Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)

Thirteenth Century

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

Thirteenth Century, The. Since the development of cathedral-building and of universities culminated in the thirteenth century, Catholic writers have always selected it as the flower of the Middle Ages, if not the greatest century in history. Catholic influence, especially in America, has unfortunately led a few historians to give some support to the claim, and it is very widely advertised in popular literature. One would think that a century which opened with the savagery of the Albigensian Massacre [see], the development of the Inquisition, and the shame of the Fourth Crusade [see], and closed with the occupation of the" Holy See" by one of the most cynical and unscrupulous of the Popes, Boniface VIII [see], the opening of a long era of Papal corruption, and the terrible scandal of the Templars [see], would not lightly be selected for such eulogies. Academic praise of it is, in fact, often based on a misunderstanding or on a very partial selection of its brighter features. The weightiest authority of this school, for instance, Prof. Haskins (The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, 1927) disdainfully observes that historical critics of the period "ought to know better," and then says that they make it part of the Dark Age, in which they include "all that came between 476 and 1453." It is explained, in the article Dark Age, that no historian extends the Dark Age beyond the eleventh century, and for a Harvard professor of history to say that we include the great art of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, men like Bacon, Aquinas, Albert, and Frederic II, and the development of the universities and law schools in any Dark Age, is peculiar. A more resolute apologist is H. D. Sedgwick (Italy in the Thirteenth Century, 2 vols., 1913). He generally ignores the uglier features, and indulges in such rhetoric as this: "No other century can produce a list of men to match Innocent III, Frederic II, St. Francis, Ezzelino da Romano, Thomas Aquinas, Niccolo Pisano, Giotto, and Dante." Omitting the very brutal (and now almost forgotten) Ezzelino, the three monks, and Frederic (who was not an Italian), how does his crop compare with the century of German history which produced Handel, Bach, Beethoven, Frederic the Great, Goethe, Schiller, Lessing, and Kant? Or the age of Elizabeth, Bacon, and Shakespeare in England? Or the Periclean Age at Athens? Or even the Victorian Age in science, letters, and statesmanship? Rationalists are accused of a grave lack of impartiality in historical judgment, and they are then confronted with these grossly partial characterizations of a century which even a Positivist writer, J. Cotter Morison (The Service of Man, cheap ed., 1903, pp. 64-8), pronounced, after careful study, "an age of violence, fraud, and impurity such as can hardly be conceived." We must, in fact, not allow too great an advance even on the Dark Age. Bryce, who had certainly no Rationalist bias, says in his Holy Roman Empire (8th ed., 1887): During the three centuries that lie between Arnold of Brescia and Porcaro the disorders of Rome were hardly less violent than they had been in the Dark Age." The period which he here stigmatizes as, in a most important moral respect, no better than the Dark Age is about 1150-1450, or the cream of the Middle Ages. Gregorovius fully supports his statement as regards Rome, and the authorities quoted under Chivalry; Middle Ages; etc., tell of the same condition in England, France, Germany, and Spain.
      A balanced estimate of the character of the Middle Ages is attempted under that title. The common procedure of those who accuse Rationalist historians of a vicious partiality is well illustrated in the case of England. They stress and idealize "the coming of the friars" (who were already corrupt [see Franciscans], and they ignore, or mention only in a few misleading sentences, the appalling condition of the Court of Edward II and such spectacles as the public castration of a leading noble, before a crowd which apparently included women and children and the dissolute queen, for sodomy with the King. It is the same in every country and in all popular and religious accounts of the Crusades, Chivalry, the Guilds, and the Friars. See articles, with authorities, on each. The thirteenth century had, according to all the leading historical experts on that age, all the grossness - general sexual freedom, sodomy, cruelty, dishonesty, torture, public mutilations (eyes and testicles), etc. - of the mediaeval period. Of the two prominent features of it which plausibly or superficially encourage the apologist, the first, the splendid development of art, is quite wrongly attributed to religious inspiration, and Rome was almost the last city in Europe to share it. [See Art; Cathedrals; Renaissance.] The second, the considerable growth of university life, was more closely and less flatteringly connected with the Church. [See Scholastics and Universities.] The intellectual movement, of Arab origin, made very promising progress until the thirteenth century, and it was precisely in that century that the Church crushed independent thinking and democratic aspiration, prevented the development of the new science, and diverted the mind of Europe into the sterile wastes of theology. In short, a broad and just view of the thirteenth century is that it witnessed an acceleration of the pace of the economic development which had been in progress for a century and a half, with the usual gain to art and culture and the creation of a large middle class; but just in those moral respects in which we might look for religious influence—vice, cruelty, social injustice, lying, and general grossness—it remained part of one of the worst periods of normal history.

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