Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An interesting thought

While out on my run this evening, I was listening to a "Speaking of Faith" podcast with Martin Marty. It was a pretty interesting discussion of religion in American life, and there are probably lots of things worth commenting on. But one interesting things stood out to me in particular: He referenced a (hitherto unknown to me) Dutch philosopher named Eugen Rosenstock-Heussy (which took some doing to find how his name was spelled).

He claimed (according to Marty) that the history of learning in the western world can be written in three Latin phrases:
1. credo ut intelligam (I believe in order to understand). This is what led to the birth of universities in the middle ages.
2. cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am). Here is the skepticism that characterizes modern thought.
3. respondeo etsi mutabor (I respond although I will be changed). Truth has a social character and we learn by conversing with each other.

I like this kind of thing. I like it when historians can impose a structure on the past in such a way that it gives meaning (or brings out meaning?). I suppose I feel more comfortable when there is structure. Of course there is a lot more to be filled in, but these claims are the like the joists (or are they rafters?) upon which the rest of the planks can be laid to make the roof.

(sorry for all the parentheses)


Chuck Hartman said...

There's an ERH discussion group, and his main page is He was German, left Germany: 'I won't work a day under Hitler'.
Great summary of him in this month's Credenda.
(I have a Google Alert on ERH)
Some ERH-inspired work:
If you
ever in your life had a bright idea, or a new instinct, or a
new change of heart,
Sir, make this the cornerstone of your understanding
of the universe and you
will understand that the universe begins with creation. And
it ends in incarnation, because that's the experience of every potent and creative
man in the world.
But you look outside and try to deduce by your little brain,
not by your experience of your heart how the world begins, and how it should be
run. You'll never
solve it, gentlemen. You'll remain a selfish, inarticulate
animal. If the spirit moves
you, you will see how simple
things are, gentlemen. Love begins, and hope
keeps you going, and faith. And in the end, your grandchildren
will bless you.
Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
A Dartmouth Lecture
(Email me at

J. B. Stump said...

I just noticed that Martin Marty wrote about Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy in "Christian Century" last week: Grace in the Center, April 22, p. 47.