August 7, 2012
The Renaissance and the Western Via Positiva – Part Two
This is the second installment in a series of five weekly guest posts from British artist, engineer, graphic designer, and philosopher, Mike King, introducing the Via Positiva – a spiritual orientation that is life-positive and interested in engagement with the world – and exploring its historical roots and discussing the direction he feels it’s pointing us to in the future.
The fifth essay in the series is dedicated to Andrew’s work and how Evolutionary Enlightenment fits into the broader view of the Via Positiva.
Read the introduction to ‘Part Two’ below and then download the full essay in PDF form or, if you missed the first essay, you can start with ‘Part One’.
The Renaissance and the Western Via Positiva
In this essay I am going to explore the Renaissance period as a flowering of spiritual genius, a uniquely Western one, a Via Positiva. We all know about Renaissance painting, sculpture and architecture, and we learn about the philosophy of the period, its debt to Greek thought – via the Islamic world – and of the first stirrings of modern science begun in that time, particularly in the work of the ultimate Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci. But, as usual, the spiritual genius of the time is forgotten for two reasons: firstly it did not fit with Christianity, and secondly the secular world and its scholars mostly reject spirituality in the first place (Bertrand Russell called Renaissance spirituality “antique nonsense”).
As a first approximation I am going to characterize Renaissance spirituality as a form of Neoplatonism, a broad tradition of spiritualities that lay outside the Christian mainstream and have some debt to Greek thought, but also include Hermetic, Gnostic and Kabbalist sources. Hence I will begin by examining Pythagoras and his legacy and then consider the Christian context in which Neoplatonism always struggled for validation. Thomas Aquinas plays a key role in the Christian tradition for allowing it to re-absorb some of the Greek spiritual tradition: you could say that he made the Renaissance possible.
I then make a detour to consider the work of contemporary theologian Matthew Fox – deeply influenced by Aquinas and presenter of a “via positiva” of his own – before turning to the great spiritual masters of the Renaissance: Marsilio Ficino and Pico Della Mirandola. The difficulties under which they presented their Neoplatonist vision are then used to illustrate what I call “The Spiritual Wounds of the West” – the key trauma in the collective unconscious of the Western mind that has made it turn away from religion and spirituality.
I end by suggesting that the extraordinary contribution of Renaissance spirituality to the world was the idea of “man as microcosm” – that the human being recapitulates the entire universe within the human mind. This, I believe, is the essence of the Western Via Positiva. The idea of a world-curious and world-engaged spirituality has a much longer history in the West than perhaps the Christian world realizes…Click here to read the rest of the article (to download the PDF, ‘right-click’ and select “save as”)
You can learn more about Mike King by visiting his website here.
Join Andrew for a series of free monthly broadcasts. The next one will be a dialogue with integral philosopher Steve McIntosh exploring ‘Evolution & Enlightenment’ on September 30th at 2pm ET (USA). Register here.
Image: © HP_Photo – Fotolia.com
Image: HP_Photo – Fotolia.com