Christianity has been criticized as being outdated and out of touch with today’s world. Historians argue that the Church’s heyday may have been during the Middle Ages, before the Protestant Reformation. In those Dark times, life was a challenging routine that was centered on hard work in an agrarian economy. Because of disease, famine, and generally poor hygiene, one’s life expectancy was short and fleeting. A band of marauders might sweep through an unsuspecting village at any time, bringing mayhem and murder. Death was a daily companion.
Here is a website that paints a detailed picture of those times: Medieval Life
In the midst of this insecure world stood Jesus Christ, around whom the calendar was recalibrated to reflect his centrality in human history. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-11).
Or, as Saint Irenaeus expressed it, “God became human so that humans could become like God.”
Christianity was a haven for the medieval person. Sundays offered rest from the drudgery of work. Holy days brought celebrations and festivals. Christ’s suffering and cross gave meaning to the ills and uncertainties of life. His resurrection gave hope and strength when friends and family were dying — or when one was personally at death’s door.
Those were simpler times, but one did not need education to enter into the mysteries of the Incarnation or the Trinity. The great stories of faith were celebrated year after year at liturgy and became interiorized in the medieval soul. And in the Eucharist, one had intimate union with Christ himself.
Of course, there was much disparity in lifestyle between serf and feudal lord, between the faithful and the clerics on the altar. Nevertheless, Christianity offered a spark of hope that could lift up a believer from the trials and misery of everyday life.
In our time, we have seen how modern science and medical advances have pushed us forward in ways the people of the Middle Ages could not even imagine. Life expectancy has increased with each passing generation, from 30 years in the medieval world to 80-plus in the 21st century. Many of the plagues and diseases that wiped out whole populations are now eradicated. In countries with a system of law and order, anarchy no longer reigns. Democracy has empowered the people to take ownership of the policies that govern their lives. At least in the First World, common folks have access to a wealth and lifestyle that would make them seem like lords to the medieval serfs.
In short, we no longer have to die to experience “heaven.” Have modern times rendered Christianity obsolete?
Such is the fallacy of the modern rationalist. While it is true that, for the most part, we no longer fear hunger or disease or anarchy, we nevertheless are still marching toward death, no matter how long we stretch out our life expectancy. We can be struck unexpectedly by cancer, ALS, or any number of debilitating illnesses. Accidents and natural disasters do happen. As anyone who travels by plane can attest, the threat of terrorism looms. Most glaringly, not everyone is fortunate enough to live in the First World. For a multitude of people, poverty, backbreaking work and oppressive governments force them to still live the medieval lifestyle.
The temptation of today is to become deluded into thinking that we have already become like God and are now in absolute control of our destiny. We’re not. I believe faith can give us the perspective to avoid that delusion. But we have to take care to not filter Christianity through the lens of political ideology. As Saint Paul says: “We preach Christ crucified — a stumbling block for Jews and utter foolishness to the Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23)
If we’re going to be Christian, let our focus be on Christ. His teaching transcends cultures and historical eras, helps us cope with the uncertainties of life no matter where we live and, for those who believe, offers the gateway to eternal life.+ + +
"Come, Let Us Go Before God" is a song from my recent DOXOLOGY album. With a medieval-style melody that shifts between minor and major modes, Benedictine Sister Genevieve Glen’s beautiful hymn text sings of the compassion of God, who creates us, redeems us, and sanctifies us in a loving Trinitarian embrace.Click here to listen.