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Western Civilisation

Until the advent of materialism and 19th c. dogma, Western Civilisation was  superior to anything Islam had developed.  Islam has not aided in the development of the modern world; in fact civilisation has only been created in spite of Islam.  Proof of this resides in the 'modern' world and the unending political-economic and spiritual poverty of Muslim states and regions.  Squatting on richer civilisations is not 'progress'.  Islam is pagan, totalitarian, and irrational.   

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Sunday, November 20, 2022

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Christian Monks saving and building Civilisation

How many are thankful?

by Ferdinand III

 "VILLAGE ENTRANCE WITH WINDMILL", by Jan Brueghel the Elder ...

(Jan Brueghel the Elder, Village with a Windmill)

Today, Priests and Monks are vilified en-masse by the anti-Christian media and tech platforms.  Criticism and exaggeration of real and quite criminal child sexual assaults and abuse abound.  There is no end of print or investigative reports on the issue.  Yet child abuse in public schools has been confirmed to run at 100x the level of that of the Priestly abuse of children.  There is no media or platform noise about this because such a fact does not sell copies or act as edible and enticing click bait.

In spite of the modern stigmatisation of monks and priests it is fair to say as many historians have detailed, that the monks saved civilisation.  How many ‘secular’ self-proclaimed ‘critical thinkers’ know this?  At the very least the obvious reality is that the monks in total, were indispensable to the forward march of Western civilisational development.  How many today feel any gratitude for the great works, past and present of the monks and priests?  Very few even know about the inheritors of Saint Paul of Thebes and Saint Anthony of Egypt (mid third century A.D), whose asceticism inspired the creation of monasteries, or groups of celibate men seeking the kingdom of Christ and developing the innovations which propelled Western Europe to an apex of achievement.

Cenobitic monasticism, or communal monasticism, was a reaction in part to the solitary existence of hermits, with a commitment to develop a community of faithful, educated and labouring men.  Eastern Christian monasticism developed earlier than the Western version, with Saint Benedict in the 6th century establishing 12 small communities of monk at Subiaco about 38 miles from Rome, before creating Monte Cassino, on the road between Rome and Naples around 529 A.D.  The famous rule of St. Benedict which informed all later monastic orders, and their behaviour was instituted first at Monte Cassino.  

St Benedict’s rule was moderate, common sensical, and structured, providing a template which was reused throughout Europe.  Monks were to receive adequate sleep and food, with a material existence not far from that of a typical peasant.  Education and work were expected to be undertaken in addition to prayers and religious obligations.  All men were treated equally regardless of status or wealth.  Monte Cassino itself was a miracle, sacked by pagan Lombards in 589, the Muslims in 884, the French in 1799, the shelling of World War II, it was always rebuilt and improved. 

The Benedictine order, from its founding in about 520 A.D, over the 900 years during the medieval era, provided 24 Popes, 200 cardinals, 7,000 archbishops, 15,000 bishops, and 1,500 canonised saints.  At its apogee of power, there were 37,000 monasteries.  The order attracted some 20 emperors, 10 empresses, forty-seven kings, and fifty queens.  The spiritual and humble life of the penitent monk thus enticed many of the elite within Europe.

Many know of the monk’s key role in preserving literature and texts within the monastical scriptoria.  Less known, is the practical arts pursued by monks which changed civilisation.  Agriculture is one example.  The agricultural restoration of Europe from end to end, was a monkish endeavour. 

Inter-alia the monastic orders converted unusable land into agriculture, drained marshes and created farms, pumped out water along the coast line using advanced wind mill technology and built dikes, engaged in advanced breeding of cattle and other livestock, replaced the ox with the horse, developed three and four field crop rotation, built an illimitable number of water mills for grinding and various manufacturing processes, brewed beer, discovered distilleries, improved viniculture, invented fish farming, redirected water flows to feed into cities and villages, taught the peasantry about irrigation and soil management, and developed any number of tools and machines for the farm.  The entire county of Yorkshire England owes its medieval prosperity to the Cistercian monks (order established in 1098), who utterly transformed the land there and brought a once moribund and devastated area into the monk-inspired extended trade routes and prosperity of the Middle Ages (the Normans slaughtered some 100.000 people in the 1070s and 80s and it took a century or more to recover).  This is but one example within the width and breadth of Europe that could be pointed out.

The monks-built watermills which transformed local industry.  Waterpower was used for crushing wheat, sieving flour, fulling cloth and tanning.  Jean Gimpel, always a great read on medieval history, reports that the 742 Cistercian abbeys throughout Europe, all possessed advanced technology.  The same level of technological sophistication within this network would have been prevalent across the various sites.  742 is a dense network of ‘factories’ which is what a medieval monastery became.  The increase in farming, industry and trade, naturally attracted villages, and necessitated the building of roads, bridges and social infrastructure.  This mass industrialisation was not seen in the ancient, pagan world.  This fact is curiously omitted by the deep admirers of ‘classical history’.  They seem to believe that they would be the toga-wearing elite, discussing stoicism, when in fact, 90% of the population led rudimentary, poor lives, untouched by mechanised appliances as developed during the medieval era.

Jean Gimpel writes in the ‘The Medieval Machine’ about the heavy pestles, the fullers’ great hammers, the spares, the plugs, the winches, the ropes, and the replacement by mechanisation of expensive horse labour.  The shafts spun by wheels, the use of automation to tan and make shoes and clothes, the grinding of grain, the endless usages of the machines to cook, sieve, turn, or wash.  It was a symphony of complex technology that is often disregarded by those who worship the ‘classical era’. 

The Cistercians and other monkish orders were also famous for their metallurgy.  Every monastery had a factory where waterpower drove the creation of complex agricultural implements.  Iron ore deposits were used for forge iron tools.  Blast furnaces were first developed by Christian monks.  For over 400 years, from the 14th to 18th centuries, the Cistercians were the leading iron manufacturers in Europe.  They even used the slag from the furnaces as fertiliser for their fields due to the concentration of phosphates.  The mining of salt, lead, alum and gypsum were all enhanced and lead by monasteries.  This metallurgical skill extended to cutlery, glass works, and metal plating. 

The monks experimented with flying, with a monk in the early 1000’s attempting a glider flight which lasted more than 600 feet.  A Jesuit priest, Father Lana-Terzi was the first to discuss the geometry and physics of a flying machine in his 1670 book, Prodomo alla Arte Maestra.  Clock making was a renowned skill of the monks, including the first clock built in 996 AD or so by the future Pope Sylvester for Madgeburg.  In the 1300s a 14th century monk at Glastonbury built a mechanical clock which now sits in the London Science Museum.  Richard of Wallingford, an abbot at a Benedictine monastery, built a mechanical tower clock at Saint Albans in the 14th century as well. 

The technological innovations of the monks are simply astounding.  Yet that is only a part of the story.  The monasteries provided hospitals, hospices and inns for travellers, built and sustain local parish churches, gave great quantities of food, aid and money to the poor, built lighthouses to protect sailors, copied enormous quantities of pagan and Christian literature, established schools and constructed the first universities based on a combination of pagan learning, mathematics, rhetoric, natural science, logic and theology.  There survive extant copies of school exercises in which students are challenged to understand Cicero, Horace, Juvenal, Persius, Seneca, Terence and others. 

The contribution of the monks to civilisation is without parallel or imitation in history.  Across every aspect of life, the material, the spiritual, the practical, the intellectual, the monks dominated European civilisation.  Saint Benedict is rightly viewed as the ‘Father of Europe’.  Without the monks, it is quite likely that civilisation would have failed, and a true Dark Age, imitating that of the ancient Greek Dark Ages, would have emerged.


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