Friday, 6 August 2010

Renaissance men and women

I'm not really a philosopher, but I have studied some history. Over on his St Barnabas Blog, Fr Edward Tomlinson has lamented the late-mediæval divorce of spirituality and theology; he rightly notes that St Thomas does not seem to make this division, but says that this happened after his time.
It seems to me that, perhaps, this derives from the introduction of Aristotelian categories into the West. It wasn't all done overnight, but have we not seen, ever since, an ever greater breaking down of disciplines into narrower fields?
When I was a University chaplain, at the all-Science University of Surrey, I used to lament the sheer narrowness of the students' world-view. Without the arts, (or, rather, with arts being done in a rather self-conscious extra-curricular way) the students stood great risk of being, simply quite boring. Few of them enjoyed the subjects they studied for their own sake, and they had no chance to rub shoulders with arts students that might have made life more interesting.
In England and Wales, from the age of 16 or so, our young people are considered broadly-enough educated, and they specialize from then on. First, a lifetime choice between arts or sciences, and then only one subject for a degree from the age of 18. Scotland is much more sensible, as are some Universities in the USA, with broader curricula for longer. What has become here of the notion of the 'renaissance man'?
The Platonic system that preceded the Aristotelian, instead of breaking knowledge down into relatively unrelated parts instead sought to see all of knowledge as essentially one, tending in one direction, drawing its meaning from God Himself. Theology, spirituality, yes and science all increase our knowledge of God, for we study the Wisdom that lies behind it all. And thus it is that theology can also aid science, and music, and everything else.
This is very inchoate, I know, and possibly rubbish. But it seems true this afternoon.


Jakian Thomist said...

"Theology, spirituality, yes and science all increase our knowledge of God, for we study the Wisdom that lies behind it all."

Hmm, not to critise father, but there are many pantheistic physicists who would agree with these sentiments.

As Christians, would we really have a lessened knowledge of God without studying the (empirical) sciences? A lessened knowledge of how God's creation operates - absolutely - but actual knowledge of God?

Isn't it exactly because the sciences do not give us knowledge of God - natural theology aside - that we needed Divine Revalation to know (in the sense of both connaitre and savoir) Him?

Now, of course, we follow the rule of St. Augustine and use scientific discoveries to help interpret what God did, as described in the OT, but I don't think that this quite fits the Platonic vision.

Michael Gollop said...

Isn't the point really that
all knowledge, if it is true, comes from God himself, and the broader the range of our knowledge the more complete is our understanding of the world in which we have been placed for a definite and divine purpose? "Nihil humanum mihi alienum est," in this context at least, is a truly incarnational and Christological statement.

Little Black Sambo said...

"It seems true this afternoon."
Ah, the Anglican principle of theology.

Rubricarius said...

Commenting on, the secondary aspect, of your post Fr. Séan I could not agree more with what you have written.

I had the misfortune to study Biology, Physics and Chemistry for A-level thirty years ago before then going to a science-focussed universtity where I hated every minute of it. Certainly from my own experience I was for too immature to know myself when I chose A-level subjects two years earlier. I suspect the same was true for others of my generation.

A far broader 'School Certificate' type of sixth form education is surely far preferable. I have admiration too for the idea of 'foundation' type of first-year degree. I do believe specialisation too soon is detrimental to a broader education and formation of many people.

GOR said...

Reminds me a little of the definition of an 'expert' I heard many years ago: "One who knows more and more about less and less"

Think about it...

GOR said...

Come to think of it, the definition was of a 'specialist' not an 'expert' - but frequently it could be applied to either!

Anagnostis said...

I find it very encouraging that tradition-minded Catholics are beginning to adopt a more critical view of the legacy of Scholasticism.

According to St Gregory of Nyssa man, as a creature both material and noetic, is the unique recipient of a dual commission - theologia and technologia - each a matter of rendering "glory and gratitude" to God, the basic condition of a sane and healthy existence.
Problems ensue when these two pursuits are confused - when we try to do theologia as though it were technologia, or when we circumscribe rational investigation of the cosmos. In fact, the command to name the creatures and subdue the earth is nothing other than a divine injunction to do science.

St Gregory and all the eastern Fathers insisted that Revelation, regardless of the relative usefulness of philosophical categories when deployed in its defence, is ultimately always kata Alieftikos all' ouk Aristotelikos - "according to the Fishermen, not the Philosophers". Matter-despising neo-Platonism and "essence" pursuing Aristoteleanism equally transgress this basic principle. If you seek the monument to the latter in particular, look around you.