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why Europe?

October 9, 2010

Why did western culture develop so dynamically in Europe? Why has this little appendage of the Eurasian continent had the enormous global cultural impact that its had? Consider this quote from Lesslie Newbigin:

Classical thought, for all its splendid achievements, had been unable to overcome dichotomies between being and becoming, between reason and will, between the intelligible or spiritual world and the material world known by the senses. Human history was an unending struggle of virtue against fortune, of the skill and courage and cunning of the human will against the blind power of fate which would — in the end — always prevail. The classical world had lost its nerve. Truth was ultimately unknowable. In Gibbon’s tart words, all religions were to the people equally true, to the philosophers equally false, and to the government equally useful. And this inward and spiritual decay was matched by all too visible disasters until in Augustine’s own time the eternal city, the very citadel of classical civilization, was captured and sacked by the barbarians. (Newbigin, Truth to Tell (1991), p. 15)

Why wasn’t that the end of the story? How is it that much of what was good in classical culture was carried over and preserved to provide a rich foundation for the later flourishing of European culture in the Renaissance and Reformation? Why didn’t the barbarians win?

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