Omnibus: Medieval World – World of Everyman

John of Paris’ On Papal Power

The investiture controversy dominates the medieval landscape, but there were “heretics” within the Church (Dante among them), who believed that the priestly task of the emperor & the king was inalienable, & argued against the Papacy arrogating to itself the supreme degree of power which it assumed after Gregory clashed with the German emperor. This is a good introduction to the secular vs. sacred debate.

Ernst Kantorowicz’ The Sacred Body of the King

Perhaps one of the hardest texts we cover here at Argus & Phoenix, it is nevertheless crammed full with more information about medieval monarchical theory than you can find anywhere else in one volume. The footnotes and the terminology, alone, is worth the price of the book. You have to understand the idea of federal headship summed up in a supreme monarch, if you are to appreciate any part of the medieval polity (not to mention the plays of Shakespeare).

Froissart’s Chronicles

This man chronicled (among other things) the saga of the Hundred Years War, the “World War” of the medieval period, which lead to the rivalries which persisted over Empire, down to the time of colonial America. Very readable.

Galbert of Bruges, The Murder of Sir Charles the Good

A fascinating look at what “devolved” local power means, in terms of petty warfare, plotting, and brigandage. Also, a chance to enter into the mind of the medieval “King’s man”, the Everyman who stood for God & King & local liberty.

Einhard’s Charlemagne

This is the definitive medieval biography, the friendly chronicle of the court of Charlemagne, creator of the Western Holy Roman Empire.

GK Chesterton’s Chaucer

Chesterton’s impressionistic, virtuoso sampling of the medieval mind, as exemplified in the poet Chaucer, who helped to forge a fluid, beautiful English prose style. If we have time, we will be reading portions of the Canterbury Tales to accompany this.

Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution

As in all the omnibus classes, we read portions of this text which correspond to the time period involved. Huessy has a very interesting and impressive point of view on the Guelph-Ghibelline (Investiture) controversy, which exercised most medieval minds of the time. Arguably, this tension leads to the schism of Henry VIII & the rise of Protestantism.

As you can see from the selection, we mix a strong dose of chronicles, with one or two theoretical medieval texts, combined with two retrospective surveys. Since we aim to not only confer a more traditional, classical education on the student, but to also imbue some level of specifically preparatory collegiate studies, we include at least one Christian apologetics course & one college-level text (Kantorowicz). Students, if guided in age-appropriate material, by a competent instructor, will respond to occasional challenging texts by rising to a higher plane, & we intend to stretch their minds with difficult texts. When introducing the periodic table (for instance) of elements, one combines very basic material on simple combinations (CO2, etc.) with more advanced concepts (such as electron shells and orbitals). If the instructor does this correctly, coaching and coaxing, & letting some material be extra to the class as advanced concepts, the student is stretched without too much stress, and is acclimatized to difficult work. It is analogous to practicing pool on a snooker table: when they move the pool table, it seems ridiculously easy. Students are like plants, which have to be sheltered (mostly), but are periodically “hardened off” by being exposed to mild cold temperatures and the outdoor elements. When the student arrives in the college setting (or the work setting), their eyes will not glaze over when the “jump” to difficult work is expected. Most American schools take a gradualistic approach which is designed for overt (and over) specialization in a tiny fragment of knowledge. Mind-numbingly basic concepts are trudged over and over, & then suddenly, the student is thrown in the deep end, to see which brand of specialization is their “cup of tea”. The classical approach is (or should be) diametrically opposed to this. Instead, the student given tasks “around the farm” they can understand and perform competently, & then they are taken on tours to the more interesting & difficult corners of the manor. This allows them to locate themselves against the backdrop of the goal (climbing Parnassus) without squelching their enthusiasm. So, yes, we do cover extraordinarily complex texts, but they are meant to sketch the horizons of the easier work, as well as to give students a chance to “level up” quickly if they have superior aptitude and drive. The slower learners, on the other hand, gain the confidence that what they are working on is actually easier than they think. I follow Dr. Michael Bauman’s method: give them quizzes on the basic content of a foundational text (in this case, the chronicles/history of the period), but lecture and tour more complex work routinely. This builds confidence. If a violin apprentice has to play Twinkle Twinkle until it is perfect, they will never have the desire to progress further, because it will become odious. You continue to drill them on Twinkle, Twinkle (because in some sense, you never really leave the fundamentals), but you lead them down old paths and show them new things, so that the vision and desire to learn is nurtured.

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