The Premodern Worldview

The worldview of western premodernism (before the 17th Century and the Enlightenment) was dominated by superstition. The overarching popular imagination of the premodern person was one filled with ideas of supernatural causes for natural events. Meaning was understood through tradition and myth. The Constantinian age ushered in state support for the Church. The Church had later become institutionalized in the Holy Roman Empire. In this feudal world, with hundreds of European kingdoms vying for wealth, resources, and dominance, the final authority for life and faith was the Church, represented by the reigning monarch. Truth was officiated through the governance of church and state leaders. Papal decrees and kingly edicts were instantly and unquestioningly understood as supreme law. This was a time of the assumed divine right of kings to rule their servile people. Life was governed by fear-filled obedience to the reigning leadership. Order was kept through the rule of the state and church law.

The place of God was understood in relation to the place of authority in the cultural context. Just as authority rested in the supremacy of distant church and state supreme leaders, so the imagined place of God was as a distant supreme being. Likewise, the place of the self was seen as fitting within the feudal hierarchy. One knew one’s place as each individual held a static station from church and state royalty down to the landless peasant class. The place of others was seen in terms of their place in the overall social competition for survival as cities and states vied for control of precious resources. The place of creation in the premodern mindset was on equal par with the self and others in the seasonal struggle for survival. People competed with animals, disease, and whether to survive. Morality was governed by the power of the ruler of the day through his rule of law. And the whole of premodern life was lived by individuals and their communities for the glory of sovereign human rulers and their state and religious institutions.