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← Where are we in history?

hitchens_jnr's Avatar Jump to comment 30 by hitchens_jnr

Comment 27 -

But the main reason medieval Europe didn't have institutions like the philosophical schools is because the Emperor Justinian ordered the schools to close in 529 - for religious reasons!

I accept some of your corrections. You're right about my sloppy use of "Catholic" - perhaps I ought to have used it with a small "c". And you're also right to point out that classical literature was preserved in the monasteries - Greek in the east, and Latin in the west. The church of course was also responsible for the foundation of the medieval universities - but we should not lose sight of the fact that the medieval universities were not conceived as bastions of science, but as centres for the study of Scripture.

I'd also contest your assertion that medival Christian opposition to rationalism only began in the Early Modern period. The "rediscovery" of Aristotle in the West in the twelfth century (via translations from Arabic) unleashed panic in the church, until Aquinas found a way to "reconcile" faith with reason. The Albigensian Crusade does not suggest an open-minded and adaptable church. Moreover, Christian censorship seems to have denied us the preservation of a number of "unsuitable" texts, judged inimical to Christian interests or morality, from the ancient world. The "immoral" poetry of Catullus, in fact, comes down to us thanks to only one manuscript, not preserved by the Church but by the collection of a single Italian nobleman. In fact some of the most "challenging" Classical authors (Sappho, Tacitus, Polybius) have survived NOT because of the chuch, which doesn't seem to have wanted to preserve this stuff, but thanks to wealthy private individuals.

In summary, I'm not sure vaunting the church as the cradle of European enlightenment is ether desirable or historically justifiable. Progress seems to have made in spite of, not because of, the medieval church.

Fri, 24 Sep 2010 20:31:25 UTC | #524474