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)

Classics, The Monks and the.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

One of the many myths which, to the advantage of the Catholic Church, still flourish in general literature and are admitted without inquiry into certain new types of historical manuals is the statement that the mediaeval monks preserved the classics for us. The legend originated in Montalembert's Monks of the West (1860-7), a repertory of fairy-tales about the monks. About seventy years before it was published, Professor Heeren, a genuine scholar, had concluded after severe research that the monks "rendered no service whatever in connection with classic literature" (Geschichte des Studiums der Classischen Literatur, 1796). Modern research, of which Dr. Sandys gives an excellent summary in the Encyclopaedia Britannica ("Classics"), broadly supports Heeren. It has shown that only one or two abbots (out of thousands) in a century ever set their monks to copy the few classical works they had. The overwhelming majority of the monks, except in short periods of reform (when they would rather burn than copy a pagan book), were lazy, sensual, and indifferent to culture. Compayré shows in his History of Paedagogy (1903, p.68) that in what is regarded as the height of Catholic culture, the thirteenth century, not one of the thousands of monks in the Abbey of St. Gall, one of the greatest in Europe, could read or write.
      The Greek classics, more valuable than the Latin, were not preserved in the West, where knowledge of Greek became almost extinct by the tenth century, but were kept in the Greek world and brought to the West during the Renaissance by Byzantine lay scholars. The Latin classics had been so heavily denounced by the Fathers as "Devil-inspired," and most of them were so abhorrent to the pious mind-they were all saturated with paganism, and the poets were for the most part erotic - that the idea of good monks preserving them for the race is amusing; indeed, the Benedictine Rule which is quoted as proof of the copying industry of the monks expressly restricts them to religious literature. The historical truth, which one can recognize, though it is not emphasized in the article by Dr. Sandys, is that a few liberal abbots and bishops, who can be counted on the fingers, kept intact during the Dark Age the fraction of Latin literature which we have; that the chief centres for copying and preserving these were in the cities of the anti-Papal Ostrogoths and (later) the Lombards, where culture was largely in the hands of laymen; that interest in these classics almost died out after the tenth century; and that when lay scholars like Petrarch and Boccaccio began to search for them in the dust of monastic libraries it took more than a century and a half (about 1330 to 1500) to get together such survivals of Roman literature as we have to-day.


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