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BOOK REVIEWS 611 This collection is a fitting tribute to the wide interest and significant contribution of Arthur Hyman. In its rich scope it is also a welcome resource for the scholar and serious student of medieval philosophy. JosEPl~ A. BtrlJS University of Alberta Stephen A. McKnight. Sacralizing the Secular: The RenaissanceOriginsofModernity. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989. Pp. xi + 131. $25.oo. Stephen McKnight's book is not a work of original scholarship or close philosophical analysis. It is a thinly documented essay expressing the author's opinion that recent findings on important belief systems of late antiquity and the Renaissance can illuminate and indeed modify the common conception of modernity as a distinctly secular period in Western history. The starting point for Sacralizing the Secular is the debate between Karl L6with and Hans Blumenberg in which Blumenberg attacked L6with for characterizing post-Enlightenment conceptions of progress toward secular modernity as simply the replacement of God by man in the traditional Christian framework of salvation history. McKnight criticizes Blumenberg for ignoring a current of early modern thought that he (McKnight) chlls sacralization, a "view of man as a terrestrial god capable of controlling the natural world and perfecting society" (l o9). Inspired by Eric Voegelin's work on Gnosticism and modern politics, McKnight looks to the Renaissance recovery of what he calls "the Ancient Wisdom traditions" (19) for the ingredients of a concept of sacralization "virtually diametrically opposed... [yet] complementar )," to secularization. McKnight's purpose, in other words, is to use the intellectual history of premodern times to create "a new perspective on the modern age" (l). Since most of his book deals with the premodern materials, I hope not to be unfair to it in concentrating on them and avoiding any firm conclusions on the importance of his book for the philosophy of history--about which I am not competent to comment. Suffice it to say that the level of generality and abstraction entailed in McKnight's approach to "the origins of modernity " is not one that I find conducive to clear thinking about history, which is always constrained by contingent particulars. That others find such discourse productive is evident in the works of Voegelin, Blumenberg, and L6with that McKnight takes as his starting point. McKnight's first chapter outlines "secularizing and sacralizing patterns in modernity " (9), beginning with a skimpy presentation of well-established material on periodization in Petrarch, Vasari, Voltaire, and Comte. After filling in details on the L6withBlumenberg controversy, the chapter ends by concluding that "the principal myths and symbols of sacralization enter into early modern thought and experience through the Renaissance revival of the prisca theologia tradition" (2o). Given the importance of the Reformation in defining postmedieval ideas on God's treatment of man in history, this conclusion strikes one as, to say the least, counterintuitive; no discussion of the Reformation follows, and Luther rates only a few paragraphs in a later section on 612 .JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 28:4 OCTOBER 199o Agrippa von Nettesheim. Max Weber is nowhere to be seen. Of lesser but historiographically important figures such as Sebastian Brandt, Mathias Flacius, or John Foxe there is no trace. McKnight draws primarily on the work of Eugenio Garin, D. P. Walker, and Frances Yates, an important tradition of scholarship which he misjudges with the astonishing implication that it derives from Lynn Thorndike and Carl Jung and which he distorts in the superficial presentation that follows in Chapter Two. The first part of McKnight's second chapter makes Boccaccio, Machiavelli, and Galileo exemplars of "secularizing patterns in the Renaissance." The entire treatment of Boccaccio rest:: on the Decaraeron's frame story about the plague and the first tale of Saint Ciappelletto, though four other stories are mentioned in the notes. Interpreting the Ciappelletto story as showing "how the bond between the sacred and the secular has disintegrated" (39), McKnight does not comment on Panfilo's opening caution that "everything done by man should begin with the sacred and admirable name of Him that was maker .... And therefore, since I am the first .... I propose to begin by telling you of one of His marvellous works, so that.., our hopes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 611-613
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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