Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Decline and Fall of Latin Christian Civilization

Every person and group faces a choice, at each moment, whether to follow Jesus on the path of freedom or six conventional Olympian gods on the path of power. Over an extended period of time, persons and groups establish themselves either on the Christian side of the spectrum or on the Olympian side. They also tend to move toward one end of the spectrum or the other.

In his book, An Historian’s Approach to Religion (1956), English historian Arnold Toynbee expressed his admiration for the Medieval Western Christian way of living because it maintained an unusual and delicate balance between freedom and power. Certain Latin Christian leaders kept themselves closer to the freedom end of the spectrum than was true of those before and after them. The best years of this balance, according to Toynbee, began in 1073 with the papacy of Gregory 7th.

With Gregory, political rulers more or less intellectually assented to Christian teachings and outwardly conformed to Christian morals. Intellectual leaders did not publicly challenge the Latin Christian worldview. For his part, Gregory did not interfere in strictly political affairs and allowed intellectuals the freedom to explore non-Christian thinkers. This gave Latin Christendom a unique “social diversity in unity” (169) lacking in Greek Christendom.

Eventually this creative medieval balance broke down. This breakdown led to the emergence, after 1648, of the Age of Exuberant Olympianity. That, in turn, resulted in the formation of the catastrophic Global Technological System under which all creation inescapably suffers today.

Toynbee identifies several causes that led to the tragic breakdown of the creative medieval balance between freedom and power:

1. Pope Innocent 3rd (r. 1198-1216) abandoned the freedom of Jesus in order to politically destroy Frederick 2nd, King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor, and the Hohenstaufen dynasty. Everyone knew that Innocent was engaging in unadulterated power politics and that this was unbecoming the leader of the Latin Christian Church. In other words, Innocent abandoned the freedom of Jesus to use the power of Jupiter, god of politics, to gain wholly Olympian political ends.

2. Babylonian Captivity (1309-1376): during this period of time, the popes and their bureaucracy left the city of Rome for Avignon where they lived as captives to the policies of the rulers of France. Having lost their political power, these church leaders attempted to compensate by amassing great wealth at the expense of ordinary churchgoers across Latin Christendom. Left unrewarded by Jupiter, god of politics, these church leaders devoted themselves to Pluto, god of money, and Bacchus, god of consumption, rather than repent of their lust for power and return to Jesus.

3. Great Schism (1378-1417). From 1378, two men claimed to be the one true pope; beginning in 1410, three men did. Their underlying disputes were political rather than theological. This lack of unity at the top weakened the unity of the whole. Devotion to Jupiter—otherwise known as political partisanship—further weakened the unity of minds and hearts possible only in the freedom of Jesus and the love which that makes possible.

4. Rejection of the Conciliar Movement needed to repair the lost unity at the top and of the whole. The Conciliar Movement grew out of the Council of Constance (1414-1418) which had proven necessary to end the Great Schism. Leading bishops and theologians across Latin Christendom wanted to continue the needed work of reform along with—or in spite of—the pope. Successive popes, however, beginning with the Council of Basel (1431-1449) and ending with that of Florence (1438-1445), were able to force enough other Latin Christian leaders to affirm the supremacy of the bishop of Rome over even a council of all other leading bishops of Latin Christendom.

5. The Protestant Reformation (1517-1648) was one direct consequence of the rejection of the Conciliar Movement. To maintain their own supremacy, popes remained indifferent to the increasingly pressing need for reform. In the 1500s, reformers took their advocacy for reforms, and implementation of them, out of papal hands.

6. The Renaissance of Olympian Culture (1345-1563). One traditional date given for the beginning of the Renaissance is the year (1345) that Petrarch discovered a previously unknown collection of letters by Cicero. We may regard the year (1563) in which the Council of Trent concluded as marking the end of the Renaissance—at least in Rome. There were no more Renaissance popes after that.

The Protestant Reformation was unintentionally sparked by Martin Luther on October 31, 1517, when he publicly challenged the sale of indulgences. Leo 10th, pope, second son of Lorenzo de’ Medici of Florence, and patron of Renaissance artists, completely missed the significance of this challenge. Had his mind and heart been more focused on Jesus than on Jupiter and Bacchus, perhaps the Latin Christian Church, of which he was ruler, might still have embraced the changes so necessary to its vitality.

7. Wars of Religion (1522-1648). Latin Christian Church leaders, increasingly abandoning Jesus for the gods of Olympianity, lurched from one disaster to the next from 1201 to 1522. Their increasingly blind devotion to the Olympian gods finally ended in their exaltation of Mars, god of war, in what we may rightly call the Latin Christian Civil War. The worst result: these church leaders disgraced the name of Jesus Christ. By doing so, they ironically got Jesus, and devotion to him, blamed for the enduring agonies of war when, in reality, it was their own devotion to the Olympian gods, especially Mars, that caused the bloodbath. What a stunning victory for the gods—from which we all still suffer.

Copyright © 2018 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.