Archive for January, 2006

Peter of Blois

January 24, 2006

Human life without knowledge of history is nothing other than a perpetual childhood, nay, a permanent obscurity and darkness.

-Philip Melanchthon

“We are like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants; thanks to them, we see father than they. Busying ourselves with the treatises written by the ancients, we take their choice thoughts, buried by age and human neglect, and we raise them, as it were from death to renewed life.”

-Peter of Blois (d. 1212)

Peter of Blois penned this famous aphorism almost exactly three centuries before Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses” rocked Europe. A recent major study of the historiography of the Reformation (Dickens and Tonking 1985: 323) concludes that it is a “a window on the West, a major point of access to the developing Western mind through the last five centuries… By any reckoning, the Reformation has proved a giant among the great international movements of modern times.” On its shoulders we can look farther and deeper in both directions, that is, we can peer into both the medieval and contemporary worlds.

History provides a horizon for viewing not only the past but also the present and the future. The philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (1975: 269, 272) argued that a persom without horizon will overvalue what is immediately present, whereas the horizon enables us to sense the relative significance of what is near or far, great or small.” A horizon means that one learns to look beyond what is close at hand – not in order to look away from it, but to see it better within a larger whole and in truer proportion.” In other words, “far away facts – in history as in navigation – are more effective than near ones in giving us true bearings” (Murray 1974: 285). Even novice sailors know it is foolish to navigate by sighting your prow rather than by sighting the stars or land.

taken from Carter Lindberg’s European Reformations