The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview
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IN western Christian Europe in the course of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries there developed a new civilization. Feudal enterprise, church reform, and Christian expansion were forces that contributed to it. Its material and economic and social side we have seen in the rise of towns and trade and industry, the emancipation of a large part of the common people, and the growth of municipal institutions and liberties. We now turn to parallel developments in art, literature, education, science, and thought.

A new civilization

The new culture in these fields was a curious mixture of things old and new. It was in part a revival of the civilization of antiquity, which had declined so in the late Roman Empire and had almost passed away during the early Middle Ages. It was in part a breaking away from ancient traditions and styles and the beginning of modern methods in speaking, writing, investigating, and teaching. It was in large measure the product of the medieval Church and clergy, the expression of the religious motive and of Christian interests. Yet, as the communes were antagonistic to the clergy, so in the science and literature of the period we see the rise of an independent secular spirit. Finally, the artists and the scholars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries learned and borrowed from the Byzantines and the Arabs as well as from the ancients and the church fathers. But their own output was neither classical nor patristic nor Byzantine nor Moorish; nor was it as yet wholly modern in character; it was medieval.

Nature of medieval culture

The scanty learning and literature of the early Middle Ages had been limited to writing in Latin by clergymen, and for centuries there were only a few names of consequence, such as Gregory the Great, Isidore, Bede, Alcuin, and John


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The History of Medieval Europe
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