In this short essay published in 1949, Gilson fashions a powerful argument against prevailing existentialists of his time who declared the death of God, by comparing them to those people of 948, when European society was caught in millennial hysteria expecting the Anti-Christ. He argues, with Thomas Aquinas, that it is only with faith in God that humanity can escape the destructive forces of nihilism and the permanent anguish of his/her own nothingness. The terrors of nuclear fission and other forms of unfettered human power was a theme that dominated Gilsons thought for the next few years.
In 1984, the University of St Michael's College re-issued the essay to mark the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Gilson. In the introduction, Laurence Shook CSB, a former student and Gilsons
The Terrors of the Year Two Thousand is, in truth, a beautiful, frightening, penetrating prose-poem. Gilson gives it to us without scholarly references, even enigmatically in what concerns his medieval base, the histories of Raoul Glaber. Yet the analysis of what some philosophers would do to us is devastating.
This specially bound copy of the 1984 anniversary edition of the book was prepared in the spring 2009 by Glenn Bartley, Fellow of Designer Bookbinders in the United Kingdom, one of the foremost societies dedicated to the craft of fine bookbinding. The volume was chosen to mark the 40th anniversary of the Kelly Library, the 80th anniversary of the Institute of Mediaeval Studies (and the 70th anniversary of its obtaining Pontifical status), and the 125th anniversary of the birth of Etienne Gilson.
The volume is bound in full crimson Marmatan goatskin with onlays of blue goatskins. The style of the front cover is reminiscent of the binding design of the 1930s. The world is symbolized by the circle of coloured dots: a spiral in two colours for two eras in history: nuclear explosion and the holocaust.
The rear cover is a stylized medieval binding design with a calming symmetry and the Christian symbol of eternity (vertical) and human history (horizontal).
About the Text
The Terrors of the Year Two Thousand was written by Gilson in 1948. It was a reworking of another talk on the topic The Intellectuals and Peace which he gave at Semaines des Intellectuels Catholiques in Paris, April, 1948. The central problem addressed by Gilson was the consequence of the existentialist argument of Nietzche and others after him, that declared the death of God and by extension the ascension of humanity into the role of creator.
Gilson writes eloquently on the nihilism and self-destruction wrought in a world where there is no God, and, as Dostoevski alluded, everything is permitted. If God is dead, the question becomes, what do we do with all our freedom? Gilson answers:
Long after the amazing discovery that all is henceforth permitted, man still continues to act as if that which had formerly been forbidden still remained so. The ancient law of good and evil continues to rule his actions, but instead of being called the divine law it is called the voice of conscience. Nothing has then been gained, and man has merely changed the name of his master; until the inevitable day when conscience, finding herself but the lees of long use, doubts in her turn that even she has authority to impose law. It is only then that all becomes actually permissible, and to the question: what must we do?, there is no longer an answer, but from the moment when there is indeed no longer anything that man must do, he no longer know what he will do.
What, then, is to be done? he asks. It could very well be our own generations question some fifty years later, when almost eerily not much has changed: North Korea threatens global life with nuclear testing, the books of Richard Dawkins and others expound the death of religion, an endless war plays out in Iraq and Afghanistan, genetic modifications threatens the food supply, and on and on.
His reply is grace: to receive grace.
For it is not by wallowing in the evil but in
turning our backs on its cause that the remedy
can be found. Let us not say: it is too late, and there is nothing left to do; but let us have the
courage to look for the evil and the remedy where they exist. It is in loving God that man has lost his reason; he will not find it again without having
first found God again.
TORONTO, July 8, 2009 -- On July 21st, 2009, the John M. Kelly Library will celebrate its 40th anniversary. To mark the occasion we are pleased to present this specially bound copy of Etienne Gilsons The Terrors of the Year Two-Thousand. Gilson (1884-1978), a renowned French philosopher and Thomist, is a luminous star in the constellation of academics associated with St Michael's College, and the founder and life-time director of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.