Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Correcting an Increasingly Common Misconception

Here are my comments on Chad Estes' review of Rachel Held Evan's Evolving in Monkeytown:

Thanks for your review...but I'd like to address one part of it. I know it's popular nowadays to see postmodernism as the "synthesis" of premodern mysticism and modernist reason, but this reveals a shallow understanding of history and philosophy.

Chad, where did you get your information about the Middle Ages? Unless you take the Middle Ages to be a 300 year period from 500-800 AD, it wasn't "all mysticism, all the time." Among other scholars, Charlemagne brought Alcuin of York to start his Palace School and other schools (particularly in the Frankish empire), develop a standard curriculum, edit corrupt manuscripts, standardize Latin, introduce the Carolingian miniscule (that later inspired Renaissance Italic). These folks weren't just praying and doing Gregorian chants all day!

Scholasticism was huge throughout the Middle Ages,and it was a LEFT brain enterprise that focused on analysis, definition and verbal clarity. Every educated person had to study dialectic as part of the Trivium. Only then could they move on to the Quadrivium, which included the hardly-mystical study of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.

We can thank the Middle Ages for the invention of the university, and the dialectic practiced in places like the Universities of Paris, Bologna and Oxford was a method of thinking that proceeded as follows:

1. The Question to be determined
2. The principal objections to the question
3. An argument in favor of the Question, traditionally a single argument ("On the contrary..")
4. The determination of the Question after weighing the evidence. ("I answer that...")
5. The replies to each objection

This is exactly how the greatest philosopher/theologian of the Middle Ages-- Thomas Aquinas-- structured his magisterial Summa Theologiae. And I haven't even begun to discuss science...for that I refer you to Edward Grant's The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages.

I hope I've made a case that as well as being an age of faith, the middle ages were also an age of reason. In fact, it was the only time in Western Civilization when the two were in such equilibrium. Nothing would please me more than for Postmodernists to rediscover that equilibrium...and admit that they weren't the first to achieve it. ; )

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