…is the root of the western mentality, from top to bottom, it has directed the development of the culture from the beginnings to the present day, when it is now celebrated as freedom. But how free are we if we are ruled by our desires, our passions with all their failures? How true is it that “what seems right” is actually right? Someone without consideration of the other, locked in oneself with one’s own concerns exclusively, is no longer a person. They may be human, but personhood relies upon relationships with others. We are recognized as individuals only when we are more than one, and the differentiation between other persons then becomes not only possible, but celebratory. Unfortunately, this is no longer (if it ever was) a common theme amogst the masses. The western (as it surely is) drive to increase wealth and to impose its own brand of anti-person “freedom” has existed from the beginning of western history, with the mass migrations and barbarian incursions in late antiquity. This was later to explode and become established as the only acceptable method of societal interaction with the Crusades: the capitalism of petty princes trumped the economic stability (not stagnation!) of the humble Nazarene. Today we see the results: a “healthy” economy must always be growing, with God-cursed usury the effective measure of that health. “More for me is good for everybody” is the motto of modernity. It’s sickening. Western culture has managed to turn the wrong way at every turning point in its economic, philosophical, and religious development. That much is clear. There are some pearls in the mud, to be sure, but they are few and far between, from beginning to end.
All this is to say that I recommend the following enlightening reading:
Andrew Louth, Greek East and Latin West: The Church AD 681-1071
Aristeides Papadakis, The Christian East and the Rise of the Papacy: The Church AD 1071-1453
These two books are volumes 3 and 4 in the series The Church in History, published by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. They are positively the best histories of the medieval period that I have ever read. These are not ecclesiastical histories stricto sensu. They describe, as the series title indicates, the Church within the flow of history. What is so vastly enlightening and breathtakingly refreshing about them is that they do not, to be frank, toe the party line of Catholicism. Punches are not pulled. The development of a cruel and ugly culture in western Europe is directly related to the development of Catholicism, or rather more particularly, the papacy (for the former would not exist without the latter). This may sound like some kind of trashy and ill-considered conspiracy theory, the wild ravings of some half-crazed wild-eyed Easterner who would also jabber about Freemasons and Jews. On the contrary, the history is excellently written and clearly elaborated from a viewpoint that is, while that of Eastern Orthodox scholars, decidely more objective than any other I’ve yet encountered. And I really don’t mean that to sound like “I’m Eastern Orthodox and I like my histories by Eastern Orthodox.” It’s not like that at all. These histories really are a great deal more objective, avoiding the glorification and focus on the papacy usually found in histories of medievel Europe, and returning focus to the wider Church with the other Patriarchates all covered, and the various heretical and schismatic groups described as they fade in and out of history. I would categorize this history as corrective rather than revisionist. All the information is available in other histories, though scattered widely in various publications of various ages, languages, and availability. Louth and Papadakis have succeeded in producing excellent and eminently readable collations of all these disparate materials.
As a reader, do not find yourself to be surprised to have a number of misconceptions of European history overthrown in reading these two relatively short books. They are that powerful, and that corrective. I cannot recommend them highly enough.