O’Malley, Newman and St.Benedict on a Christ centered curriculum

Many years ago Notre Dame professor Frank O’Malley sketched a plan for founding a “Christ College” within the University of Notre Dame. I have made a few posts about this idea (Oct 25/26). But in light of what Benedict taught the dark ages, I wish to return to O’Malley on Newman for some ideas for a curriculum.

O’Malley wrote that John Henry  Newman was first of all: liturgical. This lesson we learn from St. Benedict, most of all. O’Malley says that in liturgy we encounter the very rhythm of Christian existence, “stirred and centered by the life of Christ.” Liturgy demands “self-subjection, the disciplining of the inner life, never the flagrant and chaotic cultivation of the ego in the arbitrary and capricious.” St. Benedict now comes to mind. For if we incline our heart to the master’s precepts — we learn we must carry out the labor of obedience and return to Him from whom we departed by the sloth of disobedience. Is liturgical life not the heart of St Benedict’s admonition  in the prologue to the Rule to renounce our will (overcome the sloth of disobedience) and do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King, “by taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience”?  How hard this for denizens of academia, both professorial  and administrative. But can we turn this around? Can we organize a curriculum, assign faculty, and recruit students for a “Christ College” on the firm basis of liturgical life?

O’Malley said the liturgy “is not aestheticism.” The liturgy is “reality, physical and metaphysical. Neither thought nor emotion, it is a ‘process of fulfillment, a growth to maturity.’ It involves not the selfish universe of the individual but all creation.”

O’Malley finds his inspiration in the work of Romano Guardini, The Church and the Catholic and the Spirit of the Liturgy. Guardini wrote “Under Christ the head, the Church gathers together ‘all which is in heaven, on Earth and under the Earth.'” It is in liturgy that the so-called synthesis is attained, because the synthesis IS Christ, not in our mind but in reality. Again Guardini explains that everything in ed in worship “as a whole embraced in the relation with God established by prayer; the fullness of nature, evoked and transfigured by the fullness of grace, organized by the organic law of the Triune God, and steadily growing according to the rhythm perfectly simple yet infinitely rich.”

O’Malley used the above passage to explain Newman, but I think it should describe a truly Catholic college. For it means that one has a “sense of Christ-in-time, of Christ-in-the-universe, of every age flowing and of every man growing in His Great Body — the Incarnational view.”

It is preposterous to believe that a committee of faculty can simply invent and designate “synthesis courses” without the majority of the members of the faculty, and the students, being rooted in the liturgical life of the Church.

There must this depth to life and learning derived from liturgy. When a minuscule percentage of faculty and students at a given Catholic university attend daily Mass, or even the Sunday liturgy, how could a Catholic education possibly ensue?

The vision of a Christ College beholds a majority of faculty and students living life and pursuing education under the formation of liturgical practice of the Church.

The effect will be a new idea of a “curriculum.” For from the center of liturgy and new mode of learning could become habitual. We must look deeper than the model of Ignatius, based upon the formation of professionals in the world; and we must burrow beneath the Thomistic ideal of mastery and synthesis of philosophy and theology; we must discover the aboriginal mystery of Christ. And this mystery “slows down” the curriculum, but it slows it down to enrich it and teach us how to savor the wisdom of God, as F Russell Hittinger explained to us.

The late John Senior, teacher of Abbot Philip Anderson, wrote: “monastic education is essentially static — quiet and still — a curriculum no longer running anywhere; a course but not a track. It does not move across any measurable distance but only somewhere in the trackless wastes of Egypt, or inside the hortus conclusus in some unnumbered house in the heart of a city and in the heart of someone in that house, as in the depths of a sealed well. Such an education does not submit easily to tests and measurements; it baffles registrars; one never graduates. It seems like a retreat, a vacation but not an indolence — it is a zealous leisure; careless of footnotes and bibliographies, its sources are within. One doesn’t read the hundred books or even the book reviews. A single verse suffices for an hour or a year and one forgets the chapters and numbers. . . . The student is like a bee gathering honey from several flowers. . . . And all through the long afternoons in the  quiet  . . . listening in the interior silence . . . reading and rereading . . . the liturgical year moves about the fixed point of the turning wheel.” The Death of Christian Culture (1978) pp. 176-77.

The Christ College should be a residential college, at least in the main. The majority of students need to be within the daily orbit of the liturgy and the intellectual life of the college. But the student cannot of course merely dwell in the afternoon of leisurely study — we need ora et labora. The work of the mind must be accomplished. The faculty must play the role of an abbot in this Christ College by calling forth the students from the liturgical center to understand and discuss the books based upon the mystery of Christ: scripture, Church fathers, the poetry and writing of incarnation and passion, as well as high grade theology (Augustine and Aquinas), and a rigorous philosophy (Plato and Aristotle). In this college the reading of great books will not lead to relativism or scepticism because all is entered in Christ and liturgy. It is a living tradition. Something great is being passed on..

1 Comment
  1. John,

    You wrote, "How hard this for denizens of academia, both professorial and administrative [to organize one's day around Christ]."

    I'd say it should be relatively simple for academic workers, at least in comparison to 99% of the other workers in the world. I've worked outside and inside academia and though yes academic life is busy, it is also privileged and graceful in ways most workers in the world only dream of. So my point is: if academics can't find a way to organize a day around Christ, what hope does this leave for the larger society?

Join us!

* indicates required