Modern life has travelled so far beyond medieval
Christianity that it is only with an effort we retrace our steps to the
intellectual position of a St. Bernard, a St. Francis, or the Imitatio
Christi. Apart from the difficulties of an unfamiliar terminology, we have
become estranged from ideas which then were commonplaces; beliefs once held to
be self-evident and cardinal now hover on the outer verge of speculative thought,
as bare possibilities, as unproved and unprovable guesses at truth. Our own
creeds, it may be, rest upon no sounder bottom of logical demonstration. But
they have been framed to answer doubts, and to account for facts, which
medieval theories ignored; and in framing them we have been constrained partly
to revise, partly to destroy, the medieval conceptions of God and the Universe,
of man and the moral law.
This is not the place for a critique of medieval religion.
But, unless we bear in mind some essential features of the Catholic system of thought,
we miss the key to that ecclesiastical statesmanship which dominates the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The programme of the great Popes, from
Gregory VII to Boniface VIII, must appear a tissue of absurdities, of
preposterous ambitions and indefensible actions, unless it is studied in
relation to a theology as far remote from primitive Christianity as from the
cults and philosophies of classical antiquity.