Sunday, March 14, 2010

A stone, a leaf, a door

I really enjoyed this chapter. It describes the development in thinking about the worldly, as opposed to, spiritual life. It also points to something about human nature, the desire to discover the lost or the hidden. This chapter is historically out of order.

Petrarch is born in 1304, and as a humanist is interested in this world's experiences. Similarly, Forcino is born in the mid 15C. We see a Greek school in Italy opened in 1453. We hear about Pico della Mirandola, who wrote "On the Dignity of Man." The entire chapter seems devoted to pre-reformation trends. The trends are about the development of an interest in worldly that were somewhat tolerated by the church, and in the case of the Greek school, the church had a causative role.

There must be a purpose for putting these chapters out of order. In Chapter 1, all I could think was the reaction of a man to a church that had the tight, sumptuous yielding grip of the people in its hands. Luther's reaction was against the corruption of the church. The reaction of the populace was a rejection of the (unequal) corruption. But now we see other elements. We see the interest in the worldly at odds with the spiritual, a kind of debasing of the spiritual. This is the PRIMITIVISM Barzun describes as an element of return to simpler times.
All this is a is due the Middle Age's attitude toward history. They merged time and space indiscriminately. They mingled fact and legend and miracle, and being preoccupied with eternity, they "took" sameness and continuity as more real than development and change--hence, no history in the modern sense"
In other words, Humanism was the beginning of something: the beginning of an understanding of our own world, and in some way a "splitting" of spiritual and worldly. I do love the ending of the chapter:
Such was the scene that revolted the young Luther. Viewed with his eyes, humanism was only a name for worldliness. The low morals of high church-men often justified his verdict, yet on the whole, the Humanists were perhaps more truly Christians than the run of the mill priests and monks or the fanatic Evangelicals who lived by violence yet deemed themselves saved by by faith. . . .
Another interesting part of the book is the near obsession with the book. From the "Form" of a sonnet, to the typefaces, the reverence of books . . .It almost seems there is a mystical attribution to the books themselves "They must be true." I've known several people who have become fascinated with fonts. I'm not surprised with Barzun's anger towards having languages humans can't understand (bar codes) written on things.

I come back again to the placement of this chapter. Why historically out of place? I can only surmise it is done so to "set the record straight." We view Luther and his Evangelicals as the breaking up of the church, and paving the way for the sciences. But Barzun makes us see these elements were in place long before the Reformation. In chapter two, we see Barzun taking a swipe at the idea the reformation was necessary for the intellectual blossoming:
This stand was in effect dictated by their Protestant enemies. One could say in a roundabout fashion, it was these Bible-ridden revolutionists who got Galileo condemned for his astronomy. (middle of page 40)"
Barzun has a lot of convincing to do to me if he is to make me believe progress would have been as fast as before the reformation. I'm waiting to read more.

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