Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Book Review: "Life in a Medieval City Illustrated by York in the XVth Century" by Edward Benson

Short & informative. I liked it.

My only complaint: he contradicts himself on religious life - first describing the Catholic Church in England as hopelessly ignorant, corrupt and superstitious, and then goes on to relate facts which prove, and he concurs, that the Church was the only civil thing to be found in that age.

He naively makes a comment or two about the utter darkness of the medieval Church until the radiant light of the Reformation and the age of reason. But as he progressed in the chapter and examined and reasonably responded to facts; he said that the gospel was so widely taught that wealthy merchants regularly gave large sums of money to the poor; lepers had refuge only in Church run hospitals, and the only hope women had of education was in a convent, etc... In fact, except for the very wealthiest men of the city, one's only hope for an education of any kind was the Church.

Far from being a dark force in an otherwise bright time, the Church is precisely the opposite. As Chesterton said, the Church is a bright light in an otherwise dark time. She is the bridge of civilization spanning over the barbaric centuries.

Likewise, far from being the "light" that saved men from some dark, barbaric and superstitious religion, the Reformation was man's attempt and failure at re-founding Christ's Church. Such a thing should never be called a light - rather it casts shadows on the light of the Christian faith. It hides Mary and the saints in the shadow of personal privilege, it hides active faith in the shadow of individualistic assent, and it hides the apostolic Tradition (the light we received from the apostles) behind the shadow of man's private interpretation.

As usual in my reviews, I say very little about what I liked and argue at length against what offended me. To reiterate though, it was a good book with wonderful imagery and I'd recommend this short read.


George Weis said...

Interesting thoughts to ponder. How long do you think it would have been for the Church to expand outwardly and create schools and so forth to teach the laity? I admit I am so under-schooled in this that I may sound rather ignorant.

This was an interesting post. Hey, I am going to challenge you again. Post something from the depths of your heart :) I dig on your mind jibe, but I would like to hear your hearts cry some time brother :)

Love ya lots!


Tim A. Troutman said...

Well the Catechetical schools date back to long before Christianity was even legal. They had some great teachers too!

But as for medieval schooling - I barely know anything. I learned what little I do know from this short book so if he had told me the Church didn't teach whatsoever, I would likely have believed him. I was trying to point out that he contradicts himself. He starts out with an ideology (Protestantism is light shown on the dark Catholic Church) but then contradicts himself by demonstrating that the Catholic Church herself was a light in an otherwise dark world.

Heart stuff? Bah. Humbug.

George Weis said...

Tim, I was picking up what you were laying down ;)

Yes, I do know the Schools that were around long before... can't miss that when reading through the Fathers. Good stuff.

Yeah, I was just wondering when a more direct education for the laity would have popped up. I do know that after the reformation the concept of a university of sorts began to emerge. Am I right?


Tim A. Troutman said...

George, I'm not well educated on this subject but I know it's not accurate to say that the concept of a university began with or after the Reformation. Here's some info on medieval universities on Wikipedia.

St. Thomas Aquinas studied at the University of Paris for example. This was, of course, long before the Reformation was even a twinkle in the devil's eye. (Just messing with ya George!) I mean Aquinas did go to Univ. of Paris.

Also, some have viewed the Reformation as largely a university movement. They turned Church from worship into a lecture. The idea of pews is a Protestant one - before that (and the ancient cathedrals of Europe will confirm) there were no pews. They started to need pews for the long lectures on Scripture. So, in the style of the Geneva professors (Geneva gown and all) the preacher would read from a book (in this case the bible) and expound on it from a lecture.

Thus, the Christian service went from being worship, to learning. (Not that the two are contrary or cannot exist side by side). I'm only speaking of the orientation. I know good and well that Protestant services do contain elements of worship in them and you're certainly more likely to learn something there than in a typical Catholic mass. :)