A Recent Symposium on “Love”


ATHENS, HELLAS – Greeks (I forget myself – “Hellenes”), all y’all need to get your head out of the collective wine-bowl. On second thought, don’t – that would actually make the problem worse. The problem is, Hellas, you’ve forgotten how to drink.

What happened? It wasn’t so long ago that your faithful correspondent was able to spend a pleasant afternoon (and night… and two more… of each… for research!) out on the hills with the Bacchantes and wake up, pleasantly assured by every other blushing face in the ditch that he had a fan-tastic time. The good ol’ boys of Iconium will tell you that a good ol’ time debauch of wine, song, wine, raw meat, wine, and wine is a noble tradition, worthy of all honour and veneration! (The ditch-crawl afterwards, I am told, is a more recent innovation.)

But what has happened to the drinking-party in our days? Instead of harpies shrieking in your ear while you perform the Spartan ice-bucket challenge (another venerable tradition, I am told), now we have the Symposium – and what a pale imitation of the real thing!

Your longsuffering correspondent recently attended one of these interminable bores at Agathon’s place in Athens. (For research!) Unfortunately, there was a doctor there – one Eryximachus by name. As my faithful readers know by now, never invite a doctor to drink, because he’ll always tell you that you’ll wake up in the ditch (little knowing this recent fashion is doomed to go the way of the cargo-chiton). After being served his one, singular, tiny, Eryximachus-approved cup (a pox on thy sanitarium!), your correspondent feared not even Apollo could bring the evening back from the brink. (One is tempted to believe that the good doctor simply prefers to keep his name pronounceable over the course of an evening.)

But I was pleasantly surprised when some enterprising fellow put “Love” into the conversational punch-bowl. Once this libation began to flow, and Aristophanes had woven a tale of eight-limbed men with two faces and two sets of privates (horrors!) whom Zeus cut down the middle like worms (for research!), Socrates told this truthy story from the mouth of a wise old woman (which, as my readers know, means “drunk”):

On the day of Aphrodite’s birth the gods were making merry, and among them was Resource, the son of Craft. And when they had supped, Need came begging at the door because there was good cheer inside. Now it happened that Resource, having drunk deeply of the heavenly nectar – for this was before the days of wine [horrors!] – wandered out into the garden of Zeus and sank into a heavy sleep, and Need, thinking that to get a child by Resource would mitigate her penury, lay down beside him and in time was brought to bed of Love. So Love became the follower and servant of Aphrodite because he was begotten on the same day that she was born, and further, he was born to love the beautiful since Aphrodite is beautiful herself.

Then again, as the son of Resource and Need, it has been his fate to be always needy[.]

As your longsuffering correspondent can tell from his research in the habits of the Bacchante, “this is most certainly true.” (Dear Allecto, if you read this, may I have my chariot back soon? Walking everywhere is thirsty work!)

So while we may have forgotten how to drink in the old ways, having tasted of both, I think that the new wine has promise. A Hellene (or are we Greeks now?) could do worse! (He might, for example, become a doctor.)

In Servitute Vino Perpetua,

Dionysus Bibulus


Bibulus has what one might call a jaundiced view of what love is. Plato’s Symposium stands as one of the most enduring treatments of love from the ancient world. Yet the bizarre pictures and high-flying discourses on Love do not begin to approach the Scriptural view. The reader is encouraged to take up Plato’s Symposium for himself, to refresh his memory or for the very first time, and read it over with the following questions:

  • How does St. Paul’s description of love in I Cor. 13, or St. John’s statement that God is love (I Jn. 4:8) compare to the various views of Plato’s speakers?
  • In what ways can Scripture be a corrective to the wrong views that are presented over the course of the dialogue?
  • How can the legitimate lessons of Plato’s Symposium be taught to young minds while still keeping a bulwark against the false views?

Image: “Das Gastmahl des Platon” by Anselm Feuerbach (1874)

Symposium translation by Michael Joyce (1935)

The Nature of the Student, Part III

Redemption

In the second part of this series on the nature of the student, we heard how according to the Christian view, ever since his first sin in the Garden of Eden, man is by nature evil. We must all sing:

Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay;
Death brooded darkly o’er me.
Sin was my torment night and day;
In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper still I fell;
My life became a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.
Lutheran Service Book, 556:2

But notice the use of the past tense. This hymn stanza is not the full story. The Lord was not content to sit idly by while the pinnacle of creation – made in the image of God – threw himself headlong into death and hell. And therefore our song continues:

But God had seen my wretched state
Before the world’s foundation,
And mindful of His mercies great,
He planned for my salvation.
He turned to me a father’s heart;
He did not choose the easy part
But gave His dearest treasure.
LSB, 556:3

The heavenly Father’s dearest treasure is his Son, Jesus. Jesus is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary. And Jesus has died on the cross and risen from the dead for our salvation. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans. 5:6-8).

Jesus’ death saved us from sin, because Jesus took up all our sins from us, bore them in his own body, and crucified them in himself on the cross. Jesus’ death defeated death, because while death laid claim to us sinful mortals, it could not lay claim to the sinless Son of God. Jesus’ death conquered the devil, because by his death Jesus redeemed us from the devil’s kingdom and unraveled all of the devil’s schemes. And Jesus’ resurrection has restored to us the hope of everlasting life.

Simul Iustus et Peccator

This salvation is an excellent gift. Even though we are corrupt flesh, Jesus has had pity on us and redeemed us, and he has promised us a glorious resurrection on the Last Day, in which our bodies will no longer be sinful by nature, but will have once more the native righteousness originally bestowed on man in creation. And yet Jesus has not made us wait until the Last Day for our renewal. Certainly our renewal is not complete until then, but even now Jesus has baptized us with water and the Word, cleansed us, and given us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

This means that even though we still have a sinful nature that inclines away from God and toward everything contrary to his commandments, we as Christians now also have the Holy Spirit, who fights against our depravity and gives us new desires and impulses: directing us toward Christ, toward good, and away from evil.

The presence of both the sinful nature and the Holy Spirit means that the Christian is simul iustus et peccator, Latin for “simultaneously saint and sinner.” The Christian has two conflicting things within him, as St. Paul comments: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17). The Christian is at war – and it is not primarily a war waged within the world, but a war waged within oneself. The war will cease with the destruction of the sinful nature at death, but until then, by the strength of the Holy Spirit, we fight against our evil passions.

I. Teach the Word of God

What does all of this mean for education? First of all, if we’re educating Christians then one of the chief goals of education is to keep the students Christians. If faith in Christ is what makes one a Christian, and faith comes through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17), then the student must hear the Word of God daily, and hear it pure and unadulterated.

This means that a child should hear the Word of God at home each day with his parents in life and conversation, learn to pray, and have family devotions. This also means that Christian parents should send their Christian children to schools where the teachers complement and reinforce the family devotion to God’s Word. Christian schools should ideally have chapel every day, conducted by a faithful pastor. Teachers in Christian schools should know how the Word of God relates to their areas of expertise, and, in addition to instilling knowledge, should instill a love of God’s Word. Students should expect harmony between the home, the church, and the school: a common worldview (to use a popular term), or, more specifically, a common language, namely the language of the Scriptures.

Now this emphasis on God’s Word does not mean that all children should become pastors or deaconesses. Any vocation is a holy calling when a Christian carries it out. The interest in God’s Word is not for the sake of conferring a marketable skill, but for the sake of the salvation of the students. Again, the Word of God is not the topic of discussion every minute of every day; in fact, chapel, prayer, and catechesis don’t even occupy a majority of the day. The Word of God is rather the common tongue of parents, students, and teachers. The nature of the student as simultaneously saint and sinner means that we give students the Word of God, which alone strengthens the saint, rebukes the sinner, and gives eternal salvation.

II. Teach Virtue and Vice

Second, if the Christian student has within him the Holy Spirit warring against the sinful flesh, then the student should learn to practice virtue and learn to avoid vice. This is not for the sake of earning salvation, but for the sake of living according to God’s will, avoiding God’s displeasure, serving the neighbor, and giving no opportunity to the flesh, lest it enslave us once again to sin.

Virtue is summed up most succinctly in the Ten Commandments. It is a virtue to have the right God. It is a virtue to honor one’s father and mother. It is a virtue to be content with what God has given you (and conversely, a vice to covet what belongs to your neighbor). These virtues are not works of the Law when a Christian does them, as if we only did the right thing because God was cracking a whip or threatening hell. No, when a Christian does these works of virtue, the works are properly speaking fruits of the Spirit.

A document in the Lutheran Confessions called The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord puts it this way:

[W]hen people are born again through the Spirit of God and set free from the law (that is, liberated from its driving powers and driven by the Spirit of Christ), they live according to the unchanging will of God, as comprehended in the law, and do everything, insofar as they are reborn, from a free and merry spirit. (Solid Declaration VI.17)

Christians are glad to do what is right in God’s sight (virtue) and cheerfully avoid whatever displeases him (vice). One might then wonder why we should teach Christian children virtue and vice. There are two main reasons.

a. Instruct the Saint

First, the saint wants to know what God’s will is and live according to it. While we do have the law of God written on our hearts, ever since man’s fall into sin, that image of the law on the heart is not a perfect image. We must receive instruction from God’s objective Word in order to have a complete understanding of his will. Without this instruction in the commandments it becomes all too easy to devise our own works and declare them to be precious virtues in the sight of God, while at the same time neglecting that which he has commanded.

Besides this, the Christian student lives in a world that calls virtue vice and vice virtue. There will be confusion and uncertainty about the right course of action unless we teach the young saint what is truly right and wrong, virtue and vice, pleasing and displeasing to God.

The words of the commandments teach this will of God clearly enough. The saint also finds it useful to hear illustrations of God’s pleasure toward those who do his will. Take, for example, Joseph the son of Jacob in the book of Genesis. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, and Joseph resisted her advances. But then Potiphar’s wife said that Joseph had tried to seduce her, and he was thrown in prison on this false accusation. At this point a student might wonder, “Did Joseph do something wrong? Was God displeased with him?” But then we hear how Joseph prospered, even in prison, and then became second in command over all Egypt. We learn that even if we must suffer for righteousness’ sake, nevertheless God is pleased with those who do his will, and he shows us favor even in the midst of suffering, and he will yet vindicate us and change our fortune. The saint needs these illustrations, both for the strengthening of faith and for instruction in virtue.

b. Curb the Sinner

So that’s the first reason why we teach virtue and vice to Christian students, namely, because the saint wants to know his Father’s will. The second reason is because the Christian student is not only a saint, but a sinner. Christians only do the will of God from a free and merry spirit “insofar as they are reborn.” The Solid Declaration puts this very pointedly:

For the old creature, like a stubborn, recalcitrant donkey, is also still a part of them, and it needs to be forced into obedience to Christ not only through the law’s teaching, admonition, compulsion, and threat but also often with the cudgel of punishments and tribulations until the sinful flesh is completely stripped away and people are perfectly renewed in the resurrection. (Solid Declaration VI.24)

Whereas the Christian as a saint does the will of God because, by the Spirit, he wants to, the Christian as a sinner only does the will of God because he has to. He must hear “admonition, compulsion, and threat.” The sinful flesh must hear such things as, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

But like the saint, the sinner learns particularly well through illustration. He might want to misuse God’s name, but when he hears how the Lord ordered the son of Shelomith to be stoned to death for that offense (Leviticus 24:11-16), he will think twice about doing it. The sinful flesh will grudgingly refrain from sin (sometimes) simply because it doesn’t want to suffer the consequences of sin. Therefore, to aid the student in the war against the flesh, we curb the flesh with the fear-striking examples of God judging other sinners.

God also curbs the flesh “with the cudgel of punishments and tribulations.” In other words, if we insist on sinning, God will let us have the consequences. He disciplines us, not seeking our destruction, but seeking to turn us away from evil. So it is with teachers. If words aren’t enough to curb the flesh, then there’s always clapping the erasers, wearing the dunce cap, writing sentences. Modern education sees these things as harmful to the student’s self-esteem, and as a result, not only is there no discipline in the classroom, but the students never learn that the consequences of offending against God are far worse than a slight blow to self-esteem.

Christians don’t care about self-esteem. It’s too close to the great vice of pride. We care about having a gracious God who made us in his image and gave his own divine Son to redeem us. There’s real esteem! Now if the sinful flesh is seeking to turn us away from this gracious God by despising his Word and going its own way, then we hinder it however we rightfully can. If it takes a little public shame, then so be it. Better the flesh be ashamed than be in control.

c. Mind the Simul

Now the teaching of virtue is not only for the saint, and the teaching of vice is not only for the sinner. Not only does the saint want to know what to do to be doing the will of God, but also what to avoid so that he does not grieve his Father. Not only is the sinner compelled by the threat of punishment; he is also enticed by the hope of the earthly reward that accompanies virtue. We can draw a distinction by saying that delight in the law belongs to the saint, and terror of God’s wrath belongs to the sinner. But I want to make it clear that we teach the full teaching of God’s law to the Christian as he is both saint and sinner.

Learning virtue and vice is good for the Christian as he is simul iustus et peccator because hearing God’s law brings to light our sins and our need for Christ, and, thus despairing of ourselves, the Gospel comes along and gives us refuge in Jesus. To put it succinctly, teaching God’s law shows the student his need for a Savior. Therefore, training in virtue and vice also serves the purpose of keeping Christian students Christian, not by making them hope in their works for salvation, but by showing them that their works are a false hope for salvation.

III. Teach Love

So, when teaching Christian students we teach, first, God’s Word, second, virtue and vice; and third, we teach the Christian student how to love and serve his neighbor. The sinful flesh may be incurvatus in se, but as a new creation in Christ the student is turned out from himself. The saint desires to love his neighbor, and so a Christian education makes the Christian student a knowledgeable and skillful servant to those around him. You can read more about love as a goal of education here.

Educate Christian Children according to Their Nature

The Christian view of the Christian student is that he is simul iustus et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner. Educating this Christian according to his nature, we instruct him in God’s Word, teach him virtue and vice, and give him the knowledge and skills necessary to be of service to the world wherever he is needed. This Christian education is far different from modern education, because Christian education has a far different view of the nature of the student when compared to modern education.

We ought to educate our children according to what they are by nature, not according to a lie about man’s nature. Modern education is not for us, nor for any human being. Now the question remains: is classical education any better suited to the student’s nature than modern education? Read The Nature of the Student, Part IV.

Painting: Crucifixion by Peter Gertner, 1537

Hymn quotation: Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice by Martin Luther

Quotes of Solid Declaration are from The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. Kolb & Wengert

Scripture quotations are from the King James Version.

The Goal of Education Part II: Fides et Charitas


In The Goal of Education Part I we saw the foolishness of Educating for Mammon, that is, bringing up children with the primary goal of turning them into moneymakers. But what is the alternative? Fortunately, as with so many things, we don’t have to invent a solution. Educating for Mammon has long been a problem, and the Church has often addressed it.

Educating for Mammon was a problem in the fourth century when a pastor named John Chrysostom was preaching through the book of Ephesians. He came to Ephesians 6:4, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” and here’s part of what he said:

How long are we going to be mere flesh? How long are we going to hunch over the earth? Let all things stand in the second place for us when compared with taking forethought for our children and bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If he learns to be a lover of wisdom from the first, he has acquired riches greater than all riches, and a mightier glory. You will accomplish nothing so great by teaching him a craft, and the outward training through which he will acquire possessions, than if you teach him a craft through which he will despise possessions. If you want to make him rich, do it like that. For the rich man is not he who binds himself with many possessions and surrounds himself with many things, but he who has need of nothing.

Discipline your son in this, teach him this – this is the greatest wealth. Do not seek how you will make him renowned in outward lessons, and make him glorious, but consider how you will teach him to despise the glory that is in this life. Thence he would become more radiant and more glorious. These things are possible both for the poor man and the rich man to do. One does not learn these things from a teacher, nor through craft, but through the divine sayings. Do not seek how he will live a long life here, but how he will live a boundless and endless life there. Give him the great things, not the little things.
(Ephesians, Homily XXI)

Nor was the problem of Educating for Mammon limited to the fourth century. In the sixteenth century Martin Luther wrote in his Large Catechism:

Nor is it recognized how very necessary it is to devote serious attention to the young. For if we want capable and qualified people for both the civil and the spiritual realms, we really must spare no effort, time, and expense in teaching and educating our children to serve God and the world. We must not think only of amassing money and property for them. God can provide for them and make them rich without our help, as indeed he does daily. But he has given us children and entrusted them to us precisely so that we may raise and govern them according to his will; otherwise, God would have no need of fathers and mothers. Therefore let all people know that it is their chief duty – at the risk of losing divine grace – first to bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God, and, then, if they are so gifted, also to have them engage in formal study and learn so that they may be of service wherever they are needed.
(Large Catechism, I.170-174)

Fides ad Deum, Charitas ad Vicinum

With one voice Chrysostom and Luther lambaste the practice of Educating for Mammon; they unite also in the remedy. They point us to the two marks of the Christian life: faith and love. Throughout all of Scripture, faith and love characterize God’s people. And each is directed toward someone. Faith is directed toward God; we trust in Him and expect to receive every good thing from Him, which he gives freely for the sake of Christ in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve any of it. Love is directed toward the neighbor; good works are the fruit of faith, and we don’t use these works to earn anything with God, but to serve our fellow man. Put faith and love together, and we have a fine motto to keep us mindful of the goal of Christian education: Fides ad Deum, charitas ad vicinum, “Faith toward God, love toward the neighbor.”

Faith toward God

Let’s examine these two marks of the Christian in more detail. First faith. Faith is not something that we can manufacture within ourselves. Rather, it is something God works in us by his Word; as it says in Romans 10:17, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” Thus Chrysostom returns to the language of Ephesians 6:4 again and again, “bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” meaning, teach them the Word of God, the “divine sayings,” as Chrysostom puts it. Luther likewise tells parents to teach their children God’s Word, saying that if they do not bring up their children in the fear and knowledge of God they risk losing divine grace, because this is the chief duty of parents.

Education should have faith as one of its goals. Education should treat a child like he has a soul, and not like mere flesh hunched over the earth. Education should delight in Christ, and the redemption that He has accomplished, and the words that He has spoken.

Love toward the Neighbor

Flowing from faith, the second mark of the Christian is love. Only one who has received the love of Christ can properly love his neighbor. Apart from Christ’s love we cannot love others. We can hate them, we can use them for our own ends, we can behave decently to avoid punishments, we can feel compelled by the general morality of those around us – but of ourselves we cannot love anyone else. Like faith, love is a gift of God. And indeed, wherever there is faith, there is love, just as wherever there is fire there is light and heat.

Education should include instruction in God’s Commandments and Christian morals. But more fundamental than teaching children to behave rightly, is the Christian attitude that we do not live to ourselves but to others. An education that teaches children to look to their own wants and needs is no education for a Christian. But when love is a goal of education, then the student learns to say, “How can I be of service to those around me? Teach me things so that I can better care for my neighbors.”

Chrysostom and Luther both stress that children should learn useful knowledge and skills – not useful for earning Mammon, but useful for the neighbor. So Luther said that the purpose of giving children a formal education is “so that they may be of service wherever they are needed.” Chrysostom comments at length, showing what a wonderful gift a Christian is to the world:

Thus the more he is renowned in this life, so much the more is this discipline necessary for him. For should he be brought up in palaces, there are many heathens and ‘philosophers’ and those puffed up with the present glory, just like some place that has been filled with dropsical people. Of some such sort are all the palaces: all are puffed up and inflamed, and those who are not are zealous to become so. Think, then, how great your son is, going in there like the best physician: entering with the instruments that are able to reduce the inflammation of each, and approaching each one and conversing, and making the sick body healthy, applying the medicines from the Scriptures and pouring out the words of philosophy…

And if you want to know, he will be a more serviceable man even in the world itself. For all will revere him because of those words when they see him in the fire, though not being burned nor desiring power. And at that very time he will be ready for it – when he does not desire it – and he will be still more revered by the king, for such a man will not be able to escape his notice. For among many healthy people, the healthy man will escape notice. But among many sick people, when one is healthy, the report will be spread quickly, and into the royal ears, and he will set him over many nations. Therefore, knowing these things, bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
(Ephesians, Homily XXI)

The True Goal

What is the goal of education? Not the acquisition of Mammon. The goal of education is Fides ad Deum, Charitas ad Vicinum, faith toward God, love toward the neighbor. Or as Chrysostom very nicely sums it up: Χριστιανὸν αὐτὸν ποίησον: Make him a Christian.

Painting: Christ Blessing the Children, by Lucas Cranach the Younger, c. 1545-1550

Quotes of Large Catechism are from The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. Kolb & Wengert

Scripture quotations are from the King James Version.

Translations of Chrysostom are my own.