Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Little Taste of Things to Come

A Little Taste of Things to Come

Here are a couple of historical paragraphs from the new book, Seeking the City: Wealth, Work and Stewardship in the Bible and History, which will be complete and sent off to publisher next week:

Before the rise of the modern world there was the notion that everyone had a place to fill, a task that had been given to them, and that they ought to be content with that and not attempt to change anything about it. In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales the Parson says, “God had ordained that some folk should be more high in estate and in degree and some folk more low and everyone should be served in his estate and in his degree.” Stick to what is yours. If you are a Lord, then be a Lord, and if you are a peasant, be content with that. Every political theorist from Plato to Aristotle to Augustine to Thomas Aquinas agreed on this. Humans are equal to one another only in that they are all humans and share in a common humanity. They are not equal in opportunity, however, but are virtually locked in to a status in life from which there is little hope for deviation, barring some tremendous shift in fortune.
As we have seen, though, movements such as the Reformation brought attention to individuals, to their own choices, and made it clear that such static roles might not be fixed. Individuals are worth something, and they have the ability to make choices that can change their lives in dramatic ways. That idea will only grow more and more common with the passing of time in early modern Europe, and will spill over beyond Protestant borders into Catholic thought as well. What is happening from the Reformation on to the late eighteenth century is a rising tide of individualism, and with it an attendant political philosophy of republicanism, and with those a concomitant notion of a free economy. These are, however, ideas slow to flower.

Chad Owen Brand

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