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Medieval metaphor illustrating hierarchy of being from God to the lowliest non-being Chain stretched from foot of God’s throne to the tiniest particle of sand: a place for everything, and everything in its place. The Great Chain of Being. Hierarchy .

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the great chain of being
Medieval metaphor illustrating hierarchy of being from God to the lowliest non-being

Chain stretched from foot of God’s throne to the tiniest particle of sand: a place for everything, and everything in its place

The Great Chain of Being
hierarchy
Hierarchy
  • Top of chain represents perfection—God, according to Medieval Christian thinking
  • Every living and unliving thing had its place, its role and its “natural” way of being
angels
Angels
  • Just below God
  • Had reason and spirit, but no body
  • With no body, did not die
  • Could fall by free will (so devil was fallen angel)
man in the hierarchy
Man in the Hierarchy
  • Just below the angels
  • Could aspire to greater perfection (angelic or god-like)
  • Had reason in common with angels
  • Had body (mortality), unlike angels; had feeling, understanding
  • Incorporated features of lower classes—thus a “microcosm”
  • Could fall to the level of beast (free will)
higher sensitive class
Higher Sensitive Class
  • Below human (no reason; no soul)
  • Hierarchy within each subset: Highest mammal? Highest fish? Highest bird?
  • What specialties would various animals have that human beings do not have?
lower sensitive class
Lower Sensitive class
  • Have life and feeling
  • Creatures having touch but no feeling or memory (parasites or shellfish, for example)
  • Creatures having movement but not hearing, such as ants
vegetative class
Vegetative Class
  • Existence and life, but no feeling, understanding, movement
  • Highest tree?
  • Highest flower?
inanimate
Inanimate
  • Elements, liquids and metals
  • No sensation, but durable for centuries
  • Water higher than earth
  • Four elements: earth, air, fire, water
  • Highest mineral?
order and chaos
Order and Chaos
  • So long as every member of every class followed its specialty, stayed within its realm, order reigned in a sort of cosmic dance
  • Which being would violate this order, do you suppose?
disruption
Disruption
  • Once man disrupted the order through sin or crime…
  • This unnatural disturbance shook the chain and disrupted every other class, especially if the human was high in his class (king or prince)
in the meantime
In the Meantime
  • Chaos-disorder-corruption is reflected in all other realms (spirits wandering; corruption; madness)
  • Order must be restored
  • Truth must be revealed
elizabethan to modern
Elizabethan to Modern
  • This medieval view of order was coming under question with scientific discoveries, but it continues to be implied in literature
  • Brief reference to one part of this world view implies the entire chain of being and its implications
  • Vestiges of the chain and its underlying philosophy persist (DNA visual from science blog)
modern variations
Modern Variations
  • This came from a current spiritual website (www.cacradicalgrace.org/conferences/gcob )
  • Sets out idea of interrelationships in ecology-environment
  • Simplicity-balance