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center in the processes that produce conformity.

The Culmination of the Middle Ages. But there is an-
other aspect of the matter that needs to be noted. Not
merely is the salvation of civilization secured by the con-
formity of the individual, but it is in this way alone that
the individual comes to have any real being. The indi-
vidual has no value or significance in himself. Here, just
as in the primitive folkways, he gets his value and signifi-
cance from his membership in the organized community.
He gets his citizenship from the state, his morality from
the social tradition, his religion from the church, and his
intelligence from the school. By himself he is nothingness.
"Filthy rags," fit only to be thrown upon the refuse heap:
this is the orthodox doctrine.

This absolute system of the Middle Ages, which reaches
its culmination in the great politico-religious organization
of the thirteenth century, which finds its most complete
statement in the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas *

1 The work of Thomas, the "Angelical Doctor," illustrates as noth-
ing else can the sublime heights of faith which the age reached.
Catholic scholars look up to him as the final authority in all matters
of medieval thought. Prof. Walsh, in his "Greatest of the Cen-
turies" (Page 281), quotes Father Vaughn as follows: "The 'Summa
Theologica' is a mighty synthesis, thrown into technical and scien-
tific form, of the Catholic traditions of East and West, of the in-
fallible dicta of the Sacred Page, and of the most enlightened con-
clusions of human reason, gathered from the soaring intuitions of
the Academy (Platonic) and the rigid severity of the Lyceum (Aris-
totelian ) . Its author was a man endowed with the characteristic
notes of the three great Fathers of Greek Philosophy: he possessed
the intellectual honesty and precision of Socrates, the analytic keen-
ness of Aristotle, and that yearning after wisdom and light which


(1227-1274), its graphic presentation in the vision of
Dante, and which is an all-inclusive world based on the
principles of Aristotle, is really deeply rooted in one aspect
of the moral and spiritual needs of humanity. In an age
of endless uncertainties man must find some security upon
which he can rest habitually, even thoughtlessly, while he
is grappling with the immediate practical problems about
him. This Medieval statement of life is so realistic (Aris-
totle is the philosopher of the existent) that it is securely
fortified against the assaults of either brute force (for
men will gladly die for it) or petty criticism. For human-
ity must catch sight of something essentially larger, nobler,
more worth while, before this conception can be abandoned,
and petty criticism can never bring that finer world. No,
this conception of life as a great, absolute system of think-
ing, feeling, and acting cannot be ignored or lightly swept
aside. It is, of course, of the nature of the primitive folk-
ways; it is built of habit, custom, tradition, and institu-
tion, all bound together by the explicit logic of Aristotle,
which is the implicit logic of the folkways. It persists in

was the distinguishing mark of 'Plato the divine,' and which has been
one of the essential conditions of the highest intuition of religion."
To this surpassing greatness of faith of the thirteenth century
many scholars of all faiths have offered testimony. Mr. Henry Osborn
Taylor, in his "Medieval Mind," (Vol. 1, p. 13) says: "The peoples
of western Europe, from the eighth to the thirteenth century, passed
through a homogeneous growth, and evolved a spirit different from
that of any other period of history a spirit which stood in awe be-
fore its monitors human and divine, and deemed that knowledge was
to be drawn from the storehouse of the past ; which seemed to rely on
everything except its sin-crushed self, and trusted everything except
its senses; which in the actual looked for the ideal, in the concrete
saw the symbol, in the earthly Church beheld the heavenly, and in
fleshly joys discerned the devil's lures; which lived in the unrecon-
ciled opposition between the lust and vain-glory of earth and the
attainment of salvation; which felt life's terror and its pitifulness,
and its eternal hope; around which waved concrete infinitudes, and
over which flamed the terror of darkness and the Judgment Day."


ceremonials, rituals, beliefs, creeds, doctrines, and scrip-
tures which soothe and satisfy the soul ; it offers a compre-
hensive life to humanity ; it answers all questions that may
be rightly asked; it promises all that the universe has to
give as reward for faithfulness and obedience; and, when
the intellectual implications of the system have been fully
considered, we are convinced that here is a philosophy of
life and existence from which only the most daring and
brilliant, or the most reckless and foolhardy, can ever hope
to escape. History has many truthful and fateful stories
to tell of the inevitable outcome of all efforts to escape.
Any who would attack the permanence or validity of this
medieval interpretation of life must come prepared to ex-
hibit that eternal vigilance which is supposed to be the price
of all liberties.

It is this mighty structure of ordered and completed
civilization which stands as the background of all modern
movements. The whole of the "modern world" struggle
is an effort to escape from the iron implications of this
medieval system into greater freedom along all those lines
that seem to be humanly valuable and worthy of effort.
From these accomplished heights of social, religious, politi-
cal, and intellectual organization we must now turn to a
survey of the processes by which humanity has contrived
to escape, in some small measure, into another sort of




Medievalism not the Final Statement of Life. The

mighty structure of medievalism seems almost the final de-
nial of those old impulses toward freedom, individuality,
and progressive growth which we have seen in such indi-
viduals as Socrates, such internal protests as primitive
Christianity, such racial irruptions as the Teutonic inva-
sions. But not so. Under all the political and social mag-
nificence, the religious authority, and the intellectual sub-
tlety of medievalism there were deep-lying energies which
maintained their continuity of life with the original im-
pulses of the race; and these were yet to be heard from.
In the working out of that medieval world-inclusive struc-
ture (as its builders supposed it to be), many elements were
overlooked, ignored as useless, despised as harmless, or
veneered over and considered safely out of the way. But
those vital elements but wait their time. Medievalism is
not the final statement of the significance of human life.
We must now attend while life, the tireless worker, now
with the aid of intelligence attempts to rebuild the struc-
ture bit by bit, and now with the aid of passion and revo-
lution tears down a majestic wing in one wild orgy of re-
bellious energy, leaving to the long future the task of pro-
viding the new structure more nearly fitted to the needs of
men. Goethe says somewhere, "Law is mighty, but might-
ier is need, ' ' and that tells the story of the revolt from the
majestic finality of medievalism. Human need cannot be
answered forever under any perfected and growthless sys-



tern. "With the risk of losing all, humanity still dares soon
or late to try the unknown ways, to make the great adven-

The Roots of the Modern World. What were the ener-
gies that remained from all the protests of the past, dor-
mant through all these centuries, waiting their time?
Medievalism is, in its very perfection, struck with inner
decay; living energies, promises of a new world, shoot up
through the ruins of the old. What are these new-old
forces of life ?

The significance of the individual, basic factor in the
doctrine of Socrates, boldly recognized in primitive Chris-
tianity, fundamental in the democracy of the Teutons, is
never completely covered up. It appears as a sort of in-
consistent element in the Neoplatonic philosophy, is con-
served in the thought and practices of the mystics of the
Middle Ages, and crops out here and there in the specula-
tions of the nonconformist philosophers. As we come to
the end of the medieval period individuals begin to appear,
to stand out; and the period of transition brings us many
such men who dare to stand for the new impulses, ex-
ploration, invention, innovation, science, an intelligent out-
look upon life and the world. Even Platonism itself fails
the builders of the larger folkways, just because Plato
could not quite deny the place of the individual in the
social world.

The significance of primitive Christianity seemed all but
completely covered up, both in practice and in specula-
tion; but the energies of revolt inherent in that earliest
expression of Christianity were not lost. Primitive sects
were in existence all through the period ; heretics constantly
called in question the validity of accepted dogmas; the
speculative mystics, like Scotus Erigena, even restate that
old revolutionary proposition of the founder of Christian-


ity that growth, not finished system, is the nature of the
world. Reformers appear long before the Reformation,
e.g., Wycliffe in England and Huss in Bohemia; even St.
Augustine, in many ways the official philosopher of the
early Middle Ages, is divided in his allegiance to the fin-
ished and absolute universe, so much so, indeed, that he
becomes the philosophical mainstay of the Reformation.
Indeed, running all through the Middle Ages something of
the spirit of revolt is to be found. Even as members of a
perfect system which offers them all things for their faith-
ful obedience, men grow tired of endless passivity and re-
ceptivity, of intelligenceless acquiescence in tradition and
perfection. Primitive energies and impulses cannot be for-
ever ignored or denied.

The primitive racial characteristics of the "new and
exuberant" peoples, though veneered over with studied
culture and ' ' morality, ' ' cannot be destroyed. Deep under
the soil they remain largely unaffected, unchanged, ready
to germinate into diverse nationalities at the earliest pos-
sible moment. And, indeed, racial instincts could not
vanish in an age when new racial conflicts were constantly
occurring. We have already seen how the age was one of
constant invasions and incursions. These crises kept alive
the deeper racial antagonisms, despite the theoretical
"unity of Christendom," and helped to lay the foundations
for the great intellectual awakening of later centuries.

Characteristic Expression of these Energies in the
Middle Ages. The common life of the people, despite the
feudal control, showed certain aspects of freedom. The
towns were refuges of escaped serfs, working-places of the
freed populations, the homes of the growing "Third Es-
tate" whose development was eventually to mark the over-
throw of the power of the clergy and the nobility. In
many towns and cities democratic tendencies were striving


within the people; free towns, self-governing communes,
were developing. Here, too, corporate guilds of the work-
ers grew and flourished, with their tremendous significance
for free workmanship and free intelligence. Occasionally
the miseries of the poor touched the heart of an ecclesiastic,
and he dared to voice his indignation. And more than one
heretic poet dared to denounce the selfishness of the clergy
who fawned upon the rich and forgot the poor. 1

The centuries of the Middle Ages constituted a long
period of discipline in work and in subordination, but also
in training for freedom under the larger and finer civiliza-
tion of the future. Obedience does not always assure com-
plete and final subordination; it may prepare for the per-
sonal self-control of a larger democratic social order.

Alongside this life of the common people we must note
what has been called the "medieval dilemma," which
played an insidious part in the disillusionment of the peo-
ple and in the eventual releasing of energies for the mod-
ern struggle. This "dilemma" arose out of the fact that
while this earthly life must go on individually and in the
race, being pushed on by impulses and energies deeper
than thought, yet the medieval ideal was an expression of
the worthlessness of this life itself. "One must live and
work; but the only real value in life is getting out of life
into the heavenly existence." Such a plain contradiction
of values must, and does, sooner or later become conscious ;
its final result is disillusionment.

Another expression of these energies of progress is seen
in the life on the frontiers of Europe. All through the
Middle Ages there were men who, like Arthur,

moving everywhere,

Cleared the dark places, and let in the law,
And broke the bandit holds and cleansed the land.

i See Robinson's "Readings in European History," Vol. I; Ch.


But the law they let in was not always the law of the
empire; more frequently it was the "law of necessity."
For the great problem of the frontiers is (as we have seen
in the whole history of America) : Shall civilization grow
up everywhere in conformity with a scheme handed down
from the past, from the old centers of settled life; must
everything fit into the old patterns? Or shall men be free
to use, under new conditions, the new energies released, the
new patterns suggested by the new conditions, the new
intelligence developed by the new situations? This ques-
tion was obviously the most crucial of all those that arose.
We shall have occasion to consider its implications more
fully in a later section, and we may leave it here.

A third expression of this energy of the times is seen in
the mingling of the peoples of all known continents. The
contacts of Europeans with other races, as well as among
themselves, the very processes of making Europeans (for
Asiatics and Africans were making themselves over into
Europeans all through this period), the explorations of oc-
casional restless individuals, the extension of commerce
through the great East, and especially the expanding or
horizon, interest, and knowledge through the experiences of
the Crusades all these items show how far from extinct
were the primitive impulses of the race.

We may indicate by one illustration the profound influ-
ence of these contacts and minglings of the peoples, though
the illustration presents, perhaps, the most noteworthy
case. In 732 A.D. the advance of the Saracens into Central
Europe by way of Spain was stopped at Tours, in Gaul.
Turned back upon themselves, these cultured Mohamme-
dans settled down to the occupancy of Spain, making Cor-
dova one of the four great centers of the Moslem Empire,
the other three being Damascus in Syria, Bagdad on the
Tigris River, and Cairo on the Nile. Here, in an empire


stretching "from the river Indus to the Pillars of Her-
cules, the same religion was professed, the same tongue
spoken, the same laws obeyed. ' ' It may be remarked with-
out serious exaggeration that this empire was the home of
the finest civilization of the age. At any rate, it has been
said that "from the eighth to the twelfth century the an-
cient world knew but two civilizations, that of Byzantium
and that of the Arabs ' ' ; and of these the Arab civilization
was much more energetic, much more intelligent. Passing
by the advances which they made in agriculture, manufac-
turing, and commerce, we may note that they built a uni-
versity in Cairo which at one time had twelve thousand
students, and that their great library in Spain is said to
have contained four hundred thousand manuscript vol-
umes in the tenth century. They gave the world its first
impulse toward mathematics since the Alexandrian Age,
practically inventing algebra, improving trigonometry, and
introducing the Arabic system of notation to take the place
of the old and clumsy Roman system. In many other lines
they were prepared to teach the Christian civilization north
of the Pyrenees. But our special interest at this time arises
from the fact that they gave back to Europe the philosophy
of Aristotle, lost for a thousand years but treasured by
these Oriental scholars and now thrown by them into the
current of discussion out of which was to come the intel-
lectual life of Western Europe. It is true that the actual
result of this return of Aristotle was reactionary ; he helped
to give the finishing touches of perfection and completeness
to the structure of medievalism. But the coming of the
Mohammedans is an excellent illustration of that "cross-
fertilization of cultures" by which the world is saved from
its provincialisms, from its tendencies toward the levels of
stagnate custom.

Summary. So through all these experiences, through


the resurgence of those primitive energies and impulses
which dared to battle at length with the perfect system of
medievalism, through the growth of knowledge of other
peoples and lands, through the development of a middle
class or Third Estate in the cities, with special privileges
and with a growing sense of independence, through the
life on the frontiers where strong men were fighting great
battles with strong forces, making such adjustments of con-
ditions as were possible under the circumstances through
centuries of these experiences there came about a gradual
disillusionment of the barbarians of the North as to the
superiority of the civilization of the South; there came a
gradual suspicion of the ultimate reality of a scheme of
life which, for the great masses of the people, subordinated
all the concerns of this world to the hope of another ; there
came the freeing of energies with which to do the work of
the great unknown future.

Before turning to that larger work, however, we must
pause a moment to consider some of the foreshadowings of
that coming modern world in the long experience of the
Middle Ages. The modern world has come to its ideals and
its tasks through revolutions; but the roots of even a revo-
lutionary age may be found in the soils of antecedent cen-
turies, and the great revolution may be preceded by lesser
expressions of the same creative spirit.



WE have noted that from one point of view the problem
of the Middle Ages was the conflict between order and
disorder, between established results of civilization and the
anarchy of constant invasion and migration (Chapter
XVII). But from another, and perhaps more valid point
of view, we have now to see that the problem of that period
was the conflict between the fundamental social forces that
tend toward progress and the forces that make for fixed
systems and social stagnation. We have briefly followed
the gradual development of the mighty structure of social
order from the days when Plato interpreted Greek social
disintegration in such ways as to make it still help toward
a higher and more absolute social system ; we have seen it
culminate under the logic of Aristotle and the intellectual
leadership of Thomas Aquinas in that majestic and all-in-
clusive statement of the significance of human life which is
generally called "medievalism," one of the two funda-
mental interpretations of life that the world has worked out
to date. We have seen, also, that underneath the surface
of the medieval system the "roots of progress" were still
alive, promising eventual growth of a very different kind
of world (Chapter XVIII). We must now note how, even
in this very period and despite all the efforts of the "sys-
tem," many evidences of life and many promises of the
new order came to light. As was natural and inevitable,
each of these evidences appears in the form of a struggle



with existing conditions and institutions. We shall briefly
note some of these ''struggles."

(a) The Rise of the Nations as against the Empire and
the Church. The efforts of the Middle Ages were directed
to the development and complete organization of ' ' Christen-
dom," a holy state which should include and control all
the diverse nationalities of the world under one central
authority. But the effort to smother the racial instincts
of the many peoples who now occupy Europe proved futile ;
the folkway traditions of these various races were too
deeply rooted in their very personal and social natures to
be thus easily covered over and destroyed. And, indeed,
nothing could be imagined that would have made the
human race more uninteresting than the success of this
plan of reducing all peoples to the same drab level of con-
formity to a program conceived in Rome. Emotionally,
intellectually, educationally, the loss would have been im-
measurable. But it was a movement that could not suc-
ceed. England gradually assumed her own career; and
though her story is closely inwrought with the story of the
continental states, yet after 449 Anglo-Saxon diversity
made certain the development of an independent racial,
social, and political order.

The same may be said of France from and after the be-
ginning of the work of the stronger Capetian kings, for
example, Louis VI (1108-1137). In a sense it may even
be said that the very events that brought about the break-
ing-up of the empire of Charlemagne, racial struggles
between the Franks and the Germans, promised an
eventual nation of the Franks. The whole story of this
development is, of course, too long to be told in this place.
But this much must be recognized: Deep under the sur-
face of the "conformities" of the Middle Ages, racial and
national traits were preserved against the day when the


conflict between these diverse traits and the centralizing
tendencies might be waged on somewhat even terms. The
rise of nations has meant almost endless warfares; but it
has preserved the great diversities of life from destruction
and given us the picturesque social and political life of
the present. And not even the horrors of war can make
us forget these values.

(b) The Struggles between the Cities and the Feudal
Monarchies. After the destruction of the Roman towns by
the invading barbarians Europe knew little of the old
town life until about the tenth century. Then, in the
midst of the Hungarian invasions, Henry the First of
Germany (919-936), known usually as " Henry the
Fowler," gave great impetus to town building by setting
up many fortified places in which, he decreed, one out of
every nine peasants should dwell for the purpose of stor-
ing up one-third of the annual harvest of the other eight.
Henry became known to history as the "Builder of Cities,"
and town life became again a recognized type of living.
Little by little the cities developed ; new types of industry
grew. Cities became centers of intelligence, centers of
aspiration, centers of organization in the long struggle for
human freedom. They were given special charters by some
of the national kings. They learned to play fast and loose
with feudal and national monarchs in their determination
to become free. They became centers of commerce, with
all that that implies; and, of course, they became the
refuges of all the oppressed, the homes of all workers who
were not immediately attached to the soil. The struggles
between the cities and the central authorities is one of the
most definite of all the struggles of the period for freedom
and human rights. 1

In this connection we must note also the struggle be-

i Robinson: "Readings in European History," Vol. I, Ch XVIII.


tween the feudal organization of industry (mostly agri-
cultural) and the rising industries of the towns, especially
as represented by the merchant and craft gilds. The de-
velopment of the varied industries represented by these
gilds is one of the most important evidences of the non-
conformist nature of much of the life of the Middle Ages.

(c) The Struggles between Heretic Sects and the
Church. Here again we come upon a long story. We
have seen how all the efforts of the established order were
directed to the task of bringing primitive Christianity
under control and harmonizing it with the institutional

Online LibraryJoseph Kinmont HartDemocracy in education; → online text (page 12 of 31)