“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful menwho will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2 English Standard Version).
Rome was sacked on August 24, 410 by Alaric I and a barbaric army of his Visigoth tribes. In the years that followed, through a third wave of attacks by the Vandals in 455, the European landscape looked like a post war disaster.
The Barbarian overthrow of the Roman Empire had also stripped the veritable topsoil of the previously rich Southern European intellectual and cultural gardens. The rich literature and civilizing artistry of the mighty Greco-Roman empires were obliterated as the Northern European tribes laid waste to the politically corrupt and morally infected Roman behemoth beginning to rule over “God’s continent.” Thomas Cahill authored an important book bridging the Greek and Roman Empires across the Visigoth invasion of the Middle Ages. The book was entitled, How the Irish Saved Civilization. The enigmatic title is explained by the featured historical stars of the book: the fifth century Christian monks of Ireland. The Celtic monks preserved the cultural treasures of Europe by carefully copying down the literature and recording the history of the earlier times when a Greco-Roman firewall allowed art and literature to flourish. Without their tedious but invaluable work, the bridge to older Western Civilization would have been demolished along with the literal stone bridges leading into Rome.
Now. Fast forward to the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries.
Allan Bloom and his Closing of the American Mindas well as Neil Postman in his Amusing Ourselves to Death painted a bleak picture of a similar landscape in our own day called post modernity. Born out of the Enlightenment and a growing secularism that rejected the older Judaic-Christian narratives and norms of Western Civilization that allowed a freedom of religion for all other religions, the new post-modernity proved to be nothing more than an older modernity warmed over. Yet the threat is as real as Visigoths and Vandals. The remnants of an older Western culture previously guarded by the firewall of Christendom are now quickly dismissed by the secularizing influencers. There are no northern barbaric Hordes invading our capitals, but there are now inventions of our own making invading our homes, stripping the topsoil of our own higher culture and leaving nothing but a more popular culture of the mass media. Thus, as Neil Postman opines, the average American is no longer able to appreciate the piano Études of Chopin. If one is unable to identify phrases such as “ask not for whom the bell tolls” with the preacher-poet of St. Paul’s, John Donne, or Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained as titles from the greatest epic poem in the English language by Milton and that the poem is about Eden and Eden or the New Heavens and New Earth, then so much of the rest of Western literature, concepts, ideas and allusions in history are foreign as an ancient Chinese dynasty. This is the crisis that we face.
The United States Army is not immune to this. The Army is, of course, comprised of individuals who come out of the pool of civilians in this generation. They are not insusceptible to the cultural ills facing us all. The consequences of a soldier not grasping the power of God’s grace as taught by Jesus of Nazareth and hearing the most popular hymn in the world, “Amazing Grace” by John Newton, or the deliverance of the children of Israel and, for instance, the story of the African-American experience in America, or familiarity with Augustine’s Just War theory, is much different than a civilian not knowing these things. To lose the religious framework within the culture, whether expressed in a poem by T.S. Eliot, or a study in history by Churchill, or a novel by Mary Shelley, or a painting by J.M.W. Turner, which focuses the soul on what it is to be human, or allows the troubled mind to wrestle openly with theodicy, or the question of suffering, in literature or poetry, is to rob a soldier of a vital necessity in the dehumanizing environment of war.
It is here that I would call attention to the fact that the chaplain has a unique moral leadership responsibility and opportunity to stand in the gap. We can bring Augustine into the trenches, if you will. We can bring the great books into the trenches. We can follow the Irish monks in carefully, faithfully, quietly and dutifully carrying on the torch of civilizing influences to help soldiers and their families.
There must be no misunderstanding. This is not a call for highbrow, higher culture Renaissance within the United States army chaplaincy (although there is certainly an argument to be made that no effort is necessary to help the soldier acquire a taste for popular culture). I am calling chaplains to become the stewards of their own faithful traditions—much of which is represented within traditional Western literature—as well as living repositories and dispensers of the truths that bring meaning and hope to our Army and Army families. Music and literature, the artwork, and the poetry of Western civilization are rich in Judeo–Christian understanding and worldview. It is noble and accessible in that it not only teaches it but it teaches it in such a way that we can reach it and process it as human beings through the ways that only music and literature can do.
The Apostle Paul did this. In Acts chapter 17 the Apostle Paul appealed to the philosophers of the Athenians. In other places he appealed to the poets and writers of the Greco-Roman age. In 2 Timothy chapters one and two, the Apostle Paul tells Timothy, who is conducting a church revitalization project in the city of Ephesus that the things that he has seen and heard about Paul from many witnesses, should be entrusted to others who are faithful so that they too can pass the torch of truth to others. Thus, Paul enters into a “ruling motif of mentoring” that is present throughout the Bible—from Moses to Joshua, Eli to Samuel and Elijah to Elisha—of transmitting the sacred and the faithful things to the next generation. The argument being presented here is that we can do that not only with the sacred text, but also with the sacred truth embedded in the higher cultural representation of that truth: in the arts and literature.
How does one faithfully fulfill that calling? I believe that is best done not through lecturing, but through living. It is best accomplished not through formal ways, but informal ways. It is best done indirectly, not directly. The chaplain must be careful not to be condescending in any way (a perennial danger in any such undertaking). Moral leadership through transmission of faith in art and literature is best done through preaching and teaching and counseling. Those media are trusted avenues for the soldier and family and a familiar (and professional) pathway for the chaplain. It is critical to remember that this is not just historical curator work, but is using cultural forms that hold eternal verities to heal the wounded soul. This is the stuff of our calling. This is best done by referring to great literature or art and illustrating the truth embedded within them. Then, that truth you are illustrating can be applied to the context of our unique community and our lives—whether that community is in garrison or in the field or in theater. Examples abound.
In selecting hymnody, for a post chapel service for example, the chaplain can go deeper than just a segue or transition statement (and without having to give an unnecessarily tedious “separate sermon” on the introduction of the hymn). The chaplain can do investigative work on one of John Newton’s (the iconic eighteenth century English Anglican rector) many hymns. The chaplain can discover, for instance, that John Newton moved from Olney, England to assume the pastoral duties of the parish church at St. Mary’s-Woolnoth in what is now the financial district of London. There, one of his parishioners was a young man who was a Member of Parliament. Newton was preaching and giving his testimony about God’s amazing grace in his own life. Little did he know when he assumed his new “living” that he would be influencing a man who would argue for eighteen years on the floor of the House of Commons for the abolition of slavery in England: William Wilberforce. In this case, the United States Army chaplain is able to weave together Western history, classical hymnody, and the story of God’s grace and the mystery of Providence. All of it can be done within only a few moments in the service, although it would cost the chaplain time and study and preparation, but that is why the chaplain is called.
Another example could be the chaplain’s use of classical poetry in counseling. The chaplain might appeal, for instance, to John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions Together with Death’s Duelto identify with the sufferings of one who has come to the chaplain for a soul-struggle with chronic illness. In a time when suicide statistics are weighing upon our hearts, we all desire to discover ways to help. This way is an older way, but a time tested way, and a way that popular culture is incapable of approaching. The subject requires one who has gone through the personal agony of suffering to possess the artistic giftedness and depth of humanity to reflect in theological and metaphysical language on the experience of life as fragile and death as an ever present enemy stalking the sick bed. The preacher and poet from the 17th Century dealt with an illness, the plague that seemed to be killing him. Indeed, he thought he was dying. Donne reflected on what it meant to be human, what it meant to be a man of faith in God and yet to be struck down by God in such pain. He struggled beneath the enigmatic and mysterious promises of God and the reality of death approaching. Helping the soldier to understand and face these mysteries and then guiding that person to healthy reflections and finding meaning in a similar struggle to John Donne could be the beginning of a deeper healing that lasts a lifetime. John Donne is never meant to replace holy texts like Job, or Psalm 42, or 2 Corinthians 12—or other traditions—and a “theology of thorns.” Donne and other texts within the corpus of classical literature are available to support and illustrate the sacred text. While popular culture can provide something to the events of life, they can rarely provide the depth of thought, the language of meaning that a Shakespeare or Frost can. They can rarely capture the meaning of humanity on canvas the way that the great Impressionists did or that the Realists did.
Thomas Cahill showed that the “Irish saved civilization” as Celtic monasticism leveraged its resources to rescue the endangered cultural relics of Western Civilization in a dark moment in history. It would be “chronological arrogance,” to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, to suggest that the writer understands the present time to be comparable to that particular time. Such insight requires a most intimate access to history itself, which is a product rarely afforded the living. Yet, a growing number of respected voices have issued a warning call: there is a growing gap between what is available to us in the Western corpus of literature and arts and what is known; between what used to be core requirements in many universities, for example, and what is actually required today. The cultural IQ, if you will, of the average college graduate (and my cultural IQ of Western Civilization), is much lower than it was when Greek and Latin were requirements for entrance to university studies. This may or may not be good, depending on one’s view of higher education. One thing’s for certain: Western literature, music, history, and art are replete with positive religious imagery and meaning that is a powerful support to the chaplain in helping to buttress the sacred text applied in the lives of soldiers and their families. Soldiers and their families need not be subjected to classes in “Higher Culture” to appreciate the benefits of a story, or a song, or a poem that speaks to the soul’s desire for meaning in suffering, hope in disaster, or the possibility of joy in the darkness. To know these things is to not only build a bridge to cross into the truth of the sacred text where the chaplain will bring a truth more sure; it is to go make that journey with them as well. For in leading through the unfolding beauty of poetry or art, you have suggested that you, too, have needed the same truth that you have offered to the soldier. You have opened your life as a model for others to see, a human in need of others to make sense of God’s grace in the midst of the realities that we face in this world. The soldiers see. They hear. They follow the voice of one who is fully human and fully vulnerable. They follow the Truth that the chaplain waits to share that will bring healing to the souls of the soldier as he whispers a poem to himself:No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend’s Or of thine own were: Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.  Endnotes
 The Greek Word Anthropoi can refer to both men and women, depending on the context.
 Gibbon, Edward. The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. Methuen & Company, 1845.
 Monks, George R. “The Administration of the Privy Purse: An Inquiry into Official Corruption and the Fall of the Roman Empire.” Speculum, volume 32, issue 4. Pages 748-779. 1957.
 Pellivert, Michael. “Still God’s Continent? Reflections On The Place Of Religion In Shaping A Common European Identity.” 2009.
 Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization. New York: Doubleday, 1995.
 See also Bieler, Ludwig. Ireland, Harbinger Of The Middle Ages. Oxford University Press, 1966.
 Bloom, Allan David. The Closing Of The American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy And Impoverished The Souls Of Today’s Students. Simon And Schuster, 1987.
 Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse In The Age Of Show Business. Penguin. Com, 2006.
 See Neuhaus, Richard John. The Catholic Moment: The Paradox Of The Church In The Postmodern World. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987.
 See Mohler, R Albert. “You Are Bringing Strange Things To Our Ears: Christian Apologetics For A Postmodern Age.” Place Of Publication: www. Albertmohler. Com. Available At: Http://www. Albertmohler. Com/Commentary_Read. Php (2006).
 Postman, Neil. The End of Education: Redefining The Value of School. Random House Digital, Inc., 2011, 167.
 See, For Example, Kelly, Geffrey B, F Burton Nelson, and Renate Bethge. The Cost Of Moral Leadership: The Spirituality Of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Eerdmans, 2003.
 “John Newton Of Olney And St. Mary Woolnoth: An Autobiography …” 2012. 24 Sep. 2013 <Http://Archive.Org/Details/Johnnewtonofolne00bull>
 Hindmarsh, D Bruce. John Newton And The English Evangelical Tradition: Between The Conversions Of Wesley And Wilberforce. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000.
 Piper, John. Roots Of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance In The Lives Of John Newton, Charles Simeon, And William Wilberforce. Crossway, 2006.
 Donne, John. John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions: Together With Death’s Due, 1624, University of Michigan Press, 1959.
 Bramlett, Perry C. “Lewis The Reluctant Convert: Surprised By Faith.” CS Lewis: An Examined Life 1 (2007): 103.
 Henrie, Mark C. A Student’s Guide To The Core Curriculum. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000.
 Bork, Robert H. A Time To Speak: Selected Writings And Arguments. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2008.
 For A “Great Books” of Western Civilization Overview, See Adler, Mortimer Jerome, and William Gorman. “The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon Of The Great Books Of The Western World.” 2 (1985).
 Young, RV. A Student’s Guide To Literature. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000.
 Stove, Robert James. A Student’s Guide To Music History. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2008.
 McClay, Wilfred M. A Student’s Guide To US History. Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000.
 Andrew, Malcolm. Landscape And Western Art. Oxford University Press, 1999.
 For instance, consider Badt, Kurt. John Constable’s Clouds. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1950. John Constable’s cloud studies provide a powerful platform to engage the soldier in speaking about “general revelation” or the reality of God in creation. the surprising diversity of clouds as observed by the English landscape artist, John Constable, becomes a bridge to discover the providential dealings of the almighty in the life of the soldier and diversity and range of events and people that are used in his or her life to shape one’s life.
 Donne, John. “Meditation Xvii.” Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions 1624 (1999): 344-45.