Friday, June 10, 2005

Friday June 10, 2005

Filed under: General — m759 @ 1:25 AM

From Andrew Cusack’s weblog:

April 21, 2005

‘For Christ and Liberty’

Though [it is] a purely Protestant institution (literally), I am rather fond of Patrick Henry College. Indeed, it takes some courage in this day and age to only admit students willing to sign a ten-point profession of Protestant Reformed faith. They also happen to have an old-fashioned ball featuring ‘English country dancing, delicacies such as cream puffs and truffles and leisurely strolls about the scenic grounds of the historic Selma Plantation’.

Anyhow, the college, whose motto is ‘For Christ and Liberty’, was visited [by] Anthony Esolen, a contributing editor to Touchstone magazine, who makes these comments:

Today I received a request to write a short article on Pope Benedict XVI from a club called the De Tocqueville Society, in a small college in Northern Virginia.

That such a request came was no surprise. Its provenance is, and cheeringly so. For this De Tocqueville Society is made up of a group of students at the new Patrick Henry College, founded by Mike Farris, the President of the Home School Legal Defense Association. More than ninety percent of the college’s students were homeschooled. If there’s a Roman Catholic in the bunch, I’ve yet to hear about it, and I’ve been to that campus twice to give lectures. [Note: Esolen does not seem to be aware that PHC requires its students to be Protestant.]

More on that in a moment. I could spend all evening singing the praises of PHC (as the students fondly call it), but let me share one discovery I made that should gratify Touchstone readers. The first time I spoke there, two years ago, I was stunned to meet young men and women who—who were young men and women. I am not stretching the truth; go to Purcellville and see it for yourselves if you doubt it; I believe my wife took a couple of pictures, just to quiet the naysayers. The young men stand tall and look you in the eye—they don’t skulk, they don’t scowl and squirm uncomfortably in the back chairs as they listen to yet another analysis of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, or one of the healthier poems of Sylvia Plath. They’re frank and generous and respectful, but they hold their own in an argument, and they are eager to engage you in those. They are comfortable in their skins; they wear their manhood easily. And the young ladies are beautiful. They don’t wither away in class, far from it; but they wear skirts, they are modest in their voices and their smiles, they clearly admire the young men and are esteemed in turn; they are like creatures from a faraway planet, one sweeter and saner than ours.

Two years ago I spoke to them about medieval Catholic drama. They are evangelicals, half of them majors in Government, the rest, majors in Liberal Arts. They kept me and my wife in that room for nearly three hours after the talk was over. “Doctor Esolen, what you say about the habits of everyday life—to what extent is it like what Jean Pierre de Coussade calls ‘the sacrament of the present moment’?” “Doctor Esolen, do you see any connections between the bodiliness of this drama and the theology of Aleksandr Schmemann?” “Doctor Esolen, you have spoken a great deal about our recovery of a sense of beauty, but don’t you think that artists can also use the grotesque as a means of bringing people to the truth?” “You’ve suggested to us that Christians need to reclaim the Renaissance as our heritage, yet we are told that that was an age of the worship of man for his own sake. To what extent is the art of that period ours to reclaim?” And on and on, until nearly midnight.

The questions were superior to any that I have ever heard from a gathering of professors—and alas, I’ve been to many of those. I mean not only superior in their enthusiasm and their insistence, but in their penetrating to the heart of the problem, their willingness to make connections apparently far afield but really quite apropos, and their sheer beauty—I can think of no better word for it.

A few weeks ago I was in town for another talk, on the resurrection of the body. The Holy Father had passed away. At supper, ten or fifteen of the students packed our table, to ask questions before the talk. They were reverent and extraordinarily well informed; most especially they were interested in the Theology of the Body. The questions on that topic continued after the lecture, and I had the same experience I’d had before, but now without the surprise.

And these are the young people who are devoting an entire issue of their journal to the thought of Cardinal Ratzinger, now the new head of the Roman Catholic Church. They are hungry to know about him; in the next week or two they will do what our slatternly tarts and knaves, I mean our journalists, have never done and will not trouble themselves to do, and that is to read what Benedict XVI has said, read it with due appreciation for their differences with him, and due deference to a holy and humble man called by Christ to be a light not only to Roman Catholics but to all the nations.

These students don’t know it, but in their devotion to their new school (they are themselves the guards, the groundskeepers, the janitors; they ‘own’ the school in a way that is hard to explain to outsiders), they live the community life extolled by Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum; in their steadfastness to the truth they are stalwart participators in the quest set out by John Paul II in Fides et Ratio; in their welcoming of me and, God bless them, of the good Benedict XVI, they live in the true spirit of Lumen Gentium, that greathearted document of the council so often invoked for the lame tolerance of every betrayal of the ancient faith. And for what it’s worth, they are readers of Touchstone Magazine.

Be silent, Greeleys and Dowds of the world. These young people have you whipped, if for no other reason than that they believe in the One who is Truth, and who sets us free. How can I praise these my young brothers and sisters any more highly? God bless them and Patrick Henry College. And the rest of us, let’s keep an eye on them. We’ll be seeing quite a harvest from that seedbed!

Many of the points Esolen commends are things I hope will be found in the colleges of my university when I get around to starting it. I particularly admire that Patrick Henry College’s young men and women are just that, according to Esolen. This is all too often hard to achieve in modern American higher education, where students are quite often just elderly adolescents. (Though I suspect this has more to do with parents and family than education).

The absurdist drinking age that the Federal government underhandedly coerced each state into passing hinders maturity as well. Indeed, when I start the first college or colleges of the university I’m planning, each will have a private college bar which will serve anyone over the age of 16 or so. (Probably at the barman or barmaid’s discretion). Civil disobedience is the only solution.

Though the graduates Patrick Henry College provides will be Protestant (at least at the time of their graduation), I have no doubt that they will act as leaven to raise up the social and political life of our United States. I’m not particularly fond that they proudly advertise their commendation as “One of America’s Top Ten Conservative Colleges”. I’m not of the view that colleges ought to be ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ per se. They ought to be seen more as communities of inquisitive, curious, intelligent people united in the quest for truth. Labels like ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are far too narrow and allow the simple-minded to pidgeon-hole things which are too complex for such monikers.

But anyhow, cheers for Patrick Henry College.

Posted by Andrew Cusack at April 21, 2005 05:25 PM

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