The Impossible Synthesis

Altarpiece of the Church Fathers”, by Michael Pacher (c. 1483).

Bertrand Russell, in his “History of Western Philosophy”, introduces the second part of the book by saying that the Middle Ages is the history of “growth and decay” of the Catholic synthesis. He knows so well what is being synthesized that he forgets to say it. But now, as I reread portions of the book, I know that the synthesis sought was between faith and reason. My “Medieval Philosophy” teacher thinks that it has been successful. I, for one, can not imagine where he got that idea from.

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A Brief History of History

To use a ridiculously simplified metaphor: It’s as though both writers are painting a portrait of a woman sitting at a table. But while the novelist is painting from imagination and can give the woman any features, any race, any age, any dress, the historian is looking at an actual young, white woman sitting at a sidewalk table outside a St. Louis eatery…
Susan Wise Bauer, “The Well-Educated Mind”, page 164.
(Self-portrait of Aert de Gelder painting an ugly old woman, 1685. Just like this painter, the historian cannot paint history the way he pleases.)

History itself appeared with the ancient Greeks Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon, but it was little more than a collection of disconnected stories focused on large individuals. History was not a journey toward an end or had any underlying plan. The universe had always existed, after all.

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