Miserable Students?


Miserable Students?

In the early 19th century, a manuscript was discovered in the Hof-Bibliothek in Munich, probably written in the monastery of Benedictbeuern in the early 12th century. Here are two verses (1 and 3) of a poem from this text[1].

Let’s away with study,

Folly’s sweet.

Treasure all the pleasure

Of our Youth:

Time enough for age

To think on Truth.


So short a day,

And life so quickly hasting

And in study wasting

Youth that would be gay!


Let us as the gods do,

‘Tis the wiser part:

Leisure and love’s pleasure

Seek the young in heart

Follow the old fashion,

Down into the street!

Down among the maidens,

And the dancing feet!


So short a day,

And life so quickly hasting,

And in study wasting

Youth that would be gay!


I began a theology module taught last semester with a discussion of this poem.

So the question is, does study cut young people off from the joys of human life? Does our teaching make our students miserable? Would they far rather be down there with the dancing feet? I am convinced that we need a strong conviction that the opposite is true in the teaching of theology.

And we need to be able to pass that conviction on to our students if we are to succeed. Many of our students are young people not long out of school. Others are older, but, if they have come to college later, they are starting again in life in some way and the questions buzzing around in their heads are not always that different from those of the young person sitting next to them in class.

Our task is to help them all to live and love and have joy in God and life, including all the goodness of the world he has given us richly to enjoy – yes, even the dancing feet. Unlike most higher education subjects, theology and biblical studies are ideally placed to do this job. They are full of resources to help our students be happy and fulfilled Christian human beings.

It teaches them what real love is all about from the atonement. It instructs them in how a life can be centred gladly in a great cause in discipleship classes. It shows something of personhood and relationships in the study of the trinity. It gives a solid hope for the future in eschatology and a home and community in ecclesiology. It demonstrates what a real human being is like in Christology. It helps sort out all kind of issues with this world – even down to the sort of coffee we should drink – in the doctrine of creation. It shows how to live in peace. It builds models of friendship. Above all, it gives meaning and purpose to a human life in God himself and a glorious example of a life lived in complete dedication to God in the narrative of the life of Christ.

Our courses in theology could even be re-titled “The basis for living a fulfilled life as God intended”.

So don’t just let your students gaze out of the window at the dancing feet of others, let your theology teach them to dance.

[1] English translation Helen Waddell Mediaeval Latin Lyrics (London: Constable, 1909) p203.

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3 Comments on “Miserable Students?”

  1. Drew Says:

    I was at two weddings recently and thought the same at both. If I could have my life again… I would dance more. The sheer pleasure of moving to music. No great ability at all but, equally no embarrassment at having no ability. Simple, unrestrained pleasure. I am now a dancing dad, happy to be an object of ridicule at weddings for as long as my feet will move.

    We don’t really do unrestrained joy, do we? I assume it’s because we see something evil about unrestrained joy. We have to be controlled, serious. Yet, as we know, Scripture is salted with exclamations of joy and dancing is part of the imagery of our eschatological hope.

    You are right, in so far as we can, we should never allow theology to make students miserable. You wrote recently about singing theology, maybe we should teach our students to dance as well.

    • Drew Gibson, the all singing, all dancing professor? Maybe that would look good in the new Union Theological College catalogue? I would be envious of such a description of myself!


  2. Jim Murdoch Says:

    Ah! Graham a wonderful blend of romance and theological study. How sad that we have divorced the two. ‘Joy unspeakable and full of glory’ declares Peter and yet we have chosen dullness instead.
    May God forgive and help us along with our students exult in the pleasure of studying the treasure of the Good News!

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