Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Medieval times

During the Middle Ages, the Church was a cesspool of corruption, people wore chastity belts and thought the earth was flat, and humorless Scholastics debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin while burning witches by the bushel. Right? Well no, of course not. Given the ridiculous urban legends about the period that permeate high school history lectures and pop science books, you could probably get a less misleading picture of what medieval times were really like by watching The Cable Guy.

Or you could read some good books on the subject, the latest of which is Misconceptions About the Middle Ages, edited by Stephen Harris and Bryon Grigsby. Makes a welcome addition to the history section of your library, which should already include:









And don’t forget the useful online articles I linked to in a previous post.

18 comments:

Lux Intellectus said...

I would add Susan Reynold's excellent piece of revisionist history, "Fiefs and Vassals," which totally debunks the whole idea of medieval society being organized feudally. One theologian who has quite wrongfully suffered from his supposed feudal context is Anselm in the Cur Deus Homo. Reynold's work is long, dense, and not easy, but an excellent piece of work.

David Parker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
romishgraffiti said...

I wonder if there is any documentation of the so-called widespread sale of indulgences. Usually when objections are raised the Catholic concedes that indulgences were indeed abused, but that does not invalidate their legitimate use. When I hear a Catholic do this I think hang on a minute, what is the evidence of widespread abuse? I'm wondering if there is something like when Christopher Haigh blew the lid off the narrative that pre-Reformation England was choc-o-full of anti-clericalism. Or when Hutchinson fisked the Declaration of Independence and noted that 40 appointed royal officers on the whole Continent did not constitute a "swarm" that the declaration accused the king of foisting on the colonists.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

romish.:

I know what you mean. Cf. this link http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07783a.htm and scroll down to "Abuses". They happened, and on an increasingly common scale, but were opposed "from the top" right away, so it's another case of "not good enough" Reformation zeal throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

jawats said...

I would also recommend Christopher Dawson's "Religion and the Rise of Western Culture." I just finished it, and it's quite incredible.

Anonymous said...

God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism


End of discussion.

Anonymous said...

^^Jonathan Kirsch, author of God Against the Gods, is not a historian. David Bentley Hart shreds Kirsch in his book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies.

Jinzang said...

Thanks to Google, here's the letter from the Archbishop of Mainz authorizing the sale of indulgences that Martin Luther famously objected to.

Here's an interview with the author of a book about Pope Sylvester II, who was the leading mathematician and scientist of his day.

Concerning an earlier controversy, a post on the vexing question of whether poop smells in heaven. Courtesy of Pharyngula, of all people.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

@jawats:

I've never read that specific book, but Christopher Dawson is generally pretty terrific. If only more Catholic historians today were writing like that...

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Kirschite Anonymous:

Have a look, would you? I read Kirsch's book a couple years ago. http://veniaminov.blogspot.com/2007/11/seductive-power-of-adjectives.html

Amazing how some people make a Bible out of a snazzy popular history book. End of discussion, indeed!

Vincent Torley said...

romishgraffiti,

The Wikipedia article on indulgences at http://en.wikipedia.org/
wiki/Indulgence is quite good on the abuses connected to indulgences. It's a very fair-minded article, and makes the Church's position on these abuses very clear. Hope that helps.

Ismael said...

"God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism

End of discussion.
"

Another book perpetrating myths: Kirsh is an attourney first, biblical scolar second and hystorian a distant third... and it shows.

The scholarship in the book is quite sloppy.

Besides Kisrch book does not deal with the middle-ages...

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Ismael:

All that too!

MMcCue said...

One of my grandson's roomies is studying "history" at U.S.F., he was shocked when I told him that I thought that w/out the crusades we'd probably be Moslem. He said he "never heard anyone defend the Crusades before." When I was in college one of the "history" profs said that Queen Isabella should have been more tolerant to the Moslems. Even at 20 I thought that if she did, she'd be good as dead. Sorry if I offend anyone. NOthing personal

MMcCue said...

Also didn't Belloc write something called "How to write Anti-Catholic History"

MMcCue said...

And I met a senior at Villanova back in the 1980's who was a history major. He never heard of Christopher Dawson. I did, 'cause I knew his student John Malloy who advocated Dawson's work for years. He also published a newsletter on him... Would u believe it: back in Philly Public Jr. High I had a class in Medieval history.. It was as I remember a good class.

Anonymous said...

Stanley Jaki's "The Road of Science and the Ways to God" is excellent on this topic.

Anonymous said...

While this isn't exactly focused on the medieval period, the new Cambridge Companion to Science and Religion (2010) is quite good.