What comes to mind when you think of correspondence? I recently pondered this question in Fare Forward, a Christian review of ideas that takes its bearings from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and seeks to “consider the future / And the past with an equal mind.”
For me, correspondence first calls to mind letters written from one to another. In my youth, I was a prolific letter-writer, regularly penning missives to friends and family members. The daily ritual of checking the mail, with cultivated anticipation of glimpsing that special envelope, remains with me to this day, even though unwanted advertisements and bills predominate.
What I wished for, and the reason letters fascinate us, is a pleasure to which the Latin correspondere
points. The word unites cor-
, meaning “together, with each other,” and respondere
, meaning “to answer.” Unlike the didactic respondeo
, “I answer,” which appears nearly 3,000 times in Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae
registers an interpersonal tone, implying an “answering together” in which we meet and entertain another’s words. Whereas a scholastic disputation rather impersonally responds to objections, in correspondence we look for something personal, even revelatory, that correspondents share between themselves.
To be sure, corporatized business letters don’t rise to that ideal, and even worse are form letters that take the appearance of personal correspondence without the reality. (You can decide how far short of the ideal this
very correspondence falls!) Yet consider the brilliant legacy of published correspondence in the likes of Plato’s Seventh Letter; St. Paul’s missionary letters; Abelard and Héloïse’s love letters; the scientific correspondence of Princess Elizabeth of the Bohemians and René Descartes; the witty humanity of letters by Montaigne, Jane Austen, and Mark Twain; Matteo Ricci’s epistolary reports; Flannery O’Connor’s “Dear God” letters; and Walker Percy and Shelby Foote’s decades-long correspondence. I ruminate on these and others in Co-Celebrants of Being.
Let me repeat here a heady turn I take in that essay. Literary correspondence depends on a
deep-down, recondite correspondence that is possible between ideas and things, word and world, mind and nature, thought and reality. We are able to correspond with each other, writing and reading and returning letters, because our language has purchase on reality. Put another way, language itself corresponds—it is caught up in a call and response relationship with the world in which it participates and to which it refers. . . . The splendid world created out of nothing by the love of the Divine Logos—and bestowed with meaning by the God who made it and us—can be apprehended by our minds, described by our words, and communicated to others. In light of this profound reality, we are not, in the final estimation, estranged from either the world or our neighbors. We are at home in a correspondent cosmos fit for our understanding.
We need confidence in the power of language. Deceit, error, and manipulation are corruptions to which we must be attentive, but they are possible only because honesty, truth, and humility are normative. Indeed, “with the best words we can muster, we should delight in answering together the God who made us, in naming the world marked by the signs of his love, and in corresponding with persons made, like us, in his image. Because ‘the Word became flesh,’ we are invited to see ourselves as correspondents of greater purpose, whether writing letters to friends or lovers, or longing in prayerful reverie for the redemption of the world.”
In service to our work within the Honors College and the broader University community:
- Please welcome two new faculty members in the Honors Program. Returning to us after a two-year hiatus is Stacey Hibbs (Ph.D., Political Philosophy, Boston College) as senior lecturer. A noted teacher, Stacey’s recent public presentations include “Reflections on the Feminine,” “C.S. Lewis and the Four Loves,” and “Reflections on Plato’s View of Education.” Also joining us is Matthew Whelan (Ph.D., Christian Theological Studies, Duke University) as assistant professor of moral theology. He is the author of Blood in the Fields: Óscar Romero, Catholic Social Teaching, and Land Reform (Catholic University of America Press, 2020) and writes in the areas of ecological theology, liberation theology, and theological aesthetics.
- Congratulations to two staff members on recent promotions. Amanda Barton is now serving as the HC’s Business Officer. In this role, she will plan and manage college finances, as well as partner with Human Resources on all faculty/staff employment changes. Also assuming expanded responsibilities is Erin Stamile, by serving as the HC’s Associate Director for Enrollment Management. Through her work, we will benefit from stronger, data-driven responsiveness across our enrollment management operations. Thank you for your steadfast service, Amanda and Erin.
- Make plans to attend the Laura Blanche Jackson Endowed Memorial Lectureship in World Issues featuring Katharine Hayhoe on Monday, October 25 at 7:00 p.m. A climate scientist and noted public intellectual, Katharine is Endowed Professor in Public Policy and Public Law at Texas Tech University, and the author of the forthcoming Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World.
- Save the date as well for the Drumwright Family Lecture, to be given by Angel Adams Parham on Thursday, November 4 at 4:00 p.m. Angel is Rev. Joseph H. Fichter, S.J. Distinguished Professor of Social Science at Loyola University-New Orleans and the author of American Routes: Racial Palimpsests and the Transformation of Race.
- Provost Nancy Brickhouse has officially approved the Honors College’s Guidelines for Promotion to Professor. Thanks again to the ad hoc committee that drafted the guidelines: Lori Baker, Barry Harvey (chair), Julia Hejduk, Alan Jacobs, and Jason Whitlark. Important feedback was also offered by program directors and other HC faculty holding the rank of professor. Associate professors seeking promotion should use these guidelines in tandem with BU-PP 702 Promotion for Tenured Faculty policy and Promotion Procedures for Tenured Faculty. As a point of reference, all approved departmental tenure and promotion guidelines across the University are available here.
All the best,
Douglas V. Henry | Dean
Honors College | Baylor University
baylor.edu/honorscollege | 254.710.7689