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Servant now master

Saturday, 31 March 2018 at 10:38

Mammon on Dr John Dunn. It is true that the loosening of the leash on the economic dogs of modern-day materialism has not resulted in an unalloyed benefit to society. That which was once the servant, rather the master of civilisation, is now running wild to devastating effect. Regimented and nihilistic lives led to the rigid rule of economic expediency, so easily interpreted in terms of quantity, have overwhelmed any lingering folk memory of a rule of life superior to individual desires and temporary exigencies, which was what the medieval theorists meant by ‘natural law.’ It is hard to imagine the terror felt by medievals attempting to hold the economic wolves at bay, which only heightened their efforts to secure the integrity of the social organism as a complete whole. Their attempted defence against the encroachment of barbarism had in it something of theheroic, and to ignore the nobility of the war against usury is no less absurd than to idealise its practical results. The strength of the ascetic conviction, that was so viscerally opposed to the subordination of religion to economic interests, was demonstrated by the need for a similar persistence amongst the forces which would eventually overturn ‘natural law’ and desacralise society.

© John Dunn.

Risks of infection

Wednesday, 28 March 2018 at 20:02

Money on Dr John Dunn. That the fear of the threat to the social organism never relaxed is demonstrated by the robustly defensive measures taken against usury in the Councils of Lyons (1274) and of Vienne (1312). At Lyons the strictures laid down by the third Lateran Council (1175) were not only reiterated, but strengthened by additional rules which made the money-lender an outlaw. The risks of infection were considered so great that anyone even so much as letting a house to a usurer would be excommunicated, foregoing their right to confession, absolution and Christian burial, and having their wills invalidated.

The further intensification of the defensive measures taken at the Council of Vienne is illustrative of the persistence of usury in Christian communities. A growing number of towns and regions sanctioned usury and compelled debtors to observe usurious contracts, in utter disregard for divine law. The threat of excommunication was used yet again against anyrulers and magistrates knowingly maintaining such laws. The insidiousness of usury’s growing grip on the body of Christendom also led the Council to order the opening of all money-lenders’ accounts to ecclesiastical examination. Anyone who insisted that usury was not a sin would be dealt with by inquisitors as a heretic.

Even these stringencies were insufficient for Edward I of England who in 1290, at the height of the ecclesiastical measures against usury, took action to expel the Jews from his land. Many of them moved to France, only to face expulsion again in 1306 by King Philip IV, before settling in the future commercial centres of the Low Countries, especially Antwerp and Ghent.

© John Dunn.

Base and brutish

Monday, 26 March 2018 at 20:12

Chaucer on Dr John Dunn. Geoffrey Chaucer

The very idea of engagement in economic activity for its own ends, completely divorced from moral ends, simply did not exist in the minds of the general medieval populace. The idea that individuals might have an inborn appetite for personal economic gain, and might therefore be thought of as rational players in a system of economics founded upon individual economic choices, would have been thought of as irrational, let alone immoral, if it could have been countenanced at all. To found asocial philosophy upon individual economic motives would have been considered as base and brutish as as we might think a system of human organisation based upon sexual instincts, only more so.

The non-productive ways in which an individual might seek to acquire or increase his holding of wealth, whether by buying and selling or lendingand borrowing, were lumped together by the Church as avarice, or greed,one of the seven deadly sins. This was especially so amongst the merchants, grocers and victualers who conspired to create local monopolies and cartels, or money-lenders who ground down the poor. For this reason, in what was essentially a pre-money society, with currency asmall, but stable adjunct to to an agrarian economy, any price rises would be looked upon with huge suspicion. Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Talecontains a sermon against avarice, and traders caught using false scales or adulterating food were excommunicated, pilloried, put in the stocks or banished from towns.

© John Dunn.

For the masses

Sunday, 25 March 2018 at 21:26

Plethon on Dr John Dunn. Georgius Gemistus later called Plethon (1355 - 1452)

Plethon's Book of Laws was in part destroyed posthumously by his friend and former student, Georgios Gennadios Scholarios, when the Patriarch of Byzantium, who believed the whole theology to be a reinstating of ancient polytheism. But Scholarios was also one of the Byzantine scholars who introduced scholastic philosophy into the Greek world: in 1435/36 he had translatedPetrus Hispanus' Logic. A scholar so imbued with Aristotelianism as Scholarius could not, or would not, see that Plethon was in fact clothing with new metaphors the Platonic cosmology found in the Timaeus. Plethon was following in the footsteps of Plato and the rest of the conspiracy of intelligence.

Plethon’s Book of Laws has been described as a bid to save Greek identity by restoring the ancient, unique Greek culture. However, Plethon's theogony, in drawing upon Greek gods, was only remotely in accord with ancient mythology as known from Homer and the other sources. It was presented as a work of instruction, as an outline of social, political, and moral order, as Laws. These were dogmas for the masses to which all must adhere.

© John Dunn.


Thursday, 22 March 2018 at 21:18

Heidegger on Dr John Dunn. So blinkered down a path of worldly achievement is modern man that it is not until the very point of death that all the distractions, ambitions, aspirations and flight to the crowd cease to have their analgesic effect and he wakes to the truth of being. Martin Heidegger (left) wrote of this very moment in his History and the Concept of Time, the dread of death - the point of death when the individual is exposed as what he really is. Heidegger wrote, ‘there is thus the possibility, in the very moment of departing from the world, so to speak, when the world has nothing more to say to us and every other has nothing more to say, that the world and our being-in-it show themselves purely and simply.’ The flight of the individual from himself has to end. At the point of death he has no choice but to confront himself. The individual sees himself in all his nakedness. In this we are reminded of the words from Job 1:21, ‘Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ At the point of death, flight is no longer an option. The difference between modern and traditional man is that the latter never thought it was in the first place.

© John Dunn.

The differences

Wednesday, 21 March 2018 at 20:10

Plethon on Dr John Dunn. The differences

The Council of Florence 1438–1439 famously set the stage for the mighty George Gemistos Plethon (left).

Plethon's fame had preceded him when he arrived in Florence as a member of the Byzantine delegation. He was invited by Council attendees to lecture on the differences between Plato and Aristotle. Cosimo d'Medici was in the audience and was so enthused by Plethon’s radical platonism that he founded the Accademia Platonica in Florence, under the directorship of Marsilio Ficino.

With Plethon’s oratory, what had been a covert preservation of Hellenistic thought in the West emerged into open opposition to the Jehovian Terror.Plethon summarised the substance of his lectures in On the Differences of Aristotle from Plato, better known by its shortened Latin title as De Differentiis. Often thought of merely as the first shot in an academic battle that continued in Byzantium with George Scholarios's Defence of Aristotle and Plethon's subsequent Reply, this work sparked the Renaissance uprising against the Guelph nobility,Jewish merchants, money lenders and Venetian financiers who had benefitted for so long from the preservation of the Diocletian Order, Jehovian Terror and the suppression of Hellenistic thought.

© John Dunn.

Two-tiered parables

Thursday, 1 March 2018 at 20:38

Mark on Dr John Dunn. In Jesus’ parables understanding was founded upon an aspect of the story that remained undecipherable without the key being given. The key was only to be made known to the inner circle, as Jesus himself made clear. When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the Kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding’. (Mark 4) For each of the components of a parable there was an analogy. The key to drawing the parallel was given. Without it the analogy remained unknown and the parable could not function in the way that it did for the disciples. Thelatter were given ‘the secret of the Kingdom of God’, the rest were fed parables only.

The existence of a ‘secret’ Gospel of Mark suggests that, just as the parables must be understood to grasp ‘the secret of the Kingdom of God’, then the life of Jesus must also be ‘understood’ to grasp a meaning beyond the mere level of a story. The series of events in his life were themselves the objects of reflection, hence the exasperation of Jesus at the disciples’ failure to understand, which followed his warning about the leaven of the Pharisees:

Do you still not see or understand? 

Are your hearts hardened? 

Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? 

And don’t you remember? 

Do you still not understand? (Mark 8)

Why the exasperation? Because the disciples were behaving like ‘those on the outside’. Because only ‘understanding’, be it of parables or the sequence of events in Jesus’ life, would open ‘the secret of the Kingdom of God’. 

Finally, the two-tiered rendering of parables and the sequence of events in Jesus’ life strongly suggests too that the Kingdom of God had a meaning beyond the superficialities of place, access and membership that might have been the belief of those excluded from the inner circle.

© John Dunn.

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