Monday, March 15, 2010

Via Moderna

A fascinating perspective from Dr. Scott Hahn on the origins of the "modern way." Excerpts:
I would identify Calvinism with a kind of religious individualism, but Calvinism itself is only symptomatic of a deeper problem surfacing in a more pervasive and radical form. Namely, the problem of nominalist philosophy, or what is often called the via moderna. The Thomists had defined natural law as an expression of the divine intellect, so that God through his intellect knows the natures he has created, and what those natures need in order to be perfected and fulfilled. Laws proceed from his intellect in such a way that they correspond to what we need to be happy, fulfilled, perfected, laws and authority are the preconditions for freedom and fulfilment in the via antiqua. But in the 1300´s William of Ockham rooted law in God´s will in such a way that law became the arbitrary imposition of a superior power´s will. We have a dialectical relation of polarized tension between authority and freedom, between law and my own individual nature. Machiavelli necessarily follows because in a sense rulers imitate God. You can see the Leviathan of Hobbes, the Contract of Rousseau. Soon "savages" have to find out how to get out from under the "system" to escape the ruthless powers of Leviathan. It´s all breaking away from the Trinity on one level, and from the family on another. Laws had traditionally been understood as the expressions of a loving Father´s will to preserve and perfect the life he had sired, the life of his children. Once we move away from the covenantal, familial, and Trinitarian view of law systematized by Bonaventure and Thomas, we create a philosophical system of distrust, a hermeneutic of suspicion, we are going to look at anybody having authority who advances truth claims with suspicion. We are allergic to authority, we distrust authority, so naturally fatherhood is going to break down, the family is going to break down. Calvinism was only a middle stage. We have to restore unity through the Trinity from above, the family from below, and with the Church mediating in between...
The revolutions begun by this intellectual movement rolled down the centuries.  Excerpts:
In the 1300s the revolution was intellectual. William of Occam and others. In the 1400s came the cultural revolution. Universities started becoming secularized and downplaying theology. Art became about nature rather than God. Nothing wrong with that at all, but to emphasize a lesser truth at that time was indicative of an agenda. In the 1500s there was a theological revolution. Papal authority discarded. In the 1600s there was a philosophical revolution. Truth claims were considered private, reason now trumps faith. Philosophers were greater than theologians, universities greater than seminaries, because reason was considered more important than faith. In the 1700s there were political revolutions. We’ll serve no monarch. French Revolution pushed state over church. Social contract now completely secular. We had a contract, not a covenant with our leaders. In the 1800s the scientific revolution of Darwin, Marx and Freud, all emphasizing power, with Freud attacking the father figure saying we must uproot paternity. By the 1900s there was the breakdown of marriage, the sexual revolution, the right to abortion. The social contract was extended to marriage; marriage became a breakable contract instead of an unbreakable covenant. And how can one deny homosexuals the right to marry if law is arbitrary anyway? If we’re suspicious of God, we’re going to be all the more of popes and priests and fathers. We see all power as suspect. And yet the Creed got it right. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…”. “Father” precedes “almighty”...
For want of a nomen... More on this from Stratford Caldecott:
It is very important for us to try to understand the reasons for the collapse of the medieval order, because this will enable us to grasp the nature of the modern world. Let me take up the story again from the Crusades. Having found it impossible to persuade the military classes of Western Europe to adopt more peaceable ways (I mentioned the Peace movement around AD 1000), the Church resorted to an alternative strategy, which seemed to be the only one open to it: namely to channel all that aggression against a common enemy. It started well enough – both in the East, with a successful First Crusade in 1096 (answering the appeal for help of the Byzantine Emperor the year before), and also in the South West of Europe. The Reconquista or Reconquest of Spain south of Santiago from the Moors (Toledo 1085) gave Western Europe access for the first time to many of the treasures of ancient philosophy, particularly in the form of Arabic transcriptions of Aristotle. For the next hundred years Christian, Jewish and Moslem scholars would collaborate on the translation and interpretation of these texts. It was the Friars, the new mendicant orders, both Franciscan and Dominican (who, thanks to the support of the Papacy, which had given them the task of combatting heresy, were now dominating the new Universities in Paris and later Oxford), who managed to achieve this synthesis of the new learning with the tradition coming from St Augustine and the Church Fathers.

(If you are not familiar with all this, one of the best books about the great age of Scholasticism is The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, by the French historian Etienne Gilson. It was this book that helped to convert Thomas Merton to Catholicism. You might also enjoy G.K. Chesterton's brilliant little book St Thomas Aquinas.) The Scholastic synthesis demonstrated a remarkable balance between faith and reason, between grace and nature. Theology is based on Revelation, but for St Thomas it also has to be in harmony with human reason, because there can be only one truth. In other words, his method is based not on a narrow dogmatism that only finds what it is looking for, but on a completely fearless search for truth using all the available methods of philosophy, including the ancient pagan philosophy, confident that – through prayer – it would eventually be possible to answer any objections to faith that might arise, and to reconcile any apparent clash between the teachings of the Church and the conclusions of human thought.

In the fourteenth century, however, the new emphasis on nature and on corporeal reality, on love and on the humanity of Christ, which was linked to the development both of lay spirituality and of science, began to be taken to rather extreme lengths by some of the Franciscans. This, I think, is a turning point for civilization: the point where the medieval world began to give way to the modern. In fact the new philosophy was quickly dubbed the via moderna or 'modern way', so evident was its radical difference from traditional thought. [See Louis Dupre, Passage to Modernity, Yale, 1993.]...
And it all rolled out from there.

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