Sometime during the second half of the year 1049, Peter Damian, prior of the hermitage of Fonte Avellana in what is now the Italian region of Marche near the Umbrian border, wrote a lengthy letter to newly installed Pope Leo IX. The letter concerned “the befouling cancer of sodomy,” which Peter . . . . Continue Reading »
My generation tends to think of itself as the first generation to be moral, tolerant, decent, and good. We abhor racism, sexism, nationalism, and homophobia, crimes we set at the center of past societies—all of them. We have avoided the bloody vices of slavery, torture, pillaging, religious . . . . Continue Reading »
Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IXby andrew willard jonesemmaus academic, 510 pages, $39.95 I f there is a specter haunting the imaginations of Christians in the public square today, perhaps it is the specter of the premodern integration of . . . . Continue Reading »
The Once and Future King by t. h. white penguin galaxy, 736 pages, $30 Terence Hanbury White died aboard ship in the port of Piraeus in 1964 on his way back from the United States, where he had been hoping to shore up his income with a lecture tour. His secretary found him alone in his cabin, and . . . . Continue Reading »
The past is returning. Any return assumes a preceding departure. Perhaps, though, the past never left, and its absence will turn out to have been an illusion. Certain traits embedded in genes don’t manifest themselves for some time. That doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared, though; they’re . . . . Continue Reading »
The Italian author Umberto Eco belonged to a rare breed—a medievalist of encyclopedic erudition, a creative philosopher and a talented novelist. Prompted by his recent death, Eco’s first novel, The Name of the Rose, has resurfaced in bookstands everywhere. The novel is a murder mystery set in an . . . . Continue Reading »
In an average college course, the history of Western political theory typically follows a simple plot: A flowering of secular, republican rationality in Ancient Athens and Republican Rome foundered on a combination of Imperial overstretch and civil war.
Earlier this year, as conflict raged in northern Syria, two professors, one Lebanese and the other American, both from elite universities in the Washington, D.C. area, passed the long night at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan, drinking tea. They pondered the weighty issues of the region: whether the nation-state paradigm was the residue of colonialism or a reality to which nations of the Middle East must conform; American military engagement and its consequences; and, of course, the sources of violent extremism. At one point, the Lebanese professor lamented, “These extremists are the worst thing ever to happen to Islam.” The American professor casually observed that they wished to reject modernity and return to the Middle Ages. “But the Islamists are themselves modern,” the Lebanese professor responded. “The violence against ideas and freedom and the dignity of the personthis is all modern, not medieval. Islam’s Golden Age was actually fairly free and tolerant of diverse thought.” The American professor arched a skeptical brow.
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God’s War: A New History of the Crusades by christopher tyerman belknap, 1,040 pages, $35 Not too many years ago, single-volume histories of the Crusades were a rarity. Bookstores were crowded with volumes on the Civil War or World War II, but there was little on medieval battles fought in . . . . Continue Reading »
Every year during the winter quarter my yearlong course in the history of Christianity reaches the eleventh-century Gregorian Reform and the Investiture Conflict. Every year my students struggle to make sense of the positions of Emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII. With great effort some of them . . . . Continue Reading »