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The Middle Ages: The Approach to the Truce of God

The Middle Ages: The Approach to the Truce of God

By William Ward Watkin

The Rice Institute Pamphlet, Volume 29, Number 4 (1942)

Introduction: The one thousand years from Constantine’s reign until the close of the Hundred Years’ War records the decline of the nationalism of Rome, and the rise of Christian Civilization throughout Western Europe, and finally the return to nationalism. This long period of history cannot be represented as a period of peace but as one seeking peace, seeking limitation as to just cause in war and, with it, limitation consistent with the just peace.

The races of Western Europe were as diverse as they are today. They were as vigorous. Their primitive instincts for war had by no means disappeared. Their militant claim for justice and right was never silent. It was persistent. Feudal society sought to create order but often failed within itself. Still the story is one of creative and courageous continuity. When the invaders from beyond the Alps had been held in check, and the Saracens’ thrust driven back to southern Spain and to Africa, there prevailed probably the longest period of continued progress, invention, and development our history reveals.

From the beginning of the ninth century well on to the close of the fourteenth century, Christian civilization with its architecture and its art came into completeness, slowly, steadily, and surely. Increasing because of like understanding of values and undertakings common to all the people, it grew up in many regions separate and remote from each other. Each region had its local nature, but an all-pervading clarity of purpose gave to each a similar directness. As one innovation, expressing form more beautifully or function more correctly, was completed in one region, it soon became inspiration to another region. They interacted by their creative suggestion, one upon another, bringing new advances constantly into the architecture of the early Middle Ages. With them came the enthusiasm which noble work engenders, an enthusiasm which extended throughout all Western Europe through the twelfth century and continued on to culminate in the glories of the Gothic of the thirteenth century.

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