And now before beginning the last series of lectures on the modern world which we know, forces which shaped it, we should ask a few questions on how is it that this world-view of the Enlightenment collapsed -- because it collapsed very soon. Its philosophy and its theology seems now incredibly naive and narrow. And its art is a kind of golden age which is impossible to go back to. You can play over again these great masterpieces but you can’t, there’s no one composing now like that.
And there are several reasons and they all perhaps overlap each other. One is the very thing which Kireyevsky talked about: that reason, once it is exalted above faith and tradition, continues and produces its own destruction. The reason which first produced Scholasticism then produced the Reformation because you were criticizing the religion itself; and finally -- first it’s the Reformation is a criticism of the Medieval Catholicism and then the criticism of Protestantism produces the atheist agnostic philosophers of the nineteenth century. And after Kireyevsky we’ll see that it produced the actual suicide of reason.
Once one accepts reason as the standard of truth, you have to follow it all the way. And that is why, as we are examining these religious thinkers, we see that one generation holds on to more of the past and thinks that is rational. The next generation subjects that to criticism and holds on to less, but thinks there’s still something left. The next generation destroys all that, and thinks there’s very little left. And that generation resembles[overturns?] the next one. As long as you believe that reason is capable of giving you truth, you have no argument against it. And that’s why there was no one; even the ones who were defending Christianity were arguing on the same rationalistic terms.
It’s the same thing that Dr. [Alexander] Kalimiros talks about: that between Orthodoxy and the West there is this gulf because in the West they are all talking in the same language, the Protestants, Catholics, sectarians, atheists; it’s all the same language. They’re all used to taking reason as the standard, even when they do not take it all the way, because they’re scared to go too far, most people; still, they have this rationalistic atmosphere in common. And in that atmosphere you cannot escape.
You have to admit that reason is capable of truth; and, therefore, when your enemy has a very good argument, you have to grant that that’s true. If it’s true, he explains away your faith. But in Orthodoxy, reason has an entirely different function which we’ll talk about later.
And so we’ll see also in one of the next lectures that the history of our world in the last 200 years is a continuation of a kind of dialectical process whereby reason overthrows everything in the past and finally destroys itself. That is, reason must destroy itself once it is given the license to be the standard of truth. That’s why this Enlightenment Age seems now so naive.
Another reason which acted for the overthrowing of this world-view is that the loss of the whole spiritual tradition and spiritual experience which we can see by the very fact that reason is made the standard -- which means they lost the spiritual tradition -- this loss made men actually hopeless, helpless before the negative criticism of reason, which you see in Voltaire, being very pathetic in his defense of some small part of the old tradition. And also made them unaware of non-rational influences which actually act upon the rationalists themselves. Later on people will become more aware of this, and that’s when reason actually destroys itself, in our own time.
And also they did not see when demonic powers intervened because they don’t believe anymore in demons. There’s no -- these people weren‟t’t even arguing for the existence of demons anymore.
So this is why we discussed earlier some of the undercurrents of chiliasm and the mystical view of science. It’s obvious that there are many forces under the surface, irrational forces which dominate one’s behavior. And a person who thinks he’s very rational, very reasonable, who believes only in reason, obviously has a kind of mystical faith in this reason. And most of them at this time were totally unaware of that.
Again, this view of theirs was so one-sided. Once you start reasoning, you do away with all kinds of things which you used to believe in, or would wish to believe in. And you go a lot farther than you would feel like going. And after a while, it’s natural that people will say, “Wait, wasn’t there something then, too?” And so this very one-sided rationalism led to a revolt against it, which is on the religious level. There was this underground, this Pietism and Methodism, and now -- beginning also at the end of the period -- occultism and the so-called Romantic revolt in which everything Medieval all of a sudden becomes very attractive because it seems much richer than this narrow Enlightenment philosophy.
The experimental ideal in science also had a function similar to that of reason because it is never satisfied. It always wants to test its conclusions and come to new conclusions. So scientific ideals, these theories are constantly changing and this helped overthrow this scientific synthesis of the time of Newton.
Again, the idea of progress which we saw in this period in the earlier part of the period, the idea of the ancient was kept very much alive because of the Renaissance, that the ancients were the ones who were for us the true standard. If we can only get back to them and away from the Middle Ages and superstition, we will be fine. But then is when the sciences begin to become the dominant form of thought, the scientific world-view. People begin to see that anyone living today has more scientific knowledge than someone living in antiquity. Now science for the first time is being pursued systematically, experiments and everything else.
And so the people defending the ancients finally have to say that only in literature do the ancients hold the supremacy. And then with the outpouring of great classical literature of this period, and music and art, even there they say that, no, the moderns are also superior to the ancients because now we have a superior philosophy; and art also is superior. And out of this battle between the ancient and the moderns came the development for the first time of the idea of progress which is actually quite a religious idea which we’ll examine later.
But the very idea of progress -- that the present is building upon the past, the past and improving it and future generations will improve upon us, that there will be an unlimited progress and man will constantly go ahead -- this obviously destroys the idea that there’s one standard, the classical standard from the past whether Christian or pagan or what. Therefore everything becomes a [living seed?] at first, but everything becomes quite relevant. And one exists actually just for the sake of the future people who are going to improve upon one. And where, after a while when a person begins to realize that this is a movement of, philosophy of constant change, constant movement, then the soul begins to be upset. It’s a sign that there’s no peace, no security. In the nineteenth century this leads to the evolutionary world-view; it’s a quite distinct world-view, in fact, quite as powerful as the Newtonian world-view, but quite different.
Finally when these rationalistic ideas, people sitting in their cabinets and thinking out logically what is true, what is false, what can be retained from the past, and what has to be rejected -- it is one thing for a philosopher in his cabinet, but when you go outside and say now let’s change society on the basis of these ideas, something quite different occurs. And you can see that actually a great disaster occurs.
And that brings us to the subject of the next lecture which will be the Revolution. The French Revolution and the whole revolutionary movement of our times, which is the application of rationalistic ideas to the changing of society, the changing of the whole outward order of life. And here we will begin also to examine more the source of some of these rationalistic ideas, where they came from, why people came to believe that reason is the one standard of truth. This whole ideal of the Enlightenment Age, the idea of Deism was, of course, the atmosphere from which modern Masonry arose. The idea of the Grand Architect God, God Who is somewhere remote in the heavens and doesn‟t’t touch us. But the whole subject of Masonry will come up next lecture on Revolution because it was the power which was very responsible for producing the Revolution, that is, the deistic idea. And there’s very important reasons why Deism -- although it seems quite outmoded and disproved -- lasted on in the Masonic lodges.
Because the whole of the modern world-view is not atheistic, and is not agnostic; it believes in God. It’s only a temporary period where agnosticism and atheism are replacing Christianity for a certain purpose -- so as to come back and worship the true God according to the revolutionary philosophy, which the Masons still believe today: the Grand Architect is new God.
from the book Orthodox Survival Course
from the book Orthodox Survival Course