Legacy of Christian humanism

It is difficult to know what precisely Jim Makin is getting at in his Aug. 15 letter, “Common Western fetishism.”

After speaking out against “Westerners who advocate Buddhism and other Asian religions,” he goes on to direct his remarks against Christian Westerners in general, as when he asserts that “philosophy is not taught much in Western schools,” which he attributes to “the influence of religion.”

I would maintain it as an incontrovertible fact that, wherever the Christian religion has prevailed in the West, a prominent place has been given both to philosophy and to the humanities — notably, I might add, in the schools of Jesuits, who once had the reputation of being the “educators of Europe.”

Makin also implies that the acceptance of Christianity in the West is a choice of “superstition over humanism.” But there is no need of such a choice, since from its very origins, Western humanism has been deeply Christian as represented by such notable English humanists as John Colet and Thomas More.

True, there is a modern variety of humanism that is anti-Christian, but there is also a strong presence of Christian humanism as represented by such notable French philosophers as Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson.

Makin may well express his agreement “with the Epicurean view,” and he is welcome to state his opinion. But others are no less free to follow other opinions, and who is he, as a professional humanist, to gainsay them?

peter milwardsophia university

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • camnai

    I would remind Professor Milward that the notable English humanist Thomas More, as Chancellor to Henry VIII, tortured and burned any Protestants he could get his hands on.

    • Roan Suda

      It is true that Thomas More (rightly) loathed heresy. It is quite untrue that he loathed heretics as persons or sought their torture, a practice he opposed. Notwithstanding the lies told about him before and after his execution under the murderous tyrant Henry VIII, he was later canonized by the Church for whose sake he was martyred.

      • camnai

        So he ‘rightly’ loathed heresy, did he? So does Al Qaeda. Six prominent ‘heretics’ burned while he was Chancellor, so he doesn’t seem to have opposed it very hard. He also led the persecution of William Tyndale for translating the bible into English. And as a saint he’s a political appointee, having only taken up the post in 1935, 400 years after he died.

      • Roan Suda

        Many errors here in this short reply. One may indeed “rightly” loathe divisive falsehood, which is all that heresy is. Al Qaeda? An absurdly juvenile comparison! More was a saint, but even saints are imperfect creatures of their times. Besides, the heresy that he resisted ultimately led to far worse suffering. Renditions of the Bible into English had existed since Anglo-Saxon times; More was not opposed to non-heretical translations. Was Joan of Arc, canonized nearly 500 years after her death, likewise a “political appointee”?

      • camnai

        Your response to my Al Qaeda remark is argument by adjective. The point stands, and they justify their atrocities by reference to Islamic canon law. The heresy More tried to suppress did, I admit, lead to the wars of the Counter-Reformation, but it takes two to tango, and it was Rome who asked the Protestants to dance. The only serious pre-Tyndale translation of the bible into English was Wycliffe’s, and he was burned at the stake, too…fortunately for him, it was 30 years after his death. Less fortunate were many of his sympathizers. Joan of Arc’s ascension unto sainthood was a completely political act, as was her burning…at the hands, I might add, of a Roman Catholic bishop.

      • Roan Suda

        Having read the (partial) rendering of the Bible in Anglo-Saxon, I am curious to know what you mean by “serious translation.” We moderns flatter ourselves in thinking that we are vastly kinder and more enlightened than our forebears. We should not be so smug. I have no desire to time-travel back to the 16th century, but, please, flippant, broad-brush comparisons with Al Qaeda are simply sophomoric… Yes, there have been wicked, politically motivated bishops, Pierre Cauchon among them. Within a quarter-century of the saint’s death, she was declared a martyr and he a heretic…Et ecclesia errare potest.