Contra Sapere Aude.

One of the questions often asked among the orthodox is when did we turn away from sense and Christ and the Gospel. Some would data it back to the time of Constatine or Augustine, who bought into the church the pagan philosophers. One of the better Catholic Authors of this time notes that in his theological basis for vampirism are ideas that come from Aristotle.

Others would say it is later. The scholastics were the last great systematic theologians who respected the traditions of the elders -- though I know Orthodox Christians who would argue they went too far.

The seeds of the turning from Christ were obvious from the beginning of the enlightenment, for when Kant took Horace's tag of dare to be wise as his motto for the enlightenment, he stated that he would not accept any authority or tradition.

Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) "Have the courage to use your own understanding," is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor. If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on--then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me. Those guardians who have kindly taken supervision upon themselves see to it that the overwhelming majority of mankind--among them the entire fair sex--should consider the step to maturity, not only as hard, but as extremely dangerous. First, these guardians make their domestic cattle stupid and carefully prevent the docile creatures from taking a single step without the leading-strings to which they have fastened them. Then they show them the danger that would threaten them if they should try to walk by themselves. Now this danger is really not very great; after stumbling a few times they would, at last, learn to walk. However, examples of such failures intimidate and generally discourage all further attempts.

Thus it is very difficult for the individual to work himself out of the nonage which has become almost second nature to him. He has even grown to like it, and is at first really incapable of using his own understanding because he has never been permitted to try it. Dogmas and formulas, these mechanical tools designed for reasonable use--or rather abuse--of his natural gifts, are the fetters of an everlasting nonage. The man who casts them off would make an uncertain leap over the narrowest ditch, because he is not used to such free movement. That is why there are only a few men who walk firmly, and who have emerged from nonage by cultivating their own minds.

It is more nearly possible, however, for the public to enlighten itself; indeed, if it is only given freedom, enlightenment is almost inevitable.

Kant was not writing in a vacuum. The idea that one could go back to the sources and the original text was part of the New Learning of the century before the Renaissance: they were the first to rediscover Horace. This was then driven by the orthodox Greeks, who fleeing the Turk, bought the Greek recieved text and the Septuagint with them.

But the theologians ans scholars of that time still engaged with those who had come before them. The easiest place to see this is to look at Calvin's commentaries on the New Testament, where he refers to Catholic scholars who preceded him, considering their explanations, accepting them or arguing against them: in doing this he built on the "schoolmaster", Thomas Aquinas, who referred to a thousand years of scholarship in his systematic theology, and the church fathers who preceded Augustine.

In a similar way, pholosophy was seen as a servant to the sciences. It was not an independant thing: it was something practical. Wisdom was worthwhile, but it was used to serve the people and within the traditions of the nations.

The ancients knew this: Socrates swallowed his Hemlock because it was his duty as a citizen. The idea that one can independently discover wisdom without guidance is akin to saying you can build your own mystery and your own salvation.

This is a lie. It a common lie that those who can and do live without society make: that with knowledge a community can change and be liberated. That there is no need for fences. Chesterton had something to say about that.

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

It is better to accept an uncomfortable and older wisdom. No man is an island. We stand on the work of those who have gone before. The history of those who have gone before is useful: if not as an example, as a warning.

And pure reason can lead one into great foolishness.

We are wise when we consider that the generations before us acted and wrote in the ways they did for good reasons. We should not scorn them: the reason we study history and English is to learn from them.

For as the best athletes need coaches, the scholar needs tutors, and serves an apprenticeship, produces a masterpiece, and then is allowed to enter the academy.

No one does it alone: the lie of the enlightenment is that we can.