I’d rather spend time talking about the backdrop for my ideas than to present them as if in a vacuum, and so I give you another article seemingly unconnected to Freud.
As the Dark Ages ended, Christianity had triumphed in the West. I wish I were more of an expert on world history, because I wouldn’t have to preface what I say with “I think this is how it went”, but oh well… I think this is how it went.
As I had suggested last article, the impulse which drove people during these centuries in the West was one of ruralization and the collapse of major urban centers. The Eastern part of the Roman Empire did not collapse, however, which serves as an example of how the history we are taught isn’t always the history which happened. But that’s a different story. There is nonetheless a certain feeling which accompanies our idea of the time from about 300 to 900 C.E., a period of dark transformation, of intellectual backwardness but also of religious expansion and strengthening of religious institutions and practices. Our modern understanding of monks and monasteries, and how they differ from their pagan equivalents, starts at this time. For me, it is a sense of quietness, like a withdrawal from the urban accomplishments of the ancient world, as if there needed to be some period of repentance for all of their sins, while at the same time providing time and space for solitude and deep thought, and possibly the development of our modern idea of the individual thinking person. The pagan culture was overly interwoven with itself.
A very important theme of the Dark Ages is something we need to start looking at again today, which I would call the “Significance of Ignorance”. Perhaps they would not have liked to use those terms themselves, but it remains a powerful phenomenon which continues to pervade our culture and world today. It really seems as if the culture of that time felt, perhaps unconsciously, but nonetheless felt that it was precisely the knowledge and sophistication of the world before them which caused the most troubles. In our age, the value of knowledge is so universally accepted that it’s really hard to imagine how the culture of the dark ages could have gone to so much effort, it seems, to remain ignorant of the culture which came before it. You could argue with me, and say that, well, from my modern perspective I can’t possibly know how they intended to handle their situation. But the other possibility is that there really was a drive to repress the civilization they came from.
It is as if the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Church, and the Bible was considered more valuable than all of the other accomplishments of civilization prior to Christianity. This is certainly consistent even with modern day Christian evangelists who seem to have a fondness for supressing knowledge, teaching the Bible as if it is sufficient to explain the entire world without having to refer either to other books or to the world itself to get the complete picture. It seems that many of these Bible-believing Christians are continuing in the spirit of the first centuries of the Christian era, when knowledge was not the thing of the most value.
I think it’s important for modern people to start asking themselves, what could be so important that it outranks factual awareness of the physical world? Whatever it is, it fueled Western civilization for hundreds of years from about 300 to 1100 C.E. I believe this era presents both the shadow of and the solution to our own era. The taboo of the Dark Ages was knowledge, and that of ours, ignorance. Another way of putting it is that during these centuries Western civilization developed the capacity for silence. Some strong need was felt to learn to listen to quiet voices coming from within individuals, and the religion and spirituality of the Middle Ages was the result. Certainly the Old Testament recorded prophets who spoke for the whole Jewish race. Maybe that kind of spirituality was insufficient. The Christian peculiarity, which characterizes the whole West, is that the power of prophecy is within everyone, that each individual has the power and soul of a prophet. I think it was this idea, that everyone has a soul, and that everyone’s soul matters, which was the chief product of the Dark Ages.
It appears that in order to be able to detect and listen to one’s soul, much knowledge of the outer world may need to be sacrificed. At least this scheme makes sense of the mysterious period between the ancient world and the beginning of “our” world, say about 800 C.E. A grand bargain was made, the capacity to look within in exchange for massive ignorance and a loss of contact with the history of the ancient world so complete it would take the Crusades to get it back.