Page 12 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 11 (1952-1952)

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II .
Let us turn to another era in human history; we will understand
again why books are dangerous. We come to the Middle Ages,
somewhere around the th irteen th century. In western Europe,
in which we are for the most pa r t interested, the people were
dominated by what we might call the faith-system. The Church
ruled the whole of Europe and the Church asked the peoples of
Europe but one thing: Believe in me. I t did not encourage the
common people of Europe to read, to think, to discuss, to criticize.
I t was a system based purely upon faith: Believe in me and you
shall be saved.
Somewhere about the twelfth century out from the Eas t came
messengers, messengers from the Arab world. They had met and
had been mastered by Greek philosophy, Greek science and Greek
wisdom. The Jews who came in contact with th a t eastern world
translated scientific and philosophical books from the Arabic into
Hebrew, and from the Hebrew those books began to appear here
and there in the prevailing Latin.
These books symbolized a new, upsetting force in the western
world. I t was the force of reason, the force of intelligence, inquiring
intelligence and questioning curiosity.
There appeared a great Jew, the greatest perhaps since the close
of the days of the Bible, Moses Maimonides. Maimonides wrote
his “Guide For the Perplexed” in Arabic. His task was to make
Aristotelian philosophy, which was the philosophy of the curious
mind, the philosophy of the supremacy of reason, accommodate
itself to the Bible of his ancestors.
In the
Moreh Nebukhim
Maimonides wrote another of those
books, which if I had been Pope a t th a t time, I would have de-
stroyed u tterly and ruthlessly every copy of it in every language
it was translated into. I would have u tterly destroyed it, for it
was a source of danger, a destroyer of the faith-system of western
Hardly had the
Moreh Nebukhim
appeared, when it was trans-
lated into Latin. Among the great minds of the time one man in
particular read it and made it his own. I t was Thomas Aquinas.
Thomas Aquinas was one of the most brilliant minds of the Church.
He had studied and absorbed the whole Maimonidean philosophy.
Tha t influence, together with his researches in Aristotle, forced the
first breaks in the walls of the faith-system, the breaks th a t cul-
minated in the Reformation and the coming of reason into the
realm of religion.
The faith-system was not only a Church. I t was also the feudal
system, for the faith-system owned lands and power. I t could
make kings. I t could unmake kings. I t held the keys not only of