The Idea of Progress eBook

J.B. Bury
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 354 pages of information about The Idea of Progress.

One of the greatest advantages that the study of astrological lore will bring to humanity is that by its means the date of the coming of Anti-Christ may be fixed with certainty, and the Church may be prepared to face the perils and trials of that terrible time.  Now the arrival of Anti-Christ meant the end of the world, and Bacon accepted the view, which he says was held by all wise men, that “we are not far from the times of Anti-Christ.”  Thus the intellectual reforms which he urged would have the effect, and no more, of preparing Christendom to resist more successfully the corruption in which the rule of Anti-Christ would involve the world.  “Truth will prevail,” by which he meant science will make advances, “though with difficulty, until Anti-Christ and his forerunners appear;” and on his own showing the interval would probably be short.

The frequency with which Bacon recurs to this subject, and the emphasis he lays on it, show that the appearance of Anti-Christ was a fixed point in his mental horizon.  When he looked forward into the future, the vision which confronted him was a scene of corruption, tyranny, and struggle under the reign of a barbarous enemy of Christendom; and after that, the end of the world. [Footnote:  (1) His coming may be fixed by astrology:  Opus Majus, iv. p. 269 (inveniretur sufficiens suspicio vel magis certitudo de tempore Antichristi; cp. p. 402). (2) His coming means the end of the world:  ib. p. 262. (3) We are not far from it:  ib. p. 402.  One of the reasons which seem to have made this view probable to Bacon was the irruption of the Mongols into Europe during his lifetime; cp. p. 268 and vii. p. 234.  Another was the prevalent corruption, especially of the clergy, which impressed him deeply; see Compendium studii philosophiae, ed.  Brewer, p. 402. (4) “Truth will prevail,” etc.:  Opus Majus, i. pp. 19, 20.  He claimed for experimental science that it would produce inventions which could be usefully employed against Antichrist:  ib. vii. p. 221.] It is from this point of view that we must appreciate the observations which he made on the advancement of knowledge.  “It is our duty,” he says, “to supply what the ancients have left incomplete, because we have entered into their labours, which, unless we are asses, can stimulate us to achieve better results”; Aristotle corrected the errors of earlier thinkers; Avicenna and Averroes have corrected Aristotle in some matters and have added much that is new; and so it will go on till the end of the world.  And Bacon quotes passages from Seneca’s “Physical Inquiries” to show that the acquisition of knowledge is gradual.  Attention has been already called to those passages, and it was shown how perverse it is, on the strength of such remarks, to claim Seneca as a teacher of the doctrine of Progress.  The same claim has been made for Bacon with greater confidence, and it is no less perverse.  The idea of Progress is glaringly incongruous with his vision of the world.  If his programme of revolutionising secular learning had been accepted—­it fell completely dead, and his work was forgotten for many ages,—­he would have been the author of a progressive reform; but how many reformers have there been before and after Bacon on whose minds the idea of Progress never dawned?

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The Idea of Progress from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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