Episode 71

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Peak Crusades, Peak Middle Ages, Peak Mongols

I'm backtracking to 1190. I think you can call that “Peak Crusades.”

You had the first crusade, which was pretty successful. They took Jerusalem and held it for nearly 100 years. The second crusade was basically a bust.

And then came the third crusade, in 1190. This was a massive crusade of the three kings: Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Empire. There was also Phillip II, the Capetian king of France, who wasn't worth much on the Crusade, but he went back to France and established the Capetians as the first great monarchy family in France. And Richard I, the Lion Heart, King of England, who so impressed that fourth great king of this crusade: Saladin, the great and noble Muslim leader who retook Jerusalem in 1187, prompting the third crusade.

So, etch 1190 in your head. It fixes you at Peak Crusades, plus it gives you a reference when you hear about “Richard the Lion Heart” or “Barbarossa.”

It also gives you an historical reference point for Robin Hood. When Richard was returning from the third crusade (which failed to take Jerusalem, incidentally, but had some success in other areas), he was shipwrecked and subsequently captured by Leopold of Austria, whom he had insulted during the crusades (basically, making sure everyone knew Leopold wasn't as great as Richard, Phillip, and Frederick). Leopold held him captive and asked for a large ransom. Some believe Richard's brother, John, set about to raise the money, taxing the people heavily, and it was in this heavy taxation environment that Robin Hood first appeared. And if Robin Hood wasn't on the scene at this time, and if he existed at all, he would appear shortly after 1200, because Richard died in 1199 and John went on the throne. He was a bad ruler, though some historians say his badness was greatly overblown. But it was under him that the Robin Hood thrived because everyone hated the king, and it was from him that nobles forced the Magna Carta. 1215.

So, if you etch 1200ISH into your head, you can use that post to give you a general reference point for all sorts of things, from Peak Crusades to Robin Hood to the Magna Carta to the rise of the first great French monarchy.

1200 is also Peak Middle Ages. Europe had so much relative stability, it was launching huge crusades. The great universities were being established. Learning and letters were everywhere. As people can live beyond subsistence, they can turn their minds to better things. Ironically, the ability to live beyond subsistence allows the existence of people who voluntarily live at subsistence, like Francis and Dominic. They could be beggar monks because most people have more than they need for the next couple of days and would share.

By 1200, European wealth and culture had hits stride, a stride that would continue until WWI, at which time Europeans would adopt a death wish mentality that we see to this day in the European Union, which has some sort of collective guilt for Europe's offensive ways, from the Crusades to the Age of Discovery and then Colonization, and now wants to kill Christian Europe in the name of multi-culturalism, a kind of guilt suicide. But it was a stride that lasted for nearly 1,000 years, having started in 1000 AD, as pointed out in the last podcast.

And it was into this milieu that St. Thomas Aquinas was born. In 1225.

In his 2007 book, A Secular Age, philosopher Charles Taylor discusses the problem of religion in modernity . . . Or postmodernity. In today's world, it's hard to believe, to have faith. The world, the culture, the conversation, are secular.

On top of that, our culture is increasingly anti-western culture and everything that comes from it, from Greek philosophy to Judeo-Christian tradition. Flip that 180 degrees in 1225. The Judeo-Christian tradition was, well, IT. You wouldn't be aware of a Judeo-Christian tradition any more than a fish is aware of the water it swims in, and the specific form of that Judeo-Christian tradition, Catholicism, was everywhere. Saints were loved; Scholastic philosophers applauded . . . And funded and encouraged. Into this milieu stepped Thomas Aquinas, widely considered one of the greatest minds of all time. Even non-Catholics, heck even anti-Catholics, put him in their top ten of all time.

And that's all I'm going to say about him. I'm just mentioning him to give you an historical reference point: 1274. The year Thomas Aquinas died. That was Peak Middle Ages. After him, the Middle Ages started to decline, but I'd put 1274 in your mental databank. So, Peak Crusades: 1190. Peak Middle Ages: 1274.

Peak Downs Syndrome: 1241. At least as far as Western civilization is concerned. That was the peak advance of the Mongols, devastating the eastern Islamic regions and China around the same time. This was by far the greatest of the Steppe peoples to invade the civilized east (China) and west (Europe). It's really quite amazing, the sheer quantity of land they subjugated, from Korea to eastern Hungary. They devastated Russian and held it captive for over 200 years.

Eric Scheske

Eric Scheske