Struggle of Faith and Reason: A History of Intolerance and Punitive Censorship

Part I: From Homer to Peter Abelard and Arnold of Brescia

by Juhani Sarsila (Author)
©2020 Monographs 570 Pages


The aim of this book is to discuss the quintessential struggle of faith and reason that invariably and perpetually manifests itself in the history of humanity. In west, technology, technolatria, is now seen as a substitute for desacralised Christianity. Ancients disliked «Faustian» technology and manipulation of the natural order of things. They branded Prometheus and Daedalus as evil-doers, for ‹novelty› or ‹innovation› then stood for hybris. The Greco-Roman Antiquity was markedly religious and political. Leaders and commoners had all to observe the sacrosanct cult. Thus, law and order were maintained, and change was precluded. The triumph of Christianity, orchestrated by Roman aristocracy, was to lead to intolerance and persecution even within the Orthodox Church.
This book presents a contribution to the neglected branch of history of morals in a time when virtue has been lost, and moral disorder or vacuum has ensued. The study covers a very long March of Father Time, from Homer and Hesiod until the twelfth century of the Common Era.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Testimonia
  • Contents of Volume
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • General Introduction
  • Radical Enlightenment
  • Age of Faith More Propitious to Art and Literature
  • On Enlightenment and Progress
  • Self-immolation of Reason
  • Just Another Sketchy Treatise
  • What Freedom?
  • Instrumental Value
  • Yieldedness or Gelassenheit — It Does Not Matter. Let It Be!
  • Vita Activa
  • Notes on Perennial Book Burning
  • 1 On Classical Soil: Greek Antiquity
  • Theognis and Xenophanes Express Their Position
  • Rationalistic Outlook
  • Philosophical Theology against Olympian Gods
  • Anthropomorphism or Metaphysical Projection
  • On Pessimism in Homer’s Aristocratic Epics
  • Absent Sacerdotalism (Theocracy) in Classical Greece
  • Heraclitus the Obscure Rails at his Fellows
  • Failure in Open Forum Performance
  • Protagoras Sojourns in Athens
  • “On Gods”
  • Excursus: Classical Antiquity versus High Middle Ages
  • Protagoras Is Thrown off
  • Anaxagoras’ Contemplation as Sophia
  • Tolerant Polytheists
  • Were There Any “Witch Hunts” in the City of Minerva?
  • Enter Aliens or Sophists
  • Nonconformity Is Still Banned in Athens
  • From Desire to Virtue
  • Comedian Aristophanes Affords Cloud Services
  • Death before Dishonour!
  • Alleged Penal Character of Death [Paganism versus Christianity]
  • About Plato’s Socrates
  • Legacy of Socrates Betrayed
  • Democritus’ Low Profile
  • Incalculable Gods Remain in Existence for Political Reasons
  • Enters Aristotle
  • On Greek Literature of Hellenistic Period [300–50 BCE]
  • Epicurus and Stoics as Exponents of Existentialism
  • Other Aspects of Hellenistic Culture
  • Paradox of Hedonism: Hegesias of Cyrene
  • Other Isolated Figures
  • Lycophron Gives Voice to Cassandra of Troy
  • Universalism and Unity
  • 2 On Classical Soil: Early Roman Antiquity
  • Authors in Trouble
  • Political Pamphleteering
  • Julius Caesar’s Fateful Tolerance and Poet Catullus Sensitive
  • Cicero and His Legacy
  • Acrimonious Greek Professor in Eternal City
  • Bard Ovid Gets into Difficulties
  • Playing Ever-Trendy Double Game
  • Watershed in Augustus’ Policy
  • Labienus as Romantic Hero
  • Irreverence and Retribution under Tiberius
  • Jesus Attacks His Fellow-Jews
  • Rome Faces Christianity
  • Domitian on Imperial Throne
  • Contributions to Sibylline Prophesies
  • 3 Cathetetical School in Alexandria Denies Dualism
  • Clement’s Assessment of Gnosticism
  • From Early Christianity until Origen
  • St. Augustine’s Agreeable Stance
  • Origen Espouses Redemptionism
  • Perennial Issue: Athens versus Jerusalem
  • Unitary Tendency of Platonism and Christianity
  • Extreme Opinions as Eternal Truths
  • Statements Arousing Grave Suspicion
  • Charm of Christian Neoplatonism
  • Inconsistency Is Still Detected in Origen
  • Salvation of Devils
  • Redemption of Hell Comes True
  • Ultimate Return or Involution as Opposed to Evolution
  • Weary Spirits Egress from God’s Company
  • Father Origen and Heathen Celsus
  • Hazardous Ideas
  • 4 On Christianity and Gnōsis: Roots of Christian Truths
  • Exclusiveness and Arrogance
  • Puritans in Expectation of Second Coming
  • Valentinus and Heracleon Teach Gnōsis
  • General Tenets of Gnosticism
  • Forms of Dualism
  • Good and Evil Magic
  • Nag Hammadi Discovery
  • Manichaean Movement
  • Visible World Is Sheer Smudge
  • On Light and Darkness
  • Manichaean Kerygma
  • Last Act of Cosmic Drama
  • Manichaeism under Different Names
  • Love Story of Simon Magus and Helene of Troy
  • Marcion of Sinope and Cosmic Struggle
  • Pleasant Theory of Docetism
  • Enters Father Clement of Alexandria
  • On Eclecticism in Early Christian Thought
  • Teachings of Childbed Christianity
  • On Stoicism and Christianity
  • Clement’s Unfinished Legacy
  • 5 Pagans Disallow Christianity: Porphyry Rails at Christ
  • Celsus’ Scraps at Odds with New Doctrine
  • Pious Frauds Promoting Faith
  • Affinities between Pagans and Christians
  • Against Christian Absurdities
  • Porphyry’s Further Arguments
  • 6 Christological Heresies Come to Sight
  • ‘Wicked’ Arius Assaults Consubstantialism
  • Jesus Christ Appears as Just One Created Being
  • Fateful Council of Nicaea and Victorious Consubstantialism
  • Constantinople Comes to Scene
  • Gentile Emperor Julian Enters and Exits for Good
  • 7 From Toleration to Intolerance
  • Light-People Undergo Molestation
  • Crime Committed against State
  • Before Darkness Falls
  • God-given Imperial Commands
  • Mortal Danger from Orient under Diocletian
  • Roasting over Slow Fire
  • Imperial Edicts Still Ensue
  • Donatus and Augustine Exhibit Fanaticism
  • Donatists as Ancient Purists
  • Fear and Coercion as Methods of Common Currency
  • “Compel Them to Come In!”
  • Pelagius at Variance with Augustine
  • Forgetive Dogma of Predestination
  • Julian of Eclanum yet Attacks Augustine’s Position
  • Man’s Mortality at Issue
  • Roman Papistry Emerges Triumphant
  • Holy Triad or Divine Persons of God’s Substance
  • Hippolytus Refutes All Heresies
  • Persecution Mania between Orthodox Christians
  • Homoiousians and Homoousians
  • Apollinarius’ Hybrid Proves Inventive
  • Great and Orthodox Theodosius
  • First Baptised Christian Executed for Heresy by Christian State
  • Church Identified with and above State
  • Harsh Laws against Treasonous Heresy
  • Nestorius’ Success and Failure
  • Memories from Alexandria: Enters Hypatia
  • Cosmopolis of Egypt, March 415
  • Enters Patriarch Cyril
  • Butchers on Duty
  • Synesius, Hypatia’s Soul Mate
  • 8 Towards the Middle Ages
  • Imperial Edicts in Brief
  • Principles of Pelagian Humanism
  • Turbulent Times and Further Edicts against Heresy
  • Papal Decrees against Prohibited Books
  • Autonomous Church in Existence
  • Persecutions of Heresy almost Absent in the Dark Ages
  • Light Punishment Still Imposed for Heresy
  • Gottschalk’s Abominable Misery as Argument for Predestination
  • Raban Maur and Hincmar Disallow God’s Foreordination
  • 9 Latter-time Dissenters: John Scottus Eriugena as Another Redemptionist
  • Novel Concept of Sacred History
  • Augustine Is Posthumously Betrayed
  • Emerging Church of Spirit
  • “On Division of Nature”
  • Swinging Anecdote as to Eriugena’s Execution
  • Notion of Divine Ignorance
  • All Divisions of Nature Particularised
  • Berengar of Tours Recants His Teachings
  • Berengar and Eriugena
  • Peter Abélard’s Passion
  • Account of Mediaeval Christianity
  • Liberal Statements Incompatible with Dogma
  • Three Gods Are Detected in Christian Dogma
  • Héloïse and Abélard as Lovers
  • Rendezvous in Soissons
  • Council at Sens Ensues
  • Humane Precursor of Antichrist Makes His Appearance
  • Christianity Is Submitted to Abélard’s Critique
  • Abélard’s Conceptualism
  • Reconciliation Takes Place
  • Arnold of Brescia: Heresy of Poverty
  • Abélard’s Protégé as Political Figure
  • Plebeian Rule in Rome
  • Bibliography

General Introduction

We have been correctly assured that the good old Hellenes had their ideal of temperance or moderation, one of the four cardinal virtues. Yet so unscrupulous was their will to power that they, under all conditions, and even at the heyday of their culture, were by the very will to power lured away from moderation as well as from the resplendent virtues of prudence and justice, but not from their virtue of manly courage:

The constant fighting of the Greek cities among themselves […,] and even when it was to their obvious interest to unite together against a common foe, the constant uprisings within the cities […], even when the safety and honour of their city was at stake — all manifest the will to power which was so strong in the Greek. The Greek admired efficiency, he admired the ideal of the strong man who knows what he wants and has the power to get it; his conception of ἀρετή (aretē) was largely that of ability to achieve success (Copleston 1999, 1, 18).

The same has always applied to western people along with their history.

The Renaissance man of will and action is depicted by the irrefutable element of hardness of heart or condottiere savagery, presented ever since by the succession of such history makers as Peter the Great, Catharine the Great, Robespierre, Napoleon, Bismarck, as well as Lenin, Hitler, Franco and Stalin along with other allegedly ‘great’ men, or rather great demolishers. This actually fatal element of mercenary brutality has since then lingered upon western life in general and on the occidental outlook of man and world and nature or biosphere likewise. This element, termed equally well Mephistophelian or Faustian, or infinite endeavour beyond good and evil, as one may be intent on suggesting, is still inseparable not only from the incontestable western admiration for any sort of mundane success, but especially for aspirations to worldly power of higher visibility, over nature and other humans. A good deal of this sense of power and success, of mastering the novel techniques and desires of man’s earthly run of life, is present in the controvertibly idolised men of the Reformation. Thus, Calvin’s new, obedient and cowardly theocracy citizen is one example, while the Puritan soldiery is another. A slightly diverse direction was then set by the Tudor ideal of a man. In addition, this ideal and coarse practice have remained alive from that early day to the present. The essentially same spirit is still expressed by the seventeenth century ideal of the virtuoso. This direction is seen to lead from the sixteenth century humanist or humanity-enthusiast, like Erasmus of Rotterdam, to the philosophers of the eighteenth. At its best, this direction is seen in the tolerant, ←33 | 34→rational, free, and yet convinced and single-minded men of English dissent and the American Revolution (cf. Bronowski & Mazlish 1986, 498–499; cf. Spengler 1926, I, 348–350).

Yet there is also a reverse side of this direction or this coin or this attitude, unstated by Jacob Bronowski and Bruce Mazlish. The updated version of ‘virtue’ or, rather, the substitute for virtue is moneymaking in terms of Hyper-liberalism, to which attention is not actually drawn in this exposition, for its objective is to discuss earlier and more shadowy history. It suffices to make a passing remark that this vice of avarice is now tacitly considered right and proper or globally hymned, as it is envied bitterly by those who, for a wide variety of reasons, are not granted the right to take pleasure in possessing it for the actualisation of their consumerist and hedonist passions. Friedrich Nietzsche (2008, 3.9) obliquely argued in 1887: “All good things were previously bad things; every original sin has been transformed into an original virtue”.

Consumerism is now imperative to our culture’s paradigm, and so is hedonism. Mammonism or the dictature of money now rules more amenably than ever before. You are not allowed to question Hyper-liberalism as an up-to-date form of Totalitarianism. Blazingly, they demand that you should accept it as a given reality, comparable to the high Mediaeval Christian Church and European Totalitarianism in the third, fourth and fifth decades of the twentieth century, under the banners of freedom in Communism and Fascism.

What this direction has been in good and in evil, is discussed in the current treatise: even so, its timespan is decisively longer, stretching from Ancient Greece to the seventeenth century Europe. What is branded as the ideal man comes very close to the practical man of success, living in the wealthiest continent of our cosmic home, and to his values of life and to his accomplishments. Maybe at all times, but most distinctly during and after the Renaissance, occidental man has with glowing enthusiasm committed himself to the immanent world in the fruits of which he still takes great pleasure. We plainly sense something of which our ancestors had not the slightest idea: we have arrived at the edge of an abyss; we are close to being irrevocably lost. Is Faust taken aback, without knowing what he, or she, Fausta, is looking for?

Worldliness is one of the keywords of the present study as it is of the history that this study strives to outline. The current oeuvre may be yet termed but a chronicle, sketch or compendium. It none the less makes an attempt to discuss immoral as well as moral conduct shown, and ultimate or metaphysical questions proposed, through a lengthy timeline from Greek Antiquity onwards, unanswerable though they will remain all the way home and so long as time shall last. Almost all of us without demur admit that man has always been and ←34 | 35→still is and will be a metaphysical animal. Therefore, a reference is to be made here to the brand-new religion of technology the reality of which — or the metaphysics of which — cannot be easily exposed. The number of persons, who are technolatrists, is more than legion; it is infinite. Thus, technolatry is the order of the day; technolatry is the very cement that holds man, machine, society, and world inseparably together, until death do us part. Let us refer in this connection to a forgetive term, ‘techno-utopian’, which is now applied to more or less sapient embodied souls believing that a technology will bring about a perfect world.

Apart from this scenario adumbrated in brief, I propose that in the last analysis we are supposed to resign to the fact that man’s nature will continue to be the same to the end of time — regardless of the promises of the camp of optimists that still holds or pretends to hold its own ground, believing in a more prosperous future order of things than the present is seen to offer.

Many truth-seekers of the scientific Age of Reason or Enlightenment looked upon themselves as self-made social engineers of a completely reconstructed Europe, not as continuators of the long-term work launched by a succession of earlier generations in general and Hellenic genius in particular. Man’s world outlook, rather than man himself, was about to change in conformity with the nascent belief in individualism and reason. This novel belief was imagined to follow and displace the Age of Faith with centuries of authority, collectivism, superstition, oppression, and censorship: “We have seen that the Ages of Faith, to which romantic dreamers look back, were ages of force and fraud, where evil seemed to reign almost unchecked, justifying the current opinion, so constantly reappearing, that the reign of Antichrist had already begun” (Lea 1961, 875; for the belief in the ever-imminent advent of Antichrist, consult Lea 1956, III, 527).

What does faith stand for? In the context of scripture, faith plainly means trusting in something one cannot explicitly prove, as reads in Hebrews (11.1): “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. Faith is not to be construed as the result of logical reasoning, and religious belief lacks the status of knowledge equal or similar to that of scientific or even moral claims (Swindal n.d., online; Kaufmann 1961, 3). In his Antichrist, Nietzsche writes that “[f];aith means not wanting to know what is true” (Kaufmann 1961, 2).

The rigorous resistance of theologians had retarded the growth of political and philosophical veracity, argues William Lecky, a herald of progress in regard to reason and morality. During several centuries, the theologians had made it the chief object of their policy to suppress all writings that were at odds with the judgments of the Sacred Writ and those of their own. As soon as the political and social power had escaped their grasp, the theologians proceeded to discourage ←35 | 36→in every way, moral and immoral alike, every manifestation of impartiality of mind and judgment. The theologians were habituated to associate expressions of freedom with sin or, even worse than that, with heresy. For it was only heresy or departure from orthodox religious doctrine that meant treason against God Himself (cf. Lecky 1911, I, 59). Does history endow us with any lesson? If the answer would and could run in the affirmative, I would argue, if only tentatively, that man should not fish in troubled waters. Nor should he buffet the waves. Nor should he swim against the stream. By good fortune, howbeit, there has always been a good deal of men and women who have chosen the narrow path of virtue and paid the ultimate price for their dissidence. Without them, I suggest, this world of ours would be even a worse place than it is now. Nothing is acquired without sacrifices, sacrificial lambs indeed.

Certain airy concepts — expressions of freedom, sin, and heresy with a number of related notions with their opposites are the clues of the current exposition that calls for a lengthy introduction with an attention devoted to the Enlightenment campaign as the core of modernity, and, in part, that of the radiant future. The main purpose of the work is to elucidate history in the domain of Classical Antiquity and Western Christendom. Who does man look like in a historical panorama? To understand, rather than to justify ourselves, we endeavour to find out what our distant ancestors’ views were as to relevant aspects of morality. How did they conceive freedom of expression and tolerance, and what sort of attitude they held towards their fellow mortals in general and to otherness and novel ideas in particular? As an ingress and introduction, we refer to and touch on some notions that have turned out characteristic of present-age man in the tale of two or three centuries. With the start in the current age, we will first move backwards in the line of time to reach the point — after clarifying a number of concepts — until we get ready to move to classical antiquity and proceed forward in chronological order to mediaeval and early modern times. In this order, the cycle of history will be touched, rather than scanned sedulously.

Radical Enlightenment

The plans of the novel enlightened social and notably ahistorical engineers for social reform were a utopian reflection of the world of a palpably real abundance in the middle of which they themselves imagined to live. The Radical Enlightenment refused to accept all compromise with the past, in which they discerned only heavy and rusty chains that the human race at length flings off. Theirs was a naïve optimism: “The horrible past has gone, never to return” (Bury 1982, 327–328). This statement is now found either unsatisfactory or — from ←36 | 37→our standpoint — hopelessly way off. In 1785, Thomas Jefferson pointed out how thorny it was to free humanity of its chains:

Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half of the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support error and roguery all over the earth (Ellerbe 1995, 185–186).

We ought to put the question whether the current real world is, after all, horrible. If the answer is in the affirmative, the horrible past need not return. It has been with us all the time.

The radical heroes of the Enlightenment sought to entirely sweep away existing structures of authority and superstition, whereas the mainstream’s moderate conservatism was content with constructive, not destructive critique of old social forms and beliefs. We have the definite certitude that Western Europe gradually progressed away from a dominantly rural economy as trade and commerce grew, not without savage exploitation of the third world and Europe itself. In conjunction with this, it was with this abundance and the firm belief in progressive abundance and well-being that people imagined new possibilities to become reality. They devoted more time and energy to the pleasures of mundane life. The Renaissance had initially set in motion the hedonism of mere immanence that is as peculiar to late modernity as the secularisation of the political society and the Christian community. Moreover, the Renaissance was the last stage of mediaevalism just as it was the first stage of modernity. What matters is whether we still endorse the great idea, first propounded in the Renaissance, and then rendered dominant in the Enlightenment that history inexorably moves in a straight line, and that human nature will automatically improve along with the accumulation of man’s knowledge (see Gray 2004, 10–17).

However, is this great idea downright pointless after all, and if so, in what sense? The world has lost sight of the straight and narrow Christian sight (Gatti 2011, 321). Human nature has not changed. Nor can it change in a second moment. Human mind along with human brains is a result of an immeasurably long biological evolution:

Our own planet, in which philosophers are apt to take a parochial and excessive interest, was once too hot to support life, and will in time be too cold. After ages during which the earth produced harmless trilobites and butterflies, evolution progressed to the point at which it generated Neros, Jenghis Khans, and Hitlers. This, however, is a passing nightmare; in time the earth will become again incapable of supporting life, and, peace will return (Russell 1950, 19).

←37 | 38→

As a dominating university science (or religion), emergent materialism avers that as the brain tissue creates consciousness or ‘soul’, it is entirely dependent upon that material ground. Man’s mind will not have time to change, by which is here meant an individual person and the entire humanity. As for the alleged accumulation of man’s knowledge, it has failed to be about the universal affluence for the benefit of humanity. To exaggerate just a little, one has to expound that human community is still far from working well. Reality has punctured man’s dreams. Man’s technology is on the point of getting out of hand notwithstanding the fact that technology with its highly specialised hierophants remains in force as an up-to-date religion or ideology. As a religion, I would say, technology is still considered truer than truth itself.

Further, as to man’s decisively quintessential knowledge, one has to concede that it has been dramatically on the decrease in the late modern and postmodern era, in the Age of Reason that, in the final analysis, is another expression of the Age of Unreason. It is also to be averred that humanity is running short of time. It is nonetheless a comfort that a considerably large number of embodied souls still have time to pursue studies in history and related disciplines such as theology and philosophy as a psychical background to the current state of affairs.

Inevitably, the Age of Reason with its numerous advantages and more numerous drawbacks should provoke us to a reminder, as Professor John Herman Randall Jr. (1968) argues. He seems to have a startling argument for those who are interested in but not sufficiently familiar with the burning issues of bygone, not very distant, ages. I have been occasionally asked to focus my attention towards the present condition of things in relation to a merry carpe diem presentism, as well as to the future days of easier life — rather than dwelling on the past times, so full of unending exhausting toil and suffering. What secret, then, has Randall to disclose to our edification? If he has any, it is worth considering here. In the last analysis, I opine, we are being led to question both reason and faith. This is the message of the current treatise.

Age of Faith More Propitious to Art and Literature

Spengler (1926, II, 308) holds that culture, rather than civilisation in the Spenglerian sense of the words, is ever synonymous with religious creativeness. Perhaps we are delighted in perusing the thorough argument of Randall that goes as follows:

A comparison of the eighteenth- with the thirteenth-century synthesis cannot fail to-day to reveal that […] it was far less adequate vehicle for the expression of all the manifold tendencies and interests of human nature. Not only does the point of view of Dante ←38 | 39→seem far closer to the experience of the average man, and far easier for him to grasp and assimilate — science and scientific temper of mind are at best rare and difficult things, to be acquired by much labor and exertion, and perhaps above the attainment of a considerable body of men — but an exclusive emphasis on reason and intelligence certainly fails to take account of much that is both eternal and valuable in human experience. It was no accident that the scientific age of the Enlightenment produced little that can rank with the world’s greatest art and poetry. The palaces and gardens of Versailles, the artificial fêtes of Watteau, the heroic couplets of Pope, the sparkling comedy of Molière, and the wit of Voltaire, and great as they are they include but a small part of the experiences that have been expressed in the highest works of art […]. [T];he Age of Reason to-day is in […] disrepute, not because its beliefs were not true […] but because the ideal of life it offered to men was thin and flat and meager. Man may be a rational animal, but his animality is more deeply rooted than is rationality; he cannot live by truth alone. In the nineteenth century, most men were not rational enough, or too rational, to accept the rationalism of the Enlightenment. They either went backwards […] to frank supernaturalism founded on faith, or they went on to a naturalism that could see the greatness and the values of the religious traditions without falling into the pit of too naïve a literal-mindedness (Randall 1968, 396–397; cf. Russell 1950, 97–98).

If it should have so befallen that the Age of Reason today is in disrepute, the same is relevant to the Age of Faith. And the same without fail applies to man himself, whom Russell (1950, 184) at times calls “Mr. Homo” and whom modern technique has brought to a brand-new crisis.

Sound cynicism unfailingly tempered Voltaire’s optimism. This philosopher saw in history the perennial struggle of reason and unreason. He plausibly denied progress in art and literature (Bury 1932/1982, 125, 148). The conservative priest, behind in progress as he is believed to be, might infer that the Age of Faith calls for a rehabilitation as a substitute for a critical review. Correspondingly, the Age of Reason calls for a most critical review, rather than a rehabilitation. Even so, both of these Great Ages have more in common than we have got used to thinking. It appears that we may with no hesitation interpret the mythical idea of progress as an egregiously secularised form of the Judeo–Christian notion of Divine Providence. For there is of surety no intermediary stage between the Age of Faith and the Age of Reason. Let us be provocative and name the unenlightened Age of Faith and the benighted Age of Reason but one and the same road to the lake of fire and brimstone. For the former was not what it pretended to be. It was not the Age of True Faith. As for the latter, it was and still is the Age of the irrational use of Reason, or the Age of Unreason. Regardless of the facts or only beliefs enumerated in the preceding, present-time man has admittedly not yet lost his confidence in overall progress and optimism the cause of which was ←39 | 40→vigorously defended and boosted by his grandparents or great grandparents or ancestors in general during the earlier part of Modernity.

The eighteenth-century intellectual history was pervaded by a novel optimism, or rather meliorism that, seen from our up-to-date standpoint, was to prove childish and groundless, as has been maintained about the basic values and the whole project of the Enlightenment. Instead of considering human history the monotonous story of the steady and ineluctably predestined decline from the Garden of Eden, the social engineers, followed by the majority of lovers of σοφία, sophia, and other intellectuals, were finally induced to regard immanent life as full of promise and hope and a most entertaining quality time as the culmination of man’s existence or esse. In the eighteenth-century mode of speech, the dawn of the New Jerusalem appeared to be just around the corner. The New Jerusalem would be of this immanent world solely, not postponed to the arguably veritable habitat of endless bliss beyond the grave (the possibility of which, anyway, was still widely admitted). We shortly move to the century that succeeds the start of earlier modernity. In the long run of centuries, many men have tempted Lady Luck as they, one by one, have successively, rather than successfully, made an attempt to found the Novel Jerusalem. Without being able to consider that there was more than their only way to look at the matter, it failed to cross their mind that they, along with the generations to come, were just rolling the stone of Sisyphus. Every edifice, constructed by man’s hands and symbolised by the great Babylon, was doomed to go wrack and ruin.

On Enlightenment and Progress

As late as the eighteenth-century Europe, certain doctrines of progress as to human condition in general and to rationality in particular first came up in full clarity. The optimistic or melioristic judgment of man’s life, both current and future, was extolled by the enlightened protagonists of meliorism about these doctrines. In the nineteenth century, then, the belief in the Enlightenment project and the general progress eventually triumphed and dominated. In the nineteenth century, science still showed itself in an ever-broadening vision of the Truth itself. One hundred years later, anyhow, in theory as well as in practice, science had become but a human instrument to be perfected and benefited for human purposes (Randall 1968, 365). In our “Will-culture”, instrumental rationality is a “Faustian” pursuit of any means necessary to achieve a specific end (cf. Spengler 1926, I, 308–314). If I am not mistaken, the question of morals is studiously excluded as a matter entirely beyond the purview of the manipulative Technosphere the antipodal opposite of which is Biosphere, i.e. ←40 | 41→once undemonished and unmanipulated Nature, now colonialised and close to non-existent.

Consequently, both science and truth had lost a good deal of their alleged intrinsic or ontic value. Truth had been ‘instrumentalised’. As the desire for social change shaped the Enlightenment debate about religious society, it made many mortal men reject divine authority. The scales were balanced, however, as the fear of social turmoil led a good many in the post-Enlightenment ecumene to look forward to the authority of science and technology to convey order and stability (which is still missing). There were several leading intellectuals with their lackeys who believed and demanded that higher animals should submit to science and nature, not to God and the church. Some outspoken atheists and sceptics as well as pessimists of progress were detected, existing alongside with the progress movement from the very outset.

We take note here incidentally that certain atheists, sceptics, and pessimists of the Enlightenment Project were not mistaken in disapproving of the development paradigm of their self-assertive coaeval intellectuals. Yet we must be alive to the truth that every single paradigm has its limited existence in time, but it is not short-lived in essence. In culture, paradigm is another word for worldview. A paradigm at no period comes to a sudden demise. All cultural change appears to be ineluctably slow. It was not until the twentieth century that a striking minority of theorists came to a new awareness. They backed away from the purportedly indisputable concept of progress as well as the high ideals of the Enlightenment. For all that, the progress theorists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries still looked upon history as a unilineal process to a meaningful end.

The eighteenth and even the nineteenth century were familiar with the myth of progress, whereas the twentieth century adopted the concomitant myth of modernity. On the authority of the latter, all manners of things can truly undergo a never-ending progression of expansion, improvement and growth. Knowledge, technology, economy, social systems, and even embodied souls themselves are argued to be capable of a never-ending process of improvement. In psychology and elsewhere, this doctrine is called constructivism. Such an optimistic stance is merely a culturally conditioned belief and not in the least a given fact. Under the existing circumstances illusionary optimism, or at least meliorism, is still prevalent, while pessimism (defeatism) together with peiorism is anathema, or in a slightly different fashion, a heresy, a word that is neither read nor heard in academic contexts anymore. The universities of today are the very strongholds of not only optimism or meliorism, as belief in science rules, but also of technologia and technolatria. We brand the university personnel as the hierarchy of technology, and professors and other teachers and researchers are hierophants of the ←41 | 42→newest world-religion, technology. Yet there have been men of sound judgment. Among them, Russell (1950, 18) puts it shortly: “Change is one thing, progress is another. ‘Change’ is scientific, ‘progress’ is ethical; change is indubitable, whereas progress is a matter of controversy”.

Already the late nineteenth century turned out to be quite an unpredictable stage, for fate made it to endure unforeseen hardships. It did not undergo simply a crisis of religious faith but concomitantly also a crisis of reason itself. This double crisis meant indeed the beginnings of a set of trends. Moreover, these trends were to become progressively observable and alarming in the following, twentieth century. It, then, was branded by the deforestation of Europe and the erosion of Enlightenment optimism alongside with a disenchantment with ideas of progress and a disbelief in concepts of objective truth (as a sort of lie, to Nietzsche).

The ideas, hopes and dreams of the Enlightenment savants in general and not only of its most radical proponents have not come true. Moreover, it appears that they will not come true either, in the light of the latest experiences of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Deeper changes to the better would be quickly and hastily needed, but do not seem to take place. It is a heart-breaking fact that eventually the clock expires. The coetaneous real world and the vista of the radiant future tend to bring out peculiar chest pains to cogitative elderly yokefellows. Nonetheless, it is not necessarily discouraging but just natural that eventually the sand in the hourglass is running out. We are but weak and spiritless beings, frail and peccable beings, excepting some exceptional, Socrates-like figures, as exceptional and rare as Heracles and the Phoenix Bird in ancient mythology. Therefore, most of us honestly admit that it is the leaving behind of everything that matters to us that hurts the most. If we do not happen to be futurists, we feel that we are not in the process of narrowing the terrestrial paradise or the Newest Jerusalem. With good cause or with substance, we should go on pursuing studies in history. Notably, in a plurality of occidental countries history as a school and university discipline is losing favour in the eyes of politicians and other, albeit faceless, decision-makers and active Facebook users. Sociologist Le Bon (1960, 131–132) lamentably thought of history as a monotonous and self-repeating narrative, as he put his idea into words in 1895: “History, literary and artistic history especially, being nothing more than the repetition of identical judgments, which nobody endeavours to verify, everyone ends by repeating what he learnt at school, till there come to be names and things which nobody would venture to meddle with”. All things considered, however, Le Bon does not hit the mark. He has to resort to a hyperbola, because no other figures of speech are eligible.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (March)
Greek Antiquity Early Roman Antiquity Alexandria Christianity Toleration Intolerance Middle Ages
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 570 pp., 6 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Juhani Sarsila (Author)

Juhani Sarsila, PhD, now retired, taught Latin, Greek, and history at the University of Tampere, with particular emphasis on the history of ideas and learning, and philosophical humanism, or existentialism. He has released manifold monographies, articles, and essays on early Finnish nationalism, the role of forgery in European history, and the theory and practice of persuasion, or rhetoric. Besides, he has composed poetry.


Title: Struggle of Faith and Reason: A History of Intolerance and Punitive Censorship