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The Lord of History, by Msgr. Eugene Kevane. ©2003 The Miriam Press. All Rights Reserved

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References – IV. The Modern View of History

61. There is a wealth of literature on Petrarch. A good introduction is James Harvey Robinson (ed.), Petrarch: The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters (New York: Greenwood Press, 1969). “With prophetic insight,” Robinson writes, “Petrarch declared that he stood between two eras” p. 4. And Aldo S. Bernaldo, Petrarch, Scipio and the “Africa” (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1962). For the specific point under discussion, that Petrarch was the first to see history differently, cf. Theodor E. Mommsen, Medieval and Renaissance Studies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1959), “Petrarch’s Conception of the ‘Dark Ages,’” pp. 106-129. Mommsen documents the fact that Petrarch is the originator of the three mental constructs, “ancient,” “medieval” and “modern,” and “also the father of the concept or attitude which regards the Middle Ages as the ‘Dark Ages,’” p. 129.

62. St. Augustine, De vera religione 3 (3); CCL 32, 188: Christianis temporibus quaenam religio potissimum tenenda sit et quae ad veritatem ac beatitudinem via, non esse dubitandum.

63. Cf. De civitate Dei, XII, 7: “Nemo igitur quaerat efficientem causam malae voluntatis: non enim est efficiens, sed deficiens; quia nec illa effectio est, sed defectio.” A superb insight, developed fully in his De libero arbitrio.

64. C. A. Patrides, The Grand Design of God: The Literary Form of the Christian View of History. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), p. 49. Cf. Aldo S. Bernardo (transl.), Francesco Petrarca: Rerum Familiarium libri I-VII (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975); esp. VI, 2, where Petrarch distinguishes two great periods in history, first Roman Antiquity, then the Christian-Barbarian. This does indeed make the “Fall of Rome” the axis of universal history, and does indeed miss the significance of Christian Rome as the continuation of Rome with its values regenerated and renewed according to the concrete educational and cultural procedures in Augustine’s De doctrina christiana. The new pattern of historical understanding is born when the Renaissance humanists add their own age, feeling and calling it “Modern,” contrasting qualitatively with the age preceding, now perceived simply as barbarous. James Harvey Robinson appears correct when he writes, “Carrying ourselves back to the fourteenth century, we shall find that the name of Francesco Petrarca stands for a revolution in European thought. His existence, character and career constituted in themselves, as has been said of Voltaire, a new and prodigious era.” Cf. his Petrarch: The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters, already cited, p. 10. “The fall of the ancient world ‘is perhaps the most important and most interesting problem of universal history.’” writes F. Lot, op. cit., p. 172, quoting the German historian Eduard Meyer. And cf. the “Preface” by Henri Berr, p. IX: “The progress of human organization and the effort of human cooperation were seen to result in empires — the Empires of the East, Alexander’s…, and the Roman Empire, which inherited a thousand-year-old experience and definitely founded the State, while at the same time it absorbed into itself the essence of a civilization in which Hellas and the East were blended. But this mighty Mediterranean Empire, instead of developing along continuous lines, was destined to decline fairly soon and to go under, after violent and unavailing struggles.” This does indeed represent a different judgment of value, valuing the pagan state of Rome above the coming era of Christian Rome, and setting the stage for a desire that the pagan culture be reborn.

65. Cf. Hippolyte Rigault, Histoire de la querelle des Anciens et des Modernes (Paris: Hachette, 1856); and Paul Hazard, footnote 76 below.

66. Some landmarks in this process include Bacon with his Novum Organon, the proliferation of the natural sciences and Spencer’s question in his educational treatise entitled What Knowledge Is of Most Worth? The process leads to the practical disappearance of the classical languages from the education of youth across the closing decades of the 19th century. In practice, the humanists have been unable to preserve their Greek and their Ciceronian Latin. In the 20th century this phenomenon affects even the Catholic Church herself, when in its later decades Ecclesiastical Latin, the mother-tongue of the priesthood, tends to disappear not only from liturgical worship but also from the education of young men to the priesthood. This is a phenomenon which may bear some kind of relationship, one which needs further research and analysis, to another translatio imperii, and which will be considered further below.

67. Cf. the comprehensive treatise of Cornelio Fabro, Introduzione all’ateismo moderno (Roma: Studium, 1964; 2nd ed. 1969); English translation by Arthur Gibson entitled God in Exile (New York: Newman Press, 1970). Fabro’s analysis culminates in “The virtual theism of the principle of immanence,” pp. 921-945. Fabro’s research clarifies the fact that Modern Philosophy is an “essence,” a particular kind of philosophy with a demonstrable beginning and nature; and that the nature or meaning of Modern Philosophy, becoming ever more explicit as its seminal thinkers proceed from the Cartesian beginnings to Kant and beyond, is the rise and spread of modern secularism and atheism. Also Georg Siegmund, God on Trial: A Brief History of Atheism (New York: Desclée, 1967). And James Collins, God in Modern Philosophy (Chicago: Regnery, 1959), esp. pp. 268-284, “American Naturalism as a Methodological Atheism.”

68. Cf. St. Augustine, The First Catechetical Instruction, op. cit., footnote 50 above.

69. Cf. John Bodin, Method for the Easy Comprehension of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1945); Chap. VII, “Refutation of Those Who Postulate Four Monarchies and the Golden Age,” pp. 291-302. Cf. M. A. Patrides, op. cit., pp. 47-48, and note 67 on p. 67, for references on the attack upon and defense of the Four Empires. Patrides observes accurately that “the secularization of history” is in process: “Such developments signal the abandonment of the providential view of history,” p. 58. And Raymond Aron, op. cit., p. 258: “It is vain to ask whether history has an end, since Providence is no longer believed in.”

70. Cf. Paul Hazard, The European Mind, 1680-1715, op. cit., Part II, chap. III, “Richard Simon and Biblical Exegesis,” pp. 180-197; “A critic…Spinoza certainly was, and one can hardly fail to see in him the direct forerunner of Richard Simon” p. 184. The phrase “purely rational exegesis” is from the encyclical Humani generis of Pope Pius XII, AAS (Sept. 2, 1950). Cf. the translation and comprehensive notes by A. C. Cotter, S.J., The Encyclical “Humani Generis” with a Commentary (Weston: Weston College Press, 1951).

71. Cf. Paul Hazard, European Thought in the Eighteenth Century: From Montesquieu to Lessing (London: Hollis and Carter), part II, “The City of Men,” pp. 113-276; and especially his chapters on “The Encyclopedia,” pp. 199-214, and “Diderot,” pp. 378-390. This is the taproot of the situation called “The Reality of the Problem,” the title of Part One of the General Catechetical Directory published by the Holy See (Washington: USCC, 1971), Nos. 1-9.

72. Voltaire, Francois Marie. The Philosophy of History. New York: Philosophical Library, 1965 (reprint of the original English edition, London, 1766). This work became in later editions the lengthy introduction to his Essai sur les moeurs et l’esprit des nations, his re-writing of universal history done to refute Bossuet, open before him as he worked, and in the larger perspective to refute the entire Judaeo-Christian intellectual heritage. To emphasize this, and to underline his historical atheism, he begins his survey with China, a people quite devoid of any concept of a revelation from a personal God, and sets the Hebrews aside as later and relatively unimportant. Cf. I. H. Brumfitt, Voltaire: Historian (London: Oxford University Press, 1958; esp. Chap. II, “Voltaire and his Predecessors,” pp. 26-45, and Chap. V, “The Philosophy of History,” pp. 95-128.

73. Cf. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: The Modern Library, 1932); Vol. I, A.D. 180-476; Vol. II, A.D. 476-1461. The practical effect upon education in the English-speaking world has been a tendency simply to pass over the period from 476 to 1492 in the syllabi as if there really were nothing there. A professor in the writer’s youth advised: “You must make up the deficiency by your own reading. But Gibbon is a waste of time because of his slant. Read the newer scholarship which is rediscovering the positive values of the Christian centuries.”

74. Cf., for example, Ernst Troeltsch, Der Historismus und seine Probleme (Darmstadt: Scientia Aalen, 1961 — Reprint of the 1922 edition), pp. 11-27, “Der moderne Ursprung der Geschichtsphilosophie”; “The Philosophy of History is a modern creation, a child of the Eighteenth Century,” p. 11; and Friedrich Meinecke, Historism: The Rise of a New Historical Outlook (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972: “Voltaire,” pp. 54-89.

75. To get the “feel” of Western Higher Education across the decades of the Nineteenth Century to 1914, cf. the works of Raissa Maritain, esp. We Have Been Friends Together (New York: Doubleday, 1961), where the atmosphere is documented which impacted upon her and Jacques as young students at the University of Paris. The “Modern” Weltanschauung, fed by Modern Philosophy, was becoming a new “Common Sense” hardening in all the branches and disciplines of Higher Education. This “Common Sense” is quite different from that of natural human thought and discourse, the common sense in which “the natural metaphysics of mankind,” in the luminous phrase of Paul VI, has its roots. This situation, which needs much research and analysis, is the substrate of the phenomenon of Religious Modernism, which will be considered briefly below.

76. Paul Hazard, European Thought in the Eighteenth Century (London: Hollis and Carter, 1954), “Preface,” p. XVIII. Cf. Part One, “Christianity on Trial,” pp. 1-110: “It was God, God Himself, who was the prisoner at the bar; the God of the Protestants and the God of the Catholics” p. 46. This volume of Hazard, member of the French Academy, together with its companion, The European Mind, 1680-1715 (London: Hollis and Carter, 1953) offers a detailed and scholarly study of the ripening of the qualitative mentality of “Modernity” as such. In the latter work, cf. Part One, chap. II, “The Old Order Changeth,” pp. 29-52, on the quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns, the shift of emphasis within the modern age from a renaissance of classical antiquity to an increasingly future-oriented interest in and concern for the New Man and his Better World, under construction and soon to be completed.

77. Cf. Petrarch’s letter to Giovanni Colonna, O.P., in Aldo S. Bernardo (Transl.), Rerun familiarium I-VII (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1975), pp. 290-291: “In short, let us philosophize in a manner which the very name of philosophy suggests, for the love of wisdom. Indeed the true wisdom of God is Christ, so that in order to philosophize rightly we must first love and cherish Him. Let us be such in all things that above all things we may be Christians. Let us thus read philosophical, poetic or historical writings so that the Gospel of Christ resounds always in the ear of our heart. With it alone are we sufficiently happy and learned; without it no matter how much we learn we become ignorant and more wretched. To it all things must be referred as if to the loftiest stronghold of the truth.” “The personal orthodoxy of philosophers and theologians,” writes Maritain, “does not suffice, one knows only too well, to guarantee soundness of doctrines, for they have their own proper life and their own logic.” Cf. Revue de Philosophie (1923) p. 500. The understanding of history in the Modern Age has had its own life and logic. “The religious understanding of history,” writes Fritz Kern in Historia Mundi (Bern: Francke Verlag, 1952), Vol. I, p. 11, “as the Prophet Amos, Augustine and others developed it, has not completely died out in our days. It is being renewed in distinguished fashion, for example, by the Philosopher of History Christopher Dawson. Nevertheless, other currents of thought have been more powerful — und la faute en est à Voltaire, wie man in Frankreich sagt. Since the century of the Enlightenment the earlier Christian consensus has been broken.”