Core: noun, the most important part of a thing, the essence; from the Latin cor, meaning heart.

Click for Front Page of Current Issue (Home)

 Volume 1.24 This View’s Prose July 22, 2002 


    A Unique Position in the Universe    
         
   

But it is in the region of thought that the new realization of the reality and value of humanity and the whole order of nature had the most important results. The great intellectual synthesis of the 13th century has often been regarded as the triumph of theological dogmatism. It was in reality the assertion of the rights of the human reason and the foundation of European science. As Harnack has said, “Scholasticism is nothing else but scientific thought,” and its weakness in the sphere of natural science is simply due to the fact that there was as yet no body of observed facts upon which it could exercise itself.

Greek science, as embodied in the writings of Aristotle, represented a level of scientific achievement far higher than anything which the mediaeval world could attain to by its unaided powers, and consequently it was taken over en bloc by the scholastic movement. It was, however, no small achievement to succeed in bringing this mass of knowledge into living relation with mediaeval culture. Greek science belonged to the Greek world, and it is not easy to transplant it into another world ruled by a different vital rhythm, and inspired by different moral and religious principles.

This was the experience of the Islamic world where the same experiment was made with no less enthusiasm and with a considerably higher endowment of cultural tradition than in the West. In Islam, however, the internal conflict between the scientific and the religious traditions proved incapable of solution. The Moslem thinker who in genius and influence most resembles St. Thomas — Ghazali — devoted his powers to “the destruction of philosophy” rather than to its reconciliation with faith, and this not because he was a mere obscurantist, but because he saw more clearly than his opponents the fundamental incompatibility of the central Moslem doctrine of the divine omnipotence with the Hellenic conception of the universe as an intelligible order which is transparent to the human reason.

In the West the relations between religion and philosophy were different because the former was based on an historical rather than a metaphysical relation. The provinces of faith and reason did not coincide, they were complementary and not contradictory. Each had its own raison d’etre and its own sphere of activity. Against the oriental religions of absolute being and pure spirit, with their tendency to deny the reality or the value of the material world, Christianity had undeviatingly maintained the dignity of humanity, and the value of the material element in man’s nature.

Hitherto, however, Christian thought had not fully realized the implications of this doctrine. The predominance of oriental influences had led to a concentration on the spiritual side of man’s nature; its ideal was “to pass beyond sensible things and to become united to the divine and the intelligible by the power of the intelligence.” It was the work of the new philosophy, as represented above all by St. Thomas, for the first time to break with the old established tradition of oriental spiritualism and Neoplatonic idealism, and to bring man back into the order of nature. He taught that the human intelligence is not that of a pure spirit, it is consubstantial with matter, and finds its natural activity in the sphere of the sensible and the particular. Consequently man cannot attain in this life to the direct intuition of truth and spiritual reality. He must build up an intelligible world slowly and painfully from the data of the senses, ordered and systematized by science, until at last the intelligible order which is inherent in created things is disengaged from the envelope of matter and contemplated in its relation to the absolute Being by the light of higher intelligence.

Thus, looked at from one point of view, man is so low in the scale of creation, so deeply sunk in animality as hardly to deserve the title of an intellectual being. Even the rational activity of which he is so proud, is a distinctively animal form of intellect, and can only arise where the higher intelligence is veiled and impeded by the conditions of space and time. On the other hand man occupies a unique position in the universe precisely because he is the lowest of all spiritual natures. He is the point at which the world of spirit touches the world of sense, and it is through him and in him that the material creation attains to intelligibility and becomes enlightened and spiritualized.

   
         
   

Christopher Dawson (b. 1889)

   
   

from Progress and Religion (1938)
quoted in Return to Tradition: A Directive Anthology pp. 319f
ed. Francis Beauchesne Thornton

   

    The Defense of Liberty    
         
    What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling seacoasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.
   
         
    Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
   
    from Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois, September 11, 1858
Collected Works
Volume III p. 95
   



 Volume 1.24 This View’s Prose July 22, 2002 





The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”