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The Brilliant Ages

 We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Professor Anthony Esolen who has commented on this blog, in the brilliant video above for Prager University defends the Middle Ages from the ahistorical lies routinely told about that epoch.  The ancient world was in an intellectual dead end, the fall of the Roman Empire in the West merely being the outward sign of the spent force of the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome. It was the much maligned Middle Ages that produced the intellectual trends that led humanity, for better and worse, to surpass the accomplishments of the ancient world.

Our representative institutions of government, the technological progess that we assume, erroneously, is a normal state of affairs, the division of Church and State, the science that opens the secrets of the natural world, all of these and more owe much more to the Middle Ages than the ancient world.  At the beginning of the Middle Ages in the West, weak barbarian states were newly erected on the carcass of the Roman empire.  By the end of the Middle Ages Europe was about to burst forth on the world scene with a global reach that would have astounded the Caesars and was rapidly becoming the technological center of the planet.  In a civilization that Catholicism nurtured and protected for a thousand years the modern world took shape.  Those today who hate the Church show themselves ignorant of the fundamental basis of their civilization and are at war with the chief force that produced the modernity they pretend to prize.

But again change the image; and fancy the modern man (the unhappy modern man) who took a volume of mediaeval theology to bed. He would expect to find a pessimism that is not there, a fatalism that is not there, a love of the barbaric that is not there, a contempt for reason that is not there. Let him try the experiment. It will do one of two good things: send him to sleep – or wake him up.

G. K. Chesterton

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

3 Comments

  1. If only those centralist Bourbons didn’t undermine the Chosen by God Hapsburgs so much and pressure the Pope into counterbalancing them, then perhaps we would be basking in some middle age order still! (Or so I have humbly supposed).

  2. In part, I believe the false picture of the Middle Ages comes from identifying them with the feudal anarchy.

    But this is a gross over-simplification. South of the valley of the Loire, the line running roughly from Geneva in the East to the mouth of the Charante in the West, throughout Southern France and Northern Italy, the tradition of municipal government and of the written law continued unabated. The Teutonic element, introduced by the barbarian invaders – hereditary nobility, primogeniture, and privilege – in these lands had the character of an exotic plant, without roots. When Lord Acton says that “the love of equality, the hatred of nobility, and the tolerance of despotism implanted by Rome became, at least in Gaul, the chief feature of the national character,” nowhere was this truer than in « Le pays de droit écrit » the country of the written law. It found its expression both in the University of Bologna and in the high civilisation of Provence.

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