St Wolfgang

Bishop of Ratisbon (Austria) (entered heaven this day 994)

Dear Wooly,

Your last few missives, taken all together, give an alarming impression.  They show in your academic development an unconscious tendency towards intellectual pride.  I deem it my duty as your devoted uncle to make you conscious of this vicious trend. So WATCH OUT!  Few vices are so deadly, because few so easily go unnoticed. Those suffering the spiritual cancer of intellectual pride almost never realize it until too late (like, after Judgment Day).  You should therefore without delay put your academic career under the patronage of today’s saint.

Wolfgang hailed from the German middle class, but he was sent to a prestigious school for his education.  He loved studies, and loved prayer, and excelled in both. (So far, he reminds me of you.) He befriended a future bishop named Henry, who came from a noble family and esteemed the future saint so highly that he brought him along when he switched schools.  If you remember, the tenth century was full of exceedingly erudite scholarship and intellectual development (the foundations of the great European universities were just then being laid), and these German schools were right in the midst of the boiling academic community.  

Well, one day a bitter dispute arose about the proper translation of a difficult Latin passage.  Even the professors couldn’t agree. Wolfgang, for the sake of peace and harmony, interpreted the passage and explained it with such perspicacity, eloquence, and simplicity, that he not only resolved the dispute but immediately became the resident expert, respected and consulted by students even more than the official masters.  Wolfgang was happy to be able to help, but his new status soon revealed to him the underside of academia. He became an object of the abundant petty jealousies, envies, vanities, and calumnies that tend to form the warp and woof of academia. At first he bore it calmly, glad to have something to suffer for the Lord. But the more he saw how these base passions so completely dominated the atmosphere of the schools, corrupting even the most distinguished professors and masters, the more alarmed he became.  He saw that these poor brainiacs were entirely unaware of the evil that their intellectual prowess had done for them, and he feared that if he continued in the same career he too would fall victim to pride and arrogance. He decided to enter a monastery, under the patronage of his friend Henry, who had been named bishop.

Henry was eager to put Wolfgang’s talents to fruitful use, and arranged for the saint to take over a Cathedral school and then an abbey school.  Much to the astonishment of the entire region, Wolfgang succeeded not only in administering an exemplary academic formation, but also in filling his students with the authentic spirit of Christ.  Soon he was in demand as teacher and spiritual director throughout the empire – he instructed future emperors, queens, abbots and abbesses, bishops and masters as well. Even as his reputation grew, however, he continued to decline all attempts to give him fancy or authoritative positions, for fear that he would fall into the temptation of pride.  Finally, though, he was outsmarted by subtle diplomacy, ordained a priest, and given the bishopric of Ratisbon, which he administered with intelligence, piety, sacrifice, and great prudence for over twenty years.

Academics haven’t changed much in the last thousand years.  And you’re becoming one of them. You better keep watch over that mask of erudition, then, and make sure it doesn’t start covering up a gruesome visage of envious pride.  Such hypocrisy makes for good Halloween costumes, but bad souls.

Your devoted uncle, Eddy

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