After James Hannam’s excellent talk last saturday night, the most interesting exchange happened when one of our parishioners, who teaches the history of art, asked our guest if he agreed that the much lauded humanists of the Renaissance had not been an entirely good thing, particularly as they had embraced Roman rhetorical methods of argumentation. Where polemic and mis-represention, learned from such wily court room operators as Cicero, took precedence over rational argument. It was a very interesting observation, one which sprung to mind when I discovered a paragraph in an interview with A C Grayling, who would count himself proud to be an heir of rational humanism. He said this:
… in the 16th and 17th centuries, as the church lost control of its hegemony with the Reformation- lost its tithes, so much of its political influence, so much of its territory- it fought back hard, a massive, venomous response, rather like a cornered rat….
He goes on to cite the Thirty Years War as an example of the death throws of a this cornered vermin; a conflict more about dynastic squabbles and the personal ambitions of military freebooters than ecclesiastical retaliation. Thus an unfortunate turn of phrase is aided and abetted by a skewed version of history and the new humanism adopts the style of the old!