληνικός ἐν τῇ στοᾷ it is what I have acquired that produces the utterance. The Monitor comes into play only when three conditions are met:

1. I must have sufficient time to use the Monitor. In free-flowing conversation this is rarely possible. If I attempt to use language learning in conversation I will have to mentally compose all my thoughts before speaking them, and the conversation will become slow and stilted. Alternatively, I may speak utterances, and then correct myself as I apply the Monitor post-utterance.

2. I must apply consciousness to form to use the Monitor. That is, rather than thinking about 'what' I am communicating, I must turn my attention to 'how' I am communicating. When I am doing composition exercises this is often the case - I will write down the Greek, and then rearrange or alter forms to be more grammatically correct or stylistically pleasing.

3. I must know the appropriate rule. That is, unless I know the rule, I can't correct myself. For example, unless I know, explicitly, that third person plural neuters in Greek regularly take a singular verb, I can't apply that to my utterances. If I have acquired that structure in Greek, I may intuitively do it, or I may feel intuitively that it feels right that way, but if I don't know the rule excplitly then my Monitor cannot apply it.

Point 3 helps to explain one phenomenon typically viewed as First language interference. When we don't know how to do something in a language, we will often attempt to supply the structure from our 1st language. This may succeed communicatively, especially if the rule is the same in the two languages, or if the speaker of the other language is familiar with our 1st language and so understands the structure we are trying to apply. Personally I have had this kind of interference across Indo-European and particularly Romance languages. When trying to think Latin if I don't know something then often the Spanish will intrude to supply the lack.

Clearly the Monitor interferes with language as communication. Yet it is not without its purpose. It is best and properly applied when composing written communication or prepared speech. Those are occasions when we do want to pay attention to form, have the time to do so, and either know, or can check, the rules.

How does this apply to classical languages? Most study programs are designed to build up language learning, and thus to equip the Monitor to do its job. Rarely, however, does such study lead to better acquisition, only to the illusion of acquisition.

Hypothesis 1
Hypothesis 2

[1] Krashen, S & Terrell, T. The natural approach : language acquisition in the classroom Oxford [Oxfordshire] ; New York : Pergamon Press ; San Francisco : Alemany Press, 1983. p30.

A course I'd be content with

Sorry for all the posting, my brain is just abuzz today. So much content is locked up and copyrighted and inaccessible. I really detest this. What I want, and what I think we need, is this:

A complete course from A to Z. That is aimed at communicative competency (or language acquisition). It should begin with the very simplest of language, and proceed to the most sophisticated, which is in the end what most students of classical texts will want to read.

It should have a course booklet that is self-contained, consists primarily of the target language, and involves a long connected prose with elements of dialogue as well. The main aim always is to provide input.

It should break down into readily digestible units.

It should have accompanying audio.

The booklet should be open-sourced and so freely downloadable and copyable. A publication option should also be available.

Similarly the audio should come in discrete mp3 units downloadable as a free podcast. A cd-option could also be made available.

Such a course would not be a cure-all. It would be a real step forward though. I realise there are many steps in this direction that exist. Oerberg’s Lingua Latina is a great example. The republication of Rouse’s Greek Boy is also very welcome. Millner’s vast work on the Latinum project deserves mention. The excellent materials by Randall Buth. Rico’s Polis course. But nothing is quite where I think things should be at. I realise, too, that the labour I propose is a vast undertaking, and not likely to be achieved any time soon. Of course, but one problem is that to take the time to construct such a course, most will require compensation (I, too, require money to eat), and yet it is precisely the inaccesibility of resources and their deficiencies that places us in this position of desideratum anyway.

Give me a grant and a year and I’d produce such a course. I’d do Latin and Greek side-by-side too.

A Modest Proposal: Podcasts and Vodcasts for Comprehensible Input

Perhaps the greatest deficiency for the student wishing to acquire a communicative facility in a classical language is the paucity of materials for reading and listening which are (a) interesting, (b) pitched at a comprehensible level, (c) audio, (d) relate to everyday life.

(a) needs to be considered, because if it doesn’t engage as subject matter, we will be utterly bored

(b) needs to be considered, since we can only acquire what is comprehensible or made comprehensible. If things are too complex, we will understand too little, if they are too simple, we will gain too little

(c) needs to be considered, because listening is a vital input and skill, and classical languages are not readily spoken

(d) needs to be considered, since a communicative facility must not only deal with intricate theology, but with passing the pepper and salt

One way to overcome this would be for interested parties to commit to recording audio tracks and videos in the target languages, and making them freely available. If we had a real wealth of these materials, then students could listen/watch them and gain hours and hours of comprehensible input which would aid greatly in producing language acquisition.

As for materials, since these are recordings they would not need to be ex tempore, which allows us to hold a better standard of quality of language. I propose two options:

(1) Some recorders could source their materials from the numerous Colloquia produced especially by the Humanists. These are mainly Latin, I realise, but they give a good starting basis. They could be expanded also. As for Greek, we might need to dig a little deeper for sources, or we could even consider translating some Latin colloquia into good standard ancient Greek.

(2) Others with perhaps more time could compose original pieces, say 500 words a piece, and record these. This would allow more topical, and more contemporary, compositions.

As an example, perhaps you’d look briefly at the BBC’s “Letter to Learners” and “The Little Letter”, which are both 5-minute weekly productions aimed at Scottish Gaelic learners. They consist of the 5-minute audio, and an accompanying transcript that has both the text of what is said, as well as notes on constructions and vocabulary. This allows both reading, listening, and comprehension of more difficult parts. The Little Letter is a simplified version of the Letter to Learners. (I realise most people interested in classical languages are not equally interested in Gaelic, but it provides a good example for us).

If not one person, but several, committed to doing this, we would make great strides in promoting a revival of communicative practices in classical languages.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Grammar for Grammar's sake

This is kind of an adjunct to my post on Krashen's Hypothesis 1: The Acquisition/Learning Distinction.

If one accepts the Acquisition/Learning distinction, then it forces a choice, though perhaps not an exclusive one, on pedagogical issues. Is the student going to aim for language learning or language acquisition? Is a course of language instruction aiming at learning or acquisition?

I want to say that this is a very valid question. It is, for instance, one very valid reason that seminaries might decide (most have decided by default by not considering the question) to teach language learning. If the aim is to produce students who have a competent grasp of Greek (or Hebrew, but I'll keep talking about Greek in particular) grammar, competent enough that they can carry out grammatical analyses of New Testament texts with the use of appropriate tools (computer or paper), then by all means they should construct a curriculum that encourages language learning so that students excel at grammar.

However, let's be clear, only a very small percentage of students will come out of a grammar-focused language learning course, and be able to go on to read Greek with any degree of ease or fluency. And, more often that not I'd wager, that ability has more to do with extra-curricular effort or extended time working on exactly that skill.

If you wanted students to come out of a course of language instruction with an ability to communicate in the language, and this would include reading extended texts in Greek without continual recourse to grammatical analysis or even to lexica, then a course aimed at language acquisition is what you should aim for. Of course, one may ask, "Is there any value in a seminary graduate being able to read biblical texts fluently in their original languages?" To which the answer should be obvious, "Much, in every way."

One doesn't need a technical Greek meta-language to conduct close reading and analysis of Greek texts, if one has acquired Greek rather than learnt it. Doesn't need, I say, but certainly is aided. A mastery of grammar that is additional or complementary to an acquisition of Greek is not to be slighted. Furthermore, grammar can serve to make the language more comprehensible (hypothesis 4), and to aid the Monitor (hypothesis 3).

There is, of course, the option of teaching grammar in the target language. Greek grammar in Greek for instance. This can serve double duty: increasing comprehensible input for acquisition while also teaching for language learning through explicit grammar.

All of which is to say, don't write off grammar. Just recognise grammar for what it is: a technical metalanguage that is very, very useful for analysis of texts, but not an efficient method for language acquisition.

Thoughts on Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions

It took me longer than I anticipated, but I've finally finished up reading David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies.

Sadly the length of reading means my sense of the whole is a little blurred. The best thing for you, really, is to go and read it. Things I appreciated in the book:

- Challenging the historical 'accounts' that the New Atheism gives about various things, including the myth of 'Reason' triumphing over 'Superstition', the genesis of Science, various historical misconceptions.
- Hart's devastating use of language and overall dismissal of Neo-Atheists as rather contemptible
- A compelling account about how Christianity impacted Antiquity on some very fundamental levels, reconceiving our whole understanding of the world, so that our world now can never be non-Christian, but at best post-Christian. Hart's argument is that atheism's whole edifice of secular rationalism is built upon the changes that Christianity wrought in society.
- A likewise compelling account of how the 'Age of Reason' was really the ascendency of the freedom of the will as the driving value of secularism. That we live in an age where freedom is seen as the freedom of the will from all limitations, so that our ultimate criterion for anything simply becomes the will: a kind of unlimited nihilism. This rings very true.
- Hart's closing contemplations of what the post-Christian West might look like: banality, nihilism, and a 'rationalism' without constraints.

Krashen’s Hypothesis No. 2: The Natural Order Hypothesis

"The natural order hypothesis...states that, in general certain structures tend to be acquired early and to be acquired late." [1]

The Natural Order Hypothesis is one of the most difficult to accept for those who have done a large amount of Language Learning. Essentially it is saying that for each language, there is a generally predictable order in which grammatical structures will be acquired (not learnt, remember hypothesis 1). This order is a natural order, and so it does not normally correspond to the incremental grammar that typifies most courses of language instruction.

Krashen says that the research confirms natural order for children learning a 1st language, children learning a 2nd language, and adults learning a 2nd language. To the extent that that research is correct (it's well beyond my competency in the field), that is pervasive.

Remember, this is about acquisition. So a grammar test is not the kind of test that shows what has been acquired (see hypothesis 3). Rather, this order shows up when you do communicative tests and see what the learner uses naturally and what they understand but don't use and what they don't understand.

The hypothesis is not saying that this order is invariable for language students. There will be both individual variation among students, as well as variation based on what structures are regularly used in the acquisition environments.

The Natural Order hypothesis presents a real difficulty for classical languages. There is no real way to conduct the research needed to see what structures of Latin are acquired early or late. However, a recognition of this insurmountable (for the foreseeable future) difficulty could lead to a more ready acceptance of the alternative.

Krashen argues that instead of structuring the syllabus around incremental grammar, one should simply structure it around topics of conversation and communication. Especially things of immediate or everyday importance. This engages higher levels of interest (hypothesis 5) in the students, rather than a self-conscious focus on the grammar (hypothesis 3).

The Natural Order hypothesis flies in the face of most structured grammar courses, whether Grammar-Translation or Inductive-Reading. It's implications are difficult to accept, especially for classical languages, and it may be simply that we are not in a position to utilise this knowledge for language acquisition as effectively as we might hope.

Hypothesis 1

[1] Krashen, S & Terrell, T. The natural approach : language acquisition in the classroom Oxford [Oxfordshire] ; New York : Pergamon Press ; San Francisco : Alemany Press, 1983.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Index Post to Conversational Dead Languages

Just indexing the earlier posts in this topic area


Krashen’s Hypothesis No. 1: The Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis

You don’t know Greek and probably never will. That’s the conclusion you should reach about most seminary Greek programs, including your own, by the end of this post.

In this series of 5 posts I am going to outline for you the 5 major hypotheses that make up Stephen Krashen’s contribution to Second Language Acquisition theory, and apply them to classical languages. My aim is that I can present these hypothesis in a way that is understandable, that their implications will be clear, and that the need for change becomes more evident.

The first of these is the Acquisition/Learning Hypothesis. This hypothesis is the articulation of a distinction between Language Acquisition and Language Learning. Acquisition is understood to be the gaining of communicative ability in the second language. To apply this to the 4 skills, it means the ability to read and hear input in the second language and understand what is being said/what has been written, and conversely to speak and write output in the second language that a native/fluent speaker would hear/read as meaningful communication faithful to the student’s intent.

Language Learning, on the other hand, is a conscious knowledge of the grammar of the Language. It is knowing the rules of morphology and syntax. It is knowledge about the language, not knowledge of the language. It is explicit where acquisition is implicit.

This distinction does not necessarily imply a value judgment on the two. For certain purposes and certain goals, language learning is exactly what people might aim at. If your purpose is linguistics or grammatical analysis or so on, then language learning is exactly what you require. However, it is a mistake to think that language learning is language acquisition.

And when most people ask the question, “Do you know Spanish?” (for instance), they rarely mean, “Are you educated in Spanish grammar?”, they mean, “Can you speak/read/write/understand Spanish?”

Now, Ancient Greek is just such a language. It no longer has, in that historical form, native speakers, but it certainly meets the criteria for a language. So why do you suppose that the question, “Do you know Ancient Greek?” should differ in meaning from the above question? It is not the language that changes what people mean, only the historical and academic context of the question. This is easily revealed when you talk to the ‘uninitiated’ about your study of Greek – they often query whether you can hold a conversation in Attic, to which you fumble some reply about studying texts and not buying milk at the shops.

Most courses in ancient languages, and many in modern ones, follow a Grammar-Translation method, or an Inductive-Reading method (also heavily grammatical), whose aims are primarily to teach grammar, and so aid Language Learning, and only incidentally and poorly contribute to Language Acquisition. That means that unless you happen to be in a few rare places, or have invested significant efforts of your own, both to understanding this problem and gaining an alternative remedy, then what you’ve done is Learnt about Greek, not Acquired Greek.

And so, for today, I conclude: You don’t know Greek, and (the odds are) you probably never will.

p.s. Before you despair, I promise to point to some remedies in future posts.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

multi-directional lexica

I'm essentially thinking out loud (or online) in this post.

What I would really like is to have a program that was a multi-lingual lexicon. So, one would have multiple sets of data.

Set A:
single entry English matched to a series of glosses, in Latin (for example). ie, an English-Latin lexicon.
Set B:
single entry Latin matched to a series of English glosses. ie, a Latin-English lexicon.

For my main purposes, I only really need English-X and X-English, but there's no reason other lexica couldn't be incorporated. The program simply needs to be able to sort the data sets appropriately, and switch between them. And then one requires a search function that will accept unicode. Probably the ability to ignore accents in Greek would be helpful.

I imagine (in my programming naivety) that structurally this would not be difficult to implement. Ideal would be if the user could add their own datasets. There are then a number of older lexicons in the public domain, it would be a matter of digitising them appropriately. Woodhouse for English->Greek; Smith for English->Latin, for instance.

In Kalendas!

I am pleased to follow up Roger Pearse's announcement, and say that my translation of Chrysostom's In Kalendas (On the New Year) is finished, online, and public domain.

It's quite an interesting sermon too, I think. The latter half of it a discussion of how everything can be done 'for God's sake', and Chrysostom examines all manner of activities in this light. This contrasts with his satirical attack of the superstitions of NY practised by the Antiochenes in the first half. A good read all round.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Latin-Greek, and the Greek everyday

Excited to come across two volumes today:

A Greek-Latin Lexicon
Baird Robert's out-of-copyright Greek-English word-list: 1000 words arranged in helpful groupings.
Of course Google doesn't care that it's out of copyright, if you also happen to be out of the USA.

Very helpful books. very unhelpful google.

How to preach: abstract doctrine?

In my seminary it is traditional for students to preach once at a college chapel, usually during their final year, and that sermon is supposed to be expository.

But as a full time post-graduate student, I get a second shot! So I've been pondering what I might preach on, and my thoughts have led me to consider a difficult question: how do you preach abstract doctrine?

And what I mean by abstract doctrine is that there are some teachings of the scriptures that are more about the very nature of God or the meta-grammar of theology. So, for example, I was contemplating attempting to preach on one of these:

- the doctrine of Simplicity
- the doctrine of Incomprehensibility
- the suffering of the Impassible Son

Expository preaching I know how to do. Even doctrinal preaching I can manage, especially when there are some texts that bear directly on the doctrine. These? I'm not sure how one tackles them in a homilectical setting.

Open to suggestions!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Of many books and the end of the week

I think back in my uni days I used to read maybe one or two books at a time. Now it's more like 20 or 30. This contributes to my usual sense of overwhelmedness.

I had the aforementioned meeting with supervisor today. He seems quite pleased with progress on the thesis. That's a real relief, and I feel like things are all go from here. I'm in quite a good groove study-wise.

Nonetheless I'm forever finding more books to read. Even to get well-grounded in Patristics takes a lot of reading. I wanted to start reading through issues of JECS, but our library has moved to an electronic subscription, and then has failed to implement it properly, so I can't access it!

Train rides are a real blessing in disguise. Assuming I get a seat I have a good chance to read some scripture (in multiple languages), memorise some verses, pray, and now I'm doing a little Commenius and Kendrick reading. Anything and everything to improve those languages!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Progress on several fronts

Thesis: This afternoon I have a supervisor meeting. Hoping it goes well and I get some encouragement. I am now speculating that I could have a draft by the end of July. That would be excellent.

I have finally finished reading Weinandy's "Does God Suffer?", and will put up a few more posts about that in the next week or so. There is a lot of really good theologising in there.

I've also finally (and it's taken far longer!) read through the second volume of Hans Oerberg's Lingua Latina, "Roma Aeterna". Towards the end there were things I wasn't really making sense of. Reading Latin is in some ways harder than reading Greek, I think. Anyway, I will lay it aside and read some Vergil for awhile.

My Patristic reading schedule is currently Augustine's Confessions (manageable), and Ignatius' Letters (excruciating). I'm not particularly fond of Ignatius. His desire for martyrdom is, in my opinion, psychologically warped and not in line with the NT presentation of martyrdom. This morning I was reading his letter to the Romans, ch 5, and he is just out of control!

Lastly, I'm getting close to finishing Bentley-Hart's "Atheist Delusions". It's an excellent read. I'll try and post some thoughts on it once I'm done. It's good enough that I'm thinking of breaking budget to buy a copy for the years to come.

Also, I've stuffed-up my home laptop, which is why the Latin diary entries over at cotidie have dried up. Hope to get back into that practice soon. I did manage to sit in a seminar the other day and take my notes in Latin. Would like to get my Greek up to that point too.

Okay, back to work.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Next stage on the Gregory reader

With some time on my hands tonight I managed to get some more work done on the Gregory reader project. I've formatted the electronic text I have which, and produced an alphabetised word list. The next stage for me is to compress the word list by frequency, and match inflected forms to lexical forms. This will give me a master vocab list for the orations. Of course, the real work is still to come, when I move on from annotating vocabulary to writing commentary notes. Still, good to get things moving forward a little.

Notes from a day-off

It's a public holiday here in Australia. Normally I try and work public holidays, mainly because I don't gain much by delaying everything by a day and my work garners no money anyway. Alas, over the long weekend I have had a cold and not been feeling particularly wonderful, so today I decided to try and work from home.

In doing so I've marked a set of exams for my Church History course. I've also spent a bit of time revising a Chrysostom translation I'm working on. The problem is that sometimes the Greek doesn't make a lot of sense, and I need it to make a little more sense on the English. That project will need a little more time. I've also been trying to remove some of my more unnecessary footnotes on the translation.

A really excellent blog post is How to Get the Most out of Talking to Yourself in Ancient Greek, by Mark Lightman. I wish I had more time to spend on the ning sites for Greek and Latin, among other things. There is also a second excellent discussion here: τί δέον ἐν τῷ γᾶλα; (What's lacking in the word "M.I.L.K"?).

This afternoon I've been working away a little on my multi-language lexicon. The idea is basically to take 600 common words and expressions that are particularly useful for everyday life (frequency! frequency!) and have a spreadsheet that covers them across Latin, Ancient Greek, Classical Hebrew, and Scottish Gaelic. I'm making some good progress today adding entries for Gaelic and Latin. Once I get those lists done, I'll work more systematically through Greek, and probably make a copy available at that point. Hebrew is last on my list (being the weakest link in my language acquistion).

It looks like I have too few students to run my Latin intensive. That is a shame, it would have been good for my Latin to teach an immersion week in the language.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Some advice for tackling a new language

I'm not sure this is either the best nor the only method, but it does have its advantages:

"I took the Gaelic Bible which, from my previous acquaintance with the English, I soon learnt to read. A Gaelic Grammar helped me over the difficulties of flexion. Southey, I remember, somewhere in his diary says, 'that it was his fashion always to commence the study of a new langauge with a version of the New Testament,' and there can be no doubt that to those who know their Bibles there can be no better method proposed. The language of both Gaelic and English versions is classic, and about the best to be had. Let the student read the Gaelic Bible daily, along with the English, and translate the one back into the other alternatively, and this will be a hundred times more efficient than any other method, and will work the language into his head."
- MacLaren, J. MacLaren's Gaelic Self-Taught Gairm: Glasgow, 1992. p168-9

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Thesis: Condescension

This is not an excerpt from my thesis, but is an idea I've been thinking through...

The core of my thesis is to test the data of Chrysostom's sermons on John's Gospel, against the criteria of 9 strategies, largely derived from Lewis Ayres' Nicaea and its Legacy, that correlate to a pro-Nicene hermeneutic. So far I've taken notes on about 40 out of 88 sermons in the corpus, most of which do not touch upon trinitarian texts. In terms of the gospel, I'm about to finish chapter 5. Chrysostom spends much more time preaching on the first chapters than the latter ones. I wonder if he ran out of time in his planned sequence?

I've noticed that Chrysostom uses 'condescension' as an explanatory hermeneutic in a number of places, and not only in sorting out the Economy of the Incarnation. So, for example, in dealing with the Samaritan woman in John 4, Chrysostom is constantly asking, "And why is this said here?", or "Why is it said in this manner?", and so on - evidence in my opinion of Chrysostom's literary-critical exegesis. His answer, more often than not, is that Christ, as do the prophets and the scriptures and the apostles, and God, is accommodating his speech for the purpose of (a) making his teaching more palatable and persuasive, (b) in order to lead his interlocutor from lower conceptions to more sublime conceptions. This is seen further in his treatment of chapter 5, where the accomodation of the discourse is seen in the movement *between* lofty statements of Christ's equality and so forth, and lower statements meant in a more figurative manner. Christ is seen to make his more sublime teachings more acceptable, by first persuading them of less offensive propositions, and then returning to lower statements, so as not to offend them.

I think this trend in Chrysostom is very interesting, since he applies it not only to God's accommodation in general, or in the Economy, but systematically uses it as an hermeneutical principle.

Creative Commons License
This work by Seumas Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.

What it looks like on the ground

This is my morning selection of exercises for language development. I appreciate any feedback you have, but I'm not posting this to make you feel bad or intimidate you! Just to lay out what I do for the curious and perhaps get some suggestions:

Read a 100-word selection in Morice's Stories in Attic Greek
Do an exercise in Hillard and Botting's Elementary Greek Exercises
Spend about 10 minutes working on Randall Buth's Living Koine course
Read a page or so from the Apostolic Fathers (presently Ignatius)
Review a chapter of Mastronarde's introductory grammar to pick up some finer points
Read a chapter of the NT

Do another 10 minutes working on Buth's Hebrew Course
Revise some Hebrew vocab with electronic flashcards
Review material from George Athas's Introductory Hebrew course
Read a small portion from Jonah

Read from Lingua Latina II: Roma Aeterna (almost finished, will move on to Virgil)
Do an exercise in North and Hillard's Latin Prose Composition
Read a portion of Augustine's Confessions
Read a chapter of Exodus from the Vulgate

Work through some material in Ronald Black's Cothrom Ionnsachaidh
Revise some Gaelic vocab
Work through approx 1/4 a chapter in the old Mackinnon Teach Yourself Gaelic

I'm thinking of adding some LXX reading to my program. Once my Gaelic improves I'll do some more listening, reading and writing. Every time I finish something I try and replace it with something similar: grammar for grammar, bible for bible, fathers for fathers, audio for audio.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Whitaker's Words plus Morgan's lexicon

Has anyone compiled a version of Whitaker's Words incorporating the data from David Morgan's phenomenal lexicon of Latin? And if not, why not?

The Poets

J. Piper, inter alios, has convinced me that I should get back to reading more poetry. I've picked up Somhairle MacGill-Eain, one of my favourite poets, and am reading through his work. There's an official website for him these days, so drop by and check him out. 'Hallaig' is the one that got me hooked on him.

Good news on the Gregory reader project

I've managed to source an electronic version of the orations. It's copyrighted, but as I understand it the part of the project I intend it for is well within the terms of use - licensed scholarly work.

In terms of printing and publishing, the google scan of the Migne is probably what I'll run with. Well out of copyright, and the scan seems to be fairly clear. That should keep the project within copyright bounds, and if I proof the electronic version I have against the Migne, well there certainly can't be any true issue with the text of Gregory Nazianzus, well past the expiration of rights for him. Anyway, this means the next stage should be faster than I'd thought, which is good news all round.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Use of the Languages in Academic Documents

Which would you prefer, and why?

1) Quotations in original languages, no translation
2) Quotations in original languages, footnotes translation
3) Quotations in original language, with translation in main body
4) Quotations in translation, original language in footnote
5) Quotations in translation, no original language citation

If it helps to clarify, I mean particularly languages on which the primary work is being done. So, Greek and Hebrew for Biblical works, Greek and Latin for Patristics. I leave it as a secondary question whether French, German, English quotations should be left untranslated or not.

Chrysostom on the dilemma of preaching faithfully with little fruit

Καὶ οἶδα μὲν εἰκῆ λέγων· πλὴν οὐ παύσομαι λέγων. Τοῦτο γὰρ ποιῶν ἀπολογήσομαι τῷ Θεῷ, κἂν μηδεὶς ὁ ἀκούων ᾖ. Ὁ μὲν γὰρ τοῖς προσέχουσι λέγων, ἔχει παραμυθίαν τοῦ λέγειν τὴν πειθὼ τῶν ἀκροωμένων· ὁ δὲ συνεχῶς λέγων, καὶ μὴ ἀκουόμενος, εἶτα οὐ παυόμενος τοῦ λέγειν, πλείονος ἂν εἴη τιμῆς ἄξιος, διὰ τὸ τῷ Θεῷ δοκοῦν, καὶ μηδενὸς προσέχοντος, τὸ αὐτοῦ πᾶν πληρῶν. Ἀλλ’ ὅμως εἰ καὶ ἡμῖν ὁ μισθὸς μείζων ἐκ τῆς ὑμετέρας παρακοῆς, ὅμως ἐπιθυμοῦμεν τοῦτον ἐλαττωθῆναι μᾶλλον, καὶ τὴν ὑμετέραν αὐξηθῆναι σωτηρίαν, μισθὸν μέγαν τὴν ὑμετέραν εὐδοκίμησιν εἶναι νομίζοντες.

- John Chrysostom, Hom in Iohannem. XXX.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Luther on the Biblical Languages

Luther has some fine words to say about the learning and maintenance of the languages. In this post I simply offer for your consideration some of his more extended comments from "To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools" (1524):

The value of the languages:

In proportion, then, as we prize the Gospel, let us guard the languages. For not in vain did God have His Scriptures set down in these two languages alone — the Old Testament in Hebrew, the New in Greek. The languages, therefore, that God did not despise but chose above all others for His Word, we too ought to honor above all others

Preserving the languages in order to preserve the gospel:

And let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored; and, as the gospel itself points out, they are the baskets in which are kept these loaves and fishes and fragments. If through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall not only lose the gospel, but the time will come when we shall be unable either to speak or write a correct Latin or German. As proof and warning of this, let us take the deplorable and dreadful example of the universities and monasteries, in which men have not only unlearned the gospel, but have in addition so corrupted the Latin and German languages that the miserable folk have been fairly turned into beasts, unable to speak or write a correct German or Latin, and have well-nigh lost their natural reason to boot.

I fear this day has already come! Alas, we cannot even write correct Latin and so we "have been fairly turned into beasts".

The problem of the Fathers:

"But," you say,"many of the fathers were saved and even became teachers without languages." That is true. But how do you account for the fact that they so frequently erred in the Scriptures? How often does not St. Augustine err in the Psalter and in other expositions! Likewise St. Hilary, and indeed all of them who attempted to expound Scripture without the languages. And even though what they said now and then was true, they were not sure whether it really belonged in the passage into which they read it.

Better to study the languages than pour over commentaries:

Hence, it is also a stupid undertaking to attempt to gain an understanding of Scripture by laboring through the commentaries of the fathers and a multitude of books and glosses. Instead of this, men should have devoted themselves to the languages. Because they were ignorant of languages, the dear fathers at times expended many words in dealing with a text. Yet when they were all done they had scarcely taken its measure; they were half right and half wrong. Still, you continue to pore over them with immense labor even though, if you knew the languages, you could get further with the passage than they whom you are following. As sunshine is to shadow, so is the language itself compared to all the glosses of the fathers.

The ease of acquiring the languages in the current day:

Since, then, it becomes Christians to use the Holy Scriptures as their own and only book, and it is a sin and shame not to know our own book nor to understand our God’s speech and words, it is a still greater sin and loss if we do not study the languages, the more that God is now offering and giving us men and books and every aid and inducement to this study, and desires His Bible to be an open book. How glad would the dear fathers have been if they had had our opportunity of learning the languages and coming thus equipped to the Holy Scriptures! What toil and labor it cost them barely to gather up the crumbs, while we may have the whole loaf with but half their labor, indeed, with scarce any labor at all. Oh, how their diligence puts our indolence to shame; nay, how strictly God will judge our lack of diligence and gratitude!

Sermon: Mark 11

Just a link to the sermon I preached recently on Mark 11.
Mark 11:1-25 When the Lord comes what will he find? (May 30 2010)

Friday, June 04, 2010

Commencement of a Greek Reader for Gregory the Theologian

I thought I'd be able to track down a digitised version of the Theological Orations, but no luck so far. I don't really want to have to transcribe it, even from Migne. Nonetheless, I've made a little start. I think once I have a digitised version of the text of the 5 sermons, the process of tabulating vocabulary shouldn't be too hard (though perhaps painful). Writing some basic commentary on Greek constructions will be a much slower process, but it's often these that cause the most stumbling to readers. It's easy to check an unknown vocabulary item, but puzzling out a difficult or unfamiliar construction can stop you in your tracks.

Edit: Well, after a bit more research, I am beginning to think that I will need to type up the text myself. This will be considerable effort, but it does have some (minor) personal advantages, since I will be spending time in the text as I go and can make some notes, etc., as I type it up. Still, one would think a reasonably accessible copy of the Greek text should be available!

Why ministers should learn Latin

So far only 4 (maybe, optimistically) students have signed up for my proposed Latin course. Not enough for me to even cover costs, let alone pay for me time. How to encourage overworked seminary students to take up Latin?

Hudson Taylor, upon deciding to head to China for mission work, devoted himself to the study of Greek, Hebrew, Mandarin, and Latin. What more do you need? If someone wants to be a serious engager of the history of the west and the history of the church in the west, philosophy, theology, the whole gamut, and read texts with precision and learning, and expound the scriptures, then a knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin are indispensable, and are just a starting point. For there still remains Aramaic, Syriac, other Semitic cognates, modern European languages....

Reflections on the intricacies of Greek Grammar

For the last few weeks I’ve been helping a friend with a series of assignments related to Wallace’s Greek Grammar and Basics of NT Syntax. It reminded me of why I sold my copy of “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics”. Actually, I don’t want to come across as being personally negative to Wallace here. I have tremendous respect for Wallace’s erudition and Greek. His books are indeed useful. But, I’m not sure they are useful, or being used, in the best possible way. So back to rant: It was, on my behalf, a matter of looking up all these categories of genitives, aorists, so on ad infinitum. There’s no sense in which these categories remain in my head, and nor am I convinced that they should. Does any seminary graduate, who is not involved in academic work, come to a Greek text and ask such questions. Is there really much difference between an intensive and an extensive pluperfect?

I’m not sure this is the best use of a 2nd year Greek education. Let’s at least acknowledge the fact that Greek speakers rarely looked at a genitive and asked ‘what category of the genitive does this fall into?’. Did they sometimes do that kind of in-depth analysis of their own language? Certainly, as we do in English sometimes when disambiguating or arguing over complex or unclear words. But not in our everyday discourse. Far better, I contend, that we spend 2nd year Greek studies trying to get students deeply into reading Greek qua Greek, and far less on memorising 183 uses of the dative.

A few thoughts on reading "Why Johnny Can't Preach"

Why Johnny Can't Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers

This is a challenging, relatively short (108p) book by T. David Gordon, that presents an impassioned plea about the contemporary state of preaching among generally reformed/presbyterian churches in the USA. Written at a time when Gordon was undergoing cancer treatment, and given a relatively low survival chance, it gives us the thoughts of a man who was beginning to confront his own death, and thus had things to say that he might otherwise not have said. For instance:

I've always feared to state publicly that, in my opinion, less than 30 percent of those who are ordained to the Christian ministry can preach an even mediocre sermon, lest I appear to be ungrateful or uncharitable. p11.

Gordon traces two major lines of thought shaped around the cultural and technological shifts in our cultures. The first deals with our declining ability to read texts. That is, to engage in sustained and detailed understanding of complex texts with an attendant concern for their manner of communication as much as their content. Poetry-reading would be the prime example. The second deals with our declining ability to compose texts. Gordon refers to the ubiquity of telephone conversations, for example, in reshaping our cultural practices so that we no longer, or rarely, are people who write anything of substance.

He then treats briefly of issues of content towards the end. The book is well worth the read, it only took me an hour or so, split over two train trips. I do commend it to all preachers.

Reflections: I suspect that the preaching scene in Sydney, Aus, is quite different to Gordon's, except to say that there is plenty of mediocre preaching here. Perhaps one difference is that the quality of average evangelical preachers here sounds substantially higher than there, while conversely there are very few great preachers here, if any.

I resonate with Gordon's key thesis: about the reading and writing of texts. In this I am grateful that I had a very literary-orientated youth. I read a lot of books in adolescence, studied creative writing, literature, and philosophy in my undergraduate, as well as taking up classics afterwards. Nonetheless, even I feel the 'press' of technology, not as an unqualified 'bad', but as a gain/loss equation. I'm more and more aware of how technological usages shape my thinking at both a surface and a habitual level, and so I'm trying harder to regulate and shape my own uses of technology. More and more I'm trying to immerse myself in sustained reading practices, switch of distractions, and become a better reader and writer.

I do have one minor quibble with the book, where on pages 62-63 he speaks of the Christians of the first 15 centuries having little to no access to books. Eg, "Some of our day is expecnded in reading, which far less than 1 percent of Chrsitians would have ever done before the fifteenth century." (p62) Now, while I agree with Gordon's overall point about the significant cultural shifts that oral->literate->printing technologies bring, I think he's wrong on the details of literacy and book ownership in Classical and Late Antique periods. Literacy rates were far higher than we commonly suppose, and higher almost certainly than the medieval periods. Ownership of some books was not the domain of the elite of the elite. While it is true that the elite were the educated and thus those trained in a literary culture, even upper and middle class people would write in the course of their lives and business, and Chrysostom even expects them to own books, and encourages them to purchase some of the scriptures.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Reflections on Teaching Church History

I’ve just finished up teach a 14-hour evening course on Church History, covering the whole gamut of 2000-odd years. It’s really the first, sustained experience of lecturing/teaching that I’ve had, and so here are a few things I’d do differently.

• More primary documents: I provided a few in the first 2 weeks, in which we covered early church history, but (a) I should have worked a little harder to identify and provide some classic primary documents for the other periods, (b) I should have made a better use of primary documents in terms of reading and engaging my students with them.

• More biographical anecdotes (good ones!): History can get a bit tedious when it’s a list of dates and peoples and places. One of the things that livens it up a bit, and provides a personal engagement, is to bring out some of the stories of significant figures. I should have done this more to exemplify what certain historical persons were like as people.

• More theologising: One of the freedoms of doing history within the church and not the academy is that one can draw lessons from history within a theological paradigm. I think this needs to be done sensitively and carefully, but I do think it can and should be done.

• Less Euro-centrism: Partly this was a flaw of the syllabus I inherited and the time-constraints I had, but given the chance to teach this course again, I would work to expand awareness of Christian churches outside Europe, and trace some of their development more extensively.

• Greater contextualisation and inter-relation: While historiographically I’m committed to doing history as more than isolated events and great men, in terms of teaching I don’t think I did a fantastic job on bringing out causality and interrelations between things. I’d want to work a bit harder on showing how persons and movements relate to each other, and also try and integrate church history more with world-history, since we often have a poor grasp of history-at-large.

• Formal writing of notes into coherent prose suitable for students. I wrote up almost 50 pages of 10-pt lecturing notes. I suspect that if I had more time and more inclination, I could have written these up into a more accessible prose style, which may also have formed a good set of hand-outs for students. That would give them more freedom from notetaking, and thus to engage with the lecture and discussion. Obviously teaching the same or a similar course again would place me in a far better position for that.

• Work out a better way of integrating and comprehending post-Reformation history. This goes back a little to Euro-centrism and Greater contextualisation. The period from the late 16th century onwards is so dense with history, and so fragmented, that there needs to be a better way of systematising and schematising that material, to cover a broader range of topics in a more integrated fashion.

• Do all the above without necessarily adding more content! 14 hours wasn’t really enough for 2000 years of history, and doing all the above would expand some sections. I’d have to figure out some ways to expand without expanding...

What I'm reading, June 2010

Weinandy, Does God Suffer?
Radde-Galwitz, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the transformation of Divine Simplicity
Bentley-Hart, Atheist Delusions
Webb, Judges: An integrated reading
Runge, Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament

Pauline Epistles (Gk)
Ignatius of Antioch, To the Trallians (Gk)
Morice's Stories in Attic Greek(Gk)
Augustine, Confessiones (Lt)
Exodus (Lt)
Jonah (Hb)

Half a dozen miscellaneous thesis-related books.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Thesis: The influence of the Second Sophistic, and the School of Libanios

(From part of the introductory section, footnotes removed)

Chrysostom comes at the long tail of the impact of the Second Sophistic period in the Hellenistic world. Traditionally reckoned as the second and third centuries AD, the Second Sophistic reflects a resurgence of appreciation for the art of rhetoric, especially in the Greek-speaking world, and also correspondingly, but in an increasingly divergent manner, in the Latin-speaking West. One feature which helps us to understand the rise of the Second Sophistic is the significant shift in the political landscape in the wake of the establishment of Augustus’ Principate and its subsequent absolutising and monarchising heirs. That shift of political power was already on a trajectory before Augustus, but it reaches its end in the singular authority of Augustus. This fundamental change in the structure of power at Rome led to the dislocation of rhetorical speech from actual political decision making. Some of that transition can be seen in orations delivered to Caesar by Cicero after his rise to power, and in subsequent similar power-relations, where a rhetorical set-piece aims to offer advice or persuasion by very indirect means. For example, the overt and ostentatious flattery of an Emperor’s virtue in one respect, as a means to point out that Emperor’s deficiency in that same respect.

Tacitus is a keen observer of this phenomenon, the decline of rhetoric as a discourse for power . The Second Sophistic sees the rise of rhetoric as a self-reflexive art, rhetoric for rhetoric’s sake. This blossoms especially in the East, even though rhetoric there continues for some time to have a political and deliberative role in the somewhat freer affairs of most autonomous cities. The emergence and development of declamations, even declamatory contests, reflects the disappearance of the real power of public oration to influence public affairs, and its segmentation as an elite literary pursuit.

While the Second Sophistic as a movement is dated as closing in 230 , its cultural impact is significant and has a long tail. Rhetoric is seen, well into Late Antiquity, as the art to be learnt by the elites of society, and as a means of preparation for pursuing civil service and public office in the Imperial administration. It essentially became the dominant educational paradigm, encompassing what we would today term studies in informal logic (the analysis of arguments in common language), and literary criticism and theory.

The Fourth century period reflects a second significant change, in the relationship between Christians and the Roman establishment. The end of persecution and gradual shift from marginalised to favoured status that is associated with the ascension of Constantine I leads to a more settled period, especially in terms of church leadership, reflected in the significant theologians of the century, nearly all of whom have aristocratic backgrounds and rhetorical educations. It is noteworthy, for instance, that of the eight great Latin Fathers, five were rhetorical professors first, and the other three rhetorically trained. A similar ubiquity of rhetorical training is to be found in Greek Fathers of the period.

Such rhetorical training manifests itself in the Patristic literature in a number of ways. In terms of oratory, Christian preaching of the period shows definite traces of that rhetorical training in the rhetorical techniques employed. This is despite significant, often vehement, censure against the pagan rhetorical tradition. On a perhaps more fundamental level, the training of rhetoric in the analysis of argument (specifically stemming from judicial rhetoric and its law-court application) came to be applied in dogmatic theology and doctrinal polemic, while the refinements of literary criticism came similarly to be applied in the reading of the Scriptures, shaping Patristic methods of exegesis and hermeneutics.

In Chrysostom’s case, he was afforded the opportunity to study rhetoric under one of Late Antiquity’s indisputable masters, Libanios of Antioch. Libanios was born in Antioch, 314, and studied rhetoric at Athens, traditional and undisputed center for rhetoric in Antiquity, between 336-340. He then taught rhetoric at both Constantinople and Nicomedia, before a first, brief, return to Antioch in 353, and a subsequent and permanent return in 354. He took up the teaching of rhetoric in Antioch, and with the retirement of Zenobios, successfully competed and manouevred to take his chair and become the city’s official sophist. Libanios was a significant cultural and political figure in Antioch, his correspondents include Julian the Emperor, and Basil the Great. Libanios considered himself a contender equal, or superior, in stature to any at Athens (still first in reputation for rhetoricla centers) and certainly Constantinople (whose prominence lay in part with its status as the imperial capital). Libanios’ fairly extensive surviving works include both numerous orations and epistles and give a uniquely broad perspective on a number of facets, including the city of Antioch, the school of a successful sophist, and the declining paganism of high-cultured elites in Late Antiquity.

That Chrysostom studied under Libanios is not so remarkable, as that he flourished in this educational environment, and like many of his contemporaries took his remarkable learning into the Church. So much so, that Libanios is famously reported as saying on his deathbed, when asked who should succeed him, that it ought to have been John, except the Christians had stolen him. So, more than a part of the esteem in which Chrysostom is held is due to his mastery of the rhetorical tradition which he and his contemporaries all drew from, and a part of his appeal to other leading church figures, both then and since, was that they too were raised and trained in a rhetorically-sensitised culture which had its own refined appreciation of rhetoric as rhetoric.

In this work I do not intend to dwell overlong on a rhetorical study of Chrysostom’s preaching, whether considered as performative pieces or literary ones. Certainly such a study would be worthwhile, and studies such as Ameringer’s exemplify that worthwhile-ness. However, it is indispensible to recognise the backdrop of rhetorical culture to Chrysostom’s role as preacher as well as the influence on the content of his sermons. Part of my contention will be that Chrysostom’s analysis of John’s gospel often involves questions and methods that are drawn from and exemplify the rhetorical tradition, which forms something of the common bond between Chrysostom and other Fourth Century exegetes.

Creative Commons License
This work by Seumas Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.