“Only the Final Product Has Reached Us”

Jean Leclerq, O.S.B., writes this illuminating paragraph about “the general difficulty of finding out what medieval men thought”:

They scarcely ever spoke of themselves or what they were doing. They were engaged in living, satisfied to exist and act without telling us why. Theirs was not a time like ours when books are written on contemporary tendencies. These tendencies did exist but they were translated into action, and it is only the final product which has reached us.:”(The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, second, revised edition and printing, with corrections [New York: Fordham University Press, 1977], pg. 140.)”:

Of course, like all generalizations this one has its exceptions. Certainly one can find Medieval writings on contemporary tendencies – think of Dante writing about the politics in the Italy of his day, or Aquinas writing against Latin Averroism, or writers in the Devotio Moderna addressing contemporary spiritual problems. Still, as generalities go I think Leclerq’s is as good as any for getting at part of our difficulty as Moderns in understanding the Medieval mind. Intellectually and psychologically and emotionally we really are much more “self-centered” than they were, and that ends to blinker our vision when we look at people from other times, places, and cultures.


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