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An Introduction to Medieval Wisdom

"The distinctive feature of medieval thought is that contrasts which later were to be presented as irreconcilable antitheses appear in it as differences within a larger unity, and that the world of social organization, originating in physical necessities, passes by insensible gradations into that of the spirit. Man shares with other animals the necessity of maintaining and perpetuating his species; in addition, as a natural creature, he has what is peculiar to himself, an inclination to the life of the intellect and of society - to know the truth about God and to live in communities." These activities, which form his life according to the law of nature, may be regarded,and sometimes are regarded, as indifferent or hostile to the life of the spirit. But the characteristic thought is different. It is that of a synthesis," (R.H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1954, pages 25-26).

This website exists to provide medieval solutions to modern problems. This does not mean that people in the Middle Ages foresaw the little annoyances that the modern world inflicts upon us, for example computer viruses or a shortage of parking spaces, rather this means that there is a Medieval mindset, a way of thinking and feeling, which can help people today to cope with problems, including those particular ones that did not exist five hundred years ago. Probably the author who best conveys the Medieval mindset is J.R.R. Tolkien.

Medieval people strove less than moderns do for practical and speculative knowledge. Instead, they sought wisdom, which transcends knowledge and, from its lofty height, orders it. Ken Follet, in his book World Without End, well shows the great weakness of the medieval mindset: theoretical knowledge, based on logic and the primitive research of ancient Greeks and Romans, was preferred over useful knowledge gained from experience. This tendency culminated in the work of John Duns Scotus, for whom the essences of things mattered more than existent reality.

Though Duns Scotus was Scottish, his thought was more popular on the European continent than on his own island because three other British thinkers opposed him. The two Bacons, Roger and Francis, encouraged experimentation to learn about the world and figure out how to transform it so as to improve our lives. William of Ockam then rejected the reality of universals, thus opposing the very foundation of Scottism. In the political realm, Scottism evolved in modern times to become Communism, while nominalism, the philosophy of William of Ockam, led to the Protestant Reformation and the radical individualism of existentialism. These two ideologies did battle, as it were, in the Cold War.

Today, twenty years after Anglo-American individualism emerged victorious from the Cold War, Western civilization is descending into decadence because we lack perspective. The world today, even though in the midst of a recession, is immensely wealthier than the world in which our ancestors lived. Middle-class Americans live better, in many ways, than 99% of all human beings have lived before. Despite all this, tens of thousands of people commit suicide each year, and millions of people take medication or suffer poor health because of anxiety and various psychological disorders. If people today would transcend their material condition, look down on their own situation, and order all things wisely, then even though material conditions might not change, we will live better and be happier.

Transcendence is the medieval solution to modern problems. In the Middle Ages, problems did not disappear, rather they were transformed by wisdom in such a way that, though they could and did make man sad, they could not make people entirely unhappy. We can and should learn from the Middle Ages.

Many of the articles on this web page are works in progress. We start them, then leave them unfinished for weeks before completing them. If you read one of the unfinished articles, please feel free to give us suggestions as to how we should finish it.

"The man of the future is he who will have the longest memory," (Friedrich Nietzsche).