The Middle Ages is privileged material: one can say what one wants about it with the quasi-certitude of never being contradicted.
Now the center of my studies on Catholic liturgical tradition, under my magnifying glass to determine what the phrase “Christian Culture” really means, the Age of Faith (a.k.a. Middle Ages) has become my obsession and object of envy. During the last few months I have read several books that have convinced me that everything I knew about them (which sadly wasn’t much) had been skewed and misrepresented. Of all the works I have lately read on this topic, the feisty prose of Régine Pernoud in Those Terrible Middle Ages!: Debunking the Myths is my absolute favorite.
This book really made me mad, as books that point out the errors of our modern thinking always make me mad at the culture I have been formed in. Yes, folks, we have been lied to. The “Middle Ages” were a time of incredible art, rich cultural expression and solid tradition, and unparalleled freedom—especially for women! Nine chapters in this book combat the errors of modern faux-scholarship on the great thousand years from the end of the Roman Empire to the oppressive return of Roman thought, Roman law, and Roman aesthetics in the 15th and 16th Centuries, a revival that squashed the freedoms that Europeans had enjoyed for a millennium. (I can tell you, I am not a naïve, reflexive fan of the so-called “Renaissance” anymore!)
Here are some of the things I learned about the not-so-terrible Middle Ages:
- Feudalism was a very good thing for everyone
- Christianity eradicated slavery in Europe
- Incredible works of art blossomed all over Europe because of the culture’s Faith
- Women were influential, enjoyed property rights, etc., and were often highly educated
- Scholarship and education were highly prized
- The Church was “a source of social mobility”
- And much, much more!
As a good historian, she closes her book with a call to reform the teaching of history. It’s tragic that we have been led into error on so many topics relating to the Middle Ages. Bias has produced some of this error, and Miss Pernoud stresses that lack of true, disciplined, diligent scholarship has produced the rest. The lack of quality in the teaching of history matters greatly to each successive generation: on the second to the last page she sums up her philosophy, “There is no true knowledge without recourse to history.”
Did you learn the truth about the Middle Ages? It’s never too late to patch the holes in your own education! Use this book for yourself or with your children to mend the errors of the popular narrative of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. You will enjoy learning the truth about the fascinating twists and turns of that great age of human history as related by a passionate historian, while she leads you through Those Terrible Middle Ages.