Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Butterfly Effect: The Myth of the Dark Ages

[ NOTE:  This talk was delivered at a monthly meeting of "The Butterfly Effect," a gathering sponsored by

 Video of the session may be found at the website there.

 The video referred to below is from the Acton Institute, third in their series, "The Birth of Freedom" entitled "The Myth of the Dark Ages" ]


First, I want to say thank you to Randy and Dan, to Fr. Theron and all the others who so faithfully have worked to bring together this forum, for reflection and action together as people of faith and conviction.

I want to begin with a prayer this morning by George Washington, from the flyleaf of a current copy of the 1599 Geneva Bible:

O eternal and everlasting God, I presume to present myself this morning before thy Divine majesty, beseeching thee to accept of my humble and hearty thanks, that it hath pleased thy great goodness to keep and preserve me the night past from all the dangers poor mortals are subject to, and has given me sweet and pleasant sleep, whereby I find my body refreshed and comforted for performing the duties of this day, in which I beseech thee to defend me from all perils of body and soul.

Direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the lamb, and purge my heart by thy Holy Spirit, from the dross of my natural corruption, that I may with more freedom of mind and liberty of will serve thee, the ever lasting God, in righteousness and holiness this day, and all the days of my life.
Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the Gospel. Give me repentance from dead works. Pardon my wanderings, & direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation. Teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments. Make me always watchful over my heart, that neither the terrors of conscience, the loathing of holy duties, the love of sin, nor an unwillingness to depart this life, may cast me into a spiritual slumber. But daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life. Bless my family, friends & kindred unite us all in praising & glorifying thee in all our works begun, continued, and ended, when we shall come to make our last account before thee blessed Saviour, who hath taught us thus to pray, our Father...



The video this morning has jarred us a bit to reconsider the actual fruit of the Middle ages, the so called, "Dark Ages."  Popular history pins a kind of dark veil over this period, looking at its excesses and aberrations, not its accomplishments, its inventions or its progress.

In the broad strokes of human history, the Middle Ages was a time of reconstruction, roughly from the fall of Rome in 500 to the Printing Press in the early 1400's.  It was at the end of these 'Dark Ages' that you had such things as the Chart of Liberties and the Magna Carta, which prefigure our own Constitution and Bill of Rights here in America!

But these documents rose, not out of thin air, but out of the cultivation of individual freedoms, property ownership and rights, rights of inheritance, and merchant craft that rose during the Middle Ages.  "Free enterprise" has its roots in the Christian notions of property ownership, of our stewardship of God's gifts, and in the very concept of the "Imago Dei," the image of God that is in us by virtue of creation.

It is these concepts that began to take root in the post-Roman world and to slowly change the ways things had been done for millennia before that.  The value of the individual before God arises out of a proper creation theology, and leads us to the "inalienable rights" enumerated in our own documents, of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

One of the statements from the video that captured me was the comment by Fr. Robert about the "Christian notion" of the Incarnation.  In his gospel John says of Jesus, that "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us."  

What was happening during the Middle or Dark Ages was this process of enfleshment or incarnation.The principles of God's Word were sinking into the soil of the culture of Europe in the post-Roman world, growing and bearing fruit.  Principles like God is creator of all, and God created it all "good."If we look at Genesis 1 it is plain what God thinks of His creation!  As that sunk in to the soil of the culture, it began to bear the fruit of art and architecture, in the medieval buildings and great cathedrals of the Middle Ages.

The music of the Middle Ages for the monastic and later, cathedral settings, was polyphonic music, known as "organum". What started as chant for the Psalms, later developed into the "Organ" music of Mozart and Bach, but the groundwork was done in the Middle Ages, as people sought to worship God acceptably and with greater and greater beauty.

The principle of creation also extended, as we heard in the video, to the sciences.  From mathematics to astronomy, from banking to farming and metallurgy, the principle of creation took root and came to fruit in the work-a-day life of the Middle Ages.  This was the INCARNATION of the gospel into the culture!  It was the Church being salt and light - effecting the culture around them.  Doing what the Church is supposed to be doing.

Another concept that was sinking in, along with a creation theology is the concept of the Imago Dei, 'the Image of God.'  The idea that man is more than just another animal - that mankind reflects the image of the creator and as such can be - indeed, should be creators in our own right.  We were beginning to see in creation an order that was perceptible - something that could be studied and that, when studied, would yield knowledge about the world, and knowledge about the Creator of that world.

The Psalmist David said it best:  Psalm 19:1-4

"The heavens proclaim the glory of God.  The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day the continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world."

Paul, the Apostle, echoes this in his letter to the Romans:
Romans 1: 19-20

"They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature.  So they have no excuse for not knowing God."

As we wind down this morning I just want to make an application and a couple of recommendations.

1.  I want to challenge us today to be the kind of people as Christians who INCARNATE the Gospel in our culture.  How can you and I be the good news of Jesus Christ with skin on?  How can we BE the gospel of Freedom in and through Jesus Christ?    

      A.  Recommendation one:   Hold every individual you meet as sacred.  Now I have to say that that's easier with some than with others - and sometimes you have to stare to see the image of God - sometimes long and hard.

But I like what C.S. Lewis said one time:
"There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat!  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors."

        B.  Recommendation two:  Be a seeker of Truth!  Jesus was big on truth.  In fact he claimed to be The Truth - and he went on to say that, "if you obey what I say, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  Freedom, friends, is grounded in truth.  We can never be truly free and be slaves to falsehood and lies.

 Commit yourself as one who is to INCARNATE the Word of God - the life of God and the love of Jesus, to be a seeker of Truth - the Person first, Jesus who is The Truth and then the actuality, lived out in every day life.

Listen for a moment to a passage from Isaiah 58, verses 6-12, from Gene Peterson's paraphrase, the Message:

6-9 “This is the kind of fast day I’m after:    
to break the chains of injustice,   
 get rid of exploitation in the workplace,    
free the oppressed,    
cancel debts.

What I’m interested in seeing you do is:    
sharing your food with the hungry,    
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,    
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,   
 being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on,   
 and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.    
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.   
 You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places

9-12 “If you get rid of unfair practices, 
   quit blaming victims, 
   quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry    
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,    
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.    
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—   
 firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,   
 a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,    
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,   
 restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,    
make the community livable again.

Friends, the fact is that the Church and the political system are really close together in what they desire for culture.  We get to that place by being people who INCARNATE the good news of Jesus, His love and compassion, His gift of himself to us and to the world.  Our cultural responsibility to Freedom is met in the consistent actions of loving people and seeking Truth, in every circumstance.

Let's pray for a moment:

God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ;  grant us grace so to live in this society and culture that we are examples of your love and ambassadors of your Kingdom, living in such a way as to bring Heaven to earth and to do your will in all we do and say, through Christ's name and by the power of your Holy Spirit.

Amen and amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment