THE MIDDLE AGES
TV programs often depict the Catholic Middle Ages as a time of laughable ignorance with little interest in education. They allege widespread religious superstition, rejection of scientific thinking and extreme social injustice. Some deliberately confuse the Middle Ages with the Dark Ages. These portrayals are travesties of history but, unfortunately, greatly influence modern thought and political views.
Distain for Europe’s Christian roots was shown when a Constitution for Europe was debated in 2005. Like ungrateful children, the politicians refused to acknowledge the debt Europe owes, in its moral, cultural and scientific formation, to its Christian parentage.
The mainly pagan Dark Age followed the collapse of the Roman Empire and lasted till about the year 800. It was in this pagan soil that Christian missionaries planted the seeds which blossomed into the Middle Ages from 800 -1600.
Some authors assert that Europe was an intellectual wilderness until Protestants and non-believers suddenly appeared. Yet the universities, the law schools and the monastic schools were the cradles of European education and all pioneered by Catholics.
In 1500, when Catholics were planning their 80th university, Luther was in his teens, while Cranmer and Henry VIII were still children. Calvin and Knox had not been born. The best known non-believers, Voltaire and Rousseau, didn’t emerge for another two centuries.
During the Middle Ages tens of thousands, from all social classes, were attending universities for six years of wide ranging studies. Only a small minority studied theology in order to become priests. The alleged reliance on spiritual and philosophical speculation in science classes is not true. Learning by experimentation was central to the studies.
Highly trained engineers, designers and craftsmen produced beautiful cathedrals, and abbeys. These enormous buildings and palaces have not stood for centuries by being propped-up by philosophical and spiritual speculations. Paintings, sculptures, glass work, and the music of the period point to an advanced culture. University education was of a higher quality than that of Oxford, under the corrupt 18th century tenure system.
Church teaching motivated many to devote themselves to medical care. In the 13th century a very good French hospital was established at Montpelier. Pope Innocent III paid its creator to build a model hospital in Rome. When bishops visited him, Innocent urged them to copy it.
This resulted in an outburst of hospital building. The number, expertise and discipline of doctors and surgeons increased greatly. Germany soon had a hospital for every town of 5000 residents. In England, in addition to the medical services provided by the monasteries, there were 750 hospitals serving its 2 million people. Leprosy was eradicated.
A welfare system, based on parishes, guilds and monasteries, cared for the old, the sick and the poor. The weekly day of rest and frequent Holy Days (holidays) provided time for personal development. Until Henry VIII, the ‘House of Lords’ was mainly an elected body of bishops, abbots and others personally aware of the needs of the people.
Our basic principles of justice were established during these years including: Double Jeopardy and Habeas Corpus, (11th and 12th Centuries). When: ‘trial by ordeal or combat’, was condemned by the Church in 1215, ‘trial by jury’ was introduced. In the 13th century the clergy were also greatly involved in formulating the principles of Magna Charta.
Many consider the invention of printing was the most vital practical key enabling Europe to move to the Modern Age. This invention of 1440 was a Middle Age achievement.
Much of this article has been based on: The Thirteenth: Greatest of Centuries by James J. Walsh. This may be read at:
Version: 17th July 2010