Seminário Patriarcal de Rachol: A Cradle of Intellectual Life

 Seminário Patriarcal de Rachol: A Cradle of Intellectual Life

(perhaps… that was?)

Reflections in tribute to a house and a home which gave so much to so many

Rari nantes in gurgite vasto (Aeneid, I, 118)… a classic group-labeller, oft-used by Padre Mestre Antonio Couto, de santa memória, remains till date as a powerful memory trigger in this marginal student of that august institution of storied glorious traditions, who benefited immeasurably from the classical education that was there provided to us, all the way from the seminal years at Saligão Seminary. Intellectual life was fostered by the reading of the classics, which were available in the bookcases, since vanished, in the hallowed corridors of every floor of that seminarium – Seminário Preparatório.  Those bookcases were rummaged through by most of us soon after lunch; and the poor Encarregado da Livraria dos Alunos would eagerly wait for the bell to go off, ripping us away to quiet study. The first book that I snapped up from that bookcase was O Primo Basílio, by Eça de Queiroz. May be my namesake in the title drew me in; but happy memories linger on, amidst other stultifying experiences on that hill. Only a few years ago I read O Crime do Padre Amaro, by the same author; and as I was reading it, my heart welled up in gratitude for the love for literature that was instilled in me from that young age. 

Reading Cicero, Ovid, Virgil during the tender years of adolescence, and that too in Latin, although not fully grasped at that time, created lasting impressions, which flourished many years later. After all ...stillicidi casus lapidem cavat… Latin, although a dead language, laid the foundation for disciplined reasoning, which was enhanced by the study of other classical languages. I regret for not being exposed to Sanskrit. But those were different times… The classics-based educational experience opened notwithstanding a flood of intellectual curiosity.

The bookcases in those airy corridors were filled with classics, albeit in Portuguese, but they dished out an excellent sampling of world classical literature. The memories of reading Don Quixote de la Mancha, in my Terceiro Ano are well furrowed in my soul: I was fascinated by this bumbling character, Don Quixote, who ended up becoming my patron saint, and Dream the Impossible Dream my personal hymn; besides, I was infatuated by the character of Dulcinea. I devoured Os Lusíadas, which left a lasting taste for the epics; Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables gripped me and developed a compulsion for reading, even to the detriment of daily studies. Since then I read a few other epics and classics and I studied Goethe’s Faust and, even recently, I felt compelled to study Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia, for pure intellectual enjoyment. The little French that was offered to us helped me to navigate through some great scholarship in that language in a variety of fields of study, and yes, to pronounce the names of the French scholars correctly when presenting academic papers in the international fora. 

This culture of reading at the Saligão Seminary augured well for me as I entered the ancient portals of this quadricentennial institution, the Seminário Patriarcal de Rachol. In our culture we are transported from one post to the next through pre-fabricated notions – and so I was pitiably told: alea jacta est… However, the culture of reading, which I had absorbed at the Saligão Seminary, served as an indomitable force to change the path of my alea.

Rachol Seminary was ripe with intellectual life; the professors, armed with doctorates, created a scholarly ambience. The level of discourse was intriguing, both in and out of the classroom; even the conversations during the recreio were sprinkled with references to great authors and big ideas, and good intellectual banter was not uncommon. The little bookcase next to the Camarata on the way to the classrooms offered some wonderful gems in the form of some old journals and some light literature. Franciscus Xaverius Calcagno’s compendium of philosophy was a challenge to someone who had not grasped Latin very well despite the six years of studying that language…. But some seeds flourish much later. And the very fact that we had to use prescribed text books, and that we had to buy them from our paltry resources made us value the investment we were making in our intellectual life. The three volumes of Philosophia Scholastica, by Franciscus Xav. Calcagno, S.J., continue to be my sentimental possessions, where I learned to form a syllogism, and thus a good argument, both inductive and deductive. The volume of the Introduction to Indian Philosophy by Satischandra Chatterjee and Dhirendramohan Datta, which we used as a text and I continue to possess, held by a rubber band, opened my mind to a whole world of Indian Philosophy, which got me thinking, as time passed by, and more and more about our own Indian classics; I had read a long time ago  The Bhagavad-Gita, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata as well as the magnificent poems of Mirabai and Tulsidas, but I still find myself quoting from them in my homilies. Recently I voraciously read Gurcharandas Das’ The Difficulty of Being Good: The Subtle Art of Dharma, and that connected me back to the seminary days studying Indian Philosophy. 

Another great blessing that I count in my life is the two-year study of Classical and Biblical Greek. It has been invaluable to my understanding of the world and the issues affecting us even now. And, without any doubt, it serves me till today, along with Latin, as a gateway to understand a number of foreign languages, which I sometimes have to browse through in my study: a reason why my Greek and Latin dictionaries are always next to me. Yes, who can forget the classic ‘mataiotes mataioteton, ta panta mataiotes?’  Even the one year of rapid study of the Hebrew language comes in handy sometimes when I prepare my Sunday homily. Notwithstanding, I regret for not applying myself more diligently to the study of these important languages, which help us to unfold a richer understanding of our faith. 

After lunch, the little bookstore next to the Chapel (upstairs, and to be exact, next to the room of the Spiritual Director) was a busy marketplace… we bought books… invested in our intellectual life… and read them avidly…These books were good companion resources, and solid supporting literature along with our text books in philosophy and theology studies. The bookcases in the Corredor de Baixo (caddy corner to the refeitório), were filled with other jewels: a magnificent collection of BAC (Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos) in Spanish, among them. I read a few of those, and particularly with great interest, the volume dealing with the philosophy of work. Recently I read Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the value of work, written by a young philosopher Matthew B. Crawford; it flushed my mind with memories of that blessed corner of that corridor where I learnt so much. I wonder what happened to that rich collection of knowledge…

My memorable intellectual moment came when I was chosen/appointed (I do not recall how it came about) to participate in the disputatio publica -  a public debate, which was an annual intellectual feast both at the Philosophy and Theology levels, and that too in Latin, in the scholastic modality of syllogistic argumentation. I was deftly coached by my respected classmate Mousinho Afonso de Ataíde, with his ingenious pedagogical skill. 

I write these reflections with deep nostalgia and enormous gratitude to Rachol Seminary, which was, in many ways, truly a seminarium in my life – what with the marvellous seeds that were sown in me.

Different winds have swept the corridors of this noble institution. The school of thought which promoted a kind of “pastoralization” of intellectual life did not perhaps appreciate the value of this classical education in the formation of the pastors. Classical intellectual formation is a ground where we STAND (on the terra firma of principles, worldview, and the understanding of the big picture), whether in the backwaters of the society or in its cosmopolis. It shapes the way of thinking and consequently conducting our work, regardless of whether we are located, posted or appointed in poorer or in more developed communities. Classical intellectual formation is a not elitism, but a fulcrum on which to ground ourselves in order to function intelligently and efficiently, regardless of the terrain.

I benefited greatly of the dynamic intellectual tradition, culture and life that one breathed at Rachol Seminary in the late sixties; today I bow my head, and say: GRATIAS TIBI AGO… 

…After all fata vocant…..and vive ut vivas…

 Basilio Monteiro 


Golden Verse

1Korintkarank 7:38

Mhonnttôch aplê ankvar hoklê lagim logn zata to borem korta; ani logn zaina to odik borem korta.