Age of Belief: The Medieval Philosophers

Age of Belief: The Medieval Philosophers

Age of Belief: The Medieval Philosophers

Age of Belief: The Medieval Philosophers

Excerpt

"We are like dwarfs seated at the shoulders of giants; we see more things than the ancients and things more distant, but this is due neither to the sharpness of our own sight, nor to the greatness of our own stature, but because we are raised and borne aloft on that giant mass."

So, in the twelfth century of our era, wrote Bernard of Chartres. This "giant mass" of "famous men and our fathers that begot us" is important to us not genetically and emotionally only. We get from our remote ancestors not just our faces and our frowns, the curve of an eyebrow and the trick of a likeness, but also all our history and our literature, our declarations of independence and our famous slogans. We get, too, our ideas and the very ways in which we think, together with the words we use to think with. Indeed "we have nothing that we are not given," nothing that has not been handed down and used again and again.

And the "giant mass" is made up of specific individuals. "Man" generically -- if we admit that "man" exists apart from men, and one of the reasons for reading this book is to discover if we will admit "man" so to exist -- has been defined by the "ancients" as "a rational animal capable of laughter." "Man," we know, invented the wheel, the pulley, the arch, the internal combustion engine, the airplane. He discovered electricity and split the atom. Yet who or what was this "man"? Very, very few men have invented or discovered anything; most men, through all the ages, and still today, are dwarfs who couldn't even figure how to set an egg up straight or how to light a fire by rubbing sticks together, unless borne aloft on the shoulders of the giants.

Now, between the "ancients" and ourselves, between the "glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome" -- the remote origin of all Western man -- and the invention of gunpowder, we are apt to see with our mind's eye a dark, dismal patch, a sort of dull and dirty chunk of some ten centuries, wedged between the shining days of the golden Greeks, who "invented" everything (even flying, if we take the mythical Daedalus and Icarus seriously, even atoms, vitamins, and the way the planets circle the sun), and the brilliant galaxy of light given out jointly by those twin luminaries, the Renaissance and the Reformation.

These Dark Ages, which roughly cover all of time between . . .

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