by Jamie Blosser, Our Sunday Visitor, £15
Jamie Blosser does not advocate “misty-eyed nostalgia” for medieval Christendom and acknowledges that it could be “just as sin-infected and scandal-ridden as the Church in our own day”. He firmly believes, however, that the era also provided “a good deal of authentic, Bible-believing, Jesus-centred, morally pure Christianity”.
Blosser proves his point through a broad sampling of texts by the luminaries who typically feature in such compendia: Alcuin and Boethius, Bernard of Clairvaux and Aquinas, Bonaventure and Meister Eckhart. It is refreshing, though, to see the inclusion of some figures from further east, including St John Damascene and Gregory Palamas.
The poignant story of St Maximus the Confessor (580-662) also takes centre stage, where “accusations, threats, and conspiracy chased him across three continents, culminating in one of the most gruesome fates imaginable for a man who wanted only to be left alone in contemplation of the God he loved.” An ardent defender of the idea that Christ possessed both human and divine wills, Maximus would have his hand cut off and his tongue removed by order of a Byzantine emperor.
Blosser’s subtitle promises to portray “The Surprising, Dynamic, Heroic Church of the Middle Ages”, and readers are introduced to many of the era’s main doctrinal squabbles and devotional trends. Sections on missionaries, monks, martyrs and mystics neatly organise the cast of characters and Blosser hopes that the period still has some lessons to teach.
“Medieval Christendom can’t be rebuilt,” he writes, “and probably shouldn’t be even if it could.” But Blosser urges readers to rediscover some of its “timeless values and beliefs”. Human dignity, respect for God’s Creation and a desire for justice head his wish list.
At the very least, this handy little book demonstrates that we should not caricature the Middle Ages as a time of ignorance and corruption.
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