Thinking Trivially about Radical Orthodoxy

In 1936, Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc published an essay, “The Counter-Attack Through History,” in which he urged Catholics to become better historians and to adopt what he called a “spirit of hostility” in discussions of history. At the center of his critique of the Catholic historical apologetic is “an ingrained habit of the defensive,” an approach which surrenders strength to those on the offensive by acquiescing to their worldview (Belloc 93). Belloc saw this habit of constantly resorting to the defensive as almost always leading to failure since it results in three errors: being led off into detail and distracted from the historic problem as a whole, acquiescing to points where Catholics should not, and allowing one’s mind to be warped by accepting a history with a distinctly anti-Catholic bias (93-94). At the base of the third and cumulative error is the realization that all history is narrative at its core. Thus, when Catholics resort to the defensive, they are often facing the impossible task of defending their worldview in terms of a completely different and possibly contrary worldview. Belloc’s challenge seen in this light is not so much for Catholics to adopt a consistently triumphal or belligerent argumentative spirit, but to approach their writing, history, philosophy, and even friendly debates with a distinctly Catholic worldview so as to call into question the very basis of prevailing secular histories.

The purpose of this essay is to survey and compare two such attempts at delivering alternative historical and philosophical narratives. The first study is the Ph.D. dissertation of Marshall McLuhan, which he began working on shortly after Belloc’s article was originally published and was itself an attempt to review and reevaluate how literary and cultural historians viewed the bitter sixteenth-century dispute between Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey. McLuhan, a convert to Catholicism familiar with many of the works of Chesterton and Belloc, gives an account of intellectual history filtered through the lens of the classical trivium of rhetoric, grammar, and dialectic. The second study is the more recent Christian–though not necessarily Catholic–theological movement encompassed under the name Radical Orthodoxy. Those associated with Radical Orthodoxy, including John Milbank, Graham Ward, and Catherine Pickstock, attempt to confront the idea of a “secular reason” on philosophical and theological terms, complete with their own historical narrative of the development of the culture of modernity. As disparate as the focus of these two studies may seem, they share more in common than their focus on and critique of traditional historical narratives. For both McLuhan and the Radical Orthodoxy crowd, a central guiding question is, “Why not go back to the Church Fathers?” This essay will attempt to compare how the respective narratives of these two “counter-attacks” ask and answer this question, as well as put them in conversation with one another.

Though McLuhan’s dissertation was originally titled “The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time”, the actual content of the study is far more wide-ranging than a study of Nashe. In the course of his research, McLuhan realized his attempt to place Nashe in the learning of his time required a significant historical survey, during which he uncovered and developed a distinctive lens to view intellectual history. The title under which the thesis was published several years ago, The Classical Trivium, reflects the subject matter of most of the book. What started out as an exploration of Nashe led to a historical study of educational and intellectual disputes from Cicero to Nashe (5). This history became the focus of the dissertation, which uses the three modes of learning in the trivium–grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic–and the disputes between adherents to each of these schools as a lens through which one may correctly perceive every intellectual disagreement from classical Greece up to the time of Nashe and even beyond.

McLuhan’s history of the conflict between the three ways of the trivium serves to correct studies of Nashe, but along the way he challenges scholarly understandings of Erasmus, Donne, the Reformation, the Renaissance, Scholasticism, and the Church Fathers. Central to his thesis is the continuity of the trivium as an intellectual force from Cicero to Nashe; or, as he might have later formulated in terms of figure/ground relations: the trivium is the ground by which the figure of any scholar, idea, or dispute must be understood. As McLuhan progresses through history, the ground of the trivium grows in definition and clarity. His method is to focus on key thinkers and educational methods within several time periods and trace the trivial allegiances through these environments.

Pattern recognition is the key tool McLuhan utilizes in his study and is central to the reader of his dissertation in order to be able to pick out the delicate lines McLuhan presents. When he discusses allegiances he is speaking more about tendencies than strict adherence to only one “way” of the trivium. Being the threefold base of the liberal arts, the trivium is really inseparable; thus an allegiance to a certain way means a tendency to subordinate the other two schools to that one method.

Those who tended to organize the trivium in terms of rhetoric–including Cicero, Quintilian, John of Salisbury, Petrarch, and Samuel Johnson, among others–had as their primary concern the cultivation of wisdom and eloquence (64). Perhaps more important in McLuhan’s history than this concern for the primacy of wisdom and eloquence is the idea that wisdom and eloquence were almost synonymous (64). Thus, those devoted to rhetoric were concerned with developing students who could take on the character of the doctus orator: one who demonstrated encyclopedic knowledge and whose knowledge was perfected by eloquence (66). The end towards which these goals were aimed was the practice of political prudence, for the verbal power associated with rhetoric was to be rightly used to pursue justice in the political realm. Though rhetoric is often thought of as merely “how something is said,” McLuhan’s history attempts to show that devotees of rhetoric were concerned with much more than flowery language; they were concerned with organizing a course of education towards the end of achieving wisdom, eloquence, and political prudence.

McLuhan often discusses the rhetoricians in conjunction with the grammarians as they had similar concerns with language, the former being focused on speech and the latter on written language. Both schools rejected the dialecticians’ attempt to strip language of its figures of speech and artistic elements to more directly state some abstract truth (184). Whereas the rhetoricians’ focus was on wisdom, eloquence, and political prudence, the distinctive characteristic of the grammarians is a concern for texts. Grammar schooling, from classical Greece even to the Renaissance, entailed the study of literature as a way of knowing and perceiving the world. In the course of education, the student learned to read, speak, and write by reading the classic works of literature; this course of learning was also encyclopedic in that the teacher’s explication of the text covered the whole course of the arts and not strictly literature (31). The grammarian’s commentary on the poet would offer instruction in “agriculture, medicine, architecture, history, rhetoric, logic, music, astronomy, geometry, and the rest,” meaning that education in all subjects was acquired through literary exegesis (31). The primacy of literary exegesis to all knowing is the distinct characteristic of grammar within the trivium.

This concern may be more generally understood as a focus on texts, or “what was said” (133). This concern for texts, however, is very broad, as grammatical thought and practice was thoroughly influenced by the Stoic doctrine of the logos and its later Christian manifestations. Acceptance of the doctrine in the Stoic philosophers, St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure, and Francis Bacon, among others, meant that the grammarians not only studied literary texts but nature itself as a text. For the Christian grammarian, including St. Augustine and the majority of the Church Fathers, God spoke his word in the Sacred Scriptures as well as in Creation. Thus, for the grammarian, nature itself was guided by the Logos and contained a universal grammar or reason (26). This meant that nature itself was a book to be read, a text from God that could be interpreted by much the same process as a work of literature. Central to the grammarians’ task of exegesis was the fourfold interpretation of the literal, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical levels of any given passage or of any given topic in nature. Beyond the application of this method to texts both human and natural, McLuhan also notes other doctrines as central to grammatical thinking: “man is distinguished from the brutes by speech; the secrets of nature need to be approached via language and vice versa; Nature is the font of all arts; and the encyclopedic or liberal arts serve for the exegesis of Nature” (136). The grammarian, throughout history, is concerned primarily with language in all forms and its interpretation, including nature.

As frequently as McLuhan points towards the similar goals of rhetoric and grammar, he just as often points out the sharp division between grammar and dialectic. While the characteristic trait of the grammarian is a primary concern for texts, the identifying characteristic of dialectics that comes to the fore in McLuhan’s study is a concern for abstract principles or ideas. In contrast to the grammarians, who very heavily encouraged reading of the classics as works of literature and stressed the importance of studying and interpreting the concrete images of literature, the dialecticians sought to reach ideas in their purest form. This meant, in most cases, a disdain for the stylistic devices of both the grammarians and the rhetoricians and motivated the dialecticians to plane away all devices to make language as mathematical and clear as possible (160). For the grammarian, who strongly valued the study of etymology, literary style, and interpretation, this goal was simply antithetical to encouraging the type of wisdom the grammatical schools encouraged, as well as to the rhetorician’s concern with eloquence.

The way in which the differing concerns motivated intellectuals of the three schools of thought towards varied goals and standards of intellectual achievement led to severe disagreements throughout history, including the disagreement between Nashe and Harvey which McLuhan’s dissertation sought to understand. More important than this disagreement, though, is how the lens of the trivium allowed McLuhan to see historical shifts through history, including the Renaissance. Significantly, in McLuhan’s history the Renaissance is a rebirth not just of classical traditions in general but of grammatical doctrines in particular. When, “after three centuries of doctrinal organization and disputation, the dialecticians had shown themselves unable to advance piety or to instruct the faithful, the grammarians, who had not ceased to provide a hostile opposition, rapidly regained the interest and the attention of the learned world” (133). A prime example of a grammarian whose thought gained attention was Francis Bacon, whose works like The Advancement of Learning and the Novum Organum evidence a firm grammatical commitment to the doctrine of names and the use of the liberal arts towards the exegesis of nature (McLuhan, Classical Trivium 16). Accordingly, McLuhan stresses the continuity of the trivium throughout history in that the dynamics of intellectual developments can be understood in terms of the relations between the three ways of the trivium. In the trivium, McLuhan saw a lens that could be used throughout intellectual history in order to help make sense of the world.

Significant to McLuhan’s analysis of the Renaissance as seen through the lens of the trivium is his frequent return to the Church Fathers. Broadly speaking, the Church Fathers hold the place of primacy in McLuhan’s history; more often than not, McLuhan uses the Fathers as a point of reference for other intellectual groups. What he is entirely clear about is their being firmly committed to grammatical and rhetorical goals, usually entailing a grammatical basis for interpretation of texts and nature aimed at the end of cultivating wisdom and eloquence. St. Augustine is a prime example for McLuhan; he notes the significance of Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana in the development and continuity of the trivium through the Middle Ages. McLuhan shows that, largely due to the influence of the Church Fathers, grammar was the dominant mode of theology from the patristic period until the twelfth century (17).

Furthermore, the lens of the trivium is just as applicable to McLuhan’s later work in media studies as it is to any of the figures and disagreements he covers in his history. He notes in the dissertation that “it is useful to recognize that the present exposition of the history of the trivium is being made from a grammatical point of view,” but considering the intellectual commitments and methods evidenced in his later work, it is doubtful that his use of a grammatical point of view in his history was merely incidental (43). In fact, McLuhan’s media studies can be most thoroughly understood as grammatical at their base, and McLuhan is in his own right a grammarian, firmly influenced by the Church Fathers in his work.

Key ideas in the media studies of Marshall McLuhan are inaccessible or unintelligible to the contemporary reader without a proper understanding of the way grammar influenced his work, including the analogically patterned conceptions of media as environments, media as language, and media as human extension. The centrality of the doctrine of the logos to grammatical thinking, especially to patristic theology, is a key discussion throughout the dissertation and is central to understanding the analogical thinking of McLuhan. For those who hold to this doctrine, it follows logically that a universal grammar exists in nature as an analogy to the universal logos (26). For Bonaventure, Augustine, McLuhan, and other Christian grammarians, the analogous relationship between God and the universe means that nature “ceases to be an unintelligible confusion and becomes accessible to the reason” (Gilson 214). In other words, nature becomes a book through which God has addressed humanity (215). McLuhan’s work in media studies can be fruitfully viewed as a development of the approach of the Christian grammarians’ interpretation of the Book of Nature. While the ancient and medieval grammarians took what they knew about interpreting texts and applied it to nature, McLuhan took what the grammarians knew about interpreting texts and nature and applied it to media. In Understanding Media, he elaborated on the idea that all media are extensions of some human function; in other words, all media are analogically related to some human function.

Perhaps the culmination of McLuhan’s development of the grammatical tradition is his conception of media as language. McLuhan noted in 1960 that “we’re beginning to realize that the new media aren’t just mechanical gimmicks for creating worlds of illusion, but new languages with new and unique powers of expression” (Carpenter and McLuhan 2). Like his grammarian forefathers, McLuhan was concerned primarily with language in all forms and its interpretation. His great contribution to the realm of media studies is the application of the grammatical idea that language is not a neutral medium used to convey abstract ideas, but that the concrete images and style of language carry profound consequences for interpretation. Thus, in media studies, he arrives at the conclusion that “the medium is the message”; in other words, the content of any medium is inseparable from its mode of mediation (Understanding Media 20). This led him to develop the science of the grammarians into what he calls a “new science,” the laws of media, which in reality is the old science of grammatical interpretation and exegesis as understood by the Christian grammarians.

Like McLuhan, the members of the Radical Orthodoxy movement are also attracted to the Church Fathers as a point of reference, prominently figuring the Church Fathers as having key insights into the theological problems of our day. Besides this similarity, the scholars associated with Radical Orthodoxy see the movement in a similar light to McLuhan’s lens of the trivium. In fact, Catherine Pickstock in “Radical Orthodoxy and the Mediations of Time” calls it “a hermeneutic disposition and a style of metaphysical vision” (63). It is a posture towards viewing intellectual history, a kind of counter-attack against a prevailing notion of history that sees a positive progression from modernism to post-modernism. The members of Radical Orthodoxy strongly criticize what has become known as postmodernist philosophy as really just an intensification of modernity (Smith 32). James K. A. Smith calls Radical Orthodoxy “a call to look at things one has too often assumed,” including the supposed progression of modernity to postmodernity and, most importantly, the submission of Christian theology to modern philosophy (66). This requires a review of intellectual history as told by the Radical Orthodoxy movement.

In fact, central to most Radical Orthodoxy writings is a concern for understanding history from a distinctly Christian perspective, which entails a rejection of any kind of thinking that pretends to be “secular.” Concerning the development of modernity and its influence on contemporary Christian thought and practice, the members of the Radical Orthodoxy movement do not make the usual move of looking to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Kant, or Descartes, but pinpoint a significant problematic development in the ontological thinking of Duns Scotus (Smith 95). Both Pickstock and Milbank point to Scotus’ development of the idea of the “univocity of being” as an antecedent to the modern idea of the secular. Pickstock calls the theology of Scotus “the first definite theoretical symptom of the destruction from within of the liturgical city” (After Writing 121). This is the first step in Radical Orthodoxy’s counter-history of theology.

Radical Orthodoxy places Scotus’ univocity of being in direct opposition to a Thomistic account of existence. Aquinas understood the relationship between genus and genus–i.e., between man and dog, God and man–to be of analogical character (Milbank, Theology 303). Thus, while men and dogs share certain qualities, the diversity of the qualities of their existence does not allow an overarching category of Being. Being itself is not a genus because Being is to be understood analogically between genera (303). Thus, in Aquinas, God’s essence is existence, whereas the created order only “participates in the being of the Creator” (Smith 97). Milbank points out that while Scotus agreed with both Aristotle and Aquinas that Being is not a genus, he “nonetheless considered that it was distributed in a univocal fashion, having precisely the same meaning for every genus” (Milbank, Theology 303). Having thus, in a sense, abstracted Being, Scotus was able to invent a distinction between ontology and theology (303). This amounts to an assertion, according to both Pickstock and Milbank, of “the metaphysical priority of Being over both the infinite and the finite alike,” meaning that being itself is a category that can be understood as metaphysically existent prior to a concept of God (Pickstock, After Writing 122).

This philosophical shift is of supreme importance to the Radical Orthodoxy critique of modern philosophy. For Milbank, following Aquinas, a rightly ordered philosophy subordinates metaphysics to theology; in fact, the subject matter of metaphysics is only intelligible in reference to God as a first principle, which we have access to only via revelation (Milbank, Word 44). Consequently, a commitment to the univocity of being unhooks metaphysics from theology, allowing for the rise of a “secular reason.”

The Radical Orthodoxy narrative traces this development of secular reason through modern and postmodern thought and sees significant connections between the univocity of being and the undercurrent of nihilism in much of postmodern thought. Radical Orthodoxy, then, is an attempt to confront this nihilism with a distinctly Christian philosophy which rejects all notions of secular reason. Tracey Rowland’s account of the Thomist tradition after Vatican II exemplifies this approach, beginning with the assumption that there is “no field that is ever truly ‘secular’ in the sense of being unrelated to, or autonomous of, theological presuppositions” (29). In fact, Rowland interprets Vatican II as an attempt to bring the Church into the modern era and sees this project, lacking a theologically sound understanding of culture, as inherently flawed. Rowland views modernity not as “merely a series of intellectual propositions, but an entire culture, which includes its music, architecture, literature, institutional practices, modes of dress and social relating” (83). Thus, the “modernization” of the Church that occurred in the ambiguous spirit of Vatican II of the later 1960s resulted in religious, liturgical, and cultural practices that “are mediated implicitly by a theory of theism that already contains the seeds of atheism” (102).

For Rowland, Pickstock, and Milbank, Radical Orthodoxy is an attempt to confront this development in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century with something that is authentically postmodern, in the sense of moving past the pitfalls of modernism. This requires a return to the Church Fathers, particularly Augustine and Aquinas, and from the philosophical accounts both Pickstock and Milbank give and the trajectories they project, this return is also a thorough return to a grammatical basis of theology.

In fact, the entire basis of the Radical Orthodoxy critique of the development of modern philosophy centers on the rejection of the analogy of being following Scotus’ development of the univocity of being, which is in fact a rejection of grammatical thought in favor of dialectical thought. Pickstock herself gives a helpful account of dialectical thought in her discussion of Peter Ramus in After Writing (an account that is influenced by McLuhan and his student, Walter Ong). In her account of Ramus, Pickstock notes his concern for abstract principles which McLuhan associated with dialectical thought: under Ramus’ program of education, “deductive reasoning from general principles to particularities was to be adhered to regardless of the nature of the subject under scrutiny” (50). Pickstock goes so far as to attribute the “modern desire to establish absolute rational certainty, focused upon method, and free from the supposed distortions of cultural particularity,” to Ramus’ dialectical method rather than the frequent scapegoat, Descartes (52). Seeing Ramus’ dialectical method as an attempt to reject the “obscurantism of Scholasticism” (55) by getting outside of subjectivity and language and developing a “calculus of reality” (50), Pickstock gives a grammatical critique of Ramus’ dialectical concern for abstraction. Descartes’ philosophy is then a continuing of this dialectical program, which results in the further development of “secular” reasoning in modernity.

In the same way that Ramus was preoccupied with the deductive reasoning from general principles, the Scotist idea of the univocity of being has a dialectical basis in its preference for the abstract category of being. McLuhan quotes the grammarian Erasmus to place Scotus within the dialectical tradition: “As to the Schoolmen, I had rather be a pious divine with Jerome than invincible with Scotus. Was ever a heretic converted by their subtleties?” (166). Similarly, Milbank sees the dialectical mode of thinking in terms of the univocity of being as leading to modern and postmodern nihilism. Milbank’s critique of philosophy, seen through the lens of McLuhan’s trivium, appears to support a return to the grammatical program of patristic theology in two senses: one being a grammatical understanding of knowledge, and the second being a theology firmly centered around analogy (Theology 304).

Regarding the grammatical understanding of knowledge in Radical Orthodoxy, one need only look to the reference to Augustine’s account of knowledge in the introduction to Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology. Milbank, Pickstock, and Ward report that Augustine “thought of human knowledge as a recapitulory recovery of a lost link to the infinite, a lost state of original human integrity” (10). This account of knowledge is central to grammatical thinking from Augustine to Vincent of Beauvais to Francis Bacon. The grammatical origin of this account of knowledge has its base in the tradition of the Fall entailing a loss of Adam’s metaphysical knowledge (McLuhan, Classical Trivium 16). Thus, St. Bonaventure can describe the Christian idea of corruption as the reversion of the seminal reason or logos from the visible to the invisible state (115). The liberal arts, ordered towards grammatical ends, are the attempt to recover the ability to correctly interpret the logos in nature and in Scripture (Taylor 349). Like the Christian grammarians, whose intellects were formed by an innate and unquestioned belief in the reality of the Logos and as all knowledge as grounded in theology, Radical Orthodoxy is underpinned with “the idea that every discipline must be framed by a theological perspective; otherwise these disciplines will define a zone apart from God, literally grounded in nothing” (Milbank, Pickstock, and Ward 4).

Of primary importance to framing every discipline in a theological perspective is the centrality of analogical thinking to Milbank’s consideration of knowledge in Theology and Social Theory (302-306). He discusses in depth the influence of the disparate ontologies of Aquinas and Scotus on philosophy in general, with a specific focus on postmodern nihilism. He argues for the strength and viability of analogical thinking as opposed to thinking based on the univocity of being, which leads to nihilism. Central to what he names “the analogical process” is adherence to a particular tradition which “permits a metacritical philosophy to remain not strictly transcendental” (305). In other words, the adherence to a tradition of analogical reasoning–i.e., the grammatical thinking exemplified in the Church Fathers–is what permits this philosophical critique to speak into a reality defined by that tradition. In contrast, the refusal of nihilism to adhere to a tradition causes an unavoidable lapse into transcendentalism (305). Thus, Milbank concludes, it is only “if we can reinvoke, like Augustine, another city, another history, another mode of being,” that we can “discover for ourselves a social space that is not the space of the pagus crossed with the dominium of an arbitrary, Scotist God” (321). It is in recovering the analogical thinking of the Church Fathers that Christian theology will be able to effectively provide a counter-offensive to a dominating secularism.

Consequently, a broad overview of the respective counter-histories of McLuhan and Radical Orthodoxy reveals a profound kinship between their commitments to the grammatical theology as practiced by the Church Fathers. The Radical Orthodoxy critique of philosophical history may be fruitfully seen as a critique of the influence of dialectics in theology, which ends in the subordination of theology to modern philosophy. One might argue that a commitment to grammar only subordinates theology to grammatical thinking, but considering the mutual influence of grammar and Christian thought on the respective developments of each, it seems that the grammatical basis for interpretation of texts and nature aimed at the end of cultivating wisdom and eloquence in the Church Fathers may be a helpful corrective for the dialectical bent in modern theology and philosophy.

While Radical Orthodoxy may be seen in terms of McLuhan’s discussion of the trivium, it is also possible that McLuhan himself can exhibit a similarly “radically orthodox” posture towards contemporary society. In fact, the obvious influence of grammatical and patristic ideas on McLuhan’s media studies demonstrate a social science that is in fact not governed by “secular reason” but by an authentic development of traditional Christian theology. McLuhan’s media studies, informed by the doctrine of the Logos, the analogical thinking of the Church Fathers, and the Christian notion of the Book of Nature, may make him one of the first social scientists in the twentieth century to actually put into practice a social science that is completely framed by a theological perspective. McLuhan’s approach itself may be seen as a “radically orthodox” posture towards studying culture and a prototype of the kind of theologically-informed disciplines Radical Orthodoxy attempts to encourage. This Christian counter-historical thread in McLuhan has been sorely neglected in studies of his thought and it remains to be seen how an understanding of a media studies thoroughly steeped in Christian theology will influence developments in the increasingly complex media environment of the twenty-first century.

Works Cited

Belloc, Hilaire. “The Counter-Attack Through History.” Essays of a Catholic. Rockford, IL: Tan, 1992.87-108.

Carpenter, Edmund, and Marshall McLuhan, eds. Explorations in Communication, an Anthology Boston: Beacon, 1960.

Gilson, Etienne. The Philosophy of St. Bonaventure. Trans. Illtyd Trethowan. Ed. E J. Sheed. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1938.

McLuhan, Marshall. The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time. Ed. W. Terrence Gordon. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press, 2006.

–. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Ed. W. Terrence Gordon. Corte Madera: Gingko Press, 2003.

McLuhan, Marshall, and Eric McLuhan. Laws of Media: The New Science. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1988.

Milbank, John. Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.

–. The Word Made Strange: Theology, Language, Culture. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1997.

Milbank, John, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward. Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology. London: Routledge, 1999.

Pickstock, Catherine. After Writing: on the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

–. “Radical Orthodoxy and the Mediations of Time.” Radical Orthodoxy?: A Catholic Enquiry. Ed. Laurence Paul Hemming. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2000. 63-75.

Rowland, Tracey. Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II. London: Routledge, 2005.

Smith, James K. A. Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-secular Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005.

Taylor, Henry Osborn. The Mediaeval Mind: A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1949.

First published in Renascence, Vol. LXIV, No.1, Fall 2011. © 2011 Marquette University Press. Reprinted with permission.

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About the Contributor

Benjamin Robertson

Benjamin Robertson
Benjamin Robertson is a founding editor at Second Nature. He has worked in advertising for the Chicago Tribune and Gannett, and now is a web developer at Mediacurrent. He studied Communications and Media Studies under Dr. Read Schuchardt at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has presented papers on Marshall McLuhan, media ecology, and Christianity at the Media Ecology Association, National Communication Association, and the McLuhan's Philosophy of Media Centennial Conference in Brussels. He lives with his wife, Ruth, in Greenville, SC. His personal website is


  1. “This Christian counter-historical thread in McLuhan has been sorely neglected in studies of his thought and it remains to be seen how an understanding of a media studies thoroughly steeped in Christian theology will influence developments in the increasingly complex media environment of the twenty-first century.”

    Oh I think the answer to that is pretty easy. It won’t influence anything because the folks who actually create the media could not care less.

  2. Well done, Ben. The challenge is to make McLuhan relevant as media counter-environment to the immersed, and then show how his thought stands with a whole Logos.

  3. This is so wonderful The integrity of McLuhan shines through everything in his life.

  4. Foucault’s Genealogy would be helpful to you here. It meshes with McLuhan when he discusses different DISCOURSES – The Order of Things – and with an awareness of Foucault you would be closer to McLuhan who read Foucault, although in the mid 1970’s. But he was already at the College de France by then and seriously respected in his non linear, non continuous, non progressive, non historical perception of history. This review of Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge is close to McLuhan in the Trivium patterning in Pynchon’s work rather than linear plot. I think you will like it.

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