Game of Gods:
The Temple of Man in the Age of Re-Enchantment
By Carl Teichrib
* The following is an excerpt from the first pages of chapter three.
Western civilization without Christianity is like a beef broth without beef. – Robert W. Keyserlingk.
…a ‘revolutionary situation’ exists when, in every cultural area of a society, old values are in the process of being rejected, and new values have been prepared, or are being prepared, to replace them. – Jean-Francois Revel.
The human story is a turbulent quest for knowledge and meaning.
Attempting to follow paths of self-mastery, we have been striving for some way to verify our divine impulse. Our notions of how this should be has resulted in a constant splintering of ideas and the fragmenting of order, expressed in religious beliefs and philosophical arguments, scientific interpretations, social experiments, and personal behavior. Innumerable and diverse shards of thought have thus lodged into the construction of civilization, and our present paradigm flows out of an abundance of competing, contradicting, and consuming narratives. Ideas have consequences.
The Christian milieu itself has been challenged and shaped by this flux, and not always for the better. In fact, much of the New Testament is an admonition to early Christian communities to stay true to the message of Jesus Christ as counter-claims and errant teachings arise. The book of First John fits this pattern, as do the letters of the Apostle Paul. Consider the strong language Paul used when he wrote to the Galatians: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”
Moreover, as early Christianity integrated into a cultural and civil framework, politically adopted for its stabilizing value, it found itself becoming increasingly institutionalized. Arguments have been made for the positive and negative influences this has had on Western civilization. Nevertheless, it opened up the Pre-modern epoch, the first of three broad stages of Western intellectual and social development.
Today’s transformation and tomorrow’s realities, the fourth broad phase of Western change, has not been without foreshadowing.
The Pre-Modern Backdrop
Pre-modernism, or Pre-modernity, can have various starting points. However, as our interest lies in the progress of civilization Anno Domini, we need to stay within the bounds of Christianity’s socio-political development. Constantine’s Edict of Milan in AD 313 could thus be considered a beginning, for the Emperor’s decree granted toleration to Christianity and allowed it to enter the mainstream of the Roman Empire. The Edict of Thessalonica in AD 380 is a contender as it made Christianity the official Roman religion, and the 607 decree by Byzantine Emperor Phocus could be included for it elevated the Roman church as “head of all churches.” Another possible starting point is Charlemagne’s imperial crowning on Christmas Day, 800 AD, wedding the papal office with “sacred kingship” – establishing “the Holy Roman Empire in fact.” Whichever starting line you choose, Pre-modernity is rooted in the rise of the Roman Church as a political culture.
Pre-modernity, beginning in 313 for the sake of argument and ending at the close of the 18th century, can also be called the Age of Faith or Christendom. It was a time when European social mores and intellectual thought were grounded in a Christian-conscious sense of order, scripted first by Romanism and then re-shaped by the Protestant Reformation. Religious concepts informed the customs and traditions of local communities and broader regions, providing a common ethos for social life.
But the governing religious agencies were far from perfect. Erroneous justification for papal authority, combined with politicking and economic interests, often led to authoritarian impulses and opulence. The Biblical commandments to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself,” had in too many cases been subverted for illicit gain. Unease and distrust stirred under the surface of Western civilization.
For example, in the mid-1150s, Pope Adrian IV asked his friend, John of Salisbury, what the common man thought of the pope and the Roman Church. John, a secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury, frankly expressed the feelings of citizens and local clergy. His bold comments – critical, first, of the princely class – could only have made Adrian shudder,
Scribes and Pharisees sit in her seats, and place on the shoulders of men unbearable burdens which they themselves do not deign to touch with even the tip of their finger. They lord it over the clergy instead of making their own lives an example to lead the flock to life by the straight and narrow path; they pile up costly furniture, they load their tables with gold and silver… They oppress the churches with extortion, stir up strife, bring the clergy and people into conflict, never take compassion on the sufferings and misery of the afflicted, rejoice in the spoils of churches, and count all gain as godliness. They give judgment not for the truth but for money. For money you can get anything done today, and without waiting; but you will not get it done even tomorrow if you do not pay a price. Too often they commit injury, and imitate the demons in thinking that they are doing good when they merely refrain from doing evil; except a few of them who fulfil the name and duties of a shepherd. Even the Roman pontiff himself is a grievous and almost intolerable burden to all; the complaint is everywhere made that while the churches which were built by the devotion of the fathers are falling into ruin and collapsing, he has built for himself palaces, and walks abroad not merely in purple but in gold. The palaces of priests dazzle the eye, and meanwhile in their hands the Church of Christ is defiled.
John of Salisbury continued, “Truly the mouth of God has promised that by what judgment they have judged, they shall themselves be judged, and that with their own good measure it shall be meted out to them again. The Ancient of Days cannot lie.”
He later admonished his friend: “Father, you are wandering in the trackless wilderness and have strayed from the true way.”
Turbulent political and religious waves were lapping on the shores of Western civilization by the 13th century.
Roman Catholicism, the gatekeeper of faith and academic life, found its cultural position weakening. With this backdrop, a rebirth – literally a renaissance – in ancient literature and artistic expression emerged, first in Italy, and then in other parts of the continent. This exploration of alternative models allowed a new humanism to flourish. However, unlike today’s secularist movements it was not an outright rejection of religion, as many clerics participated in its development. Nevertheless, such a shift in intellectual inquiry resulted in a new emphasis. “Renaissance Man” sought knowledge and articulation beyond the bounds of traditional parameters, and as historian Will Durant explained, this turned “from religion to philosophy, from heaven to earth, and revealed to an astonished generation the riches of pagan thought and art.”
Philosophical and theoretical ideas gained traction, and an openness to outside experiences and technical concepts – innovation and invention – moved the knowledge base away from ecclesiastical norms. Mysticism, too, came into vogue, including the introduction of a written Kabbalah. Humanity was being repositioned to a “natural” state of affairs.
“The proper study of mankind was now to be man,” expounded Durant, “in all the potential strength and beauty of his body, in all the joy and pain of his senses and feelings, in all the frail majesty of his reason.”
Artist and mathematician, Leonardo da Vinci – a true polymath – expressed the human-centered ideal in his famous drawing, Vitruvian Man. Here, superimposed within a circle and a square, man touches the “limits of the universe” and his proportions correspond to the measurement of all things. Although da Vinci’s The Last Supper is an iconic piece resonating with generations of Christians, the artist himself was not devoted “to Church or Christ.” Rather, he upheld causality and unity in naturalism, with science and experience as the guiding principle. “Science is the captain,” he penned in his philosophical maxims, “and practice the soldiers.”
The rediscovery and recapturing of the high nature of Man, the pagan impulse, was important to this period. Pico della Mirandola, a young scholar and traveller, sought this divine-human outcome by attempting to synthesize Christianity, Greek paganism, Jewish Kabbalism, Arab and Persian beliefs, and scientific concepts into a unity of truth – a perennial philosophy, or theosophy. Redeemed by Christ, Pico believed, humanity’s dignified soul and mind could thus move upward. Man, the effect of God as Cause, could “recollect himself into the center of his own unity, he will there, become one spirit with God.” Pico wrote,
God is all things and most eminently and most perfectly all things… It follows that God being perfect has in Him neither any defect nor any particularity, but is the abstract universal unity of all things in their perfection.
Hand-in-glove with the elevation of Man came the symbolic resurrection of pagan deities.
The enchanted worldview emerged in art, architecture, garden spaces, and public celebrations. One humanist described a festival in 1434 wherein costumed deities entered by procession: Apollo, Bacchus, Mars, Mercury, Venus, Cupid, Hercules – “ranks of higher and lower beings taking over the Savior’s place.” Wedding celebrations witnessed dramatized pageants of gods and goddesses, with parades of chariots decorated to expound mythical themes. Esoteric historian, Joscelyn Godwin, described one such event as a “living encyclopedia of pagan theology.”
The Renaissance, with its focus on humanism and celebratory paganism, was the harbinger of a time to come. But it was the Reformation, more than the Renaissance, that upset Europe’s tradition of papal authority in matters of state and theology.
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 Robert W. Keyserlingk, Unfinished History (Robert Hale Limited, 1948), p.175.
 Jean-Francois Revel, Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution Has Begun (Doubleday and Company, 1971), p.9.
 Genesis 3:5.
 Galatians 1:8.
 This was not the first time such a decree was issued. Justinian I had passed a similar edict many decades earlier. The importance of the Phocus declaration, however, was its lasting effect in cementing the idea of papal authority.
 Will Durant, The Age of Faith (Simon and Schuster, 1950), p.469.
 The Catholic position of papal authority stems from a problematic interpretation of Matthew 16:18-19. Here we read the words of Jesus Christ: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Catholicism holds that Peter was thus given apostolic headship to be passed to a papal office. However, this is not Scripturally sound. A similar promise was made in Matthew 18:18 to all Jesus’ disciples, and in the fuller Biblical context, the Catholic assertion of Peter’s primacy cannot be found. Instead, we read in Isaiah 44:8 that God is the only Rock, and in 1 Peter 2:6-8, Peter himself writes that Christ is the petra or “rock.” If the Catholic notion of apostolic authority is wrong, then the papal claim of mandated guidance and authority is in error. Indeed, Scripture reveals that God guides through His Word (2 Timothy 3:15-17), the power of the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-14), and through Jesus Christ as high priest (Hebrews 7:22-28). For rebuttals to the Catholic plank of Petrine authority, see the following: Norman Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Baker Books, 1995), pp.207-210; James G. McCarthy, The Gospel According to Rome: Comparing Catholic Tradition and the Word of God (Harvest House Publishers, 1995), pp.237-248; and Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast (Harvest House Publishers, 1994), pp.145-150.
 Matthew 22:37-39.
 The Statesman’s Book of John of Salisbury: Being the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Books, and Selections from the Seventh and Eighth Books of the Policraticus (Russell & Russell, 1963, translated by John Dickinson), pp.252-253. [Policraticus, Book 6, Chapter 24].
 Ibid., p.253, 255.
 Will Durant, The Renaissance: The History of Civilization in Italy from 1304-1576 A.D. (Simon and Schuster, 1953), p.77.
 Ibid., p.77.
 On the “limits of the universe,” see Peter Conrad, Creation: Artists, Gods & Origins (Thames & Hudson, 2007), p.171.
 For “Church or Christ,” see Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination (Random House, 1992), p.401. Pages 398-407 give a brief survey of the artist. Regarding Leonardo da Vinci’s view of Nature as causality, see The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, in two volumes, compiled by Jean P. Richter (Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1883). For the philosophical maxim, see The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci, Volume 2, p.290 (section 1160). An older but interesting view of the artist can be found in Leonardo da Vinci and His Works, compiled by Mary Margaret Heaton, (Macmillan and Company, 1874). Durant described his religion as “mystic pantheism,” The Renaissance (Simon and Schuster, 1953), p.226.
 Russell Kirk, in his introduction to Oration on the Dignity of Man, by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (Henry Regnery Company/Gateway, 1956), p.xvii.
 Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man (Henry Regnery Company/Gateway, 1956), p.9.
 Pico della Mirandola, as quoted in Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola: His Life by His Nephew Giovanni Francesco Pico, translated by Thomas More, and with introductory notes by J.M. Rigg (David Nutt, 1890), p.xxii.
 Joscelyn Godwin, The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance (WeiserBooks, 2002/2005), p.3.
 Ibid., p.198.