Southern's Middle Ages

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Southern’s Middle Ages In the novel, “The Making of the Middle Ages,” author, R.W. Southern, calls attention to the events during the years of 972 and 1204, and how they influenced the intellectual, religious and cultural traditions of our modern era. This period, lasting well over 200 years, is usually associated with waring knights and starving peasants rather than highly developed intellect and great innovation. However, Southern explains that there were considerable academic and sociological advancements made during this period, that go relatively unnoticed. He refers to these events as a “secret revolution” and explains that, “The significant events are often the obscure ones, and the significant utterances are often those of men withdrawn from the world and speaking to a very few.” (Pg. 13)  He reiterates this theme throughout the book, focusing primarily on Christianity, society, and thought. There can be no dispute that the prominence of Christianity, during the Middle Ages, has done more to shape the world, as it is today, than possibly any other religion. This is primarily because Christianity offered a unifying, stabilizing force throughout Europe, where a majority of areas had an “incoherent jumble of laws and customs, difficult to adjust to each other and hard even to understand. The survivals of barbaric codes of law jostled with varying mixtures of Roman law, local custom, and violence”. (pg 15) Christendom provided Europe with a unified identity in language, government, and education. It is no great mystery that language plays an important role in the creation of personal relationships between individuals. So when applied on an international stage, language can mean the difference between war and peace. The church’s use of Latin acted as a merging factor in areas where people spoke in diverse and various dialects. As stated by Southern “This broad similarity of language from the lowlands of Scotland to Sicily was a real bond between men.” (pg 17) The unifying quality of Latin not only bound men together linguistically, but also allowed those from different countries to move about freely with little or no language barrier. “The likenesses of language over this broad area were sufficiently pronounced to facilitate ease of movement both of men and of ideas: it took relatively few alterations to make a Provencal song intelligible in England, and a member of the English baronage could, without much difficulty, make himself at home in Italy” (pg 20). As a side effect of the church being the one constant variable of the European continent, individual governments became subjugated to the power of the church. Christendom had developed such a loyal following that the peoples of the European nations, including those in power, were dependent on the church for moral and political authority. In this way, Christianity helped to unify countries that would otherwise be at odds with each other. Through the unification of these nations, the church grew to be the most commanding institution of Europe, enforcing that “all paid a form of tribute known as Peter’s Pence, which was the foundation of more or less determined claims to Papal overlordship; and when Bohemia finally became a kingdom, its new status was guaranteed by a Papal confirmation” (pg 27) The influence of the church was so great that all countries were reliant upon it, and were only recognized as sovereign nations, when determined as so, with the expressed confirmation of the Pope. Above all though, the most distinguishing impact that Christianity had, was a result of the crusades. Southern states that, “Even the Crusades only touched the fringe of this hostile world. But they had one great effect: they opened men’s minds to the size of the uncovered world.” (70) These wars brought people to the edges of their culture and introduced to them to thier neighbors of...
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