Tuesday, 2006-01-31 | Classic Gin
So far as I can account for historical happenings, it wasn't until the Reformation that the much-maligned, widely misunderstood Christian Age began.
CS Lewis liked to say that antiquity ended in 1918, i.e. with the first World War, because up until that point the shared frame of reference was the antique one: everyone who was worth his salt knew Latin, everyone knew the attributes of the immortal gods on Olympus, etc.
As concerns the beginning of the Christian Age (which, if we go by my controversial dating, certainly didn't last very long), I think that there is something to be learned from thinking about it in the way that Lewis was said to have thought about antiquity. The fact of the matter is that, with few notable exceptions, you don't have any thinkers who thought in the way that we mean to indicate when we use the phrase, "the Christian Age," until after Luther and Calvin had come and gone.
When we talk about Christian thinking, we're talking about a.) an almost impossibly strict monotheism that doesn't make so much as anything even vaguely resembling henotheism, b.) a (relatively) convoluted theology that depends much more on the metaphysics of substance and the knowability of divinity than on the exploits of supernatural figures and c.) the denial of all claims of direct interaction with the divine. This type of thinking just isn't around until maybe a century and a half before the Enlightenment.
As late as Shakespeare's time (i.e. just before Milton's) there were people convinced in the reality of angelic and demonic agents--there exists pages and pages of testimony to this effect, some of which is in legal documents. Though the first Christians born in the 17th century may not have, like the generation before them, conceived of their lives as directly, immediately and actually influenced by supernatural agents, there exists a great deal of evidence that many of them were wholly convicted of the belief that it was entirely possible to turn a corner and be confronted by either a demon, a saint or some other kind of immaterial supernatural entity; many claimed to have experienced this one or more times. Finally, throughout Christendom, you had literate, educated Christians willing to admit of the actual, historical existence of the old gods, if only as demons in disguise.
Going back further in time, we see an even more unfamiliar kind of "Christian thought." Less concerned with ethics, ideals and affecting government policy than the Christian thinkers with which we are familiar, these earlier Christians were much more keenly interested in the ongoing eschatological drama that was occurring in all places and at all times for those with eyes to see. Rather than quoting Pauline letters at one another on cable news programs in order to demonstrate that the second most famous Jew in history either favors or condemns homosexuality, these earlier thinkers (from late antiquity until the renaissance) were far more likely to parse Scripture with exceeding care because--government policies be damned--they could be confronted by the devil himself and Scripture contained coded messages that told of what signs of protection and warding could be used to fend him off. Failing that, they would at the very least need to know with what signs and symbols the saints manifested themselves in order not to mistake them for the underlings of Antichrist or other lesser demons in disguise.
And since this is all true, what I said above is true, according to a certain way of reasoning: the Christian thought and Christian thinkers with which and whom we are familiar did not come into existence until about the middle of the 17th century or the beginning of the 18th.
That being the case, the "centuries of oppression" that many feel are the direct consequence of "Christianity" (that amorphous agency in history which possesses both an impossible unity of purpose and the most sinister of secret designs) are about two or three, if you concede (as most reasonable people will) that the so-called Christian Age ends with the Enlightenment.
Now, if only there were a way to convey this information and the argument implicit within it to the legions of vainglorious socialists, atheists and others who, in their overweening pride and garish complacency, routinely stop listening at the part about angels and demons in order to pat themselves on the back for being so much smarter than those pitiable victims of history's greatest deception...