Charlemagne

Charlemagne was the single most influential ruler of the early Middle Ages. In his 46-year reign as King of the Franks and later the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, reformed the administration and laws of his realm, encouraged the works of the Catholic Church, and began an all too brief renaissance of learning and education. In a certain sense, Charlemagne could be considered the founder of modern Europe.

J. B. Bury’s Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance is a good history of the great king’s life and times. Bury goes into some detail concerning Charlemagne’s ancestors, rise to power, conquests, his administration of his empire, and his relations with other nations and powers, including the Muslims of Spain. Quite a lot of attention is given to Charlemagne’s often complex relationship with the papacy. For all of that, however, I must confess I was a little disappointed with this book. For one thing, Bury barely mentioned Charlemagne’s attempts at a revival of learning and culture. For another, I would have appreciated his extending his narrative down to Charlemagne’s son and grandsons. I don’t think the story of the Carolingian Renaissance is complete without relating the ultimate failure of his vision by the weakness of Louis the Pious and the contentions among the grandsons of Charlemagne.

Despite the weaknesses mentioned, I do recommend this book to any interested in the so-called Dark Ages.

 

The Genesis of Science

The popular idea of the Middle Ages in Europe is that it was a thousand year period of ignorance and barbarism between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, a time of nearly complete intellectual stagnation. Everyone is supposed to have been illiterate with the exception of a few clergymen and the Catholic Church kept a tight rein on all learning,  burning any scholar who dared to have an independent thought or challenge the authority of Scripture.

Historians have recognized for some time that this stereotype is entirely false. The Middle Ages, or “Dark Ages” were, in fact, a time of extraordinary fertility and progress. Many of the concepts and institutions that came to distinguish Western Civilization were developed in this era, especially the beginnings of the intellectual enterprise we call science.

In his book “The Genesis of Science”, James Hannam traces the development of science, or natural philosophy as it was then known, through the Middle Ages, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the trial of Galileo. He begins in the very depths the Dark Age, the chaotic 5th to 7th centuries, where even then the Europeans were beginning to pull ahead in practical technology with such useful tools as the moldboard plow and the horse collar, which revolutionized agriculture.

The discovery of ancient Latin and Greek manuscripts from the Arabs and Byzantines led to the rise of the Scholastic theologians of the 11th to 13 centuries. The Scholastics, under the influence of Aristotle, established reason as the method for learning about God and His creation. There was some controversy in the Catholic Church about pagan learning but the Scholastics, especially Thomas Aquinas showed that faith and reason could be reconciled and the Church accepted the ancient learning to the extent that it did not contradict Christian doctrine. With the acceptance of reason as an adjunct to faith, the philosophers of the Middle Ages were prepared to see the natural world around them as the rational creation of a rational God, forming the foundation for later scientific thinking.

The Scholastics did not slavishly follow Aristotle, however. They were capable of observing that he was wrong in some instances and were willing to move beyond him. In fact, some of their ideas about motion and forces were surprisingly modern. Some, especially Roger Bacon stressed the importance of careful observation of the natural world.

With the increased knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome during the Renaissance of the 13th to 15 centuries, much of this learning was disregarded and forgotten. The Renaissance Humanists venerated the ancients and so were inclined to denigrate the achievements of their immediate predecessors. The authority of Aristotle and others was more respected than the thoughts of more recent philosophers. The Protestant Reformation did not help matters, as the Protestants were not eager to give the Catholic Church any credit.

Still, progress continued and in the last section of his book, Hannam explores the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries.  He closes with an account of Galileo. Although Galileo was a brilliant scientist who practically invented physics, he owed far more to his medieval predecessors than he was ever willing to admit. As for his troubles with the Inquisition, they had less to do with any Catholic opposition to science and were more due to politics and the folly of implying that the Pope was a simpleton.

The Genesis of Science is worth five stars. The perhaps over long summary that I have given above is only the merest foretaste to this brilliant work. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Michael Moore: ‘Bin Laden Was Executed’

Why does anyone still care what Michael Moore thinks on any subject? Apparently he has a problem because Osama didn’t get a trial before the SEALs killed him. My favorite part of this interview is this:

Does it matter if he was executed? Do you think he deserved a trial?

I am a Catholic, and the position of the Catholic Church and the Pope is that we are 100 percent against the death penalty unless it is in self-defense. Look at the Nuremberg Trials. We didn’t just pop a bullet in the heads of the worst scum in history. We thought it was important to put them on trial and expose their evil. In a democracy we believe in a system of justice and we believe in a judicial system that gives people a day in court…and then we hung them.

It doesn’t mean we can’t hang them afterward.

The Catholic Church is also 100 percent against abortion. Has Moore become pro-life? Church doctrine is that homosexuality is a sinful act. Is Moore now against same-sex marriage? It seems to me that he is calling himself a Catholic when it is convenient for him.

Good Friday Crucifixions

In the Phillipines, some people celebrate Good Friday by nailing themselves to crosses.

Yes, they actually have themselves nailed to crosses. They only stay up on the cross for about ten minutes, but still, it has to be agonizing. They also have their backs whipped until they are bloody, just ass Jesus was flogged by the Romans. They do this out of piety or to fulfill a sacred vow or panata.  As Catholic Archbishop Rolando Tirona explained;

“The panata becomes so personal that nobody can correct or change them. They promise they will do this if their sick grandmother gets better and when she gets better, they say they have to fulfil their vows,”

The Catholic Church is against this practice, but there is little they can do to stop these people.

One of the most outspoken critics of the bloody rituals, Catholic Archbishop Rolando Tirona of a Manila district, said they were a misreading of church teachings, but he conceded there were powerful cultural reasons behind them.

This certainly is a misunderstanding of Christian teachings. It is entirely unnecessary. Jesus died on the cross precisely so we wouldn’t have to. You cannot bargain with God. I don’t see how He benefits from someone suffering nor would he ask such a price in return for making someone’s grandmother get better. This is simply the worst sort of superstition.

To make matters worse, it has also become a tourist attraction in some parts of the Phillipines.

Enaje said he heard that other Philippine villages were paying people to be crucified, but insisted that things were different in Cutud.

“The people in Cutud are sincere. We aren’t doing it for the money,” he said.

But as the religious ceremonies went on in Cutud, dozens of vendors hawked souvenirs, hats, cold drinks and snacks to the crowds of curious locals and Western tourists.

German photojournalist Gunther Deichmann, a longtime resident of the Philippines, said the event was not as genuine as it had once been.

“It’s a little bit more like a carnival now. Maybe 20 years ago it was more realistic,” he said.

District tourism officer Ching Pangilinan denied church charges of commercilisation, saying local authorities had an obligation to manage the event to prevent tourists from mobbing the place or being robbed.

“People just come whether we promote it or not. So tourism assistance is necessary,” she said.