Don’t Ignore “the Usual Scene”

It has been remarked by various scholars that the Gregorian reformation of the eleventh century was essentially an attempt to re-order all of Christian society on a monastic pattern. So dark were the monkish perceptions of the state of Christian society at that time and so unrealistic were their prescriptions for restoration that one bishop is reported to have sarcastically wondered where Gregory VII was going to get the angels to replace the men he was deposing. At any rate, of the aftermath of these monastic-colored reforms especially in England, Frank Barlow writes:

…whereas the water had gone far out in the ninth century and came in majestically and with gathering momentum in the tenth, so that it crashed almost all barriers, the retreat and advance was much less in the eleventh. The unrelieved gloom of the monastic writers is far too black…there seems no good reason why the modern historian should necessarily identify himself with the aims of the reformers and treat with their severity periods which fell short of their ideals. The Church Militant is a society of sinners, and a truer historical tone is achieved if the observer finds himself more at home with the weaker brethren than in the company of those who demanded the impossible. - The English Church 1000-1066: A Constitutional History (London: Longman’s, Green and Co. Ltd., 1963), pg. 27

A bit later, Barlow continues:

The real task of the historian after William of Malmesbury [12th century- TE] is to withstand monastic prejudice in detail, to revalue persons and movements according to their own aims, and to create a new pattern which is not illuminated from a single source of light and distorted by shadows cast by events to come. His task is not to rehabilitate but to reconstruct an age which has been neglected because of its shortcomings, aware that in the long run quiescence is more characteristic – more normal – than revolution in the history of institutions, and that to give all attention to periods of reform and ignore the usual scene is to falsify the past. - Ibid., pg. 28

“Finding yourself more at home with the weaker brethren than in the company of those who demanded the impossible.” “To give all attention to periods of reform and ignore the usual scene is to falsify the past.” Provocative words, these, but timely.

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