The Age of Faith (The Story of Civilization, #4) By Will Durant

    s/t: A History of Medieval Civilization-Christian, Islamic & Judaic-from Constantine to Dante: AD 325-1300
    The Age of Faith surveys the medieval achievements & modern significance of Christian, Islamic & Judaic life & culture. Like the other volumes in The Story of Civilization, this is a self-contained work, which at the same time fits into a comprehensive history. It includes the dramatic stories of Augustine, Hypatia, Justinian, Mohammed, Harun al-Rashid, Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Saladin, Maimonides, St Francis, Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon etc, all in the perspective of integrated history. The greatest love stories in literature—of Héloise & Abélard, of Dante & Beatrice—are here retold with enthralling scholarship. The Age of Faith (The Story of Civilization, #4)


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    To understand the Middle Ages we must forget our modern rationalism, our proud confidence in reason and science, our restless search after wealth and power and an earthly paradise; we must enter sympathetically into the mood of men disillusioned of these pursuits, standing at the end of a thousand years of rationalism, finding all dreams of utopia shattered by war and poverty and barbarism, seeking consolation in the hope of happiness beyond the grave.

    On sites for book readers you can occasionally find posts that ask if Will Durant’s eleven volume Story of Civilization is still worth reading, and the responses are generally mixed. For me, though, the answer is an emphatic yes. Durant was not an academic historian who wrote primarily for other historians; he was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide to the key developments of history across a broad range of topics: politics, economics, religion, science, philosophy, literature, art, and more. New scholarship has added some details and incorporated some changes in emphasis, but Durant remains an excellent source for big-picture history, with his astonishing ability to tie together peoples, places, times, and events. If you seek to understand the past, Durant is a good place to start.

    Volume Four, The Age of Faith, covers the Middle Ages from the death of Constantine in 337 to Dante’s Divine Comedy in 1320. It ranges from the fall of the western Roman empire to the rise and decline of Byzantium; the invasions of the barbarians; the spread of Islam; the birth of feudalism; the age of chivalry and the shift in emphasis from infantry to mounted warfare; the Crusades; the Spanish Reconquista; the expansion of the power and influence of the Roman Catholic church across Europe and the growing resistance to it from newly emerging nation states. Along the way the book adds chapters on philosophy, law, architecture, science, economics, and the growing power of towns and guilds at the expense of feudal lords.

    The book is particularly good on the rise and spread of Islam. Our present age is one of religious confrontation, but it is well to be reminded that early Islam was a dynamic and invigorating force for civilization. It was more tolerant, placed greater emphasis on justice and mercy, and more accepting of new ideas than the Christianity of that age, thus preserving precious works of history, science, and philosophy that otherwise would have been lost forever. By the time Islam arrived in the Levant, the political and religious institutions of the Byzantine empire had become corrupt, oppressive forces. The Moslem armies were abetted and welcomed by many people in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, who were granted far more autonomy in worship than they previously had.

    The rise in power and prestige of the Papacy was accompanied by a rise in corruption, and those who objected too vocally disappeared into dungeons and onto gibbets. Francis of Assisi’s doctrine of poverty and simplicity almost led to its being condemned, as many other similar movements were. Religious orthodoxy was seen as essential to maintaining order, and in one of its darkest moments, the Papacy unleashed the Inquisition, permitting and even encouraging torture and murder. Since the Inquisitors received a portion of the wealth of the condemned, many innocent people were sent to their deaths.

    Before starting The Story of Civilization, Durant was known for his very popular book The Story of Philosophy. Not surprisingly, his chapters on philosophy in The Age of Faith are excellent, whether he is discussing Jewish mysticism, Christian Scholasticism, or the Islamic incorporation of Aristotle into their own systems. Durant fills out his discussions with details about the factors that led to the creation of these schools of philosophy, their leading adherents, and their effects on social and religious practices.

    Another area that Durant seems to have a special interest in is architecture. In this he sometimes lets his enthusiasm lead him astray. In addition to discussing the origins, technical details, and principles of design of the emerging Gothic style, he takes time to discuss at length what seemed like every cathedral in Europe: its dimensions, its statuary and stained glass, and its effect on visitors. It made me want to learn more about Gothic architecture, but the chapter ran on longer than it needed to be.

    The Renaissance would not have been possible without advances made in the Middle Ages. Stronger kings were able to maintain stability and enforce justice, modern financial and banking institutions arose, as did the first universities, and advances in metallurgy that eventually led to the Industrial Revolution. It was a fascinating age, and Durant’s book does justice to its vigorous complexity, the slow and difficult process of bringing order after the collapse of Western civilization, and laying the groundwork for great age to follow.

    I highlighted 290 quotes from this book, and it was difficult for me to trim them down to a few exemplary ones that show Durant’s knowledge, understanding, and even humor, and still stay within Goodreads’ length limitations, but following are some that I particularly enjoyed.

    -We shall never do justice to the Middle Ages until we see the Italian Renaissance not as their repudiation but as their fulfillment.

    -The emperor himself could legislate by simple decree, and his will was the supreme law. In the view of the emperors, democracy had failed; it had been destroyed by the Empire that it had helped to win; it could rule a city, perhaps, but not a hundred varied states; it had carried liberty into license, and license into chaos, until its class and civil war had threatened the economic and political life of the entire Mediterranean world.

    -History seldom destroys that which does not deserve to die.

    -In Europe the Age of Faith reached its last full flower in Dante; it suffered a vital wound from Occam’s “razor” in the fourteenth century; but it lingered, ailing, till the advent of Bruno and Galileo, Descartes and Spinoza, Bacon and Hobbes; it may return if the Age of Reason achieves catastrophe.

    -Beliefs make history, especially when they are wrong; it is for errors that men have most nobly died.

    -It is discouraging to note how many things were known to the youth of our civilization, which are unknown to us today.

    -The cost of books, and the dearth of funds for schools, produced a degree of illiteracy which would have seemed shameful to ancient Greece or Rome.

    -Once again history illustrated the truism that civilized comfort attracts barbarian conquest.

    -Gaul now surpassed Italy in Roman pride, in order and wealth, in Latin poetry and prose; but in every generation it had to defend itself against Teutons whose women were more fertile than their fields.

    -The higher birth rate outside the Empire, and the higher standard of living within it, made immigration or invasion a manifest destiny for the Roman Empire then as for North America today.

    -patriotism unchecked by a higher loyalty is a tool of mass greed and crime.

    -The rise and decline of Islamic civilization is one of the major phenomena of history. For five centuries, from 700 to 1200, Islam led the world in power, order, and extent of government, in refinement of manners, in standards of living, in humane legislation and religious toleration, in literature, scholarship, science, medicine, and philosophy.

    -belief in predestination made fatalism a prominent feature in Moslem thought. It was used by Mohammed and other leaders to encourage bravery in battle, since no danger could hasten, nor any caution defer, the predestined hour of each man’s death. It gave the Moslem a dignified resignation against the hardships and necessities of life; but it conspired with other factors to produce, in later centuries, a pessimistic inertia in Arab life and thought.

    -The Koran, like the Fundamentalist forms of Christianity, seems more concerned with right belief than with good conduct; a hundred times it threatens with hell those who reject Mohammed’s appeal

    -The Jews of the Near East had welcomed the Arabs as liberators. They suffered now divers disabilities and occasional persecutions; but they stood on equal terms with Christians, were free once more to live and worship in Jerusalem, and prospered under Islam in Asia, Egypt, and Spain as never under Christian rule.

    -Property was concentrated in the hands of a few; the great gulf between rich and poor, between Christian and Jew, divided the nation into three states; and when the Arabs came, the poor and the Jews connived at the overthrow of a monarchy and a Church that had ignored their poverty or oppressed their faith.

    -Moslem civilization had proved itself superior to the Christian in refinement, comfort, education, and war.

    -The Christians of the East in general regarded Islamic rule as a lesser evil than that of the Byzantine government and church.

    -The Moslems seem to have been better gentlemen than their Christian peers; they kept their word more frequently, showed more mercy to the defeated, and were seldom guilty of such brutality as marked the Christian capture of Jerusalem in 1099.

    -Mohammedanism, like Christianity, was a developing and adjustable religion, which would have startled a reborn Mohammed or Christ.

    -Christianity sought unity through uniform belief, Judaism through uniform ritual.

    -Talmudic law, like the Mohammedan, was man-made law, and favored the male so strongly as to suggest, in the rabbis, a very terror of woman’s power.

    -“Modern” thought begins with the rationalism of Abélard, reaches its first peak in the clarity and enterprise of Thomas Aquinas, sustains a passing defeat in Duns Scotus, rises again with Occam, captures the papacy in Leo X, captures Christianity in Erasmus, laughs in Rabelais, smiles in Montaigne, runs riot in Voltaire, triumphs sardonically in Hume, and mourns its victory in Anatole France.

    -God is beyond our understanding; we can only say what He is not, not what He is; “almost everything that is said of God is unworthy, for the very reason that it is capable of being said.”

    -In an age of faith, where hardship makes life unbearable without hope, philosophy inclines to religion, uses reason to defend faith, and becomes a disguised theology.

    -More puzzling, still-filling all Augustine’s life with wonder and debate—was the problem of harmonizing the free will of man with the foreknowledge of God. If God is omniscient He sees the future in all details; since God is immutable, this picture that He has of all coming events lays upon them the necessity of occurring as He has foreseen them; they are irrevocably predestined. Then how can man be free? Must he not do what God has foreseen? And if God has foreseen all things, He has known from all eternity the final fate of every soul that He creates; why, then, should He create those that are predestined to be damned?

    -Having displaced the axis of man’s concern from this world to the next, Christianity offered supernatural explanations for historical events, and thereby passively discouraged the investigation of natural causes; many of the advances made by Greek science through seven centuries were sacrificed to the cosmology and biology of Genesis.

    -Once triumphant, the Church ceased to preach toleration; she looked with the same hostile eye upon individualism in belief as the state upon secession or revolt.

    -Feeling herself an inseparable part of the moral and political government of Europe, the Church looked upon heresy precisely as the state looked upon treason: it was an attack upon the foundations of social order.

    -To millions of souls the Church brought a faith and hope that inspired and canceled death. That faith became their most precious possession, for which they would die or kill; and on that rock of hope the Church was built.

    -the dogmatism that festers into intolerance and Inquisitions only awaits opportunity or permission to oppress, kill, ravage, and destroy.

    - A century after the death of Francis [of Assisi] his most loyal followers were burned at the stake by the Inquisition.

    -Papal bull of Nicholas III (1280): We prohibit all laymen to discuss matters of the Catholic faith; if anyone does so he shall be excommunicated.

    -Rome was the center, but hardly the model, of Latin Christianity. No city in Christendom had less respect for religion, except as a vested interest.

    -Moral education was stressed in the Middle Ages at the expense of intellectual enlightenment, as intellectual education is today stressed at the expense of moral discipline.

    -The greatest gift of medieval faith was the upholding confidence that right would win in the end, and that every seeming victory of evil would at last be sublimated in the universal triumph of the good.

    -All religions are superstitions to other faiths.

    -Intolerance is the natural concomitant of strong faith; tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty; certainty is murderous.

    -Under every system of economy men who can manage men manage men who can only manage things.

    -It is reserved to the philosopher, and forbidden to the man of action, to see elements of justice in the position of his enemy.

    -In judging the Inquisition we must see it against the background of a time accustomed to brutality. Perhaps it can be better understood by our age, which has killed more people in war, and snuffed out more innocent lives without due process of law, than all the wars and persecutions between Caesar and Napoleon.

    -these works of the thirteenth century mingled theology with science, and superstition with observation; they breathed the air of their time; and we should be chagrined if we could foresee how our own omniscience will be viewed seven centuries hence.

    -If [Dante,] a man so bitter could win a conducted tour through paradise we shall all be saved.

    -Half the terrors of the medieval soul are gathered into this gory chronicle [The Divine Comedy]. As one reads its awful pages the gruesome horror mounts, until at last the cumulative effect is oppressive and overwhelming. Not all the sins and crimes of man from nebula to nebula could match the sadistic fury of this divine revenge. Dante’s conception of hell is the crowning indecency of medieval theology.

    -Centuries of barbarism, insecurity, and war had to intervene before man could defile his God with attributes of undying vengeance and inexhaustible cruelty.

    -Taverns were numerous, ale was cheap. Beer was the regular drink of the poor, even at breakfast. Monasteries and hospitals north of the Alps were normally allowed a gallon of ale or beer per person per day.

    - The women kept the place as clean as circumstances would permit, but the busy peasants found cleanliness a nuisance, and stories told how Satan excluded serfs from hell because he could not bear their smell. Hardcover One gets the sense that Will and (Ariel Durant) have to work slightly harder to find interest in this volume - it's not the glory of ancient empires, nor the flowering of the Renaissance and Enlightenment in volumes to come. But their work pays off, and this book, running from the last pagan Roman Emperor until Dante, is a hefty cornucopia of philosophy, art, music, wars, and all the other follies of civilisation. It covers Rome's decline and fall and replacement by barbaric European tribes, the cleft of the Empire, the birth of Christianity and its ascent to become the official faith; the origins of Islam and the greatness of the Arab Golden Age, receiving classical learning and preserving and increasing it; Jewish civilisation; the social and economic conditions of the Middle Ages - feudalism, courtly love, troubadours, witch-burning, feasts and fasts; heretics, the Inquisition and the Crusades; the age of Scholastic phiosophy and Duns Scotus' eventual admission of defeat in reconciling faith with reason, and that perhaps, opening the door to the Renaissance. That last run-on sentence is very Durantian, although I haven't the same style. But what I'm trying to say is, there's far too much here to sum up in this brief review, but every page bursts with humility and humanism. Dense but compulsive reading. Hardcover This Durant volume takes the reader from the tail of the Roman Empire to the 13th century, primarily in Christendom Europe.

    In this Age when faith and orthodoxy ruled, St. Augustine was its most powerful voice Durant says. Augustine allowed earthly cities, but life there was secondary to the divine city of the one true God. Augustine gave a definitive stamp to catholic theology, Durant continues, giving it a Neoplatonic tinge. Augustine formulated the claim of the Church to supremacy over the mind and the state. That supremacy, however, had to be achieved through conflict with pagans and tribes; with Arab, Islamic, and Byzantine peoples; and with religious thinkers who strayed from orthodoxy. At the apex of the Church's standing in Latin Christianity, Pope Innocent III (1161-1216) envisioned a moral world-state.

    In this era of faith, life was stuck in time. Feudal society (freemen, serfs, slaves) was characterized by a dual loyalty, with serfs and slaves trading subjection for protection from their masters and looking to the church for comfort and salvation. Slaves were slaves because it was their nature, and women were intended to be inferior by God. Like Plato, Durant comments, the Jew thanked God that he had not been born a woman; and the woman replied humbly, 'I thank God that I was made according to His will.' Magic and superstition were everywhere; science and knowledge were subservient to religious orthodoxy and medicine was a branch of theology. Life was strict and unforgiving. It was a God-intoxicated age where Most Christians believed that all Moslems - and most Moslems...- believed that all Christians would go to hell.... Under the Inquisition, torture was used to get confessions, and wars and persecutions revealed a ferocity unknown in any beast, Durant writes. St. Francis' devotion to life and non-life was such that he hesitated to blow out a candle for fear that the fire might object to being put out. A hundred years later, his most loyal followers were burned at the stake by the Inquisition. The consecrated wafer came to contain the whole body, blood, and soul of Jesus Christ and, Durant comments, one of the oldest ceremonies of primitive religion - the eating of the god - is widely practiced and revered in European and American civilization today. Nevertheless, the church was doing its best to promote civilizing values, Durant states. It built the great cathedrals in Europe, created majestic music to fill its chambers, and served as hubs of charity and comfort for the weak and the poor.

    Even so, these civilizing values were confined by a faith-based worldview that kept man and women in their proper place. Women were seen as the favored instrument of Satan who led men to hell. At the end of this age, Thomas Aquinas, who sought to reconcile Aristotle's scientific thinking with the word of God, was the prisoner of his own religious world. 'The woman,' Aquinas wrote, 'is subject to the man on account of the weakness of her nature, both mind and body.' This is, he believed the law of nature and that law in his Aristotle-based theology was the law of God. Facing the lessons of Aristotle that were coming into Europe at the time, Aristotle could not ignore the biological nature of man. Body and soul are one, he believed, and knowledge begins with the senses as opposed to faith-based knowledge. Sense-based knowledge combines with reason to reveal God's existence and God's sole role as the creator of everything. Everything has a cause and such chains of logic can be taken all the way back to the beginning, the First Cause, that acts upon but is not acted upon. This was God.

    Aquinas' philosophy-theology was comprehensive in scale and scope. He took what he faced, the all-dominant Church on the one hand and the increasingly pervasive evidence that the world, in fact, operated by more than faith and magic, and weaved together a story that made a good deal of sense. But the tie between reason and theology was tenuous and began to fray in the centuries to come. This was to become the Renaissance, which is the subject of Durant's next volume.

    Durant's knowledge and writing is impressive. In this volume, as in his prior ones, Durant offers observations here and there about the lessons of history, believing that the best predictor of the future is who we have been in the past. Patterns repeat themselves. Civilization is a thin veneer. The brutality of the Inquisition was surpassed only by the two wars of the last century he says (the volume was written in the late 1940s). The battle for the human soul, which found a temporary resolution in Aquinas, continues. Faith-based knowledge competes with empirically based-reason and reason competes with itself. Remove God and re-substitute Platonic Forms, and Aquinas is still relevant today in some objective, non-empirical reality. Is the soul transcendent spirit, mind, or is it lodged in our body?

    Durant's histories continue to give. This very long volume was written many decades ago but, as in Volumes II and III, Durant acknowledges his role as a historian for the future as well as the past. He writes, Thank you, again, friend reader. Class act. Hardcover Western civilization is built on a lie.

    Since the enlightenment, historians and philosophers draw a line from classical culture to modern western thought, bringing ancient prestige our current culture. Histories gloss over the inconveniently barbaric and fractured times between antiquity and renaissance. Yet after the ashes of the western Roman Empire had cooled, the dark ages were when modern western culture was born.

    Faith, not philosophy, was the candle in the dark that led the frail steps of civilization; the grip of this ideology was absolute. With political power crumbling into ever smaller fiefdoms and the concomitant collapse of trade, a religion that had already spread through the causeways of the now defunct Roman empire proved to be more than a match for any competing forces of civilization. Intellectual thought was subsumed into the theological realm, political power was subservient to papal authority, and every year revolved around religious holidays. Take for example Pope Gregory, who transformed the backwater Diocese of Rome into the church that stands to this day:

    While his hand managed the scattered empire, his thoughts dwelt on the corruption of human nature the temptations of ubiquitous devils , and the approaching end of the world. He preached with power that religion of terror which was to darken men’s minds for centuries. He accepted all the miracles of popular legend, all the magical efficacy of relics images and formulas. He lived in a world haunted with angels, demons, wizards, and ghosts. All sense of a rational order in the universe had departed from him. It was a world in which science was impossible, and only a fearful faith remained. The next 7 centuries would accept this theology.

    In short Christianity absorbed, controlled, and directed the progress (or lack thereof) civilization. Nowhere else in Western history has an organization wielded so profound an influence over so many for so long. Rome lasted 480 years, the Mongol and British Empires 200 years, but the Roman Catholic empire was the dominant force in Europe from the death of Charlemagne in 814 to the death of Boniface VIII in 1303, 489 years later.

    Now, 700 years later, it only takes one look at the steepled church outside my window, my family's catholic traditions, or America’s strange relationship with truth as defined by science to reveal how western civilization was truly forged in the dark ages. Age of Faith makes little attempt to connect the history of civilization with modern times, but through providing a holistic overview the period, it describes the bloody, intolerant, and mostly unwritten birth of western civilization.

    Most of Age of Faith focuses on Christian Europe. While this focus is important for understanding ourselves, Christian Europe was a backwater at the time: the Islamic world (dar al-salaam) and Tang China were the contemporary seat of civilization. Durant ignores China, but Age of Faith’s overview provides context the near one-way flow of culture from east to west. The influence of Islam on Christendom was varied and immense: from Islam christian Europe received foods drinks drugs medicaments, armor, heraldry art motives and tastes, industrial and commercial articles and techniques, maritime codes and ways, and often the words for these things. It’s easy for a modern scholar to get swept up by availability bias, we may estimate the wealth of muslim literature in his time by noting that not 1 in 1000 volumes that he named is known to exist today. What we know of muslim thought in those centuries is a fragment of what survives, what survives is a fragment of what was produced. What appears in these pages is a morsel of a fraction of a fragment. Furthermore, Islamic empires and the rump state of Byzantium served as the buffer between Europe the apocalypses of the Mongols and Timur.

    Europe in the age of faith was a more diverse place, but the Christianity of the time was more xenophobic. In the best case were entrepots like Sicily, where all sects “[hated] one another religiously, but [lived] together with no more than a Sicilian average of passion, poetry and crime. But more representative was Byzantium, where There was something shallow about it, a veneer of aristocratic refinement covering superstition, fanaticism, and illiterate ignorance, and half the culture was devoted to perpetuating that ignorance. A series of pogroms, genocide, and atrocities led to the homogenization of Europe into the Christian faith it holds today.

    Durant makes sacrifices in covering a such a broad scope in time and geography. But a wide lens is needed to catch the tectonic interactions between cultures and peoples of the time. Of course Gibbon is better at describing Byzantine decline, Ansary is better telling the story of the Islamic golden age, and Jabari is better at deconstructing the currents of Islamic thought. But in a breath, I've described 2000 pages of reading, not all of which is even available in English. By the time gunpowder and Equinus' reason brought the middle age to a close, Europe had started to rebuild something that could be called civilization. But to understand the id of what it means to be a part of the west, put down the classics and start here with the barbaric, bloody, and benighted beginning. After all The Age of Faith may return if the age of reason achieves catastrophe.

    49th book of 2021

    Other interesting quotes

    * The Age of Faith may return if the age of reason achieves catastrophe.
    * Christian spain achieved in reconquista only because muslim spain surpassed it in fragmentation and anarchy.
    * Guilds as the precursors of special interests.
    * The inquisition postponed by three centuries the dismemberment of western Christianity.
    * Technology tends to advance, but civilizations spend most of their time in decline.
    * Jewish aristocracy in Spain: By its sense that good birth and fortune are an obligation to generosity and excellence.
    * School of oriental studies opened in 1250 by dominican monks to teach Arabic and Hebrew. Arabic studies were also prominent in Seville
    * The development of the bow began the military debacle of feudalism [...] The final blow to feudal military power would come in the 14th century in the form of gunpowder and cannon, which killed the armored knight and shattered his castle.
    * He had led reason as a captive into the citadel of faith, but in his triumph he had brought the age of faith to its end. Hardcover I picked this up thinking I ought to know more about medieval history, and now by God I know more about medieval history. Quite a lot more, really. The fact that I retain so much of such a long book says a lot about Durant's skills as a writer. I especially enjoyed his commentary and aides, though: Sweeping generalizations that, however quotable, no editor would permit today; bits of color to liven up the narrative; no attempt at an overarching thesis. Since he finished the book in 1946 I am sure that some of the scholarship is out of date, but he was quite progressive for his time, and in any case this is about broad outlines and good stories not careful interpretations. Quite enjoyable. Hardcover

    I began reading this book in January the 10th 0f 2021 and finished reading it on the 13th of April of the same year. This means that I blitzed my way through this book. For you see, this book was enormous, both in its physicality and its scope.

    There is only one book above 1000 pages of my knowledge that has FUN stamped all over it in each page, and that book, is not LoTR. LoTR doesn't count because it is not a genuinely single work.

    Back to The Age of Faith. The words in it are meant to be absorbed over a longer time than it took me. I hurried my way through it, but if it worked for The Way of Kings, it ought to be good enough for any chunky book. By the way The Way of Kings is that book that is perfect in each of its page. Until a reread dethrones it that is. Been having awful rereads recently.

    I was most interested in England, France, Ireland, Italy and the Middle East mainly. I kind of got my answer to the age old question as to why the Italians are so refined in their culture but also are so Mesozoic in some of their ways. By the way, I've followed a few recipes from top chefs based in Italy and I came away with the feeling that I was being punked. Italian cooking is marginally inferior to English cooking. Just my opinion.

    What I take from the Age of Faith is that history is different from popular culture. I was always bummed by the adage of calling our worldview theory... postmodernism. In fact we're proud of this word. This book made me realise how myopic so many current theologians, tech gurus, sociologists, historians and journalists are. News Flash people! we are never going to be postmodernists. That will happen when and only when people are enlightened enough when they expect a G7 summit gathering dress up their leaders in what I wear around the house. Boxer shorts and wife beater. Hardcover “Nothing is lost in history; sooner or later every creative idea finds opportunity and development and adds its color to the flame of life.”

    The Age of Faith, the fourth volume of The Story of Civilization, covers the Middle Ages in Europe and the Near East giving a fair and comprehensive account of the economic, political, legal, military, moral, social, religious, educational, scientific, philosophic and artistic aspects of four distinct civilizations- Byzantine, Islamic, Judaic and West European.

    “But if, thereafter, reason should fail and science should find no answers, but should multiply knowledge and power without improving conscience or purpose; if all utopias should brutally collapse in the changeless abuse of the weak by the strong; then men would understand why once their ancestors in the barbarism of those early Christian centuries, turned from science, knowledge, power and pride and took refuge for a thousand years in humble faith, hope and charity.”
    Hardcover چگونه میتوان درمورد کتابی با حجم 1050 صفحه (دست کم 2100 صفحه استاندارد) که در طول 5 سال خوانده شده، به سادگی نقد و بررسی نوشت؟ آن هم کتابی که از هر نظر برای خواننده جذاب بوده اما بخشهای بسیاری از آن (به همان دو دلیل حجم و زمان) از خاطر او رفته است

    به هر حال، من میکوشم به این پرسش اصلی که «عصر ایمان چگونه کتابی است؟» پاسخ دهم. این پاسخ دست کم سه وجه کلی خواهد داشت

    ساختار و فرم کتاب
    عصر ایمان کتابی است با دو رویکرد تو-در-تو: تاریخ کلان و تاریخ زندگینامه ای
    منظور از تاریخ کلان توجه به عناوین کلی مانند «رشد مسیحیت»، «شکل گیری اروپا»، «تمدن اسلامی» و... است که ساختار اصلی این کتاب (و باقی مجلدات تاریخ تمدن) را شکل میدهد. از این نظر کتاب از پنج بخش کلی تشکیل شده که عبارتند از: ر
    یک) اوج اعتلای بیزانس؛ در هفت فصل (140 صفحه) که از بربریت اروپا تا تمدن بیزانس و ایران را روایت میکند/ 325 تا 363 هجری قمری
    دو) تمدن اسلامی؛ در هفت فصل (190 صفحه) که از شخصیت پیامبر اسلام تا اوج اعتلای مسلمانان در عهدین اموی و عباسی و سپس تا حمله مغول که عامل اصلی انحطاط مسامین است را در بر دارد/ 53 تا 656 هجری قمری
    سه) تمدن یهودی؛ در سه فصل (70 صفحه) که از تدوین تلمود تا ماجرای یهودیان در اروپا و مواجهه یهودیت و اسلام را به قلم میکشد/ 135 تا 1300 میلادی
    چهار) عصر ظلمت؛ در پنج فصل (150 صفحه) که از زندگی اولیه اروپایی تا پیروزی مسیحیت در عصر فئودالیسم را روایت میکند/ 566 تا 1095 میلادی
    پنج) اوج مسیحیت، در 16 فصل (500 صفحه) که بار اصلی کتاب را بر دوش دارد و از جنگ های صلیبی آغاز شده و به تاریخ کلیسا، هنرهای قرون وسطایی و پایان این اعصار به عنوان سکوی پرش رنسانس میپردازد. این فصل مسئول نشان دادن درهم تنیدگی مسیحیت و تمدن اروپایی در قرون وسطاست

    همانطور که معلوم است، ساختار اصلی کتاب، تاریخ کلان یا مسئله محور است. ولی در هر بخشی دورانتها به رویکرد زندگینامه نویسی روی آورده اند که بی شک میتوان گفت شیرینی و تعلیقیه اصلی کتاب برای غیرمورخانی مثل من است
    برای من زندگی نامه اهمیت بسیاری دارد، ترکیبی از روایت تاریخی و داستانی که هم افق گشاست و هم محدودکننده خیال؛ محدودکننده به معنای بازدارنده خیال از سقوط به آنچه امثال نوسبام و مرداک نام آن را توهم گذاشته اند
    در توصیه نهایی به این نکته بر خواهم گشت

    محتوای کتاب
    انتهای کتاب حدودا 450 منبع ذکرشده که در متن به آنها ارجاع داده شده است! با این همه باز از نظر من تاریخ تمدن به شکل پژوهش تاریخی نوشته نشده و این شاید حتی حسن کتاب باشد. کتاب با ظرایف اقوال و اختلاف گزارشها پر نشده، جا به جا مولف و نظریات شخصی او حضور دارند و پرشهای جزئی به کلی و برعکس در آن بسیار است. این رویکرد خاص دورانت(ها) اثر را به نوعی روایت تاریخی خواندنی تبدیل کرده
    از نظر بیطرفی که ادعایی رنگ باخته و ناموجه است، باید گفت پیشفرضها و طرفداریهای دورانت بسیار عالمانه و پخته بود. حضور، قضاوت و احکام تاریخی او بسیار سنجیده است. او دریافته که «تاریخ جهان» جایگاهی فراتر از جایگاه معرفتی ما دارد و جهان همواره با جریانی درهم به پیش رفته است. به همین دلیل است که دورانت در مواجهه با اسلام، یهودیت و حتی بربریت همانطور حکم میدهد که درباره مسیحیت و غرب
    من البته منکر طرح جامع اروپامحور دورانت نیستم. از یک مورخ امریکایی قرن نوزدهم-بیستمی هم انتظار ندارم با نگاهی چندفرهنگ�� یا ساختارشکنانه به تاریخ نظر کند. ولی جدا از طرح کلی که ذهن مورخ را مشغول خود میکند، گزینش و نگارش جزئی او هم اهمیت دارد که از نظر من در این آزمون انصاف خود را نشان داده است
    یک نکته درباره ترجمه: ترجمه اثر در کل خوب بود اما چند مترجمی در آن کاملا مشهود بود

    جامعیت کتاب
    من داور مناسبی برای این وجه نیستم؛ به عبارت دقیقتر داور نامناسب«تر»ی برای این بخشم. اما جدای جامعیت اثر که در بخشهایی (تاریخ اقتصادی) بسیار ناقص، در بخشهایی (تاریخ هنر) معقول و در بخشهایی (تاریخ فرهنگی) بسیار مطول است، مانعیت اثر هم جای بحث دارد. کتاب بسیار بیش از آنی که منِ نوعی انتظار ��اشتم در بزنگاه هایی توقف کرده و شرح مبسوطی از روزمره یا فرهنگ و روابط خاص دوره یا گروهی داشت که خواندن اثر را بسیار دشوار میکرد. یکی از دلایلی که بجای 5 به این کتاب 4 ستاره دادم همین زیاده نویسی بود

    یک توصیه درباره کتاب
    حجب کتاب قاعدتا بیش از آنی است که بتوان آن را به کسی توصیه کرد. ولی اگر کمی به تاریخ ادیان و زندگینامه علاقه دارید، این بخشها را که از جمله درخشانترین زندگینامه های این کتاب بودند بخوانید: «آبلار و هلوئیز»، «سنت آگوستین»، «صلاح الدین ایوبی»، «قدیس برنار»، «پوستیانوس»، «هارون الرشید» و «قدیس هیرونوموس»
    همچنین اگر به تاریخ اسلام علاقمندید، فصول 10 تا 12 کتاب را بخوانید تا نگاه (احتمالی) شما به بنی امیه و بنی عباس اصلاح شده و به اهمیت باورنکردنی آنها در تمدن اسلامی پی ببرید Hardcover This book exhausted me. I'll return soon to write a review. I'm trying to read one/month until November. Got this one in under the wire for April. Hardcover Several months ago, I had a little debate with a friend of mine, who is studying history, about the Middle Ages. I was arguing, I’m sorry to say, a simplistic and stereotyped version of that period. I noted that the science of the day was almost wholly derived from Aristotle and other classical philosophers; that Galen, a Roman physician, was still considered the major authority of medicine; that philosophy was so intermingled with theology as to be wholly compromised. My friend pointed out to me that, first, to judge a different time period by the standards of one’s own is always questionable; and second, these large generalizations don’t do justice to the daily reality of the time, and that there was doubtless much variation from place to place, and from time to time.

    The debate influenced me enough to prompt me to look more closely into the period’s history. First, I made my way through the works of Augustine and Aquinas, who had long been on my to-read shelf. Meanwhile, I took a trip to the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a beautiful branch of the museum overlooking the Hudson River—constructed out of pieces of several European abbeys, transported to New York—which houses the Met’s impressive collection of medieval art. And, finally, I began on Will Durant’s Age of Faith, the massive fourth installment of his even more massive Story of Civilization, which covers the period from the death of Constantine (337) to the death of Dante Alighieri (1321).

    An enormous amount of information is packed into these pages—so much that I can’t hope to do justice to it all in this review. To a large extent, this book is of a piece with the two preceding volumes, The Life of Greece and Caesar and Christ; it differs mainly in being larger and more varied in subject matter. Durant aims to tell the story of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the resulting political chaos of Western Europe; the gradual decline and fall of the Eastern Empire and the development of Byzantine culture; the emergence of the modern political landscape from the invasions and conquests of the Middle Ages; as well as the history of the three major religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The sections on Islam and Judaism I found especially impressive. What were the Dark Ages for Western Europe was the Renaissance for the Muslim World; and Durant’s lengthy chapters on Muslim and Jewish thinkers are both admirable and inspiring. Now I am determined to at least read Moses Maimonides, Averroës, and Avicenna, to do justice to the intellectual life of this time period.

    Durant is a fine writer and an competent chronicler, but what sets him apart is his versatility. He can write ably about mythology, poetry, sculpture, architecture, commerce, philosophy, literature, religion, culture, medicine, music, art, war, language, and government. Certainly, he is by no means an expert in any of these subjects, and doesn’t pretend to be; and it is fair to say that his treatment of each tends to be superficial and cursory. But the final combination is, as the saying goes, more than the sum of its parts. What emerges is a compelling portrait of an entire era, from its trade routes to its wandering minstrels, from its superstitions to its greatest thinkers. And every ounce of his versatility is needed in these pages, for, as I soon learned, the Middle Ages were a complex and eventful time, a far cry from the sorry stereotype I had held before.

    Just last week, I found myself standing inside the Toledo Cathedral. I sat in the pews and looked up at the vaulted ceiling, which seemed supernaturally suspended above me. Every surface of the building was significant; every picture told a story, every shrine commemorated a holy event. Generations of artists had collaborated on this structure, making the final product a mix of styles across centuries; and yet every element coalesced into a nearly perfect whole. Colored light poured in through the stained glass windows high up above; voices echoed and re-echoed, seeming to descend from the ceiling in a chorus of unintelligible whispers; an intoxicating smell, I believe of frankincense, wafted over the space; and as I sat there, I found myself agreeing with Santayana, that, stripped of its pretentions to reality, the Catholic faith might be the most compelling piece of art ever made.

    Shortly after leaving the cathedral, I found myself in a museum of torture devices used in the Middle Ages. Though I’m sure the information was exaggerated to titillate the tourist, it was impossible to look upon these devices without feeling a sense of shame for all of humanity, that we could ever subject one another to these bizarre and horrid punishments—especially for something as intangible as a religious belief. (Though, to be sure, heresies were often tied to politically revolutionary movements.) The juxtaposition of these two things, the cathedral and the torture devices, summarized for me why you can’t form a verdict of an age; sublimity and barbarism so often, if not always, exist side-by-side.

    Durant does his best to do justice to this strange concatenation of cruelty and superstition, faith and reason, worldliness and otherworldliness; and I’m happy to say that he mostly succeeds. He does, however, have his faults. For one, although he is versatile in subject matter, he is not a flexible writer. His style becomes somewhat monotonous as it roles on; and by this, the fourth volume, the reader is familiar with all of Durant’s favorite turns of phrase and rhetorical devices—though admittedly when one writes as much as Durant, it is forgivable to run out of tricks. Durant is also unfortunately fond of superlatives; these pages are filled with the words “most” and “best”—to the extent that it all becomes rather meaningless. Added to this is his penchant for broad, unsustainable stereotypes. For example, he persistently characterizes the French as clear writers and logical thinkers—which any reader of Foucault and Bourdieu knows to be claptrap.

    But what really separates Durant from true greatness is his lack of depth, rigor, and originality. His analyses of history are superficial; his writing style is adapted from Gibbon, though considerably watered down; his explanations of scientific theories and philosophical ideas are often sketchy; and no idea in this volume can be said to originate with Durant. He is not a historian, nor is he a philosopher; rather, Durant is a popularizer. Durant frankly writes for a middlebrow audience, perhaps the same audience who subscribed to the Book of the Month Club and brought Mortimer Adler and his Great Books of the Western World to fame. In the U.S. in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, apparently, there was a widespread hunger among the middle class for classical learning; and in that light, Durant’s Story of Civilization can be seen as remedial education for bourgeois Americans with highbrow aspirations. After all, a blue-blooded member of the intelligentsia would hardly have need for these volumes.

    But fortunately for Durant, if he is a popularizer, he is an exceedingly good one—perhaps one of the best. And being myself a member of the uncultured American middle class, this remedial education in European history and culture is much appreciated. Thus I have nothing but gratitude for his diligence, and a deep respect for his capacious and genial mind. Hardcover