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Cultural Transformation and the Italy Trip

“What is the purpose of Italy Trip?” Before we began our second Veritas Italy Trip this year, several students asked me this question. We ended up with a total of 19 people (5 staff and 14 students) participating in this trip, but in the beginning, it was not easy to motivate students to go to this trip. Now, reflecting upon our trip, students have a much better perspective on why this trip is meaningful and significant. During our preparation meetings, I began to raise their expectations. This trip is much more than simply having fun. Italy trip is a culmination of the purpose of education, which is to cultivate our capacity to enjoy Christ in all areas of our culture. When God gives parents the command to bring up children in the “paideia of the Lord” in Ephesians 6:4, he wants the parents to train their children’s capacity to enjoy God in their culture. That is what Veritas and the movement of classical, Christian education are helping parents to do.In measuring how successful we are in parenting our children, parents must ask these questions: 1) How much does my child/children know and love the Jesus Christ? 2) How much do I as parents understand the lordship of Christ in every area of the culture (worship, home, work, education, social relationship) of my family? 3) How well am I in passing down the enjoyment of the Lordship of Christ to my children in each area of our family culture? If honest, parents would have a hard time giving high marks to these 3 questions. Parents would usually struggle with the first one, but most parents would not even understand what the second and the third questions even mean. The same challenge exists from the student side. Italy Trip helps our students to understand better what the second and third questions means, which then helps them with the first one. In Rome, Dr. Grant Horner, our esteemed and seasoned tour guide, and the founder of the Masters in Italy Program (6-wk summer program in Italy for college students) had all the students examine the Arch of Constantine, and explained how this Arch celebrates the significance of Constantine, who was the first Christian Roman emperor, and who defeated Emperor Maxentius, and changed the culture of the Roman empire. Maxentius’ dream was mainly to expand the Roman empire and subjugate the barbarians for the sake of “civilizing” them with the Roman pagan culture. At the heart of this Roman culture, ironically, was the family culture, which was so important that at the center of the Roman Forum was the Temple of the Vesta, where the vestal virgins would offer daily sacrifices and keep alive a fire that represents the central role of the family in Roman culture. But since the Roman family did not have its Lord as Jesus, there was no significant change in the culture of the Roman empire. And then a gradual cultural shift in the Roman empire came with the Christians. Augustine’s writing of the City of God and the conversion of Emperor Constantine are some of the high points of those changes. In Rome, there were many reminders of how Christians changed the Roman culture. Externally, this can be seen in the conversion of pagan places of worship such as the Pantheon into Christian churches. Internally, we were able to see a critical appropriation of pagan philosophy by Christians in paintings such as Raphael’s “School of Athens,” or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes with representations of biblical prophets as well as secular prophets. Although the danger of syncretism is always there, Christians in the Roman empire and throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance sought to understand how the gospel impacts their surrounding culture, and how God reveals his wisdom through even pagan works. The works mentioned above are just a few examples of many works of art and architecture that we were able to see that reminded us of two important truths about culture: 1) When we emphasize culture over Christ, culture becomes idolatrous and destructive. 2) When Christ becomes the Lord over our culture, man is freed to enjoy God, and culture flourishes. How a culture flourishes is not necessarily in the flashy glorious artistic achievements, such as the Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the great Duomo in Florence, the statue of David, or the literary works of Dante. Rather, the heart of a flourishing culture lies in the lives of the people behind these great achievements. The statue of David is a reflection of a young Michelangelo Buonarotti who was seeking to find his strength in God rather than man. Saint Peter’s Basilica is a reflection of the same Michelangelo, except at a ripe old age of 72, repentant and humbled, desiring to complete the Saint Peter’s cathedral “only for the love of God and in honor of the Apostle.” The architect of the Duomo, which Dr. Horner considers to be the “most beautiful building in the whole world,” was Filippo Brunelleschi, who expressed his deep love of God by designing the church with both artistic beauty as well as theological depth (of which Dr. Horner is writing a book on). Dante, who is considered the father of Renaissance, wrote the Divine Comedy, to show that out of the mess that Florence was in, God can bring about redemption and peace, both personally for Dante as well as for the city. Throughout the trip, as we took time to discuss and digest the great works of art, architecture, science, and people behind these works, I could sense a growing awareness in our students of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty, not only in the past, but in their lives now.

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