Vol. 2, Issue 19
December 2, 2007
Two months have slipped by since the last formal issue of Scholegium, although I've sent sporadic announcements. The Callihan family has been occupied with the approaching double wedding of my two oldest daughters in late December, a hunting season that hasn't required us hunters to go much further than the front porch, making apple cider, and, along the way, some illnesses. But it's time to get this newsletter rolling again, especially because the end of the church year and the beginning of the new one is upon us, at least for us in the western church. The first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of the western church year, is today, Sunday, December 2. The Anno Domini piece in this issue is an adaption of last year's Advent article.
IN THIS ISSUE:
1) SCHOLA NEWS -- openings in January Astronomy class; Schola Christmas gifts; Registration for '08-'09 school year
2) DE ASTRIS -- Fomalhaut, Solitary Star of the South
3) ANNO DOMINI -- Another Glorious Advent
4) SIC LOCUTUS -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
(DE ASTRIS = "Concerning the Stars"; ANNO DOMINI = "In the year of our Lord"; SIC LOCUTUS = "As he has said")
Schola's one-semester Astronomy class begins January 16, and there are still a few spaces available in the class. For course description and fees and registration information, click on "Online Tutorials" in the left bar of Schola's homepage.
If you know someone who might like a Schola hoodie, t-shirt, or coffee mug for Christmas, please click on "Clothing" under "Schola Stores" on the homepage.
REGISTRATION for the 2008-2009 school year: it's not too earlier to start thinking about it! Currently enrolled families re-register from January 15-March 1, at which time registration is opened to all. You're welcome to contact me at any time and I'll put your name on the waiting list.
DE ASTRIS -- Fomalhaut, the Solitary Star of the South
Ok, I could have come up with a cleverer title, but at least it's accurate (if you live in the northern hemisphere, that is).
Fomalhaut is a fascinating star, but let's find it before I tell you about it. Fomalhaut crosses the southern sky low and lonely from September through November; this time of year, look for it in the first couple of hours after dark. Start by finding the pointer stars in the Big Dipper (the two stars that form the side of the dipper opposite the handle), then draw an imaginary line from the bottom one through the top one and continue it till you read the North Star, Polaris. Continue that line roughly the same distance on the other side of Polaris till you reach the leading star of Cassiopeia, then keep it going about the same distance again till you reach the Great Square of Pegasus. Now stop and enjoy the Square. See how it looks like a Great Baseball Diamond in the sky? Ok, ok, maybe you have to be a baseball fan. Anyhow, now find the two stars that form the right side of the Square and draw an imaginary line through those continuing south till you reach Fomalhaut, the only bright star you'll see in the southern portion of the sky below Pegasus. It really stands alone. (If you draw a line south through the two left side stars of the Square, you'll hit Beta Ceti, a star in Cetus the Whale -- but it's not as bright as Fomalhaut.)
Fomalhaut is in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish, most of whose stars are very faint and nearly invisible to us in the mid-latitudes. The name Fomalhaut comes from Arabic and means "The Fish's Mouth", and it's called that because there's a long string of dim stars trickling down toward it from Aquarius, representing the water poured from Aquarius's jar into the fish's mouth. Fish don't drink water, of course, but star myths are never bothered by fiddling little details like that. Given it's Arabic origin, the name should be pronounced something like FOH-mul-hoot, but you'll hear FOH-mul-hoh by people who think it's a French name, or FOH-mul-hot by people like me who are just guessing, and FOH-mul-howt by the same confused crowd. Go with "hoot" or "hot".
Fomalhaut was associated by the ancient Syrians and Canaanitic people with Dagon, their fish-god, whose statue kept toppling in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, and whose temple in Gaza was destroyed by blind Samson when he shoved the pillars down. Archaeologists say that there is evidence that the temples to Dagon were oriented to the rising of Fomalhaut.
It was considered to be one of the four royal stars by the Babylonian Magi, along with Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus, Regulus in Leo, and Antares in Scorpius.
In the Middle Ages or Renaissance, legends begin to appear of Piscis Austrinus and Fomalhaut representing the fish the apostle Peter pulled from the sea with the coin in its mouth, and some old Greek names like ICHTHUS MEGAS (the great fish) suggest the ICHTHUS acronym so beloved by Christians from earliest times.
Fomalhaut is a lonely, dignified, Autumnal star the fills the gap between the pleasant summer stars and the spectacular winter ones rapidly rising, like Orion and Sirius. Not many people pay attention to Fomalhaut, but those who do have a reward.
ANNO DOMINI -- Another Glorious Advent
Today, Sunday December 2, is the first of the four Sundays of Advent season, the beginning of the church year. In Advent we celebrate the coming of Christ, God in the flesh in history, first for our salvation and eventually for the judgment of the world, both of which are remembered in Advent.
Since the earliest days of the church, she has marked out time based on commemorating the life of Christ and of the church herself, and one of the fundamental reasons she has done so is that calendars are not neutral - they always tell a story, and that story is a culture's answer to the question:
who is Lord of all things including the passage of time?
Philip Schaff, the great nineteenth century church historian, reminds us that the church calendar centers on and elevates the the person and work of Jesus Christ and His glory. It developed as a yearly representation of the main events of the gospel history; the birth, passion, and resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as well as an exhibition of the life of the Christian church, its founding, growth, and consummation, as a whole and in its individuals, from regeneration to the resurrection of the dead. "THE CHURCH YEAR IS, SO TO SPEAK, A CHRONOLOGICAL CONFESSION OF FAITH; a moving panorama of the great events of salvation; a dramatic exhibition of the gospel for the Christian people. It secures to every important article of faith its place in the cultus [system of belief and practice] of the church, and conduces to wholeness and soundness of Christian doctrine, as against all unbalanced and erratic ideas. It serves to interweave religion with the, life of the people by continually recalling to the popular mind the most important events upon which our salvation rests, and by connecting them with the vicissitudes of the natural and the civil year."
The Scriptures contain no specific warrant for the festivals of the Christian church year, but they do not contain anything that would forbid them so long as they are not presented by the church as binding on the conscience of the believer. Furthermore, the Old Testament patterns of religious practice are a powerful precedent, and the necessity of at least
*some* kind of Christian worship and public life demands that we think about how we mark the passing of time. The Anglican/Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer says in its preface that the church year and other extra-Biblical practices of the church are not binding on the conscience but legitimate uses of the church to promote faith. Unfortunately, the church calendar became so overlarded with saints days and other festivals in the middle ages that the Reformation leaders felt the necessity of restoring an earlier simplicity, but there was never any question of abandoning the church year entirely, as that would simply hand over the keeping of cultural time to the unbelieving world.
A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes... and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.