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The​ ​Shattered​ ​Image of the Thirteenth Century​

C.S.​ ​Lewis​ ​wrote​ ​a​ ​book​ ​of​ ​profound​ ​scholarship,​ ​​The​ ​Discarded​ ​Image​, ​​describing​ ​how​ ​people​ ​in​ ​the Middle​ ​Ages​ ​viewed​ ​reality.​ ​The​ ​book​ ​is​ ​valuable​ ​if​ ​only​ ​in​ ​showing​ ​that​ ​there​ ​was​ ​no​ ​“dark​ ​age”​ ​during this​ ​time.​ ​More​ ​disturbing,​ ​Lewis​ ​proves​ ​that​ ​even​ ​the​ ​most​ ​settled​ ​ideas​ ​can​ ​be​ ​overturned​ ​or discarded​ ​by​ ​humans.​ ​Lewis’​ ​metaphor​ ​of​ ​the​ ​philosophy​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Middle​ ​Ages,​ ​the​ ​discarded​ ​image,​ ​is valuable,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​prefer​ ​a​ ​different​ ​one:​ ​the​ ​shattered​ ​image.

We​ ​did​ ​not​ ​discard​ ​most​ ​of​ ​the​ ​image​ ​of​ ​reality​ ​from​ ​the​ ​Middle​ ​Ages.​ ​The​ ​lovely​ ​whole​ ​image​ ​was smashed​ ​like​ ​stained​ ​glass​ ​under​ ​the​ ​hammer​ ​of​ ​zealots,​ ​but​ ​later​ ​people​ ​recovered​ ​fragments​ ​and​ ​used them​ ​to​ ​create​ ​the​ ​world​ ​in​ ​which​ ​we​ ​live.​ ​We​ ​did​ ​not​ ​discard​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century​ ​ideas,–Western​ ​people use​ ​them​ ​today–but​ ​nobody​ ​has​ ​the​ ​whole.

We​ ​live​ ​with​ ​pieces​ ​of​ ​a​ ​shattered​ ​image:​ ​a​ ​worldview​ ​that​ ​worked,​ ​but​ ​was​ ​destroyed.​ ​Ideas​ ​from​ ​that philosophy​ ​were​ ​embraced​ ​by​ ​different​ ​people​ ​who​ ​used​ ​them​ ​to​ ​build​ ​beautiful​ ​art,​ ​great​ ​scientific advances,​ ​and​ ​new​ ​institutions​ ​that​ ​have​ ​enriched​ ​humankind.​ ​The​ ​difference​ ​is​ ​that​ ​the​ ​ideas​ ​are embedded​ ​in​ ​disparate​ ​views​ ​of​ ​reality​ ​that​ ​do​ ​not​ ​agree​ ​with​ ​each​ ​other.

We​ ​are​ ​all​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century​ ​people​ ​in​ ​part,​ ​but​ ​without​ ​the​ ​wholeness​ ​of​ ​a​ ​coherent​ ​view​ ​of​ ​reality.

If​ ​you​ ​are​ ​scientist,​ ​you​ ​owe​ ​your​ ​career​ ​to​ ​developments​ ​in​ ​the​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century​ ​that​ ​made​ ​the​ ​scientific revolution​ ​nearly​ ​inevitable.​ ​Sadly,​ ​many​ ​scientist​s ​now assert​ ​a​ ​philosophical​ ​materialism​ ​that​ ​would​ ​have made​ ​the scientific​ ​advances​ ​of long ago unlikely.

If​ ​you​ ​believe​ ​there​ ​are​ ​standards​ ​of​ ​morality​ ​that​ ​are​ ​more​ ​than​ ​what​ ​the​ ​government​ ​says​ ​is​ ​legal, then​ ​the​ ​13t​h​​ ​century​ ​gave​ ​you​ ​a​ ​firm​ ​basis​ ​for​ ​that​ ​argument.​ ​Yet​ ​proponents​ ​of​ ​this​ ​international​ ​law too​ ​often​ ​act​ ​as​ ​if​ ​these​ ​universal​ ​standards​ ​come​ ​from​ ​the​ ​subjective​ ​perspective​ ​of​ ​an​ ​elite.

Most​ ​of​ ​the​ ​good​ ​things​ ​of​ ​our​ ​times​ ​are​ ​products​ ​of​ ​an​ ​industrial​ ​revolution​ ​that​ ​gave​ ​the​ ​rest​ ​of​ ​us what​ ​only​ ​kings​ ​could​ ​afford​ ​while​ ​also​ ​creating​  ​new​ ​goods​ ​and​ ​services​ ​that​ ​the​ ​richest​ ​man​ ​in​ ​the world​ ​could​ ​not​ ​have​ ​purchased​ ​before​ ​this​ ​change.​ ​The​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century​ ​made​ ​this​ ​inevitable,​ ​but​ ​many industrialists​ ​forget​ ​the​ ​communitarianism​ ​that​ ​enabled​ ​their​ ​existence and​ ​could​ ​head​ ​off​ ​the​ ​discontent​ ​that​ ​leads​ ​to​ ​revolution.

There​ ​was​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​when​ ​Athens​ ​and​ ​Jerusalem​ ​made​ ​peace​ ​in​ ​the​ ​West​ ​and​ ​the possibility​ ​of​ ​head​ ​and​ ​heart​ ​living​ ​in​ ​harmony​ ​was​ ​realized:​ ​the​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century.​ ​Sadly,​ ​most​ ​churches​ ​in​ ​the West​ ​do​ ​not​ ​even​ ​realize​ ​that​ ​this​ ​is​ ​a​ ​possibility,​ instead ​making​ ​the​ ​false​ ​choice​ ​between​ ​reason​ ​and​ ​revelation.

What​ ​Happened​ ​and​ ​Who​ ​Did​ ​It

The​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century​ ​did​ ​not​ ​begin​ ​on​ ​New​ ​Years​ ​1201​ ​from​ ​nothing.​ ​For​ ​centuries,​ ​men​ ​and​ ​women​ ​laid​ ​foundations​ ​for​ ​the​ ​flowering​ ​that​ ​would​ ​come.​ ​In​ ​1301​ ​the​ ​good​ ​that​ ​was​ ​done​ ​did​ ​not​ ​die immediately​ ​(and​ ​the​ ​problems​ ​that​ ​would​ ​shatter​ ​the​ ​image​ ​came​ ​to​ ​some​ ​places​ ​later​ ​than​ ​others,​ ​if they​ ​came​ ​at​ ​all).​ ​People​ ​like​ ​Bernard​ ​of​ ​Clairvaux​ ​were​ ​men​ ​who​ ​made​ ​the​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century​, ​and​ ​a​ ​figure​ ​like G.K.​ ​Chesterton​ ​could​ ​still​ ​linger​ ​there​ ​through​ ​his​ ​capacious​ ​imagination​ ​as​ ​late​ ​the​ ​twentiet​h​.

It​ ​is​ ​good,​ ​however,​ ​to​ ​point​ ​to​ ​a​ ​few​ ​key​ ​names​ ​(out​ ​of​ ​many)​ ​to​ ​make​ ​the​ ​point​ ​that​ ​scientific, industrial,​ ​and​ ​international​ ​revolutions​ ​were​ ​made​ ​probable​ ​by​ ​a​ ​period​ ​that​ ​most​ ​of​ ​us​ ​have​ ​forgotten.

The​ ​“Renaissance”​ ​is​ ​more​ ​recent,​ ​and had​ ​self-esteem​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​claim​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​rebirth​ ​of​ ​culture; ​but​ ​for​ ​all the​ ​splendor​ ​of​ ​its​ ​art,​ ​the​ ​Renaissance​ ​was​ ​the​ ​wayward​ ​child​ ​of​ ​the​ ​thirteen​th​​ ​century.​ ​In​ ​many​ ​ways,​ ​it​ ​was​ ​a regression​ ​in​ ​ideas,​ ​worshiping​ ​ancient​ ​learning​ ​and​ ​ignoring​ the ​more​ ​recent​ ​scholarship​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Middle Ages. (Bacon​ ​is​ ​always​ ​good,​ ​but​ ​Roger​ ​Bacon​ ​was​ ​fundamental​ ​while​ ​Francis​ ​Bacon​ ​is​ ​witty,​ ​but​ ​derivative.)

Bernard​ ​and​ ​Francis:​ ​Forerunners​ ​of​ ​Love

The​ ​Middle​ ​Ages​ ​were​ ​the​ ​great​ ​age​ ​of​ ​love​ ​and​ ​of​ ​the​ ​hope​ ​that​ ​love​ ​inspires.​ ​By​ ​today’s​ ​standards, things​ ​were​ ​tough​ ​for​ ​the​ ​overwhelmingly​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​the​ ​population,​ ​but​ ​there​ ​was​ ​hope​ ​for​ ​tomorrow here​ ​and​ ​in​ ​the​ ​world​ ​to​ ​come.

Nobody​ ​was​ ​afraid​ ​of​ ​love​ ​as​ ​a​ ​motive,​ ​friendships​ ​were​ ​celebrated​ ​as​ ​much​ ​as​ ​marriage,​ ​and​ ​theology was​ ​awash​ ​in​ ​images​ ​of​ ​beauty.​ ​Look​ ​at​ ​cathedrals​ ​and​ ​imagine​ ​them​ ​new:​ ​splendid,​ ​first-rate​ ​artistic triumphs​ ​open​ ​to​ ​every​ ​person​ ​in​ ​the​ ​area.​ ​They​ ​are​ ​products​ ​of​ ​an​ ​entire​ ​community​ ​and​ ​triumphs​ ​of desire.​ ​A​ ​cathedral​ ​of​ ​the​ ​High​ ​Middle​ ​Ages​ ​is​ ​a​ ​unified​ ​whole,​ ​but​ ​has​ ​room​ ​for​ ​eccentric​ ​parts​ ​and​ ​personal touches built in over the​ ​decades​ ​it​ ​took​ ​to complete such masterpieces.

A​ ​great​ ​thinker​ ​and​ ​churchman​ ​like​ ​Bernard​ ​of​ ​Clairvaux​ ​picked​ ​up​ ​on​ ​clues​ ​in​ ​Plato​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Bible​ ​and produced​ ​a​ ​theology​ ​of​ ​love.​ ​God​ ​was​ ​the​ ​center,​ ​because​ ​God​ ​was​ ​goodness,​ ​truth,​ ​and​ ​beauty.​ ​He​ ​was worthy​ ​of​ ​worship​ ​and​ ​our​ ​worship​ ​included​ ​thought.​ ​Holy​ ​men​ ​like​ ​Francis​ ​were​ ​motivated​ ​by​ ​the​ ​love of​ ​God​ ​and​ ​the​ ​love​ ​of​ ​the​ ​church​ ​to​ ​reform​ ​abuses.​ ​They​ ​were​ ​harsh​ ​on​ ​popes,​ ​prelates,​ ​and​ ​people, yet​ ​they​ ​were​ ​fundamentally​ ​moved​ ​by​ ​love.

Correction​ ​from​ ​a​ ​lover​ ​is​ ​different​ ​than​ ​from​ ​a​ ​tyrant.​ ​As​ ​philosophy​ ​developed​ ​all​ ​over​ ​Europe,​ ​the​ ​love of​ ​God​ ​​pushed​ ​and​ ​prodded​ ​it​ ​toward​ ​a​ ​care​ ​for​ ​the​ ​community,​ ​the​ ​church,​ ​and​ ​individuals.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​no accident​ ​that​ ​Thomas​ ​Aquinas​ ​wrote​ ​beautiful​ ​worship​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​careful​ ​philosophy.

Roger​ ​Bacon,​ ​A​ ​Philosophy​ ​of​ ​Science​ ​that​ ​Made​ ​the​ ​Scientific​ ​Revolution​ ​Certain

Many​ ​cultures​  ​contributed​ ​to​ ​the​ ​rise​ ​of​ ​science​ ​and​ ​the​ ​necessary​ ​mathematics from ancient history. However,​ ​after​ ​a​ ​certain​ ​point​ ​each​ ​culture,​ ​including​ ​most​ ​Christian​ ​societies,​ ​would​ ​stagnate.​ ​Math,​ ​the language​ ​of​ ​science,​ ​would​ ​fade​ ​in​ ​importance,​ ​or​ ​the​ ​society​ ​would​ ​lose​ ​interest​ ​in​ ​experiments​ ​(such​ ​as those​ ​of​ ​Aristotle).​ ​Dogmatism​ ​would​ ​quash​ ​free​ ​exchange​ ​of​ ​ideas​ ​before​ ​critical​ ​ideas​ ​could​ ​be formulated.

Thank​ ​God​ ​that​ ​during​ ​the​ ​Christian​ ​Middle​ ​Ages​ ​there​ ​was​ ​no​ ​great​ ​central​ ​political​ ​power.​ ​If​ ​inside​ ​the church,​ ​as​ ​most​ ​people​ ​were,​ ​there​ ​was​ ​more​ ​often​ ​a​ ​tolerance​ ​of​ ​odd​ ​ideas​ ​if​ ​they​ ​were​ ​couched respectfully.​ ​The​ ​combination​ ​of​ ​Platonism–with​ ​a​ ​high​ ​respect​ ​for​ ​mathematics–and​ ​the​ ​Christian incarnation​ ​motivated​ ​and​ ​sustained​ ​investigation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​natural​ ​world.​ ​By​ ​the​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century,​ ​men​ ​like Roger​ ​Bacon​ ​and​ ​his​ ​teacher​ ​Robert ​Grosseteste​ ​were​ ​moving​ ​towards​ ​scientific​ ​methods​ ​that​ ​would multiply​ ​learning.

Every​ ​intellectual​ ​is​ ​tempted​ ​to​ ​live​ ​in​ ​a​ ​world​ ​of​ ​ideas,​ ​disconnected​ ​from​ ​the​ ​natural​ ​world​ ​or​ ​politics. Grosseteste​ ​never​ ​lost​ ​interest​ ​in​ ​the​ ​abstract,​ ​the​ ​natural,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​political.​ ​Later,​ ​his​ ​student​ ​Roger Bacon​ ​warned​ ​against​ ​ignoring​ ​uncomfortable​ ​facts​ ​or​ ​being​ ​hasty​ to dismiss​ ​them.​ ​

All​ ​over​ ​Europe men​ ​like​ ​these​ ​two​ ​were​ ​investigating,​ ​arguing​ ​with​ ​each​ ​other,​ ​working​ ​in​ ​international​ ​centers​ ​of learning,​ ​and​ ​developing​ ​new​ ​ways​ ​of​ ​thinking.

Thomas​ ​Aquinas:​ ​A​ ​Possible​ ​Synthesis

The​ ​greatest​ ​Western​ ​thinker​ ​of​ ​the​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century,​ ​and​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​original​ ​minds​ ​in​ ​human​ ​history, was​ ​Thomas Aquinas.​ ​This​ ​Christian​ ​and​ ​philosopher​ ​took​ ​up​ ​the​ ​ideas​ ​of​ ​Islam,​ ​Ancient​ ​Greece,​ ​and​ ​Christianity and weighed them, afraid​ ​of​ ​nothing.​ ​He​ ​considered,​ ​he​ ​debated,​ ​he​ ​synthesized,​ ​and​ ​when​ ​he​ ​was​ ​done​ ​Thomas had​ ​produced​ ​massive​ ​works​ ​of​ ​scholarship​ ​that​ ​made​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​everything​ ​known​ ​at​ ​the​ ​time.​ ​He​ ​might not​ ​be​ ​the​ ​best​ ​commentary​ ​on​ ​Aristotle​ ​if​ ​you​ ​wish​ ​to​ ​know​ ​what​ ​the​ ​historical​ ​Aristotle​ ​thought,​ ​but Thomas​ ​is​ ​often​ ​more​ ​interesting​ ​than​ ​the​ ​historical​ ​Aristotle!

Thomas​ ​showed​ ​that​ ​no​ ​idea,​ ​no​ ​philosophy,​ ​regardless​ ​of​ ​source,​ ​need​ ​be​ ​feared.​ ​All​ ​could​ ​be​ ​digested and​ ​slowly, carefully, ​reconciled​ ​with​ ​other​ ​truths.​ ​Nothing​ ​good,​ ​beautiful,​ ​or​ ​true​ ​was​ ​lost​ ​to​ ​Thomas. He​ ​made​ ​it​ ​all​ ​part​ ​of​ ​his​ ​system,​ ​one​ ​so​ ​powerful​ ​that​ ​since​ ​his​ ​death​ ​his​ ​ideas​ ​have​ ​never​ ​ceased​ ​to​ ​be developed.​ ​Modern​ ​forms​ ​of​ ​this​ ​thought​ ​may​ ​be​ ​much​ ​refined,​ ​but​ ​still​ ​are​ ​recognizably​ ​Thomist.​ ​In philosophy,​ ​his​ ​ideas​ ​remain​ ​a​ ​powerful​ ​option​ ​to​ ​consider​ ​on​ ​any​ ​important​ ​question.

Thomas​ ​cannot​ ​be​ ​the​ ​​last​ ​word​​ ​for​ ​any​ ​Orthodox​ ​Christian,​ ​but​ ​he​ ​does​ ​point​ ​to​ ​a​ ​splendid​ ​possibility by​ ​his​ ​very​ ​existence.​ ​Thomas​ ​is​ ​so​ ​in​ ​love​ ​with​ ​Truth​ ​that​ ​he​ ​is​ ​unafraid​ ​of​ ​examining​ ​any​ ​idea​ ​to​ ​find​ ​his Beloved!

Dante:​ ​The​ ​University

Imagine​ ​a​ ​poet​ ​who​ ​knew​ ​the​ ​best​ ​science​ ​of​ ​his​ ​day,​ ​was​ ​an expert​ ​in​ ​theology,​ ​was​ ​a​ ​faithful​ ​Christian​ ​and a​ ​critic​ ​of​ ​abuses​ ​in​ ​the​ ​church.​ ​He​ ​existed:​ ​and​ ​while​ ​creating​ ​modern​ ​Italian​ ​with​ ​his​ ​sublime​ ​poetry, Dante​ ​also personified​ ​the​ ​birth​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Western​ ​university.​ ​He​ ​was​ ​interested​ ​in​ ​everything​, ​and​ ​this​ ​reflected the​ ​expansive​ ​interests​ ​of​ ​the​ ​schools​ ​rising​ ​around​ ​great​ ​thinkers​ ​in​ ​places​ ​like​ ​Italy​ ​and​ ​France.​ ​Born​ ​in the​ ​middle​ ​of​ ​the​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century,​ ​he​ ​died​ ​in​ ​the​ ​fourteenth​​ ​and​ ​his​ ​death​ as good as anything ​marks​ ​the end of this​ ​time​ ​of hope​ ​and​ ​possibility.

If​ ​you​ ​think​ ​the​ ​Renaissance​ ​was​ ​a​ ​“rebirth,”​ ​of​ ​art​ ​and​ ​culture, ​read​ ​Dante.​ ​The​ ​Renaissance​ ​finally​ ​got around​ ​to​ ​painting​ ​what​ ​Dante​ ​had​ ​done​ ​in​ ​literature​ ​earlier.

Louis​ ​IX:​ ​The​ ​Saint​ ​as​ ​King

Like​ ​any​ ​ruler,​ ​Louis​ ​is​ ​hard​ ​for​ ​a​ ​modern​ ​person​ ​to​ ​love,​ ​even​ ​one​ ​who​ ​lives​ ​in​ ​his​ ​namesake​ ​Saint​ ​Louis! Political​ ​wisdom​ ​keeps​ ​moving​ ​forward​ ​and​ ​we​ ​are​ ​able​ ​to​ ​judge​ ​Saint​ ​Louis,​ ​because​ ​we​ ​had first​ ​benefited from​ ​Saint​ ​Louis.

Still​, ​this​ ​knight​ ​of​ ​the​ ​High​ ​Middle​ ​Ages​ ​had​ ​the​ ​three​ ​hallmarks​ ​of​ ​a​ ​great​ ​Christian​ ​king.​ ​He​ ​loved​ ​the poor​ ​and​ ​was​ ​charitable.​ ​He​ ​handed​ ​out​ ​just​ ​rulings​ ​by​ ​the​ ​standard​ ​of​ ​his​ ​time,​ ​showing​ ​no​ ​favor​ ​to​ ​the rich​ ​or​ ​his​ ​friends.​ ​If​ ​you​ ​like​ ​the​ ​presumption​ ​of​ ​innocence​ ​in​ ​a​ ​trial,​ ​thank​ ​King​ ​Saint​ ​Louis​ ​who​ ​made​ ​it so.​ ​He​ ​also​ ​loved​ ​knowledge,​ ​learning,​ ​and​ ​art.​ ​This​ ​was​ ​a​ ​King​ ​who​ ​sponsored​ ​world​ ​class​ ​architecture, cultivated​ ​the​ ​other​ ​arts,​ ​and​ ​had​ ​Thomas​ ​Aquinas​ ​come​ ​to​ ​dinner.

He​ ​would​ ​die​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​check​ ​the​ ​threat​ ​he​ ​saw​ ​in​ ​expansionist​ ​Islam​ ​by​ ​taking​ ​the​ ​fight​ ​to​ ​previously Christian​ ​lands,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​Egypt,​ ​that​ ​still​ ​had​ ​significant​ ​Christian​ ​populations.​ ​If​ ​he​ ​failed​ ​to​ ​conquer​ ​any such​ ​lands,​ ​France​ ​remained​ ​free​ ​to​ ​follow​ ​her​ ​destiny.​ ​Who​ ​knows​ ​what​ ​the​ ​result​ ​would​ ​have​ ​been​ ​if Louis​ ​and​ ​others​ ​had​ ​not​ ​fought?​ ​The​ ​greater​ ​effort​ ​required​ ​by​ ​Islamic​ ​powers​ ​to​ ​crush​ ​the​ ​Crusader states​ ​Louis​ ​had​ ​strengthened​ ​was​ ​not​ ​spent​ ​on​ ​Europe.​ ​Christians​ ​still​ ​must​ ​wish​ ​that​ ​the​ ​money​ ​spent on​ ​fortifications​ ​in​ ​Palestine​ ​had​ ​gone​ ​to​ ​another​ ​Holy​ ​Chapel,​ or​​ ​illuminated​ ​Bible,​ ​since​ ​the​ ​splendor​ ​of what​ ​is​ ​left​ ​to​ ​us​ ​of​ ​what​ ​Saint​ ​Louis​ ​did​ ​do​ ​is​ ​awesome.

Louis​ ​strengthened​ ​France,​ ​but​ ​also​ ​acted​ ​as​ ​a​ ​peaceful​ ​arbiter​ ​in​ ​Europe.​ ​Regions​ ​had​ ​their​ ​own​ ​rule, but​ ​Saint​ ​Louis​ ​acted​ ​as​ ​a​ ​model​ ​for​ ​​what​ ​might​ ​be.​ ​ ​The​ ​Church​ ​and​ ​rulers​ ​like​ ​Saint​ ​Louis​ ​went​ ​far toward​ ​establishing​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​that​ ​there​ ​was​ ​an​ ​international​ ​law,​ ​just​ ​not​ ​local​ ​power.

What​ ​Went​ ​Wrong: The​ ​Black​ ​Death

The​ ​plague​ ​came​ ​and​ ​one​ ​out​ ​of​ ​every​ ​three​ ​or​ ​(God​ ​help​ ​us!)​ ​as​ ​many​ ​as​ ​two​ ​out​ ​of​ ​every​ ​three​ ​people died.​ ​The​ ​death toll ​was​ ​highest​ ​in​ ​urban​ ​areas.​ ​One​ ​suspects​ ​it was highest ​among​ ​the​ ​good religious​ people ​who​ ​stayed​ ​to​ ​comfort​ ​the​ ​dying​ ​and​ ​less​ ​severe​ ​in​ ​the​ ​corrupt​ ​who​ ​fled.​ ​People​ ​react​ ​badly under​ ​severe​ ​pressure​, which the Black Death surely was.​ ​There​ ​was​ ​a​ ​rise​ ​in​ ​all​ ​the​ ​worst​ ​features​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Middle​ ​Ages.​ ​Jewish people​ ​had​ ​always​ ​been​ ​at​ ​risk​ ​in​ ​a​ ​Christian​ ​commonwealth,​ ​and​ ​now​ ​they​ ​were​ ​blamed​ ​for​ ​the​ ​deaths, and​ ​the​ ​evils​ ​done​ ​grew​ ​greater.​ ​In​ ​addition​ ​to​ ​old​ ​problems ​never​ ​resolved,​ ​people​ ​in​ ​fear​ ​of​ ​death turned​ ​to​ ​superstition,​ ​folk​ ​magic,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​occult.​ ​Church​ ​restrictions​ ​against​ ​vile​ ​practices​ ​were overwhelmed​ ​in​ ​a​ ​world​ ​where​ ​death​ ​was​ ​common.​ ​The​ ​world​ ​grew​ ​macabre.

In​ ​the​ ​end,​ ​death​ ​did​ ​bring​ ​a​ ​rise​ ​in​ ​wage​ ​for​ ​those​ ​who​ ​survived,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​harms​ ​had​ ​been​ ​done.​ ​The more​ ​relaxed, ​sunny​ ​Greco-Roman-Christian​ ​fusion​ ​of​ ​the​ ​thirteen​th​​ ​century​ ​died​ ​in​ ​the​ ​black​ ​plague.

Cut​ ​Off​ ​From​ ​The​ ​East​ ​and​ ​The​ ​Crusades

If​ ​the​ ​internal​ ​shock​ ​was​ ​not​ ​bad​ ​enough,​ ​the​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century​ ​had​ ​continued​ ​the​ ​defensive​ ​wars​ ​against​ ​the expansion​ ​of​ ​Islam.​ ​The​ ​Christian​ ​majority​ ​of​ ​Palestine​ ​and​ ​the embattled​ ​Eastern​ ​Roman​ ​Empire​ ​had​ ​called for​ ​help​ ​in​ ​the​ ​eleventh​​ ​century,​ ​but​ ​by​ ​the​ ​time​ ​of​ ​good​ ​King​ ​Louis,​ ​the​ ​religious​ ​estrangement​ ​between​ ​East and​ ​West​ ​had​ ​been​ ​worsened​ ​by​ ​political​ ​and​ ​military​ ​quarrels.​ ​The​ ​Crusaders​ ​set​ ​up​ ​their​ ​own​ ​petty Kingdoms​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Eastern​ ​Christian​ ​populations​ ​were​ ​no​ ​better​ ​off​ ​under​ ​their​ ​rule.​ ​Soon​ ​the​ ​Crusaders were​ ​a​ ​greater​ ​threat​ ​to​ ​the​ ​survival​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Eastern​ ​Roman​ ​Empire​ ​than​ ​Islam.

This​ ​was​ ​fatal​ ​to​ ​both​ ​sides:​ ​Eastern​ ​Christians​ ​did​ ​not​ ​need​ ​a​ ​new​ ​foe​, ​and​ ​Western​ ​Christians​ ​lost​ ​an opportunity​ ​to​ ​jump​-start​ ​positive​ ​cultural​ ​development.​ ​Imagine​ ​the​ ​infusion​ ​of​ ​texts,​ ​Greek​ ​language, and new​ ​ideas​ ​that​ ​could​ ​have​ ​come​ ​from​ ​the​ ​Eastern​ ​Roman​ ​Empire​ ​if​ ​both​ ​Christian​ ​groups​ ​had​ ​united.​ ​If Christian​ ​areas​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Middle​ ​East​ ​had​ ​been​ ​given​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Eastern​ ​Roman​ ​Empire,​ ​they​ ​might​ ​have​ ​formed a​ ​sustained​ ​buffer​ ​between​ ​Christian​ ​areas​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Islamic​ ​world.​ ​There​ ​might​ ​be​ ​entire​ ​regions​ ​of Palestine,​ ​Syria,​ ​and​ ​modern​ ​Turkey​ ​that​ ​would​ ​have​ ​maintained​ ​Christian​ ​majorities​ ​as​ ​Lebanon​ ​did well​ ​into​ ​the​ ​twentieth​ ​century.​ ​As​ ​it​ ​was,​ ​the​ ​Crusades​ ​put​ ​off​ ​the​ ​reckoning​ ​with​ ​Islam,​ ​but​ ​left​ ​the Christian​ ​Roman​ ​buffer​ ​weaker.​ ​It​ ​would​ ​not​ ​be​ ​long​ ​in​ ​historic​ ​terms​ ​until​ ​Muslims​ ​would​ ​be​ ​battering the​ ​gates​ ​of​ ​Vienna.

Ossified​ ​by​ ​Success​ ​Just​ ​When​ ​Technology​ ​Sped​ ​Up​ ​Discussions

Sometimes​ ​success​ ​brings​ ​failure​ ​if​ ​we​ ​set​ ​up​ ​a​ ​shrine​ ​and​ ​worship​ ​old​ ​goods.​ ​After​ ​the​ ​failures​ ​and problems​ ​of​ ​the​ ​fourteent​h​​ ​century,​ ​too​ ​often​ ​intellectual​ ​activity​ ​in​ ​establishment​ ​circles​ ​ossified.​ ​If​ ​the​ ​West had​ ​always​ ​been​ ​too​ ​quick​ ​to​ ​declare​ ​dogmas,​ ​now​ ​it​ ​became​ ​too​ ​dogmatic.​ ​Who​ ​can​ ​blame​ ​them? However,​ ​intellectual​ ​activity​ ​that​ ​the​ ​good​ ​ideas​ ​set​ ​in​ ​motion​ ​kept​ ​going.​ ​Scientific​ ​advances​ ​(like gunpowder)​ ​that​ ​Roger​ ​Bacon​ ​and​ ​his​ ​kind​ ​had​ ​pioneered​ ​in​ ​Europe​ ​kept​ ​coming,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​changes​ ​kept accelerating.​ ​The​ ​invention​ ​of​ ​the​ ​printing​ ​press​ ​enabled​ ​ideas​ ​that​ ​once​ ​spread​ ​at​ ​the​ ​speed​ ​of​ ​a​ ​copyist to​ ​multiply​ ​as​ ​fast​ ​as​ ​they​ ​could​ ​be​ ​cranked​ ​out.​ ​Old​ ​mechanisms​ ​of​ ​dialog​ ​were​ ​overwhelmed.​ ​The Western​ ​Church​ ​had​ ​been​ ​able​ ​to​ ​absorb​ ​and​ ​adapt​ ​to​ ​the​ ​critical​ ​and​ ​visionary​ ​message​ ​of​ ​Saint Francis,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​lacked​ ​the​ ​time​ ​and​ ​the​ ​intellectual​ ​dexterity​ ​to​ ​listen​ ​to​ ​Luther,​ ​who​ ​was​ ​not​ ​good​ ​at listening​ ​in​ ​any​ ​case!

Obviously,​ ​the​ ​old​ ​unity​ ​had​ ​always​ ​had​ ​internal​ ​intellectual​ ​problems.​ ​Just​ ​being​ ​cut​ ​off​ ​from​ ​the Eastern​ ​church​ ​meant​ ​that​ ​the​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century​ ​could​ ​not​ ​see​ ​the​ ​entirety​ ​of​ ​Christendom.​ ​The​ ​Western cathedrals​ ​were​ ​glorious,​ ​but​ ​they​ ​soon​ ​would​ ​be​ ​old​ ​technology.​ ​The​ ​philosophy​ ​of​ ​science​ ​had​ ​been fundamental,​ ​but​ ​science​ ​still​ ​had​ ​to​ ​be​ ​developed.​ ​Too​ ​much​ ​reverence​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Greek​ ​and​ ​Roman​ ​past​ ​had​ ​to be​ ​purged​ ​if​ ​progress​ ​was ​to​ ​continue.​ ​The​ ​community​ ​lacked​ ​good​ ​methods​ ​of​ ​dealing​ ​with​ ​dissent (though​ ​so​ ​did​ ​the​ ​rest​ ​of​ ​the​ ​world).

What​ ​might​ ​have​ ​been​ ​if​ ​the​ ​Crusaders​ ​had​ ​been​ ​less​ ​narrow​ ​minded?​ ​What​ ​if​ ​the​ ​intellectual​ ​liveliness had​ ​not​ ​vanished​ ​in​ ​the​ ​dance​ ​of​ ​death​ ​that​ ​marked​ ​too​ ​much​ ​of​ ​the​ ​fourteent​h​​ ​century?

We​ ​cannot​ ​know,​ ​but​ ​if​ ​we​ ​marvel​ ​at​ ​what​ ​the​ ​thirteent​h​​ ​century​ ​and​ ​the​ ​centuries​ ​just​ ​prior​ ​to​ ​the​ ​thirteenth century​ ​did,​ ​what​ ​ground​ ​was​ ​tilled,​ ​and​ ​what​ ​ideas​ ​made​ ​advance​ ​probable​ ​despite​ ​the​ ​brutal problems,​ ​we​ ​can​ ​only​ ​dream.

The​ ​old​ ​unities​ ​had​ ​died​ ​in​ ​the​ ​fourteent​h​​ ​century,​ ​and​ ​the​ ​fifteent​h​​ ​and​ ​early​ ​sixteent​h​​ ​centuries ​simply​ ​buried​ ​what​ ​was left.​ ​The​ ​unified​ ​vision​ ​was​ ​lost,​ ​but​ ​none​ ​of​ ​the​ ​good​ ​ideas were.​ ​The​ ​philosophy​ ​of​ ​science​ ​kept​ ​developing, and the​ ​rise​ ​in​ ​wages​ ​and​ ​the​ ​“discovery”​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Western​ ​hemisphere​ ​brought​ ​new​ ​economic​ ​opportunities. If​ ​the​ ​whole​ ​had​ ​not​ ​turned​ ​out​ ​as​ ​splendidly​ ​as​ ​Louis​ ​IX​ ​might​ ​have​ ​imagined​ ​when​ ​the​ ​stained​ ​glass was​ ​newly formed​ ​​in​ ​the​ ​great​ ​cathedrals​ ​of​ ​Europe,​ ​even​ ​the​ ​fragments​ ​were​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​fire​ ​the imagination.​ ​This​ ​modern​ ​world​ ​has​ ​so​ ​much​ ​more​ ​than​ ​existed​ ​in​ ​Louis’s​ ​imagination,​ ​but​ ​less​ ​than might​ ​have​ ​existed​ ​in​ ​the​ ​capacious​ ​brain​ ​of​ ​Thomas​ ​Aquinas.​ ​

The​ ​temptation​ ​is​ ​to​ ​grumble.​ ​That​ ​does​ ​no​ ​good.​ ​Worse​ ​are​ ​the​ ​ideologies,​ ​from​ ​reactionary​ ​forms​ ​of religion​ ​to​ ​Utopian​ ​socialism,​ ​that​ ​have​ ​attempted​ ​to​ ​restore​ ​the​ ​shattered​ ​vision​ ​without​ ​any​ ​of​ ​the authenticity,​ ​humility,​ ​or​ ​genius.​ ​That​ ​day​ ​is​ ​gone​ ​and​ ​much​ ​is​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​possible​ ​for​ ​us: ​yet​ ​we​ ​have new​ ​powers​ ​and​ ​greater​ ​hopes.​ ​Christians,​ ​lay​ ​and​ ​clerical,​ ​can​ ​now​ ​talk​ ​and​ ​have​ ​our​ ​ideas​ ​transmitted at​ ​the​ ​speed​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Internet.​ ​Tyranny​ ​is​ ​harder.​ ​Good​ ​ideas​ ​cannot​ ​be​ ​shut​ ​down​ ​so​ ​easily,​ ​old​ ​ideas​ ​are out​ ​there​ ​to​ ​be​ ​read​ ​in​ ​Project​ ​Gutenberg​ ​and​ ​so​ ​are​ ​not​ ​forgotten,​ ​but​ ​must​ ​compete​ ​with​ ​new​ ​ideas. We​ ​do​ ​not​ ​have​ ​to​ ​forget​ ​the​ ​past,​ ​but​ ​we​ ​are​ ​not​ ​apt​ ​to​ ​worship​ ​it​ ​either.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​hope.​ ​Modern methods,​ ​ancient​ ​ideas,​ ​Eastern​ ​and​ ​Western​ ​Orthodox​ ​thought​ ​might​ ​once​ ​again​ ​be​ ​made​ ​whole, though​ ​perhaps​ ​now​ ​in​ ​a​ ​mosaic.​ ​Let us pick up the pieces of the shattered image, made more beautiful with age, and in our young century we may form a pattern that is whole.

 

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