Through the Constitution, Lesson 18: Wisdom, Virtue, and the Unwritten Foundations of the Constitution

The knowledge of the science of legislation, the character of legislators, and the duty of the citizen determine the character of our government. What were Election Sermons about? One sermon encouraged us to “never elect someone you wouldn’t trust with your personal matters.” Are we looking for “perfect” politicians? Do we change our views after receiving better information, or are we more afraid of our friends and party? The example of the First American – Benjamin Franklin. 

Listen to, Wisdom, Virtue, and the Unwritten Foundations of the Constitution

NEW PROJECT: Sheridan’s American History Shorts

For just $5.00 per month, receive daily audio readings on American History. The best news is that they are SHORT – Sheridan Shorts are rarely over three minutes! These are perfect for the classroom, homeschool, or for anyone who wants American History on the go. THESE FIRST FEW LESSONS ARE FREE – please take a listen and subscribe.

I will be reproducing in audio form excellent American History textbooks, written between 1900-1924. These historians shaped American historiography, had a passion for it, and they knew how to write! These weren’t dead textbooks merely reciting names and dates in dry language, but living, passionate, and exciting works filled with universal human sympathy, without violating the truth.

There is a tendency to despise all that isn’t “modern,” but we do well to re-read these works; this is American History as it was taught to our grandparents and great grandparents.

“A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about.”

These audios represent from whence we came. May they be a daily source of information, joy, and pride as you listen.

Listen to lesson one, Dawn of American History

Erasmus of Rotterdam: Humanist

Erasmus of Rotterdam: Humanist – By Daniel W. Sheridan

The Renaissance was an intellectual revolution, a revival of interest in things concerning this life. Science, letters, original documents, painting, and other areas of human endeavors captured the imagination of Renaissance men.

One of the most significant Northern Renaissance scholars of the sixteenth century was born on October 28, 1466, Erasmus of Rotterdam. Protestant and Catholic reform movements can be traced back to him. Erasmus revolutionized education by integrating the study of ancient literature with Holy Scripture, and his beliefs about the Christian life inspired generations. He traveled extensively, living in places like Germany, England, Switzerland, France, and Italy; he corresponded with every thinker of his day; he was friends with Pope Leo the Tenth, Emperor Charles the Fifth, and many French and English leaders. And yet, for all that, in the end, neither the Catholics or Protestants claimed him as their own. 

His father, a priest, instilled into Erasmus a love of the classics and ancient literature. Erasmus followed his father’s footsteps and was ordained a priest in 1492, but he didn’t like the lifestyle. He studied theology in Paris, and then in 1499, Erasmus met a man in England who would change the course of his life – John Colet. Colet, who would become the Dean of St. Paul’s, encouraged Erasmus to pursue other studies on top of the classics and to use that combined knowledge in the service of Scripture and the church. Erasmus accepted Colet’s challenge and began to study Greek, which he mastered very quickly. Erasmus soon put this wealth of knowledge to use, creating works that influence us to this very day.  

Erasmus published the first of many volumes of adages in 1500; these were proverbs drawn from Greek and Latin learning. Soon after that, he wrote Handbook of the Christian Knight, which was inspired by the wife of a knight who was embarrassed by her husband’s uncivilized behavior. Erasmus later expanded that work into what became known as the Enchiridion. “This is an appeal on Christians to act in accordance with the Christian faith rather than merely performing the necessary rites.” He translated the Greek classics, the Church fathers, wrote paraphrases and summaries of Scripture, and a volume which he dedicated to Thomas More called “Praise of Folly” in which he makes fun of medieval superstitions, ceremonial religiosity, and prejudices.

Erasmus’ magnum opus is his Greek edition of the New Testament – Novum Instrumentum. The original version contained his Greek text along with the Latin Vulgate – a side-by-side “parallel Bible.” A later edition included the Greek and his Latin Translation. Erasmus’ goal was to provide the original Greek with an accurate translation. This work alarmed church leaders as they contained notes on the text, which they felt undermined the authority and traditional interpretations of the church.

Erasmus, a life-long Catholic, came to believe his church had become corrupted by superstitions and bad practices, which were contrary to Scripture, and he called for a return to primitive Christianity. His studies in church history convinced him that the faith became distorted by the combination of politics and violence – a church-state amalgamation which was the result of departing from the simplicity of the New Testament.

Many associated Erasmus with Luther because they held similar views. For instance, Erasmus called for reforms, encouraged a sincere faith over the mere ceremony, and he desired that ordinary people should read the Bible in their native language. Erasmus, however, never joined the reformers believing men like Luther went too far. He feared their course was leading to violence and revolution, and he wanted nothing to do with that. Erasmus, though criticizing his church and his Pope, never called for anyone to leave the church or deny the Pope’s authority.

Erasmus and Luther knew each other and debated a particular issue. “Luther, during the years of the first part of the 1520s, engaged in a sharp exchange upon whether human beings have free will in the question of salvation. Erasmus, for his part, wrote a work that was fairly reserved, polite, and elegantly argued. Luther, in turn, wrote a much longer text called The Bondage of the Will, in which he assaulted Erasmus again and again.”

Catholic leaders asked Erasmus to defend Catholicism against the Protestants, but he refused. Erasmus seemed to stay on the sidelines of this battle, and both sides condemned him for it. I don’t.

Erasmus was an optimist who wanted manageable change; here a little, there a little, line by line, easy-peasy, so that the people could maturely process the new information. He believed education, the classical languages, and the faith, would gradually transform the church and produce a Christ-like people. All of his works were dedicated to these ends.

Erasmus’ New Testament was invaluable to the Reformers. Believing the Latin Vulgate contained errors, Erasmus published his Greek New Testament in 1516, hoping it would be translated into the native tongues of ordinary people. Erasmus saw his wish come true in his lifetime as translators translated his text into the vernacular, and the new printing presses were spitting out copies that landed in the hands of his intended audience. 

Erasmus, a life-long student, never retired from his work. He continued his labors until his death in 1536. Erasmus died without a party; neither the Catholics nor the Protestants claimed him. We’ll take him, however. 

“Erasmus was the prince of Humanists and the most influential scholar of his age. He ruled undisputed sway as monarch in the realm of letters. He combined brilliant genius, classical and biblical learning, keen wit and elegant taste. He rarely wrote a dull line. His extensive travels made him a man of the world, a genuine cosmopolitan, and he stood in correspondence with scholars of all countries who consulted him as an oracle. His books had the popularity and circulation of modern novels.”

Erasmus penned one of my favorite quotes:

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”

PODCAST: Through the Constitution, Lesson 17 – The Separation of Powers

In Christian teaching, Jesus is the lawgiver, judge, and king – He makes, interprets, and executes the laws. The Founders, however, didn’t want these three distinct powers residing in a single person or body in our government. How did the Founders take the best features of democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy, and write them into our Constitution? The Separation of Powers protects individual rights. 

Listen to, The Separation of Powers

Columbanus: The Dove of the Church

Columbanus: The Dove of the Church – By Daniel W. Sheridan (Twitter: @DanielWSheridan)  

“In Ireland It’s Not A Man’s Position But His Principles That Count…

“The Glory of God is the Human Person – Fully Alive!

If You Take Away Freedom You Take Away Dignity.” 

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the conquerors had no interest in ancient learning or in perpetuating it, which led to a serious decline in learning in sixth-century Europe. Gregory of Tours noted,

“…in the cities of Gaul there could be found no scholar trained in ordered composition who can present a picture in prose or verse of the things that have befallen.”

In other words, the French could no longer read or write! There were only two places in Western Europe you could learn reading and writing. One was among the caliphates of southern Europe, where Islamic rule brought beautiful designs, intricate science, and math. The other place was Ireland.

The leader of this learning movement in Ireland was a Bishop named Columbanus, the Dove of the Church. Columbanus established one of the largest libraries in the medieval world. He was a master of both the Scriptures and the Latin classics, as is evident from his writings. One of the chief occupations of his Monks was copying manuscripts.

The educated monks under Columbanus made their way from Ireland to Gaul to teach. Columbanus urged them to avoid worldly temptations and church power; to fear women and their leaders. This brave man rebuked both political and ecclesiastical tyrants. Women, he said, were to be revered! Columbanus, like his predecessor, St. Patrick, was ahead of his time. Columbanus’ influence spread beyond the Irish monastery walls to all Europe. Modern Italian villages and communities are named after him.

Do not, however, let the title “Dove” fool you. Even though his name means dove, Columbanus fearlessly and relentlessly condemned the abuse of power. When it came to reforming, he didn’t spare anyone. Columbanus went after clergy, princes, and even the Pope himself! Columbanus hated elitism. Thomas Cahill, in his “How The Irish Saved Civilization,” notes that Columbanus could have been a High King, but he chose to become a missionary monk instead. That is proof enough that his hatred of elitism wasn’t hypocritical.

Columbanus described himself as a dissenter when dissent was called for, but not a revolutionary. He had a vision of a united Europe under a united Catholic faith. The foundation of his vision was the concept of the free man. Columbanus said that to take away a person’s freedom is to take away everything. In St Peter’s Basilica there is a mosaic dedicated to St Columbanus bearing the inscription:

“If you take away freedom you take away dignity.”

“The phrase (ie: ‘If you take away freedom you take away dignity’) is taken from one of the letters of Columbanus. Indeed it is something that could have been written, not only by a seventh century missionary, but also by a citizen of today’s world, where so many people live in terrible conditions of slavery, fear and oppression…In addition to the ancient forms of oppression such as war, poverty, loneliness, violence and exile, the modern world has new forms of slavery such as drug and alcohol addiction, which are particularly destructive of human dignity…The glory of God is the human person – fully alive. Columbanus succeeded in uniting faith with human dignity and freedom.” (Cardinal Brady, on the 1400th Anniversary of the Death of Columbanus).

Columbanus “retained his individuality, that independence of spirit which had hurled anathemas at kings and queens and requested a pope not to allow ‘the head of the church to be turned into its tail…FOR IN IRELAND IT IS NOT A MAN’S POSITION BUT HIS PRINCIPLES THAT COUNT.”

1. “The Course of Irish History” By Moody and Martin
2. “The History of Ireland” McCourt
3. “How the Irish Saved Civilization” Cahill
4. “Keating’s History of Ireland” Keating
5. “Ireland” Joyce
6. “Cardinal Brady’s Homily Marking the 1,400th Anniversary of the Death of St. Columbanus”
7. “The Story of Ireland” BBC

St. Patrick: How Love Changed The World

St. Patrick: How Love Changed The World – by Daniel W. Sheridan (Twitter: @DanielWSheridan) #Irish #SaintPatricksDay #History #LoveWins

Patrick said that he went where no man had gone before. That expression, which is still in use today, we probably got from St. Patrick. In his day heading out to parts unknown was extremely hazardous, and only a few tried. Patrick, despite the dangers, was driven to fulfill his mission. 

Patrick left behind writings, known for expressions of great humility, called “Confessions.” Here are sample excerpts:

“My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time… I was taken into captivity in Ireland…It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognized my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God…Although I am imperfect in many ways, I want my brothers and relations to know what I’m really like, so that they can see what it is that inspires my life…”

Drive and humility characterized Patrick’s mission, a work that changed the Irish people and the world at large.

Patrick, the story goes, was born in Roman-controlled Britain. One day, as a young boy of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland and enslaved. While there, Patrick, as he wrote in his Confessions, was awakened to his need to know and serve God. After six years of slavery and spiritual renewal, Patrick grew convinced that he was called to go back home to England. Patrick, fleeing from his master, walked over 200 miles to the port and then returned to England. After many adventures and years of study, Patrick was ordained a Priest. 

One day, Patrick believed he heard the voice of the Irish calling to him. He heeded the call and returned to the place of his enslavement as a passionate missionary to his former captors.

Patrick succeeded in bringing Christianity to Ireland, but it was a different sort, a revised version of the faith that emanated from Rome. Unique circumstances in Ireland account for this. The Ireland of Patrick’s day lacked villages from whence parishes emerged, and cities where dioceses were formed. As a result, the Irish church, not having a centralized religious authority, was “anchored by monasteries which became not only religious sites of scholarship and spirituality, but economic and market centers…” The Irish molded Christianity to their own experiences. 

Patrick was ahead of his time in that he empathized with women and became one of the first righteous voices to denounce slavery. His version of Christianity was brighter than the gloomy and fearful versions emanating from Europe. Patrick “could see,” wrote Malachy McCourt, “God’s glory in the natural world about him, and could concentrate on the natural God-given joy of life rather than the sin of man’s soul.”

In keeping with this joyous spirit, Patrick did not “as other missionaries in other places would later, condemn the Celts as ignorant infidels or uncouth Pagans. Instead, he took the Druidic world and tried to explain it in Christian terms.” Patrick, instead of driving people away by stern condemnations, sought to win people’s hearts. 

As a drop of ink makes millions to think, “perhaps most important of all, Patrick’s importing Christianity to Ireland brought ‘writing,’ a skill that would not only advance Irish civilization immeasurably but, would also save the civilization of the western world” (Malachy McCourt, History of Ireland).

“With the Irish,” wrote Thomas Cahill, Saint Patrick “succeeded beyond measure. Within his lifetime…the Irish slave trade came to a halt, and other forms of violence, such as murder and inter-tribal warfare, decreased.” He also inspired men who “by their way of life reminded the Irish that the virtues of lifelong faithfulness, courage, and generosity were actually attainable by ordinary human beings and that the sword was not the only instrument for structuring a society.”

Joy, combined with self-sacrificing love, not the sword, wins affections and transforms lives. 

“The Romans,” concludes Cahill, “are the rich and powerful who run things their way and must always accrue more because they instinctively believe that there will never be enough to go around; the catholics, as their name implies, are universalists who instinctively believe that all humanity makes one family, that every human being is an equal child of God, and that God will provide. The twenty-first century…will be spiritual or it will not be. If our civilization is to be saved – forget about civilization, which, as Patrick would say, may pass ‘in a moment like a cloud or smoke that is scattered by the wind’ – if WE are to be saved, it will not be by Romans but by Saints.”