Editor’s Note: The spirit of Jorge of Burgos
There are two ways to learn about the history that the school hid us. The most enjoyable is to read novels like Julian by Gore Vidal, located in the 4th century AD; the other to study arid scholarly treatises by dissenters like Karlheinz Deschner.
What Deschner says below (to contextualize it see the English translation of his first volume) reminded me Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose, which by the way differs a lot from the movie starring Sean Connery. I refer to the character Jorge of Burgos, one of the oldest monks in the abbey: the gatekeeper who took care that the Greco-Roman wisdom in one of the greatest libraries of Christendom never reached the popular mind. Deschner wrote:
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Just as Christians are scarce among intellectuals—for, in general terms, the more a person knows, the less he believes—also in the 4th century it was still the case that the new religion reaped its most diminished successes among the scholars and the aristocrats.
The followers of the old faith among these social strata continued to consider, in their great majority, Christianity as a faith for coalmen, as a religion of people of little faith, totally incompatible with ancient science. But the Church needed precisely the scholars. That is why at that point, too, it thoroughly reviewed its thinking and began to open up to those who until then it had quarantined or even fought. And since the new religion was a good starting point for a career, the proceres and the scholars were now driven to conversion.
Soon the time came when the bishopric seats were almost exclusively covered by people from the upper layers. At the turn of the 5th century, the Greco-Roman world enters a slow agony. The representatives of the Christian cultural milieu ended up being clearly superior to the ‘pagans’ that still remained, if we do without Ammianus Marcellinus. This happened, naturally, using the means of the ancient culture, which, at least partially and with enough reluctance, was bequeathed to the Middle Ages.
This development is certainly in opposition to the basic teachings of the New Testament: the Gospel was not announced to the wise or the learned. On the other hand, it had been a long time since Christianity had taken a decisive step to leave the Jewish world of Jesus and the apostles. Paul himself was already a Roman citizen and the son of a Hellenistic city. And Judaism itself was already Hellenised for centuries, so that Christianity was absorbing more and more the wisdom of the Greco-Roman world, becoming a typical hermaphrodite.
Until the 6th century the new religion did not have a school of its own. It is true that Christians hated the classical heritage, but they did not create their own school or make any attempt at it: they lacked all the requisites, the very foundations for it, and they also found it impossible to compete with them.
There was a widespread maxim, advocated by both Tertullian and Pope Leo I: Christians must certainly appropriate worldly knowledge, but never teach it. The Statuta Ecciesiae Antiqua [statutes of the ancient Church] only allowed lay people public teaching with a special authorisation and under ecclesiastical control.
Later, knowledge and culture were tolerated as a kind of necessary evil, turning them into an instrument of theology: ancilla theologiae.