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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV



     

Vol.8: Science and Faith

PART  III

 

THE MEDIEVAL SYNTHESIS:

MODERN FRAGMENTATION OF THOUGHT

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction
Chapter 1.      The Medieval Synthesis
Chapter 2.      The Modern Synthesis
Chapter 3.      History Repeats Itself
Chapter 4.      The Fragmentation of Thought and Life
Chapter 5.      The Chief End of Man ‹ and the Means
Chapter 6.      Towards a Christian World View

 

Publication History:
1965   Doorway Paper No. 12, published privately by Arthur C. Custance
1978   (revised) Part III in Science and Faith, vol.8 in The Doorway Papers Series by Zondervan Publishing Company
1997   Arthur Custance Online Library (HTML)
2001   2nd Online Edition (design revisions)

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INTRODUCTION

     IT IS not the best policy to introduce a paper by warning the reader against misunderstanding it. Yet there are three possible areas of misunderstanding in this essay which I should like to guard against. All three of them arise from the fact that it is sometimes necessary to oversimplify a situation in order to deal with it usefully without constantly resorting to "ifs" and "buts"‹which tend to complicate the thread of the argument.
     In the first place, my picture of the Medieval view of things is probably far from realistic. Not too many people lived in the kind of spiritual atmosphere which I have portrayed in chapter one. Moreover, although I do not wish to give unnecessary offense, I do not at all accept the essentially Roman Catholic theology which underlay it nor the policies which that theology justified. What I do feel to have been an achievement of importance was the preservation, in an otherwise corrupt world, of certain ideals stemming directly from a spiritual view of things that kept constantly before men the fact that they were personally responsible to God, that they were souls with an eternal destiny and not merely animals with superior intelligence.
     It is by contrast with our own materialistic culture that Medieval times are looked back upon with some nostalgia. Forgetting the hardships of those days, we envy the spirit of a society strong enough to direct the energies of men, not to the accumulation of personal wealth, but to the erection all over Christendom of monuments to their faith which, in the form of the great cathedrals, gathered all the arts of man in a supreme act of worship. Whatever our judgment of the Roman Catholic Church through the ages, it cannot be denied that this channelling of men's energies away from  their own immediately selfish interests and personal needs

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into a great common undertaking serving a spiritual end and requiring centuries to complete was no mean achievement.
     In the second place, the reader may gain the impression that I am opposed to science, to the scientific method, or to the scientific philosophy. Despite appearance to the contrary, this is not my feeling in the matter. Before retirement, I was engaged for many years as head of an Applied Physiology Laboratory with the Canadian government in research dealing with the response of human subjects to stress of various kinds (heat, drugs, work, etc.), using new techniques which had been developed in our laboratories. What I do fear is that the successes of the scientific method in dealing with those aspects of reality which allow precise measurement are misleading us into believing that this is the only method of dealing with reality. The consequence of such a belief is that any part of man's experience which cannot be tested or explored usefully by this method tends to be ignored by the scientists and, as a consequence, denied by the general public.
     Now, whereas formerly there was a tendency to deny man's bodily rights, today there is a tendency to deny man's spiritual reality. The spiritual dogmatism which characterized the earlier age is being rapidly replaced by a materialistic dogmatism. In this respect the two ages are much alike. This is why throughout the paper I have contrasted the Medieval and the Modern Synthesis ‹ not because the first was by any means altogether good nor the second by any means altogether evil, but because it is easier to compare opposites, and the more opposite they are made to appear, the more concretely can each situation be examined. And although we tend to be more acutely aware of the evils of our own times and to look more favorably upon the blessings of certain earlier periods in history, I believe it is essentially true that the spirit of man has greater importance than his body and that consequently a society which is more spiritual than material is to be preferred to one which is more material than spiritual. If this is true, we are not altogether wrong in looking back upon Medieval times with some envy.
     And finally, a word regarding my question in Chapter 6 as to whether the Christian Church is really called upon to attempt a fresh synthesis.
     To me, it seems quite clear that the church's prime responsibility is to bear witness in every way possible to the fact that man, individually, is in need of personal salvation. But I also believe that even in a society which

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rejects this message, the church is still calledupon to bear witness to the fact that man is not an animal but a unique creature of unique significance in this Universe, unique by origin and by destiny and, whether redeemed or unredeemed, uniquely related to its Creator. This uniqueness stems not only from the circumstances surrounding man's creation and fall, but also from the fact that after death he will live again to face a judgment for what he has been in this life. Man is not merely a superior animal, but a child of eternity.
     I am convinced that the world needs constant reminding of this fact and that there can be no understanding of "the phenomenon of man" unless it is recognized fully. Nor can the ills of society be properly diagnosed, nor can any proper provision be made for the real fulfillment of human aspirations even at the ordinary social level, unless the true nature of man in this respect is acknowledged.
     This dimension of our total understanding of reality cannot be supplied by science. It must be contributed by the Church as a theologically oriented world view and as a by-product of the personal commitment of the individual believer to the spiritual quality of his daily life.

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