Introduction to the Middle Ages: Barbarians, Christians and Muslims - quotes

"The Middle Ages were not only a period of European civilization. There was the western medieval period and that of the Eastern Empire, which still survived among the splendours of Byzantium for 1000 years after the fall of Rome. During those same centuries a great Arab civilization flourished, while in Europe there was a more or less clandestine, but very lively Jewish culture. The boundaries between these different cultural traditions were not as marked as people think today.

The predominant image is the clash between Muslims and Christians during the Crusades. However, European philosophers knew Aristotle and other Greek authors through the medium of Arab translations, and western medicine made use of Arab science. Christians and Jewish sages, albeit discreetly, were in frequent contact.

However, what characterizes the western Middle Ages was its tendency to interpret every cultural contribution from other eras or civilizations in Christian terms. When discussing today whether to mention Europe's Christian roots in the European Constitution, some rightly object that Europe also has Greco-Roman and Jewish roots (and just think of the importance of the Bible) to say nothing of the ancient pre-Christian civilizations and therefore of Celtic, Germanic or Scandinavian mythology. But with regard to medieval Europe we certainly must speak of Christian roots. 

In medieval times, everything was translated and reinterpreted in the light of the new religion, right from the days of the Fathers of the Church. The Bible was known only in its Latin translation, the Vulgate of St. Jerome (340/345-420), and there were Latin versions of the Greek philosophers, used to show their convergence with the principles of Christian theology and the monumental philosophical synthesis of Thomas Aquinas was aimed precisely at this."

This blog quotes a slightly adapted section from "Introduction to the Middle Ages - Barbarians, Christians and Muslims" by Umberto Eco (2012). The illustration is from the same source and shows the door of St. Stephen's Church at Umm al - Rasas.

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