Origins of Western Culture
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
All experts on the cultural myths of the West agree that its collective thinking is grounded in the fusion of Christianity and Greek thought from Pericles and Plato to Aristotle. It is a rational way of thinking now known as the ‘scientific method,’ which was subsequently adopted as a dogma by the Church, and its origin was forgotten for several hundred years during the period of medieval feudalism, until the emergence of the Renaissance in the 15th century. Nevertheless, the different periods it went through after the fall of the Roman Empire were a function of the various religious, geographical, economic and political contexts prevailing for almost 15 centuries.
The Middle Ages, which began in the fifth century with the fall of the Roman Empire, lasted 10 centuries until the fall of Constantinople. During that period there was great social upheaval arising from many transnational wars aimed at imposing various religious creeds, the most prolonged and bloody of which were the Crusades, out of which came the Islamic religion led by Muhammad.
Although feudalism at the time was influenced by the Catholic Church, it eventually led to anarchy, lack of food and serious problems of health and power. The landowners appropriated almost all of Europe and with their slaves or ‘vassals’ were allowed to exploit the land in exchange for the payment of a tax and for swearing allegiance to their master or lord. So the technological progress of that time was based on improvement of the agricultural process which involved the planting and harvesting of grass.
Although the Middle Ages did not have major advances in science and technology, a practical technology was developed that was totally faithful to the principles of Aristotle insofar as rational answers were sought for natural phenomena. With the regaining of control of the Iberian Peninsula and the island of Sicily, the foundations of a ‘new era of knowledge’ emerged and spread during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.
The brilliant Spanish philosopher and theologian, Fernando Sabater, says that St. Thomas Aquinas was the first person of that era to value the experience of the senses and the power of reason as well as one God. His work was therefore a culminating moment in medieval thought that combined Greek culture with Christian doctrine.
St. Thomas Aquinas started a movement that became a doctrine that once again incorporated human values, since to be humanistic meant to seek the transcendence of the human person through the practice of constant reflection, although the position of St. Thomas clashed head-on with the theocentric vision prevailing during the Middle Ages, where everything revolved around one God.
At the same time, Martin Luther initiated the movement known as ‘The Reformation’ where he clearly and vehemently questioned the excessive power of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther translated the Bible into the German language, so that all Germanic believers could interpret directly everything that they considered to be a sacred word. The arrival of the printing press around that time saw the achievement of the objective of spreading to the popular classes the information that had been reserved for the feudal lords and for the religious profession. After Luther came Calvin, whose radical thought had great influence in the political, economic and social spheres in Renaissance Europe. Although Italo Calvino was classist and a segregationist, he was also a great proselytizer and was even considered a dictator when he allowed the Spanish theologian and scientist Miguel Servetus to be executed for heresy, despite the fact that the Protestant movement to which he belonged completely rejected such elitist practices.
With the Renaissance came a strengthening of the monarchies of Spain and England, one Catholic and the other Protestant. The latter was the first to gain political and financial control of Europe until the establishment of the great French empire that made politics prevail over religion and became a cornerstone of a world order that controlled the West and countries worldwide until the outbreak of the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. Then it transferred its powers to North America and the US has been in the lead up to the present time.
Addendum: I have provided this very brief overview of the world order led by the West for centuries, because now a very similar global geopolitical phenomenon is being repeated where the great powers of this new empire are facing a very enigmatic and unpredictable political, economic and cultural crisis.
Added to this is the phenomenon of climate change that could stand in the way of the solution of the current global crisis that started in 2007 and is threatening all nations worldwide.