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The UTILITY OF THE STUDY OF THE Classics TO
By J. Packard.
The utility of the study of the classics in a college course is now hardly questioned. Their claims have been advocated with so much ability, the decision in their favor has been so unanimous, that we may hope the question is put at rest, and not likely to be soon agitated even in an age so fond of innovation as the present.
But we fear their importance to the theological student is not fully recognized, else we should not with pain witness so universal, and so systematic a renunciation of their study on leaving college.
All history shows that where profane learning has languished, sacred learning has sympathized with it. The one has always been the handmaid to the other, and they have ever gone hand in hand. They sank together in the dark ages; together they rose like the twin lucida sidera of the heavens, when " the sacred Bible was sought out of the dusty corners where profane falsehood and neglect had thrown it, the schools opened, and divine and human learning raked out of the embers of forgotten tongues."* Religion has ever been a friend to profane learning, and never do her misguided friends do her more injury than when they denounce their union. “ It was the christian church,” Bacon well says, “ which amidst the inundations of the Scythians on the one side from the north-west, and the Saracen from the east, did preserve in the sacred lap and bosom thereof, the precious relics of heathen learning, which otherwise had been extinguished, as if they had never been.”+ We hold to the positions, that there cannot be too much human learning if it is but sanctified; that religion lends to learning her highest finish, and most excellent grace; and, that every thing may be rendered subservient to the illustration of divine truth. Profane learning may embellish sacred. To use the quaint illustrations of the fathers : The Egyptians may be spoiled of their gold and silver and fine garments in which they trusted, the sword may be wrested from Goliath's hand to cut off his own head,* and Hiram with his Tyrians and uncircumcised artificers may be employed to build a temple to Jehovah's glory.
* Milton. * Advancement of Learning, p. 52. London Edit.
The most insidious blow ever aimed at Christianity was the edict of the emperor Julian, forbidding the classical authors to be taught and explained in christian schools. This malignant enemy of Christianity was sagacious enough to see that if the study of the classics was neglected, the true method of interpreting the Bible would soon be lost ; legitimate principles of hermeneutics would soon be forgotten, and Christians would resort to scholastic subtleties, find no end or bottom in speculation after departing from the simplicity of the text, and at length sink down into absurd superstitions. The fathers took the alarm at once, and used all their efforts to counteract so malignant a design. Several of them composed Greek and Latin manuals, and even wrote poems and works on sacred subjects which would compensate in the best manner possible, for the loss of the classics. Augustine $ expressly classes this decree among the persecutions of the Christians by Julian.
Augustine advises that we should spoil the heathen authors of their precious illustrations, and embellishments, and make them subservient to the preaching of the gospel. He speaks figuratively of Cyprian as having robbed the Egyptians of their gold and silver and fine linen. Augustine, though unacquainted with Hebrew and Greek, always strenuously recommended their study.ll Gregory Nazianzen thus speaks : “ Learning holds the first place among human blessings. I do not only speak of christian learning but of profane, which common Christians, from a misguided judgment, hold in contempt as insidious, dangerous and withdrawing the affections from God."* So thought the reformers, especially Luther. His testimony is very emphatic. He says: “ If by our fault we lose the learned languages by neglect, we shall lose the gospel.t Divine wisdom has revived classical learning for the sake of restoring the gospel, which soon after arose from its ashes, and in this way overthrew the tyranny of papacy. For the same reason Greece is subjected to the Turks, that the exiled Greeks, dispersed through all nations, should carry with them the Greek language, and thus give others an opportunity of learning it. From this we infer, that we shall never preserve the gospel unless by the aid of the languages."'I It would be difficult to make a selection from the passages in Luther's works, all having the same sentiment. Similar were the sentiments of Melancthon and the earlier German theologians, though some of them have been falsely accused of decrying human learning. Melancthon remarks : “An unlearned theology is altogether an Iliad of evils. For it is an ill-digested system, in which points of great moment are not fully explained, those are confounded which should be kept distinct, and again those are put asunder, which nature requires to be united. Such a system cannot but produce infinite errors, and endless divisions, because in such a want of arrangement, one understands one thing, and another another, and while each one defends his own fancy, divisions and contentions arise."$ How
“Intorquere de manibus hostium gladium et Goliae superbissimi caput proprio mucrone truncare.”—Jerome.
+ “As soon as the study of languages languished after the days of the apostles, the gospel faith, and the whole of religion declined, and many grievous errors and blind superstitions arose from ignorance of the languages. On the other hand, when the languages revived, the gospel shed abroad a glorious light, and accomplished so much, that the whole world looked on in surprise, and was forced to confess, that we had the gospel almost as pure and unadulterated as the apostles.”—Epist. Opp. T. XIX. 339. Lips.
| De Civit. Dei, Lib. XVIII. c. 52. § De Doctr. Christiana, Lib. II. 60.
| Neque eniin ex Hebraea lingua, quam ignoro. Origen's acquaintance with Hebrew is very suspicious. Jerome of all the fathers
seeins to have understood it the best. See Gesen. Geschichte der Hebraischen Sprache, p. 91.
* Orat. XXX. Tom. II. p. 496.
t" Si culpa nostra commiserimus, ut linguas eruditas neglectas amittamus, Evangelium amittemus."
† “ Nos evangelium nunquam retenturos esse, nisi fiat linguarum auxilio."
§ “Omnino Ilias malorum est inerudita Theologia. Est enim confusanea doctrina in qua magnae res non explicantur diserte, miscentur ea, quae oportebat sejungi, rursus illa, quae natura conjungi postulat distrahuntur. Talis doctrina non potest non gignere infinitos errores, infinitam dissipationem, quia in tanta confusione alius aliud intelligit et dum suum quisque somnium defendit, existunt certamina et dissensiones.”—Tom. I. p. 329.
faithful a picture of many systems of theology, not guarded and secured by scientific arrangement and therefore not proof against fatal attacks! Spener, one of the revivers of evangelical religion in Germany, observes : “I know not any one of all human studies, in all departments of learning, which may not in its proper place become of real use to a student, if it is pursued without neglecting what is essential and if rightly applied.” Again, Spener says: “I wish all students were not only more pious, but more learned ; and on that account of those who are pious, the more learned is always the more acceptable. A christian student prays as earnestly for divine illumination, as if he required no diligence of his own; but he studies also with the same diligence as if his labors were to effect every thing. For it were a presumption and tempting of God only to pray and then to await the divine illumination without one's own exertions." Calvin well remarks : “ Scientia tamen nihil propterea
quod inflat magis vituperanda est quam gladius si in manus furiosi incidat.” – Learning is no more to be blamed for puffing up, than a sword, which falls into the hands of a madman.
But not to multiply witnesses -- all the reformers felt that even profane learning was from God, and to be applied to his glory. The study of the classics familiarizes us with the spirit of antiquity, and thus assists us in the interpretation of the sacred Scriptures. Whatever calls off our minds from the present, and carries us back to the past, contributes to our right understanding of the spirit of the ancient world. As it is, we are so far separated from it, that we forget that the ancients were men of like passions with us, having the same joys and griefs. We need to live intellectually in the ancient world if we would imbibe its spirit. We must temporarily adopt their notions, their modes of thinking, feeling and expression. Their ways of life, their household, every day habits must become familiar to us. We must put ourselves in their situation and not look at them through the spectacles of our own peculiarities. This indeed requires a peculiar promptness and flexibility of mental habits, but it is also in a very considerable degree the result of long continued study. The difficulty of transferring ourselves to the past is increased in proportion the further we go back. Thus it is more difficult to drink in the spirit of the Pentateuch, composed in the very infancy and morning freshness of the world, than that of Homer. The study of the latter, however, throws great light upon the former. Homer undoubtedly lived in Asia
Minor and under a similar climate with Palestine. This proximity of country would naturally lead to similarity of language, and above all to analogy in thought and expression. There is a sameness in human nature every where under the same degree of culture. Greater benefit may therefore be derived from a study of the Greek, than of the Latin classics. They are the more ancient, and their climate was more similar.
Homer was in fact the secular Bible of mankind for many ages. It has been well said by one highly competent to judge: “ The Old Testament and the Iliad reflect light mutually, each on the other, and both in respect of poetry and morals, it may with great truth be said that he who has the longest studied, and the most deeply imbibed the spirit of the Hebrew Bible will the best understand, and the most lastingly appreciate the tale of Troy divine."* We are continually struck in reading Homer with the similarity of manners and spirit, and parallelisms of language that constantly occur.
To hold communion with the past, we must live not only intellectually, but as it were physically in a foreign clime. To understand the Scriptures we must live under the burning sun of Palestine. Another heavens must be over our head ; another earth beneath our feet. We must live amidst its winter torrents, and its summer brooks — its deep ravines and its extensive caves - we must look upon its barren fig trees, its olives, its cedars — the glory of Lebanon, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon. In a word we must be familiar with the objects, which suggested the pictures and imagery of Scripture, if we would think over the same thoughts with its writers and feel again their feelings.
The study of the classics materially assists in the interpretation of the Scriptures. As the same principles of interpretation are applicable to both, he will be, caeteris paribus, the best interpreter who has been accustomed to interpret the classics. The habits he has formed are just the habits which are needed for an interpreter of Scripture. Origen among the fathers strongly recommended the classics as an excellent preparatory discipline to the study of the Scriptures ; for errors in their interpretation, which the tyro at first would naturally make, would be less dangerous. The greatest masters of interpretation have at
* H.N. Coleridge's Introduction to the Greek Classic Poets, p. 74,— a book worthy of all praise.