November 28, 2016


The misleading myth of the 'Middle Ages' (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, November 28, 2016, The Week)

The very expression "Middle Ages" speaks of an era "in-between," when essentially nothing interesting happened. But the Middle Ages was actually an enormously momentous and inventive era. Early Medieval innovations in agriculture such as the iron plow, water and wind milling, and the three-field system enabled Europe to break out of the Malthusian trap that Rome had been stuck in for centuries, empowering it to withstand invasions that had felled its supposedly advanced predecessors. Everything we commonly associate with the Renaissance and the early Modern era, such as international trade and its handmaid of capitalist finance, scientific tinkering, classical culture, and philosophical inquiry, was in fact already present in the Middle Ages.

As an alternative, I propose that we say that after Antiquity, begins Christendom, or the Christian period. For more than a thousand years, across what we now call the West, Christianity was recognized and (largely) accepted, if only in theory or in word in many cases, as the dominant organizing principle of metaphysical, political, social, and moral reality. As such, our start date for this era has to be 380, the date of the Edict of Thessalonica, where Emperor Theodosius made Nicene Christianity the State Church and only officially recognized religion of the Roman Empire.

It is not "generic" Christianity that becomes dominant in this era, but the orthodox Christianity of the apostolic Christian Church, an organized entity. This does not change with the 1054 schism between the Western and Eastern churches, since that schism was seen by almost all participants except the most radical as a split within the apostolic, legitimate Christian Church.

Max Weber famously said that the state is the holder of the monopoly on legitimate violence. But what defines Christendom is that, for the first (and thus far last) time in the history of the West, the apostolic Christian Church had, if not a monopoly on violence (which it never sought), but a monopoly on legitimacy itself. the Enlightenment.

Posted by at November 28, 2016 6:08 PM