The Year of Covid 19: Political Religion and the Culture Wars: Part 2.2: The EU’s Legacy from the Middle Ages.

This is the third article in the series on political religions and the culture wars. In the first, I discuss “the Great Re-Set”- The year of Covid-19: political religion and the culture wars.Part 1. The Great Re_set is the semi-official programme for the world led by a self-proclaimed progressive coalition of often unlikely partners (the Chinese Politburo, the Biden administration, the Californian hi-tech oligarchy, Wall Street, the EU and Whitehall…) determined to dominate the world’s cultural high ground. In the second article,- The Year of Covid 19: Political religion and the culture wars. Part 2. 1. Europe’s legacy: the first fifteen hundred years to AD 410.-I discuss Europe’s cultural and religious legacy from its first fifteen hundred years, until AD 410 when Alaric’s troops put Rome to the sack. It does so bearing in mind that the Lisbon Treaty from 2009  does not refer to Christianity, despite the fact that European civilization is rooted in the history of the Jews, the Greeks and the Romans. In so doing, the EU, I write, lacks self-knowledge and so cannot succeed. In this article I discuss Europe’s present inheritance from the civilization of the Middle Ages- the title of Norman F. Cantor’s great book on the years from 300 to 1500, the 1200 years which Professor Cantor identifies as spanning what historians call “the Middle Ages”. This article is structured around Cantor’s discussion, but adds other authors as the article proceeds.

The Fall of Rome and “the Dark Ages”.

As Cantor writes, « the causes and consequences of the fall of the Roman Empire in the West have been inexhaustible subjects for speculation and argument.”. “Modern historians, he writes, …regard the fall of Rome not as a single military disaster, but as the consequence of long range internal processes”, where  “primitive Germans” inherited the hollow husk of the late empire. As early as AD 406, large areas of Gaul, Spain and North Africa were out of the emperor’s control. The Roman legions withdrew from Britain in AD 410. In the West, there was a semblance of imperial government until AD 476, when the barbarian King Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustulus, the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire. However, the Roman Senate sent the imperial insignia to Flavius Zeno, the eastern Roman Emperor. This Greek-speaking part of the Empire-representing 60-70% of the imperial population, lived on for a millenia as the Byzantine empire, ruled out of Constantinople, holding  the largest urban population of the known world-600, 000 people. Byzantium survived until 1453 when the Turks took Constantinople. With the Turks as a hostile power sitting astride the transcontinental highways to China, western maritime powers began to explore the western seas and the way to what they thought to be “India”. In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in the name of the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabel,. The date may  be taken as marking the end of the “Middle Ages”.

The classical definition of why Rome fell is provided by Edward Gibbon, in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, whose first volume was published in 1776. In Chapter 38 of Volume 6, Gibbon writes”: “The rise of a city, which swelled into an empire, may deserve, as a singular prodigy, the reflection of a philosophic mind. But the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and, as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight. The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and, instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long. The victorious legions, who, in distant wars, acquired the vices of strangers and mercenaries, first oppressed the freedom of the republic, and afterwards violated the majesty of the purple. The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and the public peace, were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting the discipline which rendered them alike formidable to their sovereign and to the enemy; the vigour of the military government was relaxed, and finally dissolved, by the partial institutions of Constantine; and the Roman world was overwhelmed by a deluge of Barbarians…”. 

“As the happiness of a future life is the great object of religion, » Gibbon sweeps on, “we may hear without surprise or scandal that the introduction, or at least the abuse of Christianity, had some influence on the decline and fall of the Roman empire… the soldiers’ pay was lavished on the useless multitudes of both sexes who could only plead the merits of abstinence and chastity… If the decline of the Roman empire was hastened by the conversion of Constantine, his victorious religion broke the violence of the fall, and mollified the ferocious temper of the conquerors ». In other words, Rome fell because it became soft. 

That conclusion fell on ready ears in National Socialist Germany. The description of the Germani by the first century historian Tacitus, written about AD 98, and entitled On the Origin and Situation of the Germans,  attracted National Socialist ideologues. Tacitus’ Germans were blue eyed, red haired, large,  warlike, and of course Aryan. What was not to like? The Roman salute, the banners, pillared architecture,  military virtue, the quest for living space, and the Latin language as the key to the thoughts of racial leaders could all be quarried out of Roman history.  The interpretation found its way into an officially-approved text for children’s history, published in 1943. [1] The book appeared in a series, “Ancestral Heritage”, prefaced by Heinrich Himmler. Not least, the idea that Rome failed because of Christianity fitted neatly into Hitler’s oft-declared intent of liquidating Christianity, once the war was over. What a pity, Hitler mused, that the Germans had not been converted to warlike Islam, rather than to “decadent, love-oriented Christianity”. Had they been, he said, the Germans “might have conquered the world in the Middle Ages”.[2]

There are of course multiple reasons why the Roman Empire collapsed.  Authors attribute the fall, variedly,  to the softening effect of Christianity on Rome’s mores; to the empire’s  size and the associated costs of maintaining the peace;  to the empire’s institutions;  to the deterioration in public finances; to the outbreak of bubonic plague in the third and fourth centuries, and the impact on the empire’s demography; to the institution of slavery, and the associated failure to develop an industrial technology; or to the constant warfare on the Germanic frontiers, and on the eastern frontiers with Persia, and ever greater reliance on German mercenaries in the imperial armies. The major dates along the trajectory of decline included the defeat of Rome’s legions at the battle of Adrianople in AD 378; Alaric’s sacking of Rome in AD 410, the first time in 800 years that the capital succumbed to the enemy; the maraudings of Attila the Hun, whose ferocity was later celebrated later in the Niebelungenlied; the repeat sacking of Rome by the Vandals, and finally, the deposition of the Emperor by Odoacer in AD 476. 

Over the next millenia, Thomas E. Woods has written “The Church…built Western civilization”. [3]  In the words of Christopher Lawson, the Catholic author,  “The Church had to undertake the task of introducing the law of the Gospel and the ethos of the Sermon on the Mount among peoples who regarded homicide as the most honorable occupation and vengeance as synonymous with justice”. The early histories of what later became the states of France, England, and the Holy Roman Empire were recorded by Christian scholars- Saint Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks; the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People; and by Alcuin, the English monk who became a leading light in the Carolingian Renaissance under the guidance of Charlemagne, famously crowned emperor by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day of 800. Charlemagne adopted the formula Renovatio imperii Romanorum– renewal of the Roman Empire. 

Historians love to label the times of which they write: the last two centuries of Rome, have been called “Late Antiquity”; followed by the “Dark Ages”, of indefinite duration, ending, some argue in the 8th century with the Carolingian renaissance, or lasting through to the Reformation, when superstition and the rule of priests, the Protestants asserted,  came to an end. This later interpretation would have the whole of the “Middle” Ages live in darkness, until the lights began to turn on again in the 14th century, with the rediscovery of Greek and Roman civilization. As the Italian poet, Petrarch, wrote: « My fate is to live among varied and confusing storms. But for you perhaps, if as I hope and wish you will live long after me, there will follow a better age. This sleep of forgetfulness will not last for ever. When the darkness has been dispersed, our descendants can come again in the former pure radiance. » The thesis was popular among Protestant historians. 

The term “dark” was introduced paradoxically by Cardinal Caesar Baronius in his Annales Ecclesiastici, written at the height of the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in response to the Magdeburg Centuries, extolling the Protestant view of the past 900 years. Lord Acton-the liberal, Catholic historian and friend of Gladstone- considered Baronius history “the greatest history of the Church ever written ».[4] Darkness here was proposed as descriptive of  centuries of corruption endured under the aegis of the Catholic Church: popes ruling as kings; saints relics turned a health profit; priests,  recorded in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or in Boccaccio’s The Decameronwere interestingly licentious and  hypocrisy was instituionalized.

In using the term « dark » Baronius was in effect referring to the 10th century, and in particular to the fall-off in published works in the territories of the former western Empire, not in the Byzantine Empire. The term “dark age” blossomed into full use in the 18th century, notably in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall in which the author expresses his contempt for the “rubbish of the Dark Ages”.[5]Subsequently, what became known as the Romantic movement- the authors spurred by the excesses of the political revolution in France and notably by  the utilitarianism of the Industrial Revolution in the UK-gave voice to a nostalgia for the age of chivalry, whereby they idealized the period of the “High Middle Ages”, the centuries from AD 1000 to AD 1250, when the Church’s powers were at their height.  Historiographical convention has this High Middle Ages preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the late Middle Ages, identified as ending about AD 1500. This left the “Dark Ages” proper as denoting the centuries immediately followed the fall of Rome over the course of the fourth and fifth centuries. 

Cultural wars may become attenuated, or merge into broader battles, but they never disappear. In the course of the twentieth century, prevailing assumptions about the progressive emergence of European civilization were trashed by the barbarities of the two world wars, unleashed by the most advanced civilisations on the planet. Perhaps, the thought occurred, the barbarians were the civilized, not the “illiterate and violent peoples who invade, loot and pillage” the “cultural and political paradise” of the Roman Empire. [6] We now know better, writes Peter Wells: “The idea of the Dark Ages is a historical relic from the time when texts were the only source of information about the past and no-one understood the archeological evidence well enough to use it to fill the gap”. “As I show in this book, the time once known as the Dark Ages-the fifth through the eighth centuries- was anything but dark. It was a time of brilliant cultural activity…”. These centuries were the times “during which Europeans created the basis for medieval and modern civilization”. Christianity absorbed rather than replaced the  pre-historic and Roman mores of the past. “The developments between 400 and 800 in the visual arts of ornamental metalwork and book illumination and in architecture, scholarship and education led gradually, and in different ways in different parts of Europe, to the blossoming of all aspects of “high culture” known as the Carolingian Renaissance. From this time in the early ninth century, historians trace a direct line to the High Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and into modern times”. [7]

Chris Wickham, in his The Inheritance of Rome: a History of Europe from 400 to 1000, London, Penguin 2010, identifies a number of major developments over the course of these six centuries: 

  • The break up of the western Roman empire into a “bricolage” of local practices, and in the eastern Empire the Arab conquest of AD 636-51. Carolingian empire, referred to at the time as “imperium christianum”, in deference to the coronation of Charlemagne as Emperor in Rome by Pope Leo III in AD 800, was initially divided into three autonomous kingdoms-which later took the form of France, Lotharingia and the German states. 
  • The development of an explicitly moralized political practice, above all in the century AD 780-880, when the presumption appeared “that kings and their acts could and should be policed by churchmen for their morality”. 
  • The  weakening  of the caliphate in the early tenth century, that “allowed a newly stable Byzantine empire to come into its century of military glory in the mid-tenth century”, and prompted a reflux of  Muslim dominance in the Mediterranean lands until the Ottoman conquests of the sixteenth century.
  • The extension of stable political and social hierarchies across the hunter-gatherer societies of the far northern forests. “Francia and Byzantium together bestrode early medieval Europe after about AD 750 as much as the Roman empire itself had, three hundred years earlier”.
  • Land was the source of wealth and power, formed around the varied tax-raising capabilities of royal powers, permanently contested by local landlords. 

We may therefore synthesize the emergence over time of a church and empire competing in their claims to rule men’s souls; the slow and sinuous formation of royal states; the development of local, aristocratic powers; and the great mass of people, numbering maximally 20 million in the Carolingian empire-and perhaps over 50 million around AD 1000.

St Augustine and the City of God

The most influential of the fathers of the church in the Middle Ages was St. Augustine, who died about AD 430. A berber by descent, armed with a classical Roman education, his last twenty years were spent amid the disintegration of the Roman Empire. Central to his thinking was his view of human nature. The Greek and Roman philosophers taught that men could be trained to be capable of rational decision making, and that ignorance was the cause of evil. Not so, St Augustine taught. Evil was a defect of the will, not of the intellect. Men are inescapably selfish and bad; strip away the veneer of civilization, they are brutes, only to be redeemed by the grace of God. A number of central tenets flowed from this observation:

  • The Church was the necessary institution to accompany men and women on their journey through life to the Heavenly City. The most that the political power could do in this life was to provide pilgrims with peace and security. Christian doctrine did not accept the inner moral integrity of any political system, in other words salvation was not to be found in politics.
  • Belief in history as advancing to the single triumph of the kingdom of God at some future time affirms the Judeo-Christian concept of human history as linear, not cyclical in an ever repeating cycle. As Cantor writes “the primordial western cast of mind sees men marching toward a glorious future through the dregs of the present; belief in progress is the very heart of western thought”. 
  • To Augustine, the future triumph was religious, involving “the Second Coming of Christ when all men would be judged “and the world would dissolve in glory”. Since the eighteenth century, westerners secularized apocalypse in the form of revolution and sought salvation in social and political institutions.

But was the church to be a minority of saints or a universe of sinners?   Augustine opted critically for universality. In the preface to The Heavenly City, he wrote: “This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace”. The all-important fact is the relationship of the individual to God, not membership of the Church. The Church was a way station  to the Heavenly City; it was not the Heavenly City itself. Rather, the Heavenly City was a mystical, internal, secret spiritual brotherhood whose membership would only be revealed at the end of time. Yet the Earthly City was justified in forcing people into the church, and using its Roman, legal and institutional instruments. There were thus Two Cities living alongside each other, and also a tension between individual justification by faith and the exercise of state authority.  

Another central question was the existence or not of free will. If God was omniscient, what place was there for free will? “There is no freedom from anything, but only freedom to live according to the ways of God, and this freedom is only the consequence of God’s gracious gift”, writes Cantor. “In other words, the only free men are those who live in accordance with divine will , who  escape from the bondage of the human will because God has chosen them for salvation”. The church finessed  this harsh teaching by granting   Christians freedom to chose to live as saints or as sinners; and furthermore worked out a scheme of penance: only saints entered heaven immediately; all others had to endure purgatory, where their sins would be purified. Kings, aristocrats and then peasants flocked to church to buy the shortest possible transition to heaven. Its attraction prompted the development of church music, architecture, pilgrimage, or banking, but also became a gigantic ramp that finally exploded in the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Though highly critical of Roman mores, the church, Augustine argued, had the duty to preserve and transmit the Roman educational curriculum. This was not the only inheritance which the church bequeathed from antiquity: there was also the monarchical political system; the Roman aristocratic style; the Roman legal system, codified in the fifth and sixth centuries, that assumes along Stoic lines that the world operates according to rational principles; Greek philosophy, notably Plato’s ideal of rule by philosopher kings; Aristotle’s emphasis on the human  mind as an active receptacle for experience, or the Stoic distinction between the outer and the inner man ; and not least, the Jewish tradition, notably the idea of the chosen people, to whom  the prophets spoke with the voice of the people ,  criticizing the élite for the violations of the covenant, and their failure to live up to their moral obligations as God’s witnesses. The medieval church thus combined a bicephalous hierarchy-pope and emperor-with a radical, rebellious, individualistic and anti-authoritarian tradition inherited from the prophets.

The Gregorian reforms.

Augustine would have endorsed the teaching of Pope Leo I, AD 440-461, who worked to ensure that the Roman episcopate became the heir to the Roman state in the West. His claim to papal primacy was based on what became known as the Petrine doctrine, enunciated by the words of Christ as recorded in the Gospel of St Matthew, Chapter 16, v. 18: “And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. “In the Petrine theory, the Roman church found an ideal, writes Cantor,  that gave it the calling of supplanting the collapsing Roman state in the West as the central institution of western civilization”. 

“The religiosity of the sixth and seventh centuries, writes Cantor, was infected with devils, magic, relic worship, the importation of local nature deities into Christianity in the guise of saints, and the general debasement of the Latin faith by religious primitivism”. It was to take, he writes, five centuries to overcome the disastrous impact of the Germanic invasions upon the culture and discipline of the Latin church to complete the Christianization of Europe. Three ideologies were developed over those years: the concept of papal authority, elaborated in the Donation of Constantine, a forgery drawn up in the papal chancery perhaps in the mid-eighth century, essentially claiming the pope as supreme over all rulers; the doctrine of theocratic monarchy, developed in the ninth century Ottonian monarchy in the German lands; and the imperial ideal, most clearly enunciated by the famous Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, probably in the years 1312-1313. Danteproposed a modus vivendi, whereby Holy Roman Emperor and Pope should co-exist as separate powers, each with a distinct  mandate from heaven. In De Monarchia, Pope and Emperor, he argued,  were peers. The two “equal swords” were given power by God to rule over their respective domains, the one being eternal life, the other being earthly life. De Monarchia remained sufficiently controversial to be banned by the Catholic Church in 1585.

The struggle for power between pope and emperor reached a climax in the decades stretching from AD 1050 to AD 1130. Its origins were rooted in the success of the church in educating the population.  The great Benedictine monasteries, established in the fifth century by St Benedict, had acquired great wealth and power; kings, lords, bourgeois and peasants aspired to share in the benefits of religion. But priests and monks, the reformers observed, ran dissolute lives. The small group of militants who launched what came to be called the Gregorian reform- named after Pope Gregory VII, AD 1073-1085- feared that if the quality of clergy and religious was not greatly enhanced, the church and world would merge- to use a term of Karl Marx from nine centuries later, the church would whither away. It followed that world and church had to be prized apart; churchmen and women had to live the life of asceticism, not of worldly pleasure, and ecclesiastical standards had to be raised above those of the world. The means by which this revolution was to be achieved was to divest  the emperor, kings and great lords of their acquired right to invest bishops and abbots with the symbols of their office. The  investiture controversy was ultimately about legitimacy: by what right do you govern? The Gregorian radicals answered : the Pope of Rome rules with God’s sanction. 

Their aim was to establish a unified Christian world system-Christianitas, Gregory VII called it- a Christianity in their own puritanical  and ascetic image. During his pontificate, Gregory sought to implement a spectrum of reforms, some of which had been elaborated by his co-reformers well before his election.  A more devout laity required a purer clergy, better prepared for the Second Coming, not mired in sin, lust and sex. Five centuries before Martin Luther thundered against papal venality, Peter Damiani- a moving light in the reform movement, described Pope Benedict IX- Pope on three occasions between 1032-when he was supposedly 20 years old- and 1045, when he sold the papacy in order to get married- -as “ a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest”. In his Liber Gomorrhianus, written circa 1050 and from which the quote comes, Damian explores in lurid detail how priests were involved in every kind of sexual practice, from publicly living with concubines, to solitary masturbation, through to sodomy and pedophilia. 

The handful of church reformers developed an ambitious programme to purge the church of its worldly ways, and to apply what in the sixteenth century would have been recognized as puritanical standards of virtue to churchmen. The programme included codification of canon law; the election of the Pope via the College of Cardinals, rather than their appointment by emperors, Roman aristocratic families or kingly intrigues; condemnation of the practice of simony, in other words the buying and selling of ecclesiastical priveleges; and the resurrection of the idea condemned by St Augustine that the laity should be able to depose corrupt priests, reserving his bile in particular for priests who actively engaged in homosexual acts, or buggered little boys. His book became a reference to clerics pondering how to respond to revelations across the church in 2018 about priests living the life of Reilly. 

At the heart of the Gregorian reforms was the assertion of the doctrine of papal primacy. One of Pope Gregory’s  co-reformers, Humbert of Silva Candida, had ended his legation in 1054 to Constantinople by excommunicating the patriarch. The split between Western and Eastern churches had been 5 centuries in the building; it is still  effect. In 1073, Gregory  published the Dictatus Papae, the content of which Cantor summarises thus: “a revolutionary document in view of the comprehensiveness and intransigence of its assertion of papal absolutism and its contradiction of the prevailing world order”. The pope, it claimed, had the power to depose emperors, and it was lawful for subjects to bring accusations against the rulers to the Holy See. Unless anyone should be in any doubt what Gregory thought about Emperors and Kings, he wrote in his Letter to Bishop Hermann of Metz, March 15, 1081: “Who does not know that kings and leaders are sprung from those who— ignorant of God— by pride, plunder, perfidy, murders— in a word by almost every crime, the devil, who is the prince of this world, urging them on as it were— have striven with blind Cupidity and intolerable presumption to dominate over their equals; namely, over men? »  

The Gregorian reformers’ efforts to disentangle church from state had momentous consequences for the German lands. In 1075, the Salian emperor Henry IV  from 1084 to 1105 was the most powerful ruler in Europe. Henry rejected papal claims enunciated in the Dictatus Papae, and demanded Pope Gregory’s abdication. In response, Gregory deposed and excommunicated the Emperor, and absolved his lords from their oath to him. This was particularly dangerous to his rule, so on the suggestions of his advisers, he set out on foot to meet the Pope at Canossa, the castle of Matilda of Tuscany. He reached there in mid winter, early 1077, and the story is that Gregory allowed the Emperor to wait outside the castle gates in the snow for three days, before ordering the gates opened. The Pope absolved the Emperor.  But the damage was done, the Emperor had been humiliated, and the lords and princes emboldened. Cantor writes that this event dealt a fatal blow to idea of theocratic leadership, upon which the Salian dynasty had relied. The event gave substance to the Gregorian claim that the papacy had the right to judge and depose even the most powerful ruler of Europe. It helped to consolidate the territorial sovereignty and aristocratic power in the German lands, making for a de-centralised Germany, full of princely courts;  nine hundred years later,  Imperial German imposed unity by force, with the three wars concocted by Chancellor Bismarck against Denmark, Austria-Hungary and France. 

The intellectual consequences of the Gregorian reform were multiple:  the reformers propounded the doctrine of papal authority, the centralizatied organization of the church, and the power of the priestly office. The doctrines of the plenitude of power, of papal infallibility, and the subservience of the monarchy to priesthood were Gregorian. But the reality of Europe’s highly de-centralized polity meant that Gregorian theory never triumphed. From these Gregorian teachings, also, came ideas that acted as  a dissolvent on  the medieval world: salvation was individual, all men were equal, the powerful were sinful, the meek inherited the earth, and the laity had a right to judge priestly morality.

The Crusades.

Henri Pirenne, in the lectures that the great Belgian historian delivered to his fellow prisoners in German captivity in 1917-18, and that later appeared as A History of Europe: From the Invasions to the XVI Century, stated that there was nothing to be compared to the expansion of Islam in the 7thcentury.  “The overwhelming rapidity of its propagation was no less surprising than the immensity of its conquests. It took only seventy years from the death of Mohammed (632) to spread from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. Nothing could stand before it. At the first blow it overthrew the Persian Empire (637-644); then it deprived the Byzantine Empire , one by one, of each of the provinces which it attacked: Syria (634-636), Egypt (640-642), Africa (698), and Spain (711). …The onward march of the invaders was checked only at the beginning of the 8th century, when the great movement by which they were threatening Europe from both sides at once was halted beneath the walls of Constantinople (717) and by the soldiers of Charles Martel on the plain of Poitiers (732)…Henceforth, all, these regions were subject, in religion and political obedience, to the most powerful potentate who ever existed, the Caliph of Baghdad”. [8]

The Muslim religion, Pirenne taught, issued from a nomadic people, and from one of its own, Mohammed, the prophet. The religion had adopted the purest monotheism. Its conception of God had a formidable simplicity: to obey Allah, and compel infidels to obey his law. “The Holy War became a moral, obligation, and its own reward. Warriors who fell with their weapons in their hands enjoyed the beatitudes of Paradise. For the rest, the booty of the rich traders who surrounded poverty-stricken Arabia on every side would be the lawful prize of the military apostolate”.[9]

At the multiple crossroads of trade with India, China, Africa and Sicily and Spain, Islam became a formidable enemy to its European neighbours. “From the 7th to the 11th century Islam was incontestably the master of the Mediterranean. This had a number of key consequences for Europe.  The greater portion of what the Romans had called mare nostrum,  became alien and hostile.  East and West, previously joined at the hip of Rome, were separated. The Byzantine Empire devoted its efforts to withstanding the pressure from Islam. Venice became the intermediary with Byzantium, but most of the eastern empire’s history was alien to Western Europe. “It was Byzantium that Christianized the Slavs of the South and East- the Serbs, Bulgars and Russians- and it was the people of the Empire who, after bearing the Turkish yoke for 400 years, reconstituted the Greek nationality inf the 20th century”. 

The other major impact was that for the first time since the formation of the Roman Empire, Western Europe was isolated from the rest of the world.  “The Mediterranean by which it had hitherto kept in touch with civilization was closed to it.” As a result, “the Christianity of the West…became a world apart, able to count only on itself…A new Europe was created with the rise of the Frankish Empire, the Church as the heir to Rome, the expansion of the monastic tradition, the establishment of the Carolingian state, and the confirmation of the monarch as “King by the Grace of God”- in other words that the monarch was accountable to the precepts of Christian morality- and the Papal assertion that that precept was justiciable in Rome.  

The conquest of Sicily in the 9th century was the last advance of Islam in the West. Thereafter, the Muslims began to settle down, enjoy the fruits of peace and live alongside Christians. But their positions in Europe were highly exposed, most notably in Spain where the northern petty kingdoms of Spain, in permanent warfare with Moslem neighbours,  absorbed  Islam’s fierce monotheism. The “Reconquista”- which took over 500 years from the 9th to the 15th centuries, conditioned Hispanic Christianity, which was in turn exported to the Americas with Columbus’ discovery of the island of Hispaniola in 1492. 

The Crusade, writes Pirenne, was essentially the work of the Papacy. It was undertaken not by the secular leaders of the time, or by the people, but by the Papacy and its motive was the conquest of the Holy Places.  The immediate cause for the papal initiative was approach of the Seljuk Turks to the gates of Constantinople. As Pirenne writes, “in 1095, (the Emperor) Alexius sent an embassy to (Pope)Urban II…hinting at the possibility of a return to the catholic communion”. Here was an opportunity to kill a number of birds with one stone: conquer the Holy Places, undo the schism of 1054, affirm Papal leadership, repair relations with the emperor  that had been damaged by the investiture conquest, and not least, win the support of the Frankish nobles to the cause. 

Urban travelled to Clermont, and there on November 27, 1095, he announced the crusades to an enthusiastic crowd that had flocked to hear and see the sovereign pontiff. He offered indulgences to those who took up arms in the name of heaven”. “Deus Vult” roared the largely aristocratic crowd.

Enthusiasm to liberate Jerusalem extended to the populace, and occasioned major outbreaks of hostility to Jews, identified as the killers of Christ. Cantor records that popular hostility to Jews waxed with the more mystical teachings of church reformers, such as  St Peter Damiani, “whose passionate charity, writes Cantor, did not extend to those outside the Christian church”. “Fanaticism made its appearance as the reverse side of the new personal, intense religiosity that he did so much to foment”. The first progrom in western European history broke out between December 1095 and July 1096, first in Rouen among men gathering to take the cross, and then in Speyer, where a crusading army had gathered.[10] Cantor writes: “Incessant and violent anti-Semitism stems from the age of the Gregorian reform and the first crusade. By the middle of the twelfth century the appearance of the blood libels-the myths that the Jews had a propensity for engaging in the ritual slaughter of Christian children- and other manifestations of popular hatred led to repeated progroms. By 1200 the Jews in western Europe were in effect the slaves of royal and ducal governments. They were allowed to engage in usurious practices and to preserve their religion and were protected from mass murder, but in return they were mercilessly taxed by royal treasuries that used them as parasites to draw money out of the outraged populace”.  

The history of the crusades is not one of unlimited success. In 1099, the first crusaders founded the kingdom of Jerusalem. After a tumultuous existence, the kingdom was finally dissolved with the end of the crusades in the Holy Land in 1291. The second crusade (1147-50) was announced by Pope Eugene III, and was the first to be led by European kings. The crusade was also accompanied by anti-Jewish riots, and ended in failure,  a great victory for the Muslims, ultimately leading to the fall of Jerusalem and to the third crusade(1189-92).  Known as the King’s Crusade- the three European monarchs of France, England and the Holy Roman Empire united their forces to reconquer the Holy Land- it enjoyed a partial success in that it reversed some Moslem conquests. But the fourth crusade(1202-1204), called by Pope Innocent III to take back Jerusalem, instead saw  the crusaders sack  Constatinople, and plunder and lose their religious zeal to take war to Islam. The Byzantine Empire was re-established in 1261, but the schism was confirmed, and the empire never recovered from the blow.

The formula of crusading was applied to the prolonged Reconquista in Spain, and then to the mid-12th century campaigns against the pagan tribes of northern Europe. As success remained elusive in the Mid-East, the formula was turned inwards against heretics against the Cathars in Languedoc, the Waldensians in Savoy and the Hussites in Bohemia. As the universality of the church shattered in the sixteenth century, the habit of violence against heretics spilled over into both Protestant and Catholic responses to dissent. Crusading rhetoric was deployed in response to the rise of the Ottoman Empire, only ending in the formation of the Holy League in 1684, launched by the Pope and directed against the Ottomans. But by that time, the workings of the balance of power were in full swing: France backed the Ottomans, whom the Hapsburgs defeated  with the help of the Poles.

Why were the crusades overall a failure? Going on a crusade was a short-term commitment, whereas winning and retaining conquests in Palestine required long-term commitments and standing armies. Crusading lived on enthusiasm, which waxed and waned over the years, especially as European nobles and adventurers had multiple other concerns and opportunities. Not least, crusading was high risk, involving war waged at long distances from home against an enemy, such as Nur-al-Din, Saladin, using the logistical advantages of proximity to victorious effect. [11]

It was in Spain that crusading had its most lasting effect, imposing its character on Spanish civilization. In the late 14th century, the Moslem powers there turned to enforced conversion. Many Jews joined the church in preference and in massive numbers. As a result, Spain built by the chance of history a multi-ethnic missionary society which by 1492 chased the last Islamic state from Granada and  set sail for “India”. One not insignificant residue is that the Spanish aristocracy carries Jewish blood in its veins since the fourteenth century at the latest. The conquest of Granada in 1492 led to the expulsion or conversion of Muslim mudejars and sephardi (Spanish-speaking) Jews. Out of an estimated Spanish population of 7 million, one million of these New Christians were converts from Islam, and up to 200,000 from Judaism. Suspicions flourished that these New Christians continued in their old faiths, prompting the monarchy to introduce the policy of limpieza de sangre, a measure of blood ancestry rather than of religion. All the greater incentive therefore for servants of the Crown to swear their allegiance loudly. The Conquistadors – Columbus, Cortes and Pizarro- carried the Christian gospel with the sword, to open up trade routes across the whole of the Americas.  There is a direct line between the crusades, starting in the 11th century, the radical nature of Iberian Christianity, the importance of lineage, and the Iberian conquest of the Americas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. 

The medieval papacy.

The Petrine doctrine of papal primacy, announced forcefully by Pope Leo 1, ensured that emperors never ceased to intervene in the selection process. The greater the Papal claims, the higher the political stakes.  A succession of Emperors, first Byzantine, then Frankish and ultimately Germanic, struggled to assert their rights in determining who called the shots in the papal curia. Pope Gregory I, AD 590-604, the first of the medieval popes to be deemed “great”, considered that he was part of a Christian commonwealth headed by the Byzantine emperor. Byzantine control of Italy faded in the course of the 8th century, to be replaced by the Carolingian dynasty. A council regulating papal elections in 769 decreed that news of the pope’s election was to be transmitted to the Frankish court and no longer to Constantinople. Pope Leo III, AD 795-816, crowned Charlemagne   emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day, AD 800. Although the popes gained a measure of security from this relationship, they lost an equal measure of independence, because the Carolingians followed in the footsteps of their Byzantine and Roman predecessors by asserting considerable control over the Frankish church and the papacy itself. The pope, on the other hand,  exercised influence in Carolingian affairs by maintaining the right to crown emperors and by sometimes directly intervening in political disputes.

The last decades of the eleventh century witnessed a series of major events that shaped Europe’s evolution for centuries: the split between Rome and Constantinople dated from 1054; Pope Gregory VII, AD 1073-1085, launched the Gregorian reforms, the objective of which was to purge imperial influence over the papal curia, and to establish a unified Christianitas under papal sanction; in 1095, at Clermont, Pope Urban II, AD 1088-1099, launched the Crusades, and with it, the indulgences business- the papal forgiveness of sins in return for taking up arms in the name of the Cross. Imperial powers over the Church were scaled back, but the new electoral procedures instituted by the Gregorians only partially resolved questions relating to papal succession, and in a decision of 1179, a rule was promulgated whereby a two-thirds majority of the cardinals was required to elect a pope. 

Arguably, the most ambitious of popes was Innocent III , AD 1198-1216. He held an exalted idea of papal monarchical power and authority. Not shy of becoming embroiled in the affairs of the world,  he established papal temporal authority over Rome, restored effective government over the Papal states, and acted as an effective secular prince in central Italy. During his reign, England, Sicily, Bulgaria and Portugal all became papal fiefs. His fiscal tools included streamlined census-taking, income taxation, crusader vow redemptions, expanding crusade indulgences, the collection of alms, trade embargoes, clerical reform and more.[12] Meanwhile, the development of universities, the expansion of the law, and the growth of bureaucracies furnished both papal and secular powers with trained personnel. Towards emperors, kings and princes, he proclaimed that the pope “has the authority because he does not exercise the office of man, but of the true God on earth”. 

Papal jurisdiction, Innocent claimed, extended over   ratio peccati, (“reason of sin”)- an indefinitely expansive juridical concept, given the Fall humanity’s post-Edenic existence in this sinful world. In the event of a contested election to the Germanic Empire, Innocent established the pope’s right to evaluate imperial candidates, but  at the battle of Bouvines in 1214, the rising power of King Philippe Augustus of France imposed a humiliating defeat on a coalition, including the Emperor and King John, depriving the former of his throne and the latter of most of his French lands.  When the barons of England forced King John to sign Magna Carta in 1215, Innocent declared the charter null and void on the grounds that it violated his rights as a feudal lord. The first Brexit in 1534 broke free of all such supranational claims. 

Innocent III waged war not only on Islam, but also on heresy within the borders of Christendom. In a decretal letter, Vergentis in senium (March 25, 1199), he defined heresy as treason against God, and deployed the methods used in Roman treason trials- including being burnt alive.  The letter opened his long campaign which culminated in his launching of the Albigensian crusade in southern France, whereby the pope used the Crusade to crush the Cathar heretics. Innocent III did not found the Inquisition, which became important as establishing a tradition of religious coercion in the late medieval Western. But he laid down initial principles. He also sought to meet the  demands of an eager population for knowledge about Christ by approving the order of St Francis of Assisi, the Franciscans in 1209.  St Francis founded what may be called a back to basics movement, with a disturbing message to the wealthy and to the powerful. In the words of Pope Benedikt XVI, St Francis’ answer to the Church’s many travails was simply “to imitate his (Christ’s) virtues”.[13]

In 1208, Dominic began to preach to the heretics with the pope’s support, and in 2015, his order, (the Dominicans) received papal approval. The Church’s paramount theologian, St  Thomas Aquinas (AD 1225-1272), was  a Dominican ; his Summa Theologica serves still as the official theology of the Church. Known as Doctor Angelicus, St Thomas married Christian faith to human reason. In Pope Benedikt XVI’s words, “Insofar as reason appeared incompatible with faith, it was not reason, and what appeared to be faith was not faith if it was in opposition to true rationality”. St. Thomas, writes Benedict, “created a new synthesis that formed the culture of the centuries to come”. [14]

In his last year of earthly life, in 1215, Innocent presided the fourth Lateran Council, attended by 412 bishops in Rome. The Council  issued 72 canons-laws of the Church- which, inter alia,  insisted on celibacy for the priesthood; approved the doctrine of transubstantiation  in the eucharist; and decreed  that all Jews should wear a yellow star. His pontificate is identified by historians as marking a hardening of Church policy towards the Jews as the enemies of the church. and a sharpening of anti-Jewish rhetoric. [15]  

The thirteenth century may be considered the highwater mark  of the papal monarchical project. Europe prospered; Europe’s climate was favourable; farm output rose; towns prospered in northern Italy and in Flanders; the Church’s universalist claims were broadcast; the two great saints appealed to the masses as well as to the elites. But as the fourteenth century approached, the clouds began to gather. Population growth brought marginal lands into use; the climate turned colder; the Kingdom of Jerusalem fell to Islam; the kings of France and England expelled Jews from their lands on grounds of usury, and of trumped up charges, especially the blood libel-the ritual murder of Christian children. 

One of the more extreme advocates of papal authority to become pope was Boniface VIII (1294-1303), a brilliant lawyer, whose personality led him to clash with the French King, Philip IV. The clash  brought about the collapse of the medieval papacy. In the bull Unam Sanctam, published in  1302, the pope proclaimed the doctrine “extra ecclesiam nulla salus”, used the term plenitude potestatis, to characterize papal power within the church, and affirmed that the secular power must submit to the spiritual power. Philip IV objected, and in short order had the papacy move residence from Rome to Avignon, whence it fell under the domination of the French monarchy. The “Babylonian captivity” lasted until 1377, but the further decline of the papacy’s political power was accelerated by the Great Schism of 1378-1417, during which rival factions of cardinals elected competing popes in Rome and Avignon. The schism was ended in 1417 at the Council of Constance, with the defenestration of three rival popes, and the return of the papacy to Rome. Three centuries of papal-imperial rivalry thus ended with both powers hobbled: a papacy riven by the Great Schism, and the dynasties of the German princes confirmed at the expense of the empire.

Crisis, writes Peter Schuster, is the word which comes immediately to the historian’s mind when thinking of the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries.[16] The Great Famine of 1315-17, and the Black Death of 1347-1351 reduced Europe’s population by half or more; the medieval warm period came to a close and the first century of the little ice age began; local famines became frequent; minorities -Jews, lepers, friars, foreigners, or lepers-were scapegoated as responsible for the misfortunes, randomly blamed for spreading death;  popular revolts broke out, notably in France and England;  “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then a gentleman,” preached John Ball, the radical priest, who travelled the country, calling  on the peasantry to rebel against their landowners. Civil wars were common, while the kings of France and England engaged in the Hundred Years War. There was also plenty of evidence of clerical wrong-doing, not least because Innocent III had introduced the idea of episcopal inspections of their dioceses. 

The contrast between vaulting papal ambition and crude priestly reality proved a gift to the poets.Throughout the Middle Ages, the Church had been wracked by rebels who pointed to the gulf between the saintliness of Christlike role models, and the actual behaviour of nominal Christians. Joachim of Flora, the  southern Italian abbot and living at the end of the twelfth century, hadidentified the papacy with antichrist. The  German minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide denounced the pope as a ravenous wolf in shephard’s garb, recorded by Dante Alighieri in his classic, The Divine Comedy. In that work, Dante consigns Boniface VIII to Hell. In  the Decameron, written at the time of the Black Death, Boccaccio glories in stories about the ignorant and lecherous clergy; female and male lust; and the perils of being a travelling merchant. “While farmers generally allow one rooster for ten hens, he writes,  ten men are scarcely sufficient to service one woman.”  In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath boasts about her sexual prowess,   “”So help me God, I laugh when I think/How pitifully at night I made them (my 5 husbands) work!”. In Piers Ploughman, the author William Langland has “the Parish priest and pardoner share all the silver” for financial gain, indicating that the Church is more interested in mammon than in the salvation of souls. 

Imagine, then. We are at the end of the fifteenth century. We are at a crossroads. Everything has been tried. Proto-puritans, like the Waldensians,  have tried to make the Church into a community of saintly men and women. They were sidelined. The church opted for universality, the inclusion of all sinners, in exchange for acquiescence in its doctrinal primacy. Heretics have been persecuted, and mechanisms- such as the  marriage sacrament or confession- honed to police the private  behaviour of the rich and powerful, as well as of the poor and needy. The price for this ambition was for Holy Mother Church to be engulfed by sinful humanity.  Popular religiosity, modern historians record, was intense and widespread. What had not been tried was to explore rediscovered  Rome, with its brutalities, not the Church, with its multiple human failings, as the source to inspire  the humanistic renaissance of the fifteenth century.

As Cantor writes, “by the fifteenth century, the philosophy of humanism…was unequivocally enunciated in Florence’s intellectual circles”.  It received its highest affirmation in Pico della Mirandolla’s Oration, and written in the 1490s. Cantor quotes him: “ I have come to understand why man is the most fortunate of creatures and consequently worthy of all admiration and what precisely is that rank which is his lot in the universal chain of being- a rank to be envied not only by the brutes but even by the stars and by minds beyond the world…Man is rightly called and judged a great miracle and a wonderful creature indeed…The saying …”know thyself” urges and encourages us to the investigation of nature, of which the nature of man is both the connecting link and, so to speak, “the mixed bowl”. For he who knows himself knows all things…”. 

We are far from St Augustine, the Fall, and the vision of man labouring under sin, and needful of salvation. We have arrived, writes Cantor, “at the theory of liberal humanism, which holds that the resources of human society are so vast as to be virtually unlimited. There is no need for violence, poverty, and misery in society because the human mind is powerful enough to devise remedies for these ills and to establish a community in which all men will have the freedom to cultivate the sublime and beautiful that are the potential in every human being”. We are on the verge of discovering the new figures representative of a Europe with boundless ambition: Don Juan ( near limitless sexual prowess) and Faustus (so greedy as to enter a pact with the Devil).

Conclusion : The EU’s legacy from the “Middle Ages”.

There are two outstanding facts from this short survey of the “Middle Ages”- the millenia or more between the fall of the Roman Empire, and what is generally regarded as the onset of the modern era in the late fifteenth century.  First, the whole of Europe became drenched in Christianity; second, Christianity’s hold on the peoples of Europe was always tenuous. Given the nature of Christianity, it could not have been otherwise. 

An excellent reason for history to be taken seriously is that if it is not, its practice may be compared to a jungle filled with some very wild animals.  Our period is no exception. Humanists  mourned the fall of Rome, the barbarians invasions, and the ensuing centuries of the “dark ages”. Protestant historians recorded the lights only coming on when their forebears began to scrub official religion clean of its multiple “medieval” accretions. Catholic accounts by contrast looked with nostalgia to an “age of faith”, when the popes held sway over western Europe, and the laws and mores, if not the practices, of the peoples were judged by their criteria. Agnostics argued that , yes the language of the élites was nominally Christian, but the beliefs of the peoples remained steeped in “folklore”.[17]Christopher Dawson, the Catholic apologist, found true Christianity much more deeply rooted among the people than among a corrupt clerical elite. “Langland’s poem, he writes, seems to prove that the fundamental principles of the creative period of medieval religion had been completely assimilated and incorporated by the new vernacular culture of the common people than it had been by the higher and more literary culture of the ruling elements in Church and state”.[18]

Cantor in his book on medieval civilization defends the traditional position that it took five centuries to overcome the disaster of the Germanic invasions. His interpretation is countered by authors such as Wells, who contends that recent archeological research reveals a much richer civilization in the early post-Roman centuries than contemporary written sources made allowance for , while Wickham, rightly, warns against making early medieval history part of a teleology, and states bluntly that in the early Middle Ages, “there was no common European culture, and certainly not any Europe-wide economy”. It has to be studied on its own terms, he says, and not in terms of continuities we chose or consequences with which we burden it. I would definitely accept the precept that the task of an historian is to try to reproduce the internal logic that drove people to do what they did at the time they acted, but I would definitely contest interpretations that belittle the constant drumbeat over the thousand or more years of the Christian phenomenon. 

How Christianised was Europe? Our survey suggests it was always precarious in the sense that its precepts were re-learnt through every life, and that the contrast between the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount , and how people behaved, was always wide and deep. Crooked priests, sex-starved  males, and females, deceitful  predators, barbarities of every sort, papal and imperial overreach, obscurantism and superstitions were widespread. Indeed, the church  collected hordes of evidence to that effect, through its practices of the confessional, the episcopal assessments of dioceses, the investigations of the Inquisition, or its own treatment of heretics, Jews and non-Christians. “Most of the evidence for a failure of Christianization in the medieval period, writes John Van Engen, has come from accounts of incompetent clerics, ignorant peasants, superstitious women, infrequent communion and the like”. [19] It is also the case though that over time, as generation followed generation, the Church spread out across the length and breadth of Europe, and filtered its messages to the peoples of Europe, through the priests, the laity, and the parishes to foster popular religious enthusiasms, manifest in pilgrimages, progroms, crusades or the earnest following of the ecclesiastical calendar, its saints days and feasts, and its celebrations of the main events in lives, from baptism, to adolescence, marriage and death. John Van Eugen concludes: “Any approach that denies the reality of Christianization as crucial to the formation and flowering of medieval religious culture will miss wholly its inner dynamic”. 

The imprint of Christianity on Europe was immense. As Raffaello Morghen (1895-1983) put it, “the fundamental theme inspiring and permeating the whole development of medieval civilization was the Christian religious tradition”. [20] Successive generations of Europeans invoked this tradition, against the spread of nationalism, utilitarianism, racialism and Marxism in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In 1799, a German aristocrat, Georg Philipp Friedrich, Freiherr von Hardenberg (1772-1801), better known under his pen name, Novalis, wrote an influential essay, “Christendom or Europe” invoking those “fine, resplendent times when Europe was a Christian land, when one Christendom occupied this humanly constituted continent”.[21]Later in the century, Pope Leo XII, in 1879, issued the encyclical Aeterni Patris, intended to promote the scholastic thinkers of the Middle Ages, notably St Thomas’ philosophy in order to counter prevalent secular heresies. The current Pope Francis regularly invokes this past when he calls on Europeans to uphold “EU values”, in appeals to Europeans to stick to the vision of a united Europe, and in 2021, he placed Robert Schuman- the author of the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950, launching the EU project- on the path to sainthood. 

One of the prime lessons from the history of the Middle Ages, from this tradition, would be culled in answer to the question as to why the investiture contest between pope and emperor turned out to be so far beneath the claims of either protagonist. It was not just that pope and emperor established a bicephalous modus vivendi, very similar to Dante’s proposal to two co-equal powers, distinct mandates-one terrestrial, the other heavenly; but the reality of Europe imposed itself as one characterized by a plethora of monarchs, dukes, embryonic modern states, city republics, and more, loosely tied one to another by common bonds of religion, trade, music or skills, but kept apart by language, distance, local loyalties or controversial memories. One of these was the memories handed down of Rome, invoked in the renaissance of Charlemagne, again in the thirteenth century, and by what came to be termed the humanist revival of the later Middle Ages. A savvy lesson from a survey of this period would have warned about the risks of seeking to corale Europe’s inherited diversity into a single political entity. But the insiders, who guided events in the constitutional convention of 2002-2004, committed the oversight of failing to learn the lesson from the investiture contest, and imposed a one-size-fits-all structure on  a recalcitrant Europe. 

Even more to the point, they  could not work their way through to mentioning Christianity in the Lisbon Treaty, in a part of the world where the Christian footprint is large and very visible. Take, for instance, the phenomenon of the monasteries. As Thomas E. Woods writes, “ Among other things, the monks taught metallurgy, introduced new crops, copied ancient texts, preserved literacy, pioneered in technology, invented champagne, improved the European landscape, provided for wanderers of every stripe, and looked after the lost and the shipwrecked.” To make the point bluntly, each monastery was a local agricultural college: there were 742 Cistercian monasteries in Europe in the twelfth century. By the time of the Reformation, the early sixteenth century, Europe had 81 universities, thirty-three of which possessed papal charters; twenty possessed both papal and imperial charters; fifteen possessed a royal or an imperial charter, and thirteen had none. The universities taught law, theology,  the rudiments of  modern science, mathematics, biology, astronomy, geology, music, accounting and a great many other fields.   “Scholars of the later Middle Ages, David Lindberg has written,  created a broad intellectual tradition, in the absence of which subsequent progress in natural history would have been inconceivable”.[22]

Beyond, this the greatest engineering feats of the time were implemented under the aegis of the Church. As Thomas E. Woods writes, “particularly stunning are Europe’s Gothic cathedrals. Gothic architecture developed out of the Romanesque style and spread throughout Europe to varying degrees from its origins in France and England. These buildings, monumental in size and scope, are chacterized by certain distinguishing features, including the flying buttress, the pointed arch, and the ribbed vault”.[23] “Western concepts of law, writes Harold Berman, are in their origins, and therefore in their nature, intimately bound up with distinctively Western theological and liturgical concepts of the atonement and of the sacraments”. [24] This tradition includes the concept of the separation of powers, the rights of property, and of non Christians as rooted in the natural law, or the concept of a just war. Not least, the Church taught the rudiments of what became western morality: castigating the practice of infanticide; of suicide; gladiatorial contests; ; dueling; trial by ordeal;  the fundamental equality of all humans. The list is endless. 

The final word is Cantor’s. “The medieval world we know was far from perfect. Life expectancy was short, and disease was mostly incontestable. It was a world burdened by royal autocracy and social hierarchy inherited from ancient times. Its piety and devotion were affected by fanaticism and a potential for persecution.  Its intellectuals were given to too abstract and not enough practical thinking. But it exhibited as elevated a culture, as peaceful a community, as benign a political system, as high-minded and popular a faith as the world has ever seen”. 


[1] Wilhelm Schumann, , Heinrich Heun,Wilhelm Heun. Reichskunde Für Junge Deutsche.Propaganda Material. Winkler, Darmstadt, 1943.

[2] Hitler’s Table Talk, 1941-1944 : His Private Conversations, New York, 2000, pp.33, 46, 667. Quoted in: Stanley G. Payne, Franco and Hitler:  Spain, Germany and World War II, Yale University Press, 2008. p.20

[3] Thomas E. Woods, jr  How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, Regnery, 2012. p.1. 

[4] Lord Action, Lectures on Modern History, London, MacMillan, 1930, p. 121. 

[5] The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 6, Ch. XXXVII, paragraph 619.

[6] Peter S. Wells, Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered, London, Nortion, 2008. Preface. 

[7] Ibid.p.198. 

[8] Henri Pirenne, Jean-Albert Goris, A History of Europe : From The Invasions To The XVI Century,University Boooks, New York, Kessinger’s Legacy Reporints, pp.46-47. 

[9] Ibid . p47. 

[10] Jonathan Riley-Smith,The First Crusade and the Persecution of the Jews, Studies in Church History. Volume 21: Persecution and Toleration, 1984,pp.51-72. 

[11] Thomas Asbridge, The Crusades : The War of the Holy Land, Simon and Schuster, 2012, pp. 660-684. 

[12] Matthew E. Parker, Papa et pecunia: Innocent III’s combination of reform and fiscal policy to finance crusades, Mediterranean Historical Review, Vol 32, 2017, Vol 1. Pp.1-23. 

[13] Pope Benedict XVI,  Great Christian Thinkers, From the Early Church through the Middle Ages, SPCK, 2011. St Francis of Assisi, pp.240-244.

[14] Pope Benedict XVI,  Great Christian Thinkers, From the Early Church through the Middle Ages, SPCK, 2011. St Thomas Aquinas, pp. 284-296.

[15] Robert Chazan, « Pope Innocent III and the Jews », in J. Moore, ed., Pope Innocent III and his World, Aldershot, 1999, 187-204.

[16] Peter Schuster, „Die Krise des Spätmittelalters: Zur Evidenz eines sozial-und wirtschaftsgeschichtlichen Paradigmas in der Geschichtsschreibung des 20. Jahrhunderts“,  Historische Zeitschrift. 269. (1): 19-56.

[17]  John Van Engen, “The Christian Middle Ages as an Historiographical Problem”, The American Historical Review, June 1986, Vol 91, No 3. (June 1986), pp.519-552. 

[18] Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, London, 1950, p.219. Quoted in John Van Engen, p.535. 

[19] John Van Engen, p.538. 

[20] Quoted in John Van Eugen, p.528. 

[21] Novalis, “Christendom or Europe” [Die Christenheit oder Europa] (1799)Volume 2. From Absolutism to Napoleon, 1648-1815, GHDI, http://ghdi.ghidc.org/pdf/eng/13_Class.Romanticism_Doc.3_English.pdf

[22] David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, p. 363. 

[23] Thomas E. Woods, p.119. 

[24] Harold J.Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Tradition , Cambridge: Harvard Unjiversity Press, 1983, p.195.

About Jonathan Story, Professor Emeritus, INSEAD

Jonathan Story is Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy at INSEAD. Prior to joining INSEAD in 1974, he worked in Brussels and Washington, where he obtained his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He has held the Marusi Chair of Global Business at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and is currently Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Graduate Schoold of Business, Fordham University, New York. He is preparing a monograph on China’s impact on the world political economy, and another on a proposal for a contextual approach to business studies. He has a chapter forthcoming on the Euro crisis. His latest book is China UnCovered: What you need to know to do business in China, (FT/ Pearson’s, 2010) (www.chinauncovered.net) His previous books include “China: The Race to Market” (FT/Pearsons, 2003), The Frontiers of Fortune, (Pitman’s, 1999); and The Political Economy of Financial Integration in Europe : The Battle of the Systems,(MIT Press, 1998) on monetary union and financial markets in the EU, and co-authored with Ingo Walter of NYU. His books have been translated into French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Arabic. He is also a co-author in the Oxford Handbook on Business and Government(2010), and has contributed numerous chapters in books and articles in professional journals. He is a regular contributor to newspapers, and has been four times winner of the European Case Clearing House “Best Case of the Year” award. His latest cases detail hotel investments in Egypt and Argentina, as well as a women’s garment manufacturer in Sri Lanka and a Chinese auto parts producer. He teaches courses on international business and the global political economy. At the INSEAD campus, in Fontainebleau and Singapore, he has taught European and world politics, markets, and business in the MBA, and PhD programs. He has taught on INSEAD’s flagship Advanced Management Programme for the last three decades, as well as on other Executive Development and Company Specific courses. Jonathan Story works with governments, international organisations and multinational corporations. He is married with four children, and, now, thirteen grandchildren. Besides English, he is fluent in French, German, Spanish, Italian, reads Portuguese and is learning Russian. He has a bass voice, and gives concerts, including Afro-American spirituals, Russian folk, classical opera and oratorio.
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