Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

Erasmus & Luther: Their Attitude To Toleration -Robert H. Murray Litt.D.

MOST of us to-day are inclined to regard progress as a matter of course. Knowledge expands, we think, and there is no reason why it should not continue to do so indefinitely. This was not so with the Greeks. They, for the most part, conceived on the contrary the possibility of a process of deterioration, a cycle or succession of cycles. The majority thought that there had been a Golden Age, but it is long since past. Moreover, there seems to have been the feeling that this age was distinctly dull. Beyond the “Pillars of Hercules” once existed Plato’s “Atlantis”: it is now lost to the sight of men in the depths of the sea. In it innocence and happiness reached the highest possible stage: the utmost man can expect is to return, however distantly, to this stage. This view had a great practical value, for it kept men from that fanciful and foolish idealizing which is the curse of the modern world. Similarly there had once been a complete body of knowledge: the past knew far more than the present can ever hope to know. What George Meredith called “the rapture of the forward view” was for the most part denied to the writers. There is, however, a hint of the conception of progress in the introduction to Thucydides (471–396 B.C.), in Herodotus (486–400 B.C.), in the Prometheus Vinctus of Æschylus (525–456 B.C.), in the speech of Protagoras (480–411 B.C.), in Plato (428–347 B.C.), in the Physics of Aristotle (384–322 B.C.), and more than a hint in the Natural Questions of Seneca (d. A.D. 65).

In the midst of a conflagration in which civilization is burning, it is easy for us to hold that development includes retrogression. There are many side-currents as well as the main current in the stream of evolution. As Huxley pointed out, “So far from any gradual progress forming any necessary part of the Darwinian creed, it appears to us that it is perfectly consistent with indefinite persistence in one state or with a gradual retrogression. Suppose, for example, a return of the glacial period and a spread of polar climatical conditions over the whole globe.” The man of the ancient world no doubt had reasons other than these. He inherited the natural love of mankind for old associations and he inherited a sense of reverence. The old, simply because it is old, must be better than the new. If he was obliged to strike out a new path he diverged as little as he could from the old and tried one. He also encountered the difficulty of finding a new word for a new thing. He invariably took an old word with fine associations and adapted it to the new sense. It is impossible for a country, especially a primitive one, to effect an entire break with the past. Perhaps the greatest of all breaks with the past was the French Revolution, and yet for its ideals it entertained a return to Roman republican virtue, or to the simplicity of the natural man. Mental philosophers cry “Back to Kant” (1724–1804), and political philosophers cry out, “Back to Aristotle,” and some scientists at least, e.g. Lord Kelvin and Sir Gabriel Stokes, cry out, “Back to Newton” (1642–1727).

Through that pessimistic book the Works and Days of Hesiod (859 B.C.–c. 824) there breathes the feeling that the youth and glory of the world as it existed in the reign of Kronos has passed away; that man has fallen; that the race is not what it was; that existence, once easy, joyous, innocent, has become difficult, pervaded by evil, full of woes. “The land is full of troubles,” thinks Hesiod, “and so is the sea.” He provides two explanations of this change for the worse, each inconsistent with the other. One traces the toils and the miseries of life to the box of Pandora and to Prometheus’s theft of the fire from heaven. Before the coming of Pandora mankind was happy. This explanation reaches Greek literature through Phœnicia, originating in Semitic thought. In the second explanation Hesiod, embracing an idea held among Aryan peoples, emphasizes the gradual deterioration of man through a series of ages. According to him these ages are the golden, the silver, the bronze, the heroic, and the iron, the present one. The iron age is a mass of crime, misery, and oppression, representing what Gibbon conceived to be the normal record of history. The golden race attained the dignity of guardian spirits, who walked the earth unseen, presiding over the fates of men. The silver race survive after death; they, however, exist under the earth, exercising no control over the shafts of destiny. The heroes who fought at Thebes and Troy, when they leave this world, depart to the Islands of the Blest. The process of the fall is not continuous, though it is evident that Hesiod looked on Hope as a mocking illusion, a view shared by Theognis (c. 570–490 B.C.).

There is an age, named after no metal, better than that which preceded it. Does Hesiod allow this exception in order to make room for the traditions representing the heroes as the founders of Greek families and cities? This seems to be the reason, and not, as Goettling argues, the belief in the theory of cycles. In the golden days there were no women, for with them evil for the first time visited man. In the reign of Zeus, not of Kronos, Pandora, the mother of all women, was created. Hesiod loudly laments that his lot is cast in the iron age. “Would that I had never lived among the fifth race of men, but had either died before or been born later. For now it is the iron age; nor ever shall they cease from weariness and woe by day, nor from destruction by night: but the gods will send cruel cares. Yet even for them shall good be mixed with evil. But Zeus will destroy even this race of mortals, when men shall have grey hair at their birth.” Do these sentences imply that the age of iron will pass away and that a happier era will then dawn? They suggest that there is an event to which the world is moving. The end of the present dispensation will arrive when children come into the world grey-headed. Now Dr. James, in his lecture on the Revelation of Peter, quotes a passage showing that among the signs of the end are children whose “appearance shall be as of those advanced in years; for they that are born shall be white-haired.” There are parallels to this thought in Plato, who suggests that in the golden age the scheme of ordinary life is reversed. Men are born old and grey-headed, become middle-aged, youthful, and pass away in childhood.

The Works and Days was, more than Homer, the Bible of the Greeks, the book from which they derived that pessimistic outlook upon life which characterized so many of them. For example, that poor poet Aratus (flor. 270 B.C.), an Alexandrian disciple of Hesiod, describes at length the degeneracy of mankind. In the golden age Diké or Astrea wandered about the earth quite freely; in the silver age her visits were fewer, and in the brazen she set out for heaven and became the constellation Virgo. Perhaps Horace (65 B.C.–A.D. 8) had read the passage in which Diké remarks: “What a race the golden sires have left behind them, worse than they were, and your offspring will be baser still.” Hesiod faced the ills of life, believing that they could be endured if we work, not if we hope, for Hope is ever a deceiver. Aratus was persuaded that it was the brazen age that first practised the shedding of blood, thereby violating the Pythagorean command against the eating of flesh. In the Mysians of his day, who were vegetarians, Posidonius (c. 135–c. 50 B.C.) saw the descendants of the men of the age of gold. It is noteworthy that Aratus omits all mention of the Roman agricultural deity, Kronos or Saturn, with whom many writers associated the golden age.

The sadness and the sombreness of Hesiod and Aratus are unmistakable. In the Consolation addressed to Apollonius (flor. 4 B.C.), on the death of his son, Plutarch (A.D. c. 50–c. 140) collects passages from the great poets, from Homer downwards, in support of this view of human life. Attention has often been drawn to the strain of melancholy in the Iliad and the Odyssey. “Surely there is nothing more pitiable than a man among all things that breathe and creep upon the earth.” Of all the creatures that breathe and creep upon the earth, man is the feeblest that the earth nourishes.” Is there not only one reference in the Homeric poems to the vision of the gods as a moral ideal to man? May not death be the deliverer from our present state of misery? Do we, as Seneca argued, return to that state of unconsciousness in which we existed before birth? Is there the Island of the Blest in the west which Pindar (518–c. 442 B.C.) depicted?

According to Theognis, “Best it is not to be born; and next best, being born, to die as soon as possible.” Sophocles (495–406 B.C) quotes more than once the Greek proverb, “Call no man happy till he dies.” In the chorus of the Œdipus at Colonus he tells us:

Not to be born is past disputing best;

And after this, his lot transcends,

Who, seen on earth for briefest while,

Thither returns from whence he came.1

Theognis is puzzled because the gods have not revealed to man the road he must take in order to find favour in their eyes.1 Chaos, not cosmos, is visible everywhere, and there is no prospect of redress hereafter. “Small is the strength of man,”1 declares Simonides of Argos (flor. 664 B.C.), “and his cares are irremediable; toil upon toil in life’s brief span, and the shadow of inevitable death hanging over all; for good and bad have equal share in death.” Solon (c. 638–c. 558 B.C.) is not a pessimist, yet even he writes, “No mortal man is happy, but all on whom the sun looks down are miserable.”1 Pindar knows that “never hath any one of men upon the earth received from God a sure token of that which shall be hereafter; but the revelations of the future are blind.”1 “It is impossible,” he confesses, “with mortal minds to discover the purposes of the gods.”1 To Pindar Hope is false, if flattering. According, however, to Simonides of Argos, hope supports man in his vain efforts after the unattainable, though in the meantime old age, desire and death overtake him.

Æschylus (525–456 B.C.) makes Prometheus say that in a primitive state men had eyes and saw not, ears and heard not. They dwelt in the sunless depths of caves, were ignorant of all the signs of the seasons, and the simplest rudiments of art, pursued all their occupations without discernment, and left their entire life to chance and confusion. Prometheus, on the other hand, taught them to count, to mark the risings and the settings of the stars, the building of houses, the taming of animals, the yoking of horses, the curing of diseases, the navigation of the sea, and the practice of the various mohes of divination. In the trilogy of Æschylus the thought of progress is never long absent. Their author seizes more of the idea of a great religious and social evolution than most other writers of his time. He believes in a gradual improvement in the religious as well as in the moral condition of the world, as seen in the Prometheus Vinctus and the Eumenides. Zeus has supplanted the old Titanic powers, but is in his turn to be overthrown by another in the fulness of time. Unfortunately, as the Prometheus Unbound is lost, we do not know how he treated this theme of the overthrow of Zeus by one mightier and, we may suppose, better. With the discovery of fire began the control of nature by man: Prometheus was bound for the benefit of the human race. Through him men passed from a mere animal life to an intellectual and social life. By means of fire it was at last possible to utilize what lay hidden in the earth, the brass, the iron, the silver, the gold. The stone age had for ever passed away. To him, as to Virgil (70–19 B.C.), Zeus, the present King of the Gods, proved a sterner taskmaster than Kronos or Saturn, the ruler of the golden age. Both poets agree with Euripides (480–406 B.C.) and Lucretius (c. 99–55 B.C.) that man is heavily handicapped in his contest with nature. Æschylus indeed presents us with an account of the activities of Zeus, which is one of the glories of Greek literature.

The language Æschylus puts into the mouth of Prometheus is akin to the utterances Euripides ascribes to Theseus in the Suppliants. Euripides tells us of a god who has transformed the conditions of life by making possible the transition from the animal stage to one in which the capacity and the knowledge of man can develop. He does not entertain the Shakespearean belief that “the evil that men do lives after them.” Still he is far more despairing in his outlook than Sophocles (495–406 B.C.) who clings to the belief in the Providential control of our lives. Euripides was never able to attain to what George Eliot pronounced to be the happiest of human states, that in which we possess settled religious convictions. Not a little of the sombre tone of the Hecuba, the Andromache, the Daughters of Troy, and The Madness of Heracles was prompted by this circumstance. No doubt he lived in an age of social and political revolution, but Sophocles and Socrates (469–399 B.C.) also lived through it. Yet Euripides could write

With tears in mournful throng the new-born babe

’Tis meet we welcome to a life of woe:

But him whom death releases from his toil.

With songs of gladness speed upon his way.

Anaximander (610–547 B.C.) assumed the idea of the Infinite, or the Unconditioned, and on the basis of this assumption he put forth a crude form of the nebular hypothesis and of the evolution idea. He assumes that matter is primitive and indeterminate, that there is necessarily in it eternal energy and movement, and that through this energy and movement the two original contraries of heat and cold separate. What is cold falls to the centre and forms the earth. What is hot arises to the circumference and forms the bright fiery bodies of the heavens, which are only fragments of what once existed as a complete sphere. In process of time this sphere burst, forming the stars. The action of the sun’s heat on the cold earth generated films or bladders, out of which proceeded different kinds of imperfectly organized beings: they gradually developed into the animals now existing. This is quite unlike Epicurus (342–270 B.C.) and Lucretius, who both imagined animals as arising directly out of the earth, much as Milton’s lion long afterwards pawed its way out. The pedigree of man with Anaximander goes back to the fishlike creatures which dwelt originally in muddy waters, and only as the sun slowly dried up the earth did they become by stages fit for life on dry land. He, however, confines his conception of progress to the evolution of animals and man. He holds that there is a plurality of worlds, and according to him one world springs out of another. This idea is also to be found in Heraclitus of Ephesus (513–c. 473 B.C.), who maintains that out of the universal conflagration will issue a new world, and this process will continue indefinitely. Nevertheless, in spite of this continual transformation, Heraclitus does not speak of any amelioration in the lot of man. The cardinal fact to him was the ceaseless movement in the universe and the utter hopelessness of it.

The poetic view of Empedocles of Acragas (c. 490–430 B.C.) is not unlike the scientific conception of Anaximander. Empedocles assumes the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. Out of the conflict between Love and Hate emerge plants, animals and man in succession. The greater number of the members of the animals was generated by chance. After endless efforts on the part of the organs to unite the present shapes are evolved. Empedocles finds the origin of life in abiogenesis or spontaneous generation: centaurs, chimæras, and other creatures he brings under the operation of this law, though Lucretius suppresses all hint of their existence in his account of the creation. In a crude form he lays down the theory of natural selection. Aristotle in his Physics is careful to inform the reader that he derived this theory from Empedocles, who merely held the germ of an all-important conception. Strangely enough, the idea of one stage giving origin to another was absent from his thought.

There are traces in Empedocles of the golden age Hesiod shadowed forth. There is progress which, however, is lacking in continuity. Nevertheless both Empedocles and Hesiod hint at a restoration of all things similar to that set forth by the Orphic religion. The former holds that in the course of the inevitable cycle destruction ensues. “Things must all return whence they came according to destiny.” He agrees with Anaximander in believing in the fallen condition of mankind. For “thirty thousand seasons” the souls of men were to wander through all the changes of transmigration, plant, bird, fish, beast or human being. Nevertheless his ideal lay in the past. There had been an age of gold, during which Venus reigned as queen. Then flowers and fruits flourished at all seasons of the year.

A disciple of Pythagoras, Ocellus Lucanus, maintained that everything in this world is in an incessant state of flux. Societies spring up, grow and die, and are replaced by another set of societies, which share exactly the same fate.

Xenophanes (c. 540–c. 500 B.C.) was a traveller who possessed a distinct interest in geology. In a couple of lines he hints that men have progressively made discoveries by their intelligence, have realized the best, thanks to time and the labours of many, for the Gods have neither given nor shown everything at once.

If we understand progress primarily to mean the series of slow successive transformations, infinitesimal ameliorations which, when taking place, change the condition of an individual or a society, then there is scarcely a trace of such a doctrine in Plato (c. 428–347 B.C.) There is perhaps in the second book of the Republic and the third book of the Laws an outline of an experimental theory of progress. Our world is imperfect. The ideal State is not on earth: it is only to be found in Heaven. It is the city which the men of old time, who were nearer to the gods than we, knew. There used to be a happy city which flourished in the reign of Kronos. Readers of the Timæus are familiar with the glowing account of Critias (c. 440–404 B.C.). This ideal city has disappeared; the wisdom of its laws and the beauty of its institutions have alike vanished. Now we behold change which is circular: we witness the degradation of the perfection which once existed. Aristocratic government has degenerated into timocracy, into oligarchy, and into democracy which has become tyrannical. The best to be hoped is a return to the ancient State. The ideal is not before us: it is behind us. The perfect State was immutable: it was a body determined by geometrical arrangement, an organism ruled by fixed laws, developing always in the same circle.

The older Plato grew the greater he saw were the obstacles which were preventing the realization of his perfect State. The early legislators possessed advantages over their degenerate descendants. Were they not of the blood of the gods? Did not they impose their laws upon heroes who were children of the gods? Wisdom is the only object to which every good legislator ought to direct his laws. The aim of all sound policy is to ensure the happiness of man. In the last resort social progress is bound up with individual progress, with the predominance of the immortal part of our being, the triumph of reason. In this fashion it will be possible to realize the perfection of the longlost ideal State. Thus we can avoid the return of degeneration when, in the course of circular revolution, the eternal order returns back again upon itself.

Plato, then, from our standpoint, makes a small contribution to our theme. Still it is a fact of enormous significance that the groundwork of modern science, the evolution theory, was laid not by the early naturalists or the speculative writers but by the modern philosophers, by Descartes (A.D. 1596–1650), by Leibniz (A.D. 1646–1716). What Plato failed to accomplish directly he himself accomplished indirectly. He is one of the sources of that spirit of mysticism which tends to merge the particular in the universal, the temporal in the eternal. He is also one of the sources of that idealism which checks the evil side of mysticism, for Plato sought the ideal in the real world, the world of experience. To Plato, as to Aristotle, the State was an end, not a means. Man’s ethical life was not possible without the State: apart from it he could be nothing and could do nothing. Therefore neither philosopher could entertain the general idea of progress, though Aristotle distinctly entertained particular forms it assumed. The ancients did not realize the modern conception of indefinite progress in a continuous direction. If one may use an Irishism, the thought of progress backwards was more familiar to them than progress forwards.

Plato conceived society dynamically: Aristotle conceived it statically. Order to the latter was heaven’s first law. To trace the general plan of the evolution of the human race is a task which does not concern him: his is the humbler labour of showing under what conditions the city-State can realize happiness. Its size, its site, its nearness to the sea, its aloofness from the stranger—these are the matters in his mind. His closest approach to the consideration of the ideal is his criticism of the Platonic conception. Has he more than a glimpse of scientific progress when he discusses changes in medicine which have modified the art of healing? Though he has not the resources of palæontology at his command, he entertains a general conception of the origin of higher species by descent from lower. In his consideration of the factors of evolution it is amazing to note that he discusses the survival of the fittest hypothesis, which he states quite plainly, and dismisses it. His view of the development of life ultimately led to the correct interpretation of the Mosaic account of the creation, and his view St. Austin (A.D. 354–430) cordially accepted. Indeed, if the teaching of the African doctor, in this respect at least, had remained the teaching of the Church, the triumph of the theory of evolution might have been anticipated by centuries. St. Austin was an observer: Aristotle was a scientific observer. The latter distinguished no less than five hundred species of mammals, birds and fishes. Underlying these and other species he conceived of a single chain of events, which is among the greatest of his achievements: it completely passed out of the ken of man till the middle of the nineteenth century. Nature, he maintains, proceeds constantly by the aid of gradual transitions from the most imperfect to the most perfect, while the numerous analogies we find in the various parts of the animal scale show that all is governed by the same laws. That is, all nature is essentially one in the matter of causation. The ascent is from the inorganic to the organic, and then comes man, who reaches the highest point in one long and continuous process.

Details were in the mind of Aristotle: so too were illuminating principles. He notices the effects of heredity, of the influence of one parent or stock, of atavism, of reversion. In the Generation of Animals he analyses the heredity theories of Hippocrates (460–357 B.C.) and Heraclitus (513–c. 473 B.C.), which were not unlike those of Democritus (460–361 B.C.). He describes the difference between the vegetable and the animal world, and marks off the organic world from the inorganic. He clearly grasps the principle of adaptation, understanding the physiological division of labour in the different parts of an organism. Life to him is not a separate principle: it is the function of the organism, a view which anticipates the doctrine of epigenesis in embryonic development discovered by Harvey (1578–1657).

How did Aristotle arrive at these notable advances? Unlike Plato, who trusted intuition, he trusted experiment and induction. To a man with his scientific bent it was impossible to believe in the operation of chance. Nothing, he holds, which occurs regularly, can be the result of accident. The adaptation manifest in the world obliged him to believe in an intelligent first cause. This theistic tinge influenced the early Christians, especially St. Austin, and in time the authority of Aristotle in the Mediæval Church was elevated to a position as exalted as that of the Bible itself. The lover of truth must regret that the conquests of Philip (382–336 B.C.) and Alexander (356–323 B.C.) and the loss of national independence checked the love of free physical inquiry, among the Greeks, which promised to be so fruitful. The dynasties founded by Alexander’s generals left the city-State a mere pawn in the game of militarism: the all-conquering arm of Rome completed its destruction. In the post-Aristotelian period Francis Bacon is right in thinking that for the ancients moral philosophy supplied the place of religion. The new school of thought is subjective and individualistic. Ethical conceptions replace science. The Stoics or the Epicureans came into possession of the vacant field. The happiness of man was no longer bound up with the welfare of the State. For the first time it became possible to lead a private life: Diogenes (c. 412–323 B.C.) or Aristippus (c. 428–350 B.C.) were no longer singular in their conduct.

The Oriental doctrine of vast chronological cycles forms a fundamental tenet of the Stoic school. With its philosophers the pantheistic notion that God is the creative soul of the world was a commonplace. He is the eternal force which forms and permeates the world, the spirit of ever-acting and living fire, which manifests itself outwardly as matter when its heat declines, and burns up matter when its heat is intense. Zeno (c. 362–264 B.C.), the founder of Stoicism, believed that the world would be reabsorbed into the fiery ether, which is Reason and God. But how could Reason be identified with a material substance which could be burnt? Is this absorption final? The mind of man is so constituted that it refuses to derive satisfaction in the conflagration of the world. There was one way out of the difficulty, and that was to make the movement circular. What had happened once could happen again. When the period of unification ended, Zeno forecast the beginning of another world-process which would follow the same course as its predecessor, ending, like it, in fire. And for ever there lay before men the prospect of this unvarying round. To us such a notion is abhorrent, still we ought to remember that men not only in Greece and in India but even in modern Europe acquiesce in it. Yet Zeno is reported on one occasion to have pointed to the wooden base of an altar which was visible at the extremity of the Stoa: “This once stood in the middle of the Stoa; it was removed out there because it got in people’s way; please apply it to yourselves.”

From Zeno and other teachers the conclusion was drawn that in a necessary and endless succession world after world was created and destroyed, each new world being exactly like its predecessor, and all things in it without exception running round in the same order from beginning to end. In the words of Nemesius (flor. c. end of fourth or beginning of fifth century A.D.): “The Stoics taught that in fixed periods of time a burning and destruction of all things takes place, and the world returns again from the beginning into the very same shape as it had before, and that the restoration of them all happens not once but often, or rather that the same things are restored an infinite number of times.” Aristotle maintained that all the arts and all the sciences have been found and lost an infinite number of times already. Stoicism, in some of its aspects, reflects the hopelessness and world-weariness which see in modern progress only “an endless effort, and, if need be, by endless pain.” The same sombre tendency sees no evolution but rather a long series of cycles of death and revival, of endless mutations in constant progressions: tout lasse, tout passe, tout se refait. Going round in a circle, however, is in no wise the equivalent of going on.

The conflagration of the universe will not be a destruction; it will rather be a change, a renewal of all things. The thing that hath been is that which shall be, and there is no new thing under the sun. The world spins back, simply reversing its motion. “Where the parts are perishable, so is the whole; but the parts of the universe are perishable, for they change into one another; therefore the universe is perishable.” Posidonius (c. 135–c. 50 B.C) believes firmly in the future conflagration. All will return in exactly the same order. That is, Socrates will revisit this globe to raise the same questions with the same replies, and Plato will redream the same fancies. This dreary prospect finds its basis in Heraclitus, who propounds the view that the world is in essence fire which is extinguished and lit ceaselessly. It is easy to understand Seneca’s tedium vitæ when he thought of it, to use a modern phrase, as an infinite recurrent series. He was really to finish nothing, for in the revolution of the circle it must come again and again to him.

Shelley presents us with this attitude to the problem in the final chorus of his Hellas.

The world’s great age begins anew,

The golden years return,

The earth doth like a snake renew

Her winter weeds outworn:

Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,

Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.

A brighter Hellas rears its mountains

From waves serener far;

A new Peneus rolls his fountains

Against the morning star.

Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep

Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.

A loftier Argo cleaves the main,

Fraught with a later prize,

Another Orpheus sings again,

And loves, and weeps, and dies.

A new Ulysses leaves once more

Calypso for his native shore.

Oh, write no more the tale of Troy,

If earth Death’s scroll must be!

Nor mix with Laian rage the joy

Which dawns upon the free:

Although a subtler Sphinx renew

Riddles of Death Thebes never knew.

Another Athens shall arise,

And to remoter time

Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,

The splendour of its prime;

And leave, if nought so bright may live,

All earth can take or Heaven can give.

Saturn and Love their long repose

Shall burst, more bright and good

Than all who fell, than One who rose,

Than many unsubdued:

Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers,

But votive tears and symbol flowers.

Oh, cease! must hate and death return?

Cease! must men kill and die?

Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn

Of bitter prophecy.

The world is weary of the past,

Oh, might it die or rest at last!

The Stoic maintained that the world continually returns on itself without hope of improvement. Was not therefore pessimism inevitable? The world was an enigma which was insoluble. Was there any hope of winning real knowledge? The negative answer is plain even in the early days of Greek philosophy—in Xenophanes (c. 540–c. 500 B.C.): “The certain truth there it no man who knows, nor ever shall be, about the gods and all the things whereof I speak. Yea, even if a man should chance to say something utterly right, still he himself knows it not: there is nothing anywhere but guessing.” “When they have but looked upon the little portion of their own life,” Empedocles (c. 490–430 B.C.) confesses, “they fly away in a moment, like smoke, persuaded each one of that particular thing only with which he has come into contact as they are driven hither and thither, and yet each one flatters himself that he has found the whole; so far are these things beyond the reach of men, not to be seen of the eye or heard of the ear, or comprehended of the mind.” You could only, according to Sextus Empiricus, a Greek physician of the third century A.D., infer something you did not see from something you did see, when you had actually observed those things, or precisely similar things, in connexion. Sextus refused to believe there were pores in the body simply because pores were not perceived by the senses. The precise measurement or the accurate observation was impossible because the most ordinary instruments of the laboratory of to-day were unknown. It is easy for us to draw a sharp line between a hypothesis in physical science and ethics: the effects of the one can be observed or weighed, those of the other cannot. That is, the scepticism of Sextus was justifiable, his disbelief in hypothesis warranted.

Epictetus (c. A.D. 60–130) and Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121–180) lived in a world of their own, but it is one out of touch with ours. Optimists as they are, they incline to a pessimistic view of the age in which their lot is cast. There is confusion and evil without: let them have the shelter of truth within. Just as Plato and Aristotle brought all nature and all life within the scope of philosophy, they tend to withdraw both from it. According to Mr. Bradley, “the world is the best of all possible worlds, and everything in it is a necessary evil.” As Stoics, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius literally believed this epigram. Each was optimistic when he surveyed the universe and the law of reason, and each from this standpoint believed in the reality of evil. At the same time each was pessimistic when he regarded particular things or events in the world. Marcus Aurelius is constantly declaring his belief in the perfectibility of a universe in which he sees everything going wrong. He believed in the community of spirits, yet he is perpetually exhorting himself to expect nothing but misunderstanding and malevolence from mortals. He has no hope of anything like general progress; he seems to think that there will be nothing new in human life in the remotest future. In spite of the fact that all the forces of the day are undermining his ideal, still it is eternally true. It is a wellnigh hopeless prospect though a nobly hopeless one. The subjectivity of the religion of the Emperor is as manifest in the Meditations as that of the African bishop in the Confessions. There is a world between the despair of the one and the joy of the other. “What do you wish to know?” St. Austin asks himself in his Soliloquies, and the answer is, “God and the soul.” “Nothing more than this?” “This and this only.” This subjective religion goes back to days long before the birth of St. Austin, before the advent even of Christianity. Its existence explains, in part at least, the speedy success of the Church. It “came to its own” and “its own received it.” The Stoic was disappointed with the course of temporal affairs: Christ came to rescue him from his disappointment.

The new belief and the old were not so incongruous as at first sight might appear. The Stoic held that events are the outcome of perfect reason which presides over everything. He knew that reason presided over the world-process, and he also knew that this world-process led nowhere. How were these two inconsistent views to be reconciled? At bottom the Stoic rested on the conception of wisdom, which has not produced practical perfectibility, but which has given men the law of life. This wisdom embraced the world above as well as that below. Heaven was quite visible any clear night, and there were all the souls of men till another conflagration began another process in the evolution of the world. Posidonius provides occupation for them. Were they not watching the stars go round? Scientific as we are, the prospect does not inspire us. It evidently inspired Virgil (70–19 B.C.) who, in the Georgics, tells us he covets not the stimulus of the past, though he does covet the understanding of the sciences: he seeks to grasp the “ways of the sky and the stars.” It inspired Cicero (106–43 B.C.) and it inspired Seneca. No doubt this attitude was not so disinterested as it seems. Were not the movements of the stars secretly connected with the life of man? Was there not a hidden bond between astrology and astronomy?

Nature does not implant in us knowledge or virtue ready made: she bestows the capacity of becoming virtuous. Virtue is the road to wisdom which brings happiness to man. Besides, there is progress in wisdom. Nature determines the social and political functions of man. Instead of the view of the continual return of the same things, the idea of social amelioration begins to emerge. According to Seneca all men have the same origin. “All men, if we ascend to the source, have the gods for their father.” In his judgment even slaves ought to be our friends: thus the conception of equality appears. The levelling tendency of the doctrine is patent in the circumstance that the two greatest of the later Stoics were a slave and an emperor. The justification of these charges turns on the fact that in a state of nature there are no slaves: all are free. There are, however, few watchwords more dangerous than that of “Return to Nature.” Does nature mean the ideal which man sets before him as his goal? Or does it mean the earliest stage in his existence as opposed to the latest, which is assumed to be artificial? Is the savage or the animal condition the end to be achieved? From the time of Antisthenes (426–336 B.C.) to that of Rousseau the latter, with disastrous effects, has been the reading chosen. Two contemporaries of Aristophanes (c. 444–c. 380 B.C.), Crates and Pherecrates, exhibit traces of this meaning. In the Savages of the latter, the chorus consists of haters of mankind who threw off the restraints of civilization in the woods, , experiencing the failure of all such experiments.

The step from equality at home to equality abroad is soon taken by the Stoic. The law of Rome did not apply to the stranger: the law of nature did. As the new ideas prevailed the law of nature gained in importance at the expense of Roman law, and became the germ of International Law. In essence the world is a city formed by the gods and men. As Wesley took the world for his parish, so a man like Seneca took the world for his country. This same ideal of perfect humanity lies at the base of the passages in the Meditations in which Marcus Aurelius lauds the city of Zeus which he loves. The Stoics were not the first to conceive a cosmopolitan State, for the Cynics had preceded them. This State agreed admirably with the happy age of the Antonines.

At the very time of the early Stoics Epicurus (342–270 B.C.) was developing a conception of progress and his philosophy contains more than the beginning of the doctrine professed by the Sophists. Were it not for Lucretius our knowledge of Epicurus would be scanty, but he provides us with a full account of a notable attempt to get rid of the supernatural. The mind of Epicurus conceives the social state not as it ought to be but as it actually is. For him, as for Lucretius, the important matter is the survey of knowledge and of civilization through past ages. Familiar as he was with Empedocles, Epicurus knows that human life has passed from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge, the source of all quietism and happiness. The mind of man has at last passed the superstitious stage. In truth philosophy has taken the place formerly occupied by superstition. Much as Lucretius (c. 99–55 B.C.) admires Epicurus he lets fall hints which show, inconsistently enough from his standpoint, that the past was better than the present. Did not in olden times matters come easily to men? Did they not possess simple joys? Did voyages at sea, did war, did luxury claim so many victims as to-day? Is not Nature right to tell man, greedy of pleasure and novelty, that she can devise nothing new, for everything returns as before? Will not the universe one day be destroyed? These questions no doubt are not the bedrock of the thought of the poet: still they are in his poem. On the other hand, he argues that as the world is not the handiwork of the gods, its increase in intelligence and industry affords evidence of progress. Advance, he argues, in material comfort is not synonymous with advance in happiness, just as one might argue that our material progress is nothing more than an extra-flooding wave of an ebbing tide. Lucretius is strikingly clear that material and even artistic improvement does not increase the happiness of men.

The view set forth in the fifth book of the De natura rerum is that the general law of existence is change. Nothing remains as it was in the beginning: one thing disappears and is replaced by another: what was formerly is to-day impossible, and what has never been will yet be realized. In Lucretius the materialistic and agnostic tendencies of Empedocles, Democritus and Epicurus are revived. Aristotle regarded life as an organism, Lucretius as a mechanism. Aristotle is teleological, Lucretius is nothing of the kind. The former carries his conception of nature into the law of the gradual development of organic life: the latter does not. Lucretius, like Parmenides (flor. 513 B.C.), Democritus (460–361 B.C.), and Anaxagoras (500–428 B.C.) thinks that plants arise directly from the earth. From Epicurus he takes the idea of the survival of the fittest: some men were out of harmony with their surroundings, died, and were replaced. Still Aristotle is an evolutionist, and Lucretius is just as certainly not. The latter does not believe in gradual development by the descent of higher forms from lower, though he believes in the successive appearance of different forms of life. The animals and plants of Lucretius, unlike those of Aristotle, spring from the earth in their present form: with them nature makes a leap. This is not evolution in the true sense, yet, curiously enough, it was one day to take a great share in the growth of the idea. To Aristotle the process of evolution was like the emergence of the plant from under the ground, where its germinative forces have been slowly maturing, whereas Lucretius, conceived it to be the light of a spark for which the explosive train has not long been laid.

Generation succeeds generation: there is no break. The notion of continuity means more to Lucretius than to Epicurus. The latter is not content with change in nature: he believes that there are times in the span of existence better than others. Lucretius was well aware that in early society force was the only remedy: laws did not exist. By virtue of mind men left this condition behind them. No Prometheus brought the fire which the ingenuity of human beings discovered. Genius has accomplished much: so too have the numberless groping efforts of ordinary men. Steady work renders better what was primitive, mediocre. According to Lucretius and Epicurus necessity has always been the principal agent in progress. To need, for example, we owe die names of things: that is the origin of language. To chance was due the first union of men and women, and in time conjugal love succeeded. Kings built fortified towns, and the cause of progress was served by the necessity of avoiding aggression. On the death of the kings democracy succeeded, and then came magistrates and laws with justice in their hand. Force as the only remedy disappeared definitely, and the reign of law was ushered in.

At the same time human industry took its rise. The first instruments of man were his hands, his nails, his teeth, then stones, then branches of trees, afterwards the flame and the fire. This is the closest approach Lucretius makes to the doctrine of evolution. Later came the metals—brass, gold, iron, money, lead. The discovery of iron combined with the discovery of fire permitted man to manufacture implements adapted to agriculture and to war, and it assisted in the improved clothing the tailor devised. Stage by stage man developed, and in the course of his development nature suggested experiments to him. What nature was doing of herself suggested to imitative man the art, for example, of grafting. The sighs of the winds through the reeds invited man to invent the flute. once the stage in which physical strength counted for everything was past, music and song were cultivated. For the future there is an æsthetic as well as a material side to life.1 Throughout all these changes and chances man is travelling along the road to improvement of his mechanical appliances, the amelioration of his earthly lot. Time is required for this advance, for all growth is by infinitesimal steps.1 Men do not become men at once: trees are only shrubs in their early life. To Lucretius, as to Diogenes Laertius (c. 412–323 B.C.), time produces growth in everything. Little by little experience taught man to note the regular movements of the heavens and the return of the seasons, foreshadowing the true nature of things. Once the will of the gods was deemed sufficient to account for everything, whereas now it is abundantly evident that there are natural causes at work. Once chance ruled all things in heaven and earth, whereas now clearly there is a sameness, an orderliness in the phenomena all around us.

The originality of the conception of Epicurus and Lucretius is so remarkable that it is not till the Esquisse of Condorcet (1743–1794) that we meet with a similar theory. Evolution there has been in the past: with that Lucretius stops. Evolution in the future he scarcely contemplates. He catches glimpses of the truth through the clouds, but there is no clearness in his vision. The gods have no existence unless as shadowy beings who have as little concern with us as we have with men in an undiscovered island. There is no hell and there is no hereafter.

Ovid (43 B.C.–18 A.D.) expresses with great beauty the popular faith in four ages of continual deterioration, and represents Jove as remembering that “it is recorded in the book of fate, that the time will come when the sea, and the earth, and the palaces of heaven will be kindled into flames and glow with fervent heat, and the laboured structure of the world will perish.” With this prospect in view nevertheless he draws his picture of the golden age which he has derived from Varro (116–28 B.C.), who in turn may have derived it from Posidonius.

Virgil (70–19 B.C.) sings of the wonderful age, a Saturnian time, when suffering and sin were unknown, when men had all things in common, and nature poured forth her bounties generously and spontaneously. Man fell from this condition, but he believes that a beneficent purpose underlay his fall, that Jove abolished this easy state of existence in order that man might be forced to evolve the resources in his own mind and in outer nature, and that experience by dint of thought should hammer out the different arts in a course of gradual discovery and improvement. The poet thus combined belief in a fall with belief in progress; perhaps he combined belief in both with a belief in world cycles, and he has given unsurpassed expression to the hope that the simplicity, peace and happiness of the golden age would be restored. In Roman poetry the idea of the recurrence of the golden age is not often present. The Jewish conception of a Messiah whose advent might be hastened by the piety of a single man was not one that appealed to the Roman mind. The fourth Eclogue of Virgil constitutes a notable exception, for in it there is a prediction of the coming of the golden age. The early Church at once saw a forerunner in Virgil which its members expressed in the phrase Maro votes Gentilium. In the Æneid the poet speaks of Augustus as destined to restore the golden age to Latium, the country once ruled by Saturn. After his day this vision ceases save in the shape of flattery addressed to an Emperor on his accession. Thus Calpurnius (flor. c. 290 A.D.) in his Eclogues salutes Nero as the founder of a new age of Saturn and of Numa.

In the fourth Eclogue Virgil introduces a happy variation on the Stoic conception of the theory of cycles. He announces the return of the age of gold after the age of iron:

Magnus ab integro sæculorum nascitur ordo

… redeunt Saiurnia regna.

Another Achilles will besiege another Troy, for the causes of war will not wholly disappear, but that is the utmost concession he will make. Like Lucretius he feels more than a passing interest in the mysteries of nature:

felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas.

His fundamental thought is tantæ molis erat Romanam condtre gentem, and this thought was grasped by Prudentius (348–c. 404 A.D.) and Claudian (A.D. c. 350–404), though it lay outside Macrobius (A.D. c. 360–430). The feeling of human limitation is never absent from the mind of Virgil. He is surprised that the dead should desire to live again:

O my father, and are there, and must we believe it, he said,

Spirits that fly once more to the sunlight back from the dead,

Souls that anew to the body return and the fetters of clay?

Can there be any who long for the light thus blindly as they?

Tennyson grasps his spirit admirably in the line:

Thou majestic in thy sadness at the doubtful doom of human kind.

According to Horace (65 B.C.–A.D. 8):

Damnosa quid non imminuit dies?

Ætas parentum, pejor avis, tulit

Nos nequiores, mox daturos

Progeniem vitiosiorem.

In the Satires Horace develops another view, describing the progress of man when he was a mere animal, filthy and speechless, to the stage when he built and fortified towns, established laws and morality.

Cicero (106–43 B.C.), like Plato and Aristotle, expresses no opinion on general progress, though he declares that philosophy is progressive; that study and application result in the discovery of new truth; that the most recent things are generally the most precise and certain. There are, however, perils lurking in these. Government was so highly centralized that men were at first afraid and then unable to think for themselves. Even Tacitus (A.D. 54–c. 134) discerns an inscitia reipublicæ ut alienæ. He believed in virtue, though he had almost ceased to believe in the justice of God. Was not the travail of his country the result of chance? How could there be a Providence which allowed Nero to wear the imperial purple? Making due allowance for the exaggeration of the satirist, the society described by Juvenal (A.D. c. 60–135) is even more depraved than that outlined by Tacitus.1

On the other hand, the elder Pliny (A.D. 23–79) counsels us “firmly to trust that the ages go on incessantly improving.1 He, however, feels more interest in collecting anecdotes than in collecting facts. About twelve years after Seneca’s death he published, in the year A.D. 77, his book on Natural History. He claims to have read 2000 volumes of 100 authors, and in his Latin list he omits Seneca. The preface to the Epitome of Roman History which Floras (A.D. c. 60–138) has written anticipates ideas afterwards developed by Postel (1510–1581) and Leasing (1729–1781). The historian is clear that nations pass through a succession of ages similar to those of the individual. “If any one,” he points out, “will consider the Roman people as if it were one man, and observe its entire course, how it began, how it grew up, how it reached a certain youthful bloom, and how it has since, as it were, been growing old, he will find it to have four degrees and stages.” It is not important to consider these four degrees: it is important to see that an author in the reign of Trajan has been able to perceive them.

Of all the Roman writers on progress none has greater claims on our attention than Seneca (58 B.C.–A.D. 32). For real learning he feels a genuine interest but not for the study of what he regards as “useless letters,” leaving to the one side such questions as whether the same poet wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey or whether Homer or Hesiod was the earlier. Stoic in the main as he was, he makes fun of the grammatici. Learning was apt to become logomachy, philosophy to become philology. He has a sovereign contempt for the 4000 volumes acquired by Didymus (A.D. c. 52–128), for do they not discuss such questions as the birthplace of Homer, the moral character of Sappho (c. 611–592 B.C.) and of Anacreon (c. 558–478 B.C.), and the like?

When he speaks of the restoration of the world, Seneca holds that when it pleases God it will produce things. Will there not be then the opening of a very happy era in which man, born under better auspices, will be ignorant of all crimes and will be innocent? This era, or rather this improved world will, on the Stoic hypothesis, pass away, being replaced through fire by another. The conflagration notion made a strong appeal to the feelings, for with it the perpetual struggle between good and evil ceased. In the interval before the appearance of a new world the Deity enjoys a period of rest, during which he can leisurely meditate upon the universe that has vanished into smoke and plan improvements in the one he is about to create. The universe used to be happy and innocent. Men lived together in the distant past in societies, willing to obey the strongest and wisest of their number1; none were tempted to wrong their neighbour. The “return to nature” notion is plain in his account of men dwelling in natural grottos or in the stems of trees, and obtaining nourishment from tame animals and wild fruits. In process of time they develop the arts, learning to bake, to build, and to make use of the metals. According to Seneca, his own age is one far removed from primeval simplicity, though it is no worse than others. It is necessary to distinguish between moral and material progress. Seneca, following Posidonius, believes that man had made progress in science and in the material arts of life, but that this advance in learning had been accompanied by a moral decline. The political economist to-day reckons that the awakening of human beings to the need of satisfying their wants is a mark of advance, and the greater the range of these wants the greater is the advance, whereas to Seneca the reverse of this conception is the truth. There used to be no struggle for existence: the earth supplied sufficient food for all. The moment gold was discovered happiness fled: the love of it was indeed the root of all evil. A crowd now is an assembly of savage beasts, a spectacle of vice incarnate. This pessimistic outlook on life is in no wise peculiar to Seneca: it is characteristic of first- and second-century thought. There seems no indication that movement was thought of as a spiral and not as an unvarying round. There was not what Wordsworth calls “the sweet air of futurity.”

The security afforded by the Empire was sufficient to overcome internal disorders. With the pax Romana around him Seneca could indulge in speculations on progress. With Huxley he holds that though there are many clever men, honest folk are as scarce as ever; and this thought Rousseau (1712–1778) borrowed. Still Seneca maintains the sciences progress and their applications become more extensive. The sagacity of men contrives inventions. We can live without science, for nature has allowed animals to exist; but as we create needs we devise arts to satisfy them. We receive these discoveries from our forefathers, and when we transmit them to our descendants we transmit an enlarged inheritance. “There remains yet and there will remain much to do; and the man who will be born a thousand years hence will not refuse the opportunity of adding something more.”

The Natural Questions goes far to explain the action of Gian Galeazzo in making not only Dante (A.D. 1265–1321) but also Seneca have chairs founded in their memory and for the discussion of their work. True, it is characterized by hypothesis not founded on experiment. True, the author is a moralist first, a physical scientist afterwards. To him there were no natural phenomena compared with the fascination virtue exercised over his soul. To him as to Kant (1724–1804) there is a bond between the starry heavens above and the moral law within. Throughout the Natural Questions he is well aware of the necessity of procuring correct data. He records his careful observations when digging among his vines. Men like Lucilius suffered through Seneca’s desire to have phenomena recorded accurately, especially when they were rare. He is anxious to be just to his predecessors: “First of all I feel bound to say in general terms that the old views are crude and inexact. As yet men were groping their way round truth. Everything was new to those who made the first attempt to grasp it; only later were the subjects accurately investigated. But all subsequent discoveries must nevertheless be set down to the credit of those early thinkers. It was a task demanding great courage to remove the veil that hid nature, and, not satisfied with a superficial view, to look beneath the surface and dive into the secrets of the gods. A great contribution to discovery was made by the man who first conceived the hope of its possibility. We must therefore listen indulgently to the ancients. No subject is perfect while it is but beginning. The truth holds not merely of the subject (i.e. earthquakes) we are dealing with, the greatest and most complex of all, in which, however, much may be accomplished, every succeeding age will still find something fresh to accomplish. It holds alike in every other concern: the first principles have always been a long way off from the complete science.” We are here far removed from the notion that the whole body of truth has been discovered.

This is more evident in the next quotation: “It is not a thousand years since Greece ‘counted the number of the stars and named them every one.’ And there are many nations at the present hour who merely know the face of the sky and do not yet understand why the moon is obscured in an eclipse. It is but recently indeed that science brought home to ourselves certain knowledge on the subject. The day will yet come when the progress of research through long ages will reveal to sight the mysteries of nature that are now concealed. A single lifetime, though it were wholly devoted to the study of the sky, does not suffice for the investigations of problems of such complexity. And then we never make a fair division of the few brief years of life as between study and vice. It must therefore require long successive ages to unfold all. The day will yet come when posterity will be amazed that we remain ignorant of things that will seem to them so plain.”

This book of Seneca’s was the last word on science spoken by the classical world, and it is the only work of importance bearing on science that has come down to us in Latin. Herein he possessed a marked advantage over Aristotle, whose Physics was written in Greek, a tongue much less familiar to the mediæval world. This book became a textbook of science to the men of the Middle Ages. It has been the infinite loss of mankind that the two following passages have not sunk deeply into the mind of Europe. “Aristotle has finely said,” remarks Seneca, “that we should never be more reverent than when we are treating of the gods. We enter a temple with all due gravity, we lower our eyes, draw up our toga, and assume every token of modesty when we approach the sacrifice. How much more is all this due when we discuss the heavenly bodies, the stars, the nature of the gods, lest in ignorance we make any assertion regarding them that is hasty or disrespectful; or lest we unwittingly lie. Let us not be surprised that what is buried so deep should be unearthed so slowly.… But all these questions (i.e. on comets) are foreclosed by my statement that they are not accidental fires, but inwoven in the texture of the universe, directed by it in secret, but not often revealed. And how many bodies besides revolve in secret, never dawning upon human eyes? Nor is it for man that God has made all things. How small a portion of His mighty work is entrusted to us.” He proceeds to draw attention to the new discoveries: “How many animals we have come to know for the first time in our days. Many too that are unknown to us the people of a coming day will know. Many discoveries are reserved for the ages still to be, when our memory shall have perished. The world is a poor affair if it do not contain matter for investigation for the whole world in every age. Some of the sacred rites are not revealed to worshippers all at once. Eleusis contains some of his mysteries to show to votaries on their second visit. Nature does not reveal all her secrets at once. We imagine we are initiated in her mysteries: we are as yet but hanging around her outer courts. These secrets of hers are not open to all indiscriminately. They are withdrawn and shut up in the inner shrine. Of one of them this age will catch a glimpse, of another the age that will come after.”

In all the classical writings there are no four quotations so plain in their views of all that the future holds for the man of science. Were such statements much read? Take the evidence of Quintilian (A.D. c. 40–100), who obviously thought Seneca an overrated man and placed Cicero far above him. He has no doubt of the popularity of Seneca in his own times. Moreover, was he not a Christian who corresponded with St. Paul? The Fathers reckoned him one of themselves. Jerome (A.D. 345–420) frankly gave him rank among recognized ecclesiastical writers. His statements must therefore be orthodox. In the Middle Ages he was famous as the author of the Natural Questions, and still more so as a moralist. Dante terms him “Seneca morale.” He is quoted by writers like Albert Magnus (c. 1193–1280), Vincent of Beauvais (c. 1200–1264), Walter Burlay (1275–1357), John of Salisbury (c. 1110–1180) and Friar John of Wales (died c. 1285), who were acquainted with the Natural Questions, and by writers such as Otto of Freisingen (died 1158) and Giraldus Cambrensis (c. 1146–1220) oftener than either Cicero or “Cato.” Some of the manuscripts of the Natural Questions only contain Books I–IV, and this was probably the only part generally known. Books VI and VII, which give us the four prophetic quotations, were largely unknown. It is therefore not surprising that the only mediæval writer who quotes passages from the Natural Questions with a distinct consciousness of the possibility of future progress in discovery is Roger Bacon (1214–92). Walter Burlay and John of Salisbury knew it indirectly. The latter recommends expressly its perusal and uses terms borrowed from it. In the Annales Colimenses maximi, A.D. 1235, there is a reference to the section of the Natural Questions discussing halves. It is practically certain, however, that all the medieval references to this book refer to it as an authority for natural phenomena except in the case of Roger Bacon, who quotes it as an incentive for further progress.

The author of Xanthippe and Polyxena recognizes gratefully the goodness of God, His mercy and His eagerness for the redemption of the sinful, His providential care for those who serve Him. In this third-century book this last notion quite replaces for the Christian the fortune of the heathen novelists. Paulinus, Bishop of Nola (A.D. 353–431), in a letter to his friend Jovius pleads earnestly for the recognition of Divine Providence.

If any one is anxious to understand the originality of St. Paul’s conception of the future the ideal method is to peruse some of the authors here cited. As one reads them one wonders that all save Seneca stop short at the very point which is of the greatest interest, the nature of the future. A perusal of the Natural Questions and then a perusal of the Epistle to the Ephesians enable one to grasp in some measure the originality of St. Paul. Indeed the true idea of progress is a creation of Christianity, forming one of its finest achievements. The transition from the Apostle of the Gentiles to St. Austin (A.D. 354–430) is easy. The doctrine of original sin was held by both, and this doctrine is not optimistic. Theologian as St. Austin primarily is, the invasions of the barbarians forced him to become an observer. Society, according to him, is divided into two orders: one is the ordinary society of men, the other is the society of men who live according to God. Paganism represents one city, Christianity the other. He views the history of Rome in the light of the establishment of the Civitas Dei. This establishment constitutes progress for humanity. Christianity, however, is no radical innovation without roots in the past; the ages have been a preparation for it. In spite of digressions, the Civitas Dei is devoted to the moral significance of history. The providence of God in the life of the world is the burden of the message. St. Austin stood as firmly for this belief in the Christian world as the Stoic did in the ancient world. This conception is indeed the consummation of the moral and religious evolution of humanity. The light of God appears everywhere: it shines under Moses and the prophets; it flickers under the patriarchs; and it enlightens the world in Jesus Christ, greater than the patriarchs, greater than the prophets. With Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150 or 160–c. 213) St. Austin recognizes that other beliefs, other ideas prepared the time for Him who is the Light of the World. The world advances, thanks to Christianity, towards perfection. From God alone comes such a consummation; from Him we hope for eternal life. As the world therefore advances, to St. Austin the cycle theory is sheer madness. Jesus Christ died once: He will die no more, for death hath no more dominion over Him.

It is noticeable that St. Austin does not ignore the development of industry through the ages, and makes a notable application of it in his consideration of the destiny of man. He can allow no activity to be outside or apart from God. There is a complete gradation of nature: there is also a complete gradation of soul. There is, he observes, a wide difference between the evolution of humanity and the evolution of an individual. Old age is perfect in the former: it is feeble and decadent in the latter. Here is the germ of the idea which lies in the background of all the philosophy of progress in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. St. Austin perceives it clearly. Limiting himself to the study of civilization which has preceded Christianity, he compares the education of the human race to that of a single man; it must follow the progressive succession of the ages in order to raise itself, by degrees, from time to eternity, from the visible to the invisible. “Divine Providence, which guides marvellously all things, governs the succession of generations, from Adam to the end of the ages as a single man.” In observing the action of God in history St. Austin also observes the successive epochs of humanity, the steps towards progress. There are three epochs, youth, characterized by the absence of law, from Adam to Abraham; the virile age from Abraham to Christ, which is the epoch of law; at last, old age, which is the era of Christianity and the epoch of grace. In each of these three epochs there are subdivisions, and, following the procedure of the Jewish schools, he seeks parallels in other eras. He compares the six epochs of the world to the six days of creation, seeking analogies between the events of each period and the works of each day of creation. For example, the third epoch is distinguished by the separation of the people of God from other peoples: similarly the third witnessed the separation of the earth from the waters. In De Genesi contra Manichæos he returns to a consideration of the ages of the world, adding a seventh to correspond to the seventh day. Then the Lord will stand forth in clearness; then will those find rest with Christ to whom he said, “Be ye therefore perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This seventh day will not be quite like the other six: there will be no night. The perfection then attained in Christ will be eternal.

Interpretations like these add as little to our conception of progress as the Gnostic views. Still St. Austin formulates a serious contribution to the growth of progress from the point of view of history. Like Gregory of Nyssa (332–395) he adopted an explanation of the creation which was in part naturalistic. In his view of the origin of life he stands midway between biogenesis and abiogenesis. It is perhaps too much to say that he put forward a theory of evolution, but he plainly rejected the doctrine of special creation.

Like St. Paul, Clement of Alexandria regarded pagan philosophy as performing the function of the Mosaic law in leading men to Christ. In particular, was not Greek philosophy given by God for the purpose of training nations? From the Pythagorean Numenius he takes his seminal simile, comparing truth to the body of Pentheus, torn asunder by fanatics, each seizing a limb and fancying he has the whole. The mount of God is to him the true Cithæron. There is a unity in knowledge for the bond is Christian philosophy. Like Philo Judæus (20 B.C.–A.D. c. 40), Numenius (A.D. c. 150) asks with Clement, “What is Plato but Moses expressing himself in Attic Greek?” Fathers like Clement of Alexandria, Origen (A.D. 185–254), and Gregory of Nyssa believe that after the fall of man there was a progressive side to his education. Gregory of Nyssa makes the expressive comparison of the soul to a vase whose capacity grows as it is filled and, with the capacity, the force of aspiration always with the greatest effusions of divine grace. Many-sided a thinker as Origen is, he is unable to furnish a contribution to the theory of progress. Nor is there much cause for surprise in this, for his system of thought excludes it. Man was created perfectly, but his nature has fallen. It must return to the perfection in which it has been created, and from which it is infinitely removed to-day. That is, in the system of Origen there is no progress: there is return or rehabilitation. The classical writers looked backward to the golden age, and theology, imposing the dogma of the fall of man, worked in harmony with them. God, Origen thinks, disposes of the centuries as the years, and His providence accords to each century what the needs of the universe require. One of his aspirations deserves mention. “I shall know after death,” he said, “whether those stars are indeed animated.”

The Rome of Origen was not the Rome of Virgil or of Claudian. No Christian could as yet love the City of the Seven Hills as the heathen loved her. The Rome which Afrahat the Syrian and Tertullian (c. A.D. 160–c. 240), the first great Latin Father, regarded as lasting to the end of the world was being shaken to its foundations. About the middle of the fifth century Salvian, the presbyter of Marseilles, was moved by the Völkerwanderung to write his De Gubernatione Dei, describing the doom of the constitution, the civilization, and the culture of Rome. Still to Claudian and to Prudentius the memories of a thousand years clung around her, and to mankind she was the visible embodiment of the heart of the world. Polybius (204–122 B.C.) is among the first to perceive the idea of a providential destiny shaping the course of Roman history. The first Emperor, however, to adopt the new faith had forsaken old Rome. One point common to Claudian and Prudentius was their devotion to the metropolis. The latter seeks a purpose in the conquests effected by the Empire. He wants to know why God had so markedly through the centuries subdued race after race to Rome, and welded the world into one. St. Austin was capable of asking such a question: Cyprian was not. It is amazing to note that a Father like Cyprian (c. A.D. 200–258) denies the work of Providence. He actually says, “regna autem non merito accidunt sed sorte variantur.” To Prudentius, however, the course is plain. There was to be one earthly empire and there was to be one heavenly empire: the one was required for the sake of the other. Mankind was to be one in Rome in order that it might be one in Christ. As the law was a schoolmaster to draw all men to Him, so the greatness of Rome was drawing all men to Him who was its Author. Clearly the heathen stand in the way of the success of the plan of the ages, and no less clearly the heretics break its unity. In the year A.D. 404 Prudentius put forth his apologia for Christianity, and in the second book he formulates a conception of progress akin to Browning:

nonne hominem et pecudem distantia separat una?

quod bona quadrupedum ante oculos sita sunt; ego contra spero.

According to Boëthius (A.D. 470–c. 524) human destiny is under the influence either of dæmonum varia sollertia or angelica virtute, though he believes that the world is under the beneficent sway of a rerum bonus rector. Boëthius looks back to the declining days of the old classical world: Cassiodorus (c. A.D. 468–c. 568) looks forward to the dawn of the Christian Middle Ages. In the twelfth century Hugh de St. Victor (1098–1141), inspired by St. Austin, considers progress as the universal law of creation; even the angels make advances to perfection. All creatures share in these advances till the day of judgment, when all will share the immutability and perfection of God Himself. Of course, with some thinkers like Gregory of Tours (A.D. 539–593), Lambert of Hersfeld (flor. c. beginning of eleventh century) and Otto of Freisingen, the view of a catastrophic end of the world prevails. With Hugh de St. Victor the painful march of the race towards perfection is in no wise a consequence of the fall. There exists a trace of the golden age hypothesis in the notion that all things were perfect in the very principle of creation in so far as God directly called them into being. Everything else arriving after the first process of creation is subject to the law of gradual growth, beginning with imperfection and ending with perfection. This is clear in the vegetable and animal worlds, and is no less clear in the world of the human race. In form Hugh de St. Victor denies progress in the domain of religion: in essence he affirms it. He distinguishes faith and the perception of faith. Faith is always the same, though of course it differs in individuals, according to their intellectual capacity, which grows through the different ages of mankind. If, however, the perception of faith changes, and if it develops, it is obvious that faith itself, at least as far as men are concerned, must progress. He raises the question: if faith has always been the same, where are we to find the belief in Jesus Christ before His incarnation? Hugh de St. Victor and St. Thomas Aquinas (1227–74) insist that all truth is one, that there is a progressive revelation of it, that as the coming of the Saviour drew near the knowledge of the truth increased. The sacraments of the law of nature shadowed forth the truth; those of the law of Moses were its image; and those instituted by Jesus Christ are the reality. That is, the early is a preparation for the later, but all are fundamentally one.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “it is natural for human reason to arrive by degrees from the imperfect to the perfect. Hence the early philosophers taught imperfect truth, which afterwards was more clearly discovered by their successors.” It is exactly the same with the practical sciences; from many standpoints the early inventions were defective, later these defects were corrected with the result that machines were improved. He maintains, however, that faith remains constant as thoroughly as Newton believed in the law of change, of development. Dogmas are seemingly increasing in number. In reality it is not so, for the germ of them all lies in the creeds of the primitive Church. To us dogma suggests a superfluous garment which trammels and incommodes the mind. The Stoics and St. Thomas realized the bitter need for dogma felt by minds which have been stripped to the winds of heaven. They were well aware that an unsolved enigma means intellectual discomfort. Therefore St. Thomas bends all his energies to the removal of the unsolved. There is another method of overcoming the difficulty: truth is unchanged, though its aspects are always changing. The law of Moses was good, argues St. Thomas in the spirit of St. Austin and Prudentius, but it was not perfect. Was not, for example, grace lacking? He holds the outline of the doctrine of development, but he holds it as an ecclesiastic. Take an example. Why, he asks, was not the New Law of Christ bestowed upon men from the dawn of creation? The answer is St. Austin’s: “The Gospel has not been preached to the first men because it contains the law of perfection; now perfection cannot exist in the very beginning of things.” If we compare the law of Moses with that of Christ, the former is unquestionably imperfect; but if we compare it—and it is the only proper comparison—with the needs of the men for whom it has been provided, it was relatively perfect. The Mosaic law is the germ of the law of Christ just as much as the seed contains the essence of the tree. Here the comparative standpoint is adopted, and had its consequences been realized it would have constituted one of the greatest forward steps that man has ever taken. Hugh de St. Victor limits progress to the day of judgment: St. Thomas Aquinas forbids it to pass beyond the limits of the Gospel. That is, the consequences were not realized till the days of our own fathers.

St. Thomas possessed the Stoic passion for definition. It is possible to meet with passages in the Summa Theologica which may be taken to mean that he had a vague conception of something that, in the hands of a dialectician, might be called a theory of evolution, just as in his De Regimine Principum he has the idea of a contract made between the king and the people: indeed the germ of Rousseau’s famous doctrine is to be found in the De Regimine Principum. But it would be as fair to call St. Thomas an advocate of Whiggism or of democracy as an evolutionist. Indeed a candid perusal of the Summa Theologica at once reveals the fact that the mind of this great thinker was pre-scientific. The idea that there might be endless knowledge was outside his scheme of things. The field of learning was strictly bounded, and his mind was quite competent to explore every part of it. Dean Colet (1466–1519) protested, not against the ignorance of St. Thomas Aquinas—for no one could accuse the great Italian of lack of information—but against his confidence in thinking that he could define everything.

At the same time it is only right to lay stress on the sobriety of St. Thomas’s views. He accepted, however, the authority of the false Areopagite in his opinions about the heavenly hierarchy, just as he accepted those of Aristotle on the star-moving intelligences. Roger Bacon possessed little sobriety in these matters, and he expounded explicitly what he thought was implicitly contained in them. Roger Bacon, like his fellow-Franciscans, was much impressed by the prophecies of the Abbot Joachim of Fiore (1130–1202), though Aquinas refused to see in him the marks of a genuine prophet. This estimate of Joachim is one of the few matters in which Dante differs from St. Thomas. Aquinas, without so much as naming the Calabrian seer, examines his doctrine that a new age of the Holy Spirit is to be looked for, which will surpass that of the Gospel as the golden age that which went before it. The Angelic Doctor dissects the argument in the Summa Theologica, which was one he had employed in another connexion, with a characteristic limitation. The latter he now produces. The New Law of the Gospel, St. Thomas lays down, is to last to the end of the world. The Franciscans were, on the other hand, one day to see in the saint of Assisi the forerunner of a new age of the Spirit. This vision was denied St. Thomas, and the denial is all-important when we recollect his widespread influence. In a fresco, for example, of the Spanish chapel in Florence (c. 1535), Aquinas is depicted as enthroned among the Prophets and Evangelists, while in a lower row stand meekly the representatives of the Liberal Arts.

Astrology was of course the guide to action in life in the Middle Ages: it was also with Roger Bacon (1214–92) the guide to be employed in the choice of a religion. By the proper use of mathematica, the art of divination by the stars, it is possible to determine the date of the downfall of Mohammedanism. With Albumazar (c. A.D. 776–885) he holds that the origin of religions is to be sought in the conjunction of the planets. The influence of Seneca is evident and indeed he was a favourite author with Roger Bacon, who read his moral treatises at least as eagerly as his Natural Questions. No doubt Bacon’s interest in Seneca was greater than it was in Cicero. It was quickened by the circumstance that he had unearthed some of the treatises of the Roman writer which had long been forgotten. He makes use of the treatise De Generatione et Corruptione when he discusses the effects of celestial forces on terrestrial matters. He is as sure as Grosseteste (c. 1175–1253) that heaven is not susceptible to alien influences and he is as sure that the stars constantly influence the life of man as that the circle has been squared. Nor was this belief singular. The Divina Commedia is full of the notion that the stars exercise control over human destiny. To Aquinas as to Roger Bacon the saving clause, salvâ arbitrii libertate, was always added. Aristotle and Plato, Cicero and Pliny, Avicenna (A.D. 980–1037) and Albumazar were agreed in holding the free will of man remained uncoerced by the motions of the heavenly bodies. It is noteworthy that St. Austin dwells on the points that separate the Christian from Porphyry (A.D. 233–c. 305) and Seneca: Roger Bacon emphasizes the points of union. Bacon in the Opus Minus investigates alchemy. Inter alia he refers to an explosive mixture “producing a noise like thunder and flashes of light,” and tells us that “from saltpetre and other ingredients we are able to make a fire that shall burn at any distance we please.” Here was a form of gunpowder though its discoverer was unaware of its projective power. Of his recipe for manufacturing gunpowder Colonel Hime speaks in the warmest praise, concluding that his method of refining saltpetre “falls little short of the modern method pursued at Waltham Abbey.”

One reason at least for the impression science now makes is that it can exhibit machines which cannot help striking the eye. The ordinary man in the middle of the nineteenth century was as much astonished by a railway engine as we were ten years ago by an aeroplane. On the other hand the mediæval scientist produced nothing except ponderous folios. Francis Bacon compared such an investigator, not to the bees, who mould what they gather, nor even to the ants, who at least collect, but to the spiders, evolving unsubstantial theory from self-extracted argument. If Roger Bacon had had machinery at his disposal he might have devised artillery. Could he have shown Edward I cannon, such a practical demonstration of the utility of science would have contributed enormously to its advance. Fulton (1765–1815) failed to convince Napoleon of the practicability of the invasion of England by steamboat, simply because he was unable to show to the greatest genius in war the world has ever seen a boat at work. The idea was right: what was wanting was its application. This is as true of Bacon as it is of Fulton. Moreover, there were many scientists in the Middle Ages—had they only known it. No one can read the tomes of the schoolmen without seeing that some of them were scientists who had gone astray because their proper subject—or, at any rate, the method of exploring it—was as yet in the womb of time.

In science Roger Bacon was as much before his time as Francis Bacon (1561–1629) was in advance of his. Roger endured long and bitter persecutions, yet he was full of hope for the future. The spirit in which he looked forward to an age of wider knowledge was the same at that expressed in one of his own citations from Seneca—“veniet tempus quo ista quæ nunc latent, in lucem dies extrabat et longioris ævi diligentia.

He freely criticized his predecessors, from Aristotle down to Alexander of Hales (? 1245), Albert and Aquinas. Their errors are to be corrected with modesty and deference. Seneca assists him to denounce the blind following of authority. According to him, Aristotle, Plato, St. Austin, and Boëthius, have preferred truth to authority. He is evidently pleased to find that Aristotle discusses all the opinions of his predecessors. Still, great as Aristotle is, he is not perfect. The people are to be distrusted because their assertions are usually false: over them authority exercises the greatest influence. They form obstacles to progress: they have never discovered anything and they utterly fail to recognize those who have. Bacon thoroughly shared the feeling of the Renaissance in this respect. “Odi profanum vulgus et arceo,” a sentiment which explains the tendency of scholars like Reuchlin to fly to the cabbalistic books. Marcus Aurelius similarly despaired of the mass of average humanity and for similar reasons. Progress has undoubtedly come from a chosen few. The multitude did not follow Moses to Mount Sinai, nor did all the disciples proceed to the Mount of Transfiguration.

In his Opus Mains and in his Opus Tertium Bacon analyses the obstacles to the spread of learning. The former is divided into seven parts. In Part I he discusses four causes of human ignorance, authority, custom, popular opinion and the pride of supposed knowledge. The latter gives us a sketch of the life of its author, and proceeds to point out the impediments he encounters through the ignorance, prejudice and indifference of his contemporaries. Bacon notes that Aristotle declares that the main causes of human error are custom and popular opinion. Of the usual translations of Aristotle this Franciscan lays down that “so great is their perversity and difficulty that no one is able to understand them.” For example, in the account of animal intelligence1 and in that of the lunar rainbow1 these troubles are experienced. Then comes a fierce denunciation of the leading mediæval philosopher. “If I had all the books of Aristotle in my power, I should cause every one of them to be burnt, because studying them is a loss of time, and a cause of error, and a multiplication of ignorance, beyond what can be explained.”1 He knows his Aristotle and repeatedly appeals to him on all manner of questions. Did he perceive the principles which “the philosopher”—so Bacon’s age looked upon him—laid down? Did he, for instance, understand the principle of the survival of the fittest which the classical writer deliberately rejected? There is little evidence that such a far-reaching idea penetrated his mind. That he knew the Physics is obvious. Thus he discusses the Aristotelian views of the vacuum, on the natural forces, on sense, on action proportional to quantity of force, on heaven as a physical agent, and on the infinite divisibility of matter. He criticizes Aristotle’s inadequate account of the lunar phases and of the phenomenon of scintillation. He quotes incorrectly Aristotle’s explanation of the “Milky Way,” as though it were the same as his own. The philosopher explains the phenomenon arising from the motion of many large stars, whereas Bacon explains it as consisting of many minute stars, which give the eye the impression of a continuous band of light.

The knowledge of the works of the Creator led to the spanning of the gulf between theology and science. Bacon declares that, as Aristotle by ways of wisdom gave Alexander the kingdom of the world, so Science can enable the Church to triumph over Antichrist by disclosing the secrets of nature and art. The connexion between theology and the study of languages is close and clear. Grosseteste (c. 1175–1253) leant to the systems of declensions of Theodosius (346–395) which Bacon rejects.1 He vehemently protests against the use of force in the conversion of the unbeliever, holding that persuasion is the proper method.

To Bacon, as to Averroes (1120–1198), complete knowledge of the most minute description is impossible, were it not for the continuity of intellectual development through the ages. Theology is to him the queen of the sciences, una scientia dominatrix.1 Implicitly all knowledge is revealed in the Bible, and the efforts of man are directed towards making explicit what is already implicit.1 At the same time mathematics is “the gate and the key” of all the other sciences,1 and he was quite familiar with the higher mathematics of his day. Like Grosseteste he held that natural philosophy advanced in so far as it was founded on mathematics, that force is ruled by mathematical law, and is determined regularly and uniformly in space and time, and it followed that it can be expressed by “lines, angles and figures.”1 Bacon works out these properties generally in the fourth book of the Opus Maius, which Whewell rightly called the encyclopædia and the organum of the thirteenth century, where he dwells on the use of mathematics, and he works them out particularly in the fifth part, where he applies them to optics. He insists that “the conclusions arrived at by argument must be verified by experiment.” It is, however, not probable that he was able to carry his counsels into practice, nor does he discuss the conditions of the experiments he advises. He is clear that experimental science constitutes the condition of progress. He refers to passages in the De Cælo dealing with the trinity of nature, the incorruptibility of the heavens—a favourite notion with him—Aristotle’s account of the lunar phases and the spherical form of the world. He quotes from the De Cælo the statement that there are not more worlds than one and that the South Pole is really above the North Pole. He wants to ascertain the source of the Nile. Historically, Bacon’s use of the De Cælo acquires considerable importance. From it he quotes the passages on the small extent of the sea between Spain and India.1 In the Imago Mundi of Pierre d’Ailly (1350–c. 1420) this part of the Opus Maius was transferred, after the mediæval fashion, without acknowledgment. Columbus (c. 1436–1506) read the Imago Mundi, and in 1498 he informed Ferdinand and Isabella that it was among the authorities which had induced him to set out on the epoch-making voyage of 1492. It is probable that Seneca was the author of the tragedy which contains an unconscious prophecy of the discovery of the New World—

Venient annia sæcula seris

Quibus Oceanus vincula retum

Laxet, et ingens pateat tellus,

Tethysque novos detegat orbes;

Nec sit terris ultima Thule.1

The study of the phenomena of light evidently fascinated Bacon, and he is constantly returning to it. He is curious to understand the influence of the sun on generation,1 the method of the propagation of light through space,1 the formation of the lunar rainbow,1 the source of stellar light,1 the occultation of the stars,1 the illumination of all the stars by the sun,1 the effect of vacuum on vision,1 and is clear that light is not an emanation from the body.1 He anticipated the discovery made by Ole Roemer in Paris in 1676 that the propagation of light is not instantaneous. He refuses on this subject to accept the views of Aristotle2 which, he notes, had been adopted by Alkindi, the ninth-century philosopher of Bagdad, and had been opposed by Alhazen, the eleventh-century philosopher of Cairo. Bacon’s reasons for thinking that light takes time to move from place to place are enough to establish his claim to the position of a great scientist. Implicitly he holds the view which regards the radiation of light through space as a type of the radiant activities of colour, force, sound and heat: they are all simply modes of motion. He maintains, for instance, that radiant force proceeds independently of man’s power of perceiving it. He forms a clear conception of the microscope. He is aware of the power of a combination of lenses to bring distant objects near, though there exists no proof that he combined them to make a telescope. He lacked two of our artificial senses, the microscope and the telescope, which introduce us to the inconceivably minute and the immensely vast, thus revolutionizing our notions of creation.

As Bacon speculates on the future he dreams of the infinite progress to be reached in science: he is the Condorcet (1743–1794) of the thirteenth century. His influence, however, was not widespread in his own day, or for almost 300 years. No care was taken of his manuscripts. His fruitful ideas lay, like Seneca’s, buried in them till another Bacon arose. No scholar of the thirteenth or fourteenth century quotes him or approves or disapproves of his opinions, revolutionary as some of them are. The philosopher disappears: the astrologer and the magician appear. In default of history legend adopts him, making him a figure as fantastic as that of Faust. At the end of the sixteenth century only three of his minor works had come from the printing-press. When the telescope had been invented, the parts of the Opus Maius, dealing with mathematics and optics—which included his forecast of the telescope—at last appeared at Frankfort in 1614 in the edition of the Marburg professor, Combach, and this edition Newton (1642–1727) was destined to see.

Europe went through—and required to go through—three Renaissances, the first in the eighth century; the second in the twelfth; the third in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The first reintroduced something of the old Roman education; the second introduced Aristotle and the learning of the Arabs; the third resuscitated the whole culture of the classical world. The first prepared the way for the second; the second for the third. The third originated that new birth of the human spirit which we emphatically call the Renaissance. Admiration for antiquity became its hall-mark. Art and literature threw off the forms of mediævalism and looked for all their inspiration to the models of the ancient world. Platonic societies were formed in Italy, and Plato was found to be a theologian, a prophet. The New Learning tended in many quarters to place Plato on the pedestal formerly occupied by Aristotle. That is, the scholar substituted for the works of a thinker, with possibilities of progress foreshadowed, the works of one whose ideal lay in the past.

The whole history of the Renaissance is a commentary on the wise and the unwise use of the classics. The wise used the antique knowledge in order to think for themselves, the unwise in order to have their thinking done for them. The Renaissance transferred interest from form to matter, nevertheless in not a few cases form dominated the thought of men. Such men reflected the minds of others, with the inevitable result that they never really made classical ideas part and parcel of their system of thought. The experience of the past dominated their own experience. They accepted the truths of Plato and Cicero in the spirit in which a pupil accepts the thinking of a master. Their acceptance was purely mechanical, and instead of some of them becoming masters in their turn they remained in perpetual tutelage. The questions they raised are worthy of Browning’s Grammarian. Was mihi to be written with a “c”? Could one use a form of a verb when it was not to be found in Cicero’s works? Many of them were mediæval in spirit, with a veneer of classical learning. In them the Middle Ages persisted long after 1492. Men used to read the writings of Thomas Aquinas or Albert the Great: the new fashion was to read those of Cicero and Plato, and the spirit in which they were read is the spirit in which the scholastic writings had been perused. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The book is different: the reader is the same. One scholar is penetrated with the inner meaning of Plato: he is a rare type of the Renaissance. Another simply sees the words are beautiful words and remains content with the surface meaning: he is the common type. Does he not think that certain Latin words possess a magical power? Poliziano was such a scholar. Propertius wrote pinus amata: Poliziano writes pinus amata. Pliny wrote morus sapiens: he writes morus sapiens. Virgil wrote gelidæ pruinæ: he writes gelidæ pruinæ. If a classical author described the sensation in certain phraseology, no other phraseology can be employed. In a word, feeling is in no wise human: it is simply literary. Between life and the representation of life stands the artificial figure of antiquity. When the classics were so read they were among the most deadly enemies of progress, causing the death, not the rebirth, of thought.

The geographical discoveries of the age brought into prominence cycles of another kind, the cycle of incessant movement—growth, expansion, short-lived conquest, followed by shrinkage, defeat, expulsion or absorption by another set of migrants. The written history of mankind is to be read largely in the shiftings of peoples, now going forward, then thrusting back. Society was approaching a dynamic stage, though of course it never is static. The great service Copernicus (1473–1543) rendered to mankind was the conception of the perpetual motion of this world. Motion there is in the worlds above, and incessant motion there is in the worlds beneath. Petrarch (1304–1374) is sometimes called the first modern man, and on the literary side a case may be made out for this designation. He was, however, as blind as Dante (1265–1321) to the forces about him which made for political and scientific progress. What was fatal to the poem of Dante was the work of Copernicus. There was no longer any distinction between the heavens and the earth. True, the earth became a heavenly body, but for all time to come the substance of the heavenly was precisely the same as that of the earthly. It was no longer possible to credit the belief that the stars influenced the destiny of man, for their motions were governed by the same laws as that of the globe we inhabit. Man was once more a more in the unfathomable universe. Four generations after Copernicus, Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) could say, “Le silence éternel de ces espaces m’effraie.” The first modern man was the astronomer, the first to cherish a scientific conception of progress.

The thought of Copernicus is evident in the thought of Guillaume Postel (1510–81), professor of mathematics and languages in the Collège de France. The title of his book is De orbis terrarum concordia libri quatuor, multijuga eruditione ac pietate referenti, quibus nihil hoc tam perturbato rerum statu vel utilius vel accomodatius potuisse in publicum edi, quivis æquus lector iudicabit. Gulielmo Postello Barentonio, mathematum in academia lutetiano professore regio, authore. There is no printer’s name: it was published in the middle of the sixteenth century. Like Kant, Postel thought out a sort of cosmopolitan State, a fraternal alliance of peoples, under the empire of a right of mankind universally recognized; and like Kant he believed that this alliance could be realized under the form of the Church. It was for this end he wrote his book, which was specially destined for the conversion of the Jews and the Mohammedans and, above all, of those who threatened the civilization of Europe with the invasion of new barbarians. In it we meet with a crowd of ideas and facts invoked to-day by the defenders of the theory of indefinite progress. For instance, Postel teaches that wars and the calamities which follow in their train are the providential means destined to push nations into the path of progress. The conquests of the Mohammedans seem to him to be the exception to this rule, and he hoped his book would be instrumental in leading them to the light and unity of the Christian faith. In a chapter devoted to the development of the dogma of the Trinity, Postel writes the following passage in which we have no trouble in recognizing the fundamental idea of the work of Lessing (1729–1781): “Lex Mosaica fuit velut rudimentum quoddam legis divinæ.… In ea lege, ut in summa Dicam, Deus fecit cum Israële, quod optimus præceptor cum adolescente admodum discipulo, cui cum radicibus disciplinæ ob ætatis teneritudinem et ignorantiam etiam ludos solitos permittit.… In tradendis disciplinis autoritas est ratione prior. Unde merito scriptum est: Nisi credideritis non intelligetis. Quod non solum in sacris, sed in humanioribus literis locum habet. Quis enim posset puerum formare statim ab ipsius elementis refractarium? Debebat itaque præcedere religio, sequi ratio.”

As we turn over the folio of Postel we catch a glimpse of the true spirit of the Renaissance writer. Do we remember sufficiently how long it was before this spirit of the belief in progress was destined to prevail? In political circles, as well as in literary and scientific, it was not rare to meet with the ancient notion of the circular theory of the movement of peoples and civilizations. If on the one hand there are the names of Rabelais (1495–1553), Campanella (1568–1639), and Francis Bacon, on the other there are the no less renowned names of Machiavelli (1469–1527), Bodin (1530–96) and Montaigne (1533–92).

Machiavelli estimates the level of human character as low as either Luther or Montaigne. The world is neither better nor worse than it was a thousand years ago. As the amount of matter on earth is exactly what it was in the time of Plato, so is the amount of badness and goodness. Power, in accordance with Bishop Berkeley’s law, used to be in Assyria, then in Media, then in Persia, until at last it came to Italy and Rome. Badness and goodness are therefore simply migrating westward—that is all. There is no progress: the world is always the same. Are there not revolutions? Yes, but they only alter the distribution of power. Some institutions improve, and others fail to do so: the level is the same after a revolution as before it. Still, if there is no progress, there is at least no decadence. Machiavelli contents himself with reproducing the despairing doctrine of the Stoics on the cyclical movements of men and institutions. In his opinion every form of society and government bears within it a germ of corruption, an element of dissolution and ruin. In a circle ceaselessly turn all the imaginable social forms.

Bodin, who limits himself almost wholly to combining the ideas of Plato and Aristotle with those of Machiavelli, lays down the principle that men follow the pursuit of a chimera when they seek the realization of the ideal. “When I speak of the flourishing state of a republic, I do not mean that it has arrived at the height of perfection.” Bodin displays a fondness for definition, and Grotius notes that he cares more for words than for things. Giving an excessive importance to the classical writers, he ranks Homer and Hesiod high, and the melancholy of these two poets attaches to Bodin himself. As the younger Pitt was not born but cast in a mould, so Bodin’s thought remained immovable. When a young man he defended the astrological view that numbers influence the destiny of man, and when an old man he still defended this view. As a young man he attacked the Copernican system, and as an old man he persisted in his attack. Is there a philosopher’s stone? He is not sure: Nature guards her secrets closely. If God and man legislate against sorcery, this of itself proves the existence of sorcery. Tolerant as he is, Bodin regards atheism as a crime to be punished. The compass, geographical discovery, astronomical laws, the invention of artillery—these are sufficiently striking witnesses of the progress in his day. Bodin, however, deems that printing only deserves comparison with the discoveries of antiquity. Like Montaigne, he is as much impressed by the novelty of the ideas of his day as by their truth. The stranger the tale of the traveller the more he—and Montaigne—is pleased.

Anticipating the Pragmatists, Bodin thrusts to the one side all means of attaining knowledge save experience, which is “maistresse de toute certitude.” On the other hand, he can hold that our senses deceive us, that our reason is unworthy of trust. “L’entendement descouure et fait iugement de l’erreur des sens.… La raison est done comme la reigle de Polyclète, par laqulle on corrige les erreurs des sens, s’ils ont failly en quelque chose: et laquelle n’a pas tousiours faute de l’aide d’iceux en ses diuines operations.” It is easy to see why he finds it hard to know God, why he believes in mystical experience. In theory Bodin advocates freedom of thought: in practice he falls back on authority. Like Machiavelli, he believes in witchcraft, and he disbelieves in the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo. He returns to the Bible: “laquelle nous préferons a toutes les raisons que l’on pourroit alleguer a l’encontre.” There is a pæan on progress in his Methodus, but it is plainly inconsistent with the tenor of his fundamental thought. God, he proclaims, is free to act as He pleases, and Bodin draws the conclusion that accordingly the laws of nature are not fixed. If these laws are not fixed, he wonders if there is the possibility of scientific knowledge.

Alive to the many-sided influence of the age, Montaigne experienced the severe shock administered by the exploration of the world. It is significant that he regards this exploration not so much as an addition to knowledge as simply a variety of opinion, a change of sensation. To him it is disturbing to find that the cosmography of Ptolemy is refuted by the voyage of Columbus. The strange experiences and the unheard customs of America smashed mediæval unity into a thousand fragments, and Montaigne is left without a mental shelter. In place of the unity of the scholastic authors there are the dissensions of the classical. In place of the oneness of Church and State there is an ever-growing diversity of life, which reveals to him the transformation. Man’s character used to be a known, a constant quantity: now it is unknown, an inconstant quantity. The world used to be unchanging: now it is incessantly changing. The dissensions, the inconstancy and the change suggest to him that absolute judgment is impossible, and relative judgment no more than barely possible. “Que sçais-je?” is the poignant question. He answers with perfect frankness that he knows nothing. He is a sceptic who doubts even scepticism. Clearly Montaigne belongs to the school of Pyrrho in ancient times and to that of H. Spencer in modern. Rabelais seeks new ideas in the flask of the scientist: Montaigne, like Casaubon, seeks them in the folio of the schoolman.

There was need for reform in Church and State, but the reform must be of a conservative order. Montaigne and Bodin agree that it is better to preserve an old religion, even if false, than to destroy it if there is nothing to take its place. Montaigne obeys the laws of his country not because they are just but because authority orders them. Better legislation is readily conceivable, but, like Bodin and Burke, this Conservative fears that in the desire to secure a good measure an evil one may take its place. “Ceulx,” he points out, “qui ont essayé de r’adviser les mœurs du monde, de mon temps, par nouvelles opinions, réforment les vices de l’apparence; ceulx de l’essence, ils les laissent là, s’ils ne les augmentent: et l’augmentation y est à craindre; on se séjourne volontiers de tout aultre bienfaire, sur ces réformations externes, arbitraires, de moindre coust et de plus grand merite; et satisfaict on à bon marche, par là, les aultres vices naturels, consubstantiels et intestins.” A belief in progress is impossible when a man is such a pessimist. That he rated mankind at its lowest is clear from the inscriptions written upon the beams of his study. These also bear plain witness to his attitude to reason. He endorses the Pyrrhonian maxims taken from the Hypotyposes—“No reason without its contrary”: “It may be, it may not be”: “No man has ever known, or ever will know, anything certain.” To him, as to Copernicus, there is nothing absolutely false, nothing absolutely true: everything is relative. In his writings Montaigne sometimes speaks of the mind of man as if it were “un grand ouvrier de miracles,” and sometimes he rails at it as “un outil vagabond, dangereux et téméraire.” “Truth and falsehood,” according to him, “have the same visage, the same port, taste, proceedings.” He was more pagan in his plea for pleasure—his chief aim—and in his contempt of death than the pagans themselves. He was disgusted with novelty, he says, in whatever form it came. Instead of sharing the enthusiasm of Bacon and Campanella, Montaigne notes all around him signs of decrepitude, symptoms of decadence, in the intellectual fertility of his country. In his attitude to science he is as mediæval as the schoolmen themselves. Discoveries like those of Vasco da Gama are simply so many varieties of human opinion. The passionate desire of truth, the willingness to die for an idea, appeared to him an “excess of virtue,” worse than an “excess of vice.” Pragmatist at heart as he is, he disbelieved in intellect as much as Rabelais and Bacon believed in it. For example, a shock has been given to the authority of the schoolmen, who dominated Europe for five hundred years. This length of time did not guarantee the truth of the system. Is anything true? Scepticism of all results is Montaigne’s attitude. He was so confirmed a believer in the incertitude of his judgment that he was content to rest the decision on the drawing of lots or the throwing of dice.

From the elder Pliny Montaigne takes the view, “There is nothing certain but that nothing is certain, and nothing at once more wretched and more proud than man.” What use is learning in the conduct of life? Do not knowledge and the imagination which knowledge brings in its train aggravate, not assuage, the pain and the suffering of men? Does Copernicus, after all, contribute to human happiness when he demonstrates that man is not the centre of the universe? The ancients hold that the sun moves. Copernicus says the earth moves. How long will it be before another discoverer upsets the conclusions of Copernicus by fresh assertions?

The uncertainty of human knowledge, the inconstancy of human action, diversity its most characteristic quality—these are the titles of three of Montaigne’s essays. Bishop Butler looked on probability as a guide in life: the French moralist requires certainty, stability. The variety of views entertained by the philosophers proves that they regard reason as “a toy for any one to play with,” “a vain and frivolous instrument.” Paracelsus discovers modern remedies—or pretends he does—for ancient diseases, but Montaigne is plainly of the view that “it were small wisdom to commit my life to the mercy of his new experimenting.” His conclusion is, “Par cete varieté et instabilité d’opinion, ilz nous menent comme par la main, tacitemant, a céte resolution de leur irrésolution.” “Ce que nous appelons la science n’est qu’une inquisition sans arrêt et sans but.” The thing that hath been is that which shall be, and for Montaigne there is no new thing under the sun. “It is ever”—such is his contention—“one and the same Nature which rolls on her course. He who has thoroughly learned to know her estate in the present can safely conclude from it all the future and all the past.” Clearly he looked before and after, and equally clearly he did not pine for that which is not.

Three men of very different positions, different in origin and nature—Rabelais, Campanella, and Francis Bacon—announce almost simultaneously that Christian societies have entered into a path of progress in which the fear of retrogression must be dismissed as chimerical.

Expelled in 1524 by the Franciscans of Fontenay-le-Comte for his attachment to science, Rabelais cares for botany, taking up with special zest the classification of plants and flowers of newly discovered countries. The new materials upset the old classifications, and with their advent departs the certainty that Rabelais possesses the whole of truth. To the mediæval mind chance accounted for most things: to Rabelais law accounted for everything. Instead of arbitrary proceedings he set forth to his age orderly and ordered ones. The discovery of truth is not empirical: it is scientific. Rabelais pays homage to the progress of learning in the letter Gargantua addresses to his son, Pantagruel. He says that among the gifts and graces with which the Creator has adorned mankind, he places in the front rank the faculty of transforming his mortal state into a sort of immortal by the transmission of life and science from one generation to another. To him education furnished the key to the new era that he hoped would be happier than the old. He believed in the virtues of toleration as profoundly as Montaigne or Bodin, and in the future of science as deeply as Goethe.

The range of the interests of Rabelais remind the reader of Leonardo da Vinci, for he is humanist and grammarian, antiquary and jurisconsult, student of medicine and of theology. He is not content to read about the subject-matter of his scientific pursuits, for, anticipating Vesalius, he dissects the human body. The reading of Latin and Greek classics is not sufficient for him. Cargantua advises Pantagruel to study Hebrew, Ghaldee and Arabic, and to read and re-read the books of the Latin, Greek, and Arabic doctors. Hippocrates and Galen he peruses as well as Plato and Plutarch. The schoolmen, however, he refuses to read: their discussions are sterile and their language confusing. He believes it is more important to observe the movement of the pulse of a patient than to observe the movement of the stars. He parodies the predictions of the caster of nativities and derisively quotes the titles of his tomes.

Rabelais’ Peut-être suggests dissatisfaction with the state of knowledge then existing, the need for examination, and for freedom of examination. In the abbey of Thelema there is complete liberty of conscience. Scientific knowledge in the future will increase, though he disclaims all astrological knowledge of the future. “These are mysteries of the secret counsel of the eternal King, who rules, according to his free will and good pleasure, everything that is and that is done.” At the conclusion of Pantagruel the priestess tells Panurge, “When you come to your world, testify that under the earth there are great treasures and wonderful things. Your philosophers who complain that all things have been discovered by the ancients, and that nothing has been left for them to find out, are obviously wrong. All that the earth has produced is not comparable to what is still concealed in it.” It is a striking prophecy, though scarcely less striking is the stress Gargantua lays on the principle that “science without conscience is only the ruin of the soul.” This does not mean for a moment that, as with Bodin, the Bible is exempt from criticism. Rabelais is clear that some narratives, e.g. that of the Deluge and of the Ark, that of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, are in his opinion legendary. He is just as clear that reason cannot cover the whole of life: faith must step in, but faith must not ask man to believe what is contrary to reason.

The Dominican Campanella (1568–1639), the anticipator of Descartes, is no less explicit, no less ardent in the manifestation of his hopes. The prediction of a radical change, the arrival of powerful reformers, the necessity of a revolution—nothing is wanting in the literary and political programme of this audacious monk. In his Apologia pro Galileo he maintains that it is from observation, not from opinion, that progress arises. He sets forth the dangers of men trusting in the folio, the definition of terms. For his part, he was determined to “compare books with that first and original writing, the world.” Men must begin to reason not a priori, but from the objects lavishly provided by nature. Then “definition is die end and epilogue of science.” With Galileo he holds that philosophy is written in that great book, the universe, which is constantly open before our eyes; though he also holds that it cannot be understood except we first know the language and learn the characters in which it is written. In the dialogues between a Grand Master of the Knights Hospitallers and a Genoese sea captain—which is the form The City of the Sun assumes—Campanella predicts at once the literary revival and the political transformation of the world. In the last page of this vision of Utopia he tells us that there men “worship God in Trinity, saying God is the supreme Power, whence proceeds the highest Wisdom, which is the same with God, and from these comes Love, which is both Power and Wisdom; but they do not distinguish persons by name, as in our Christian law, which has not been revealed to them. This religion, when its abuses have been removed, will be the future mistress of the world, as great theologians teach and hope. Therefore Spain found in the New World (though its first discoverer, Columbus, greatest of heroes, was a Genoese) that all nations should be gathered under one law. We know what we do, but God knows whose instruments we are. They sought new regions for lust of gold and riches, but God works to a higher end. The sun strives to burn up the earth, not to produce plants and men, but God guides the battle to great issues. His the praise, to Him the Glory!

“GRAND MASTER. Oh, if you knew what our astrologers say of the coming age, and of our age, that has in it more history within a hundred years than all the world had in four thousand years before! Of the wonderful invention of printing and guns, and the use of the magnet, and how it all comes of Mercury, Mars, the Moon, and the Scorpion.

“CAPTAIN. Ah, well, God gives all in His good time. They astrologize too much.”

Campanella is convinced that a vast change was taking place in the world, and that it was his task to announce it. In his Prodromus philosophiæ instaurandæ he, like Bacon, provides a plan for the restoration of all forms of learning. He is completely confident that if man possesses freedom of thought he can develop new knowledge. “The future ages will judge us,” he proudly announces, “the present age crucifies its benefactors; but they will rise the third day of the third age.” In his old age, alluding to the shape of his head, he still holds, “I am the bell of the seven mountains, the bell which announces the new dawn.”

A contemporary of Campanella, less bold but much more enlightened than the author of The City of the Sun, Francis Bacon, grasped the idea of the renewal of the modern world by the aid of the intellectual labours of successive generations. Bacon is often reproached with making no real contribution to science. The criticism is just, but it is not well founded. His rôle was that of a herald. “I am but a trumpeter,” he proclaimed, “not a combatant.” Peace, especially theological peace, is a prime condition for the success of his scheme. He likens himself to the miller of Huntingdon “that was wont to pray for peace amongst the willows; for while the winds blew, the windmills wrought, and the water-mill was less customed. So I see that controversies of religion must hinder the advancement of sciences.”

Scientific investigators work, as a rule, on facts and observations they collect. Bacon urged them to amass facts and evolve cosmos out of chaos. His method is wrong; still there is no mistaking the enthusiasm of the man who writes that “without such a natural and experimental history … no progress worthy of the human race in Philosophy and the Sciences could possibly be made; whereas if such a history were once provided, and well ordered, with the addition of such auxiliary and light-giving experiments as the course of Interpretation would itself suggest, the investigation of Nature and of all the Sciences would be the work of only a few years.” In this fashion he hopes to get rid of the ancient hypothesis that men are condemned to return always in a circle.

Did not the schoolmen employ experience? Truly they did, but it was not to consult her as an adviser but to drag her at their chariot-wheels as a captive. In his Historia Vitæ et Mortis Bacon is well aware of the utility of provisional hypotheses. In the preface to his Magnum opus Copernicus had announced, “Neither let any one, so far as hypotheses are concerned, expect anything certain from Astronomy; since science can afford nothing of the kind.” Bacon attacked the Copernican discovery, and no doubt some of his hostility was prompted by the circumstance that the astronomer was pragmatic in his outlook. To Bacon science was making such progress that he could not bear this pessimistic philosopher. His Novum Organum is filled with hope. In his Advancement of Learning, which he published in 1605, he insists on the wisdom of providing readers in science and of providing the expenses of the experiments these men undertake. The foundation of the Royal Society was one day to be the outcome of his ideas. It is scarcely three centuries since the idea of the possibility of indefinite progress through man’s own conscious efforts first emerged in the minds of a few thoughtful persons. It is to Bacon the glory is due of first popularizing this seminal idea, one of the greatest single ideas in the whole history of mankind in the vista of possibilities it opens before us.

After the first steps towards progress the classical world remained strangely motionless, or rather, like the rotating wheel, exhibited motion without movement. In Rome, for instance, during most of the imperial period that progress which flows from the advance of technical knowledge was unheard of. Neither in agriculture nor in technical training does a single idea of any significance come to light after the first century: the work of administration also remains at a standstill. It is significant that the Roman heroes are generals and administrators, not philosophers, artists or poets. From Augustus (63 B.C.–A.D. 14) to Diocletian (245–313) the equipment of the legion remains the same. This argument, however, must not be pressed, for a similar remark holds good of the Napoleonic wars (1793–1815). It is more significant that there was no improvement in tactics, no new means of warfare, devised in the course of three centuries. Literature and art are confined to a sterile imitation which ever becomes more empty and feeble. At this time Rome had no rival on earth. Sovereign of the world, she has conquered Europe, Asia, and Africa; she has given proof of a vitalizing power enough to absorb all nationalities without ceasing to be herself. The conquered have ceased to complain and have adopted the language of their conquerors. It is then that Rome despairs of the future and utters an intense cry of distress. There is a loss of energy, a loss of spirit, and failure of nerve which is quite incompatible with progress. The proscriptions brought about what Seeck calls the “Ausrottung der Besten.” It was a world where the great fear was that the machine of State would break down, and ultimately Rome ceased to produce characters strong enough to work it.

The reason why we lay so much stress on future advance, and the Greeks on present permanence or durability, is largely historical. We are, on the whole, extraordinarily safe. Our national civilizations last for an indefinite time. On the other hand the Greek cities were apt to be short-lived, to be overthrown by war or stasis. Consequently they tend chiefly to ask of a society that it shall endure and not simply break up. It is most difficult to realize the constant precariousness of the State, the frightful proximity of death to its members. Our security makes us go further and ask that society shall improve and shall continue improving. The Greeks wanted a divine foundation and security, points which Plato and Thucydides (c. 471–396 B.C.) with countless others render quite plain. At the same time this reason does not cover all the facts. During the fourth century B.C. Athens enjoyed a long political peace, and yet there was no corresponding change in speculation. Again, there were long periods of rest in Roman history, notably during the early empire, with no effects on the attitude to the future. It is noteworthy that the Romans conceived revolution as “something new.” When we speak of progress, are we sure, in the present collapse of the industrial machine in flaming ruin, that we have had for the last 300 years a sound conception of it? Is our idea of the State in its main ends and spirit one that will emerge whole and safe from this war? May not the Greek philosophical writers have been nearer the truth in looking coldly on money-making as an end in life, and in treating moral and intellectual culture as the true end of social effort and organization? This would explain, in part at least, their attitude towards material progress. There is another reason. The doctrine of continuous change has for its basis the conception of the unity of mankind: it envisages the tribes, the cities, the nations as so many members of a great family. It assigns to each of them a providential rôle in the incommensurable career in which humanity advances. Now these underlying truths were not only unknown to the classical world; the members thereof were profoundly antipathetic to them. The discovery of printing, the impossibility of another Völkerwanderung, the greater ease of international relations, all combine in repelling the system by which Machiavelli condemns the human race to eternal oscillations between truth and error.

Human life is the old in the new, the old being in a new aspect. History exhibits that union of two opposites, permanence and progress, which is so baffling to the mind. It has a permanent identity and sameness because it exhibits the same species of being and the same eternal truth in all its sections. It also presents a constant variety and change, because it shows this same human nature and this same common variety in new forms. This co-inherence and co-working of the two factors, of the old and the new, of the conservatism and the progress, is the very essence of history. It is difficult to seize and hold both conceptions at one and the same time, as the constant debate between the man of conservatism and the man of reform shows. It is easy and natural to separate what God has joined together, and to make choice of the one or of the other character as the key to all history and the foundation of all practical life and action. It is simpler to say that history is permanence without progress, or else that it is progress without permanence, than to say that it is a true development and therefore both permanent and progressive. The extremists on both sides have a much easier task than one who occupies the central position between them. For a simple idea is much easier to define and manage than a complex one; but it is neither so fertile nor so completely true.

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com