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Reformation and the new paideuma

Wednesday, 4 Dec 2013

Martin Luther on Staff and Scrip, Dr John Dunn First posted Thursday, 17 January 2013 at 19:47

I have been interested for some time in the way modern thinking arose out of the Reformation period - hence the earlier blog dated Monday 14 January and another to follow this.

By1571 in England, a mere thirty years after the suppression of the monasteries, the Act of 1552, which had prohibited all interest as ‘a vyce moste odyous and detestable, as in dyvers places of the hollie Scripture it is evident to be seen’*, had been swept away. This was but the outward expression of the new paideuma**,a view which held that the world of money and commerce existed in an amoral sphere of their own, separate and apart from religion and ethics.

Religious belief would become increasingly a private affair, whilst the ‘freedom’ of the market reflected the struggle amongst the various possessors of wealth for supremacy. Everything would have its price in this blind battle of everyone against everyone. Everything would eventually be bought and sold. Nothing would escape the meshes of this devil’s mill.

Gone was the concept of society as a social organism in which everyone had his or her diverse, but equally important, part to play. Society would now consist of the elect and unelect, winners and losers, the chosen and the rest, in a civil society that grew out of Calvin’s covenantal or contractual view of church and society as voluntary associations.

Medieval society had been characterised by familiarity; people achieved a level of freedom whereby they could do whatever they pleased without fear of violating the norms of the society***. In contrast, civil society would slowly, but surely, sever all the ties of familiarity, put egoism and selfish need in the place of familial ties, and dissolve the human world into one of atomistic individuals who are inimically opposed to one another. This is a process of severance that continues globally to this day.

There had once been no division between the inner and personal life of religion and the practical interests of the external order. After the Reformation all national, natural, moral, and theoretical conditions would become extrinsic to man.

Practical need and egoism began to replace salvation as the motivating force of society and, as such, would eventually appear in purest form as soon as civil society had fully given birth to the political states of Europe and North America. Undoubtedly, in the new monotheism following the Reformation, money was and remains the god of practical need and self-interest.

The rending of the inner life from the external material world continues to this day, as the dominant economies,with their liberal ideology, countenance no resistance to the imposition of civil society and the worship of money worldwide.

The Medieval individual was once part of an order of faith that stretched from the parish church and manor, to kingship, the Holy Roman Empire and Christendom. After the Reformation man’s supreme relation became the legal one. His relation to laws became valid for him not because they were the familiar laws of his own will and nature, but because they were the dominant laws and because departure from them was avenged.

There had been no place in Christian medieval life for any economic activity which was unrelated to a sacred end. It is important to understand the holistic nature of this worldview, for it was the totality of traditional society that distinguished it from the post-Reformation world, in which work came to be accepted as a practical necessity****,a view that would eventually fragment tradition’s authority. In fact, fragmentation could be said to be the hallmark of the new paideuma.


*Quoted in R. H. Tawny, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Pelican, p.183

**A term coined by Leo Frobenius and described by Ezra Pound as meaning ‘the tangle or complex of the inrooted ideas of any period. . . , the gristly roots of ideas that are in action’.

***Click on Thought Pieces and see ‘Our wills become one single will’.

****Art resists this notion of work. The post-Reformation and Renaissance eras saw the rise of the artist who signed his work, who expressed himself, the artist often as rebel and outsider.

John Dunn.







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