English 233:  Introduction to Western Humanities - Baroque & Enlightenment

The common ground within Christendom before and after the Protestant Reformation:

the traditional Christian picture of history


How to use this memo.

First a word about making use of this memo, which is probably unlike what you are used to working through.  It has been formatted to help you tune into the significance of the systematic nature of the outlook upon the world to it sketches the elements of.  I have made it available in two versions.  What you are reading now is the integral version  In it, the additional material provided as endnotes.  This is the one to print out and/or save (on diskette or at home) for viewing on another computer while you're not connected to the Web.  There is also a version designed to be worked through on-line, in which the notes have been provided in the form of highlighted Web links, for clicking on when you want to read them.  

You will want to devote careful attention to the structure of indentations, both in the main text and the footnotes.  This is meant to prompt you to ask questions about the precise nature of the particular relationship of subordination in each case (genus/species? cause/effect? condition/possibility? something else?) If you neglect to do this, the whole thing will degenerate for you into a soup of unrelated "factoids."

The footnotes/links will at first be irritating, but the text has been divided this way for a purpose.  In your first couple of run-throughs of the material, ignore these footnotes/links.  Concentrate on getting a feel for the overall structure of the ideas that make of the "main body" of the text   this Web page itself.  After a couple or three trips through, change your tactic.  This time, when you see a number in the main text indicating a footnote/link, STOP.  Before clicking on it, ask yourself a question about the idea to which the link is attached.  Can you produce on your own a SERIES of EXAMPLES ILLUSTRATING the idea at hand? Really make an effort to do this.  Then  and only then  should you take on the footnote.  The point is to rehearse formulating a specific kind of relevant question at a place that calls for it, and to test to see whether, in your initial foray through our assigned readings in WH you were tuning into the relevance for our themes of the material you were working through as you were ploughing through it.

As you will discover, the footnotes/links continue the structure of the outline of the "main body" of the text down into further levels of specificity.

This procedure also gives you the opportunity to rethink that material in the light of the framework of relevance you began by surveying in your initial readings of the memo.  Take time to do this.

Pay close attention to the internal structure of the footnotes/links themselves.

Resist the temptation to treat the matters dealt with there as "merely embellishments" of ideas in the "main" text.  They are equally important.  They have complementary logical roles.  They make different kinds of sense of each other.  The general ideas show the relevance of the more specific ones.  The specific ones show how the general ones actually fit to the world they purport to be about.  Neither sort can do without the other.  This means you have to realize that the purpose of the relegation of these matters to footnotes/links was not to indicate a marginality of relevance to our concerns in comparison with the materials allocated to the "main body" of the text.  This is an illusion.

Notice, too, that the footnotes/links are often couched in shorthand terms.  They actually amount to hints about the sorts of things that might serve as the called for illustrations.  In many cases, you will have to do some further thinking to figure out how they can be seen to do this.

Finally, reserve a study session or two in which you reverse the procedure with which you began.  This time, start instead by reading the footnotes/links, and see if you can infer from acquaintance strictly with them the more general point of relevance they are invoked to serve, and if you can pass from the particular one they illustrate to others in the more general scheme, by way of the particular relations by which it inheres in the whole.

This approach will enable you to build up a coherent understanding of the beliefs that the several Christian confessions of the 16th Century shared.

Specifically, you should end up with a clear understanding of the traditional Christian vision of history.


The main outline.

If you have a clear grasp of this central topic, then you will be able to clarify the relationships among the following topics.

(1) the concept of "teleology" (hence that of "telos" or "final cause");

(2) the role of the idea of "Divine Providence" in the Christian picture of history, including

(a) the expression, in the domain of Time, of the three central divine Perfections (omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence);

(b) the idea of history as not just "what happens to happen in the course of time" but as something with a coherent narrative structure -- something inherently of the nature of a story, with a beginning, middle, and an end, with turning points and foreshadowings, and an ultimate overall theme or meaning -- of which God is the "author."

(A) the specifically Christian conceptions of "the end of Creation" and of "the end of history," and

(B) the interventionist policy of the Creator with respect to his creation; and

the resulting need, for puzzled humans, to develop a theodicy -- i.e., an interlocking set of explanations serving to vindicate the justice of God, especially in ordaining or permitting natural (e.g., earthquakes, congenital illness) and moral evil (sins).

(c) the relationships among the main "nodal episodes" in the course of history, past and future:

(3) the effect of shared understandings concerning the nature of Hell upon people's views about the proper conduct towards heretics.



ENDNOTES:  pressing into the specifics

Note on the end (purpose. telos) of creation.

Here you will need to clarify the significance of the special place or role accorded to Man (humankind) within the creation as a whole.  To do this, you will need to discuss the divine ordination both of plants and animals with respect to Man and of Man with respect to his Creator. What rights and obligations are attached to the human creature?

How does all this relate to the ultimate purpose of the Creation taken as a whole?  Is it the same as the "ultimate end of man"?

Note that different Christian theologies may diverge on this point.  Consider the exchange between Calvin and the Catholic Bishop Sadoleto on the ultimate end of human existence:  note that this difference turns upon a deeper disagreement about God's purpose in the undertaking the creation as a whole.

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Note on the end (purpose, telos) of history.

To do this, you will have to clarify the doctrine of felix culpa, or the "fortunate Fall."

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Note on the interventionist policy of the Creator.

To say that the Bible depicts God as "interventionist" means that

(1) God is portrayed as caring, concerned (not as merely monitoring all that takes place in the world); and

(2) Nature and human affairs are represented as a process of event constantly open to advent.

In explaining the latter, you should be able to cite some important subcategories (miracles, revelations, the sacraments [according to the Catholic and Lutheran doctrines], answers to prayers) and examples.

These interventions of the Creator into the creation take place from the outset: God walks in the garden (Genesis 3:8f); He imposes curses imposed as punishment upon the serpent, Eve and Adam, respectively (3:14-19); He expels them from the garden (3:23-24).

Subsequently, divine interventions proliferate:

(Note: The point of the items set between curly brackets - {...} - is to suggest the intrinsically controversial nature of particular claims about "the role of God's hand in history." Is there a method devisable to secure agreement upon them? Is there a manner outside of a "method"?)

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Note on "relationships among the 'nodal episodes."

Here are some of the questions you should be able to develop answers to.  Some of the answers are implicit in other notes to this memo.

(1) How do the implications of the Biblical description of the original Creation help shape the conception of the nature of sin?  (Or:  how is the notion of sin informed by the notion we form of the character of the order of things God originally established?)

(2) How does the Christian doctrine of the Crucifixion depend on a distinctive picture about the effects of the Fall? (That is: Jews and Muslims also accept the Genesis story about the Fall of Mankind. But they reject the Christian theology of the Atonement [along with the Trinitarian conception of the Deity that it presupposes]. Hence, they must either reject the idea that redemption is necessary, or they must have a very different notion about how it has been or will be accomplished. How is this so?)

(3) How does the teaching concerning the effects of Original Sin impact upon the problems that attend interpreting Scripture itself?  That is, how does it help explain why it is often difficult for readers (ordinary folk, learned commentators, professional theologians) to reach agreement on the meaning of passages and episodes (even when they agree that the Bible is to be accepted as the Word of God)?

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Note on the nature and effects of the Fall.

In clarifying the implications of the Christian doctrine concerning Original Sin, you should be able to give an account of the "essence" of sin, and of the "logic" of the punishment(s) that attend it. (Note, too, that one of the eventual doctrinal divisions among the various Christian confessions will concern the extent of the effects of Original Sin:  just how deep and extensive is mankind's postlapsarian Depravity?)

(1) Can you point out the sources in the details of the Biblical Fall Story of the centrality, in the traditional Christian notion of sin, of the concept of "faith" understood as trust-in-the-trustworthiness of one's superior + trustworthiness (loyalty) on one's own behalf?

To review the conceptual framework -- the complex of ideas -- connected with this particular idea of "faith," you can consult our the Study Guide on Synthesizing the results of our explication of Genesis 1-3.

But the question just posed has to do with the "evidentiary basis" for this in the actual text of the Biblical narrative of the Fall.  Can you point them out in Genesis 1-3 itself?

(2) Can you explain how the punishments (the curses + the expulsion), if understood as "fitting the crime" (i.e., as expressions of God's justice), affect our understanding of both the meaning of the punishments and the nature of the crime?

(a) What is the effect on the rest of creation (i.e., on the natural world) of man's sin?

(b) What role in this is played by the concepts of ordained dominion and of insubordination?

(3) Also important to explore are the further long-term effects of the Fall upon posterity (the progeny of the First Parents): the depravity of the species. Thenceforth all human individuals inherit a "denatured nature"; that is, the human nature they inherit by birth is not the human nature with which mankind was originally created by God but rather that nature as perverted and corrupted by Original Sin.  Some important expressions of this condition:

(a) Fundamental unreliability of unaided human powers.

(A) The intellect (discursive reason plus conscience), originally created to inform man of the highest realities (God's existence, general nature, and specific will), has now become a "crazed mirror" that reflects these in a distorted, deceptive way, because it has become enslaved to the corrupted will.

(B) The will, originally created as the faculty of free submission to God's will, has now become  weak and corrupt.  It is not merely incapable of ruling the passions and appetites but sensually enslaved to them.  It can also be described as "selfish" -- pridefully bent on its own way rather than on submission to God's will.

(C) The appetites, originally created as spontaneously responsive to the direction of the will, have become unruly, excessive, and often directed to illegitimate ends.

(D) The senses, originally created to inform the soul about the conditions of the world through which the self is to negotiate its way in following the divine will, have become the channels through which the appetites enslave themselves and (in turn) the will, and serve instead to seduce the self towards attachment to created things, when its true vocation is rather to love and serve the Creator.

The psychological dimension of the condition of fallenness, then, is a human nature consisting of a hierarchy of functions perversely inverted from their original function.  The technical term for this topsy-turvey condition if internal mutiny, of "rebellion of the soul within itself," is termed concupiscence

Note that one of the eventual doctrinal divisions among the various Christian confessions will concern the extent of the effects of Original Sin in respect of the human will:  just how deep and extensive is mankind's postlapsarian Depravity? Is it even possible for any of his works (insofar as they are merely his) to be meritorious? Can he on his own achieve faith in Christ's promise of redemption?

And one of the lines of fracture that will open up within the Eruopean educated elite in the wake of the religious wars unleashed by the Reformation in the wake of the Copernican Revolution will concern the question of whether human beings are by nature depraved at all.  The Enlightenment project of improving the conditions of human life -- physical and moral -- by an application of native human powers presupposes that the human faculties of intellect, will, appetites, and senses are not so impaired at birth as to be incapable of human cultivation sufficient to overcome an immense amount of natural and moral evil.  This vision of gradual human progress through human effort will come to strike many as inconsistent with at least the Augustinian versions of the doctrine of Original Sin.  This will lead some to reject the vision of Progress as a dangerous fantasy, and others to reject Original Sin (and with it the necessity of the Atonement and other interventions of Divine Grace) as retrograde superstitions holding humanity hostage to physical misery, ethical degradation, and unprincipled exploitation by parasitical institutions -- the clergy, the aristocracy, royal dynasties.  This latter view will strike traditional believers as itself an expression of the depravity of those who hold it.  And, conversely, those who hold it will be inclined to divide those who persist in professing traditional belief into the cynically deceiving, the ignorantly misled, and the lazily or willfully deluded.

(b) Redoubled stress on the obligation of Obedience to Authorities (including secular authorities, and especially those who profess to uphold orthodox Christianity).

(A) This implicitly raises the problem of accreditation of authorities: how does one know to whom one owes obedience?

(B) It also carries a strong potential for legitimating a highly "disciplinarian" culture, both on the individual and the societal level:

asceticism:  The idea that the body is in enmity with the "self" (identified as the spirit) authorizes the spirit to declare an enmity towards the body, and to adopt a project of punishing and subduing it, through various practices designed to "mortify the flesh":  fasting, vigils, self-flagellation, wearing the hair shirt, subjecting oneself to severe cold, isolation from society, etc.

authoritarian politics:   If the only thing the ignoble and fallen are moved by is concupiscence -- disorderly appetites -- then one must "speak to their bodies" in order to get their attention.  If it is immoral for the governors to encourage them in the indulgence of their appetites, then use of the "carrot" to bring them into line is limited.  There remains, then, to an important extent, only the "stick" -- which, when wielded by the secular arm, the nobler elements, is known as "the sword."  The lower orders in particular seem disinclined to reconcile themselves to accepting their lot in life.  Ant their rebelliousness, when it emerges, is an expression not of justified resentment to exploitation by the privileged, but of their corrupt spirits -- their fallenness.  Since he lower orders of society are, in general, "inherently unreliable" and incapable of responding to anything but the threat of naked force, their rulers are authorized to adopt a terroristic approach towards them: 

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Note on the Incarnation.

This entails being able to explain

the (revelatory) mission of Jesus, and

the logic of the Atonement through the Crucifixion.

Can you do this in general terms to doctrine notion of justification ?

Can you describe the divergence between the Augustinian and Thomistic theories of this (i.e., between the via moderna and the via antiqua?

Which of these two ways would it turn out that Luther and Calvin would favor? Which would point the way for the Council of Trent?

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Note on Hell.

(1) On what line of reasoning did the example afforded by God's choice of such an instrument of punishment (these sorts of afflictions, for this sort of duration) appear to authorize the use of torture and execution to correct and frustrate the pernicious tendencies of heretics and apostates?

(2) What fears did these teachings give rise to? What repressions did these fears authorize? What fears did these repressions themselves generate  not only among those suffering the repression, but among those carrying it out? For example, what suspicions about the political loyalties of "non-believers" did leaders, and their co-religionist supporters, feel themselves "forced" to entertain? What behavior in turn did these suspicions themselves seem to authorize? (How so?)

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      This page last updated 24 August 1999.