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David Turner,  Byzantium : The 'alternative' history of Europe

ELPENOR EDITIONS IN PRINT

Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader
Page 7

    b) Latin West 


Since Christianity is a Western as well as an Eastern phenomenon, was the Western attitude to the Social Myth of Antiquity any different from that of the East? I think it was. The chasm that began to open up between East and West in the Late Antique and early Medieval periods
[7] reflects different ways in which the Social Myth continued to be a valid symbolic universe in both these regions. Whereas society in the East could easily transform the pagan into a Christian Social Myth, especially thanks to ancient and well-formulated religions and philosophies which preceded the incarnation of Christ,[8] the situation in Western Europe was quite different.  

It is far too often forgotten today that the most profound difference between medieval Eastern and Western Christendom was not in institutions or society, economics or culture but in basic metaphysical, or theological principles. Western theology, especially in Augustine and the medieval scholastic theologians, stressed the Trinitarian formula of "One in Three". Terrified of falling into Tritheism (namely mis-interpreting the Trinity as three Gods), Augustine and his successors tended to ignore the distinctions between the persons of the Trinity, but also between the persons themselves and the single divine essence. Given that the essence cannot be known, then the persons become equally difficult to "know" or "experience", because persons came to be so closely identified with essence.  

God thus became a transcendent concept, an intellectually approachable entity and not a force immanent in material existence. The fate of the Western Christian tradition has been succinctly summarised by Alan Watts in his book "Myth and Ritual in Christianity" (New York, 1953, pp. 78-82). "Christianity has been expounded by an ... hierarchy which has consistently degraded the myth to a science and a history ... The living God has become the abstract God. For when myth is confused with history, it ceases to apply to man's inner life ... The tragedy of [the western] Christian history is that it is a consistent failure to draw the life from the Christian myth and unlock its wisdom .... Myth is only "revelation" so long as it is a message from heaven - that is, from the timeless and non-historical world - expressing not what was true once, but what is true always. Thus the Incarnation is without effect or significance for human beings living today if it is mere history; it is a "salvic truth" only if it is perennial, a revelation of a timeless event going on within man always" (Quoted in J. Campbell, Occidental Mythology, pp. 515-16).  

 

[7] Especially after the fall of the western part to barbarians.

[8] The author does not mean (I hope) that pagan religion is responsible for its Christian ‘transformations’, but that the resemblance between ancient Greek religion and Christianity made easier for the Christian element of Byzantium, which was now legal and even the official religion, to assimilate the pagans.

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         Cf.  3 Posts on the fall of Byzantium, Yeats : Sailing to Byzantium
(1927), Byzantium (1930) * E, Aspects of Byzantium in Modern Popular Music * Berl, The West Owed Everything to Byzantium * Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire * Toynbee, The pulse of Ancient Rome was driven by a Greek heart * * Constantelos, Greek Orthodoxy - From Apostolic Times to the Present Day * Al. Schmemann, A History of the Orthodox Church * Valery, What is to Become of the European Spirit? * Nietzsche, The European Nihilism * Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism * Pope Benedict XVI, The Papal Science * J. O. y Gassett, The Revolt of the Masses  * CONSTANTINOPLE

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