I return to blogging my way through, by reading and commenting on the four volumes of the English translation of the Philokalia. This work is, to quote wiki, “Other than the Bible, and a handful of writings by early Christian Fathers, the Philokalia is by far the most influential and widely admired example of Eastern Orthodox piety in print today. It is featured prominently in another much shorter well-known book called The Way of a Pilgrim, in which a Russian traveler learns to pray from various people he meets on his travels and by reading the Philokalia.” This work is a collection of writings from the fourth through at least the 15th centuries. The length of excerpts included in the Philokalia is somewhat indicative as to how large an impression they have made on the theology as practiced by the Orthodox. Our next author for today and the upcoming few weeks is Evagrios Pontikos.
It is said of Evagrios that “He possessed to an exceptional degree the gifts of psychological insight and vivid description, together with the ability to analyze and define with remarkable precision the various stages on the spiritual way.” In this work Evagrios talks extensively of demons. Today’s Freudian influenced materialist people would reject the notion that demons swarm around tempting us to do those things we should not. One might, at the onset of reading such texts, misquote Barth (on Genesis) who if I remember the quote correctly said, “I don’t care if the snake spoke, what’s important is what he said.” The point being, it’s less important whether demons are materially detectable, measurable, or “real”. What’s important is whether the psychological insights are useful and helpful in turning us and helping us center our thoughts on God and a Godly life. So with that in mind, we begin with 23 “texts” (short essays or thoughts) on Discrimination. Continue reading →
A week or so ago, Clark posted a comment, which I promoted to a post on this book, The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason. I now have a copy. The thesis of this book is that Christianity had a major role in the ending of the philosphical and scientific enquiry established by the Greek civilization. I’m somewhat dubious of this claim, so I thought I’d put down some of my thoughts on this matter before embarking on reading (and later posting here) my thoughts on this book.
The first question that needs to be considered, in the light of the amazing advances of science in the last few hundred years, is what spurred that on?
Perhaps the most important factor in the rise of technological and scientific advancment is moveable type (and now the electronic analogue). It was cheap and available books that allowed knowledge gained by one man in one place to be shared and archived with and for a very wide audience. A second major factor was that as a society becomes more wealthy and therefore complex education becomes a necessity. And when a society becomes largely literate those with talents and apptitudes, like a Mozart in music or Gauss in maths can find their niche and do great things.
The second question is, what happened in late antiquity that held back advances in science and rational enquiry? In the Western portions of the Roman Empire (which by the by never engaged in and absorbed the Greek habits of mind), economic catastrophe of unparalled levels made rational and scientific enquiry impossible. The British Isles were thrown back virtually to bronze age society, and the rest of Western Europe fell to levels approximating the late Iron age (for further notes on this see The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization another sourcebook is Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800). Surplus and communications and some degree of leisure are required for contemplation of more than the next meal or the guys on the other side of the wall carrying those pointy sticks. The East fared better than the West, but did as well have a lot of political difficulties to deal with, i.e., Islam and those pointy sticks again (or the Bulgars) and so on. One has to ask the question of whether and how long the educational (literacy) remained in the East and did the surpluses and leisure remain intact allowing the time for such enquiry.
We shall see how those notions fit with those of Mr Freeman.