24) Intellectual Heresies

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A New Day Dawns

In the Wake of the Plague

After the Black Death had passed and the last of Europe's pock ridden corpses had been laid to rest, a new age of plenty began. Most of Europe had seen a population cut of near 50% and as high as 65% in some areas. Nobility as well as peasants had seen proportionally equal death tolls. However, because of its monastic living style and priests lost due to the performance of last rights, the Church had sustained an even greater percentage of loses. Consequently, new clerics had been quickly recruited to the shrunken ranks, often times illiterate and with rushed training.

Burying the Dead of the Plague

In an oncoming age of questions, the Church's reduced ranks and ill trained conscripts would work to a disadvantage as often time educated laity would questions Church doctrine. Literacy would begin to rise within the shrunken population and discoveries abroad would provoke questioning reason.

Ante-Nicene Echos

Memories of Sectarian Upheaval

The foundation of the Church was, and remains, its canonical gospels. Earlier on, we covered how, as the Church grew, most gospel sourcing was communicated as oral tradition and how it wasn't until the end of the first century that scribing had actually begun. Consequently, by 325 CE and the Council of Nicaea, the gospels had unwittingly undergone considerable change. Every new missionary outpost had incorporated its own translation and contextual differences. This process had repeated until contrasting interpretations had evolved and developed into unique Christian sects.

Subsequently, each of these sects (Gnostic, Arian, etc.) developed, and even elaborated upon, annotations regarding the divinity of Christ, the trinity as well as any ambiguous theological points the initial apostolic evangelists had failed to thoroughly define or deliberately left as articles of faith

There was little harmony within the early Church, as sectarian views and fundamental beliefs began to conflict. Consequently, the results of Nicaea had been a consensus on generally acceptable text through the elimination of what were believed to be pseudepigraphal works. The creation of the Nicene Creed established heresy for those who disagreed. However, unforeseen at Nicaea was any consideration of the eventual reconstituted gospels falling into the hands of a literate laity at some future date, a consideration that was then beyond the scope of imagination. However, this is exactly what would happen during the Age of Discover, after the printing press took hold. 

Illuminated Manuscript
Illuminated Manuscript

Papal Concerns Over Literacy

By the 13th century, Europe’s then extensive monastic system had considerable time to internally transcribe the gospels as illuminated manuscript. With the exception of clerical members of the church, educated nobility and, to some extent, early universities, the pre-plague Christian world had remained mostly illiterate. In fact, illiteracy is now thought to have been higher during the Middle Ages than at any time during ancient Rome. Subsequently, it was during this period the papacy began, for the first time, to express concerns over manuscripts eventually falling into literate, sectarian hands, with the result of Ante-Nicene sectarian arguments of belief once again erupting.

The Bible and Mundus Novus

Discovery Abroad, Division at Home

Martin Luther
New territories were not the only frontiers of discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries. Accepting the world as round and not flat, forced Christendom to begin inquiries into all types of previous unquestioned dogma. Consequently, the German provinces of Europe were beginning to look beyond Rome and the established Church for its spiritual guidance.

Division began with Protestant outcries when Jan Hus spoke out against indulgences in his address entitled Quaestio magistri Johannis Hus de indulgentiis. This was echoed by Martin Luther again, in 1417 with his Ninety-Five Theses and again during his hearing in 1421 before the Diet of Worms. It was when, Luther was challenged over his concerns over the legitimacy of purchased indulgences and the Pope's supreme power of Plenitudo potentates (supreme judgment) in civil and secular matters

The Gutenberg Press
The Gutenberg Press
Mass Communication

Meanwhile, discoveries in Africa and the New World had generated considerable, even a novel fascination with cartography. Subsequently, maps printed from metal plate engravings emerged as a new industry. This lead to the development and limited use of movable type, which eventually developed into early typesetting and text printing ("Letterpress printing").

Then, on October 22, of 1454, a German craftsman and son of a mapmaker, named Johannes Gutenberg, refined these processes into the first true printing press. His first publication was a run of between 158 and 180 Bibles. Print publication had finally emerged. Exponentially faster and more precise than the handwritten word, manufactured printing would force the growth of literacy as it enabled rapid communication of knowledge and ideas across entire continents. It would forever change the course of human history and eventually become as powerful a force as religion.  


Liborum Prohibitorum (Venice 1564)
Gutenberg's initial run of sacred text was purchased by universities and nobility, as most of Europe remained illiterate. Nevertheless, his publication strained even further the relationship between Germany and Rome. The Church had prohibited the reproduction and circulations of scripture as far back as the 1210 Synod of Toulouse, wherein its fourteenth canon directive forbade, what it called, the "misuse of scriptures", stating: 
This was later reiterated, through an altered decree in 1234, with the Council of Tarragona's second canon ruling:
This later, modified decree of Tarragona limited condemnation to unauthorized ownership of bibles employing the Romance languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, etc.). It could then be interpreted as a loosening of the 1210 Synod, in that it appeared to limit ownership to the Latin Vulgate or earlier Greek bibles. Gutenberg had published his bible in Latin. Moreover, the latter edict abstained from forbidding "laity" ownership and, even though universities and nobility where in continuous congress with the Church, they remained laity. In short, the 1234 ruling by the Council of Tarragona freed Gutenberg from any potential charge of heresy

Bishop with Priests
Bishop with Priests
Isolated Source

Since 325 CE and the Council of Nicaea, the elimination of sectarian division through the standardization of canonic gospel and the establishment of heresy as a crime, worked to maintain overall control. All written scripture had remained behind Church walls, only to be espoused in holy Mass by priests under the oversight of the local bishop. Subsequently, ancient oral tradition during the mass continued to be maintained but only after being sourced from a common manuscript retained within and throughout the Church.

However, releasing a comprehensive Missal or Bible to the public was viewed as liberating somewhat complex and even conflicting scriptures to an unschooled, unrestrained audience. Confusing and even arguable points of divinity would then be presented in a non-discriminating fashion without any schooled or authorized (Church appointed) oversight. To the Church, the concept of owning a bible appeared downright ante-Nicene, even radical.

Support and Restraint for New Age Thinking

Educational Advancements

It's clear from the remark above the Catholic Church was internally divided in regarding higher education, for eventually the Church restricted certain texts as heretical. At the top of the lists were itemized theological teachings and Aristotelian physics (Condemnations of 1210-1277). This is around the same time the Italian monk, Thomas Aquinas, embraced Aristotle's philosophies. However, not all universities (i.e.: University of Toulouse) upheld restrictions and in some instances advertised availability of censured works as enrollment promotions. In any event, it’s unclear what impact these restrictions had at universities which upheld the restrictions (i.e.: University of Paris) as students, likeminded with Copernicus and Galileo, apparently retained access to libraries, even if the topics were not covered in the classroom. In another instance, the University of Oxford restricted studies but permitted public discussion.

Christian Science Timeline

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas

The Luther Bible
The Luther Bible
Council of Trent
Due to the printing press, the spread of scientific and theological thought was progressing as rapidly as the uncovering of new geographic territoriesBy the mid 16th Century, the Church was confronting sectarian division similar to what had existed at the time of the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.

Like the earlier, differing, sectarian views regarding Christ's divinity, the trinity and such, Emperor Constantine and the gathered bishops of Nicaea had reached a consensus to censure opponents with potential charges of heresy. Consequently, Pope Paul III convened the Council of Trent (1545-63) in Trento (Trent) and later Bologna Italy, to address the rapidly expanding arguments (Protestantism) and Counter-Reformation, which by then Pope Pius and the bishops had concluded to be heretical.  

Ironic Calendar Fix

What became one of the most outstanding ironies of the Council was an agenda line item for correcting calendrical errors to more closely tie the date of Easter to the spring equinox (decided on more than twelve centuries earlier during Emperor Constantine's Council of Nicaea in 325 CE). Nicolaus Copernicus, whose works were amongst the Church's index of banned books, was asked to work on a solution. To perform his calculation he employed the heliocentric model (sun not earth in the center of the solar system). The calculations and new calendar were subsequently adopted by the Council (later released as the Gregorian Calendar in 1582). Somewhat pragmatically, the Church would conclude heliocentricism to be heretical yet still retained the corrected calendar it had fostered. 

The Galileo Affair

Aristotelian Division

Internal Disagreement

Judgement and Sentencing


The Legacy of Saint Augustine

Universities of the Middle Ages had evolved from Christian cathedral and monastic schools. Eventually they would resemble the clustered buildings of Muslim Madrasahs. Some of the most educated minds in Europe were professional clergy. As religion was then central to culture and government, many doctors of education would dedicated their lives to what would later be called "exegesis" or the study of differences between the letter and the spirit of the text.

If the Council of Nicaea had taught the early Church fathers anything, it was scriptures could be interpreted in numerous ways. Later that same century, Saint Augustine put the thought forward about the Book of Genesis being allegorical and not literal. Since that time there were certainly those within the Church and its universities educated and bright enough to progress upon this line of thinking, clearly and methodically.

Subsequently, the Age of Discovery dawned and the earth went from being flat to round and the sun replaced the earth as the center of creation. There were not only members of the clergy who could understand and appreciate the writings and discoveries of the likes of Galileo, there were also those who would be involved in early forms of biblical hermeneutics, hard at work reexamining scriptures to justify them.

Still, having ideas like that knocking around amongst a mostly illiterate laity would have been as volatile as a spaceship landing and unloading a troop of little green men. People would question their faith! And, in the Middle Ages, faith was the glue holding society together. The resulting, compounded consequence was a rabid Inquisition working overtime in an attempt to reacquire control and reenforce singular, church approved thought amongst the masses.

Upon review, both Martin Luther and Galileo Galilei had sound arguments and would, in most instances, eventually prove correct. Luther chose to flee rather than return for his verdict. There is little doubt the majority of the Church felt Galileo had to be silenced and quickly. It's just as likely there were enlighten clerics from some inner intellectual sanctum of the Church who were interested and in agreement with many of these new findings. These individuals were likely eager to interpret and make the hermeneutic connections with the scriptures. This could very well be the reason Galileo was not burnt at the stake and allowed to return to his studies under house arrest. By contrast, it is likely, Luther's decision to flee was the correct one.  

Coming Soon: Chapter 25

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