The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.
My attention has just been drawn to We Have Never Been Medieval.
As I read though this piece, I find myself ever more confirmed in my adhesion to philosophical Idealism, even though the details are as hard to understand as are contemporary scientific theories like Biocentrism. The arrogant idea according to which man has evolved from medieval obscurantism and brought about a good and human world is discredited as unscientific ideology.
This approach of this article is ambiguous, though I have found these last few days that the terms idealism and realism have fluid meanings, even in terms of neo-platonic metaphysics and epistemology. Is modern man so enlightened as is made out? I have always had my doubts. Appearances change but the essence of man and fallen nature remain the same. Even our science lacks the objectivity it claims, for example, in the question of global warming. One lot of results shows temperatures going up and another attests that they are descending. Someone’s thermometer needs to be calibrated! I suggest more science and less ideology! No one has ever been able to control nature, even with the most cutting-edge technology.
If we have to shed our certitudes that we are so “modern” and enlightened, were people in the past so medieval in the meaning of being irrational and cruel? We are fascinated with those centuries before the sixteenth, with their cathedrals and art. It would seem to be that the answer is that we are not all globalist winner-take-all bankers or jihadist terrorists or football hooligans in England. Some of us are idealists and others are “realists”, pragmatists, philistines and cynics. So it was in 1890’s London when Oscar Wilde was the old queen about town, now in 2018 – and in the days when Friedrich von Hardenberg’s mother and servants were throwing bedsheets and shirts out of the windows on washing day!
We look at encroaching Islam like a steer contemplates the slaughterhouse. Are many of us in modern Europe more cultivated or courteous than the mobs of young men with beards and fanatical eyes entering our countries from the Middle-East? Are we as critical of ourselves as of them? That being said, I am not for opening all frontiers…
If we analyse present-day politics and economics, we will see quite clearly how we are regressing towards a kind of feudalism through the extreme power of private and state capitalism and collectivism. Our nature as humans is exactly the same as five hundred years ago: when we get technology, we use it as a weapon of war! We have regressed from the middle-ages, because we no longer have the Faith or the culture.
Then, what are the “middle ages”? Actually, it was a vast period between the fall of the Roman Empire to the Reformation, a thousand years. I remember my church history at university when our professor told us not to judge the Inquisition by the Declaration of Human Rights. People in those days didn’t call themselves “medieval” any more than Novalis would call himself a “German Idealist” or a “Romantic”. The label was attached to the poor fellow long after his death. We call ourselves “modern”, when we can’t accurately define the word. Labels are so dangerous and devoid of meaning. It is one thing I have discovered about autism – it is a word that encourages others from calling me a jerk or an arsehole, but it would also label me as something of interest to medicine and psychiatry, an Untermensch. I have to realise in my more reflective moments of the night that I am not modern or anything, just a human being in via.
The article is more sceptical of Idealism and Romanticism than I am. We will never know the reality, even of the period of our childhood like the 1950’s or 60’s. I have my memories, but I have certainly forgotten most of the “realities”, and I cannot do justice to them with my present experience. When I was 15 (in 1974), did I miss the laptop computer and the mobile phone? Of course not, but I used the word “modern” all the same! The article has a typically Roman Catholic misunderstanding of Hegel. I am sure his version of Idealism did not imagine what we call “progress” today. Again, it is the historian’s mortal sin of anachronism!
I was quite severely criticised for encouraging readers to examine Novalis’ Christenheit oder Europa and keep a straight face whilst reading a travesty of history. It is the same when the Rationalist of materialism singles out that period for condemnation or when Protestants look to a pristine primitive Christianity. We all need a myth to define a sense of identity and hope. That is the role of Romanticism and Idealism. But, the cruel reality is that we are always the same, oscillating between sublimity and depravity, all the way through history from Judas to ourselves in our potential treachery.
The article is quite lucid in its examination of things. Vatican II is no longer a golden calf of orthodoxy but another vicissitude of history that has produced both intuitions and failed promises. Renewal by embracing the Enlightenment never happened. One thing that has done me a lot of good is to realise that the Church has never been out of dark days and crisis. We will only find the Kingdom within, whilst we are incarnate and need the sacramental presence of Christ in our communion. This idea of exposing the programmed reform on the basis of bureaucracy and groupthink is central in this article and my own mind.
The time has come to return to the Word, the Idea which is Christ, the universal man and Son of God. Plato’s metaphysics will help us a lot more than Aristotle’s, and we see there the response of the Gentiles to the fulness of Revelation. The article finds it sad that neo-scholasticism has been discarded. I am not so sad, since it formed a part of what became the extreme Enlightenment of the seventeenth century. I would certainly prefer St Thomas Aquinas to Suarez! The article has some intuitions for which we can be grateful.