The Liberating Church

Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism
by Larry Siedentop
Penguin, 2015, 448 pages, $22.99

cross and fistIf you go to Florence and visit the Medici-Ricardi Palazzo you will find, installed by Ricardi between 1682 and 1685, a cycle of frescos painted by Luca Giordano. The remarkable thing about this cycle is that there are no Christian references at all. The cycle begins with the Birth of Man but we do not have the Creator reaching out to touch Adam as in the Sistine Chapel, we have Father Time in the background, we have blindfolded Fate with the globe of the world in her hand and we have many figures that a classics scholar would easily identify as coming from Greek and Roman antiquity. In other words a narrative derived from ancient Greece has replaced the Christian narrative. The cycle bears witness to one of the outcomes of Renaissance thought, that the glory of ancient Greece should rival that of Christendom.

The Renaissance was followed by the Enlightenment in which, especially in France, a sceptical spirit arose that damned Christian culture and would replace it with pure autonomous rationality. The figures of Voltaire, Diderot and the Baron d’Holbach come to mind. During the French Revolution clerics were murdered en masse. Notre Dame in Paris was renamed the Temple of Reason and the date reverted to Year One.

Even in quiet England, Christianity was attacked by David Hume in his Natural History of Religion and by Edward Gibbon in the controversial chapters XV and XVI of his Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. We could add, in more recent times, Bertrand Russell’s silliness about the faith and our own dear demented new atheists. It seems that Christianity is fair game for intellectuals outside the discipline of theology, especially if those intellectuals have gained fame in other disciplines.

The following quotation from Virginia Woolf, writing to her sister in 1928, illustrates my point:

I have had a most shameful and distressing interview with poor dear Tom Eliot, who may be called dead to us all from this day forward. He has become an Anglo-Catholic, believes in God and immortality, and goes to church. I was really shocked. A corpse would seem to me more credible than he is. I mean, there’s something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God.

These are examples of an undeclared civil war in Europe that pitches secularism against Christianity. However, church historians, especially those engaged in the field of the history of ideas, are beginning to hit back and have demonstrated that the accepted narrative of the Church’s involvement in European civilisation is almost completely wrong.

Such an academic is Larry Siedentop. Inventing the Individual belongs to the genre of the history of ideas, much like Tarnas’s The Passion of the Western Mind or Taylor’s Sources of the Self. Siedentop, a fellow of Keble College, Oxford, gives us an accessible journey through the transformations of the self from the pre-classical Western family, through ancient Greece and Rome and the rise of the Church in Europe to the sixteenth century.

The theme that runs through the book and gives it its coherence is the transition between the natural inequality of pre-Christian Europe and the equality of persons fostered by the Faith. In the pre-classical world, the head of the family, the paterfamilias, or the head of the tribe were the only persons to whom self-government was attributed. The position of the paterfamilias was religious: he was the priest of the family who guarded the sacred hearth and presided over appropriate offerings to the gods. All the people in subjection to him were non-persons who were not believed to have minds of their own.

In the classical world of Greece, the only persons who were deemed to be fully human were males who were trained in the faculty of reason. This placed such a person at the top of the great chain of being that determined one’s place in society. Women, children, the uneducated, workers and slaves were essentially non-persons since they were not self-determined. They could not be so because action was deemed to spring directly from reason: “there was no ontological gap between thought and action”, nothing that we would identify as the will. This does not mean that ancient psychology was fundamentally different from our own, but that the culture did not recognise intention as a separate identity from that of reason. Thus, while we recognise reason as instrumental, the ancients thought of it as the essence of a person.

One who could not utilise reason could not be a person in the sense that a citizen was a person. This reflected the prioritising of the intellect and reason by the Greek philosophers. Siedentop calls this “natural inequality” because it conformed to what was understood as the natural hierarchy of beings that accorded a place for everything. A person was determined by his position in this hierarchy for life.

With the rise of the polis and the necessity for broader government this hierarchy was maintained with the recognition of citizens as those who were from elite families and who were trained in reason and oratory. Such citizens ruled with the help of divination from the gods, signs in the heavens, oracles, animal entrails or whatever. The machinery of government was intertwined with a great panoply of religious notions. In Greek and Roman culture reason existed side by side with a mythological consciousness that limited the knowledge of reality and eventually rang the death knell for these cultures.

Siedentop marks the change that lay at the root of our present understanding of persons, not to the Renaissance with its harking back to the thinking of the Greeks, nor to the European Enlightenment with its much-vaunted rediscovery of reason and empiricism, but to the influence of one who is outside of much contemporary history writing: St Paul.

St Paul saw that persons were not determined by their birth or education or position in life or race but that all stood before God as independent souls. Paul broke with the ancient world when he proclaimed: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Paul demolished the hierarchy of being with reason at the top when he wrote:

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:20–25)

 Siedentop elaborates: “Paul’s conception of the Christ introduces the individual, by giving conscience a universal dimension. Was Paul the greatest revolutionary in human history?”

You can see how the new religion that overtook the ancient world destroyed that world forever. There could be no going back to belief in the obviously invented pantheon of gods. These were all swept away by the Christian proclamation of the triune God that combined the historical with the transcendent and opened a world of introspective consciousness for all. The church saw itself as being in the business of the cure of souls and produced a revolution in the understanding of the self.

As the effect of Christianity on Europe deepened, society was transformed by example. The early monastics modelled an interior life of prayer, discipline and self-denial. Where the ancients lauded the man of oratory and action, the early monastics modelled a life of reflection, of interiority. The government of the later monasteries provided an example of democratic government, with the higher positions established from below. The emergence of the Vatican as an independent state with courts and administration modelled the establishment of similar mechanisms in emerging nation-states. All of these developments relied on Christian egalitarianism, of society consisting of individual souls and the development of the inherent rights of those souls. Indeed, the incarnation of Jesus, in whom God came among us as an individual, was the “ultimate support for individual identity”.

Again and again Siedentop illustrates how the modern world emerged not in spite of the Church but because of it in almost every detail. Compared to the achievements of the Church, those of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were derivative rather than original. For example it was William of Ockham (1287–1347), a Franciscan friar, whose razor we are familiar with, who established the idea of empiricism, that we know through experience and not because of innate ideas of the eternal Platonic forms. Ockham introduced the idea of contingency in the natural world that showed the necessity of scientific measurement and the impossibility of obtaining knowledge of the objective world by a priori reasoning. He thus laid the foundations for natural science three hundred years before the beginning of British empiricism. It turns out that John Locke’s understanding of the mind as a clean slate was not original.

This account of Church history from earliest times to the fifteenth century is a must for anyone who wants to know how we came to be as we are. Siedentop’s conclusion is that the Church gave us our understanding of the self and secular liberalism. The latter comes as a surprise because many of us in the Church, including myself, have railed for years about the damage done by secular liberalism. A summary statement tells much of the story:

The roots of liberalism were firmly established in the arguments of philosophers and canon lawyers by the fourteenth and early fifteenth century: belief in a fundamental equality of status as the proper basis for a legal system; belief that enforcing moral conduct is a contradiction in terms; a defense of individual liberty, through the assertion of fundamental or “natural” rights; and, finally the conclusion that only a representative form of government is appropriate for a society resting on the assumption of moral equality.

This is a compelling picture but it does not explain how the gift of the Church of liberal secularism has become such a desert in our time. This is not a criticism of the book, but recognition that more must be said, that today we live within the gift of liberal secularism but stripped of its origin in Christianity. We have taken secular liberalism as our salvation, and it is so, but it has led us to a freedom that looks more and more like a void. We have taken hold of the outcome of Christianity while, at the same time, refusing its content. Thus, in our freedom we still suffer from what John Carroll has called “the ordeal of unbelief”. We live in a time conditioned by Christianity without Christ.

This book is a welcome counter-blow to the undeclared civil war waged in Europe between secularism and Christianity. Those on the side of secularism are fond of a narrative that places the Church in opposition to reason and a promoter of superstition, a high irony considering its use of reason to establish essential social institutions and the devastation it wrought on Greek and Roman religion that was superstition to the core.

Eighteenth-century history writing gave us a bias against Scholasticism, read at a very superficial level, and promoted the Renaissance and the Enlightenment over against the Dark Ages purportedly brought to us by the Church. Siedentop shows us how, even with the plague and the barbarian invasions, the Dark Ages were not dark at all but a ferment of theological, legal and philosophical activity that laid the foundation for modernity. “The conventional interpretation also relates the emergence of liberalism to a new skepticism bred by the interest in and sympathy with antiquity.”

Siedentop demonstrates, with a vast understanding of historical research, that the conventional interpretation is almost entirely mistaken. Rather than the Church promoting superstition and irrationality, it used reason to build a workable legal system on Roman foundations with the added insight of Christian egalitarianism. It used reason to elucidate theology, at times borrowing from Greek thought and at other times rejecting it. The Church was the prime enemy of superstition, especially that of Greek and Roman religion—yet modern thinkers accuse the Church of superstition and acclaim the rationality of the Greeks.

The conclusion that the Church was responsible for secular liberalism will not ring true for many. There are of course many instances when the Church behaved violently to unbelievers in a most illiberal manner. For example, in 782 the Christian emperor Charlemagne beheaded 4500 Saxon non-Christians outside Bremen. We could make a long list of terrible acts carried out in the name of the Christian God. If we return to Florence we could recount the response of the Church to art that did not reflect the Christian ethos in the activity of Girolamo Savonarola (1452–98) a Dominican friar who delivered many paintings to the flames in the famous “bonfire of the vanities”. The two paintings of Botticelli that now hang in the Uffizi, The Birth of Venus and the Primavera, both treating pre-Christian subjects, were saved. We do not know how many were lost. In an ironic turn of fortune, Savonarola himself was consigned to the flames. Where then the Church’s liberalism? Indeed where now is the liberal spirit in the Roman Church, which refuses communion to the divorced?

Siedentop’s history is of how the Church fulfilled the liberal aspiration of St Paul over a period of 1500 years. It took time for the Church to be conformed to the gospel, as it takes a lifetime for the individual. Progress is only made through introspection and confession. It is absurd to think that the gentle Galilean was the source of cruelty and illiberalism, but believable that it took so long for our hearts to soften to his witness. Accusers of the Church fail to separate the gospel of grace from the use of religion in the hands of evil men and women.

Peter Sellick is an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences. An earlier version of this review appeared on the On Line Opinion website

8 thoughts on “The Liberating Church

  • Ross Tatam says:

    Thanks Peter for this illuminating article which reminded me of many of the ‘discoveries’ I made when undertaking an all too brief study of church history some years ago.

  • says:

    This review by Peter Sellick helps in understanding why the Christian movement was so succesful in peacefully converting so much of the ancient world and providing the framework for the modern world of personal liberty [Mohammedanism in the 7th century halted further growth of the peaceful Christian movement]. Anglicans in Sydney might well wish that Moore Theological College gave post-apostles-church growth a significant emphasis in the theology course so that eventually it permeated out to parishioners and to the wider community.

    We need no more left wing politics such as comes from one WA and former convicted terrorist,now an Anglican vicar, pressing the church to divest money from the coal industry in an effort to save the world.

  • says:

    Thank you for a well written, compelling and comprehensive analysis of Siedentop’s book. Your review helped me appreciate that his interpretation of certain historical events has logic, is convincing, and is probably very accurate. However as an atheist it still does nothing to convince me of the existence of god. It merely demonstrates that in times past there were many Christians who were more civilised, moral and humane than some of their contemporaries. Quoting some of the absurdities of the likes of Virginia Woolf and other leftist commentators, academics and philosophers like Bertrand Russell is similarly proof of nothing else bar to expose the limits of human thought. Similarly despite your/Sidentrop’s valid assessment of the limitations of Greek philosophy/thoughts in that it excluded half of the human population, it doesn’t necessarily negate what they proposed at the time.

    You [or Siedentop] might have considered quoting the valid thoughts of others concerning the age old dilemma of the merits of faith versus reason. eg. Blaise Pascal “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction,” or Jonathan Swift “it is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he wasn’t reasoned into.” Voltaire’s take on religion – “Those who can get you to believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” – is particularly apt in the context of modern day Islamic terrorism. I once read a quote that said in essence – “without religion or god, good men will still do good deeds and evil men will still do bad deeds, but for good men to do evil deeds it takes religion”.

    I would like somebody [perhaps yourself] to explain the how and why that ‘faith’ may still be a valid/useful concept/construct in a world of atomic weapons. The biblical definition – “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” – [or more simply put – “trusting in something you cannot explicitly prove.”] is not re-assuring in an era of universal deceit. Especially when put in the context of assessing the merit of ‘scientific’ issues such as ‘climate change’ ‘global warming’ unexpected weather events’ etc. etc.

    I will finish by stating that most Christians are genuine in their beliefs and have honest/good intentions. But as stated in the bible – ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. Or to give it a modern context as according to America’s most quotable economist/philosopher Thomas Sowell – ‘the road to hell is paved with sociology degrees from Ivy League Universities’ – again all with only the best intentions.

    • pgang says:

      “I would like somebody [perhaps yourself] to explain the how and why that ‘faith’ may still be a valid/useful concept/construct in a world of atomic weapons.”

      Why do you need somebody to nurse you through it? Why can’t you read any of the myriad of books and resources out there for yourself? Why not get involved in a church?

      Anyway today faith and belief have become neoplatonist, individualistic terms relating to some sort of internalised, obscure mysticism. For Paul the reality of God was a given, particularly when you realise that many of the people he associated with had actually known Jesus (Paul met him once too). Paul was quite concerned about faithfulness, which the modern church seems to have forgotten about. If you have faith in the blood covenant that Jesus made with us as the incarnate God, then you will live out a life of faithfulness, through love. As to atomic weapons, they are things that are part of our sinful life and don’t change the equation at all. Jesus will still return, as promised (have faith, be faithful, love one another).

      As to the book, I’m finding it a little disappointing given that it comes from a shallow secular viewpoint. Paul seems to be misinterpreted as some sort of Greek philosopher trying to expound a new theory. To discuss Paul without also discussing Jesus doesn’t really make sense, but I guess it’s the fashionable thing to do. But I’m only about a fifth through the book so far so it might improve.

  • ian.macdougall says:

    Peter Sellick:

    Even in quiet England, Christianity was attacked by David Hume in his Natural History of Religion and by Edward Gibbon in the controversial chapters XV and XVI of his Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. We could add, in more recent times, Bertrand Russell’s silliness about the faith [?] and our own dear demented new atheists.[!] It seems that Christianity is fair game for intellectuals outside the discipline of theology, especially if those intellectuals have gained fame in other disciplines.

    This is OK, provided one ignores the information that has come in particularly in the 20th C, via the astronomical telescope (which ever since Galileo’s time has been the enemy of theology and its doctrines and dogmas.)
    The astronomer Carl Sagan once said that there are not enough sand grains on all the beaches in the world to represent all the stars in the Universe: each one with a single grain of sand. The Universe is incredibly vast, incredibly complex, and incredibly beautiful. Yet ever since St Paul, Christians have been expected to believe that this whole lot was created, and is presided over, by a bloodthisty sky-tyrant who is obsessed with the outrage of human sin on this one little planet in this vast ocean of space-time: sin somehow genetically transmitted from the first woman (Eve) who ate of a forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (most likely somewhere around the Black Sea) and then suggested to her partner (Adam) that he should do likewise, and never mind the consequences.
    Those consequences according to Christian theology have been all the wars, murders, robberies and other sinful outrages since, for which the ‘Vengeance is mine’ sky-tyrant paid himself off: by taking human form as Christ and getting crucified. Thus the Sky-tyrant paid himself the price for all the sins that have ever been or ever will be.
    This is probably fair enough, because although he was omniscient, he failed to foresee the train-wreck that would follow on this little speck in the vastness of space-time as a consequence of his decision to grant Adam and Eve free will.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    “We could add, in more recent times, Bertrand Russell’s silliness about the faith and our own dear demented new atheists.”

    Definition of demented: behaving irrationally due to anger, distress, or excitement.

    I would love to hear why you would think it demented or irrational to question your book given the words it contains.

  • wse999 says:

    The desperate Deacon? False faith in Larry Siedentop’s Christian take on “The Origins of Western Liberalism”?
    Like an ocean sailor pleased to see land after too long at sea Deacon Sellick latches onto Larry Siedentop’s ambitious “Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism” (Penguin, 2015) because, as the Deacon explains in his paraphrasis, the book strenuously argues these “Origins” lie firmly within the Christian ambit and, bringing a contemporary religious agenda, makes no bones about its polemical message: “Secularism is Christianity’s gift to the world.. Europe’s noblest achievement.”
    It thus takes serious issue with the now broadly conventional narrative which sees Reason powered empirical / evidence-based secularist Modernity emerging from the overthrow of a faith-based religious (Christian) mindset in a turbulent process set in Western Europe, yes with some ante-natal roots in the Middle Ages but mainly running from the Reformation through the 17th C Scientific Revolution to the 18th C Enlightenment and beyond to today, and which process the Church violently resisted.
    Another recent book (“The Middle Ages” by Johannes Fried, translated by Peter Lewis, Belknap Press, 2014) also argues that the Dark Ages were not so dark, that again, under the umbrella of Church, we see the roots of modern liberal thought, citing Charlemagne, Boethius, Pope Gregory the Great, itinerant Irish clergy, emergence of universities in 12th C, and the first steps in open enquiry through Roger Bacon, Willam of Ockham and Albert Magnus.
    But trying to sheet home the seeds of Western liberalism to a Christian nursery entails a Procrustean rhetorical exercise, bending over backwards to force the argument to fit dearly held pre-conceptions.
    Professor Siedentop’s book has been taken to task by at least two other serious historians.
    Samuel Moyn (Professor of Law and History at Harvard University) in the Boston Review, February 09, 2015, writes: “Siedentop’s first main claim is how Christianity through St Paul freed the individual from traditional family power structures”, as in ancient Greece and Rome. But he says “… this assumption is harder to prove than Siedentop thinks.” The key problem is that Paul was not talking about “equality” in this life but the next! Paul spoke of “casting off the shackles of slavery.. [but] in a world where slavery remained…a basic institution.” Thus Siedentop “fails to mention that Paul relied on that image only in describing what Christianity would achieve for the soul after death. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul counselled followers to dutifully accept the shackles of the body in this life…. Siedentop constantly substitutes conclusion for explanation… Siedentop’s book largely turns into a chronicle of medieval Christian history… .”
    Moyn asks “why, during the same Middle Ages when Christianity was supposedly becoming modern liberalism below the surface, its adherents dedicated themselves to crusading violence abroad and principled intolerance at home”. Because “truth is that if Christianity became liberalism, it wasn’t during the [Middle Ages]… Siedentop dallies in the Middle Ages in implausible reaction to anxiety and worry, distorting the history of liberalism and omitting how much further it had to go—still has to go—to take individual freedom and equality seriously.”
    David Abulafia (Professor of Mediterranean history, University of Cambridge), reviewing for the Financial Times, January 24, 2014, points out Siedentop’s book misses a lot of bases, both early in Christianity’s rise, and in the Middle Ages. Thus, “most of the supposedly revolutionary passages he cites from the New Testament were quotations from the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish sources…. He traces a distinctly western tradition of “moral equality”, ignoring the fact that the Churches in the east, notably the Greek Orthodox Church, also knew St Paul backwards; and he is uninterested in the possibility that Islam too preached a sort of “moral equality” of believers..”
    And, “The idea that the Middle Ages, rather than the Italian Renaissance, saw the “discovery of the individual” is [one] … cultivated by medieval historians for quite a while..” Like Oxford historian Richard Southern. ”Southern’s idea turned on….. St Anselm, who at the end of the 11th century tried to grapple with the significance for his fellow Christians of God becoming man…” Siedentop relies “heavily on the eloquent but dated works of François Guizot..” and overlooks many aspects of “.. the evolution of the idea of the individual..” in the Middle Ages covered by other historians.
    The reality is Professor Siedentop’s book is a laboured if articulate exercise in wishful thinking which starts with the conclusion then steps way back in time to focus on selected aspects of the history of Western thought to justify it, but leaving out much other relevant thought and without demonstrating any necessary causal link with his bold conclusions.
    Siedentop and the Deacon make much of the “natural inequality” in ancient Greece, where the individual was locked into traditional family structures, subordinated to religion. Deacon Sellick: “In Greek and Roman culture reason existed side by side with a mythological consciousness that limited the knowledge of reality.”
    But the beauty of ancient Greece and why their thinkers are justly renowned is because the Greeks famously limited the role for religion and beyond that allowed philosophers to roam free in speculating on the natural world, and with great insight (eg “the legacies of Stoicism, Epicureanism and scepticism” that feed directly to the birth of the rational Modern mind), whereas the Christian Church, far from championing free-ranging Reason, did just the opposite, strenuously tried to Christianise Knowledge, ex-cathedra, to throw a cloak over all knowledge of the natural world, fencing it off from prying open-minded Reason.
    Siedentop salutes William of Ockham but the claim he “laid the foundations for natural science three hundred years before the beginning of British empiricism” (Sellick) draws a long bow (the Elizabethan Francis Bacon c1600 was far more important) and is also irrelevant to the argument, using “guilt by association” by claiming that Ockham’s progressive thinking was somehow Christian because he happened to be Franciscan monk. In fact Ockham’s reflections offended the (Avignon) Papacy and he was excommunicated and fled to Bavaria.
    Yes we can see in the Middle Ages pointers to liberal reform through William of Ockham et al, but they were not seminal. A Mediaeval circumstance far more important in triggering a questioning of the old order, and thus the emergence of Modern free-thinking, was the catastrophic Europe-wide Black Death from 1347, which significantly shook popular confidence in the Church’s overarching role in society, coinciding too with ongoing concern for corruption in the Church.
    Important too in undermining the overarching faith-based religious schema, in opening minds to freer thought, were, yes the Renaissance; then the 17th C scientific revolution; the steady emergence and rise of a literate, more open-minded and progressive commercial bourgeois merchant class (beginning especially in the Dutch Republic, thence England); and finally too the exploration of the world outside Europe, by land (through access to Asia) and by sea (to America and Asia), which revealed a panoply of other peoples and cultures. Greasing the wheels of debate, the discussion and dissemination of ideas, were the invention and application of the printing press, and coffee shops!
    Resort to St Paul near two millennia ago as a key witness in “Inventing the Individual”, and to “reformist” rumblings within the Mediaeval Christian world, is an elaborate and desperate exercise to avoid the bleeding obvious. We don’t need St Paul and beyond to “Invent the Individual” when, in the best Ockhamite tradition, a much simpler explanation makes sense, namely that finally Man took off the religious-coloured spectacles. Whatever the complexities, at the heart of the Modernist revolution was the primacy of the free-thinking open-minded individual, and groups, applying evidence-based Reason to the conduct of man’s collective affairs and to his understanding of the natural world, detached from any self-serving religious preconceptions. The radical new mindset was summarised by Immanuel Kant (1784): “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.” And in his famous motto: ‘dare to know’ (sapere aude).
    At least the Deacon is honest: “There are… many instances when the Church behaved violently to unbelievers in a most illiberal manner.” Indeed, but his list is selective. It should include the Crusades (from c1100), Jewish pogroms (which started in the context of the Crusades), the Inquisition in its various manifestations from the 12th C onwards, and then particularly the catastrophic religious wars of the Counter-Reformation, first in France in the late 16th C, then in the Netherlands as the imperial Spanish Catholics resisted freedom and reform, and then especially in the extraordinarily destructive and pointless Thirty Years War (which included “witch”-burning), c1618-48, which engulfed Germany and its surrounds. Yes the Thirty Years War fed on secular politics but the trigger was religious discord.
    These were not marginal or peripheral matters of violence but integral to the history of the Church, were all about the Church suppressing dissent, trying to defend its faith-based model, ultimately against the implications of the open-minded Reason based liberalism which Siedentop et al claim the Church actually midwifed!
    Stepping right back, for the Christian Church to claim ownership of the origins of Western liberalism – as though it would not have happened without it, was somehow intimately related to Christian doctrine – seems not only arrogant and presumptuous but preposterous, as if the successful Western model is somehow be divinely ordained, and not just by any god but by the Christian God! When a simple alternative explanation (albeit dense in its detail) is looking straight at us.
    Yes historically the unfolding of the “Enlightenment”, the emergence of the rational Modern mindset, was complex in its detailed strands of argument, across a number of national jurisdictions, the substance of which process is still debated keenly today. And yes it involved the Church in various ways, through funding scholarship and through some of its “members” contributing crucially to the gestation exercise, at least as individuals. But it’s also clear the institutional authority of the Catholic Church, doctrinally and executively, was, understandably, fundamentally opposed to the thrust of the movement.
    “The Enlightenment” – the birth of the Modern, the launching the application of unfettered Reason to Man’s affairs – entailed a long and tangled journey, across millennia, of Man sloughing off unquestioning submission to traditional thought structures ultimately because, end of the day, it was rational to do so.

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