November 19, 2014

A VISION BOUND ENTIRELY BY THE SELF:

The Limits of a Secular Age (Randall Smith, 19 NOVEMBER 2014, The Catholic Thing)

Rémi Brague, French Catholic philosopher and winner of the prestigious Ratzinger Prize was at my university last week. Prof. Brague is one of those lecturers who loves to make interesting little side comments, something I am particularly fond of. In one of these little "asides," he suggested that the "secular" are those whose lives are defined by a horizon of a hundred years. "That is simply what the word 'secular' means," he declared.

I hadn't thought about the word "secular" or its Latin predecessor saeculum in this way before, since the Latin root cent- (from centum, "one hundred") didn't appear in it. So I looked it up.

What I found is that, in the ancient Roman world, a saeculum was considered the length of time roughly equal to the potential lifetime of a person or the equivalent of the complete renewal of a human population. How long would that be?

Opinions differed on this point, but during the time of Caesar Augustus, the Romans decided that a saeculum was 110 years. Later generations settled on an even 100, and as a result, in Romance languages, words derived from saeculum have come to mean "a century," as is true for example of siglo in Spanish, secolo in Italian, and siècle in French. Thus Prof. Brague was quite right that the word "secular" is related to "a hundred years," although the relationship is much clearer in French than in English.

Consider, then, the difference between a "secular" view of the world as opposed to one whose vantage point is "eternity" (in saecula saeculorum).

The inability to consider anything beyond yourself borders on pathology.

Posted by at November 19, 2014 5:21 PM
  

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