What should we do with the kids … ?
Back to the Dark Ages. Flames of the gospel were still flickering with the desert hermits, but also in some monasteries. We visit one such place. It is in France. It is the Abbey of Cluny, at that time home to the largest Christian building in the World. In contrast to most monasteries of the day, this one was allowed to operate independently of the state (in the form of its patron, William the Pious), though not of the pope. The Abbey was run by Benedictine monks, following the rules set by this religious order, founded by Benedict of Nursia, in the 6th Century. The original rules of this movement were based around a balanced path of body and spirit, between the needs of the individual and the wider group.
This all had changed by the 10th Century, as the Benedictine movement got richer and more powerful and had swept through all the lands of the Western Church. And with power and money came compromise and corruption. Originally monasteries were populated by monks with a calling from God to serve Him in a structured community of like-minded people. By the 10th Century monks tended to be taken from the ranks of the nobility, as a vacation rather than a vocation. Their nature of work changed as a result, with less emphasis on manual work and more on scholarly and artistic pursuits. Holy holiday camps for the privileged, less a religious community and more a secular corporation, fully integrated with the society of the day rather than as isolated working retreats.
Christianity had become so institutionalised that the common person really had no "religious" duties any more, apart from keeping the sacraments. Monks would do everything else. They prayed for you, took penance from you and interceded for your salvation. It was dualism gone mad. Every aspect of your religious life was now in the hands of others, controlling you through the sacraments, for the price of a few coins. It was as if the whole monastery movement was now dedicated to St Plato!
Such was the state of the Western Christian Church in the year AD 920. It may have been a "Dark Age" for them, but, not so far away, others were experiencing a Golden Age. These were the Jews of Spain living, believe it or not, in a thoroughly Muslim environment, under the conditional benevolence of Islamic rulers. So what was going on there?
During the Christian "Dark Ages" Islam was on the move, spreading outwards in all directions from its origins in the Middle East. Its farthest western reach was Spain, ruling it between the 8th and the 11th Century through the Umayyad dynasty. Stability was achieved through the ability of Amir Abd al-Rahman to pull together all rival groups and get them working together in peace, producing a golden age of Islam, with great advances in the areas of the arts, economics, sciences, philosophy, literature and much more. This was good news also for the Jews and Christians living in Spain who, although tolerated as inferior to Muslims, were given certain freedoms. In fact the Jews absolutely revelled in their status, something they had never experienced in Christian society, provoking a flowering of their talents in a period of history known later as the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain.
It may have been a Golden Age, but there was a price to pay. His name was Aristotle and a huge price was paid in the area of Jewish theology. According to the Jewish Encyclopaedia:
One thousand years after his death, Aristotle, as his pupil Alexander (the Great) had aforetime done, began to conquer the East, and finally ascended to the supreme rulership of the entire realm of medieval thought.
Wow! That's some legacy for this Greek philosopher, the pupil of Plato, who had died a few hundred years before Christ. His ideas were to follow Plato into the realms of Christian theology, as we will read in a later article. But Judaism was conquered first and it was the Jews' own fault! The "Golden Age" was not to be a new awakening of Judaism, but an embracing of the very mindset rejected at such cost by their forbears over a thousand years earlier at the time of the Maccabees. Chanukah was about to be soiled, the pagans had re-invaded the Temple and this time the menorah's light dwindles to nothing.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)