A Light in the Darkness

[I am doing brief Summaries of “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” by Thomas  E. Woods, Jr., Ph.D.   There isn’t much to the first chapter, so I am starting with Chapter two.]

How the Catholic Church built Western Civilization
Chapter 2 Summary
“A light in the Darkness”
The author begins this chapter
explicitly stating that the term “dark ages” was once applied to the time
stretching from roughly 500 AD to 1500 AD. 
However this is no longer the case, as the more research is done over
that time frame the more historians adjust the date of the “dark ages.” 
According to the author there
was a “cultural and intellectual retrogression” that occurred during the dark
ages.  Thus the darkening was no a
luminescence but instead a darkening of the mind.  However, contrary to popular belief, the
cause of the darkening was not the on the result of the spread of Christianity.
  Quoting Historian Will Durant, the
author writes, “The basic cause of cultural retrogression . . . was not
Christianity but barbarism, not religion but war” (9).  The author spends much of the rest of the
chapter laying out how it was the Catholic Church that acted as a light during
dark times, and How it had the task of civilizing a savage world.
The invading barbarian
tribes/hordes were little interested in the life of the mind; therefore, they
were a very illiterate and learned people who did not care much for literature,
sciences, justice,  and art.  The barbarians were a very superstitious
people who in many cases did not have much of a true system of belief as was
the case with Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. 
Therefore, when the church set out to convert the barbarians, they had a
much easier time for “It is a fact of missionary history that the Church has
found it immensely easier to convert people directly from primitive paganism or
animism that to convert them once they have adopted another faith like Arianism
or Islam” (12).
The main groups of Barbarians
the author mentions are the Goths,  the
Vandals, and the Franks.  There are two
main tribes or families that were of great importance to the Church during this
period of time: the Merovingians and the Carolingians.  The Merovingians entered into an unspoken
relationship with the Catholic Church in which the Gaul’s would protect the Church.  This occurred with the conversion of their
King, Clovis.  This relationship remained
till about the 8th century.
Once the Merovingians declined
in power, the Church was left in want of protection; She the turned to the
Franks, specifically the Carolingians, and more specifically Charles Martel,
the grandfather of Charles the Great (Charlemange).  The Church peacefully managed the transfer of
power from the Merovingians to the Carolingians (16).  During the Carolingian period, Charlemagne
“had been so persuaded of the beauty, truth, and superiority of the Catholic
religion that he did everything possible to establish the new post-imperial
Europe on the basis of Catholicism” (11). 
He “strongly encouraged education and the arts, calling upon the bishops
to organize schools around their cathedrals” (16).
During the Carolingian education
there was a resurgence in classical education with an emphasis on the quadrivium (astronomy, music, arithmetic
and geometry) and the Trivium (logic,
grammar, rhetoric).  A uniform system of
writing was developed  by monks called
“Carolingian minuscule.”  This script
introduced “lowercase letter, spacing between words “ and proved “crucial to
building the literacy of Western civilization” (18).  Moreover, as Europe’s collective intellect
plummeted into darkness “The Church, as the Educator of Europe, was the one
life that survived repeated barbarian invasions” (20).  It was the unwavering determination of the
Catholic Church that kept Europe from falling into an even darker age (21).  Even when monasteries were destroyed and
libraries burned and monks killed by the barbarians, a new group of monks could
be moved in and learning restored. 
Lastly, Pope Sylvester II, “The
most learned man in Europe of his day,” sought out ancient manuscripts.  Pope Sylvester commented on the importance of
learning and not simply having blind faith we he said “The Divinity made a
great gift to men in giving them faith while not denying them knowledge . . .
those who do not posse it are called fools” (23).  The pope’s views on knowledge and learning
would go on to influence much of the schooling in Europe for ages to follow
(23).