General Introduction

Dark as the seven centuries spanned by the selections in this volume are commonly supposed to have been, those who investigate them more than superficially will discover that in this period the church of Christ was ever endeavoring to lift aloft a light which the darkness did not overcome.

One must not, of course, expect to find in the early Middle Ages all the characteristics that in our own age are regarded as signs of high achievement. This was a time when men thought much less of the originality of their own productive genius than of the preservation in an age of turmoil of the values transmitted to them in mysticism and morality out of the Christian past. Their attitude toward this inheritance was loyalty to its admittedly high standards, rather than a self-centered conviction that it was their privilege, much less their duty, to develop the faith in novel directions.

Our medieval forebears in the church must be evaluated in the light of the types and intensities of the evils which they faced. Theirs was a time of great political instability in which nations hitherto beyond the frontiers of civilization were attempting to assimilate cultural and spiritual treasures which had come to them with the breakdown of late antiquity. When no central authority extended its power beyond relatively narrow boundaries, it was natural that barbarous violence should be widespread and that the security for which the men of that era would yearn was literal safety from the arrow that flies by night and the destruction that wastes at noonday.

To cope with this situation the church strove to provide for the Western world such security as it could, and this it did

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