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Medieval Humanities Final Exam

Step 1. One week prior to final exam, inform students the final exam will be profoundly difficult and very long.

Step 2. Five days prior to exam, purchase fifteen pounds of flour, jar of yeast, pink sea salt. Add water. Mix together. Let bread dough sit in fridge three days.

Step 3. Remind students again of how difficult the final exam will be. “You may bring all the books you read this year, though you will not know until the day of the test which of the books will be useful to you.”

Step 4. Write massive, unfinishable test. Here is the text of the Medieval Humanities exam:

1. (20 line answer) Remembering is not easy. Remembering is difficult. Remembering takes work. Remembering the names of acquaintances, remembering anniversaries and birthdays, remembering passwords and codes… such remembering takes diligence. In prior years, upon arriving at the final exam of the year, I have asked students, “What will you remember from this class in five years?” Such a question assumes too much. Instead, this year, I would like you to reflect on the five things you learned this year that you would like to remember in the future.

Make a list of five items. Explain each item. Explain the importance of the thing, how you want that thing you to change you.

What five things? Principles from books we studied. Chapters from books we studied. Lectures you have heard. Discussions we have had in class.

2. (15 line answer) A good portion of this class has been devoted to the Last Judgement. The matter of the Last Judgement has been up for debate while reading the Comedy, but also in the final books of Augustine’s City of God. There is some sense in which the school year is like life itself. At the end of the school year, you are judged. The summer is like the life to come. If you have worked diligently, the life to come will be pleasant. If you have not worked diligently, the Judgement will be a terror and the summer might see you performing additional work to atone for your failings during the school year.

As such, what kind of final exam is appropriate to this class? What kind of final exam fairly judges the student? Describe a fitting, appropriate final exam for this class.

3. (20 line answer) Governing yourself is hard. At fifteen or sixteen, you are already on your way to establishing certain vices as habits. You have some appreciation for how difficult it is to root out habitual vice. We often recognize too late what we should have been doing, or not doing, all along.

However, in recognizing how hard it is to pursue virtue, perhaps you have also had the thought that someday you will have children of your own, and you can set their lives up however you choose. It is hard to train a grown lion, but easy to train a little cub. Show me how much you have learned about self-government by describing particular habits you would like to inculcate in your own children.

Describe five habits or rituals you plan on instituting in the lives of your children which help make them less susceptible to vice.

4. (25 line answer) In Dante’s vision of Hell, why are some sins punished more severely than others? Aren’t all sins equal in God’s eyes?

5. (25 line answer) Suppose for a moment that you are speaking with a student from this school who will be studying the Comedy next year. This student says, “I am not much interested in reading the Purgatorio. That’s a book for Catholics. There is nothing about Purgatory in the Bible.” What would you reply?

6. (25 line answer) Let us return to conversations we had much earlier this year about the Divine Nature. Christian metaphysics upholds the idea that God is omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent. Explain the relationship between God’s omnibenevolence and His omnipotence. In what way is God’s power intimately connected with God’s goodness?

7a. Below you will find a series of claims which I would like you to mark True or False.

a. _____Only Christians can be good people.

b. _____The printing press, and the widespread distribution of cheap Bibles, has had absolutely no negative effects on modern American society whatsoever.

c. _____Faith is a virtue. A man is saved by faith, thus a man is saved by having virtue.

d. _____Most of what I believe about God has been gained not through conversations with friends, not through participation in church services, not through paying attention to sermons; rather, most of what I believe about God has arisen directly from personally reading the Bible.

e. _____God loves all men equally; the changeless nature of God means that He cannot love one man more than another.

f. _____I would like to be righteous.

g. _____I enjoy my life greatly primarily because I live when I do; the thought of living in the 1960s is somewhat horrifying to me.

h. _____In Hell, a man is punished for punishing himself.

i. _____Americans have crushed the problem of “works righteousness” with their profound devotion to entertainment, sports, and luxury; “works righteousness” may have been a problem in bygone eras, but we are flattering ourselves to pretend as though it is a real problem for us.

7b. (25 line answer) Choose one of the statements above and briefly explain your answer. Choose an item which is somewhat controversial. If you have marked an item True which most Christians would call False, explain why others are confused. If you have marked an item False which most Christians would call True, explain why others are confused.

8. (20 line answer) Let us say that five years from now, while attending college, you go on a first date to an art museum. While at the museum, you encounter Adriaen van de Velde’s Annunciation. As you have toured the museum, you and your date have made small talk about the paintings you see. Your date knows something about art and, not wanting to come off as uncultured, you want to say wise or learned things, as well. Record below five comments you might make about this painting which stand to impress your educated date.

9. (25 line answer) Ten years from now, you are married and have one little child. You work hard, do not make much money, and think fondly of your youth, when you had much time for leisure and study. Your average day involves nine hours of labor, though you are not yet in a career. You have a desk job, something just shy of what you studied in college, but if you are lucky, in two or three years the desk job will evolve into satisfying work. After nine hours of labor, you come home and cook dinner. You try to enjoy cooking dinner, but given how limited your paycheck is, you are not eating nearly so well as you ate in your parents’ home. You are freshly amazed whenever you go to the grocery store at just how truly expensive food really is.

Your parents still send you a nice check for your birthday (a hundred dollars), and with that money, you spend forty dollars on a babysitter, twenty dollars on two movie tickets, and twenty dollars on some coffee and dessert after the movie. The rest might go to a semi-decent bottle of wine, or it might just go toward next week’s food bill.

You have married someone you knew before you turned eighteen, just as your old literature teacher Mr. Gibbs suggested you would. Perhaps it is not someone from school, but a friend from outside school whom you didn’t really know that well until after you graduated.

You attend a church which really isn’t to your liking, but God did not create the world to satisfy you. Rather, He created you to satisfy Himself, and you resist the temptation to leave your church merely because you do not like the hymns they sing.

You enjoy your life, really, though you could not imagine finding such a life satisfying were someone to have told you about it ten years back. You have begun becoming like your parents, and you like it. One person you knew in high school has since died (the funeral, an impromptu class reunion two years ago). One has gone to jail. Half a dozen people you know have brazenly renounced the faith, though you are surprised by only one of these. This is the season of life in which wedding invitations come once a month.

In the midst of such a life, an old friend from high school sends you an email with a link to an essay contest sponsored by Veritas Christian School, a prestigious institution which has done well for itself over the years. All alumni are invited to write a one thousand word essay describing what exactly their classical education has done for them since high school. Was it worth it? Has it really mattered to you? On Facebook, you notice a few old acquaintances from school share links to the essay contest and make sarcastic remarks, like, “Nope. Latin is still a dead language,” or, “All my classical education taught me to do was to judge people,” or, “The school is willing to pay graduates to write propaganda for itself. How novel!” This strikes you as unfair, but these same people complained about having to tuck their shirts in back in ninth grade, so you are not terribly surprised. At the same time, plenty of students who hated school back in ninth grade have gone on to achieve success, happiness, and they have surprisingly fond things to say of Veritas now that they don’t have to go any longer.

You write an essay. You submit it. A prize is promised to the winner, but the prize is undeclared. Your essay is about enjoying a small, unambitious life. A quiet life. Your Veritas education gave you the power to broker a deal with life which you find satisfying. In your essay, you describe cooking dinner for your family with less than luxurious ingredients. You describe how good those meals taste. Your essay wins the contest.

The prize is… surprisingly grand. Unpredictably lavish. You have won a $75,000 grant to take a year off from work and do one of the following.

a. Memorize the book of Ecclesiastes

b. Read through the entire 9th through 12th Humanities curriculum (around 25 books, let us say)

c. Spend a year enrolled at École Grégoire-Ferrandi, one of the most prestigious culinary schools in Paris

d. Train to run a marathon.

You must declare your intention at the beginning of the year, and shame forbids you from not following through with your declaration.

Which of these would you choose? Explain your answer.

10. (25 line answer) You have just been bitten by a spider on the foot. There is a fifty percent chance the spider bite will do nothing to you but hurt for awhile, but there is also a fifty percent chance the spider which bit you was a Brazilian Wandering spider, and you will die within twenty minutes. The nearest hospital is half an hour away. Your friend tells you, “If you cut off your foot within the next five minutes, the poison will not spread and you will not die!” You reply, “But what if it’s nothing? It may be nothing!” Your friend has a machete in hand and is willing to cut off your foot. What would Boethius tell you to do?

Step 5. On the day before the exam, print the tests.

Step 6. On the day before the exam, bake 31 loaves of bread (16 ounces each).

Step 7. On the day of the tests, write the following message on the board: Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he reap. Welcome to the Last Judgement.

Step 8. Distribute tests. Tell students, “I want to read over the entire exam with you before you begin. It will be helpful for you to have the whole exam in your head. Part of your brain can be working on later problems while you are writing your answer to earlier questions.”

Step 9. Read through entire exam (15 minutes just to read through exam).

Step 10. Tell students, “Do the first page first. After you do the first page, you may skip around.”

Step 11. Allow students 20 minutes to work.

Step 12. Once all students have finished first page, teacher exits room.

Step 13. Teacher syncretistically dresses in academic robes and bishops mitre and stole.

Step 14. Bishop teacher remotely begins blaring Ennio Morricone’s “On Earth As It Is In Heaven” from massive hidden speaker.

Step 15. Students look at one another confusedly.

Step 16. Bishop teacher enters room.

Step 17. Bishop teacher approaches student in front row, takes unfinishable exam. Teacher detaches first page of test, hands back first page only to student.

Step 18. Bishop teacher says to class, “Do you want to take this exam?”

Step 19. Class loudly responds, “No.”

Step 20. Bishop teacher says, “Please remove the first page of the exam and fold it into thirds.”

Step 21. Class removes first page of exam and folds into thirds.

Step 22. Bishop teacher says, “Put this in your pocket. This is what you learned. My judgements of what you learned are ultimately meaningless.”

Step 23. Bishop teacher says, “Bring me your massive unfinishable exams.”

Step 24. Class approaches bishop teacher, hand over massive unfinishable exams.

Step 25. Teacher says, “Now everyone follow me!”

Step 26. Class processes to dumpster. Teacher says, “What do you believe?”

Step 27. Class recites Nicene Creed while bishop teacher ceremonially throws massive unfinishable exams into dumpster, one by one.

Step 28. Class cheers when finished.

Step 29. Bishop teacher says, “Now follow me.”

Step 30. Class follows bishop teacher on foot to bishop teacher’s home.

Step 31. Bishop teacher enters home, exits home with 31 loaves of bread which are ceremoniously distributed.

Step 32. Class processes back to classroom.

Step 33. Class and bishop teacher eat bread and butter and watch classic French children’s film Red Balloon (1956).


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