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The conversion of the emperor Constantine to Christianity in 368 AD brought a transformation to Christianity and to western civilization, the effects of which we still feel today. Previously, the Roman empire had absorbed and sustained the Greek intellectual tradition which, in the astronomy of Ptolemy, the medicine of Galen and the philosophy of Plotinus, reached new heights. Constantine turned Rome from the relatively open, tolerant and pluralistic civilisation of the Hellenistic world, towards a culture that was based on the rule of fixed authority. The century after Constantine's conversion saw the development of an alliance between church and state which stifled freedom of thought and the tradition of Greek rationalism which was intrinsic to it. The churches enjoyed enormous patronage and exemptions from tax, and in return allowed the emperors to take on the definition and enforcement of an increasingly narrow religious orthodoxy. This book explores how the European mind was closed by the revolution of the fourth century. It looks at the rise of the 'divine' monarch, the struggle as Christianity painfully separated itself from Judaism, the conflict between faith and reason, and the problems in finding any kind of rational basis for Christian theology. In these centuries, a turning-point for Western civilisation, we see the development of Christian anti-Semitism, the origins of the opposition of religion and science and the roots of Christianity's discomfort with sex, issues which haunt the Christian churches to this day. The Closing of the Western Mind is a major work of history. Wide-ranging and ambitious, its central theme is the relationship between the two wellsprings of our civilisation, the Judaeo-Christian and the Greco-Roman, and how the tensions between them have created the culture in which we continue to live, think and believe.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780712664981
ISBN-10: 071266498X
Format: Paperback
(234mm x 153mm x 33mm)
Pages: 512
Imprint: Pimlico
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 1-May-2003
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » A vigorous study of the death and rebirth of empirical thought in the Western tradition. English classicist Freeman (The Greek Achievement, 1999, etc.) charts two great strains of thought in antiquity. The first, exemplified by the work of Greek thinkers and artists such as Euripides and Aristotle, allowed that some things in the universe may well be unknowable, but that shouldn't stop humans from asking about them; the second, the province of Christian thinkers such as Jerome and Augustine, held that only God can know the unknowable, and humans have no business nosing around in such matters. The first Freeman dubs "reason," the second "faith," and even if the two often blended in the work of thinkers like Plato and Aquinas, they were often opposed to each other. With the ascendancy of Christianity in the Roman world, Freeman observes, "the principles of empirical observation or logic were overruled in the conviction that all knowledge comes from God and even, in the writings of Augustine, that the human mind, burdened with Adam's original sin, is incapable of thinking for itself." He notes at least part of the reason for the triumph of unquestioning faith was the inability of early Christian communities to agree on terms by which they could rationally explore the divine; part, however, was purely political: namely, the dawning awareness on the part of Constantine and other emperors that any dissension among the various Christian churches posed a source of jeopardy to their supposedly divinely sanctioned rule. (Thus, in due course, the doctrine of papal infallibility.) The strained competition between faith and reason played out over the centuries, Freeman shows, until by the end of the fourth century "the freedom to explore the nature of God was becoming restricted to the point of extinction," essentially crushing the Greek tradition until its revival, a millennium later, in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. A lucid, accessible contribution to intellectual history, and a worthy companion to Elaine Pagels's recent Beyond Belief (p. 290). (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Charles Freeman

Charles Freeman is the author of The Greek Achievement and Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilisations of the Ancient Mediterranean. He lives in Suffolk.

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