I’m too busy these days to do much extra reading. My ministry, my studies, and preparations for the baby are taking just about everything I have to offer! But one thing I find myself doing is ordering a book I’m interested in, reading the back cover and Introduction, and then filing it away on my “to come back to after life isn’t so busy” shelf. Its amazing how much you can often get a sense of what a book is doing just from the Introduction. Today I dipped briefly into two books on medievalism, which is a world that increasingly fascinates me. I remember watching the Robin Hood movie with Russell Crowe (great movie!) and thinking, “I want to understand that whole world better.” The more I get into my studies in Anselm, the more I realize he will be a window into this larger world. I won’t ever be an expert on medievalism, but I’d at least like to be a competent student of it.
The first book I looked at was Rodney Stark’s God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades. I’m not sure yet what I think of Stark’s thesis – I understand what he is reacting against, but I’m not sure the Crusades are as defensible as he seems to portray. I’ll have to give this one a careful read some day to see. The second book is Marcia L. Colish’s Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition. She argues that the foundations of Western intellectual history were laid, not in classical or Greece or Rome, or in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. She compares Western medieval Europe to medieval Byzantium and Islam, arguing that these sister civilizations got off to a quicker start but ultimately failed to produce the kinds of institutions and attitudes that led to intellectual modernization. It was the West – the world of Charlemagne and Robin Hood and Chaucer, the world of castles and cathedrals, bows and arrows, monks and monasteries, knights in shining armor – it was this world that birthed the scientific revolution of the 17th century or the Enlightenment of the 18th century. Thus, she claims, “medieval Europe is the only traditional society known to history to modernize itself from within.”
The reason this is so fascinating to me is that the medieval period is often characterized as stagnant, ignorant, and backward. The very term “Dark Ages” communicates what for many people best characterizes this era of history. I’m increasingly coming to believe that actually, medieval Europe was in many respects a very culturally and intellectually rich time in world history. I’d like to keep learning and see if I’m on to something here.