October 16, 2007

ENDING HISTORY (via Mike Daley):

Divine Authority: a review of The Law of God: The Philosophical History of an Idea by Remi Brague (Benjamin Balint, Oct/Nov 2007, Policy Review)

One moral of the story, as he sees it, is that we are more Christian than we had supposed. This is so, to begin with, because of that faith’s influence on the other monotheisms:

Events that had their epicenter in the Christian world produced upheavals in Muslim societies and Jewish communities, and thinkers who were Christian in origin furnished the conceptual framework within which Judaism and Islam had to reformulate their thinking about the law.

But the West owes an even more direct debt. Brague argued in his book Eccentric Culture (2002) that Christianity comprises neither a third element in European culture nor a synthesis of Athens and Jerusalem, but “the common structure of our relationship to both sources.” It conditions the very way Europe relates to the past: “Christianity is not an element among others in European culture, but its very form, the form that enables it to remain open to whatever can come from the outside and enrich the hoard of its experiences with the human and the divine.”

In his latest book, Brague contends that in three respects, modern societies are made possible only by the Christian experience of a divinity without law. First, Christianity gave us natural law. Starting with Augustine in the fifth century, and with increasing clarity in the early Middle Ages, Christians developed the idea of a unity of divine and natural law: an eternal law against which one can measure temporal laws and in which one can discern not God’s will, but His nature.

Second, Christianity conferred on us the very idea of a sovereign state. In fact, Brague argues, the church was a state in the modern sense of the term before there were states. “The church of the Gregorian Reform is the first institution in history that willed and understood itself to be a state,” he writes. The notion of sovereignty did not originate with kings, only to be appropriated by popes, but instead “arose to express the power of the pope before it prompted, in response, an extension to the power of kings.”

Third, Christianity furnished a powerful justification for democracy. Here Brague cites the fifteenth-century philosopher and Roman Catholic cardinal Nicholas of Cusa: “There is in the people a divine seed by virtue of their common birth and equal natural right of all men so that all authority — which comes from God as does man himself — is recognized as divine when it arises from the common consent of the subjects.” Brague concludes from this and other sources that “the model for modern democracy and its electoral procedures was not so much Athens, where choices depended on drawing lots, but the medieval church.”

The history of modernity is little more than various folks kicking, futilely, against that experience.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 16, 2007 8:17 PM

Thanks for the reference to this one. We had missed the earlier Brague bokk, but that is soon to be corrected.

That quote from The Law of God to the effect that Christianity enables our civilization to be receptive and adaptive deserves close consideration. Of course these traits are exactly the ones which evolutionary sociology would identify as the keys to victory.

Whence this connection, so counter-intuitive to most prejudices of the role of Christianity? Perhaps the book will explin this. Our understanding has been that the Christian elements of humility and inclusion favor acceptance of new ways of thinking and acting, just as the civilizations we have surpassd have remained mired in xenophobic reaction.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 17, 2007 4:14 AM