“Had Shakespeare been as learned as Ben Jonson, he would have written no better than Ben Jonson.”
I have always, possibly because America is not a true nation, considered myself free to adopt as my own whatever European tradition to which I felt drawn. If asked to rank my cultural favorites, I would place the 19th century English first, the 18th century Scottish Highlanders second, and the King Arthur Welsh third. Of the so-called Latin nations, I prefer the Spanish to the Italians and French. But to me, they are all my ancestors.
It has been and still is my contention that all the nations of Europe have betrayed their heritage. The first betrayal was made by Greece. The poetic core of that nation, as articulated by Homer and Sophocles, was forced to give way to the philosophical speculators. And it was the philosophical speculators who thought that St. Paul’s vision of the risen Lord was “foolishness.” But it was the children of Homer and Sophocles, the men and women with a poetic core such as St. Luke, who embraced the foolish faith of St. Paul.
Recently I heard from an irate man of Greek ancestry who took me to task for criticizing the Greeks. Well, if he had taken the trouble to read all my articles through, he would have seen that I was criticizing the Greek philosophical tradition, not each and every Greek. But yes, I am criticizing the Greek philosophical tradition. And that does seem to rankle nearly everyone.
[Thomas Molnar, echoing Thomas Hughes, once made the following statement about Voegelin: “Voegelin remains a ‘Greek,’ placing us in the metaxy, the field of force between man and God, but in such a manner that the upward pull remains the experience of a force, not more, rather than the Unknown God, whom Paul met at Athens.” In Dietrich von Hildebrand’s response to Molnar, he said that Plato was the teacher who prepared the way for Christ. He was not, Hildebrand claimed, a roadblock to faith. His reaction was typical of the attitude then and now toward the Greek philosophical tradition.]
But the Greek way, or more accurately, the Athenian way, is the way of death for the individual and for a culture. The Greek way separates the mind of man from his blood. And wisdom is in the blood not the mind. The Christian churches have been supping with the Athenian speculators ever since the 1st century. It seems that only St. Paul was able to keep the Athenian heresy at bay. It is such an appealing heresy. The idea that we can know God and harness His power through our mind is heady stuff. It thrilled Adam and Eve just as it thrilled Satan. In the past the laity always seemed to be the steadying influence on the clergy. The clergy pushed Gnosticism and the laity resisted. It was not until the latter part of the 20th century that the Christian laity became completely Gnosticized, although we see an advance preview of 20th century decadence in 19th century Paris: “In Paris, when they want to disparage a man, they say: ‘He has a good heart.’ The phrase means: ‘The poor fellow is as stupid as a rhinoceros.’” The end result of philosophical speculation is the Parisian sneer and smirk.
H. V. Morton, in his book about Wales (1932), depicts the Welsh people as the most traditional, the most authentically European people in all of Europe. Despite the fact that no great natural boundary separates them from the rest of Britain, they still retained their own very poetic, very musical language. And they retained their own bardic culture. But if we leap forward to the year 2006, we see a newspaper headline about a man being arrested in Wales for handing out Gospel tracts at a gay pride parade. How did we get from Morton’s Wales of 1931 to the Wales of 2006?
Morton supplies us with the answer:
The Englishman in Wales is surprised and rather ashamed to learn that although the idea of a Welsh University was one of Owen Glendower’s dreams in the Middle Ages (his letters about it are preserved in the French archives in Paris), the Welsh people had to wait five centuries before a Parliament sitting at Westminster established the University of Wales in the year 1893! Scotland had St. Andrew’s University in the Middle Ages; Ireland had Trinity College in the Time of Elizabeth…
The Welsh fell victim to what the rest of Europe had fallen victim to: they fell down and worshipped the Golden idol called education. Education breeds the “scientific method” which kills the bardic culture from which genuine religious faith grows. And yes, I know the Athenians thought highly of the university setting, but the truly great thinkers of Greece were Homer and Sophocles, men whose thoughts were in tune with their hearts and with the hearts of their fellow countrymen.
What happens physically when one goes to a university is the same thing that happens spiritually. One physically leaves the bardic village and goes to a cosmopolitan center. And spiritually the mind separates from the blood. One’s former bardic culture is studied; it becomes a thing outside one’s self, a thing disconnected. It no longer lives. And the most important aspect of a man’s being, his mystic connection to God, is severed forever when he goes through the systematic scientizing process that takes place at a university.
Surely I exaggerate? What would happen to science and development if we didn’t have universities? Isn’t it a question of the right kind of thinking vs. the wrong kind of thinking? No, because isolated thought is not thinking. If a man does not think with his blood he is not thinking. It would be different if men were angels, but we are not. Angelic thinking can be good or bad, depending on whether the angel is good or bad. But when humans try to think angelically, the result is always disastrous.
The check on the Gnostic cosmopolitans was always the villager – the rustic, the yeoman, and the peasant. But the university reached out with its giant tentacles and gradually made the village part of the university. Is there any aspect of modern life that does not involve the university? In every aspect of our lives, the expert, with his specialized training at some university, is ever present.
There is a scene in C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle that depicts a contingent of dwarfs who are unable to partake of a glorious feast because all they can see before them is a dark black hole. They “refuse to be taken in” by anyone who tries to tell them there is indeed a feast as well as a provider of the feast. They are too smart. And of course the dwarfs are us. We are too smart to see the feast and the author of the feast.
It is interesting to note that Lewis, in the Narnia books, makes reference to a magic deeper than the deep magic of the White Witch. That magic is, of course, Christianity. But if we perceive reality with the eye rather than through the eye, as the dwarfs and the educators do, we will not have access to the God-man. We will see only what the White Witch and her master want us to see – a black hole. And then our lives will consist of the endless pursuit of commercial interruptions. We will seek out anything that will divert us from the reality of the black hole. But it doesn’t matter what we do; so long as we perceive reality as the ancient Athenians and the educators have perceived it, we will always have the dreaded conviction that beneath the surface of our diversions is a black hole.
It certainly doesn’t appear that European man will abandon the faith of the speculators and return to the older bardic faith of his European ancestors. The speculators have conquered the former Christian Churches and every other major institution of the Western world. And if anyone tries to break through the commercial façade, expose the black hole, and seek out the magic that is deeper than the deep magic, he will find all the forces of the modern world, which are the forces of hell, arrayed against him.
If the modern educators, who pride themselves on their ability to measure and record every aspect of human existence, could put the collective soul of Western man on their soul detection machines, they would not see a single blip on the screen in the last 56 years. There would be no activity; everything would be still.
But one hopes that somewhere, deep in the forest, or high in the mountains, beats a heart that will not yield to the educators nor bend his knee to the White Witch. And that heart will become a flaw in the educators’ machine. And from that flaw will come other flaws. And that great precise recorder of human conformity and sterility will be forced to convey, to the educators, that their perfect, Godless black hole world is crumbling… well, such is the hope. Mere delusion? The ancient faith of Christians is based on such a “delusion.”
After the Romans had conquered Greece, Athens became the school and center of thought for the civilized world. Men had but one set of ideas, but one set of models to imitate in the whole range of the fine arts. Inventiveness and originality ceased, and genius was subdued. The rule of Horace, Nullius addictus in verba magistri jurare (“Not compelled to swear to the opinions of any master”) was [re]versed and men ceased to think for themselves, but looked to the common fountain of thought at Athens, where the teachers of mankind borrowed all their ideas from the past. Improvement and progress ceased, and imitation, chaining the present to the car of the past, soon induced rapid retrogression. Thus, we think centralization of thought occasioned the decline of civilization. Northern invaders introduced new ideas, broke up centralization, arrested imitation, and begot originality and inventiveness. Thus a start was given to a new and Christian civilization. Now, a centralization occasioned by commerce and fashion threatens the overthrow of our civilization, as arms and conquest overthrew the ancient.
-- George Fitzhugh in Cannibals All! Or Slaves Without Masters