The Renaissance of Classical Philosophy
The two prior chapters recounted the oppression of
Europe by Church leaders who
were not honest or humble enough to admit that they had ceased from following
Christ. Taking advantage of that Name
above all names, they wore it as a cloak for vice. The papacy profaned that precious Name in
exchange for worldly pleasures. The
people were compelled to make sense of this spiritual tragedy by drawing three
general conclusions; that God is not able, that the Church must be reformed, or
that a false Church had arisen and needed to be replaced by a revived .
(This third reaction bears similarities
to the attitude of today's Early Church .) Emergent
Christians were left with the quandary of what to make of a Church which had obviously and inexcusably fallen into sin. They were forced to answer the sensitive question of; "What constitutes the true Church?" Obviously God, His Christ, and His Spirit could not have failed. Christ said the gates of Hell would not prevail against His Church. Reformers, like Martin Luther, affirmed that the Roman Church was part of the
, but that its
leadership and practices had missed the mark.
Other groups, such as the Anabaptists, rejected Universal
Church as a false Church. But all of the major Reformers made a
distinction between the masses who attend church and those individuals who have
genuinely surrendered to Christ. This
distinction was necessary in order to maintain that the Catholic Church was the
continuing Rome and, at the
same time, to account for souls in that Church, including its leaders, who had lived
like they were sons of the devil. Church
Because the unfolding of the mystery of lawlessness is our chief interest, this chapter will cover the social and political thought of the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance. During this period most people were still grounded in the Christian faith, whereas during the Enlightenment many began to fall into Deism. We will continue to draw on the research and commentary of Philip Schaff through this third chapter of Church History.
The turn of the first millennium without the return of the Lord, along with the unsettling corruption of the Church, gave rise to a movement called Scholasticism. The schoolmen began to make an extensive study of the sea of writings by the Church Fathers in order to solidify the doctrines of the faith. The Bible became one of many sources used in this search for truth; thus, the writings of the Fathers were canonized and set on a par with the Scriptures. Writings from outside the church were also included in scholars' libraries. These included classical Latin and Greek texts. During the first millennium, these writings were mostly banned because they promoted worldly wisdom and pagan morality.
The ban, which had been placed by the Church upon the study of the classic authors of antiquity and ancient institutions, palsied polite research and reading for a thousand years. Even before Jerome, whose mind had been disciplined in the study of the classics, at last pronounced them unfit for the eye of a Christian, Tertullian's attitude was not favorable. Cassian followed Jerome; and Alcuin, the chief scholar of the 9th century, turned away from Virgil as a collection of lying fables.74
At first the schoolmen sided with the papal claims that the apostolic see held authority over the Church and the State. But the northern nations of the
Holy Roman Empire began to look to the
classics of antiquity as reasonable alternatives to the violence and chaos
caused by a Church which had been high-jacked by the selfish desires of fallen
men. The philosophies of men held the
promise of a system that might better the human condition. This study of the Humanities was even
embraced by the churchmen. People began
to reason that God was in control of the spiritual realm, but man was the
proprietor over the material realm, and should do whatever he could to make his
world a better place. Soon the Humanists
began to estimate the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle to be equal, or even
above, Christian ideology. Thomas
Aquinas studied Aristotle and incorporated some of Aristotle's philosophy into
his theological catalog, the Summa
Figure 6 - Celestial Orbs in the Latin Middle Ages76
The scheme of the aforementioned division of spheres. · The empyrean (fiery) heaven, dwelling of God and of all the selected · 10 Tenth heaven, first cause · 9 Ninth heaven, crystalline · 8 Eighth heaven of the firmament · 7 Heaven of Saturn · 6 Jupiter · 5 Mars · 4 Sun · 3 Venus · 2 Mercury · 1 Moon
The image above depicts the medieval concept of the universe according to the scheme of Aristotle. It was believed that the "Primu Mobile" (outer sphere) had its own consciousness, "nous", or Divine Mind; a concept tied to Plato's belief in the Demiurge and the World Soul. The second book of Dante's Convivio describes the Ptolemaic universe.
"Outside all of these [orbs] the Catholics place the Empyrean heaven, which is to say, "the heaven of flame," or "luminous heaven"; and they hold it to be motionless because it has in itself, with respect to each of its parts, that which its matter desires. This is why the Primum Mobile has the swiftest movement; for because of the most fervent desire that each part of the ninth heaven has to be conjoined with every part of that divinest, tranquil heaven, to which it is contiguous, it revolves beneath it with such desire that its velocity is almost incomprehensible. Stillness and peace are the qualities of the place of that Supreme Deity which alone completely beholds itself. This is the place of the blessed spirits, according to the will of the
, which cannot lie.
Aristotle, to anyone who rightly
understands him, seems to hold the same opinion in the first book of Heaven and
the World [i.e. De caelo]. This is the
supreme edifice of the universe in which all the world is enclosed and beyond
which there is nothing; it is not itself in space but was formed solely in the
Primal Mind, which the Greeks call Protonoe. This is that magnificence of which the
Psalmist spoke when he says to God: "Your magnificence is exalted above
the heavens."77 Holy
He begins by citing "the Catholics," or orthodox belief, as authority for his account of this "abode of the supreme deity," but then goes on to treat the Empyrean as a created thing, "formed in the Primal Mind," and as the motionless cause of motion in the physical universe. If God dwells in this place, the Empyrean resides equally in Him, and the universe at large is encompassed, causally and locally, by the Empyrean. Dante deploys the Aristotelian physics of desire to explain the relationship of the Empyrean to the lesser heavens, yet it is at the same time beyond space, a wholly spiritual realm where blessed spirits participate in the divine mind. Dante seems to emphasize this double status by mingling theological and philosophical language, and invoking Aristotle and the neo-Platonists side by side with the poet of the Psalms.78
The failure of religion's rule over the civil governments of
Europe drove the people
to contemplate other forms of government.
Through their rediscovery of Classical philosophy they were awakened to
the thought that man could design his own ideal society. Plato's The
Republic provided a basic examination of various types of government.
During his life in
, Plato witnessed
the fall of democracy and the installation of a tyrannical government. In his Republic,
Plato made a critique of various political structures. Plato believed democracy to be the most
unfavorable form of government. He
viewed democracy a great experiment that ended badly. He concluded that it amounted to anarchy and
resulted in slavery. Athens was the first known attempt by a society
to allow the crowd to rule themselves. Athens
Just prior to 500 B.C.
became the first democracy in history.
The people had expelled a series of tyrants and established a popular
assembly. The other city-states
mistrusted the Athenians and their aberrant form of government, and Athens Athens gave the others additional cause for concern: Following the expulsion of the Persians from Greece and, soon afterward, from some Greek
cities of Asia Minor, Athens founded the
Athenian League, a confederation of Greek cities around the Aegean
Recall from Chapter Four that Plato's idea of Justice was an equity or balance between competing elements. Plato proposed an ideal society with three types of citizens: rulers, auxiliaries, and producers. Plato's three parts of the human soul were coincidental to his three types of citizens. The rulers are men whose rational part holds mastery over the other parts of their soul. The auxiliaries are men driven by their spirit of honor. And the producers are people who are slaves to their appetites. Plato says that these characteristics should be recognized in children so that they might be trained in the area for which they are naturally qualified. Plato's proposed perfect state is, of course, ruled by a philosopher-king.
Plato identified five types of government: tyranny, timocracy, aristocracy, oligarchy, and democracy. Tyranny is imposed government, established by the tyrant or by an outside party. A timocracy is a government in which the right to rule is based on the value of the individual in terms of their ability to produce revenue for the community. An aristocracy is governed by the most qualified members of society - such as the philosophers. Plato said that a democracy occurs when an oligarchy breaks down and the lowest class, which is driven by immediate gratification, takes control. The democratic man is obsessed with unnecessary desires and is disorderly. Because they lack the intellect of the Philosopher, and the Auxiliary's sense of honor, the public will desire to do whatever they want, whenever they please - leading the society to become the slaves to their appetites.
Plato was not eclectic in his disgust with the democratic man. (This explains why democracy was not perceived as a desirable form of government for two thousand years after the Athenian experiment.) The reason for western civilization to have changed its view can be explained quite simply. Throughout history, until the Renaissance, the community was perceived as meriting the greatest importance. People were given recognition by their community based upon how well they could work within that community toward the survival and benefit of society as a whole. Not until the latter years of the Renaissance did individualism emerge. It is an interesting observation that this inward focus set the stage for the rise of Deism and Atheism.
The overbearing government by the Roman Catholic Church resulted in the same reaction that
Israel had as they fled from the oppression of
Rehoboam: "Each of you to your own
tent, O !"-
II Chron. 10:16 Going to one’s own tent implied more than a redirection of
allegiance to a different government. It
expressed a desire by Israel
to return to the days before Saul; a regret that they had ever asked for a
king. Individualism was the natural
reaction of the people to Israel 's
unreasonable micromanagement of the Empire.
But the Europeans were accustomed to kings, so their first response was
to free their individual nations from the yoke of Rome . Rome
We will now trace the history of reform over time and throughout
order to follow the changes in prevailing attitudes concerning authority and
the law. Pay close attention to the
struggle to resolve these two dichotomies: the authority of the Bible vs. the
authority of the Church; and, human authority vs. the conviction of conscience.
Those who were closest to
were unable to ignore the problems caused by her meddling in worldly affairs. Rome bore the greatest exposure in
the fight between the popes and the kings for control over the Empire. Consequently, Italy became the incubator of the
Renaissance. Dante Alighieri was born in the mid-thirteenth century and was caught in
the midst of these controversies. The Florentines became divided over the issue
of dominance by the Holy Roman Empire, which at that time was controlled by
Philip IV of Florence .
Dante sided with the party who wanted
more independence from The Roman Empire, which eventually resulted in his
banishment from France .
In his work, The Monarchia,80 Dante said that
civil and religious authority should be separated. He believed in the necessity of a potentate
with enough authority to keep peace and maintain order. This organization of society, Dante insisted,
was necessary for civilization to thrive.
The happiness of individuals can only be achieved as the greater
community is enriched. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
offers the following commentary: Florence
The Monarchia is in its own way as idiosyncratic as the Convivio. Its purpose, foreshadowed in the discussion of empire in Convivio IV, is to demonstrate the necessity of a single ruling power, reverent toward but independent of the Church, capable of ordering the will of collective humanity in peace and concord. Under such a power the potential intellect of humanity can be fully actuated—the intellect, that is, of collective humanity, existent throughout the world, acting as one. For just as a multitude of species must continually be generated to actualize the full potentiality of prime matter, so the full intellectual capacity of humanity cannot be realized at one time nor in a single individual [Mon. 1.3.3–8]. Here Dante adds his own further particularization of this Aristotelian doctrine [De Anima 3.5, 430a10–15], asserting that no single household, community, or city can bring it to realization. The ordering of the collective human will to the goal of realizing its intellectual potential requires universal peace [1.4], and this in turn requires a single ordering power through whose authority humanity may achieve unity and so realize the intention and likeness of God [1.8]. The basis of this argument for empire is evidently the first sentence of the Prologue to Thomas' literal commentary on the Metaphysics, where he declares that when several things are ordered to a single end, one of them must govern, "as the Philosopher teaches in his Politics" [Thomas, Exp. Metaph., Proemium; Aristotle, Politics 1.5, 1254a-55a.]
The second of the Monarchia's three books deals with the great example of
describing the city's providential role in world history, largely by way of
citations from Roman literature aimed at demonstrating the consistent
dedication of Roman power to the public good, and the conformity of Roman imperium
with the order of nature and the will of God. The third book deals with the
crucial issue of the relationship between political and ecclesiastical
authority. Dante argues on various grounds that power in the temporal realm is
neither derived from nor dependent on spiritual authority, though it benefits
from the power of the Papacy to bless its activity. These arguments consist
largely in refutations of traditional claims for the temporal authority of the
Papacy, but the final chapter makes the argument on positive grounds. Since man
consists of soul and body, his nature partakes of both the corruptible and the
incorruptible. Uniting two natures, his existence must necessarily be ordered
to the goals of both these natures [Mon. 3.16.7–9] Rome
Ineffable providence has thus set before us two goals to aim at: i.e. happiness in this life, which consists in the exercise of our own powers and is figured in the earthly paradise; and happiness in the eternal life, which consists in the enjoyment of the vision of God (to which our own powers cannot raise us except with the help of God's light) and which is signified by the heavenly paradise. Now these two kinds of happiness must be reached by different means, as representing different ends. For we attain the first through the teachings of philosophy, provided that we follow them putting into practice the moral and intellectual virtues; whereas we attain the second through spiritual teachings which transcend human reason, provided that we follow them putting into practice the theological virtues, i.e. faith, hope, and charity. These ends and the means to attain them have been shown to us on the one hand by human reason, which has been entirely revealed to us by the philosophers, and on the other by the Holy Spirit . . .
This is Dante's most explicit, uncompromising claim for the autonomy of reason, reinforced by the entire world-historical argument of the Monarchia and constituting its final justification for world empire. Dante here goes well beyond Augustine's sense of the stabilizing function of empire, and eliminates any hint of the anti-Roman emphasis in Augustine's separation of the earthly and heavenly cities. In the final sentences of the Monarchia the temporal monarch becomes, like the aspiring intellect of the Convivio, the uniquely privileged beneficiary of a divine bounty which, "without any intermediary, descends into him from the Fountainhead of universal authority" [Mon. 3.16.15]. Like the Averroistic reasoning of his earlier claim that only under a world empire can humanity realize its intellectual destiny, this crowning claim shows Dante appropriating Aristotle to the service of a unique and almost desperate vision of empire as a redemptive force. But whether we consider the world view of the Monarchia an aberration [D'Entreves, 51] or take it as Dante's straightforward exposition of his views on the relations of secular and religious authority, its categorical definition of the twofold purpose of human life is impossible to explain away. In the Paradiso [8.115–17] as in the Monarchia, to be a "citizen" is essential to human happiness, and the idea of an imperial authority independent of papal control remained fundamental to his political thought.81
Shortly after Dante, another advocate for civil independence arose from the western shores of the Empire. Just as the remoteness of
Rome from the center of Christianity had allowed her to
rebel against Constantinople, so England's
provided her with the leeway to be the last to submit, and among the first to
be stirred by the spirit of freedom.
John Wycliffe has been called the Morningstar of the Reformation. He is often remembered as a Bible translator,
but his greatest impact on Europe during his lifetime was made by his political
boldness in contesting against Rome 's
far reaching tentacles. Wycliffe's
opinion that authority must be questioned or rejected if it acts wickedly, was
boldly declared by his words, "There is no moral obligation to pay tax or
tithe to bad rulers either in Church or state.
It is permitted to punish or depose them and to reclaim the wealth which
the clergy have diverted from the poor."82 Rome
In the summer of 1374, Wycliffe went to
as a member of the commission appointed by the king to negotiate peace with France and to treat with the pope's agents on
the filling of ecclesiastical appointments in . His name was second in the list of
commissioners, following the name of the bishop of England .
we find him for the first time in close association with John of Gaunt,
Edward's favorite son, an association which continued for several years, and
for a time inured to his protection from ecclesiastical violence. Bruges
On his return to
, he began to speak as a
religious reformer. He preached in England Oxford and
against the pope's secular sovereignty, running about, as the old chronicler
has it, from place to place, and barking against the Church. It was soon after this that, in one of his
tracts, he styled the bishop of London Rome "the
anti-Christ, the proud, worldly priest of ,
and the most cursed of clippers and cut-purses." He maintained that he "has no more power
in binding and loosing than any priest, and that the temporal lords may seize
the possessions of the clergy if pressed by necessity."83 Rome
With the year 1378 Wycliffe's distinctive career as a doctrinal reformer opens. He had defended English rights against foreign encroachment. He now assailed, at a number of points, the theological structure the Schoolmen and mediaeval popes had laboriously reared, and the abuses that had crept into the Church. The spectacle of Christendom divided by two papal courts, each fulminating anathema against the other, was enough to shake confidence in the divine origin of the papacy. In sermons, tracts and larger writings, Wycliffe brought Scripture and common sense to bear. . . . As Luther is the most vigorous tract writer that Germany has produced, so Wycliffe is the foremost religious pamphleteer that has arisen in England; . . . .84
It was in 1381, the year before Courtenay said his memorable words, that Walden reports that Wycliffe "began to determine matters upon the sacrament of the altar." To attempt an innovation at this crucial point required courage of the highest order. In 12 theses he declared the Church's doctrine unscriptural and misleading. For the first time since the promulgation of the dogma of transubstantiation by the Fourth Lateran was it seriously called in question by a theological expert.85
Wycliffe also became aware of the importance of distinguishing between man's philosophy and the truth of God's Word. According to Schaff, Wycliffe confessed that in his earlier years he had leaned on the classical systems instead of fully relying on the Bible. John Wycliffe was one of the first politically active Christians to realize that the problem of government should not be solved through the application of pagan principles.
As for the philosophy of the pagan world, whatever it offers that is in accord with the Scriptures is true. The religious philosophy which the Christian learns from Aristotle he learns because it was taught by the authors of Scripture. The Greek thinker made mistakes, as when he asserted that creation is eternal. In several places Wycliffe confesses that he himself had at one time been led astray by logic and the desire to win fame, but was thankful to God that he had been converted to the full acceptance of the Scriptures as they are and to find in them all logic.86
While it is not our intent to cover the history and theology of entire Protestant Movement, it is worth noting why Wycliffe has been called the Morningstar of the Reformation. Although Wycliffe's writings were banned in
England, they made their way into the hands of
one of his European contemporaries, John Hus of .
Hus translated Wycliffe's writings into Czech and read them from the
pulpit. The Czech nation was the first
to reject the Christianity taught by Bohemia ,
and to form its own doctrines. The
Bohemian Movement was condemned by the papacy and Hus was burned at the
stake. But the Rome
withstood a series of papal crusades against it and was eventually left to
practice its faith as Hussites. Hus'
primary grievances with Bohemian Kingdom
were over the sale of indulgences and the teaching of transubstantiation. Thus, Wycliffe's teachings had gained
acceptance in Rome Northern Europe long before
Luther. And the Czechs' tenacity also
set a precedent that would allow Martin Luther and his nation the ability to
defy . Rome
the European Morningstar, Girolamo
Savonarola, began around 1490 to condemn the immorality and greed of the
province. He became politically active
when the ruling family of the Medici was expelled. Savonarola spoke out publically against Pope
Alexander VI until he was banned from speaking in public. But he continued to speak out in spite of the
ban. After he was excommunicated he
continued to call for reform until at last he was burned at the stake in
1498. After the Medici family was
restored to power, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote the political handbook, The Prince.87
Like his predecessor Dante, Machiavelli was convinced of the benefit of a local
authoritative ruler who could defend the province from the dictates of the
These early responses to the Church's dominance were aimed at establishing even stronger local magistrates who could defend their own territories from the political struggle between the papacy and the kings of
Europe. Because of Europe's
faith at this time, they still believed their civil authorities were under
Wycliffe's call for a national response to reject a corrupted clergy was eventually consummated in the Peace of Westphalia, which dissolved the Holy Roman Empire; thus allowing the sovereign nations of Europe to regain their autonomy. But first the spiritual monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church had to be broken so that the nations might object to the papacy without the fear of eternal condemnation. The authority question during the Protestant Reformation will be examined in the next chapter.
The Renaissance was merely the revival of the Humanities. Not until the Enlightenment did Humanism emerge in its present form. Platonism and Neo-Platonism were interwoven with Scholasticism during the Renaissance in the hopes that mankind might lay hold of the mysteries of God by using the tools of the Ancient Greeks. The Church had opened itself up to the doctrines of men when it granted the weight of Scriptures to oral traditions and the writings of the Church Fathers.
The Greek and Latin philosophers, as Paul put it, were merely groping that they might find God. Yet their murky visions were accepted by the Schoolmen as if they had already found Him. In their foolishness these Christian theologians opened the door to the belief that all of the nations worship the same God. The Church sought to gain a clearer understanding of God by merging the Gentiles' darkened image of God with the Bible's revelation of God. Instead, they further contaminated and diluted the Church's knowledge of God. Furthermore, the writings of the Fathers and scholars remain bound within the Latin concepts of God to this day. The God of the Bible is the Creator of all men. But He has chosen to reveal Himself through the Jews. God is not the god that all nations worship. This false doctrine of Universalism is a growing pestilence that is leading the unsaved down the road with those who are the enemies of the cross of Christ.
"Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power." – Col. 2:8-10
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