Thursday, 21 November 2013

What was the Middle Ages about?


By C.S Lewis's account, France was the centre of Medieval Europe - and the centre of French medieval life was scholastic philosophy (University of Paris), courtly love (the Arthurian cycle, the Song of Roland) and the Crusades - and the great Cathedrals, especially Chartres.

[CS Lewis. What France Means to You, 1944 - republished in We Remember CS Lewis edited by David Graham, 2001].

Given that this characterization also applies to at least the mainstream and high status part of English life, this explains why I can never wholly 'get behind' the Middle Ages - why I can't ever really regard it as a golden age - and certainly not as the ideal or best age.

The core of the mental life of the middle ages (with the exception of the great cathedrals) include things that I roundly dislike (courtly love) and the others about which I am decidedly ambivalent (scholastic philosophy and the cathedrals).

This even affects my appreciation of the truly great trio of English medieval poets - Chaucer, Langland and the Gawain poet.

I love them all, but not whole-heartedly - rather in selective parts; thus I cannot regard myself as a true-blue medievalist: not a solid Chestertonian, nor even a full-blown Lewisite.