Historic documents exhibit encompasses the Wisdom of the Ages

Two of the historic documents in the Wisdom of the Ages exhibit, which opened Sept. 11 at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. (above) A 16th century Torah scroll handwritten on animal skin, probably deerskin; and (below) a Manuscript Bible, hand-written and illuminated by Benedictine monks, c.1220. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

Two of the historic documents in the Wisdom of the Ages exhibit, which opened Sept. 11 at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. (above) A 16th century Torah scroll handwritten on animal skin, probably deerskin; and (below) a Manuscript Bible, hand-written and illuminated by Benedictine monks, c.1220. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter

ATCHISON, Kan. — We’ve all toured museums and seen historic books and documents locked inside display cases, where we can look but not touch. Imagine seeing a manuscript of the Summa Theologiae by St. Thomas Aquinas, handwritten in 1475, and being able to, wearing white gloves, touch the book and gently turn the pages. Or a first edition of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense pamphlet, published in 1776. A hand-written paper in Persian from 1250 and a Torah scroll from about 1550, handwritten on animal skin. Don’t close your eyes. The wisdom of centuries is right there in front of you.

These and 36 other documents will be on display one week a month in the Laughlin Rotunda of the Ferrell Academic Center at Benedictine College in Atchison, beginning the week of Sept. 11 through Nov. 14. The exhibit, called The Wisdom of the Ages, has been made available to Benedictine College and the general public by the Remnant Trust, Inc. A public grand opening was to begin Sept. 11 – 19, 4 – 8 p.m., weekdays, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., Sat. and 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Sun.

Hosted by the Benedictine College Honors Program, the exhibit is free. School tours will be available throughout the fall semester by appointment.
During the semester, when the documents are not on public display, professors will be able to “check out” a document for their class to view and discuss.

Dr. Kimberly Shankman, dean of the college, said the exhibit was made possible by a generous grant from the Haverty Family Foundation. Michael Haverty, Kansas City businessman and philanthropist, had worked with the Remnant Trust on a documentary called “We the People,” about some of the Trust’s early American material. When the documentary project was concluded, Haverty was asked if he wanted to have the documents displayed, and the former Benedictine College Board member suggested the College.

It took about two years from suggestion to arrival of the documents.

The documents, encompassing four major divisions of intellectual and literary history, arrived recently. The exhibit will be organized by Religion, Science, Liberty and Human Rights.

The Two Wings of the Human Spirit: Faith and Reason in Dialogue through the Ages

a. The Gospel as its Own Witness, Fuller (1799)
b. Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas (1475) handwritten manuscript
c. Citie of God, Augustine of Hippo (1610)
d. The Praise of Folly, Desiderius Erasmus (1765)
e. To the Christian Nobility of the German nation, Martin Luther (1553)
f. Tragedies, Sophicles (1568)
g. The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (1670)
h. Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius (c. 1400)
i. Torah Scroll (c 1550)
j. Nasirean Ethics (1250)
k. Manuscript Bible (c. 1220) hand lettered and illustrated by Benedictine monks
l. A manuscript leaf written by Thomas Aquinas (1475)

Unlocking the Mysteries of  Nature: The Emergence of
a Scientific World View
a. The Works of Aristotle (1496)
b. Harmonies of Political Economy, Frederick Bastiat (1860)
c. Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding, David Hume (1748)
d. The Theory of Moral Sentiment, Adam Smith (1759
e. Gutenberg Bible Leaf (1455)
f. Dialogues, Galileo (1710)
g. A Tale of a Tub, Jonathan Swift (1710)
h. Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton (1714)
i. On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Nicolaus Copernicus (1617)
j. Opera Philosophica (Philosophical Works), Rene Descartes (1656)

An Experiment in Liberty: America and the Heritage of the West
a. The Intolerable Act (1766)
b. A Defence of the Constitutions of the Government of the United States, John Adams (1788)
c. Commentaries on the Law, William Blackstone (1771)
d. First Acts of Congress, including the Bill of Rights (1789)
e. The Case of Dartmouth College, Daniel Webster (1819)
f. Declaration of Independence (1778) a Dunlap journal of the Continental Congress’s acts
g. Aeropagitica, John Milton (1738)
h. Common Sense, Thomas Paine (1776)
i. The Stamp Act (1767)

The Glorious Liberty of the Children of God:
Human Rights in the Western Tradition

a. Family Bible (1790) First Bible printed in New York.
b. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass (1846)
c. Emancipation Proclamation printed in the New York Times, Abraham Lincoln (1862)
d. Magna Carta (1576)
e. Supreme Court Decision on Dred Scott (1857)
f. Corpus Juris Civilis, Justinian I (1687)
g. A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, William Wilberforce (1804)
h. Encyclical Letter, Pope Leo XIII (1878)
i. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)

The invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press (1450) enabled hundreds of thousands of people to read and possess their own copies of books and documents.
Each displayed document has its own history and side stories; for example, the Family Bible, was printed by John Brown in 1790 for the general public. It was the first bible printed in the state of New York. To cover his costs, Brown required subscriptions from families wishing to own one of the bibles. George and Martha Washington were among the 40 who paid for subscriptions. The bible is self-interpreted — Brown printed the biblical text in the center of each page and surrounded the text with annotations and notes.

Benedictine College will be visited by Colonial Williamsburg’s Thomas Jefferson (Bill Barker) who will give a special presentation on the Documents of Freedom, 10 a.m., Nov. 8, Ferrell Academic Center. There will also be a showing of the film, “We the People.”

Atchison, Kan., was the furthest west campaign stop for Abraham Lincoln in 1859. On the 155th anniversary of that stop, Dec. 3, Dean Shankman, a Lincoln scholar, will talk about Lincoln’s visit to Atchison, the Emancipation Proclamation and other documents relating to the abolition of slavery. On display will be a first edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the first public printing of the Emancipation Proclamation in the New York Times, and other documents relating to human rights and the abolition of slavery. The free event begins at 7 p.m., Dec. 3 in the Ferrell Academic Center.

Seeing and (very carefully) touching the books, the Torah and other historic documents gives you a sense, Dr. Shankman said, of their fragility.

There was also a sense that the more things change, the more they remain the same: human dignity, faith and human rights. See, touch and feel the timelessness of faith, humanity and the desire to know more. o

To schedule a school tour, contact Kathleen Kiger, coordinator of student tours, (913) 360-7576.


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December 03, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph