This lecture reviewed the thinkers that shepherded Europe from the middle ages into the pre-scientific age. Once these thinkers prepared the ground Europe was ready to take the next step, become scientific, industrialized and modern. Those who seek modernity, such as Africans, need to learn these steps and must take them in some form or another before they can accomplish their goal.
RENAISSANCE TO REFORMATION THINKERS
Ozodi Thomas Osuji
History and the history of ideas go together. Thus we have been tracing the history of Western civilization without really calling it a lesson in Western history. The modern West has its root in Greece and we talked about Greece and its ideas. The next phase of the West was the rise of Rome. We talked a bit about the dominant ideas in the Roman Empire.
Rome fell and the primitives took over. The primitives were of two kinds, the German barbarians and the Roman Catholic Church. Those two primitives did their best to destroy Greco-Roman civilization and replace it with superstitions. They brought Europe to her knees and gave her darkness. This phase of European civilization was called the dark ages.
Somehow the continent began to dig itself out from the dept the primitives had rendered it. Europeans began doing so with the aid of the Mahomet's, especially with the returned light of Greek knowledge that the Mahomet's brought in their wake of conquering southern Europe. By the fourteenth century Europe was sufficiently exposed to Greek ideas, especially Plato and Aristotle, that it was ready to make a break from the strangle hold of the primitives.
As it were, out of nowhere tremendous creative energy was unleashed on Europe and people began asking questions once more and positing ideas on the nature of things rather than regurgitating what the ignorant bishops told them were the nature of things. The end of the reign of the scholastics (scholars who based their studies on the church's view of reality) was at hand. Light was brought to darkness. Those who were in the belly of the whale (Jonah) were spit out on the shore of knowledge.
This era of enormous creativity is called renaissance. Immediately following renaissance was the effort by men of courage to define reality in human terms, not in divine terms. To hell with what god said is how people ought to live what counted was how people believed that they ought to live. These efforts to use the human mind to ascertain the best way to live was called humanism. Thus, the age of humanism came on the wake of renaissance.
Thereafter, folk felt empowered enough to challenge the decrepit Roman Catholic Church and decided that they did not need the corrupt clergy to be their intercessors with God. They were perfectly capable of talking to God without the auspices of the bloated church men who, like parasites, fed off their suffering (hosts). Folk did not need mediators between them and God, so what is the use of the so-called mother church? The age of reformation dawned on Europe.
It is to these three periods in European history that we now turn our attention. Since this is not a lecture on history but on the history of ideas we shall review the major thinkers of these eras. They are Nicolas of Cusa, Bernardino Telesio, Giordano Bruno, Niccolo Machiavelli, Francisco Petrarca, Desiderius Erasmus, St Thomas More, Martin Luther and John Calvin.
These were, of course, not the only thinkers during this period of European ferment but were those considered philosophical in their mental productions. In the world of arts and literature we can think of Dante, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Marlowe and many others. I am not a literary writer and will therefore leave a review of literary figures to experts in the writing arts. I am a thinker, a philosopher and a psychologist and will restrict my focus to those whose writings are philosophical and or psychological hence interest me. (Please note that I do not make a distinction between philosophy and psychology; it was arbitrary to separate the two fields; they focus on the same subject: the workings of the human mind and human behavior and therefore belong together. This is, of course, not how formal psychologists see their profession. They would like to think that they are physical scientists hence the current emphasis on the human brain in the search for causal factors in human behavior. Moreover, to lump psychology and philosophy together is to consider psychology a humanity, thus a speculative subject and psychologists would rather see themselves as scientific in their answers. Well, they are not. I have worked as a psychologist for over two decades and can tell you that it is as speculative as my beloved philosophy hence I decided to redact them into a field, my field of interest. I do not need any ones permission to do so, or do I, and who is that person?)
The Mahomet's had their greatest influence on southern Europe. Remember that they ruled Spain for over seven hundred years! Italians were in constant interaction with them. Indeed, Venetian traders were trading with the Arab world and were intimately informed on the Arab culture and religion. It was therefore natural for the Italians to have learned the most from the Mahomet's. Italians particularly learned about the Greek culture that the Muslim Arabs brought with them.
In Florence the wealthy Italian politician Cosmo de Medici established a replica of Plato's Academy and brought in teachers and students to study Greek ways (learn about Plato.). All over Italy folks were bitten by the bug of learning about Plato and Aristotle and laughter returned to human beings faces as they tried to use their minds to understand their world rather than dwell on the doom and gloom that the Church fed them; where the Church talked about hell awaiting men rationalists talked about understanding this world.
Nicolas of Cusa (1401-1464):
Nicolas of Cusa challenged the teachings of the scholastics. The scholastic predominated on what were then called universities, actually monasteries for regurgitating Roman Catholic teachings. Nicolas asked why folk should be learning what the church fathers said was knowledge when there was no evidence that it was so; the only evidence of the truth of the teachings of the church was authority. Something had credibility because it was given the authority of the church but not because it was self evidently true, as Aristotle said that it should be.
We must remember who was challenging the church here; Nicolas himself was a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church! The man believed that the Church taught him learned ignorance thus a waste of his time.
Knowledge, he believed, had three stages: fantasy, reason and intellective. Never mind what he meant by those terms for in the end they are wrong; what is of importance was that he recognized that the scholastics were wasting folks time in lieu of training them. True training had to be in Greek style learning.
Nicolas was a product of his time and therefore did not go far enough in his criticism of the Church; indeed, he remained an Augustinian in the sense that he believed that ultimate knowledge could only be acquired through divine intervention, and that left alone human beings could not attain true knowledge!
Bernardino Telesio (1509-1588):
Bernardino recognized the reality of matter and something that is not matter. However, he wound up a monist in the sense that he reduced matter to spirit, which he believed was the ultimate reality.
Giodano Bruno (1548-1600):
Bruno actually read the writing of the Polish astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus and agreed with the Pole's postulation that the earth is not the center of the universe. Copernicus had posited a heliocentric view of the universe, a thesis that the sun is the center of the solar system and that the planets circulated around the sun, and that there are many suns, stars, with their own planets. This was at the time when the Catholic Church taught that the earth was the center of the universe (geocentric view of the universe).
Because he believed in the heliocentric view of the universe and actually voiced it out loud he alienated the teachings of the church and despite being a priest himself he was arrested, imprisoned, tortured and eventually burned at the stake. Ignorance had to preserve itself. Later, Galileo was forced to recant his belief that Copernicus was correct.
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527):
Machiavelli decided to speak the truth as he saw it and may God help him. He wrote a book called the Prince and in it said that men tell lies when they claim to be in politics for altruistic and virtuous purposes. As he saw it, folk went into politics for ulterior purposes, mainly to gratify their desire for power, wealth and fame, and he saw nothing wrong with those motivations; he just wanted folk to be honest about them. As he sees it, men behave as if the end justifies the means while pretending that they do things for other reasons. You want power and or wealth.
You want access to the oil wells of the Middle East so you attack Iraq, kill hundreds of thousands of Arabs and kill their leader, Saddam Hussein, but you tell your people that you went to Iraq for other reasons, such as the rubbish that it was to prevent her from having nuclear weapons with which she could destroy America. Why not state the truth instead of all this duplicity?
Well, the truth would not get you far. Men would rather they are told lies, for their egos are deceived into thinking that they are good persons rather than the predatory animals they, in fact, are. People are aggressive animals that want to take from other persons, take other persons territory and would do so if they are deprived, but their superficial self concepts would rather they are helpers of the needy, so if you are a shrewd politician you tell them what they want to hear, a bunch of lies while doing what they really want but repress into their unconscious minds.
Americans want Arab oil and know it so they supported George Bush killing thousands of Arabs to get that oil, so as to have cheap gas to drive the boats that they call cars.
The people vote for politicians who articulate what is in their unconscious minds, their repressed true desires, not those who merely tell them the nice things that they want to hear. Germans want to feel superior to their neighbors, repress that feeling into their unconscious and Hitler said something about making them superior to others and they voted for him but not for the socialist candidate who talked about redistributing wealth.
Igbos would vote for politicians who tell them that they are superior to their neighbors, not for those who tell them that it is delusional to want to seem superior to other persons.
Machiavelli's contribution to political discourse is that he wanted folk to live the truth and stop pretending to be angels. He was a political realist.
In Nigeria, for example, the Hausas are motivated to have control of the oil that comes from the Niger Delta. It serves their self interest to have that oil. If there was no oil in the Niger Delta they probably would not have gone to war with the Igbos to decide who would take that oil, Igbos or Hausas. Hausas would have gladly left Nigeria if they did not want to take Ijaw oil. That is the honest truth so why not say it rather than talk the rubbish about maintaining the territorial integrity of Nigeria.
Sovereignty is a means for a few, the strong, to take from the powerless and Machiavelli just wants us to have clarity in our thoughts and stop fancying ourselves angels.
The Church wants the people to be ignorant so as to come to it and ask for help with accessing God. If the people knew that there was no God, that this is it, they would seek scientific solutions to their problems rather than go to the useless clergy for help.
Machiavelli noted that politicians can use man's amorality to do some good. If, for example, leaders want to unify their nation (the end), this is sufficient motivation to justify the means of sacrificing soldiers (at wars).
Could any one imagine this kind of honesty coming from religionists? It seems that the primary function of religion is to teach folk to live lies, beginning with the lie that there is a god that cares for them and that they ought to worship him. In so far that there is god it must be impersonal and certainly does not care for human beings physical survival. A tsunami wipes out hundreds of thousands in East Asia and no God intervenes to help them. A Murderous Hitler kills fifty million persons and no god stops him.
What Machiavelli was really saying was that it is about time human beings looked at themselves in the face and accepted who they are and stopped telling themselves lies about who they are. Who they are may have its dark side but it also has its good side. They have the power of studying and understanding their world as it is and manipulating it for their good.
This belief in the power of man to do what enables him to survive rather than look to non- existent gods for help nicely segues into rational humanism.
Rational, secular humanists look to man to solve his problems rather than to imaginary gods to do so for them. Instead of studying church doctrines, as scholastics did, folk could study philosophy, history and literature. Humanists accept this world as all there is to man and want to help him make the most of it.
They did their best to transform the earlier universities that were devoted to studying God to studying man. Thus Oxford, Cambridge, Paris and the other universities that used to contemplate how many angels could dance on the head of a pin began to study Greek literature, Greek philosophy, Roman history etc.
This may not seem like much but it was a necessary step before universities were finally redirected to studying science and technology.
Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374):
Petrarca was one of the first Italians to demand that universities be redirected from scholastics to humanities. Thanks to him and his like we now have departments of humanities at our colleges.
Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536):
Erasmus was a Dutch priest who did in the Northern lands of Holland what Italians were doing in the south, demanding that society focus on man rather than on God. He wrote many books and advocated teaching children what would make them physically strong rather than teaching them to focus on what angels looked like. Eventually his book ended on the Catholic Church's famous forbidden Books Index of banned books.
Sir Thomas More (1478-1535):
Thomas More's fame lies on his book, Utopia. In it he wrote about an imaginary ideal state where the kings and government actually governed on behalf of the people, did what served the people rather than merely tax the people and cart the money for the upper classes to live off from. His utopia is a forerunner of Karl Marx's communist state.
Though a priest of the Roman Catholic Church he was elected to the English House of Commons and advocated his ideals. He became a friend of the king. When the King, Henry VIII, decided to divorcé his Spanish wife, Catherine of Aragon, because she could not bear him a male heir and marry his girl friend, Ann Bolin, and the Church, Rome, the Pope, would not approve it, Henry decided to join Luther's reformation wagon and separate from the Catholic Church. He was surprised that his hitherto friend, Thomas More, opposed his moves. Being a realist Henry got Thomas More out of the way (had his head cut off...and four hundred years later the Catholic Church made him a saint).
More is known to us because of his humanistic stance, his desire to redirect government to serving the masses rather than the upper classes.
Can you imagine a situation where you had to obtain the pope's permission before you married whomever you wanted to marry or divorced your wife if your marriage was not working out well? That was what folk had to deal with in the era of the total domination of society by the bishops of Rome. Failure to obtain the permission of the Pope (via his local agents in your area: the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests etc) you were excommunicated from the Church.
Imagine the fear folk felt from the threat of excommunication! You see, they had been socialized to believe that the clergy were their intercessors between man and God and, moreover, they were told that the pope had the final authority on all religious matters, was infallible, and that whoever he condemned goes right to hell.
Folk lived in total fear of the Roman Church. What the Church said was the law in people's lives.
And how did the pope manage to acquire such enormous power over the people's lives since there is nothing in the Bible suggesting that such a power relationship between human beings should exist. The popes perverted the teachings of the bible to mean whatever they wanted it to mean. They made the bible to serve their personal interests rather than the interests of the people. They even had the people come confess their sins to them.
If people confessed their sins to the priests it followed that the priests knew about the intimate workings of their minds. This led to complete control over the people. Amoral priests did not hesitate one bit using the information the people gave them in their confessionals to manipulate them. Say, you told a priest that you were unfaithful to your wife. From then on the priest was your master for he could reveal your secret and finish you in your community.
How in the world did the Church come up with the spooky idea that folks should be confessing their sins to it? It was certainly not from the bible. Let it be noted that any one who got you to believe that you are a sinner and that you can confess your sins to him and that he has a magical wand with which to make God banish those sins has total control over you. Folk fear what could happen to them after they die; they do not want to be condemned to eternal hell fire (which, by the way, is not stated in the bible). The relevant point is that the mischievously astute priests found sundry ways to control the people. The whole racket was motivated by desire for power and control; it was not different from what is found in politics, where, as Machiavelli said, men who need to control people to feel as if their useless lives are really alive go to have their macabre desires met.
Men need to feel like they are, in fact, alive; they sometimes have to pinch themselves to ascertain that they are still alive! Exercising power over other persons can give one a sense of liveliness. Of course, the best way to feel really alive is to do something that is useful for humanity.
Such total control of the people, apparently, was not enough for the clergy and they started distorting money from them. They began building grandiose palaces for themselves and told the people to pay indulgences, money for their sins to be forgiven them by their priests. So you did something wrong and told your priest about it and he had you fork over your property to the Church and told you that your sin was forgiven. This was mafia behavior at its worst.
Indeed, some of the priests were busy having sex with the boy children of the people and if they complained they were threatened with excommunication.
The Roman Church was the heart of hell if ever there is hell. Recently we saw how many of these so-called priests are pedophiles preying on their alter boys while pretending to be men of God. These criminals intimidated the boys and prevented their parents from going to the authorities to report their evil activities. If this could happen in the twenty first century you can only imagine what happened when most of the people were illiterate peasants.
The Church was really the whore of Babylon. Yet very few persons had the courage to complain out loud about the Church's misdeeds; folk kept pretending that the pope was a good man; many popes were homosexual and those who were heterosexual were busy having sex with their parishioners' wives or daughters and producing illegitimate children. The children of the bishops and priests littered the European landscape.
The Church presents a façade of goodness to the people but within the four walls of the church incredible crimes against humanity are committed. And worse, the clergy, apparently, had an understanding that they would not be investigated and punished for their crimes. Until recently they had a memorandum of understanding with the secular leaders for the later not to investigate their criminal activities. These criminals that call themselves church men kept on ripping off the people and the people kept on believing that they were dealing with men of God. Men of God my foot! The mafia learned its tricks from the Roman Catholic Church.
Finally, one man had had enough and went public to register his disgust at what was going on in the Church.
Martin Luther (1483-1546):
Luther was a German monk who was disgusted with the shenanigans he saw going on in his church, particularly the issue of selling indulgence. He also had some theological issues with the church. For example, he did not believe that folk needed to have intercessors between them and their God; he believed that folk ought to read the bible by themselves and use it as their guide rather than rely on priests interpretation of the bible for them (Gutenberg had just invented the movable press and that made it possible to mass publish the bible, making it available to the people; the prospect of people having their own bibles obviously was not feasible when bibles were written by hand, and by monks; a parish would have just one bible).
Luther was not particularly impressed by the Catholic Church's teaching that Jesus was born of virgin birth.
Luther did not believe that the bread and wine (Eucharist) was transformed into actual body of Christ and actual blood of Jesus during mass (transubstantiation).
Nor was Luther interested in celibacy. Where exactly in the bible was it written that priests should not have wives? The idea of celibacy was probably derived from Paul's teaching that it was better to avoid sex.
An analysis of Paul's personality shows that he was probably an obsessive compulsive neurotic, sort of like Augustine, and was struggling with obsession with sex and found some surcease in total submission to God. Luther simply did not see why he should not have sex and as soon as he left the Catholic Church got married and had children (his church, Lutheran church, permits marriage for the clergy).
Luther wrote down his objections to the practices of the Church and posted them on the door to his Church. The church leaders thought that he was small fry and did not bother responding to his complaint until he found many followers, especially among the aristocracy who flocked to him and used his opposition to justify their own resentment of Rome. By the time the Church wised up to what was going on the train had left the station.
John Calvin (1509-1564):
When revolutions begin persons with all sorts of psychological issues join them. John Calvin had this idea that before we are born that God had already determined whether we would come to heaven or not (predestination). If so, one may ask, why bother trying to be a good Christian? Apparently, such rational questions were not asked of this nut. He apparently found followers and formed his own protestant Church in Geneva, Switzerland.
This man actually wanted to establish a theocracy where the members of the church ruled society. He drew out his organizational chat and determined who did what in his theocratic heaven.
Yet this man had some good in him. He preached that his followers ought to be frugal and that they should save their money. It is said that the whole idea of protestant work ethic originated from him and we are told that America, for example, is what she is because white men are disciples of the protestant work ethic.
What is salient is that Europeans finally rebelled against the Catholic Church and folks began reading the bible by themselves and trying to find salvation by themselves without the auspices of the church. This was called the protestant reformation.
Eventually the Church wised up to what was going on. Initially, she tried to stop it through the force of arms. She mobilized those kings and countries that were still loyal to her, such as Spain and its King Phillip, to attack protestant countries and try to re-conquer them for the pope. Some of those countries, such as the Netherlands, were easily re-conquered but the armada sent to conquer England for the pope to exploit was scattered at sea and lucky John Bull escaped the ravaging hands of Rome.
In time the church learned that it could not really re-conquer its lost territories. Indeed, if it did not so something to reform itself it stood to lose those lands still loyal to it. Thus, it carried out what is generally called the Catholic Counter Reformation.
Essentially, some of dreadful practices of the Church were discouraged. New monastic orders were established and those were given the charge of going to the newly discovered new world, the Americas, to go evangelize the natives, convert them to Catholicism.
The Church undertook educating the masses (seeing that the monarchs were already doing so). Thus, the Jesuits took on the responsibility of educating the masses but do it in such a manner that they remained Catholics
(In America the Jesuits practically have a corner on the education market; they have a university in just about every major city and run some of the best parochial secondary and elementary schools. Since America's public schools are a waste of time you have no choice but to send your children to these catholic schools. Guess the outcome of this sordid business? Your children's minds are forever skewed favorably towards the Church, the holy superstition.)
All said the Church made some cosmetic changes to its practices and that way postponed its inevitable death in the hands of scientists such as Richard Dawkins who teach that the idea of God is delusional.
In this lecture we reviewed some of the thinkers that played critical roles as Europe transited from the middle ages to the age of renaissance and reformation. These men helped Europe become prepared for the next phase of her sociopolitical development: entrance into scientific thinking.
Finally, I should say that there is a method to my madness. What I am actually trying to do here is to help Africans realize that, like Europeans, they have to go through certain stages before they eventually enter the scientific world. At present Africans can be said to be at pre-Socratic state of development. They, too, have to go through the process that Europe went through to become modernized. The process does not have to take Africans two thousand years, as it took Europeans; they can compact that amount of time into two hundred years. But go through some developmental process of sorts they must do. You cannot run before you walk.
*Next lecture, Prelude to scientific methodological approach to phenomena and the master minds behind it.
Ozodi Thomas Osuji
August 26, 2009