John Connelly, the sage of Regis High School in New York City, once told a class of 30 sixteen year-olds, “Gentlemen, the culture wars are over. We lost.” The class’s discussion was emphatically not about any number of “hot button” social or political issues of the day. In fact, the reading assignment we were discussing described the way nineteenth-century German scholars came to define academic curricula, about what counted as “classics,” and whether literary works written in modern languages were worthy of study. At the time, these seemed to be recondite matters, worthy of academic study, perhaps, but not the sort of thing to keep me up at night. But I’ve come to realize that the discussion those German scholars had was more influential than even they realized. Our entire education system owes a lot more to nineteenth-century Germany than it does to laws written in state or local capitols or to popular magazine rankings. If the culture wars are over, that’s largely because we’ve largely forgotten how history influences who we are.
At least, most of us have. There are people like Brian Daley, SJ and Frank Oakley who haven’t, and we should all be thankful that their scholarly work helps keep alive cultural possibilities that most of us never knew existed. Both scholars have been on my mind lately, and I’ll discuss Daley’s work in this post and Oakley’s in a subsequent post.
Last weekend Pope Benedict XVI awarded Daley and the French historian of philosophy Remi Brague the Ratzinger Prize, which has been described as the “Nobel Prize” in theology. During the ceremony, the Pope said, “Father Daley and Professor Brague are exemplary for the transmission of knowledge that unites science and wisdom, scientific rigor and passion for man, so that man might discover the [true] ‘art of living’.” The Pope also said “It is of precisely such people who, through an enlightened and lived faith render God credible and close to the man of today.” Although some Catholic news services have mentioned the story, I don’t think it has quite gotten its due. (You can see a short article on the prize here, and you can see a video of the awards ceremony here.) Read the rest of this entry »