1
Natalie Cawthorne
HIST 4330
The Medieval Whole
The twelfth-century renaissance of the Middle Ages was a time of great de...
2
a great deal to Christianity.”3
God was an important aspect of medieval thought; and human
value came from being in the ...
3
theories come up with a God much closer to Aristotle‟s than the Bible‟s, indicating that when
one has to yield, for him ...
4
Beginning around 1130 in areas near Paris, a new structural system of architecture was
employed, meant to appear as “God...
5
God. While the monarchy loved this idea because it gave them a power that could not be
deposed, church officials had con...
6
conduct schools,”29
on the grounds that education placed monks in the midst of worldly affairs
that clashed with their s...
7
The ideals of “courtly love” developed in the secular courts through their various
entertainments, such as storytellers,...
8
prone to immodest stirrings of my flesh.”40
Evidently, the sexual essence and erotic undertones
of courtly literature is...
9
The landholding system of Feudalism dominated the first half of the middle ages and
worked on a basis of personal relati...
10
Bibliography
Baldwin, John W. The Scholastic Culture of the Middle Ages, 1000-1300. Prospect Heights, IL:
1971.
Busby, ...
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The Medieval Whole

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An general overview of many important aspects that came together to create the flourishing culture of the High Middle Ages.

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The Medieval Whole

  1. 1. 1 Natalie Cawthorne HIST 4330 The Medieval Whole The twelfth-century renaissance of the Middle Ages was a time of great development, innovation, and expansion; a Golden Age of advancement with notable characteristics of system and order, creativity and inventiveness, and numerous social changes. A holistic overview of the Middle Ages can be achieved by focusing on three important areas that had wide ranging influence throughout the period. First is the relationship between Faith and Reason, which became a characteristic theme in Medieval thought following the birth of Humanism and can be seen impacting a number of cultural spheres. Second is the relationship between ecclesiastic and secular institutions, from their varying factions and cultural approaches, to the continuous struggle for power between church and state. And finally, a focus on the relationship between social classes, notably the nobles and peasants, shows how important each level of society was in contributing to and understanding Medieval culture as a whole. Throughout the cultural renaissance, the unity between faith and reason became a prominent ideal and its emphasis can be traced to two sources in particular: the birth of new ideas, and the rebirth of old ones. With the emergence of Humanism, the European people became more self-aware and concerned with themselves as individuals, and “above all, they turned to Christianity and to the classical past for guidance.”1 This new wave of individualism and concern for humanity inspired a great interest in human reason, stemming from a revival of Classical writings and the Greek philosophical traditions of Plato and Aristotle.2 On the other hand, as Colin Morris states in The Discovery of the Individual, “the value of the individual owes 1 Colin Morris, The Discovery of the Individual 1050-1200 (Canada: Medieval Academy of America: 2004), 10. 2 Cynthia Freeland, “Origins of Medieval Philosophy” (lecture, University of Houston).
  2. 2. 2 a great deal to Christianity.”3 God was an important aspect of medieval thought; and human value came from being in the image of God and was therefore, “Godlike.”4 The relationship between Christian and classical, faith and reason, was ever-present throughout the Middle Ages and resurfaced in the works of many medieval scholars, such as Thomas Aquinas and Moses Maimonides. Thomas Aquinas was a Christian theological scholar who fused Greek philosophical traditions together with Biblical heritage,5 and created a “monumental resolution of faith and reason.”6 In his two most famous works, the Summa Theologica, and the Summa Contra Gentiles, he developed a system of five rational proofs that aimed to prove the existence of God using reason.7 His theories draw heavily on the teachings of Aristotle, whose “complete system of logic was available to scholars”8 by the mid-twelfth century and “fully embodied the ancient Greek conceptions of naturalism and rationalism.”9 Aristotle held a role of great prestige in medieval universities and scholastic culture, with his teachings generally regarded as true10 and, “as reason‟s most skillful authority became known as „the philosopher‟.”11 The question of faith and reason was not limited to Christian scholars, however, and can be seen in Jewish works also. Another one to draw upon Aristotelian logic and fuse it with Biblical tradition was the Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides.12 He wrote his major work, Guide for the Perplexed, for the „perplexed‟ Jews, who learn one thing in the context of reason (Aristotle), then in the context of the Bible. Unlike Aquinas however, who would have reason yield, Maimonides‟ 3 Colin Morris, The Discovery of the Individual 1050-1200, p. 10. 4 Sally Vaughn, “The 12 th Century Renaissance in Historical Perspective” (lecture, University of Houston). 5 Freeland, “Origins of Medieval Philosophy” 6 John w. Baldwin, The Scholastic Culture of the Middle Ages, 1000-1300, (Illinois: Waveland Press, 1997), 95. 7 Freeland, “Origins of Medieval Philosophy” 8 Baldwin, The Scholastic Culture of the Middle Ages, 1000-1300, p. 91. 9 Baldwin, The Scholastic Culture of the Middle Ages, 1000-1300, p. 91. 10 Michael Wyschogrod, “Moses Maimonides and the Jewish Contribution” (lecture, University of Houston). 11 Baldwin, The Scholastic Culture of the Middle Ages, 1000-1300, p. 92. 12 Wyschogrod, “Moses Maimonides and the Jewish Contribution”
  3. 3. 3 theories come up with a God much closer to Aristotle‟s than the Bible‟s, indicating that when one has to yield, for him it‟s the Bible.13 Regarding faith and reason, Maimonides did for Judaism what Aquinas did for Christianity14 ; and by attempting to comprise all human knowledge into a book, they represent the confidence of the high middle ages, as well as the defining theme of reason, system, and order in combination with faith15 . Another two places where these themes are evident are in the poetic work of Dante and Gothic architecture. Dante‟s epic poem, The Divine Comedy, is an allegorical journey through the afterlife, Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, and represents the medieval world-view through literature, drawing ideas from both the classical past, and medieval Christian theology. Faith and reason are inherent within the narrative. God is the ultimate goal in the spiritual journey, depicted as light in Paradise; and like Aristotle‟s theory of the „Prime Mover‟, God is the prime cause which gives momentum to all spheres of Dante‟s universe16 . On the other hand, Inferno is controlled by reason, with the sin of Fraud, the misuse of reason, landing sinners in the lowest level of Dante‟s hell.17 Besides drawing from Aristotle‟s theory of God, Dante‟s work is also largely influenced by Thomas Aquinas and the ideas of faith and reason in Summa Theologica18 . In addition, the medieval focus on reason, system, and order is evident in the mathematical precision of the poem, which is systematically structured using the number three.19 Medieval interest in system and order, along with faith and reason, can also be seen in the development of Gothic architecture. 13 Wyschogrod, “Moses Maimonides and the Jewish Contribution” 14 Wyschogrod, “Moses Maimonides and the Jewish Contribution” 15 Vaughn, “The 12 th Century Renaissance in Historical Perspective” 16 Luisetta Chomel, “The Apex of the Medieval Vision: Dante” (lecture, University of Houston). 17 Chomel, “The Apex of Medieval Vision: Dante” 18 Baldwin, The Scholastic Culture of the Middle Ages, 1000-1300, p. 96 19 Chomel, “The Apex of Medieval Vision: Dante”
  4. 4. 4 Beginning around 1130 in areas near Paris, a new structural system of architecture was employed, meant to appear as “God‟s divine city” by achieving greater heights, thinner walls, and more window light than ever before. Just like the structure of Aquinas‟ philosophy and Dante‟s poetry, Gothic architecture was completely mathematically proportionate, and therefore satisfied the medieval goal of reason, system, and order.20 In addition, the intellectual and religious movements of the period achieved symbolic expression in Gothic cathedral arches where the ideas of faith and reason were synthesized through sculpture.21 The Tympanum, “blank or decorated wall space above the lintel of a door and the arch above it,”22 was reserved for the Gothic sculpture, which often taught a narrative story “drawn from theology, morality, daily living, and natural history.”23 Similar to the themes of faith, reason, and judgment depicted in Dante‟s The Divine Comedy, John W. Baldwin states that “of all iconographical cycles of Gothic art the best-developed theme was the Last Judgement…sculptors represented that last day when…the dead will rise from their tombs to be apportioned their just deserts in Heaven or in Hell.”24 The relationship between faith and reason was clearly an influential theme during this period, establishing a connection between the cultural spheres of medieval architecture, philosophy, and theology. In addition to the theme of faith and reason, an important aspect of the Middle Ages was the various roles and cultures of the ecclesiastic and secular realms. The relationship between church and state was often a struggle for power, seeming more like a game of tug-of-war between popes and kings than an authoritative system. One of the main complications was over sacral kingship, the belief that a kings ruling position was ordained by 20 Sally Vaughn, “Schools and Universities” (lecture, University of Houston). 21 Nora Laos, “Origins of Medieval Architecture” (lecture, University of Houston). 22 Renny Goyert, “A Glossary of Architectural Terms from the Middle Ages,” The Flowering of the Middle Ages, 44. 23 Baldwin, 109 24 Baldwin, 109
  5. 5. 5 God. While the monarchy loved this idea because it gave them a power that could not be deposed, church officials had contrasting viewpoints, and some believed it was within the authority of the pope to depose Christian kings or emperors25 . This argument was eminent throughout the 11th and 12th centuries and led to a number of popes challenging the authority of the monarchy. One of the principle conflicts occurred at the end of the 11th century. Pope Gregory VII issued the Dictatus Papae, which asserted that deposal of the monarch was in the full power of the pope. This provoked an unprecedented outpouring of propaganda and the conflict came to a center around investitures, a dispute over the secular monarch‟s right in appointing ecclesiastic offices, such as bishops or abbots26 . The Investiture Contest, as it came to be known, was eventually resolved in Germany with the Concordat of Worms, and in England with the Concordat of London, in which kings gave up their right to investitures but kept their homage from the church27 . The divisions and tensions between secular and ecclesiastic realms would never fully disappear though; nor were they limited to just administrative spheres, and can be seen in both educational and cultural ones as well. The church‟s role in the scholastic movement of the Middle Ages was imperative, beginning first in monastic schools and eventually fanning out into secular cathedral universities. Monasteries were self-sufficient religious communities where monks and nuns retreated from the secular world to live an isolated, communal life, focused on spirituality. They possessed precious libraries which, despite being popular targets for Viking raids, managed to preserve many handwritten books, illuminated manuscripts and important learning.28 During the eleventh century urban revival, however, the secular clergy began to dispute “the monastic right to 25 Sally Vaughn, “Medieval Church and State” (lecture, University of Houston). 26 Vaughn, “Medieval Church and State” 27 Vaughn, “Medieval Church and State” 28 Sally Vaughn, “Vikings, Normans, and Crusaders,” (lecture, University of Houston).
  6. 6. 6 conduct schools,”29 on the grounds that education placed monks in the midst of worldly affairs that clashed with their spiritual and reclusive traditions. In response to this challenge the monks abandoned their educational roles, returning to the seclusion of their cloisters. This led to education becoming a secular field, its overseers shifting from those of the quiet, rural monasteries to the rising urban cathedral schools. In universities, Latin was the common language of instruction30 ; and studies were divided between the secular disciplines and theology, but perceived with unequal regard. As Baldwin states, “in the Middle Ages, theology was the queen of the faculties,” and aside from lawyers, “most others would probably have conceded to the theologian‟s high esteem.”31 Considering education was under the authority of church officials, this does not seem surprising. Yet despite the esteem of theology and “Latin being the Europe-wide language of scholarship,”32 the aristocratic courts came to develop their own linguistic and cultural traditions. Vernacular languages became more commonly used in courtly literature, music and drama, despite being seen as inferior to works produced in Latin. In the introduction for The Lais of Marie de France, the authors state that, “although Latin literature still predominates at the end of the twelfth century, as indeed it does throughout the Middle Ages, the use of the vernacular…[implies] the desire to bring literature and learning within the reach of those with no knowledge of Latin.”33 The lais written by Marie de France are an example of the kind of entertainments heard by the court culture, as well as the language they heard it in. Another aspect of court culture that was not found in the ecclesiastic realm was “courtly love.” 29 Baldwin, 37 30 Baldwin, 40 31 Baldwin, 79 32 Brian Williams, Medieval England (Hampshire: Jarrold Publishing: 2004), 88. 33 Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby, The Lais of Marie de France, (England: Penguin Books, 2003), 21.
  7. 7. 7 The ideals of “courtly love” developed in the secular courts through their various entertainments, such as storytellers, actors, mimes, and jugglers34 ; bards who performed long epic poems about heroes, and troubadours performing romances of antiquity, Arthurian tales, and love-lyric poetry.35 Emerging from the French word courtoisie, meaning of aristocratic fashion rather than of the clergy,36 “courtly love” ideals placed alternative values on things that, at the time, would have conflicted with their liturgical associations. Alternative values between secular and ecclesiastic associations can be seen in their contrasting symbolic perspectives of dawn. For instance, in an alba of the troubadour, Guiraut de Bornelh, dawn is portrayed as negative, a threat to the adulterous, courtly lover‟s nighttime escapade, bringing forth daylight and the risks of a jealous husband and possible slanderers.37 On the other hand, the liturgical view of dawn is a positive one, associated with the goodness and glory of God, Christ as the Light, and the passing away of darkness, danger, and evil, similar to Dante‟s Paradise.38 Another alternative value in courtly love poetry is the idea of love itself. While both courtly and ecclesiastical love is devotional and all-consuming, one is worldly, erotic, and adulterous, and the other is pure and spiritual. An example of the tension between the two is expressed further by Guibert of Nogent. Guibert was the abbot of Nogent and in his memoirs he relates a time that he refers to as his “flirtation with poetry.”39 He goes on to describe that his verse-making overtakes his study of scripture, and eventually how the courtly ideas begin taking root in his mind. Guibert describes the effect of courtly literature, saying, “by repeating these poetic expressions, I was sometimes 34 Anthony Collins, “Medieval Drama,” The Flowering of the Middle Ages, 29. 35 Burgess and Busby, The Lais of Marie de France, p.20. 36 Richard Armstrong, “Courtly Love in Southern France,” (lecture, University of Houston). 37 Armstrong, “Courtly Love in Southern France.” 38 Armstrong, “Courtly Love in Southern France.” 39 Guibert of Nongent, A Monks Confession, The Memoirs of Guibert of Nogent, trans. Paul J. Archambault (University Park, PA: 19960, p. 58.
  8. 8. 8 prone to immodest stirrings of my flesh.”40 Evidently, the sexual essence and erotic undertones of courtly literature is not contingent with the religious intentions of the church. In some cases, however, Latin influence is evident in court culture. Although courtly ideals found their origins as an expression of proud and independent secular courts relatively free of ecclesiastical control41 , they could not fully escape the influence of Latin High Culture. An example of this top-down cultural event is the Roman d’Eneas, which draws from Virgil‟s Aeneid, a classical work in Latin, and adapts Aeneid‟s marriage into a love story pleasing to court culture.42 In addition, the theme of reason, system, and order inherent to the works of Aquinas and Dante, is also seen in the mathematical approach of The Art of Courtly Love, by Andreas Capellanus.43 On the other hand, the Lais of Marie de France are examples of bottom-up events, as she takes stories from Breton and Norman folk cultures, then adapts and presents them in a way pleasing to the courts.44 The connection of influences between classes indicates that to fully understand the Middle Ages, all levels of society must be considered. When considering medieval society as a whole it is important to remember the fundamental role of the peasants. Following the agricultural revolution at the turn of the century, rural areas saw a major demographic increase, and peasants were the majority of medieval population.45 The everyday lives of the peasants circled around agriculture, seasonal patterns, and religious holidays to break the monotony of work.46 Although their existence seemed completely separate from the lives of nobles, these two classes were connected through Feudalism and cultural influence. 40 Guibert of Nogent, A Monk’s Confession, p. 59. 41 Armstrong, “Courtly Love in Southern France.” 42 Richard Armstrong, “Courtly Love in Northern France” (lecture, University of Houston). 43 Vaughn, “Medieval Church and State” 44 Armstrong, “Courtly Love in Northern France” 45 Baldwin, 16 46 Carl Lindahl, “Medieval Folklore” (lecture, University of Houston).
  9. 9. 9 The landholding system of Feudalism dominated the first half of the middle ages and worked on a basis of personal relationships between lords and vassals.47 The peasants worked the land and in return for their service the lords provided protection. Nobles and peasants working in such close proximity through this system could be one of the reasons for the strong familiarity between these classes. And although peasants were considered little more than beasts by the nobles, it didn‟t stop them from picking up on certain peasant customs and celebrations, such as May Day festivals.48 The thin line between them can also be seen in Chaucer‟s The Canterbury Tales, where members of both classes come together for a religious pilgrimage. In any case, a holistic view of the middle Ages comes from understanding the contribution of all walks of society, as well as the various beliefs and cultures of each. The prominent relationship between faith and reason can be seen creating links over a broad range of cultural spheres, such as philosophy, theology, and architecture. By exploring the relationship between the ecclesiastic and secular realms, it is clear that both their differences and similarities had eminent impacts on the period. In addition, the familiarity between peasants and nobles reveals how individual beliefs and ideas travel through social class and come together to create one holistic culture. 47 Robert Palmer, “Law, State, and Society in the Middle Ages” (lecture, University of Houston). 48 Lindahl, “Medieval Folklore”
  10. 10. 10 Bibliography Baldwin, John W. The Scholastic Culture of the Middle Ages, 1000-1300. Prospect Heights, IL: 1971. Busby, Keith. The Lais of Marie de France. England: Penguin Books, 2003. Guibert of Nogent. A Monk’s Confession: The Memoirs of Guibert of Nogent. Pensylvania State University, PA: 1998. Morris, Collin. The Discovery of the Individual, 1050-1200. University of Toronto Press, 1971. Williams, Brian. Medieval England. Hampshire: Jarrold Publishing, 2004.

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