Classics professor Daniel Nodes loves searching for treasure and sharing what he has found with scholars and students. The finds are written in Latin and Greek, buried in manuscripts. Unearthing them is done with tools of philology (being a word-lover), paleography (reading early handwriting) and philosophy (love of the wisdom sought by those writers).
Some treasures are large, like an entire Commentary on the Trinity by Cardinal Giles of Viterbo (1469-1532), which is now getting better known through Prof. Nodes’s edition of the complete text published by E.J. Brill in 2010. Giles was head of the Augustinian Order at the height of the Renaissance and was widely respected for his learning and preaching. His Commentary is large and rich, over five hundred pages of Latin and Greek preserved in five handwritten copies. It has never been published until now: Giles did not take advantage of the new technology, the printing press, as did his subordinate in the Augustinian order, Martin Luther.
At the invitation of the Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum and several Italian universities Nodes will give a principal lecture in Rome on Giles and his call for revival in the Church. One of the gems capturing Giles’s idea of reform is found in his speech that opened the Fifth Lateran Council in Rome: “Homines per sacra immutari fas est, non sacra per homines (It is right that men be changed by religion, not religion by men).”
Other treasures, like an anonymous homily on the Good Samaritan dating from 8th-century Ireland, are already published but hidden in scholarly editions. The author carries a tradition of the Church Fathers, seeing with the eyes of the Spirit that the Samaritan is Christ. The Healer cares for each of us as a half-dead traveler with the oil and wine of his Word and the Sacraments, and he brings us for recovery into the pandochion, stabulum, Inn that is the Church. That jewel of a homily is studied in Prof. Nodes’s popular class on the Church Fathers.
Gems from the ancient writers are presented in every Latin and Greek class from the first year on. “The literature itself offers treasures from great minds and native authors, and they are fully accessible with some study. There is no need to be restricted to textbook Latin or Greek or to English translation. We refer to our method as ad fontes, ‘back to the sources,’ the best models of expression and content. At AMU the classics faculty are grammarians but also experts in the literature and history of ideas. It is a special richness to have experienced researchers sharing with students from their college days through our transformative core curriculum.”
As our society continues to make a cult out of the ‘latest’ we also learn the riches produced by our ancestors, in their own words. When we can be heir to all ages unlike at any time before, there is little tendency toward ‘presentism,’ where few would care to look back even past a generation. If there can be a greatest hits of 1992, why not the greatest hits of 1797, or 1512, or 393?
In 393 St. Augustine, who left over five million words in writing, published his one and only poem, explained in one of Prof. Nodes’s recent articles for the journal Vigiliae Christianae. The poem contains a jingle meant to be chanted by Augustine’s congregation in their controversy with the Donatists: “Omnes qui gaudetis de pace, modo verum iudicate! (You’re all fond of peace; now find out what’s true!”). It’s a small gem, repeated 22 times during the 297-line poem, all of it accessible, line by line.