TheTreasures.org has a number of ancestors, but one of the most direct is a short series of open-to-the-public discussions of the Divine Comedy hosted by Dante scholar and translator Robin Kirkpatrick over the past several years at a church in Cambridge, England. Our own John Bugbee attended some of those gatherings during terms in Cambridge in spring 2015, and, inspired by the possibility of making this challenging text available to anyone who was interested, thought: “but why not read the whole thing?” Back at home in the fall, he set out to do just that, meeting weekly with readers at Holy Comforter Catholic Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, in a program that came to be called “Treasures of the Tradition.”
That first offering generated so much enthusiasm that a number of participants signed up to take the trip through Dante’s universe all over again when in 2017-18 (after another year in Cambridge) John held the course a second time. Over the years since, the program has expanded to offer other groups, including one (this year’s “Trinity and Incarnation”) that focuses on influential and mind- and heart-expanding works of philosophy and theology and another that dives into the illuminating world of Dante’s other writings — with an even wider set of offerings planned for the future. It has become our tradition to take up challenging texts: the middle group, for example, has read Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, On Loving God and The Steps of Humility and Pride by Bernard of Clairvaux, the Benjamin Major by Richard of St. Victor, and The Mind’s Journey Into God by Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. But that’s half the fun: the experience of approaching a text that looks distant, perhaps even forbidding, and discovering how much good it can do in our lives when a supportive group comes at it with a passionate guide.
The program has continued to generate enthusiastic responses and repeat participants, and has attracted people from a wide range of backgrounds: Catholic and non-Catholic, Christian and non-Christian, some with considerable prior exposure to its topics and some with virtually none. The format of open but guided discussion helps all comers feel welcome: everyone has something to contribute, and the questions asked by those who feel least at ease often turn out to be the most valuable ones. In March 2020, “Treasures of the Tradition” moved online because of the COVID pandemic. But, sad as it has been to cease gathering in person, the change has had a silver lining, extending the availability of the program far beyond central Virginia. We hope the online format will be helpful in this time when people are in need of new ways to connect, both with the riches available in great texts and with each other.