History of Christianity 3: Medieval Christianity

In this week’s History of Christianity video, I cover 1000 years in 20 minutes! Insane! And I have a handout this week: Medieval christianity handout

Recommended Readings

If this were a university course, I would assign the following online readings.

Medieval Sources

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, 1.25-26 (Augustine), 4.27-29 (Cuthbert)

The Inscription from the Xi’an Stele

The Assisi Compilation, ch 34: St Francis gives away his cloak

Modern Studies

R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages, pp. 214-239, 272-299 -Available at openlibrary.org


Medieval Sources

Adomnán of Iona. Life of Saint Columba.

Bede. Life and Miracles of St Cuthbert.

Life of St John the Almsgiver. From Three Byzantine Saints: Contemporary Biographies of St. Daniel the Stylite, St. Theodore of Sykeon and St. John the Almsgiver, trans. Elizabeth Dawes, and introductions and notes by Norman H. Baynes, (London: 1948).

Thomas of Celano. First Life of St Francis of Assisi.

Turgot of St Andrews. Life of St Margaret.

Modern Sources

Armstrong, Chris R. Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians. Baker Publishing, 2016. Available on Scribd with a subscription.

Cameron, Averil. Byzantine Christianity: A Very Short History. London, 2017. Available on Scribd with subscription.

Farmer, David. The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. 5th edn. Oxford, 2011. (I used this for St Kilian/Killian/Cillian and Alexander Nevsky; it’s a tremendous resource with proper bibliography for each entry.)

Jenkins, J. Philip. The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and How It Died. 2008. Available on Scribd with subscription. Available on openlibrary.org

Markides, Kyriacos C. The Mountain of Silence. New York, 2001. -Available on openlibrary.org

The Twelfth Day of Christmas: St Francis and the Manger

A beloved Christmas tradition in many places is the staging of a living nativity. This practice seems to go back to 1223 when St Francis, out of a desire to see and experience in a tangible way the poverty and suffering that Our Lord entered into at His birth in the flesh, staged one.

The tale is recorded in Thomas of Celano’s First Life (read it here), where Thomas adds vividness to the telling through his use of the historic present. Most translations fail to do this, but the one in my students’ course reader this past term maintained the original tense, which adds to the intensity of the events.

At St. Francis’ bidding, using a real stable with real animals, they staged a Nativity scene. The above-cited translation says of the event, ‘There Simplicity was honored, Poverty exalted, Humility commended; and of Greccio there was made as it were a new Bethlehem.’ These are the virtues of Francis — Simplicity, Poverty, Humility. They are, to use Franciscan terms, Evangelical virtues. They are the virtues Our God espoused when he was born amongst us as a child.

They then, it seems, celebrated the Eucharist, Francis serving in his liturgical role as deacon. Holy Communion is both the typical and highest form of Christian worship. Furthermore, celebrating it at Christmas ties Jesus’ birth to His death and resurrection — highlighting the redemptive nature of the entire Incarnation.

On this Twelfth Day of Christmas, may Jesus fill your hearts with love and light, becoming real to you as He was to Francis.