Prof. Andrew Willard Jones, who teaches Church history, theology, and social doctrine at Franciscan University in Steubenville, suggests that our view of those dark ages may be more colored by anti-Catholic prejudice than the reality of history. Jones said, “I was studying the papacy of the 13th century. I was inspired by what I was reading. It was a whole world that had not been investigated… We’re blessed in medieval history. They had advanced letter-writing operations. There were papal letters and manuscripts… It’s a treasure trove of court records, monarchial registries and chronicles.” Jones sees the medieval era as a Christianized, sacramental civilization, quite unlike the usual way the period is treated by typical histories. It is far too simplistic to see the period as one of only decay until the rescue of Luther for the Church, Erasmus for reason, and the Renaissance giants for art and music. The truth is that during this period there were great advances in the arts and in learning and these provided the foundation for the flourishing of that Renaissance period. Far from being stark, staid, and, frozen, the medieval period was a complex, dynamic culture. Surely that does not suggest that this was some sort of mountain top achievement of humanity but it does mean that this time has been the victim of a characterization less than accurate.
It is one more testament to the fact that history is not the only thing that suffers from a stereotype that fails to scratch beneath the surface. Once again I am reminded that we judge too much from a shallow sweep across the breadth of time than from the informed consideration of its reality. Certainly this is true of Christians with respect to the Old Testament. We have heard for so long that it is a different God than Jesus, a violent story without real peace, and a condemnation without hope that we began believing it. For Christians it got to the point where some suggested the Old Testament was irrelevant and unnecessary to the Gospel. In some respects, we have treated Christian history the way we treat medieval history, a distasteful distraction from the real story. We are always the poorer when we succumb to such tempting but false characterizations. That this is true of Scripture is one shame we ought to admit. That this is true of the way we escape a more critical view of our own history is also something we should admit.