Tag Archives: Medieval

The medieval charitable revolution: Healing as “the Jesus thing to do”


Works of Mercy

Works of Mercy (Photo credit: jimforest)

More from the “hospitals chapter” of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis:

During this time, a new theology of sickness sprang up: “like monks, martyrs, saints, and finally apostles, the sick could function as mediators between God and His people. Their intercessional prayers on behalf of patrons and caregivers were believed to be valuable.”[1] This was an important development, and in the 12th century, in a more urban and more economically stable and flourishing Europe, it would contribute to a massive uptick in the foundation of hospitals by wealthy lay donors.

And that was a good thing – the “charitable revolution” of the 12th century – because by the 11th, monasteries were nearing the end of their hospitalling. The culprit? Economic change: Continue reading

How the world-embracing dream of the scholastics died but left a legacy among the common people


Bleiglasfenster in der Kapelle (Seitenschiff) ...

Franciscan Johannes Duns Scotus (Paris)

I close out the “potted history” of scholasticism in the theology chapter of Getting Medieval with C S Lewis with a bit of a dirge.

All good things must come to an end. It was the profound skepticism of a group called the “nominalists” that finally killed the grand synthesizing experiment of scholastic theology. But far from being an elitist blip on the medieval church’s radar (OK, I’ll admit that metaphor is a bit too modern!), the labors of the scholastics continued to affect the laity profoundly through the friars’ vibrant preaching and education efforts–right through the period of the Reformation. (Today’s worldwide network of Jesuit colleges are just one part of that legacy.)

THE DECLINE OF SCHOLASTICISM

The story of scholasticism’s decline in a nutshell is that after Aquinas, a trend of thought came to dominate theology which tended to re-separate faith and reason. Continue reading

How theology became the Queen of the Sciences (and how Aristotle helped us see that “all truth is God’s truth”)


 

Aristotle, wondering where the rest of his body went

Aristotle, wondering where the rest of his body went

You may know that there was some sort of general shift in the high medieval period (1000 – 1300) from a Platonic to an Aristotelian worldview. What you may not know is how deeply that affected the way Western Christians came to see God and the world. Here’s the skinny, in another clip from the “theology chapter” of my forthcoming Getting Medieval with C S Lewis.

Once again, this is a draft, and I’ve scattered through it, here and there, little clues for myself on how I might use and restructure this material as I moved toward a finished book – pardon our dust!

Aristotle’s re-discovery

Why was Aristotle so important to the development of scholasticism?

Basically, until the rediscovery of the body of his works in the 13th c., the prime philosophical influence on Christian thinkers in the West was Plato, via the neo-platonic thought of Augustine.

Plato

Rel/Sci: Plato had essentially been a mystic, and his philosophy had been based on the principle that ideas such as the True, the Beautiful and the Good had real existence, apart from the visible world. In fact, he believed that the passing forms of this visible world, which we know through our senses, are not a real source of knowledge. Only our reason, which leads us to know these changeless, universal patterns called ‘ideas,’ would give true knowledge. This position is also known as ‘realism,’ and is held by such early scholastics as Anselm—again, as he and others of his time had inherited it through Augustine.

Aristotle

SCI/REL:  Aristotle, on the other hand, was far less mystical than Plato. To him, the visible world is real. Ideas are not presupposed structures which exist somewhere “out there.” They exist as an integral part of the phenomena of the visible world. Therefore, the world is the prime object of knowledge for Aristotle. He is, in other words, a scientist. Continue reading

A game of souls


Readers of this blog who know me personally know that I am a big fan of “euro” style boardgames. You may have heard of Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Dominion . . . there are thousands more like these, and the euro boardgaming hobby has a web-based leviathan: a highly active and detailed database and social website: www.boardgamegeek.com.

Today I encountered, through boardgamegeek, a game called “Battle for Souls.” The designers describe it like this: “Battle For Souls is an epic medieval card and dice game for 1 to 4 people ages 13 and up. The game allows players to choose the side of heaven or hell in a fight over the immortal souls of humankind.” You can read all about it and see a couple of short videos including an overview and a game-play example using prototype components at its Kickstarter page here (more concise and accessible) or its boardgamegeek page here (more detailed and with comments from different folks who have encountered it–note also that by the nature of these things, the ranking indicated on this page is almost meaningless, as it is based on very few votes and on incomplete components/rules).

This still-in-development game scratches several itches for me: Continue reading

A new translation of “The Death of King Arthur”


Arthur and Mordred, The Boys' King Arthur

Here’s a ringing review and tasty samples of a new translation of “The Death of King Arthur,” done by Simon Armitage, from The Guardian [UK].

Hat tip to Alan Jacobs of Wheaton College for bringing this to my attention on his tumblr blog.

The review is here.

And here is a sample of this newly translated epic:

The startled glutton glared gruesomely,
grinned like a greyhound with grisly fangs
then groaned and glowered with a menacing grimace,
growling at the good King who greeted him angrily.
His mane and his fringe were filthily matted
and his face was framed in half a foot of foam.
His face and forehead were flecked all over
like the features of a frog, so freckled he seemed.
He was hook-beaked like a hawk, with a hoary beard,
and his eyes were overhung with hairy brows.
To whomever looked hard, as harsh as a hound-fish
was the hide of that hulk, from head to heel.
His ears were huge and a hideous sight,
His eyes were horrid, abhorrent and aflame,
His smile was all sneer, like a flat-mouthed flounder,
and like a bear his fore-teeth were fouled with rank flesh,
and his black, bushy beard grew down to his breast.
He was bulky as a sea-pig with a brawny body,
and each quivering lump of those loathsome lips
writhed and rolled with the wrath of a wolf’s head.
He was broad across the back, with the neck of a bull,
badger-breasted with the bristles of a boar,
had arms like oak boughs, wrinkled by age,
and the ugliest loins and limbs, believe me.
He shuffled his shanks, being shovel-footed,
and his knock-kneed legs were abnormally knuckled.
He was thick in the thigh and like an ogre at the hips,
and as gross as a grease-fed pig, a gruesome sight.
He who mindfully measured that monster’s dimension
from face to foot would have found it five fathoms.

The Hospitals Issue of Christian History is almost here! A taste . . .


The Hotel-Dieu, a Paris hospital founded by the church in the Middle Ages

Well, I’ve been a ghost on my own blog, but it’s been for a good cause: Christian History Issue #101, on Healthcare and Hospitals in the Mission of the Church, is headed to the printer this Friday, Sept. 30. (To see it when it goes online in the coming weeks, watch this space.)

A small taste of the issue, my editor’s note:

Christian History’s founder, the late Dr. Kenneth Curtis, thought and wrote a lot about what our faith has to say to those who suffer illness and those who care for them. As the magazine returned to the red barn in Pennsyl­vania in 2010, Ken made several lists of topics he hoped the revived Christian History could address in future ­issues. At the very top was this one: the church’s role in the history of healthcare. I resonated with this topic from the start, but I did wonder, What kind of story is there to tell here? As it turns out, quite a powerful one.

As I began studying the topic I discovered two unexpected things: first, the church was much more influential in the history of healthcare than I had expected; and second, the modern hospital can be traced directly back to ancient and medieval Christian institutions. Continue reading

Medievalists: 11 on the Geek Richter Scale


Thanks to Carpetbagger to clarifying the degree of “nerd cred” necessary to become a medievalist:

Medievalists in the English departments are considered the weirdest of the weirdos, the nerdiest of the nerds.  Medievalists are a little bit crazy.  They believe, often enough, that the world is in a cosmic struggle between good and evil, including over who ought to fill the copy machine with toner and paper.  They can’t quite relate to the debate in the faculty meeting because no one has claimed divine right.  There are twice as many job openings for Medievalists and half as many qualified applicants.  Weird is not the only minimum job requirement — see below for the others — but it helps. . . . Continue reading

Summer 2011 confab of (early and medieval) historical theology wonks


Boston College: The Old World's enduring influ...

Boston College, with its Old World architecture

Folks, what’s the Boston Colloquy in Historical Theology? Why, it’s a group based at Boston College with a unique mission to rehabilitate historical theology as a discipline in service of the church. As it says on their website, ” The Boston Colloquy in Historical Theology (BCHT) is a professional organization of scholars devoted to the study of early and medieval Christian theology. Organized by Khaled Anatolios, Stephen F. Brown, and Boyd Taylor Coolman in the Theology Department at Boston College, the BCHT annually brings together scholars from these disciplines to foster conversation, stimulate thought, and promote scholarship.”

This summer’s meeting of the Colloquy looks to be an interesting one–see the list of papers below. Continue reading

Ancient and medieval memory techniques described in a new book: Moonwalking with Einstein


My wife Sharon and I have been interested for some time in the techniques medieval folks used to memorize huge amounts of information. These revolve around the use of imagined space–“the memory palace.”

Here’s just another instance of how ancient and medieval people in fact knew stuff–practical, scientific stuff–that we don’t. It’s just one more way we can learn from those who have gone before. If you don’t believe me, then check out the brief video on this Amazon book page. And then perhaps check out the book. I’ll be doing that myself.

Ancient and medieval historical theology: Ur doin it wrong?


The subhead above should have read: “A group dedicated to doing it right.” But then I couldn’t have used this lolcat picture. And I have a weakness for lolcats.

Once in a while a bright seminary student will come to me and tell me that they want to “go on” and study historical theology, in the service of the church. What theology doctoral program should they enter?

I think of Duke and UVA, and then I’m flummoxed. Now, I know there are other good programs out there. I’m not the best-connected academic. So I suggest that the student email their question to one of the prominent senior historical theologians–UVA’s Robert Wilken is one–who are in fact pursuing their field in the explicit service of the church (may Jaroslav Pelikan rest in peace).

But it has seemed to me that the field has never quite recovered from the mid-twentieth-century assimilation of theology to the “religious studies departments” of the major universities, nor from the academy’s quite proper dismissiveness of the squabbling “my dogma is better than your dogma” confessionalism that marked the field in the decades leading up to that assimilation. Certainly, as theology still languishes far from her erstwhile status as “queen of the sciences,” historical theology as the queen’s handmaiden has also fallen on hard times.

Now I discover that a group of historical theologians at Boston College have, for the past few years, been dedicating themselves to leading their field of historical theology back to the pursuit of (this will shock you) the history of theology–instead of defense of dogma, study of philosophy, or other things only tangentially related to the health of the church. Continue reading