THE MEDIEVAL CULTURAL SYNTHESIS

 

By combining together Celtic-Teutonic, Greek-Roman, and Christian beliefs and cultures, the relative barbarism of the early Medieval period ("The Dark Ages," c. 476-800) was ultimately replaced by civilization of the High Middle Ages (c. 1050-1453).

 

*Augustine (354-430):  Bishop of Hippo; a Christian converted from Manichaeism, influenced by Neoplatonism; wrote *Confessions, a biography about his conversion.  Wrote The City of God, a defense of Christianity as not causing the sacking of Rome (410 A.D.) by barbarians.

 

*Boethius (c. 480-524):  Christian philosopher who used classical learning and logic to defend and explain Christianity in The Consolation of Philosophy, which summarized classical philosophy for the medievals.

 

*Feudalism:  The basic political system of Western Europe.  Based upon decentralization of authority, king delegates the authority to use force to maintain law and order on "his" land (fiefs) to local nobles in return for military support in wars.

 

*Manorialism:  Basic local economic unit, peasants tied to land as serfs, open field system of rotating fallow and productive land to maintain its fertility.

 

Carolingian Renaissance:  *Charlemagne, the Frankish king (r. 768-814), sparks a revival of classical learning and culture.

 

Teutonic myths of Norsemen:  illustrates Germanic pessimism, "Gotterdammerung," the good gods of Valhalla ultimately wiped out by the Jotuns.

 

*Beowulf:  The courageous, unsympathetic, vengeful, adventurous warrior code personified in this poem first written down c. 1000 A.D., based on Scandinavian legend from c. 680.

 

*Song of Roland:  A poem written in French, it shows the Germanic warrior code was "Christianized," yet still very warlike.

 

*Crusades:  Holy Wars launched by Christendom against Islam in the Middle East.  Started by Pope Urban II (1095), they had the effect of increasing western civilization's knowledge of more sophisticated cultures (Islam and Byzantium), increasing trade.

 

*Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204):  Queen of France, later England.  Helps civilize court setting through beginning "Courts of Love," which wrote legal-sound codes of etiquette; lyrical love songs replace epics about courageous warriors winning bloody battles.

 

*Chivalry:  The code of knights grows in the 1000's and 1100's, says warriors should uphold beliefs of Christianity, including defending the church, loving the land of own birth, generosity in helping others, strength to be used to protect and aid the weak, was to uphold what is right against evil, injustice, never to surrender or flinch before the enemy in battle.  Frequently broken, yet still a restraining civilizing influence.

 

*Scholasticism:  Medieval philosophy, seeks to reconcile faith and reason, use the latter in the service of Christianity.  Analyzes and reasons upon ancient texts (the Bible, early Christian writings) to find truth.

 

The problem of universals (revisited); a major controversy in among the Church's scholars:  1.  Realism:  Plato's concept of Forms used to explain how concepts/words relate to reality.  2.  Nominalism:  Words/concepts have no real existence, mere names for various physical objects the senses encounter.  3.  Conceptualism:  Concepts/words have a real existence, but only exist in the individual objects the senses have contact with.

 

Peter of Abelard (1079-c. 1144):  Born in France, conceptualist, Sic et Non poses problem for ancient Christian writers' authority although not his intention; helped found scholastic method to explain faith.

 

*Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274):  "Angelic Doctor," Italian monk, accomplished the philosophical work of reconciling faith and reason, of Aristotle and Catholic Christianity, in his *Summa Theologica.  Found balance between (seeming) polar opposites through explaining their differing functions, such as form and matter, church and state, faith and reason, body and soul.

 

Universities:  Starting from twelfth century in Medieval Europe, dealt with teaching students intellectual knowledge similar to medieval guilds teaching artisans.  Had Islamic, classical precedents.

 

*Dante Alighieri (1265-1321):  Wrote the poem The Divine Comedy, three basic parts (heaven, hell, and purgatory), about free will and human fate in the afterlife, has definite dual meaning (literal and allegorical).  Uses both classical and Christian figures and allusions.

 

The cathedral as a "Bible in stone," used by both church and state, reflected both worldly and spiritual aspirations, a technical achievement for a (mainly) spiritual purpose.

 

Disorder in the Papacy:  The "Babylonian Captivity" (1305-78) of the Popes at Avignon, France, followed by the Great Schism of 1378-1417, where rival popes in Rome, Avignon, even Pisa, condemned each other.

 

Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400):  The Canterbury Tales; everyday medieval life described in down-to-earth poems.