If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s a detailed, intriguing thriller set in 1327, about a series of gruesome murders in a Benedictine monastery, and the Sherlock Holmes-esque efforts of an English Franciscan monk to solve the case before the Inquisition takes over and starts burning random people.
The historical detail is dazzling, as would be expected from a scholar like Umberto Eco (the author, by the way), and I doubt there are any modern writers who could match it for plot, character development, intricacy, storyline, description, setting and suspense. And that’s including JK “I made millions with bedtime stories” Rowling.
But what really hit me this time was the concerns that the theologians of the time had. Even to someone who knows nothing about Church history, this period will appear pretty much as it was: Insane.
It was a time when over three quarters of Europe lived in squalid poverty, while many who professed to be men of God sat in golden thrones, growing fat on the taxes of the ignorant masses who hoped to gain access into heaven by donating what little they had to the Church. It was a time when the Christian faith had become so infiltrated by traditions and politics and bad blood, that it resembled nothing of what it should be. And every now and again, someone would speak openly against the injustice of the Church and the rich and before you knew it, you had massive uprisings, revolutions, the poor slaughtering the rich and the rich slaughtering the poor.
In fact, it was a mess. Crime, disease, depravity, corruption and those who should be helping just made things worse. Lack of education was punished as a crime; higher education was punished as heresy. Mental disorders were treated as demonic posession; sickness as witchcraft; poverty as God’s judgement.
(Of course, these things don’t happen anymore. The world is so much better now.)
And in the midst of all this raged fierce arguments of minute and obscure theological issues that seem all the more idiotic in hindsight. Not that they were all insiginificant. Not that there were no examples to follow. Not that we shouldn’t be thankful for the Wise of the time who battled to keep what they could from deteriorating into chaos. But for the biggest part, I believe that what called itself the Church back then was nowhere near worthy of the title, both in terms of theology and of practice.
Ok ok, stop yawning. I just thought I’d up the culture factor a little. Not only because I’m so fascinated by that particular era, but because it is a sad fact that the blindness and stupidity that plagued the world back then is still here today.
A hippy scientist I worked with asked me once: “[Dude] Why do you waste your time with the things of the past?” And I said, “Because they teach me the things of today.”
… nomina nuda tenemus.