Christianized Culture in the Middle Ages

NickImageRead Part 1 and Part 2.

Whether cultural Christianization is possible is a question that provokes considerable debate. The answer to that question will, of course, depend upon what one means by Christianization. If the term means that most people within the culture are regenerated, or even that the gospel is rightly and generally understood, then no culture has ever been Christianized. If, however, Christianization simply means that a generally Christian worldview and morality has become the dominant perspective of a culture, then Christianization is not only possible, but actual. In fact, Western civilization experienced a predominantly Christianized culture for something like a thousand years.

Three objections can be raised against this thesis. The first is that the civilization of medieval Europe was Roman Catholic and, therefore, from a biblical perspective, not truly Christian at all. The second objection is that the morality of the Middle Ages was mixed, and that certain forms of immorality were even celebrated. The third objection is that the thought of medieval Europe was so influenced by pagan philosophers that the Christian elements were greatly diluted.

To take the last objection first, the non-Christian philosopher who exercised the greatest influence on medieval theology was Aristotle. His thought was mediated chiefly through the theology of Thomas Aquinas, who wrote some 800 years after the beginning of the Middle Ages. Even then, Thomas did not appropriate Aristotle uncritically, and others (Bonaventure, for example) sharply opposed the use of Aristotelian categories. To be sure, Aristotle did exert an influence, especially during the late medieval period. People who study medieval philosophy, theology, or culture, however, rarely claim that the most influential categories in the medieval West came from pagan philosophers.

As for medieval morality, one can certainly find instances of moral license. The fabliaux of the jongleurs could be—well, bawdy. The troubadours sometimes idealized sexual immorality. And who can forget being introduced to Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale in high school literature?

Even though the culture tolerated (and sometimes reveled in) such expressions, however, it still subjected them to censure. Much as Chaucer might snicker at the miller’s tale, he formally expresses his disapproval. Lancelot and Guinevere paid a severe price, and Dante places Francesca and Paolo in the Inferno. Whatever medieval practice may sometimes have become, the culture of the period recognized a transcendent morality by which all would be judged.

What about medieval Catholicism? Two considerations are worth pointing out. First, Catholicism during the Middle Ages was actually a mishmash of competing influences and ideas. Some critics of Romanism habitually confuse medieval Catholicism with Tridentine Catholicism, but this is a significant historical mistake. The trends that the Catholic church canonized at Trent did develop during the Middle Ages. Most of the time, however, those trends had to compete with other perspectives and influences within broad Catholicism.

The strength of those competing influences can be illustrated by the success of the evangelical protest movements such as the Arnoldists, Waldenses, and Lollards. Unlike the truly heretical movements (the Cathari and Bogomils, for example), the evangelical groups were launched by emphases that they found within institutional Catholicism. A fine line existed between those who ended up outside the Catholic church and some of those who stayed in. Writers like Groote, Tauler, and Thomas à Kempis managed to preserve several evangelical emphases inside the medieval Catholic church. These evangelical influences ultimately led to the Reformation, a movement that began within the medieval Catholic church. So strong were the evangelical influences within medieval Catholicism that even the Counter-Reformation could not extirpate them. Remnants of the older, evangelical influences survived in people like Fenelon and Guyon.

In any event, a Christianized culture does not necessarily require a widespread understanding of the full gospel. In a non-technical sense, the word Christian can be used to distinguish those who affirm Trinitarian orthodoxy from infidels, pagans, and cultists. In that sense the Catholicism of the Middle Ages can be called Christian, and that is the sense in which the Middle Ages were influenced by Christian categories.

To claim that medieval Western culture was shaped by Christian ideals is simply to assert that the categories in which people thought reflected certain ideals that came from Christianity. Almost no one doubts that the civilization of the medieval West was profoundly influenced by Christianity. Even where some superstition from the ancient paganisms remained, Christian categories came to dominate. The result was a synthesis of ideas that could rightly be called a Christian consensus. This consensus was shared by all classes: by clergy and laity, by statesmen, merchants, artists, and peasants.

The medieval consensus affirmed the existence of a personal-infinite God. This God, acknowledged as the Creator of the world, was both transcendent and immanent. He took a continuing interest in His creation. He ruled over and intervened in the course of history, either by miracle or by Providence.

Medievals saw the universe as an ordered place. This order was thought to be transcendently imposed from the mind of the Creator. The universe was also governed by moral categories, because God’s order included His moral law. Since God is just, violation of His law was thought to bring retribution.

Furthermore, medievals viewed human beings as sinful, finite, and contingent. They understood that they needed divine help and forgiveness. Their recognition of human limitation and flaw, however, was balanced by a vision of human dignity based upon the imago Dei.

Westerners during the Middle Ages believed that Jesus Christ was the God-man. They confessed Him to be the unique revealer of the Father: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” They worshiped Him as the unique redeemer of humankind Whose death on the cross and resurrection from the dead make salvation possible.

Central to the medieval consensus was the necessity of faith and religion. To the medieval mind, faith provided the framework for the acquisition of knowledge. This is not to say that medievals resorted to revelation for all their information about the world. Nevertheless, they sensed that reality was so penetrated by mystery that mere observation of facts would not by itself disclose truth. The particulars could not be understood apart from the larger context provided by universals. In the acquisition of universals, the Scriptures and the church held a privileged position as repositories of truth. When they spoke concerning particulars, the Scriptures and the church were considered to be accurate, but more importantly they revealed universals and provided the context within which the particulars made the best sense.

This medieval consensus produced a social order that was thought to reflect divine order and authority. This order developed slowly over the centuries. Early feudalism brought stability out of the chaos that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. To the feudal system were gradually added other elements, the most important of which were the rule of law and (as a rather late accretion) the divine right of Kings.

In the medieval social order, the church (in the sense of institutional Christianity) stood above culture. It not only communicated Christian content, it also perpetuated forms that helped people to grasp the significance of that content. High culture (“official” culture) embodied the ideals of Christian theology and tradition: philosophy, music, art, architecture, politics, and jurisprudence were profoundly influenced by Christian categories. The folk cultures also came to be permeated with Christian ideals, which manifested themselves in everyday arrangements such as work, home life, crafts, and folk art. To participate in these folk cultures was to gain a practical knowledge of several key Christian categories.

Why did this consensus begin to fracture? Scholars offer different explanations, but one of the most persuasive involves the triumph of Nominalism over Realism in late medieval philosophy. By focusing attention upon particulars, nominalism led to Baconianism, then to the Enlightenment itself. By the time of Descartes, the “Ages of Faith” had ended and the Christian consensus rapidly unraveled.

With the arrival of the Enlightenment, the medieval world gave way to modernity. An entire conception of reality was slowly rendered obsolete. The process of secularization began to erode even the vestigial authority of Christian values. The secular consensus of the modern world displaced the older medieval consensus almost point by point.

Hymn 2:34
Breathing after the Holy Spirit; or Fervency of Devotion Desired
Isaac Watts (1674–1748)

Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours.

Look how we grovel here below,
Fond of these trifling toys;
Our souls can neither fly nor go
To reach eternal joys.

In vain we tune our formal songs,
In vain we strive to rise;
Hosannas languish on our tongues,
And our devotion dies.

Dear Lord! and shall we ever live
At this poor dying rate?
Our love so faint, so cold to Thee,
And Thine to us so great?

Come, Holy Spirit, heav’nly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Come, shed abroad the Savior’s love
And that shall kindle ours.

[node:bio/kevin-t-bauder body]

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CLeavell's picture

Thank you for these articles. I have enjoyed studying this subject from an artistic standpoint and agree with these conclusions. I see the demise of western culture summed up with this quote from the de-conversion of art critic, John Ruskin.

Quote:
If only the Geologists would let me alone, I could do very well, but those dreadful Hammers! I hear the clink of them at the end of every cadence of the Bible verses.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Hoping to give this one a more thoughtful read soon... along w/a re-read of part 1.
The topic is hugely important to our times.

Ed Vasicek's picture

I think I would prefer to grow up in a Jewish society that tolerated Christians than a RC society. Kevin, we would be burned at the stake for our beliefs. I do not relish such a thought. There is a difference between a monolithic religious culture in which a "Christian" worldview is embraced not from choice, but coercion and pressure. God seeks those who worship him in Spirit and in truth.

When you view things from God's mind as revealed clearly in his Word and find out how detestable idolatry is to him, for example, I think it changes ones perspective. So much of Scripture talks about how God detests idols; he hates idolatry so much that punishment for such a sin is expressed as extending through generations (Exodus 20:4-6). Idolatry is singled out in the 10 Commandments as the sin God hates the most.

Modern Christians are too busy grappling with applications of idolatry (materialism, etc.), to give much attention to the original disease. I do not need to argue the case that the First Testament is FILLED with exclamations at God's discust for those who bow down to images or perform acts of worship (like prayer) to anyone other than God. God is a jealous God, and he does not hide his jealousy. A good read through Hosea makes the case. God will not share his glory with another, be that Mary, the church (as a dispenser of grace and forgiver of sin) or the Pope.

Unfortunately our viewing of culture based upon OUR rankings about what matters most may not reflect what is nearest and dearest to God's heart. Part of this is because we are under an illusion that all sins are alike.

For example, is it better to be unconvinced that Jesus is the Messiah or to acknowledge that he is but yet to insult his one time atonement as insufficient for our sins and to make the church (and ourselves) the real savior?

I would rather live and minister in a non-hostile pagan culture than a distorted Christian one. Once again, I prefer the Jewish perspective on the Noachide commandments as binding upon all mankind (Genesis 9), since the Noachic Covenant was truly made with mankind.

To take the New Covenant, which is made with God's elect (illustrated by a stick of butter), and to melt it down and spread it thinly over society is not the calling of the church. Our job is not to help tares more closely resemble wheat.

Yes, God has a will for even the non-elect, and he holds the lost to a level of morality, and so should we. And in the Kingdom age, even the lost will feign obedience (Psalm 66:3, NASB). And I can understand how an Amil could apply this to the church, but I am Premil, so I don't see it this way.

A broadly Judeo-Christian value system is much to be preferred over the mess that was called the Middle Ages.

"The Midrash Detective"

Forrest's picture

Dr. Bauder,

I appreciate your work, and I am usually a big fan of yours, but I take issue with this article. I am currently finishing up my undergrad years as a major in "Medieval Studies". Frankly from an historical perspective, there is a lot that is wrong with this article. I want to go through your three objections briefly and complicate them and in a few cases contradict them. I hope to do this in as respectful a manner as possible.

First, I'm wondering what point you are trying to make in this article is. I think your point is that a Christianized culture and a Christianized consensus of reality is possible, was realized in the Middle Ages, and was good. If I understand you correctly, I take issue with the last part of that statement, namely that it was good.

The Middle Ages was indeed a "Christian" period. But, it was only "Christian" in the broadest sense of the word. You are correct that to reflect Tridentine Catholicity back onto the Middle Ages is a grave mistake. But, that is not to say that the church of the Middle Ages was evangelical or conducive to evangelical thought. The church was extremely syncretistic. Religion of the Middle Ages was in a very real sense a blend of Christian and Pagan thought. Beowulf (and all Old English poetry) is a great example of the syncretism that could and did occur. The cult of saints was set up in many areas by simply Christianizing a pagan god or goddess and baptizing its feast day into the calendar of the church. Much more could be said here, but I will leave it at that.

On medieval morality (This paragraph is a bit risque due to providing examples of medieval morality.) Medieval morality was not better than the morality of today by any means. The generation of "courtly love" and chivalry in the Middle Ages was a specific praise of adulterous erotic love (albeit unconsummated love). Courtly love had to be adulterous. The ideal Love was between a deserving, chivalrous (chivalry actually develops due to the concept of courtly love) knight and a beautiful lady (preferably of the knight's lord). The two would grow in affection and eventually he would be privileged with kissing her and spending the night in sexual intimacy with her (for reasons that are way beyond the scope of this comment the love was never fully consummated in the strictest sense of the word). Anti-Jewish genocide was a relatively common occurrence. Torture was the only recognized way to perform a trial because it was assumed that the peasantry could not tell the truth except by torture. Dante in the Divine Comedy points out every type of sin from homosexuality to murder to pride with contemporary examples of people he personally knew. The love letters of Abelard and Heloise are prime examples of debauchery amid the scholastic class. King Richard of England and King Philip of France (think of Robin Hood) were lovers during the crusades. The atrocities of the crusades are too numerous and dreadful to recount. But one example, after the crusaders had taken Jerusalem, they slaughtered every last citizen and to paraphrase an eyewitness account, "The streets ran knee-deep with the blood of men, women, and children. We wept for joy for we knew that God had sent us to slaughter these pagans and take back the holy land." I could go on and on with both specific examples and cultural patterns. The Middle Ages were by no means a righteous or more holy time than our own.

The third point concerning the influence of pagan philosophy I will not contradict, but I will say that Augustinian Neoplatonism dominated medieval thinking until the rediscovery of Aristotle. However, indigenous pagan thought probably played as much of or more of a role.

The last idea that I would like to challenge from the article is the concept of a consensus in the Middle Ages. This is a common misconception of the Middle Ages. One must understand the breadth of the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages cover a period stretching 1000 years. Imagine trying to speak of the modern period which covers half the time in broad generalizations. There is so much variety of thought, philosophy, tradition, language, culture, religion, politics, technology etc. in that time period. There is no such thing as a consensus as much as there is a consensus between today and 1700. Yes there are things we can say that are the same, but not in any very meaningful way.

All of that was basically to say that in my opinion as a medievalist, I do not think that the Middle Ages was a "better" culture in any way than our own modern culture. I hope my comments about the history of the Middle Ages can help understanding of the medieval period.

Humbly,

Forrest Berry

Forrest Berry

Charlie's picture

I think there has been some misunderstanding of Bauder's article. At no point did he claim that the Middle Ages were preferable to our own. Nor did he assert that the Christianity of the Middle Ages was superior to contemporary Christianity. Let's revisit the basic statements:

"If, however, Christianization simply means that a generally Christian worldview and morality has become the dominant perspective of a culture, then Christianization is not only possible, but actual. In fact, Western civilization experienced a predominantly Christianized culture for something like a thousand years."

"In any event, a Christianized culture does not necessarily require a widespread understanding of the full gospel. In a non-technical sense, the word Christian can be used to distinguish those who affirm Trinitarian orthodoxy from infidels, pagans, and cultists. In that sense the Catholicism of the Middle Ages can be called Christian, and that is the sense in which the Middle Ages were influenced by Christian categories."

"To claim that medieval Western culture was shaped by Christian ideals is simply to assert that the categories in which people thought reflected certain ideals that came from Christianity."

Certainly there were bad Christians and non-Christians in medieval Europe (to use an anachronistic geographic term), but people interpreted their world in distinctly Christian ways. Tragedy could be interpreted as divine wrath, divine testing, or as the general consequence of sin, but not as karma, natural selection, or chaos. The theory of divine right was conceivable to those people, whether or not they agreed with it, in a way that is unthinkable in secular society. Right and wrong were understood as personal adherence or offence against God's law, and further as virtues and vices. No one thought of them as the subjective preferences, as mere constructs used by those in power to control the masses, or as biologically-wired group survival mechanisms. Even the idea of "crusade," as awful as they were, requires a worldview in which there are believers, pagans, a holy land, and a personal God.

Now, points about syncretism are well-made. There really are differences in worldview between Erasmus and the peasants Erasmus derides. Yet, there really shouldn't be any objection to Bauder's thesis - the worldview of just about every non-Jew and non-Muslim in medieval Europe was broadly Christian. Thus, we can distinguish between a Christian society and a non-Christian one.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Ed Vasicek's picture

No, Charlie, I can't give you an inch on this. I Timothy 2:1 says:

Quote:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

The "ideal" environment is one that allows the (true) Christian faith to prosper in peace. A society in which we are not inhibited from sharing our faith or living the Christian life as commanded in Scripture is what we should crave in our prayers. The Middle Ages was not that.

Could I: Preach the Gospel of salvation by grace freely in the Middle Ages? Could I follow my conviction that a believer should be immersed upon profession? Could I refuse to bow before crucifixes, statues, icons and could I chose not to be part of an apostate church? No. To me, it is that simple. I do agree that there are WORSE environments (like Saudi Arabia or North Korea in our times).

What is your take on I Timothy 2:1.

"The Midrash Detective"

Charlie's picture

Ed, I don't understand your response. I never said anything about an ideal environment. I never said we should want to go back to the Middle Ages. Bauder didn't say those things, either. I said only that medieval Europeans interpreted the world in Christian categories that are distinguishable from the categories employed by ancient pagans, eastern pantheists, or modern secularists. Even many of the bad things about the Middle Ages were distortions of biblical ideals. Forrest makes a useful, point, though, in that the level of syncretism in some places and times must qualify the thesis somewhat.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Forrest's picture

Thanks for your input on my reading of Dr. Bauder's article. I don't think he is praising the culture of the Middle Ages as superior to our own, but I did think that (in light of his arguments about the relative value of cultures to each other and the question of whether a culture could be "Christian" ) he could have been and that's why I asked for the clarification.

I do think syncretism is far more pervasive than Dr. Bauder allows however. To use an example from medicine. Witch doctors abounded in the Middle Ages. With no concept of bacteria or a virus, medieval people thought that they got sick due to hexes or curses placed on them by a witch/sorcerer or evil spirit. They went to the local town "doctor" to get a counter hex. Even today the tradition of "witch" doctors in rural towns across Europe still exists. This is an idea that is grounded in old germanic paganism. Even the idea of retribution and divine aid/punishment is firmly rooted in germanic paganism.

Forrest

Forrest Berry

Ed Vasicek's picture

Charlie wrote:
Ed, I don't understand your response. I never said anything about an ideal environment. I never said we should want to go back to the Middle Ages. Bauder didn't say those things, either. I said only that medieval Europeans interpreted the world in Christian categories that are distinguishable from the categories employed by ancient pagans, eastern pantheists, or modern secularists. Even many of the bad things about the Middle Ages were distortions of biblical ideals. Forrest makes a useful, point, though, in that the level of syncretism in some places and times must qualify the thesis somewhat.

Yes, you are right, Charlie. You never said those things. I need to be more careful in my communicating. But I guess I am not making myself clear that what I am saying is this: true Christianity can flourish when it is in a non-repressive environment (or at least Paul instructs us to pray to that end), and that the Middle Ages did not exemplify that environment. True, what people believed was closer to what the Bible teaches. That's why when devout Catholics get saved, they often become pillars in Bible-believing churches. Most people a thousand years ago would have been creationists (even young earth creationists). As Kevin pointed out, they would acknowledge the reality of sin, etc.. And Catholicism was not as corrupt in 1,000 A.D. (when icons and images were new) as it later became But the intolerance would have shut out attempts to start a pure church, even then That same intolerance is seen in the history of Orthodoxy. In a sense, Orthodoxy is like a snapshot of Catholicism before 1,000 A.D. Even in recent years, the Orthodox Church in Russia has tried to impede evangelicals.

I might be all wet (no pun about baptism implied), but I would rather be in a secular nation no dominated by a Christian worldview that allowed us to practice and share our faith than in the Middle Ages (where the lost around you agreed with many of your views but refused you the freedom to practice and share your fait). Is that the choice you would make Charlie, or no? The complexities of rearing children in such an environment are many, I know.

Of course this question, when compared to reality, does add a little weight to Bauder's comments. It seems that mostly societies with a Christian past seem to embrace true religious freedom. Still, I am drawn to I Timothy 2:1 as a guiding light.

The ideal, perhaps, has been what we have had in America in the past in which the nation recognized our freedoms and even indirectly helped us in the process. Whether such a situation repeats itself ever remains to be seen. It's been great while it lasted.

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I wouldn't have said this five years ago, but I've had some time to read and think a good bit more since then: though I do think some over-idealize the Middle Ages, I don't think Kevin does this here. Whatever we might say about the period's weaknesses (and Kevin mentions quite of few of them here, if you look closely), I think it's clear that the period was culturally superior to pretty much any that has followed it--and probably superior to any that preceded it.

Keep in mind, that this essay is about culture and part of a series about culture.

As for freedom, most of the sort of "repressive environment" we now associate with Roman Catholicism occurred during the counter-reformation. It's not really a middle-ages phenomenon.
Kevin does not say here that the period was mainly or even strongly evangelical--rather, that evangelical belief quietly and strongly persisted within the church. But this is a subpoint. The thrust here is that "Christian categories" dominated thought, social mores (if that's even the right phrase during this period--they were church mores), the arts, even the folk arts (I'd call this early "popular culture," though I think Kevin would not--for him, this is a term that applies to what happens with the advent of mass production. An industrial revolution thing).

Anyway, I'd agree w/Charlie that some are misreading the essay. It might be helpful to grab the yellow pad and take a few minutes to outline it.
If I get a chance, maybe I'll post a little outline here. Some may find it helpful.

For those who might want to read further about the "Christianized" culture of this period, I think Lewis Agonistes is an interesting and accessible little book (though I don't like some of the places the author takes his analysis of C. S. Lewis' thought in the later chapters... but his contrast between the top-down thinking of the Middle Ages and the "bottom up" thinking of modernity is very interesting--and rings true.)

Charlie's picture

Ed Vasicek wrote:
I might be all wet (no pun about baptism implied), but I would rather be in a secular nation no dominated by a Christian worldview that allowed us to practice and share our faith than in the Middle Ages (where the lost around you agreed with many of your views but refused you the freedom to practice and share your fait). Is that the choice you would make Charlie, or no? The complexities of rearing children in such an environment are many, I know.

I don't know. I think it's clear that, all other things being equal, non-repressive societies are better than repressive societies. But, other things are never equal. For example, what about colonial New England? It produced works like John Cotton's The Bloody Tenet, justifying the persecution of Baptists (or was that Quakers?). So, I would be fine, but you would not. Still, though, you would have to admit that New England did practice and even support evangelical faith. Not only that, but Christianity was central to all the institutions and facets of life. So, although I find it easy to choose modern America over medieval Spain, I find the choice between now and colonial New England more complex.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Forrest's picture

"I think it's clear that the period was culturally superior to pretty much any that has followed it--and probably superior to any that preceded it."

As one who has been reading primary and secondary materials, writing papers, and attending lectures on the Middle Ages for the past 3 years, I have to disagree with you Aaron.

I absolutely agree that the Middle Ages was a very Christian time. But the MA wasn't nearly as uniform as it is being presented nor was that Christian culture "good". I would argue that it was ambivalent. There was not a greater manifestation of evangelical Christianity than today. There was just as much evil then as now. In some areas greater evil, in some less.

That's my two cents worth.

Forrest Berry

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
There was not a greater manifestation of evangelical Christianity than today. There was just as much evil then as now. In some areas greater evil, in some less.

I don't think we're talking about a "greater manifestation of evangelical Christianity," per say. As much evil? Quite possibly. But the topic of the essay is Christianized culture. Ours is a culture where murdering babies in the womb is routine, mocking God as a source of humor is routine, pornography is all over the place, the arts are almost completely given over to self-indulgence of one sort or another, on and on it goes.
I think a pretty good case could be made that 18th century America was culturally superior to the MA, but I'm not inclined to think so. We were not generating anything like the quality of art... and Enlightenment rationalism was already pushing the supernatural and God out to the fringes of public consciousness. And man-centered social and political ideas were gaining momentum.

The middle ages had its flaws. Belief in the numinous was--seems to me--often excessive or just distorted. Much superstition, which is not the same thing as faith. But what followed the MA involved a complete inversion of the role of faith and the relationship between God's revelation and human beings' ability to figure things out on their own. That inversion alone makes any culture afflicted by it deeply (if not always visibly) inferior to any culture that knows which way is up.

Ed Vasicek's picture

So you guys are saying that Monty Python's Holy Grail had the Middle Ages all wrong?

What is your quest? Smile

"The Midrash Detective"

Ed Vasicek's picture

Charlie wrote:
Ed Vasicek wrote:
I might be all wet (no pun about baptism implied), but I would rather be in a secular nation no dominated by a Christian worldview that allowed us to practice and share our faith than in the Middle Ages (where the lost around you agreed with many of your views but refused you the freedom to practice and share your fait). Is that the choice you would make Charlie, or no? The complexities of rearing children in such an environment are many, I know.

I don't know. I think it's clear that, all other things being equal, non-repressive societies are better than repressive societies. But, other things are never equal. For example, what about colonial New England? It produced works like John Cotton's The Bloody Tenet, justifying the persecution of Baptists (or was that Quakers?). So, I would be fine, but you would not. Still, though, you would have to admit that New England did practice and even support evangelical faith. Not only that, but Christianity was central to all the institutions and facets of life. So, although I find it easy to choose modern America over medieval Spain, I find the choice between now and colonial New England more complex.

Not me. I'll take "now" hands down.

"The Midrash Detective"

Jeff Brown's picture

This is one of the most interesting articles and discussions that Sharperiron has had in a long time. Thanks to Kevin for writing on the subject and for all those who have contributed to the discussion. I can't help but add that one of the most important outworkings of the pervasiveness of Christian knowledge in the Middle Ages was the Jewish belief that God created everything, and that since that time, history has been heading in one direction. Several philosophers of science have argued that this perception of the universe was essential for the development of modern science

Jeff Brown

Jeff Brown's picture

Ed, I am a little surprised you did not mention this. Though the Middle Ages were bad for the Jews (were the early days of the Reformation any better?), the Jews were good for the middle ages. They were the primary people involved in international trade. And without their moneylending, the feudal system would have collapsed.

Jeff Brown

Ed Vasicek's picture

Jeff Brown wrote:
Ed, I am a little surprised you did not mention this. Though the Middle Ages were bad for the Jews (were the early days of the Reformation any better?), the Jews were good for the middle ages. They were the primary people involved in international trade. And without their moneylending, the feudal system would have collapsed.

That's true, Jeff. Hard to say whether that was good or bad, but probably good. If it were not for a somewhat developed Europe that could unite behind Sobieski centuries later against the Muslims, Europe would very likely have been a Muslim continent. And without the Jews, Europe probably would not have had the identity and wealth it did have. Funny how one thing affects another and on and on down the line.

Since the Jews were not allowed to own land in certain areas in certain eras, they had to take to business to survive. Still, I do not think that the Jews contributed toward monotheism in Europe much at that stage; their contribution came primarily in the first century and before. If they had been more influential, the rampant idolatry and performing acts of worship to others besides God might have been thwarted. As it stands, they were more or less considered a testimony to God's judgment, a people group in shambles because of their harsh treatment of Christ.

Like Christianity, the Middle Ages was a rough time on Jewish beliefs, too. Many superstitions and occult-like mysticism invaded Judaism, as evidenced by the Kabbalah and Zohar.

"The Midrash Detective"

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