The Arrogance of the Modern

A few years ago, I read some uproariously funny pieces by one Reverend Colonel Ignatius Churchward Von Berlitz, MA (Dom. Sci.) Oxon. (Oklahoma) gleaned by an acquaintance from the internet in its early days, the tone of which is uncomfortably representative of standard 19th century British and American scholarly writing (see here and here).

At that time, I was also revisiting the volumes of the Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers, under the general editorship of The Rev. Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D., successively Professor of the German Reformed Seminary, Mercersburg (PA), and Union Theological Seminary, New York. Now, as is well known, the introductions and notes in these volumes, a bona-fide product of 19th century British and American scholarship, ooze the same kind of haughty intellectual complacency. This is why I was quite surprised to read (by chance, as I usually ignore the introductions) these most reasonable lines from the pen of the editor of St Basil’s ‘Hexaemeron,’ The Rev. Blomfield Jackson, M.A., Vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s, Moor Lane, and Fellow of King’s College, London:

“[T]he fact that Basil is not ahead of the science of his time is not to his discredit. It is to his credit that he is abreast with it; and this, with the exception of his geography, he appears to be. Of him we may say, as Bp. Lightfoot writes of St. Clement, in connexion with the crucial instance of the Phœnix, ‘it appears that he is not more credulous than the most learned and intelligent heathen writers of the preceding and following generations.’ He reads the Book of Genesis in the light of the scientific knowledge of his age, and in the amplification and illustration of Holy Scripture by the supposed aid of this supposed knowledge, neither he nor his age stands alone. Later centuries may possibly not accept all the science of the XIXth.”

Ah, if only our contemporaries understood as much not only about the ancients, but indeed about their own work!

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4 responses to “The Arrogance of the Modern

  1. What a good word…I wish we could all learn more from the ancients in regards to not only our faith, but also in regards to how we should interact with culture and value our current perspectives.

  2. Delightful!

    If you want to get an unthoughtful “science supremacist” all hot under the collar these days, tell them that in three thousand years the science of today will be seen as laughable. They become indignant. I’ve done it. It’s something of a parlor trick. It always works.

  3. Good stuff! I couldn’t help but notice the conferring institution for Rev. Col. Von Berlitz’s degree: ‘Oxon. (Oklahoma)’. As a graduate of that institution myself, it’s good to see one of our own making such a name for himself. Perhaps the lesser known Oxford of Oklahoma will soon become as renowned as its English counterpart!

  4. In case anyone’s wondering, Esteban’s computer is having trouble, so he hasn’t been posting. He’s got a Vista [*spit*] laptop that won’t recognize its keyboard or a USB keyboard, and he simply cannot deal (as if anyone could!) with the onscreen keyboard. Hopefully that will be resolved soon.

    I’m sure that he would say something like: “Patience, my little snowflakes!”

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