Nor did contemporary observers seem to think the Cistercians were defined by their economic activities – either used or eschewed.[i]
And indeed, even the document considered to have been written in 1134 didn’t single out “pawning, leasing, sales, and exchanges” for censure.[ii] (196)
She concludes that the Cistercians “participated vigorously in the economic changes of the twelfth century while retaining the solitude of their houses and granges and the simplicity of the food, clothing, and liturgy that made them appear so intensely holy to their neighbors.” (196)
By this example of simplicity and austerity, Bouchard argues, the knights were attracted to them “psychologically,” as they were “reaching a level of social prominence . . . at the beginning of the twelfth century,” thus “just reach[ing] the point both of being able to enjoy [the] comforts [of the aristocracy] and of recognizing that the soul’s salvation might lie in the rejection of them.” (197)
But at the same time, there was a “social” appeal of the Cistercians to the knights as well, “because the Cistercians were integrated into the rural knightly system of ‘give-and-take,’ where property transactions were used not only to transfer ownership of property but also to bind people together.” (197)
5. Reason and imagination (or maybe better, “truth and beauty”
Because WordPress does not allow for the “read more” section divider (crucial for shortening the part of each post that shows up on this blog’s main page) to be placed in the midst of a numbered list, I’m simply going to say here: this is the lastdyad of ideas that (in my opinion) Christian humanism often, in its history, attempted to bring together.
Actually, one more note too: After having proposed this Christian humanist “dyadic harmonization thesis” to our seminar development team, I started (the other day) reading the brilliant, clear, and well-researched account by Australian scholar Tracey Rowland of war-time and post-WW II German Christian humanism, Beyond Kant and Nietzsche: The Munich Defence of Christian Humanism. In that book, I’ve already discovered plenty of evidence of such dyadic harmonization in the German Roman Catholic thinkers whose Christian humanist thought Rowland so clearly and persuasively summarizes. In another post I may note a few of those spots in Rowland’s book.But for now, the list . . .
4. Grace and virtues (the Christian moral life and Christian social ethics)
Other than dissenters such as Tertullian, the early church was happy to absorb and adapt much of the non-Christian knowledge of the time (classical philosophy). This included knowledge in the realm of ethics and politics (e.g. Aristotle’s Ethics – see e.g. Robert Louis Wilken, Spirit of Early Christian Thought). Thus the substance of Aristotelian virtue ethics was absorbed into Christian ethics, culminating in Aquinas’s Summa.
More recently, Protestant as well as Catholic readers of Elizabeth Anscombe, Alasdair MacIntyre, and other modern Christian virtue ethicists have also been willing to consider the older Christianized classical virtue ethics tradition as important and helpful for today. However, there is still a tension between that tradition and the Augustinian understanding of the primacy of grace (given the extreme effects of the Fall) in human moral life. Again Christian humanism has worked to sustain a synthesis in this tension of virtue and grace, to various degrees in various phases of the tradition.
I’ve had occasion before to recommend on this blog the excellent magazine Common Good. Despite my occasional appearance in its pages, it’s just chock full of good stuff, and it’s well worth subscribing. Here’s a review of a fascinating new book (I don’t say this just because its author cites my Medieval Wisdom book a bunch) that they asked me to write – it’ll appear in an upcoming issue, no doubt improved from this draft by editor extraordinaire Aaron Cline Hanbury:
Jason M. Baxter’s new book The Medieval Mind of C S Lewis: How Great Books Shaped a Great Mind is a suggestive introduction to the literary and theological substance of what we may call, following Baxter’s own clues, CS Lewis’s “long-medieval Christian humanism.”
It is suggestive in helping us understand Lewis’s mind better—Baxter starts the book by puzzling over the fact that despite lavish attention to Lewis the apologist and Lewis the fiction-writer, most modern readers know little to nothing about a “third Lewis”: Lewis the medievalist.
But more than this, it is suggestive in understanding Lewis’s distinctive approach to the cultural crisis of his lifetime – shadowed as it was by two World Wars – and in assessing what we can learn from that approach for our own troubled times.
Some key points, drafted by C Armstrong, 2-25-21 in engagement with Jens Zimmermann
The following are some key points I drafted early (Feb 2021) in my exploration of the link between Christian humanism and the “faith, work, and economics” conversation, interacting with the work of Jens Zimmermann, JI Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada. These themes are informing my work in that conversation at the Kern Family Foundation (Wisconsin), engaging a national network of seminaries and Christian colleges preparing future pastors (note that the book cited parenthetically as “Re-Envisioning” at a number of points below is the Zimmermann-edited volume Re-Envisioning Christian Humanism: Education and the Restoration of Humanity):
A couple of years back, in the depths of the COVID pandemic, I was invited by Sioux Falls Seminary to address an international group of their students via Zoom on a topic related to faith and work. Reflecting on the assignment, and aware that I would be addressing workplace Christians studying for ministry in one of the most innovative seminaries in the world (which has now spread globally and renamed itself Kairos University), I decided to address the “sacred-secular divide” that many experience acutely in their working lives. The resulting talk draws on four historical figures who addressed this divide in various ways. Here it is, in five parts:
This past January, I was co-teaching a group of graduate students at Regent College, in Vancouver, BC, with that wise and humane thinker on faith and vocation, my friend Steve Garber. Steve had asked me to join with him in creating and teaching a course for Regent called “Models of Public Engagement.” My contribution was to provide readings, mini-lectures, and discussion prompts from a wide variety of historical people of Christian faith. By the class’s second day together, in our Vancouver intensive week during which it would snow, rain, and blow gusts of freezing wind every day, it had already become a class joke that all of Dr. Armstrong’s best friends are dead.
This is actually not far off the mark. You can find my blog-site, for example, at “gratefultothedead.com.” (This, by the way, has confused more than a few Grateful Dead fans, who have wandered onto the blog expecting to find me writing about Jerry Garcia.)
But I can’t help myself. I love introducing people to my friends. As a wise priest once said to me, the teaching gifts of our past leaders have a very long shelf life. Yes, and I’d add, their lives as well as their teachings can also still speak to us today. So this afternoon as we dive into a few questions about how to find Christian vocation in a working world where Christ is so rarely named, I’ll be sharing with you from the thought and lives of four of my best dead friends. These are Gregory the Great, John Wesley, Charles Sheldon, and C. S. Lewis.
As they sorted and tidied, the university-based natural philosophers began discovering that nature often contained its own causal explanations, which could be identified through observation and experiment. In the heyday of the scholastics, Thomas Aquinas’s teacher Albertus Magnus, for example, wrote two scientific treatises that helped to found empiricism and the scientific method—one on botany and one on zoology—and sought empirical knowledge everywhere he went through observation and experiment. “[Albert] used his journeys through the Western world to further this interest, and was forever asking questions of fishermen, hunters, beekeepers, and bird-catchers.”
Such thinkers certainly did not intend to deny God’s creative, providential activity—just to highlight the more and more evident fact that nature operates according to its own mechanisms, which are describable in naturalistic terms.
By the early 14th century, those terms were becoming increasingly mathematical. Scholars of that day such as Thomas Bradwardine at Oxford (later to become Archbishop of Canterbury) used mathematical theory to challenge and update old, incorrect scientific beliefs inherited from Aristotle. The new and more accurate groundwork they provided on a variety of scientific questions prepared the way for the work of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1717) and other stars of the scientific revolution.
Lest we think, though, that as math entered, faith exited (as some have interpreted Newton’s work!), it is important to see how our eighth fact, the harmonization of scientific and theological understandings, was already emerging in the time of the scholastics.
Sacramentalism provided the seedbed for the pursuit of scientific knowledge, especially in the high-medieval period of the birth of the universities (from the 11th to the 14th centuries). In part, it did this by birthing – and this is our fifth fact – a truly devotional, awe-filled approach to that pursuit.
Think about it: when we may look at the natural world not only as the arena of God’s work but as a physical reality that reflects his divine glory, then how else would we approach it but with awe and wonder? And since medieval and early modern followers of Christ indeed believed this, they approached their study of the world not only out of a duty to apply the gift of reason, but also out of a sense of awe that the world is a conduit to God’s presence and glory. Should it surprise us, then, that the natural philosophers of that age spent hours and days and years of their lives in meticulous proto-scientific experimentation and hypothesizing?
I commend to you Common Goodmagazine. There is nothing else like it out there. And yes, though there is an online version, it contains only a modest part of what appears in the (beautiful and award-winning) print version. Seriously, you should subscribe.
In the current issue, #08, I have an article titled “The Work of Genesis: How the doctrines of creation and incarnation shine light on our earthly vocations.” Since my pieces tend not to make it into the online version (not sexy enough, I guess??), I’ll share this as a prod to subscribe:
The Work of Genesis How the doctrines of creation and incarnation shine light on our earthly vocations
Though many of us seem to have forgotten it in our post-Christian age, “vocation” is a Christian word. And by “vocation,” the historic church — especially the Protestant tradition — has meant something like this: Meaningful work that fulfils both the Genesis mandate to cultivate and keep the earth and the great commandment to love God and love and serve our neighbors. Taking this definition, vocation finds its roots in the doctrines of creation and incarnation.
The theology of the world operative within Christian humanism has been not just a theology of material creation or nature. It has also been a theology of the human, social world in which we live, and which Christian humanism navigated through the culture-creating development of such areas of our life together as ethics, law, and both political and economic theory and practice.
Scholastic humanism and the social world
For example, in parallel to the scholastic humanists’ pursuit of natural philosophy (as science was then called), and at first surpassing it in its power to bring order and peace to the world, was the study and systematization of law. Of course in that Christendom age, that law was religious, or “canon” law. This connection had deep historical roots – when in the 4th century the Benedictine monk Gratian had combined “the theoretical principles and legal procedures of the existing Roman law code with the content of ecclesial canon law,” he was providing “the first basic, universal textbook in response to the growing need for the legal administration of emerging Christendom” – and not surprisingly, it was the papal courts that became the ultimate recourse for most matters, fatefully cementing the church’s political as well as spiritual power.
The scholars whose trust in human reason underwrote their approach to these social dimensions of flourishing (and science too could certainly be included as having a strong social dimension) grounded this trust not only in the doctrine of creation, but also – not surprisingly – in “the concept of the incarnation as God’s reconciliation with creation and his most intimate fellowship with humanity.” The resulting “medieval synthesis” “wove nature, humanity, reason and religion into a meaningful tapestry of ennobling purpose that was central to medieval theology from the twelfth century onward.”
In sum, the three powerful legs of this great platform of scholastic humanism were “[the assurance of] God’s love, the intelligibility of creation and the trustworthiness of human reason.” And on this platform, medieval Christians built the foundational institutions of Western societies—the hospital, the university, a nascent scientific establishment, a growing artistic establishment, the superstructure of European law, and more.
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