Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Medieval Religion Bleg

Quick call for book suggestions:

A protestant co-worker of mine has "gotten into" medieval history, however he's got a major blind spot in regards to medieval religion, probably as a result of reading only stuff written by other evangelicals. What he seems to have gleaned from what he's read is: "People still had a very undeveloped idea of God in the middle-ages, probably because they couldn't read the Bible and their services were all in Latin, which they didn't understand. So they saw God as an angry, vengeful God and thought they had to buy him off by giving money and land to the Church. Around the year 1000, people were all giving all their possessions to the Church because they thought the world was going to end, and when it didn't, they realized that the Church owned half of Europe but there was nothing they could do about it till the Reformation."

Needless to say, lots of work to do here. (I should clarify, he's a nice guy, and not anti-Catholic, he's just been doing some bad reading.)

I'm wondering if anyone knows a fairly basic (something like History of Christendom would be too long and too detailed -- under 500 pages would be great) book about Christianity in the middle ages hopefully covering fairly: the major (new and old) religious orders, major theological/spiritual trends, popular piety movements, major heresies, and hopefully also a bit on the medieval Christian experience at different levels of society. Profiles of important saints would also be good, I would think, since that gives and idea of what the ideal was.

Ideally, something which is fair to Catholicism without being so obviously a Catholic drum beater (think Belloc in his more bellicose moments) that it would scare off a good Evangelical (preacher's son and all).



Deacon Bill Burns said...

Stripping the Altars by Eamon Duffy provides an excellent glimpse at the English church prior to the Reformation. Fr. Marvin O'Connell might also have something good on that time period, although I can't recommend a title.

Sardonicus said...

Here's a list, with some comments:

1) Jaroslav Pelikan's History of Christianity (Orthodox - could be somewhat "anti-papist) - but he is respected by Robert Louis Wilken. (
2) See - Prof. Pennington is a good historian - this is a good page of his:
3) The aforementioned Stripping the Altars.
4) Books by Christopher Dawson, perhaps?


Rick Lugari said...

I'm sure McClarey will have some suggestions too. If he doesn't drop by here, shoot him an email.

My only concern about achieving what you would like is that the medieval Church didn't exist in a vacuum - it's truly the same Church of the first century. I guess what my fear is is that the whole picture is necessary, else someone, especially Protestants (because their theology is predicated on a sense of rupture in the Church) will incorrectly perceive that the medieval Church, accurately treated, may somehow differ in substance from the early Church. We know this to not be the case, but generally speaking many Protestants have a distorted view of what the early Church was about and that will taint how they view the medieval or modern Church. Carroll's History of Christendom is excellent, but I agree would be too lengthy and expensive for this purpose. However, Volume 3 The Building of Christendom might be worthwhile, then he might be interested in seeing it through Vol. 4 The Cleaving of Christendom which covers the Protestant revolt.

Rick Lugari said...

Correction, Vol 3 is The Glory of Christendom. My apologies...

MikeL said...

"Those Terrible Middle Ages!" by historian Regine Pernoud may be just the book. Here's the blurb from the Ignatius Press site:

As she examines the many misconceptions about the "Middle Ages", the renown French historian, R�gine Pernoud, gives the reader a refreshingly original perspective on many subjects, both historical (from the Inquisition and witchcraft trials to a comparison of Gothic and Renaissance creative inspiration) as well as eminently modern (from law and the place of women in society to the importance of history and tradition). Here are fascinating insights, based on Pernoud's sound knowledge and extensive experience as an archivist at the French National Archives. The book will be provocative for the general readers as well as a helpful resource for teachers.
Scorned for centuries, although lauded by the Romantics, these thousand years of history have most often been concealed behind the dark clouds of ignorance: Why, didn't godiche (clumsy, oafish) come from gothique (Gothic)? Doesn't "fuedal" refer to the most hopeless obscurantism? Isn't "Medieval" applied to dust-covered, outmoded things?

Here the old varnish is stripped away and a thousand years of history finally emerge�the "Middle Ages" are dead, long live the Middle Ages!

Fred said...

Church and State in Early Christianity by Hugo Rahner (Ignatius) is a notch or two above introductory, but I can't resist mentioning it anyway. It's about 40% original sources!

Fred said...

oops. I mean 60% original sources!

Christine the Soccer Mom said...

Soccer Dad wanted to read a history of the Catholic Church because he was investigating the claims of Dan Brown. I said that I'd prefer he read something by a Catholic (in good standing, natch), and he chose Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church by H.W. Crocker III. Crocker is a convert (my husband liked that idea because he knew the guy had actually researched things from an outsider's perspective, too), and the book is under 500 pages. I think it's also been done as a course.

Anyway, if your friend is interested in a concise history that doesn't try to hide the warts (let's face it, fornicating popes and three-at-once popes isn't pretty, but it happened), this book might be for him. I've read parts of it, and though some parts are dry, it's really interesting.

Oh, and by the time Soccer Dad was done with the book, he was in RCIA, too. Nice work, Dan Brown! ;)

JP Benjamin said...

I've been reading Henri Daniel-Rops History of the Church of Christ for about a year now - volume three is available in English under the title Cathedral and Crusade, and I think it covers 1050 - 1350. Anyway, the work is captivating from page one, an excellent introductory level history. The author does not hide his Catholic perspective, but neither does he hide any facts.

Anonymous said...

Darwin, you are in luck,

First off apolgies for being so out of contact, some day I'll send you a big email on all that is going on in Poland (PS from a personal and Catholic perspective everything is "dobge!" (good!).

Just a few days ago I bought a book which I think you really ought to reccomend to your friend.

The Quest of the Holy Grail (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)

I spoted it in a local book store, picked it up on a whim, and have found it to be a real exciting and captivating story, and one that was obviously written by and for the orthdox faithful, and the lessons are as valid now as they were in the 11th century.

For your friend to learn about Medevil Christianity, what better thing to do than go right to a primary source, the sort of thing priests were writing and nobles were reading back then? One of the Amazon reviews says...

"The book is primarly a spritual primer on the need for a shriven soul. The lesson that is taught clearly in the book is that one cannot approach Christ without repentance and contrition (with the requisite of Grace). Of course, these lessons are presented in a manner that is both entertaining and moving.

With this book you can begin to understand the mindset of the middle ages and you can see that many of the obstacles we face on our modern spiritual life have been faced many times before (this should never surprise us, but, with our myopia of modernity, it always does). "


Jezu Ufam Tobie!


Anonymous said...

Daniel-Rops Cathedral and Crusade suggested above is excellent. Another good choice would be Robert Payne's Fathers of the Western Church which takes a biographical approach. He also wrote a book Holy Fire about great figures of the Eastern Church, but these are pre-Middle Ages. His the Dream and the Tomb is quite good on the period of the Crusades.

Not focused solely upon the Church is Thomas Costain's four volume Plantagenet series, which covers the English monarchy from William the Conqueror to Richard III. He has a good feel for the period and has a good understanding of, and respect for, the role of the Church in this time period. Costain was a noted novelist, so the series is quite readable.

CMinor said...

Thought it's been a while since I read it, I recall How the Irish Saved Civilization had some material on the role of early Irish Catholicism in Western Civ.

As the title suggests, though, it's of a limited focus. And definitely not for the prudish.

Deacon Bill Burns said...

I suspect anything by Daniel-Rops will be good. And while Jaroslav Pelikan is Orthodox, he was a convert from Lutheranism. His series on the history of Christianity is highly regarded.

Anonymous said...

If the co-worker likes science fiction he might consider The High Crusade by Poul Anderson. English village kidnaped by aliens during the Hundred Years War. Villagers turn the tables on their captors and found the Angevin Star Empire! Light-hearted and told in a rollicking style, the book does impart a feel for the Middle Ages, including the role of the Church.

Darwin said...

I've bee n adding several of these to my Amazon cart or library list. Thanks for all the help!