“It was Christ’s distinction between the temporal and the spiritual, adumbrated in the fifth century by St. Augustine’s City of God (as opposed to the Roman Empire’s ‘City of Man’), that enabled successive European rulers to resist the political pretensions of the Papacy in Rome….”—Niall Ferguson, Civilization
Quite the mouthful, as clever Niall is wont to produce. I quote it as an example of the prevailing wisdom abroad today.
It must be the truth, because according to Civilization’s dust jacket:
“Niall Ferguson is one of Britain’s most renowned historians. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and the William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the bestselling author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World, The Ascent of Money and High Financier. He also writes regularly for newspapers and magazines all over the world.”
No question an academic Heavy Hitter. Me? Not a word of mine has ever seen the light of a published page. I do teach, though. Truck driving that is. And in the interest of full disclosure I have read and enjoyed five of Ferguson’s books listed above. The man is a tower of learning, no question.
All the same, from an Omphalos Cafe perspective, from a living, breathing, we are alive here and now and all the words in all the books past, present, and still to be written cannot gainsay that one magically miraculous and wondrous fact: Niall is wrong, wrong, WRONG.
Naturally, an academic, a custodian of all our so-called Western learning, would hold it so, but words in books did not “enable… successive European rulers to resist the political pretensions of the Papacy in Rome.”
No. No. NO!
Not words in books. Because it was already there, before any of those rude Germanic Chieftains that became European rulers learned to read or had some of that dead stuff taught to them by bookish monks invited to court. It was already in their fierce indomitable hearts, and what’s more, all that is our Western now Global world grew out, blossomed forth, exfoliated from those hearts as well.
And while we’re at it, why does Professor Ferguson and everyone in the world for that matter with a touch of historical knowledge call the crucial, seminal years between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance ‘the Middle Ages?’ What was middle about them?
A new peoples flooded over Western Europe wiping away much that had been built excepting in many cases quiet peaceable monasteries which just happened to preserve a portion of the old civilization’s way of life and thought. These peoples contained in their hearts and loins the seeds of all that would come. They would build all we know today, appropriating from all sides as well as the past, but ever turning what they found to their own uses.
Sure, I get it, the years between say 500 and 1300 AD were the middle years between the cultural peak and subsequent decline of Rome and that of our own rising Western Civilization. But to not grasp that they were not ‘Middle’ years between two peaks but a New Beginning, a New Birthing, is to miss something so crucial to our understanding of Life and just as importantly ourselves, speaks volumes to where we are today—the impasse we’ve painted ourselves into.
Here again is Will Durant:
“A thousand years before Christ northern invaders had entered Italy, subdued and mingled with its inhabitants, borrowed civilization from them, and with them, through eight centuries, had built a new civilization. Four hundred years after Christ the process was repeated; the wheel of history came full turn; the beginning and the end were the same. But the end is always a beginning.”—Will Durant, The Age Of Faith
Ends and Beginnings….
But no Middle….
Because Life is ALL there is.