Friday, November 26, 2010

A friend of mine once argued to me that the British Empire began the Modern Age. The French & Indian War, of course, was a crucial turning point. Now along comes this:

Bernard Bourdin, "The Theological-Political Origins of the Modern State: The Controversy between James I of England and Cardinal Bellarmine" (trans. Susan Pickford; Catholic University of America Press, November 2010):

Publisher's description: "Contemporary understanding of the modern state is so bound up with the development of liberal democracy that it may appear anachronistic to identify the origins of the modern state in a theological-political configuration of events. Yet in European history, the sovereignty of the people arose from the divine delegation of royal sovereignty to the temporal and spiritual orders – a theory that the Holy See could not countenance. The controversy that erupted between James I of England and Cardinal Bellarmine following the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 is a striking illustration of this political and ecclesiological dispute over who ultimately holds absolute sovereignty by divine right – the king or the pope? In this work, Bernard Bourdin clearly sets forth the political thought and theology of James I as an early intellectual foundation for the modern state. He offers a comprehensive examination of James's intense dispute with Bellarmine, a controversy that sent shock waves throughout Europe and had a lasting impact on the rise of the modern state."

Bernard Bourdin is Professor of Theology at the University of Metz, France.

Now, while I don't share many people's enthusiasm for upward-linear history (in a sort of "Time brings novelty & progress" sort of way), and in fact think that this idea reeks of Hell, I do concede that it is important to trace lineage, both psychosocial and intellectual. In this case, I do think that Modernity began to enter the picture in a rather new way when France and England concluded their centuries-long struggle for power.

Certainly, the soul ought to voyage, quest, & discover, but it is important to remember that what the New World explorers found was "themselves all over again". Which is what makes America so interesting. And, of course, the Norse had already done it. So novelty is really relative to what is absolute.

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