Civilizing Influences

Many of the civilisations of the past functioned in such a way that many people lived in something close to a state of hypnosis.  Even today we face the danger that certain theories in education, certain ways of using modern communication, and of course many kinds of extremist politics, sometimes unintentionally, can produce similar results in individuals who are uninformed or who lack a good level of awareness and self-disicpline. 

When the Roman Empire in its decline in the ??th Century called its troops and provincial government home from an England then literate, prosperous and civilised, the influence of Saint Paul’s Christendom was a civilising force in the country.  Into the power-vacuum left by departing Rome came a persistent flow of illiterate tribesmen from northern Europe, including the Saxons and Angles who left their mark on the English language and gave their names to many of Britain’s counties to this day. 

Britain’s original Church, now called ‘Celtic’, was virtually identical with the monastic Church centred on Mount Athos.  In England it almost vanished, but took root with Saint Patrick when he began to preach on Ireland’s hills, awakening a new civilisation in that land whose touch has never entirely been lost, for this civilisation is carried by the influences that form and inform people’s psyches.  Thus the Christian religion shaped the backbone of our civilisation by the way it influenced its individual members, so that civilised character and behaviour, and even the safety of our streets, depend on our understanding the forces that rule the human psyche. 

This understanding at the core of Christianity formed and reformed the human psyche, fed our civilisation, and kept it alive.  But over the centuries there has been a great change in how people came to understand the original message of that faith.  Today, Christianity has changed almost beyond recognition, yet the Church's ancient understanding, once the strength of early ascetics, saints and elders, can still be found, true to its lineage, in certain ancient monasteries, some of them built more than a thousand years ago in Eastern Greece.  Their monks, once drawn mainly from peasant stock, but now often university graduates, are still ensouled by that same understanding, that same teaching that is more than a teaching, the voice of the Prince of Peace.

Those who follow this path, born in its ancient mountains and islands, are formed in childhood by experiences that range beyond the busy boundaries of Western thought; by lights and feelings that awaken in the darkness of their psyche and become visible in the candle-lit gloom of ancient churches.  They learn from these experiences a truth that has never been fathomed by microscope or ingenious measuring machine, and in time many of them come to understand how to keep that understanding and that inner peace alive within them.  It is these experiences that help people to understand what the faith teaches, but in many places today, that understanding is almost dead, and with this, our civilisation is changing in ways that few of us enjoy.

Our civilisation is the product of two different quite different kinds of knowledge.  The philosopher-saints of the early Church, beginning with Saint Paul, distinguished these two mutually exclusive kinds of knowledge, dividing them into two main classes according to how we come to know them.  These two classes are ‘incompatible’ in the technical sense that the knowledge of the first or sensory class cannot be described in the same terms that will describe the second.  They are: 

1       The first and familiar class consists of sensory knowledge, and all that knowledge - such as mathematics - which is revealed to us through the senses, and which can be found as a result of our own efforts.

2       The second, non-sensory form of knowledge, is unfamiliar to most of us; it is given to us, and is difficult to define or classify with our thoughts, although often we know that we know it.  

The sensory knowledge now rules us; the non-sensory knowledge has been lost.  This sensory knowledge can be found by everyone, and can be described in words, but it too is easily lost again by those who believe their own opinions.

The non-sensory knowledge is difficult to find.  It is first found within us, hidden among  other inner sensations whose meaning we do not yet know or understand.  There are different ways of knowing, but although we can know many different things, yet the fact of knowing, in itself - of what is known and how it is known - always contains an element which is recognisably different from purely formal thought.  If a thought is information, then if we really know something, the information contains an added sense of recognising what it is we know; so thought is not knowledge; if we know what we mean by a thought, we can at the same time be surprised by discovering that, by that same thought, somebody else means something entirely different.  Thoughts are remembered as ‘narrative memory’, while the source of knowledge is found in what is now called ‘episodic memory’, the first being remembering ‘about’ an event, the latter remembering the event itself.

The way in which these are different can be shown in a simple example.  We were approaching the sale of our house when a disagreement arose.  After two weeks of confusion we were told that the buyers needed to confirm certain things about the drainage.  We considered their claims and found them hard to believe, so I took a walk around the areas described and found that the facts, were not exactly as stated.  In this it was not only necessary but easily possible to distinguish clearly between the words and the factual knowledge they purported to represent, since in this case the facts and the description did not match.  In fact, such ‘factitious’ distinctions are commonplace in modern life, but for some strange reason, when statements are wrongly rooted in language, the ‘facts’ are often ignored.

Only ‘direct’ knowledge forms the basis for unity of the psyche.  Words and other forms of information divide instead of uniting, where observation integrates and unites, both within us and between people.  This is the integration on which coherent thought and action are based, and we have to be introduced to it slowly.