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Let us now examine the Christian contribution to the idea ofprogress in the West. It is very large indeed. As I have already noted,the same bent of mind that denies to the Greeks and Romans any realconception of progress is prone (with a few exceptions such as JohnBaillie, The Belief in Progress, which attributes toChristianity what it takes from the pagans) to deny Christianity anyvision of mankind's progress. But, as with the Greeks and Romans, asubstantial and growing body of scholarship demonstrates quite theopposite. Such impressive studies as Gerhard B. Ladner, The Idea of Reform: Its Impact on Christian Thought and Action in the Age of the Fathers; Charles N. Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture; Karl Löwith, Meaning in History; and Marjorie Reeves, The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Agesmake it certain beyond question that a very real philosophy of humanprogress appears almost from the very beginning in Christian theology,a philosophy stretching from St. Augustine (indeed his predecessors,Eusebius and Tertullian) down through the seventeenth century.
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Christian, including Joachimite, prophecy also played its part inthe Puritan Revolution of the seventeenth century. In 1615, JamesMaxwell, with his Admirable and Notable Prophecies, declared Joachim to have been "extraordinarily inspired." Ernest Lee Tuveson, in his profoundly important Millennium and Utopia,shows how easily secular progress conceived of as the rule of reasonand of the sciences could be derived from religious progress conceivedof as divine fulfillment. Thus he quotes a passage from Sheltoo aGeveren in which we are told that God shows his affection for mankindby raising up "some Valla, Agricola, Erasmus, Melancthon and others" inorder to bring "all sciences and knowledge of the tongues to theirpurity" . . . and to attain "the perfect knowledge of them all by whichalmost all Europe is set free from barbarousness." Tuveson's book wasone of the very first to point out the crucial importance of religiousideas of man's progress on earth—of his destined existence in anearthly paradise for a long period before Judgment Day comes, and ofthe liberation of men from all want, superstition, ignorance, andtyranny—as the forerunners of those secular ideas of progresswhich flourished in the eighteenth century. The great weakness of somany studies of the idea of progress in the eighteenth and nineteenthcenturies is their serene conviction that between Christian prophecyand the kind of idea of progress we find in, say, Condorcet at the endof the eighteenth century, there is no affinity (in the sense ofhistorical lineage) whatever, only conflict. Not, this erroneousargument goes, until Christianity with its idea of Providence had beenrouted, was it possible for a perspective of human progress to make itsappearance.