Headmaster Blog for May 2, 2014

Greeting Summit Family!

Items for Action:

  • Please, get your tickets to the Summit Benefit/Auction! This is going to be a great night out, but the deadline is today, May 2. The involvement of parents and friends in the Benefit is a crucial part of underwriting the shortfall in the expense in educating our children.
  • Teacher Appreciation is coming up (week of May 12-16). More details on how to express gratitude to our teachers coming soon.
  • Please feel free to join those who gather together Friday mornings after assembly to pray for our school; staff, leadership, students, and parents.
  • Be on the lookout for information about Summer School offerings at Summit.
  • There will be school supply items available at discounted rates in the Summit office during the last week of school.

 

Ideas for Reflection: Classical Christian Education and the Greco-Roman Myths

There are, on occasion, students/families who find it uncomfortable or incompatible with their Christianity to study about the mythologies of other faith systems, especially the Greco-Roman pantheon. When I encounter this thinking I am usually both sorry and glad. Let me explain at a couple of different levels.

I am sorry because, in order to understand the fabric of so many of the foundational documents of Western culture, at least a superficial acquaintance with the Greco-Roman mythology and its pantheon is necessary to that understanding. This is one of the ends to which a study of Greek mythology is included in our studies at Summit.  In the course of any healthy curriculum there is an exposure to that which is false as the antithesis to that which is true. This is the case throughout Scripture which never avoids treatment of the various mythologies surrounding God’s people in situ. Take, for instance: Abram, Isaac and Joseph and the cult worship of ancient Sumeria; Joseph, Moses and the gods of Egypt; Joshua, the Judges and the fertility gods of the Canaanites; the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the brutal gods of Assyria; the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the gods of Babylon; the proliferation of the Greco-Roman pantheon, including the cult of Caesar, in the time of Christ and the missionary journeys of Paul, and the yet-future cult of the Beast and False Prophet in the Apocalypse. That the Apostle Paul was conversant with the Greek myths is clear in the Book of Acts, especially in his skillful use of that knowledge in his debate with the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-34; cf. Acts 14:8-14). In that address Paul quoted passages of two Greek mythic poets from memory.

Apart from the fact that our vocabulary is replete with references to the pantheon (Boeing’s latest offering to our naval arsenal is the P-8A Poseidon, a submarine-hunting version of the venerable 737), a study of Greek (and other) mythologies is illustrative of how mankind has so inadequately and incompletely grasped who God is, let alone how to be reconciled to Him. Even from a spiritual standpoint there is a place for learning by contrast.

Christopher Dawson, a European historian and author of The Crisis of Western Education (1961), stressed that: “Christian culture was built from the beginning on a double foundation. The old classical education in the liberal arts was maintained without any interruption, and since this education was inseparable from the study of the classical authors, the old classical literature continued to be studied. But alongside of and above all this, there was now a specifically Christian learning which was biblical and theological and which produced its own prolific literature.” Until the very recent past, the Classics were part of any Christian education worth its salt. In the past several decades, Christians, like everyone else, have stopped reading the Classics, though not for moral or theological reasons. In the present it may seem foreign for Christians to read the Classics, but that says much more about the age in which we live than anything else.

From a literary point of view the Greek myths invariably add spice to a tale of fiction. Whether The Iliad, The Odyssey, or The Aeneid, those stories wouldn’t be the same without the meddling of the “gods” (which, esp. in Homer, is often portrayed as both farcical and infantile; it is almost as though he is telling his tale tongue-incheek). A fanciful reference to Greek mythology is infused in much—if not most—of the great literature of

Western civilization. The Greco-Roman classics were studied alongside the Holy Scriptures by the Church Fathers, including St. Augustine. Tertullian famously asked, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” but he was devoted to the study of both to better understand the difference between the two. It was through his fascination with, and study of the Greek myths, that C.S. Lewis would eventually come to Christ. References to the Greek mythos is found throughout his works. A bestiary of Narnia is littered with Greek mythic figures; Lucy’s friend, Tumnus, was, after all, a faun. A current literary hit with the adolescent crowd is Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan (there are now two movies, and counting). Riordan spins a good yarn, but in the several books I have read in this series, the author portrays the gods of Olympus in a much more favorable light than Homer does. While I’m in no way interested in banning these books, I do want our students to have a more foundational understanding of just what the ancients thought of these “deities”—under the protective umbrella of school, home and church—before encountering them in some other setting.

In other respects, there are the arts in general. It is impossible to appreciate the contributions of the great masters without a seminal understanding of the Greco-Roman classics. Consider Maurice Ravel’s symphonic masterpiece, Daphnis and Chloe; Botticelli’s painting, The Birth of Venus, or Waterhouse’s Echo and Narcissus; Shakespeare’s drama, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. How do we understand the names of the planets in our solar system without a basic knowledge of the Roman pantheon. Our days of the week are taken from both Roman and Norse pantheons. If any of our students become physicians—and I hope they do—they will, at some point, take the Hippocratic oath, which begins with, “I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath and agreement…” Apollo, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea were all Greek gods and goddesses associated with healing.

Having said all that, I’m also glad when someone is troubled by his exposure to the spiritual dimension of the Greco-Roman pantheon. This is an entirely appropriate response. In 1 Cor. 10:20-22 Paul says that the worship of these gods (not the knowledge of them) is tantamount to presenting offerings to demons. Lest we lose perspective, it is also important to remember that Jesus said the same thing about many of the rabbinical leaders in Judaism, most of whom forbade the study of Greco-Roman literature (cf. John 8:42-47, where Jesus said these religious leaders were, “of their father the devil”).

In conclusion, it is one thing to study about the Greek and Roman gods as their stories are woven into the fabric of our culture as, indeed, they are, and quite another to teach them as a viable theology; a defensible means of explaining the affairs of gods and men. As C.S. Lewis reminds us, the challenge of the Christian Church is to rightfully handle pagan literature, mythology or otherwise, without teaching paganism; to bring every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

God bless you all,
Dr. Timothy Orton
Headmaster
Summit Classical Christian School

Headmaster Blog for May 2, 2014