Sunday, March 17, 2013

World Publishes Thockmorton/Coulter Response to David Barton

Professor Throckmorton tells us about it here. The World article is here.


Joe Winpisinger said...

Barton will win the PR war if they keep getting into the minuta of this stuff...

jimmiraybob said...

This is off topic except in a general way. When it comes to how the FFs were informed and what they relied on for inspiration and ideas with respect to religious liberty and governing, it usually comes down to Christian/theist or not Christian/Deist. This focus alone biases the discussion, making it seem that there is only a dilemma to be deciphered. It is, of course, far more complex than that.

At Dispatches from the Culture Wars, there was a post a few days ago(1) about the influence of Cyrus II (the Great), 6th century BCE Persian conqueror and ruler, on Thomas Jefferson and other founders such as James Madison. The primary source of influence then appears to be the Cyropaedia (The Education of Cyrus)(2), written by a 4th century BCE student of Socrates, Xenophon of Athens(3).

Of course, aficionados of the Bible or the Tanakh will be familiar with the story regarding Cyrus' release of the captive Jews of Babylon and the restoration of religious/temple rights. In actuality, Cyrus released all Babylonian captives, restoring all religious rights. In the empire that he pulled together, religious acceptance/tolerance was the key to governing diverse peoples from divers regions and cultures.

About a hundred years after the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, a Babylonian artifact was discovered that is now know as the Cyrus Cylinder, which has begun a US tour for 2013(4). It's now in the Wash DC area (Smithsonian).

I believe that one of two editions of the Cyropaedia that Jefferson owned is also on display.

The Cyrus Cylinder has been referred to as the first human rights document, which is probably laying it on too thick, but it certainly is within the ancient Persian kingly tradition of declaring the relationship of the king/ruler to his people. Fun stuff and certainly relevant to the governing challenges to the New American nation.

It's interesting to note that Cyrus' success and magnificence are attributed to the Babylonian God Marduk on the cylinder and to the God of Abraham in the Bible and the Tanakh. Cyrus II was Persian and the dominant Persian religious tradition at the time was Zoroastrian(5). All traditions hold him in high regard. It seems that everyone wants to claim the great ones. Some things never change.

OK, back to the regularly scheduled hoedown.


2); and the text via Project Gutenberg at




Joe Winpisinger said...


In my studies of this topic I have come to change my mind slightly. I would have said we were founded on ideas that were classically influenced Christian. Now I believe were were founded on ideas that Christian influenced Classic ideas.

I.e Christian version of more or less same stuff that the Greeks and Romans taught...

That could change as I read more about all this and discuss it but that is where I am now.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That's Scholasticism, what brought the West out of the Dark Ages.

Truth cannot conflict with truth. If classical philosophy derived some truth, then whatever truth is in the Christian scriptures must be compatible.

Circa 1200 CE, Aristotle is rediscovered in the West via the Muslim world. Aquinas' project, and Scholasticism's, was to reconcile such exquisite reason with revelation. By coincidence [or not coincidence], the Muslim world rejects the falasifas in favor of fideism, and Christendom and the Muslim world switch places, both philosophically and as the leader of world civilization.

The Stoics had always had a place in Christianity ["our" Seneca, they called him], but we can't quite say that Rome was a Stoic society as much as we can say the West was Christian and the Middle East is Muslim.

Although Stoicism was considered by many early Fathers of the Church to be a part of the philosophical decline of the ancient world, many of its elements were held in high esteem, in particular, the natural law, which is a major part of the Roman Catholic and early American doctrines of secular public morality. The central Stoic idea of logos influenced Christian thought (see John 1). The Stoic definition of virtue as the conformance of the will to the rational order of the world has parallels with traditional Christian morality. The Stoic cosmopolitanism influenced Augustine of Hippo's concept of the City of God. Stoicism influenced the Christian Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy, a book which promotes Christian morality via secular philosophy; this book was highly influential in the Middle Ages.

Again, my agreement is in that the Enlightenment is quite overrated vis-a-vis the Founding. Locke just didn't drop to earth one day in the 1600s to save us all from sin and error. Christianity had continued to reform itself from superstition and fideism all along.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "Locke just didn't drop to earth one day in the 1600s to save us all from sin and error."

I agree but who is making this statement?

Yours is the same argument that I make for Aquinas and the Scholastics (the Medieval school men, or as we'd call them today academics/intellectuals); that they are in the loop on the intellectual development of ideas that preceded them but current general understanding and knowledge did not start with them nor is our understanding solely the product of any single tradition starting with them, such as Thomism.

Even the Scholastics don't represent a single tradition as some of them were more conservatively oriented and in favor of tight curricular controls supporting a defense of the faith and some were more open to the classics in sense of the human condition and the arts - the Humanist trend. And there were secular institutions and regionally and temporally the mix varied quite a bit.

I'd suggest that most people, and certainly academics/intellectuals, view the Enlightenment as a period of fundamental change, and especially in the idea of breaking with the old authoritarian order(s) based on the ideas of men like Locke. But who is it that says that Locke or other thinkers and philosophers invented his ideas out of whole cloth?

Most of the founders, especially those educated at university, who were responsible for the intellectual development of the founding were well versed in not just the thinkers of their time but were well versed in the primary works of the classic authors of Classical Greece and Rome.

But you have to admit, on at least a fundamental basis, that something happened in the period of time defined as the Enlightenment that makes it important and different. Something that didn't happen in Medieval or early modern time (except possibly on a limited basis such as the republican Italian city states). Something changed in world view and possibilities.

Tom Van Dyke said...

In our context, I don't speak of the [Catholic] Scholastics in a theological sense. The next link in the chain from Plato and esp Aristotle is Protestant Scholasticism.

But you have to admit, on at least a fundamental basis, that something happened in the period of time defined as the Enlightenment that makes it important and different.

The Americans' Enlightenment was the Scottish Common Sense Enlightenment, which unlike the continental Enlightenment of the philosophes, was entirely congenial to Christianity.

In fact, the Americans considered Locke, altho not of the SCCE, to be in the natural law tradition of Thomas Aquinas and Anglican Richard Hooker.

They didn't know they were even in an "Enlightenment."

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "That's Scholasticism, what brought the West out of the Dark Ages."

I'm trying to get away from the use of Dark Ages (and Medieval) and toward the terms Early-, High-, and Late-Middle Ages to be more in synch with modern historians and classicists. Old dogs, new tricks and, so far, marginal success.

To highlight my commentary above, the term Dark Ages was coined by the 14th century scholar Petrarch, often referred to as the father of Humanism*, in critique of the rigid and unimaginative Scholastic system of his time, relative to the Greek and Roman Classical works.

The break from a rigidly limited scholastic system toward a more humanistic emphasis is what paved the way for the world we currently enjoy...or don't enjoy, depending on your view of modern society and culture.

Technically, as you say, it was the scholastics, the intellectuals and academicians of the Middle Ages, that paved the way. It was the humanists though that opened up the academy leading toward the Renaissance(s) and the Enlightenment.

*scholars writing on the rise of Humanism, in the 14th century describe it as an emphasis on more human, rather than divine, aspects of the arts and culture and not a distinct philosophical movement. This did not necessarily go over well with the more conservative and rigid school men or the ecclesiastical authorities where education was to serve as a defense of the divine and the faith and not for shining the light on man's capabilities.

jimmiraybob said...

I'd also emphasize more directly that Scholasticism was also not a distinct philosophical, or theological, movement either but a methodology in teaching. Within the university both the staunchly conservative schoolmen as well as more liberal schoolmen existed within its ranks.

Is this what you're referring to as the Scholastics? The general system of education and professors/masters at the university?

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "They didn't know they were even in an 'Enlightenment.'"

Unfortunately, nobody gets a vote in the future. I'm guessing that there are a few intellectuals between Boethius and Petrarch that would not agree with the Dark Ages references. People need boxes to put things into and someone comes up with a name and if the name captures the general essence of a period and then more and more people use it until it's THE defining term.

I didn't know when I was a youngster that I would have to live with the term Baby Boomer (shudder).

I don't know if "they" knew they were in a period called the Enlightenment but the certainly recognized they were in a period of heighted or enlightened thought/reason in large based on empirical observation and scientific discovery. Who was it that first used the terminology to imply an enlightened age (or the Age of Reason)?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, the Reformation's rejection of the Roman Church's authority over science and philosophy fits in here too---although the stories about the Church being anti-science are exaggerated to the point of falsehood.

Who reintroduced the scientific method back to the West? Why, look, it's

Roger Bacon, O.F.M. (c. 1214–1294) (scholastic accolade Doctor Mirabilis, meaning "wonderful teacher"), was an English philosopher and Franciscan friar who placed considerable emphasis on the study of nature through empirical methods. He is sometimes credited, mainly starting in the 19th century, as one of the earliest European advocates of the modern scientific method inspired by the works of Aristotle and later Arabic works, such as the works of Muslim scientist Alhazen.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "Well, the Reformation's rejection of the Roman Church's authority over science and philosophy fits in here too"

I can't remember who it was, Nauert(1) or Cantor(2), that links the rise of humanism in the Middle Ages to the fracturing of dominant ecclesiastical authority and the beginning of the Reformation - not necessarily the intent of the humanists. A caveat that I've put forward before in commenting on the Humanism of the Middle Ages, is that it was different from what we would think of in terms of modern humanism and was not in any way anti Christian or necessarily anti Roman Catholic.

Two broad divisions might be seen - and this is me talking; one leading to the Reformation and Protestantism, and one leading to a more liberal and secular and anti ecclesiastical world view (anti ecclesiastical of all stripes).

Well, that was easy to find. Cantor, speaking with regard to northern European Humanism:

"By the 1520s, as he [Erasmus] of the older generation of humanists felt growing concern about Luther's actions and the even more extreme actions of his followers, more and more young German humanists who had started as Erasmian humanist reformers were undergoing a religious conversion that transformed them into dynamic young leaders of the Reformation..."(3)

Kids. What can ya do.

1) Charles G. Nauert, 2006. Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe. Cambridge

2) Norman F. Cantor, 1993. The Civilization of the Middle Ages. Harper

3) Norman p. 169

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yah. My story is that I began studying the Founding looking for Aquinas, and I did, but ended up finding even more Calvin.

I maintain political philosophy was on its way with or without the Enlightenment, but America simply isn't possible without the Reformation.

jimmiraybob said...

"I maintain political philosophy was on its way with or without the Enlightenment, but America simply isn't possible without the Reformation.

The founding political philosophy was on its from the time of Solon and Athenian Democracy.

America simple could not have been possible without the mechanism that made the Reformation possible - the fracturing of a hierarchical ecclesiastical authority that imposed conformity with one "Truth" - the Truth of Christ and the Roman Church. That mechanism was the introduction, reception and synthesis of classical arts, philosophical inquiry, scientific inquiry and the rise of naturalism and political science/philosophy. It was the unhobbling of the western mind. The beginning of the freeing of the intellect to go where it would.

Without that we/the founders would not have had the Luthers and the Calvins and also the Spinozas, the Hobbes and the Lockes. And, in a shout out to Jefferson, we wouldn't have had Epicurus. We'd likely still have mass servitude, king and God - the general order of the Middle Ages. In short, we would not have had an Enlightenment or modernity, at least not an enlightened modernity.

And, every generation, and certainly the founding generation, is free to synthesize the ideas of the past. The synthesis during the founding did not have to, by necessity, pass through Aquinas. There were plenty of translations and commentaries on the classical ideas available, so that someone, let's say Jefferson or Madison or Adams, could readily absorb and synthesize unfiltered Aristotle or Cicero on Aristotle's and Cicero's own terms. Apply the same to the Stoics and Platonists and to the Natural Law.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It all part of the Great Tradition. And leads through Scholasticism, not around it.

As for Hobbes, the Founders ghated him and his leviathan. As for Locke, John Adams wrote of the Calvinist clergyman John Ponet

John Adams wrote that the work of John Ponet [Ponyet] set forth “all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterward dilated on by Sidney and Locke.”

We had this discussion last year.

To it, I'll add that you need to look at all the stuff that Christianity took OUT of the classical tradition: infanticide, gladiators, that a Roman father could kill his child if he chose to---plus all the philosophical stuff which I'll look up for you if you want.

And even the worldview. Augustine learned from the Stoics but also wrote in City of God, Book XIX, Chapter 4:

And I am at a loss to understand how the Stoic philosophers can presume to say that these are no ills, though at the same time they allow the wise man to commit suicide and pass out of this life if they become so grievous that he cannot or ought not to endure them. But such is the stupid pride of these men who fancy that the supreme good can be found in this life, and that they can become happy by their own resources, that their wise man, or at least the man whom they fancifully depict as such, is always happy, even though he become blind, deaf, dumb, mutilated, racked with pains, or suffer any conceivable calamity such as may compel him to make away with himself; and they are not ashamed to call the life that is beset with these evils happy. O happy life, which seeks the aid of death to end it? If it is happy, let the wise man remain in it; but if these ills drive him out of it, in what sense is it happy? Or how can they say that these are not evils which conquer the virtue of fortitude, and force it not only to yield, but so to rave that it in one breath calls life happy and recommends it to be given up? For who is so blind as not to see that if it were happy it would not be fled from? And if they say we should flee from it on account of the infirmities that beset it, why then do they not lower their pride and acknowledge that it is miserable?

The West's "Great Tradition" "Christianizes" and perfects the classics. They "could readily absorb and synthesize unfiltered Aristotle or Cicero on Aristotle's and Cicero's own terms," but thank God they didn't.

jimiraybob said...

"It all part of the Great Tradition. And leads through Scholasticism, not around it.

No. Read more history.

"The West's "Great Tradition" "Christianizes" and perfects the classics. They "could readily absorb and synthesize unfiltered Aristotle or Cicero on Aristotle's and Cicero's own terms," but thank God they didn't."

Sometimes I don't know when my leg's getting pulled (olde tyme term for being spoofed or whatever the kids are calling it now days) and then there's the possibility that you're just being contrarian. Is this a serious comment? That all the classics had been cleansed and Christianized, whatever that even means, by the time we get to the founders and that the founders only read and studied the perfected Christian works??

jimmiraybob said...

And, Augustine may have known and read the Stoics but he was more influenced by Cicero and absolutely smitten with Neoplatonism. Heck, even Jefferson ripped on the Stoics and their smearing of Epicurus but he really went on to rip Plato, the Neoplatonists and the mystics.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You're neglecting the bad stuff in the classics that got left behind.

As for Augustine, Plato was cool. Just not enough.

"The books of the Platonists tell nothing of this. Their pages do not contain the expression of this kind of godliness -- the tears of confession, thy sacrifice, a troubled spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, the salvation of thy people, the espoused City, the earnest of the Holy Spirit, the cup of our redemption. In them, no man sings: "Shall not my soul be subject unto God, for from him comes my salvation? He is my God and my salvation, my defender; I shall no more be moved." In them, no one hears him calling, "Come unto me all you who labor."
---Confessions, VII, 21

jimmiraybob said...

He was imbued, took what he needed and adapted. Aquinas:

"Whenever Augustine, who was imbued with the doctrines of the Platonists, found in their teaching anything consistent with faith, he adopted it; and those things which he found contrary to faith he amended."(1)


Tom Van Dyke said...

"Whenever Augustine, who was imbued with the doctrines of the Platonists, found in their teaching anything consistent with faith, he adopted it; and those things which he found contrary to faith he amended."

At last. This is what I've been saying all along about the Christianization of the Greek-Roman tradition, creating the West's "Great Tradition."

It's Jefferson--and the modern secular academy--that obtusely pretends there's nothing of significance between Cicero and Locke.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "...and the modern secular academy" and I began studying the Founding looking for Aquinas, and I did, but ended up finding even more Calvin."

Well, at least I know that you're not just studying history to see what happened but instead have been looking to find Aquinas (and associated Christian perfection) in the founding. And, you found him/it with special bonus Calvin - of course, my secular self wonders if there could be just a tad bit o confirmation bias happening.

And what "secular academy" are you talking about? The one where I get my information from - or should I say, from whence I obtain my information? That's interesting because the relationship between Cicero and Augustine that you are so taken with came to me straight from the "secular academy." The intersection of Christianity/religion and philosophy in the western tradition is such a closely guarded and feared secret in the "secular academy" that they print whole books and journals on the topic and have national meetings and hold classes on the subject all across the nation. It's a mystery to me how they both hide this knowledge and yet so widely disseminate it.

Why the very two sources that I drew upon(1)(2) to know enough about Augustine's relationship with Cicero so that I could look up the Summa quote were produced by the "secular academy" and written by two secular acedemicians(3) - and book was even published by the University of California Press, Berkley. Yes, you read me right, Berkley. The very bastion of the "secular academy" assault on the Truth. Holy Mother of Dennis Prager and Shawn Hannity and all of the oppressed! Who'd a seen that coming.

And you know what? I bought them through a secular institution and at least one of books was likely delivered by the secular US Postal Service. And I often read them by the light of a lamp powered by secular electrons. And I'm pretty sure the ink was not prepared by specially ordained monks in and old country mountain monastery.


Anyways, nice culture warring with you dude.

1) James O'Donnell, 2006, Augustine; A New Biography. Harper Perennial

2) Peter Brown, 2000. Augustine of Hippo; A Biography. University of California Press, Berkeley

3) Assuming the standard definition of secular since I have no idea of their personal religious affiliation and given the fact that they do not appear to be written as religious tracts or to explicitly defend the faith. Anyway, I'm sure that the "secular academy" would have taken them out years ago if they weren't towing the "secular academy" line. Because that's how the "secular academy" rolls.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What I was saying is that my initial interest in the Founding was Aquinas, but I went where the evidence led, which was the Calvinistic influence--so much so that it required an additional study of the Reformation and Protestantism itself.

As for the rest, I cannot make you see what you don't want to see. Allen Guelzo has covered the Harvard Narrative much better than I.

jimmiraybob said...

"I cannot make you see what you don't want to see."

Spoken like those fine young men who used to show up at the door in the spring to offer me the way of the Seventh Day Adventists.

By insisting that the founding fathers worked solely from a Christian "perfected" corpus you've taken this to a theological realm. It's not that I don't "see" what you want me to see because I don't want to see it, but because of the weight of evidence that leads me to see things differently. Of course, I guess we can always dismiss that as being poisoned by the "secular academy."

And, if you'd asked I could have told you that Calvin, and religion in general*, played big at the time of the founding based on my American History 101 class at the secular academy that I attended some years ago. Not. A. Secret.

* I can probably still dig up the texts.

Tom Van Dyke said...

By insisting that the founding fathers worked solely from a Christian "perfected" corpus

By twice distorting my point, you've used up my patience. This colloquy was never about convincing you personally of anything, only to expose the reader to a corpus completely ignored by the Harvard Narrative.

For the record [again], the Reformation/Calvinist corpus was very much a work in progress leading up to the Revolution, and thinkers such as Locke were not seen as part of some new "Enlightenment," but as part of the Great Tradition from the Greeks to the Romans to the Scholastics to Calvinist resistance theory.

Belief in Jesus as the divine Son of God was not necessary to participate in that corpus. But "Christian thought's" contribution is why the American Founding differs from both Emperor Julian's Rome and the French Revolution--a lacuna that the Harvard Narrative obtusely creates.