Primary Source: Selections from Matthew 5-7 (The Sermon on the Mount) (Introduction to Western Civilization 5.3

Matthew 5

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?

47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?

48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

 

Matthew 6

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Jesus Christ (Introduction to Western Civilization 5.2)

Through all that they experienced, the Jews continued to hope for a messiah. They believed that the messiah would be sent by God to set things right. He would finally put an end to all of the suffering of the Jewish people and would bring about a time of justice for all people. The Jews believed he would bring salvation, rescue from sin and its consequences. In about 30 AD, a man named Jesus, from a small town in Judea, began to preach to the people that he was that messiah.

The Gospels are the four books of the New Testament in the Bible that tell the story of the life of Jesus. The Gospels claim that Jesus’s mother, Mary, was a virgin who was visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she had been chosen to be the mother of the messiah. She gave birth nine months later in a cave in the village of Bethlehem. There, she and her new child were visited by shepherds who had been told of the birth of the messiah by angels. They were also visited by men called magi, who were priests from Persia. The magi had followed a star in the sky to the spot where Jesus was born.

When they arrived in Judea, the magi went to the king, a man named Herod, who ruled on behalf of the Romans. They asked him where they would find the messiah who had been born. Herod was a jealous and angry man. He lied to the magi and told them he too wanted to worship the new messiah. If they found out where the child had been born, he said, they should come and tell him. The magi eventually did find out where Jesus was born and visited Jesus and his mother. They gave them gifts and worshiped the child. They had a bad feeling about Herod, though, so they returned home without telling him where the child was. Because he did not know which child it was, Herod ordered his soldiers to kill every baby boy born recently in his kingdom. Mary and Jesus, along with Mary’s husband Joseph, fled into Egypt until the death of Herod a few years later. The birth of Jesus is celebrated every year on December 25 by Christians around the world.

The Gospels do not say much about what life was like for Jesus and his family when they returned to Judea. One interesting story about his childhood records an event that happened when Jesus was 12 years old. He visited the temple in Jerusalem along with his family to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover. On the way home to Nazareth from Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary realized that Jesus was missing. They went back to Jerusalem and searched all over for him. They finally found him in the temple, discussing the Bible with Jewish religious leaders there, asking and answering questions as if he were a wise man, even though he was a young boy!

Most of the story told in the Gospels tells of the events in Jesus’s life after he turned 30 years old. It was then that Jesus began to travel all around Judea, preaching the message that he was the messiah. He said that now was the time to repent of past sins and to begin to live a more just and merciful life. He said that God wanted people to love him and to love each other.

The Gospels also record that everywhere he went he healed the diseases of sick people. According to the Gospels, Jesus performed many miracles, including giving sight to blind men, making deaf people able to hear, allowing paralyzed people to walk again, and even raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.

All of this activity attracted the attention of people who did not like what Jesus was saying and doing. The Jewish priests thought that Jesus’s claim to be the Son of God was blasphemy. They said that he was making it sound like he was equal to God. The Roman authorities also had a problem with Jesus’s teachings. They knew that the Jews believed the messiah would free the Jewish people and let them have their own kingdom again. To the Romans, Jesus’s claims that he was the messiah sounded like treason. They believed he would try to stir up the Jews to rebel against Roman rule.

Jesus had many followers, but he chose 12 men, called apostles, to follow him wherever he went and help him spread his message. On the night when the Jews celebrated Passover, Jesus gathered with his 12 apostles in a home just outside of Jerusalem. There, they celebrated the Passover meal together. During the meal, Jesus picked up the loaf of bread used to celebrate the Passover, said a prayer to bless it, broke it into pieces, and declared to his apostles, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” He then gave the pieces to his apostles to eat. After the meal, Jesus lifted up the cup of wine at the table and told his apostles, “This is my blood, which will be shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins.” He then gave the cup to all of his apostles to drink. Most Christians around the world remember this special meal every Sunday morning in their worship when they celebrate the Eucharist by eating and drinking blessed bread and wine.

After the meal, one of his apostles, a man named Judas, left the house where they had eaten. For 30 pieces of silver, he betrayed Jesus by telling them where he was. They went to the hillside where he and his apostles had gone after the meal and arrested Jesus. They took him first to the Jewish priests, who declared that he was guilty of the crime of blasphemy for claiming that he was equal to God. Jesus was then taken to the Roman authorities who found him guilty of the crime of treason for claiming that he was the messiah and the king of the Jews.

In afternoon the following day, a Friday, Jesus was crucified. Crucifixion is a Roman punishment which was used to put the very worst criminals to death. In crucifixion, a criminal’s hands and feet were nailed to pieces of wood placed in the shape of a lower-case t. We call this shape a cross. All of Jesus’s apostles except for one young boy, John, fled because they were afraid they too would be crucified along with him. While Jesus was crucified, John, Jesus’s mother, and a few women who were Jesus’s followers stood by the cross. After three hours on the cross, the Gospels say Jesus looked up into the sky and loudly shouted, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus then died.

His body was taken down from the cross and placed in a cave just outside of the city. Because Saturday was the Sabbath day on which Jews could not do any work, his body could not be prepared for burial until sunrise on Sunday morning. The Gospels say that four of the women who were followers of Jesus went to the tomb on Sunday morning, but found it empty. The bandages that Jesus’s body had been wrapped in were in the tomb but his body was gone. As they exited the tomb in confusion, Jesus himself appeared to the women and told them that he had resurrected, which means he had risen from the dead. Christians celebrate this event every year on the holiday of Easter.

According to the Gospels, Jesus spent the next 40 days visiting his followers and teaching them the meaning of his death and resurrection. At the end of the 40 days, his followers watched as Jesus ascended into heaven. A new religion, called Christianity, was born. This religion would spread from just a few followers in Judea to become the religion of the whole Roman Empire. Today, Christianity is still the largest religion in the world.

 

Review Questions

1. What event do Christians celebrate on Christmas?

2. What were the two crimes Jesus was convicted of?

3. How was he punished for these crimes?

4. What event do Christians celebrate on Easter?

 

Vocabulary Words

 Salvation – rescue from sin and its consequences

The Jewish People (Introduction to Western Civilization 5.1)

When we studied the history of the Jewish people, you learned that they were able to establish their own kingdom in about 1000 BC. This kingdom did not last long, however. After the end of the reigns of their great kings, David and his son Solomon, the kingdom of Israel erupted in civil war. The nation was split into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Each of these kingdoms claimed to be the real Israelite kingdom. In 722 BC Israel was swallowed up by the Assyrian Empire and in 586 both kingdoms were conquered by the Babylonians. In 536, it was the Persian Empire’s turn to conquer the Babylonian Empire, which included the land of Israel.

Later, in about 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire. Israel then became part of Alexander’s empire. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, his empire was divided up among his generals. The area where the Jews lived at first went to a general named Antigonus. In 301 BC, Seleucus, another of Alexander’s former generals, conquered the land and made it part of his new Seleucid Empire.

The Jews remained under the control of the Seleucids until the reign of a man named Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Alexander, Antigonus, Seleucus, and the other Greeks who ruled over the Jews allowed them to continue their traditional religious practices. The Greeks viewed many Jewish customs, such as not eating pork and only worshipping one God, as rather strange, but they believed it was important to respect the traditions of the peoples they ruled over. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who became the king of the Seleucid Empire in 175 BC, did not believe in religious tolerance. Instead, he tried to force the Jews to become more like the Greeks.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes passed laws that made the Jews very angry. For example, he issued an order that all Jewish people must appear before a government official and be seen eating pork. The punishment for not obeying these laws was the death penalty. Some Jews chose to die rather than do things their God had commanded them not to do.

Finally, in 167 BC, a revolution erupted in the land of the Jews, now called Judea. When a Jewish priest named Mattathias refused to sacrifice to the Greek gods, another Jew stepped forward to offer the sacrifice instead. When Mattathias saw what he was doing, Mattathias killed him. Mattathias and his five sons then ran away into the desert to escape punishment. Other Jews who opposed Antiochus joined them and eventually an army was formed. This war of the Jews against their Greek rulers is called the Maccabean Revolt after one of its earlier leaders, Judas Maccabeus.

In 160 BC, the Jews triumphed over the Greeks and again won their freedom. For the first time in over 500 years, the Jews had their own independent kingdom. According to stories told after that time, when the Jewish fighters went into Jerusalem they found that the temple of their God had been filled with items used for the worship of the Greek gods. There was even a large statue of Zeus in the most holy part of the temple. They removed these objects and decided to once again use the temple for the worship of the God of the Jews. They lit the menorah, a lamp with seven candles that was traditionally kept burning inside the temple. Unfortunately, they discovered that they only had enough oil for the candles to last one day. The lamp continued to burn for eight days, however, until more oil could be brought to Jerusalem to keep the lamp lighted. The Jews considered it a miracle and a sign from God that he was still taking care of them in spite of everything they had been through. Today, Jewish people celebrate this miracle on the holiday called Hanukah, which lasts for eight days and involves giving gifts and lighting a menorah in every Jewish home.

Jewish independence did not last long. In 63 BC, another large and powerful empire came to conquer Judea. This time it was the Romans. The Jews fought fiercely to protect their new kingdom and their holy city, but the Romans were too strong for them. During the conquest of Jerusalem, more than 12,000 Jewish soldiers died defending their city while only a few Roman soldiers were killed. The Jews once again became a small part of a very big empire.

 

Review Questions

 Create a timeline that includes the events that occurred in each of these years:

    1. 722 BC
    2. 586 BC
    3. 536 BC
    4. 332 BC
    5. 323 BC
    6. 301 BC
    7. 175 BC
    8. 167 BC
    9. 160 BC
    10. 63 BC

 

Vocabulary Words

 Religious tolerance – allowing others to practice or believe things you do not agree with

Education and the person

At the heart of the debate over education in the United States and elsewhere in the modern world is a debate over the nature of a human being. On the one hand, there are those who deny that there is any such thing or assert, at least, that if such a thing exists it is malleable. The purpose of an education from this perspective, then, must be to shape the raw human material into the desired mold. In the 20th century, this model became the dominant model in American public education. The education system has seen its task as one of making the human being into the desired product: a worker, a consumer, and a “good citizen.” On the other hand, however, is the traditional approach to education, which sees the task of the educator not in making the person, but in leading the person along the path of discovery of self and world. As Russell Kirk points out in his essay “The Conservative Purpose of a Liberal Education,” the purpose of a liberal education is “not to indoctrinate a young person in civics, but rather to teach what it is to be a true human being, living within a moral order. The person has primacy in liberal education.”

The disappearance of the classics from public school curriculums and even from institutions of higher education across the United States is both a symptom and, in turn, a reinforcing cause of the current crisis in education. If human nature is malleable, the classics can safely be ignored. What does Socrates have to do with the modern world? In addition, with the theory that human nature is amorphous necessarily comes the elimination of any notion of an ideal human. If there is no human nature, there can be none who represent the greatest embodiments of or elucidations upon that nature. As a result, the very notion of classics can safely be discarded.

The irony here is markedly obvious, however. Faculty members of university humanities departments across the nation bewail the decline of majors in the humanities, while obstinately remaining blind to the causes of the destruction within themselves. By undermining the criteria by which certain books can be held up as the greatest literary achievements of mankind and extolled as classics of enduring value and significance, these professors have undermined their own existence as employed teachers of literature.

The result is that an ever increasing number of students are coming from public schools where the emphasis is on, as the newest curriculum fade phrases, it “college and career readiness.” These students then enter colleges and universities to seek degrees in fields which are seen as the most promising for a future career. They are trained, not educated, to enter the workforce and become “productive.” The means by which this can be achieved are twofold. There is, first, ignoring the question of human nature altogether. The student is instead distracted with a focus on technology and vocational training. The second is to indoctrinate the student along the way with a desire to be a “good citizen,” a person who fits into the mold of whatever ideal the state currently espouses.

All of this is, of course, a distortion and, often, a destruction of the human being. Man is not primarily and merely the producer, the wage-earner, or the voter. Each of these is, in fact, a perversion of some aspect of authentic human nature. Man is not merely a producer, but a creator, an entity with curiously and imagination. He is not a wage-earner and a voter, but a political animal, a creature made for social cooperation and communion with his fellow creatures.

If true liberal education is to be revived in the United States, the first step in the process is a restoration of a traditional understanding of human nature. It must be understood first that human nature is immutable. It must first be understood that Plato was the same sort of thing we today are. We must realize, as Russell Kirk says, that “Aristophanes and Socrates retain high significance for us” and that “Thucydides and Plutarch” have can teach us “much about our present time of troubles.” Only after the immutability of human nature has been established and accepted as fact can man at least fulfill the dictum at the heart of human life: “know thyself.”

It is only from this stance that the proper means and ends of education can be pursued. The educator, and the institution of which he is a part, must acknowledge and celebrate the immensity and permanence of the thing before them: the individual human being. It is then that the educator may set about discovering this thing rather than haphazardly and brutally attempting to force it into a mold into which it will not fit.

 

Virtues or Values?

Central among the numerous problematic features of education in the United States today is the movement away from the idea of virtue and the embrace of the alternative but decadent notion of values. Although the difference between the two ideas may seem slight at first, the contrast becomes evident upon examination of the respective definitions of the terms. Value, on the one hand, implies an arbitrary and temporary emphasis upon a certain object or activity. The “value” of a dollar, for instance, has declined significantly over the last century. The “value” of gold, however, continues to climb. Value is the worth attributed to something by individuals or some consensus among a certain group. Virtue, on the other hand, refers to moral and ethical standards whose value never fluctuates. A virtue is as good in one place and time as it is in any other. Cowardice, for example, is never virtuous; in other words, cowardice is never the good, right, or fitting thing. Courage, on the other hand, is never not a virtue; it is, in short, always and forever the right thing in all situations in all places.

It can be seen from this contrast why the idea of virtue has been replaced by the notion of value by modern educators. The notion of value fits into the prevalent idea that morals are culturally contingent, that, contrary to logic, a thing can be good in one place and not in another. The very existence of virtue, on the other hand, implies two further theses against which the modern mind rebels. The first implied thesis is that human nature is immutable, meaning that it does not change over time nor from culture to culture. There are, therefore, certain ways of “being human” which conform more closely than others to human nature and are more fitting and right. These necessarily are also more conducive to human happiness and development. The second thesis, even more troubling for the modern mind, is that if virtue does indeed exist there must necessarily be an eternal, transcendent, and objective standard which forms the foundation for virtue and, of course, an eternal, transcendent Standard-Giver beyond this. If virtue is everywhere and always good, good is not merely a matter of taste but a matter of the Good, in what might be called the Platonic sense.

Throughout most of the history of the philosophy of education, the constantly emphasis by wise thinkers has been about the formation of the young through virtue. Early Christian theories of education in particular emphasized the aspect of virtue in arguing for the proper Christian stance toward pre-Christian literature. In his treatise addressed “To Young Men, on How They Might Derive Profit from Pagan Literature,” St. Basil the Great launched an extensive argument that the primary means by which Christian “young men” could “derive profit from pagan literature” is in drawing from those writings their lessons in virtue. “Since it is through virtue that we must enter upon this life of ours,” he says, “and since much has been uttered in praise of virtue by poets, much by historians, and much more still by philosophers, we ought especially to apply ourselves to such literature.” Basil’s near-contemporary St. John Chrysostom, wrote an “Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children” in which he exhorts parents first and foremost to “exercise this child’s soul in virtue.” In his “Letter to Laeta,” St. Jerome exhorts a young mother to care for her daughter Paula by centering her education from a young age in exhortations to and exhibitions of virtuous behavior.

One of the most famous examples of liberal learning among the Church Fathers, St. Augustine of Hippo, presents some special insight for the current situation of modern education. In his Confessions, Augustine wonders “what did it profit me, that all the books I could procure of the so-called liberal arts, I, the vile slave of affections, read by myself, and understood?” The rhetorical question here put has great implications for the modern movement away from teaching virtue in education. Although Augustine was extraordinarily well-educated, he found himself unable to discern what whether what he read “therein was true or certain.” He was unable to differentiate truth from falsehood because his own education lacked in the instillment of virtue. He, like so many children being educated in American schools today, was filled with interesting facts but unable to establish the meaning of these facts for his life. He, like them, was unable to find truth because the nature of the education he had received denied the very existence of truth in the proper and complete sense. Augustine was able to recover from the trauma of his education and discover truth later. How many American schoolchildren today will be able to do the same?