<!DOCTYPE html> <html lang=”en”> <head> <meta charset=”UTF-8″> <meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0″> <title>The beginning of Davenant</title> </head> <body> <p>The beginning of Davenant was the internet.</p> </body> </html>
A.D. 1455: Johannes Gutenberg sets the type for his famous Bible on his printing press and brings forth the first edition. In doing so, an essential component is now in place to enable the advancement of dangerous ideas—ideas of men like John Wycliffe, Jan Huss, and Erasmus of Rotterdam. Within a century of Gutenberg’s press the Reformation is well underway. Protestantism has always, proudly, ridden on the waves of technological development. Its claim is that God loves the whole cosmos so much that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall live forever. The claim that nothing else is needed, nothing else needs to be added to the work of God on the cross to make us just, has a profound impact on the world. It frees us from anxious labors. It frees us to love what we do. From this insight descends the Protestant commitment to the concept of vocation. We are all holy men and women. Each of us is a son or daughter of God. What ought we to do with our lives now that we are free of the burden of sin? Now that our redemption is secure, what piece of God’s green earth or of his starry heaven shall we spend our days loving? This love, our reason for remaining in the body, continues to drive technological development to this day.
A.D. 1888: The poet Giosuè Carducci invents the year 1088 as the “founding of the medieval university” so that an eight hundredth anniversary of the founding of the University of Bologna can be celebrated and so that it can hold the honor due the eldest. The founding is a fiction. All human institutions are founded on some lie. Carducci had to invent the year because the original founding charters were themselves often forged. Emperor Theodosius did not establish Bologna as a center of legal study in 423, nor did Alfred the Great lay the foundations for Oxford in 889. However the medieval university clearly existed. Its thereness and continuance in some form down to today cannot be challenged. Who was there at the formation of Bologna’s studium generale? Who can map out the original curriculum? One origin story must take precedence over others and it is the poets, not the historians, who set the date. The date set by the poet is set, admittedly, without knowledge. This does not discount knowledge. Clearly in Bologna, as in Paris and Oxford, there were legum doctores gathering with one another and with their paying pupils to form free corporations. By the twelfth century it is established by documentary evidence that several such organizations had formed, each growing up through custom more than via any plan. The organic composition of such an organization is essential. Humans who long to know gathering to seek knowledge together. What is established beyond a shadow of a doubt in the medieval university is that those teaching and studying there could do so in freedom from the cathedral schools. Such schools were burdened by bureaucratic oversight, they were in hock to the political whims of the region in which they existed, and they were insufferably dogmatic for the kinds of minds who wanted truth. In tension with these schools the early universities gathered together not just in halcyon leisurely pursuit of truth, but also to build a better world, a world in which they could exist. Teacher and pupil gathered together to learn, but also to more easily repel hostilities and to acquire material goods. They needed one another.
A.D. 2007: Apple introduces the smartphone to mass consumer usage by releasing the first iPhone. Only a year earlier, Facebook had opened up to the mass market. Mere months before that Twitter had launched. Podcasting begins to replace radio, streaming to replace television, and email has already overtaken letter writing. These developments conspire to open up new avenues for connection, discussion, networking, and collaboration. The digital revolution broke down several of the gateways for information transmission which remained (or arose) in the era of the printing press. New institutions were inevitable. The development of new institutions is part of the Protestant DNA. Protestants are used to sensible self government and collaboration. Truth is goodness which is both useful and pleasant. If it works it is true and it will grow. If it is tradition for tradition’s sake it will die. Organizations where Johann Tetzel can hope to lie his way into becoming the Regional Director of International Development are themselves lies. Humans were not meant to live as lies. They will die trying. So will false institutions. There is not and has never been an authoritative, all important institution of man that must govern all mankind. Rather, we submit to the fact that guided by the authority of God’s revelation, and using our minds and the reality we inhabit—which are the tools God has given us to read his books—we are really free to govern ourselves in accordance with our nature and with his word.
A.D. 2013: The Davenant Institute is founded. I remember watching the organization form from my place inside of a large legacy Christian ministry at which I was working—an organization which was superficially Protestant, but in reality was deeply confused. From my vantage point, Davenant was a small group of frankly rather befuddled looking but quite smart and extremely eager young people attempting to build a ship fit to weather the seas of the digital era. The first things I saw were a Facebook post here, a blog argument there. After a debate arranged at a prominent Christian college campus to discuss a controversial article published in an outside journal, bow-tie-Americans could be excused for thinking this was another of their familiar institutions. On the surface perhaps it shared a resemblance, but examined more closely it was clear they were digging deeper. I began interacting, commenting on this and that, direct messaging with various people to ask questions or provide my thoughts. I vividly remember providing definitive proof that Dorathy Sayers knew how casu marzu was produced. I was invited to join their lists and signed up to get their emails. What interesting, what strange people. They clearly hate the lie within their own soul above all else. This is good.
A.D. 2015: the first of many effects of the digital revolution begins to be felt. The 0bergefell decision is passed by the Supreme Court. This same month D0nald Trump declares his candidacy for president. The world had shifted—was shifting, and is shifting still. The organizations I was working for were not fit to sail in these waters. Most organizations are not. I began looking for someone who had the resources that the church, and the world, needed to understand what was happening. That was when I reached out to The Davenant Institute in earnest. Davenant was, and remains, a structure which offers a stable base from which to operate. It provides a physical space with books, and leisure, in which to form the minds of young and old alike. It provides rhizomal tendrils through the internet around the globe which can transmit the truths of Christianity. It has a community committed to one another, but also and more essentially, committed to the truth, who sharpen one another and keep the fires burning in the hills. Such an epistemic center is of profound importance—and incredible power—as enfragmentation accelerates. The Davenant Institute is an experiment of the Benedictine style. But such an option always needed to actually want to engage the world. Withdrawal is tactical for the sake of engagement. The goal of engagement is, first, survival and a space for dust to settle, to clarify. But the goal of withdrawal being engagement means that also always, inevitably and out of love, the goal is conversion and reconquista. Davenant is the development of an antifragile and acephalous matrix digging wells that allow access to the deeper springs of the Christian intellectual life. Such wells provide access to knowledge which is sometimes politically forbidden. If I am permitted to speak the patois of “hotdog church,” Davenant is the neo monasticism—neo monasticism as it should have been, without the unbearable larp and knee jerk genuflection to contemporary pieties. It is genuinely interested in contemplation, in dissemination of the things contemplated, and willing to argue, willing to fight, if necessary, to defend the space needed to do this essential work for the church. This is what brought me in and what has kept me here. My conviction: We must refound the medieval university for the digital frontier.
A.D. 2023: The Davenant Institute turns ten. The signs of the time auger well for us. There are still very few organizations who can take seriously the impact that digital technology is having on humanity; very few who are planning for the temporal world that is coming into being; few who are built for the storm. Davenant is expanding, growing; a pubescent stage. Strong sinews are developing as tension and risk are rewarded in positive feedback cycles. Tests passed lead to new opportunities. Signal flares are being fired into the dark night. Others are finding their way to us. Pathways and portals are being uncovered to higher vistas. From those vantages we gain better insight into the question: what possibilities does the digital age open up for theological education? The major hazards of institutional youth have been blessedly skipped over. No one is dead yet, thankfully. But the future is not guaranteed and it is not to be taken for granted. What will the university look like in 2088? No one knows for certain. However the need is still before us, to develop a resilient institutional home for the contemplation of Christ; and the means to pass the fruits of such contemplation to the ends of the earth and on to future generations. The truth of God’s word will not fade. Jesus is God’s own Son who died for the sins of mankind. We will rise again and there will be an accounting for the work of my hands. I will be proud to show him what we have done here at The Davenant Institute. Until then.
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Colin Redemer (Ph.D. candidate, University of Aberdeen) is Vice-President of the Davenant Institute and cofounder of Davenant Hall, Poetry Editor and podcast co-host for Ad Fontes, as well as a professor at St. Mary’s College, California. He regularly lectures in Philosophy at Davenant Hall, including ongoing cycles in the works of Plato and Aristotle.
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