5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating historical study of a major flaw in our cultural and intellectual heritage,
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Closing Of The Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason (Paperback)
A phenomenal book which deserves to be much more widely read. Freeman gives a masterly account of how rational thought was virtually banished from western culture under the influence of Christianity in the early middle ages, to languish in exile for almost a thousand years.
The book starts with a detailed account of the sophisticated ethical systems developed by ancient classical philosophers and theologians.
Freeman's scholarship then places Jesus of Nazareth in historical context. The circumstances favouring the generation of a popular following are portrayed. The nature of the substantial, if idiosyncratic, contribution made by Paul, in developing early Christianity, is described in detail. Freeman goes on to relate events leading up to Constantine's use of Christianity to unify the Roman Empire, and explains
how the early Church became so entirely enmeshed with the State.
He provides a riveting account of the politics involved in the development of the early Christian creeds, and the arbritary influences on the choices and compromises which shaped them. Doctrinal consensus was as often the product of imperial impatience for unity as of genuine intellectual or spiritual agreement. The historical and political origins of various beliefs associated with Christianity - for example, the cult of the Virgin Mary, the rise of asceticism, the spread of anti-semitism - are also explored. We are helped to understand the political context of the growth of Papal authority, as Freeman describes how the Church gained influence and status in the West as the Emperors' power waned.
Freeman then examines Augustine's work on the development of Christian doctrine. Constructing a coherent account of Christian theology proved too difficult for even this great intellectual, whose writings became progressively more intense, and eventually less balanced. Increasingly, the favoured approach became to rely on 'faith' rather than reason to establish doctrinal orthodoxy. The classical discipline of rational thought was thereafter steadily abandoned. Ultimately, evidence-based reasoning - science - was considered sinful. Hence came, in Freeman's terms 'The Closing of the Western Mind' and 'The Fall of Reason'.
It would be several hundred years before, under the influence of Thomas Aquinas, common sense and rational thought were rehabilitated into theology - and the Western Mind, belatedly, began to slowly 'reopen'.
For a stupendous overview of the West's intellectual heritage, from Ancient Greece through to the Renaissance - and the damage done to it by the early Christian Church -this book is a must read blockbuster.