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Homilies on the Transfiguration for the Feast of the Transfiguration

This is what we celebrate in our feast today, then: the divinization of nature; its change for the better; the displacement and ascent of what conforms to nature, towards what is above nature. (St. Andrew of Crete, On the Transfiguration of Christ Our Lord, PG 97.932)

 

Tomorrow, August 6th, is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I wanted to suggest, were you looking for something to read on the Transfiguration, Fr. Brian Daley, SJ’s recently published, Light on the Mountain: Greek Patristic and Byzantine Homilies on the Transfiguration of the Lord, published by St. Vladimir’s in their Popular Patristics Series. Fr. Daley translates 25 homilies spanning from Origen (d. 254) to Gregory Palamas (d. 1359).  Other notable authors include one of my favorites, Andrew of Crete (whose works exist in no critical editions as of yet – hint hint for anyone interested), Leontius of Byzantium (a figure on whom Fr. Daley did his D.Phil thesis at Oxford), Cyril of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, and someone else near and dear to my heart, John of Damascus.

Just for due diligence, Fr. Daley is a professor of mine at Notre Dame and I worked as his TA last year. Even if he were not, however, I would recommend the volume. I read his similar volume on the homilies on the Dormition of Mary and was there introduced to Andrew of Crete. I think this volume has a comparable value in that it introduces one to Christian writers who may have been previously unknown.  So, go read them!

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Augustine, Donatists, and “Israels”

I am currently revising a paper I hope to send off for publication soon on Augustine’s homilies on 1 John and the Donatists.  The Donatists had arisen after persecutions in N. Africa and the crux of their theology was about purity. Had one’s Bishop turned over the Scriptures (or some other holy books – cf. the letter of Mensurius to Secundus of Tigisis where he admits he only turned over heretical books, not Scripture – CSEL 53.74) or relented in their faith during Roman persecutions, they were considered ritually impure, and thus all sacramental efficacy had been removed from them. They were no longer able to baptize, to confect the Eucharist, etc. (cf. Cyprian’s Epistula 67 – the Donatists weren’t inventing this whole-cloth). 

 

The Donatists had a militant wing called the ‘Circumcellions’ – so named because they hung out circum cellas (around the shrines of the martyrs). Augustine, after having cited Mt. 7.16 (“By their works you will know them.”), writes in his 10th Enarratio en Psalmos: 

uideo plane mira opera, quotidianas uiolentias circumcellionum sub episcopis et presbyteris ducibus circumquaque uolitare, et terribiles fustes Israeles uocare.

 

Indeed I see incredible works, the daily violent acts of the Circumcellions conducted everywhere under the leadership of their bishops and priests – and they call their terrible clubs, “Israels.” 

 

That is, the Circumcellions would “educate” their Catholic foes with these cudgels which they called “Israels.” Possidius, Augustine’s often-ignored biographer, records in the 12th chapter of the Vita Augustini that Augustine had almost been ambushed by these Circumcellions, but had, by providence, taken a different road and thus their ambush was foiled. Augustine also mentions this in a recently-discovered work, Contra Paganos (§45). Possidius himself had not been so lucky and was beaten by them, though he survived. 

At any rate, I can’t but help see this as a little bit of humor on the part of the Donatists that they called their weapons “Israels.” I think it also demonstrates a couple of things: 1) Theology matters. Accounts of early Christianity which downplay this (and there are more than a few) seem to miss the point. Theology was so pervasive that even when making a joke, the Donatists turned to Scripture. 2) The ancients had wicked senses of humor, just like moderns. 

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Learn French and German Online

One of the pieces of advice I give most frequently to those applying to Notre Dame in particular and Ph.D programs in general is that they ought to have as solid of a foundation as possible with their languages before applying. The Early Christian Studies program at ND afforded us a good deal of flexibility and emphasized the necessity of language work. But not only are the ancient languages incredibly important, but the modern research ones as well.

I’ve met some people who study just enough to pass a language exam and then forget the language almost entirely. It’s understandable – you get to the Ph.D program, you’re inundated with courses, you’re trying to keep up your ancient languages – when are you supposed to fit in French and German? If you’re reading this and not yet in a Ph.D program, start now. If you’re in a Ph.D program, start now.

One thing I’ve found incredibly helpful is Duolingo.com. It’s fun, it’s simple, and it will help you practice your languages. My suggestion is to spend 15-30 mins a day on each language. After getting to the more advanced stages, start reading articles in French and German journals in your field. Start learning the field-specific vocab.If you can keep up your German and French and actually use it to read modern scholarship, you will be way ahead of the pack.

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Notre Dame and Comprehensive Exams

Another year of coursework has gone by for me and assuming I haven’t failed any classes this semester, this will be  my final semester of coursework at Notre Dame. When I came to Notre Dame as an M.A. student in the Early Christian Studies  program, my work had been mostly philological and literary. Having had several years here, I’ve had the opportunity to do more Theological work. I’m glad to have both sides.

This past year I took some interesting courses:

Fall:
Eschatology with Cyril O’Regan
12th Century Cistercians with Ann Astell
Christology of Thomas Aquinas with Joseph Wawrykow

Spring:
Byzantine Philosophy with Stephen Gersh
Theology of John Henry Newman with Cyril O’Regan
Origen with John Cavadini

Now that I’m out of coursework and into the third year, I can focus on my comprehensive exams. While some schools, like the University of Chicago, have set reading lists, we do things a little differently at ND.

Instead of having reading lists on which we are examined, we come up with 10 question topics. How this plays out depends upon one’s sub-field (Systematics, Liturgical Studies, etc). In mine (History of Christianity), the questions break down as follows:

4 Questions in Major Historical Period (Patristics for me)

3 Questions in Minor Historical Period (Medieval)

3 Questions in Minor Area (Systematic Theology)

(Once I have my topics approved by my advisor, I’ll post those too)

Our topics are due in September, but I’m hoping to have mine turned in by late July so I can get a head start. I’m excited to fill in some gaps in my knowledge and strengthen some of the interests I’ve developed over the years. The third year is often seen by ND students as one of the best years in the Ph.D program because your primary responsibility is to read all the time. I think this is what I envisioned graduate studies would be anyway – long hours spent in a coffee shop, pouring over books and soaking up knowledge like an academic sponge. Your time in coursework is somewhat like that, but the pressure of papers and producing academic work can suck the fun out of reading pretty quickly.

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σιγησάτω πᾶσα σάρξ βροτεία

From the liturgy of St. James:

Σιγησάτω πᾶσα σάρξ βροτεία,

καὶ στήτω μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου,

καὶ μηδὲν γήϊνον ἐν ἑαυτῇ λογιζέσθω·

ὁ γὰρ Βασιλευς τῶν βασιλευόντων,

καὶ Κύριος τῶν κυριευόντων,

προσέρχεται σφαγιασθῆναι,

καὶ δοθῆναι εἰς βρῶσιν τοῖς πιστοῖς·

προηγοῦνται δὲ τούτου,

οἱ χοροὶ τῶν Ἀγγέλων,

μετὰ πάσης  ρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας,

τὰ πολυόμματα Χερουβίμ,

καὶ τὰ ἑξαπτέρυγα Σεραφίμ,

τὰς ὄψεις καλύπτοντα,

καὶ βοῶντα τὸν ὕμνον·

Ἀλληλούϊα, Ἀλληλούϊα, Ἀλληλούϊα.

 

Let all mortal flesh keep silent

And let it stand with fear and trembling

And let it consider nothing earthly in itself

 

For the King of Kings

And the Lord of Lords

Comes to be sacrificed

And to be given to the faithful for eating

 

The choruses of the angels precedes this

With all rule and authority,

The many-eyed Cherubim

And the six-winged Seraphim,

Concealing their faces,

And singing the hymn:

“Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

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Noah’s First Attempt

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Translations of the new Origen homilies

A friend of mine, Alex Poulos, a soon-to-be graduate student in the Greek and Latin program at Catholic University is working his way through the recently discovered Origen homilies. Hop on over to his blog and check out his stuff.

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Advice on applying to Ph.D programs in Patristics/History of Christianity

Having completed my M.A. in May, I’ve spent the majority of the summer back in my native land (North Carolina) reading and translating. I’m working on a Syriac poem written by Jacob of Edessa. I’m also preparing for my first semester of courses as a doctoral student in the Fall. Having been accepted into the Ph.D program at Notre Dame, I thought I would offer some advice publicly on the Ph.D application process. I had considered writing this later in my Ph.D career,  but because I’ve just gone through the application and interview process in the last year, it made good sense to me to write this. 

My first bit of advice is to visit John Anderson’s blog and read his post on this same subject. 

To give you a run-down of things: I applied to three schools last year: Notre Dame (Theology – History of Christianity), Marquette (Historical Theology), Duke (Religion – Early Christianity). I was accepted at Notre Dame and Marquette and rejected from Duke. Why only three schools? Because of that ever-elusive quality of graduate applications: fit. I could have applied to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and U of Chicago just for fun, and then been subsequently rejected by all of them. That plan seemed neither financially nor emotionally responsible. Notre Dame was my top choice for obvious reasons. We have the sorts of scholars at Notre Dame who do the type of work I hope to do one day. We also have a wide array of interests floating about the department and I like that. Next semester I’m taking: 1) Advanced Syriac 2) Armenian 3) Latin West/Byzantine East and 4) Early Christian Biography. This sort of course selection is one of the advantages to coming to a place like ND.

Also, a bit of ND-specific advice for future applicants: if you are applying to the History of Christianity track, you are applying not just to do one historical period. If you want your application to get sent to the bin, talk non-stop about one topic and one professor in your statement of purpose. We have an amazing Patristics faculty, we have amazing Medievalists, and we have Randall Zachman who is just amazing when it comes to Calvin and Luther. You can mention professor so-and-so in your statement of purpose, but you have to fit the entire track, not just that one person. 

This advice is geared toward those who find themselves entering an M* program this Fall. I think one thing I did wisely at Notre Dame was to take courses in my first semester/year with individuals I knew I wanted to write for me letters of recommendation. I already had a general idea of where I wanted to end up for Ph.D work (Notre Dame) and what I wanted to do (History of Christianity, early through the Reformation). Therefore I found courses that showed an interest in those topics with professors whom I knew could write me good letters. Think about it: most M* degrees are 2 years long. You will begin applying your Fall semester of your second year. Thus, you have 2 semesters and a summer to impress people enough to write for you. Choose wisely.

I also had something of a coherence in my course work. I came out of an amazing undergraduate program at East Carolina University, but both the Classics program and the Religion program were small and thus course selection was not huge. Your schedule was basically determined for you by the offerings. This was not the case for me when I came to Notre Dame. When you sign onto the site where you can view and register for the courses, it is a buffet. You suddenly find that you would love to take 20 hours as a graduate student because you want all of that knowledge in your head now. This is noble, but misguided. Think about what sort of scholar you want to be when you leave your Ph.D program. Do you have even a vague idea of what you’d like to work on? I knew from the beginning of my time at ND that I have interests in Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation readings of the Psalter. I’ve taken courses on those topics as well as other relevant courses. My M.A. coursework made sense – especially to anyone on the Ph.D admissions committee who read my statement of purpose and then looked over the courses. 

 

Study languages. So many languages. Languages are the perennial concern of Ph.D programs in Patristics/History of Christianity. We deal with many authors in many languages, be they primary sources in Latin or Greek, or secondary scholarship in French or German. I was fortunate to basically knock out all of my language requirements during my M.A., so the Ph.D committee had nothing to worry about. I had already passed the Advanced Greek course and taken the Latin exam. I’ve also passed the French exam (curieusement). I also took up Syriac during my M.A. and I’ve done well with that. That I was able to knock out future language requirements had to have been a benefit to my application. As a side note: because of this, I’m now able to keep pursuing Syriac instead of having to take mandatory Greek and Latin courses, and I’m beginning Armenian in the Fall. Yes, I will be the least useful person on the planet if I have my way. 

Take the GRE seriously. I hate the GRE and I am in no way a fan of anyone involved with it. I think the GRE is a great way to test whether you can study for and take the GRE. That’s about it. It certainly weeds out some people who shouldn’t be applying to graduate school in the first place, but it’s still a stupid test. That said: take it seriously. I didn’t do well the first time I took the GRE, but thankfully the rest of my application was strong and Notre Dame let me in. I knew full well what my competition looked like when it came time to apply for the Ph.D. I studied like mad for it. This is not a position you want to find yourself in while in the middle of your M*. You have enough work as is, so don’t put yourself in a position where you have to retake the GRE. If you’re in this position, study like crazy. You might hate it as I do, but grad schools and committees love it. It’s an easy-to-understand metric. The GRE gets nobody into graduate school, it just keeps people out. Do well enough that you don’t have to worry about it keeping you out.

 

Once you’re in the actual application process: make it easy on your recommenders. They likely have to write letters for other individuals. As brilliant as your work was, chances are they don’t remember every aspect of everything you’ve written for them. What I did was create a CD for each of my recommenders which had:

1) Every paper I had written for them

2) Every course I took with them 

3) My statement of purpose

4) My transcripts

5) A word document with a list of schools to which I was applying, the specific programs, the due dates of all the letters, and the contact information for the DGS. 

 

This, I think, makes it easier on them. They don’t have to scramble through emails or try to remind themselves which paper was yours. Be helpful, but not pushy. If they ask for something else, respond in a timely manner. Also, once the process is all over and the applications are in, be sure to write a thank you note. I gave my recommenders a little note and a small gift card to Starbucks. Being collegial is a big part of making graduate studies go smoothly. 

 

As for the interview weekend: one thing I think I did well was to read an article or a chapter in a book from each person with whom I was interviewing. I had already read a lot of their work – that’s the reason I was at Notre Dame for my M.A. But I went back and read specific articles. I found this helpful numerous times during the day, particularly as an internal candidate. I didn’t have the questions outsiders have – I know how the department works, which professors do what, how awful it is to live in South Bend, etc. To avoid sitting there for 20 mins and staring at one another, you can read an article and say, “So, I read your article on X and I was particularly surprised by….” One of my interviews was with the former DGS of the Theology department, Dr. Matovina. He studies Latino Catholicism. If you’ve read my blog, you know this isn’t exactly my area. I found an awesome article of his that actually brought up early modern American Latino readings of Augustine. I think he was pleased I had even bothered to read the article and I liked getting the chance to pick his brain during the interview process. 

Other schools may have different ways of interviewing, but I found that the professors with whom I spoke at ND had a few questions, but really just wanted to see how the conversation went. If you bother to read their work (and you should have already – why else are you applying?!), you’ll find your conversations go a lot more smoothly. 

 

That’s basically all I can think of right now. If you have specific questions, feel free to email me or look me up on Facebook. I’m happy to answer what I can about the process, particularly as it relates to Notre Dame. 

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Updates

It has been too long since I’ve written here. I have been really busy, but I wanted to provide some updates which will hopefully rekindle my blogging.

The most immediate update is that yesterday morning I passed my field exams for my Masters. I had not been so physically nervous about something in years. The way our exams work is that we choose three topics or texts with three professors, build a bibliography, and then have an oral exam. My three topics were Chrysostom’s homilies on Lazarus with Dr. Blake Leyerle, Origen’s Exegesis of Song of Songs with Dr. John Cavadini, and Augustine and Cassiodorus’ interpretations of the Psalms (particularly Ps. 62) with Dr. Hildegund Müller. Once the exam started, I felt at ease. I walked out of the room and after a very brief deliberation on the part of my committee, I was told I had passed. 

It’s a good thing I passed because I have also been accepted into the Ph.D program here at Notre Dame and it would be pretty awkward to have the offer rescinded because I couldn’t finish my MA. I’ll be in the Theology department in the “History of Christianity” subfield. I don’t think it has totally sunk in yet, but I feel really blessed to have the opportunity to stay here and continue to learn. 

I also recently gave my first paper at a conference in March. It was the Pappas Patristic Institute‘s annual graduate student conference held at Holy Cross in Brookline, MA. The experience was amazing. First, going to Greek Orthodox vespers was out of this world. The beauty of it all was inspiring. The conference itself was also very enjoyable. There were so many good papers and it was nice to meet with peers at other institutions. I gave a paper on St. Ephrem’s Hymns Against Julian, comparing them with Gregory Nazianzus’ two orations against Julian. I thought it was well-received and it was nice to get to use some of my very minimal Syriac ability. I told my Syriac professor that I was asked if I’m a Maronite Catholic (because I pronounce Syriac the way Maronites do), he said, “They thought you were a Maronite?” He says he was surprised because of how white I am, not because of my poor Syriac ability. Likely story. 

So that is a bit of the news in my life. I have some things that I hope to blog about soon, particularly now that I have my exams out of the way. 

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What if Virgil did not die in 19 B.C.?

I’ve been reading the Aeneid again and I have been wondering how our interpretations of Virgil are shaped by the belief that he died in 19 B.C.. This belief comes down to us in the biographical tradition of Virgil, but the fact is that the tradition is incredibly late (4th century AD). The unsettled nature of the book also lends itself to the belief that Virgil died before having finished the book.

If this information is incorrect, how would you read the Aeneid differently if at all?

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