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A brief treatment of the Middle Ages follows. For full treatment, see Europe, history of: The term and its conventional meaning were introduced by Italian humanists with invidious intent.

Medieval Philosophy

It would seem unnecessary to observe that the men and women who lived during the thousand years or so preceding the Renaissance were not conscious of living in the Middle Ages.

A few— Petrarch was the most conspicuous among them—felt that their lot was cast in a dark time, which had begun with the decline of the Roman Empire. They were making a gesture of their sense of freedom, and yet, at the same time, they were implicitly accepting the medieval conception of history as a series of well-defined ages within a limited framework of time. In such a scheme, the thousand years from the 5th to the 15th century might well be regarded as a distinct respectable period of history, which would stand out clearly in the providential pattern.

Middle Ages

Throughout European history, however, there has never been a complete breach with medieval institutions or modes of thought. The sack of Rome by Alaric the Visigoth in 410 ce had enormous impact on the political structure and social climate of the Western world, for the Roman Empire had provided the basis of social cohesion for most of Europe. Although the Germanic tribes that forcibly migrated into southern and western Europe in the 5th century were ultimately converted to Christianitythey retained many of their customs and ways of life.

  1. Throughout European history, however, there has never been a complete breach with medieval institutions or modes of thought.
  2. Hugh was also a theologian and theorist of mysticism.
  3. This state of affairs lasted until the Renaissance, when Marsilio Ficino 1433—99 translated and commented on the complete works of Plato. Marius Victorinus is said to have translated some of the Enneads into Latin in the fourth century, but his translation, if in fact it really existed, seems to have been lost soon afterwards.
  4. Quasten, Johannes, 1950—86, Patrology 4 volumes , Volumes 1—3, Utrecht.
  5. For logical developments in the Middle Ages, see the articles insolubles , literary forms of medieval philosophy , medieval theories of categories , medieval semiotics , medieval theories of analogy , medieval theories of demonstration , medieval theories of modality , medieval theories of Obligationes , medieval theories.

The changes in forms of social organization they introduced rendered centralized government and cultural unity impossible. Many of the improvements in the quality of life introduced during the Roman Empire, such as a relatively efficient agriculture, extensive road networkswater-supply systems, and shipping routes, decayed substantially, as did artistic and scholarly endeavours. This decline persisted throughout the Migration perioda historical period sometimes called the Dark AgesLate Antiquity, or the Early Middle Ages.

The Migration period lasted from the fall of Rome to about the year 1000, with a brief hiatus during the flowering of the Carolingian court established by Charlemagne. Apart from that interlude, no large political structure arose in Europe to provide stability. Two great kingdoms, Germany and Italybegan to lose their political unity almost as soon as they had acquired it; they had to wait until the 19th century before they found it again. The only force capable of providing a basis for social unity was the Roman Catholic Church.

The Middle Ages therefore present the confusing and often contradictory picture of a society attempting to structure itself politically on a spiritual basis. This attempt came to a definitive end with the rise of artistic, commercial, and other activities anchored firmly in the secular world in the period just preceding the Renaissance.

Charlemagne holding an orb and a sword; miniature from a 15th-century manuscript. Christendom was thought to consist of two distinct groups of functionaries: Supreme authority was wielded by the pope in the first of these areas and by the emperor in the second. In practice, the two institutions were constantly sparring, disagreeing, or openly warring with each other.

The emperors often tried to regulate church activities by claiming the right to appoint church officials and to intervene in doctrinal matters. The church, in turn, not only owned cities and armies but often attempted to regulate affairs of state. This tension would reach a breaking point in the late 11th and early 12th centuries during the clash between Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII over the question of lay investiture.

ADDITIONAL MEDIA

The balance of economic power slowly began to shift from the region of the eastern Mediterranean to western Europe. The Gothic style developed in art and architecture. Towns began to flourish, travel and communication became faster, safer, and easier, and merchant classes began to develop.

Agricultural developments were one reason for these developments; during the 12th century the cultivation of beans made a balanced diet available to all social classes for the first time in history. The population therefore rapidly expanded, a factor that eventually led to the breakup of the old feudal structures.

The classic formulations of Gothic architecture and sculpture were achieved. Many different kinds of social units proliferated, including guilds, associations, civic councils, and monastic chapters, each eager to obtain some measure of autonomy. The crucial legal concept of representation developed, resulting in the political assembly whose members had plena potestas—full power—to make decisions binding upon the communities that had selected them.

Academic Tools

Intellectual life, dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, culminated in the philosophical method of Scholasticismwhose preeminent exponent, St. Thomas Aquinasachieved in his writings on Aristotle and the Church Fathers one of the greatest syntheses in Western intellectual history. Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France, completed mid-13th century. Learn More in these related Britannica articles: