The fall of the Roman Empire was just the passage of one era into another. The Middle Ages was a time of transition from the idolized Roman Empire to the Renaissance that took society and culture major steps forward. Though not empty of civilization, it was a time that held onto Roman concepts and nurtured them for their time in the Renaissance.
The birth of the Christian religion occurred during the reign of the Roman Empire. It was the Roman Empire that gave the new religion a solid footing where it could grow and prosper. After the fall of Rome, the Church found itself becoming a powerhouse of its own. It pulled from its Jewish origins and from the Roman government that sheltered it. The ancient Romans gave the Christian religion the chance to develop “a distinct and complex culture that was heavily classical” with the schools, study of law, hierarchy, and structure mimicking the classical era. (1) The Church of the Middle Ages did not appear overnight. It developed from the seeds of the Roman Empire and survived to be an even bigger impact during the Renaissance.
Along with religion, philosophy went hand in hand. Ancient Greece was known for the great philosophers that greatly influenced the Romans. Studies of these great thinkers grew under the Empire and did not die with the fall of it. Philosophy continued during the Middle Ages to be taken into the Renaissance era. Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism were never lost. They found themselves living through, ironically, the Christian Church. Platonism can be seen in Christianity through the “dualism of body and soul.” (2) Many within the church found Plato appealing because of the argument the philosopher made on “the existence of personal immortality.” (3) The evidence of the philosophers can be seen in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote on “Aristotelian ethics to Christian virtue.” (4) In many other works during the Middle Ages, references to Plato, Aristotle, and Stoicism were made in many theological works including St. Bonaventura’s. The various stances became heated as each scholar, mainly within the Church, chimed in with their opinions. Aquinas tried to “argue from the natural to the divine and thus to reconcile Aristotelian metaphysics with the Christian concept of God” while others rejected it. (5)
In reviewing society of the Middle Ages and comparing it to that of the ancient empires, particularly Rome, much can be seen that was carried forward into the Renaissance. There were lords who ruled over the land and the people within it: “Medieval people inherited the rule of lords over peasants.” (6) Rulers were accepted without question. In fact, “forms and ideology alike were passed on to the medieval world” from the Roman Empire. (7) The ruler being appointed by God and being His representative was nothing new in the Middle Ages. The ancient world was where it originated.
The Roman Empire fell but it did not die. It lived on through the Middle Ages and was passed on into the Renaissance and beyond. The world today has the medieval men to thank for keeping the spirit of Rome alive.
(1) Norman F. Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages: A Completely Revised and Expanded Edition of Medieval History, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1994), 39.
(2) Ibid, 38.
(3) Ibid, 360.
(4) Ibid, 445.
(5) Ibid, 531.
(6) Ibid, 4.
(7) Ibid, 5.