Catherine of Sienna Galileo Galilei Kramer and Sprenger Essay

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Western Civilization and Deep Reality

The concept of reality has been a matter of great scrutiny and debate since the dawn of human civilization. There is the somewhat obvious and deceptively simplistic question of what constitutes reality -- that is, what if anything that we perceive can be considered definitely and objectively real -- and even deeper questions beyond. Throughout the millennia of recorded history and philosophical thought, many answers have been proposed to these questions, but the only certainty that has arisen is our complete inability to ever fully answer any of these questions. This is largely due to the supremely subjective position we are in as humans; it is impossible to determine what constitutes reality with any sort of objectivity because we are simply not objective creatures -- or so it seems. Yet this subjectivity has not stopped many philosophers, scientists, and thinkers throughout every age of Western Civilization from proposing answers to these questions, often with a certainty that might today be regarded as suspect -- many believe that ultimate truth or deep reality can never truly be achieved, as each discovery or philosophical innovation leads to more questions and uncertainty

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Such ideas were also rigorously questioned and scientifically probed in many ways. The ways in which we perceive reality have changed drastically across the different epochs of human history, especially in the modern era due to things such as scientific investigation and technological advancement. These have had an effect not only on what civilizations have perceived as reality, but even on how these civilizations -- or at least certain individuals within them -- believed that human beings perceive or know anything at all. The idea of how we process knowledge and the role of education is inextricably linked to our perception of reality, and this fact was not missed by the great thinkers of bygone eras as they probed into the nature of deep reality.

Essay on Catherine of Sienna Galileo Galilei Kramer and Sprenger Assignment

Deep reality itself has come into question, especially in the modern era -- it is possible, many insist, that there is no ultimate reality, and that in fact all existence is merely illusion. As interesting as such a proposition and the arguments attendant upon it (and against it) may be, such a belief renders itself moot by relegating it to the realm of illusion and non-existence. Far more lucrative in the sense of reality enrichment is the idea that deep reality can be understood, but only on a human -- and therefore subjective -- level. Understanding our subjectivity has become increasingly important in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as a natural outgrowth of the disillusionment that occurred following the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars.

This emphasis on subjectivity has not always been present however, in fact far from it. For the bulk of the centuries comprising what is traditionally though of as "Western Civilization," certain superficial dogmas have been overlaid in all searches for the true nature of deep reality, obfuscating any results. These dogmas took many forms, springing from personal pride and intellectual stubbornness as much as anywhere else. Ultimately, however, the various power structures have existed at various times have been responsible for creating and controlling both their populations' view of deep reality and their access to such thoughts through education.

One of the biggest and most recognizable power structures in Western Civilization for the past two thousand years, give or take a few hundred years depending on one's perspective of the trajectory of history -- has been the Catholic Church. This institution has influenced and regulated inquiries into philosophical knowledge, science, and even the arts since its creation and spread over the Roman Empire. Their power extended beyond the adherents to the Catholic religion to encompass almost the whole of Western Civilization for many centuries, and even today many aspects of Catholic dogma continue to have a profound effect on our perception of the world and the available education and information the informs our notion of deep reality. Certain cultural consensuses have been formed by this body throughout the ages that have made it difficult to penetrate to any but the most shallow notions of reality.

The Dialogue of Catherine of Sienna is a prime example of the influence and restraint that the Catholic Church placed on any seeking of the truth in ways that precluded argument by excluding the ability to think outside the scripted dogma. Written as an account of a direct revelation made to her by God -- from whom Catherine did indeed claim to receive direct visions and visitations -- this Dialogue supposedly confirms the traditional Catholic notions of deep reality -- the hell, purgatory, and heaven that awaits in the eternity beyond the unimportant physical world. The very manner in which this text is written exposes the dogma that produced it.

For some years now, there has been a bumper sticker that reads "Jesus is God. Read the Bible." Much of Catherine of Siena's Dialogue employs the same logic -- or lack thereof -- as this pithy and not especially witty statement. That is, the facts as stated are expected to stand as there own truth, if for no other reason than because they confirm already accepted notions. These are not merely notions of the afterlife, which are merely physical details of the world to come, but even about the way logic and thought operate in this world. The concept of the Divine at the time was all-pervasive; thought only existed with God, and any thought against God or what was considered to be God's will was inherently illogical and therefore wrong.

Even when it appears as though Catherine of Sienna is about to make a purely logical statement, she complicates things by introducing God: "The humble man extinguishes pride, because a proud man can do no harm to a humble one; neither can the infidelity of a wicked man, who neither loves Me, nor hopes in Me, when brought forth against one who is faithful to Me, do him any harm" (Dialogue, sec. 9). Attempting to explain how each virtue is made apparent by its opposite, Catherine cannot help but introduce the concept of fidelity to God. There is no attempt to critically analyze reality here, but merely a dogmatic repetition -- brilliantly constructed, but derivative nonetheless -- of the established beliefs of the Catholic Church.

This was far from the worst era of Catholic imposition on others' lives, however. The Inquisition was still centuries away at this point, and this period of persecution and torture still stands today as one of the worst (and therefore most humorous, to Monty Python and Mel Brooks both) examples of human rights violations on a massive and official scale. Not surprisingly, however, the Inquisition had a philosophical basis in the writings of men indoctrinated by the Church.

It should also perhaps not be surprising that the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum came from the Dominican order of the Catholic Church, the same Order of which Catherine of Sienna was a member. This tract was something of a handbook to Inquisitors, containing arguments affirming the existence of witchcraft and prescribing the methods for identifying, prosecuting, and excising witches as well. In this, it shows a shift from the positive reinforcement of Catholic dogma that existed during Catherine of Siena's time to the reprobation of a century later.

While Catherine's belief as to how knowledge is obtained, as implied in her Dialogue, was that inspiration and revelation created certainty, Kramer and Sprenger make clear in their Malleus Maleficarum that certainty should move away from such inner truths, and instead rely on the words of previously established authorities: "But the devils cannot interfere with the stars. This is the opinion of Dionysius in his epistle to S. Polycarp" (Kramer and Sprenger, 1.1). This shows an increasing adherence… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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