Monday, May 3, 2010

How I Spent My Weekend

Well, I'm back. April was a good month for blogging, but I've gone quiet for the past three days and perhaps you would like to know why. On Friday my wife and I enjoyed a nice drive up to Barry's Bay, Ontario, which is on the edge of the Ottawa Valley just south of Algonquin Park - a small town in north-eastern Ontario. Algonquin Park is one of the best places in the world for canoeing and we love to spend a few weeks there every summer.

Anyway, the purpose of this jaunt was not canoeing, but a visit to Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, an orthodox, counter-cultural, Catholic, liberal arts college, which has what must be the coolest address for a Catholic college in the entire world: "18 Karol Wojtyla Square, Barry's Bay, Ontario." I had been invited to give a lecture there on Friday evening, which I did. About 60 or so people crowded into the largest classroom at the Academy to hear a Baptist (!) speak on "An Evangelical Appreciation of John Paul II's Theology of the Body." It was a lovely evening and Bonnie and I were made to feel extremely welcome by the professors, students, board members and friends of this vibrant community of faith.

On the last page of Alasdair MacIntryre's After Virtue, he writes:
It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead - often not recognizing fully what they were doing - was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this time is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.
What MacIntyre foresaw in this passage, I saw with my own eyes in Barry's Bay. Men and women of faith: priests, singles, married people, families living in close proximity and forming a community in which the moral and intellectual tradition of the virtues could be not only preserved and handed on to the next generation, but also inculcated into the students who come from all over North America and scatter out from the Academy all over the world.

The curriculum is heavy with Latin, Greek, theology, philosophy, history, literature and a smattering of psychology, science and mathematics. This curriculum is rooted in that of the Medieval universities and it is designed to preserve the best of the classical world as purified and corrected by revelation by the Church Fathers. The curriculum is taught, however, not by "mere experts" in the sense of scholars who know the subject objectively like atheist sociologists with a research interest in faith healing, but by committed Christians who believe what they teach and therefore imbue it with enthusiasm and vitality.

Everyone lives within walking distance of everything on campus and everybody attends the parish church for mass (most on a daily basis). It struck me that it must have been very much like what the first universities in Medieval Europe must have been like. The landscape of Barry's Bay is rugged and only moderately fertile. The area is not rich and there is a certain isolation. It is 4 hours to Toronto and 2.5 hours to Ottawa. Yet it struck me as infinitely more civilized than either of those two places. If Western Civilization has a future, it is being forged in places like Barry's Bay, not Ottawa or Toronto.

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