THE MIDDLE AGES
European history may be divided into the following periods:
Prior to 4th Century.....The Collapse of the Roman Empire.
During the past 300 years, Protestant and Rationalist, politicians have dominated the writing of British and European history. They assured their peoples that their rule was preferable to that of previous ages. This has often been effective in quietening agitation for greater social justice. As many of the philosophers and authors supporting the kings and politicians were anti-Catholic or anti-Christian, the cultural contribution of the Catholic Middle Ages, and its superiority in many respects to contemporary standards, has been ignored, ridiculed or treated as of little significance.
The Middle Ages are often depicted as a time of laughable ignorance with little interest in education, widespread religious superstition, rejection of the scientific method based on experiments and logical thinking, extreme social injustice and an attitude of fatalism when faced with disease. Many have been led to confuse the Middle Ages with the feudal ‘Dark Ages’.
A distain for Europe’s Catholic 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.
In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church laid the foundations for many of the positive ways of thinking now influencing the whole world. Over the centuries many aspects of this thinking have been distorted and abused by selfishness and other sins. But throughout all this time, dedicated Christians - Protestant, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic - have worked to achieve the high ideals developed in Medieval Europe.
To provide a ‘taster’ of the Middle Ages, let us ask how the following equate with the popular image.
A). Over eighty universities were founded in Western Europe during the Middle Ages before the beginning of the 15th century. This was well before the emergence of Protestantism and the ‘Enlightenment’. Of these, 33 had been established by a papal charter and 20 by a joint papal and imperial (or royal) charter. In addition the emperors, as protectors of Christendom, had established 15 more. These Universities often included a school of Law, although some Law Schools were opened separately.
Tens of thousands of students drawn from all social classes were in attendance at these centres of learning. These educational endeavours were mainly Church inspired, but it is a grave error to view them as merely preparing students for the priesthood. Students had to complete six years of wide ranging study, which included the sciences. It was at this stage that most students left to commence their careers and marry. Only a minority went on to study theology and become priests.
The alleged reliance on philosophical speculation to promote scientific development, as is often asserted, is not correct. Science was learnt mainly by the experimental methods and by observation. The quality of education was far higher than that provided at Oxford and Cambridge in the 18th century. [See our booklet entitled: ‘King James II and the Glorious Revolution’, Chapter X, section i].
B). The quality of training of engineers, designers and craftsmen may be judged by the high standards of the beautiful Cathedrals, Abbeys, sculptures, paintings and glass work which have survived.
C). Church teachings motivated many to dedicate their lives to nursing. At the beginning of the 13th century a particularly good hospital was established in the south of France. Pope Innocent III summoned its creator to build a model hospital in Rome. Then, as each bishop paid his regular visit to Rome, Innocent drew their attention to the hospital and urged them to copy it when they returned home.
This resulted in an outburst of hospital building throughout Europe. The numbers, 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 to meet the needs of about 2 million people. Without the aid of drugs, leprosy was eradicated from England.
D). A comprehensive welfare system, based on parishes, guilds and monasteries, cared for the old and the sick with a free service for the poor.
E). The English ‘House of Lords’, was mainly an elected body. One effect of the Reformation was to produce a mainly hereditary upper chamber.
F). The great achievements of the Middle Ages are all the more remarkable when we consider the chaotic state of Europe during the preceding ‘Dark Ages’.
This outline list of achievements could be much longer but it is better to read the details for oneself.
The following books and articles are available on this section of our site: -
1. The Thirteenth Greatest of Centuries by James J. Walsh, 1907. [430 pages]
This Link contains the Prefaces and twenty-one chapters full of tightly packed facts covering many aspects of life. For direct links to particular chapters, see item 2 below.
2. LINKS to Individual chapters of the above book.
3. Additional material published as Appendices II and III in the 1929 Edition of ‘The Thirteenth Greatest of Centuries’.
TWENTY-SIX CHAPTERS THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
I AMERICA IN THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY.
II A REPRESENTATIVE UPPER HOUSE [England].
III THE PARISH AND TRAINING IN CITIZENSHIP.
IV THE CHANCE TO RISE.
VI OLD AGE PENSIONS.
VII THE WAYS AND MEANS OF CHARITY, ORGANIZED CHARITY.
VIII SCIENTIFIC UNIVERSITIES.
IX MEDICAL TEACHING AND PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS.
XI BIOLOGICAL THEORIES, EVOLUTION, RECAPITULATION.
XII THE POPE OF THE CENTURY.
XIII INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION.
XIV BIBLE REVISION.
XV FICTION OF THE CENTURY.
XVI. GREAT ORATORS.
XVII. GREAT BEGINNINGS IN ENGLISH LITURATURE.
XVIII. GREAT ORIGINS IN MUSIC.
XIX. A CHAPTER ON MANNERS.
XX TEXTILE WORK OF THE CENTURY.
XXIII INDUSTRY AND TRADE.
XXIV. FAIRS AND MARKETS.
XXV. INTENSIVE FARMING.
XXVI. CARTOGRAPHY AND THE TEACHING OF GEOGRAPHY.
CRITICISMS, COMMENTS, DOCUMENTS.
. HUMAN PROGRESS.
. THE CENTURY OF ORIGINS.
. TECHNICAL EDUCATION OF THE MASSES.
. HOW IT ALL STOPPED.
. COMFORT AND POVERTY.
. COMFORT AND HAPPINESS.
. COMFORT AND HEALTH.
. WAGES AND CONDITIONS OF WORKING PEOPLE.
. INTEREST AND LOANS.
. THE EIGHTEEN LOWEST OF CENTURIES.
4. The Catholic Church and Healing by James J. Walsh, 1928
The Supposed Papal Prohibition of Dissection.
The Story of Anatomy down to The Renaissance.
The Golden Age of Anatomy / Vesalius.
A Papal Patron of Education and Science.
The Church and Surgery During the Middle-Ages.
The Popes and Medical Education / The Papal Medical School
The Foundation of City Hospitals.
The Church and The Experimental Method.
This version: 13th July 2009