Week, seven, seventy — all these point to the complete cycle in time.
The days of our years
threescore years and ten;
and if by reason of strength
fourscore years, yet
their strength labour and sorrow;
for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
The writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, when he had been sick, and was recovered of his sickness:
in the cutting off of my days,
I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years.
The other very strange and tragic result was that the ancient world, although it had become unified, was about to collapse. Its fall and that of paganism were imminent. The great Hellenic culture and the great state of Rome were both destined to suffer an eclipse. But this occurred only when the foundations of a universal state had been laid. Thus, while the high flowering of the ancient world dates back tb the time of comparatively small states without any claim to universal significance, might or glory, its disintegration coincides with the attainment of both the universal idea and state, and also with the spiritual refinements of later Hellenistic culture.
This, I believe, is one of the capital facts of world histtiry, and one which more than any other compels us to ponder on the nature of the historical process and reconsider many of the theories of historical progress. The decline of the ancient world was no accident. It had been determined not only by the barbarian invasions which destroyed the treasures of the ancient world, but also by an inner disease, whose symptoms historians admit more and more readily, and which attacked its very roots and made its fall inevitable precisely in the period of its greatest superficial brilliance.
The fall of Rome and the ancient world teaches us two directly opposite things. It demonstrates the instability and fragility of all terrestrial things and cultural achievements;
and it constantly reminds us that all cultural achievements are corruptible and contain the seed of their own decay when opposed to eternity. But in the Hght of history, this fall teaches us not only that culture has its stages of birth, flowering and decay, but diat it is also based upon an eternal principle. For, while the ancient world was succeeded by a period of barbarism and darkness in the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries, it is also true to say that culture has surviyed the ages.
The enlightenment was supposed to triumph along a direct line of development, but this is not the case in history.
The culture of Babylon, for example, was so perfect that in many respects it was in no wise inferior to that of the twentieth century. It is very essential for the philosophy of history to establish this point. Thus ancient Greece lived through a period of enlightenment which coincided with the development of Sophist criticism and is directly analogous to that of our eighteenth caitury. This enlightenment was supposed to triumph along a direct line of development. But history proves that die period of Greek enlightenment came to an abrupt end and was superseded by a great idealistic and mystical reaction, whose exponents were Socrates and Plato. This spiritual reaction against scepticism and rationalism was to run through the whole of the Middle Ages and thus stretches over a period of more than a thousand years. This fact is, however, absolutely incomprehensible from the standpoint of progressive enlightenment. How are we to account for such a lasting reaction?
Many modem historians of Greece, such as Beloc, for example, are hostile to this spiritual current, and see in Plato the initiator of a reaction wHch lasted until the time of the Renaissance. But why then did the ‘enlightenment’ not continue?
This brings us to a very interesting problem of the philosophy of history.