The Monastic and Ecclesio-political Origins of Some Elements of our Modern Polities, Part 2a (Revision 1)

Two important features of all modern polities are (1) an emphasis on proper procedure and (2) a systematic ensurance of popular consent. Contrary to common expectation, these do not come directly from ancient Greece, leapfrogging into the present, nor do they spring ex nihilo from later Enlightenment conceptions of political life. Rather, they first take on their later forms by way of Late Antique and Medieval monastic and ecclesiastical environments. While we should not wish to make history tidier than it is –the lines of influence are messy ones– this particular line is significant enough that, even if it is later joined by other tributaries, it deserves to be singled out.

In this set of posts we shall look at a trajectory from roughly Benedict of Nursia to Marsilius of Padua, looking over our shoulder, later on, at Aristotle and Cicero. At the end, we shall ask some questions about the meaning of the secular, secularism, and secularity, as illuminated by this history.

In the previous entry, we looked at the Rule of Benedict. Here, we look at the lead-up to a crucial stage in the secularization (i.e., an exportation into the saeculum) of features of the Rule in the writings and life of Gregory I, Roman Pope, also known as Gregory the Great, or (less fortunately) as Gregory the Dialogist.  

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An Example of Historical Distance & Difference: Χάρις, Linguistic Singularity, and Confessional Projection

Translators are confronted with numerous choices when rendering ancient Greek words into English, and one of these is how to bridge the distance between the world of the text and the world of the reader.  This historical distance can be notoriously difficult to see when one engages with a text that has already been translated, and which arrives in the world of the innocent reader as pre-chewed food. (A recent post on the shift in words we translate as “happy” reminded me of the need to write something on this more specifically.) This highlights a central feature of the secularity of our modern world: historical distance, the autonomy of historical epochs and local worlds, and the seeming worldliness of every bridge or road we might build to traverse them. Continue reading

R. A. Markus, Saeculum VI — Coge Intrare

We have now summarized chapters one, two, threefour, and five of Robert A. Markus’ Saeculum.

We turn now to chapter six — not the final chapter of the book (there is one more, and several appendices), but the final one dealing with purely historical matters, and the last we shall cover for the foreseeable future.

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R. A. Markus, Saeculum V — Afer Scribens Afris

We have now summarized chapters one, two, three and four of Robert A. Markus’ Saeculum.

We turn now to chapter five.

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R. A. Markus, Saeculum I — History: Sacred and Secular

Robert A. Markus died of cancer in 2010, at the age of 86. Together with Peter Brown (who cites Markus often in his own works, and contributed the Epilogue to Markus’ Festschrift), Markus was responsible for fleshing-out the territory of the study of Late Antiquity — generously speaking, between Imperial Rome in the third century A.D. and Charlemagne.

Of Romanian Jewish parents (who left Romania in 1939, settling eventually in England), yet later a convert to Catholicism, Markus studied medieval philosophy at Manchester University together with figures like Alasdair MacIntyre, had a stint as a Dominican, and then settled down to marry. He taught at Liverpool, then at Nottingham, taking early (though quite active) retirement.

Saeculum: History and Society in the Theology of St. Augustine, Revised Edition (New York: Cambridge, 2007) was his first significant book (a helpful list of Markus’ publications can be found here). Originally published in 1970, it was eventually revised for a second edition. Markus’ thesis in Saeculum is only slightly slippery: whether we claim (with Thomas M. Parker) that its center is found in “Augustine’s conception of the relation between sacred and secular history”, or in “Augustine’s secularization of political institutions” and his “views on the nature and purpose of human society” (John Dillon), we still come very close to the heart of the book. (The subtitle “History and Society” should suggest as much, since the pair is related, but not totally unified.) In a manner, these senses may be reconciled in Gerard A. Reed’s review, where the book’s heart is to be found in “Augustine consider[ing] [that] Christian society [is] eschatological rather than terrestrial, rejecting any socio-political notions which denied the non-temporal, trans-historical dimensions of his City of God”, though, despite this eschatological acknowledgement, the crux of the book is in the way that Augustine secularized conceptions of history, society (including the “state”), and the Church, by evaluating them all through this-worldly terms and/or ends. The chapters that follow flesh this out. Continue reading