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April 5, 2017


Medieval Christianity: A New History

by N@ncy

Author: K. Madigan
Title: Medieval Christianity: A New History
Published: 2015
Table of contents: 21 chapters
Timeline:  600 – 1500 AD



The Middle Ages formed a bridge between the Dark Ages
– the powerful ruled, while the powerless looked only to survive –
and the future
– filled with knowledge starting from one monastery to another… –
We think of the Middle Ages as brutal filled with superstition and strange relics.
But it produced much of what we have in the world today:
universities – appreciation of Roman architecture – Gothic style – pilgrimages

Who is Kevin Madigan?
Kevin J. Madigan is a historian of Christianity at Harvard University.

Ch 1-7: I thought the book  would be very easy read
but I was challenged from the beginning.
Gnostics, Donatists and Pelagianism are movements I have heard about but
never understood.  Now I do!

I push on to monks, bishops, kings and popes.
These are  endless pages of history about the rise of Christianity in
Spain, Ireland, UK, France and Germany.
I had to pace myself. (1-3 chapters per sitting)
Often I thought “ I’ve had enough for today….”
You can’t rush history.

Ch 8: Suddenly a ‘lightbulb’ lit up in my head.
The similarities between Trump and Pope Gregory VII are astonishing!
“…he was capable of imagining new rules, new laws,
if ancient ones did not suit or could not be located…”
I had to make a connection to the present to keep myself
engaged with the book.

Ch 9: Adage ‘What doesn’t kill you, can only make you stronger…is not valid
… when it comes to St. Norbert of Xanten (1080-1134).
He adopted an asceticism so fierce that it killed his first three disciples.

Ch 11-12 Madigan delves into the lives of some famous saints:
St Dominic and his followers who were know as the ‘hounds of the Lord.
They were inquisitors who were the
most dedicated and ruthless.
We learn about St Francis of Assisi (birth name: John).
Dante imagined Francis in Paradiso as a rising sun.

Ch 13-21:  I began to falter during the last few chapters.
They were filled with anecdotal material
about heretics (Wycliffe, Hus) mystics, anchoresses and
some saints we have long forgotten.

Most confusing:
The Great Schism (Papal Schism) 1378-1417…. 3 different popes!

Most belligerent figures:
Boniface VIII en Koning Philip IV France.
They refused to compromise….so one of them had to die!

Most misunderstood thinker: Peter Abelard (1079-1142)
He clashed with St. Bernard and his view of monastic theology.
All you need is faith.
Abelard’s view of scholastic theology
brought light  into the dark ages!
He believed we needed to use our common sense and reason to
come closer to God.

Would I recommend the book?
Yes, without any reservations
….it will inform any interested reader.
Caveat: The book is long.

What was my impression of the book?
This book gives us a  picture of Medieval Christianity
well-informed carefully balanced.
The title mentioned ‘A New History’.
But  I felt is just repeated the
…basics about the Middle Ages.
I had hoped for information that has been
discovered in the last 40 years by scholars.
I wanted more and got less.

Read more from non-fiction
4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Apr 6 2017

    The leap from Marguerite Duras to here is some leap! Probably not for me though I loved your point about spotting similarities between Trump and Pope Gregory!! Don’t know whether to laugh or cry at it though!



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