Well, I’m still working my way through William Manchester’s “A World Lit Only By Fire, The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance.” It’s slow going, but not because it’s boring. Manchester fills the book to bursting with a plethora of facts and observations that keep coming page after page until the mind spins. For people who like to think, it’s intoxicating stuff.I’m not going to attempt a review at this point. Heck, I may not even try when I’ve finished. There’s just too much material here to process. If I may, though, let me give you an idea of the broad story Manchester is trying to tell and why it is so important for all of us to hear.
He starts us in the Dark Ages, about A.D. 400 to A.D. 1000, after the Roman Empire had perished. Say what you will about Rome, it was the unifying force of civilization in the world at that time. Without it, order collapsed and chaos rushed in to fill the void. Chillingly, Manchester points out that among the many reasons for Rome’s fall were “apathy and bureaucratic absolutism.” Sound familiar?
During this time the intellectual life of Europe was gone. Manchester describes the Dark Ages as a portrait of “incessant warfare, corruption, lawlessness, obsession with strange myths, and an almost impenetrable mindlessness.” At this point the future did not look any too bright.
Fortunately, we humans know how to push ahead. At about the halfway mark in the book, the story I see is humanity’s struggle to reclaim civilization and the battle for which ideas will be its cornerstone. Yes, Christianity and humanism are the main combatants again. But in this arena neither side is attractive. As Manchester tells us, Christianity survived despite the medieval Christians, not because of them.
I’ll write more as I get further into this book, but so far it is an amazing story. The older I get, the more I come to realize how important history is and how poor a job our schools are doing teaching it.
Here’s a little thought experiment for you. Imagine that the United States collapses tomorrow, for whatever reason. Take your time and think. What would happen in the short-term and in the long-term? What would happen to the world?