About Me

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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. My translation of Hildegard's Book of Divine Works is available from Catholic University of America Press here. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Can Faith and Science Coexist?

"Galileo before the Holy Office"
by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury.
Image from WikiMedia.

Are the claims of modern science and of the Christian faith compatible?  Can a practicing and faithful Christian trust the evidence gathered and digested by biologists and chemists and physicists today?  Or does a narrowly-defined reading of the Book of Genesis demand that any whose allegiance is with God dismiss the conclusions of rational thought?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian

Image from WikiCommons.

Today is indeed (or at least was, in the old calendar)[1] the feast of Saints Crispin and Crispinian.  According to legend, they were on this day in A.D. 286 or 287 martyred under Diocletian and his co-emperor, Maximianus near Soissons in modern-day France.  But this day in the English-speaking world shall always “be in our flowing cups freshly remember’d,” for on Crispin Crispinian in 1415, King Henry V defeated the French at Agincourt and ushered in a brief renewal of his crown’s hold upon France.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Verbum de Verbo: On Translation and its Act of Faith

Image from the Codex Sinaiticus.

Why translate again a work so often done already?  Is there anything new to be gained by publishing another ream of Iliads, Homer’s epic whose number of translations (and transmutations) might come second only to the Bible?  When The Economist’s recent review posed this question, it offered an oblique but important answer.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Review: Inventing the Middle Ages by Norman F. Cantor

Norman F. Cantor. Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century. New York: Morrow, 1991. 477 pp.

This is a moving, if idiosyncratic, historiographical meditation on the rise of "modern" medieval studies (to be distinguished from those of the nineteenth century). After a concise sketch of the broad strokes of medieval history and the movements of modern interpretation, Cantor dives into compelling portraits of the twenty medievalists who, in his opinion, "invented" the Middle Ages for the modern world of the twentieth century. Combining a standard academic's review of their works with an esteemed historian's synthetic stitching to tell the history of historians, Cantor attempts to understand not only what each of these men (and one woman) told us about the Middle Ages but also why they approached them the way they did.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Curiosity in and out of the Classroom, Intellectual and Otherwise

James Lang has a penetrating article over at The Chronicle of Higher Education this week exploring contemporary student culture outside of the classroom.  Beginning, as many of us do, with fond memories of those late-night discussions of the grand meaning of it all when we were undergraduates--and how naively ambitious those discussions were!--he takes stock of where those discussions might be found today.  It can be a depressing, if not altogether surprising, conclusion:

(...) most students do not have a curious and thriving intellectual life outside of their courses. The late-night discussions that I imagined my students having in their dorm rooms about the meaning of life, according to Small, are simply not happening.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sunrise, Sunset

Though today is overcast and cool, yesterday was one of those perfect examples of autumn: a warm, partly-cloudy day that opened and closed crisply with numinous light.  This is sunrise from a hillock at the southern tip of the University of the Cumberlands campus:

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Secrets of Medieval Cathedrals...

…aren’t really all that secret. But if you’re an overzealous editor at NOVA, you might be tempted to invoke “secretly encoded” information in sacred architecture to drum up popular interest. When PBS last week reaired the series’ 2010 opener, “Building the Great Cathedrals”, it was apparent that even their high standards could sometimes be duped by that popular myth that codes, DaVinci or otherwise, are hidden all about those mysterious Middle Ages, just waiting for modern sleuths to expose the hidden past.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

In novum statum: The Next Stage of Our Lives

With the slight embarrassment that I am so tardy in sharing this news, I am nevertheless pleased to announce that my wife, Heather, and I have embarked on the next stage of our lives.  Over the summer, Heather accepted a tenure-track position in the Biology Department at the University of the Cumberlands.  At the beginning of August, we packed a great U-Haul and made the eight-hour trek to settle into our new home: Williamsburg, Kentucky.  Nestled in the western foothills of the Appalachian mountains and a bare eleven miles north of the Tennessee border, it has certainly marked a change of scenery from South Bend.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

In Principio Novo: This Blog Returns to Life

For several years now this blog has lain dormant.  Originally conceived as a catch-all for what I fancied were my more important thoughts as I began my senior year of college, it served its better times as a repository for my budding efforts as a medievalist and translator and as a travelogue of sorts during my year in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar.  During my time as a graduate student at the Medieval Institute it went fallow, except for scattered personal announcements and to post a rough paper or two.  Certainly the demands of graduate work and falling in love kept me from it; but far more, I think, did I forebear under the realization of my own incompetencies.  My graduate committee broke the pride of intellect; to my wife I willingly sacrificed the pride of soul.

It might seem presumptuous, then, that I should now attempt its revival.  It is my certain hope (how vain is yet to be seen) that I can offer something worth while.  When I recognize and shake my head at the naïve arrogance I once put on display, I hope that some more years along have left me a clearer, more experienced lens.  Wise it may not be, but at least a bit more prudent.

The drive to put down in writing the whirlwind of thoughts and experiences, both quotidian and extraordinary, is as strong as ever.  One good idea might occasionally escape in that process by which the build-up of voice upon voice escalates until finally, from sheer dint of pressure, it is flung from the chaotic nebula of my head into the galaxy of the world outside.  But as Chaucer noticed when he glimpsed this “Domus Dedaly / That Laboryntus cleped ys” (House of Fame, 1920-1), not even in these nascent moments of a story is truth purely found.  The muddied waters of human expression are from their very source a mixture of truth and falsehood.  I cannot promise pure clarity, but only that in the process, the journey might be a little less murky than before.

Epistemological theorizing aside (for the moment), what concrete shape will this blog take?  I can refer you to its very first post years ago, for the motivations remain much the same.  As its title would indicate, it will reflect the experiences of a man of faith seeking to understand that faith and the world in which he exercises it.  I will strive to understand the grand ideas that animate the course of human history, tempered by the practical limitations we face every day in living out those grand claims we make in our more idealistic moments.

I am an academic; and the methods by which I explore this journey we call “life” will be, by and large, academic.  I will read monographs and review them; scour the medieval religious texts I study for clues; and attempt to reconstruct the thoughts and experiences of men and women who lived centuries ago.  Some of this work may hopefully find its way into print; at the very least, I hope to make more medieval texts available in English translation.  As a teacher, my goal is to help new generations explore and understand the human story, whose conflicts and crises today echo anxieties faced by countless generations before.  At my best moments, I hope to bring these fascinating figures back to life; most of the time, I will consider it a success to have told a coherent tale.

But I must also be on guard lest I succumb to that danger that lurks in the path of any academic: the danger of becoming too ensconced in our Ivory Towers, reducing, as it were, the true complexity of the figures we study to the merely academic and scholarly.  As I was reminded a few years ago in a visit to the Abbey of St. Hildegard of Bingen, the real rewards of our work should take us beyond the conferences and scholarly monographs and journals.  I met there, for example, an Italian-German woman whom we “scholars” would term an “amateur”, that is, whose interest in Hildegard is entirely practical.  She studies Hildegard, spends time at Hildegard’s abbey, and reads Hildegard’s works, not because that’s her job, but because she finds meaning for her own life in Hildegard’s.  Hildegard’s writings on natural medicine are not merely important as documents in the history of science; for her, they become actual tools in regulating the ailments of her own body.  Likewise, Hildegard’s theology is not merely a collection of theoretical notions; rather, this woman has actually allowed her own spiritual life to be taught by Hildegard’s teachings.

The vitality of Hildegard’s personality in our age is the product not of our scholarly researches but of actual people and their real encounters with an extraordinary woman of an age gone by.  It is thus for us, the academics, not merely to write our books and give our lectures for the sake of other academics, but to realize that our profession, like all human activities, is meant to be for the advancement of humanity—and that such advancement is not merely an abstract goal of progress, but the concrete reality of people who live their lives in the here and now, perhaps weighed down by the weariness of day-to-day drudgery, yet also lifted up by the simple joys of day-to-day life, well-lived.