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‘The Mistakes of the Middle Ages’

The Economist’s Erasmus makes [1] an unintentionally hilarious and telling error in this piece on Macron:

Like many of his historically-minded compatriots, Mr Macron reveres the memory of King Henri IV, who was tactically flexible about his own religious identity and affirmed confessional tolerance. And he regards with horror the darker moments of French religious history, such as the mass expulsion of Protestants in 1685.

For all his cerebral intensity, Mr Macron was not giving a history lesson for its own sake. His aim was to warn his compatriots not to repeat the mistakes of the Middle Ages [bold mine-DL]. Just as it was wrong and inexpedient for medieval France to demonise the Protestants [bold mine-DL, so too it would be wrong for today’s politicians to demonise Islam or its followers.

The error of conflating events in the sixteenth and seventeenth century with “the Middle Ages” is funny because it is so obviously wrong, since this period is always considered part of early modernity, and it is telling because it mistakenly identifies the worst confessional warfare and mass religious persecution in European history as something medieval rather than modern. The worst, most destructive confessional wars in European history did not take place in “the Middle Ages,” but were a product of the emerging modern world. Louis XIV was the one responsible for revoking [2] the Edict of Nantes, and no one would seriously mistake him for a medieval king.

The problem isn’t just that “Erasmus” uses the wrong label to describe the period he is referring to, but misunderstands the history in question so much that he talks about how Protestants were treated in medieval France and doesn’t realize what a huge anachronism that is. Macron may be “historically-minded,” the author responsible for the write-up of his speech is not.

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20 Comments To "‘The Mistakes of the Middle Ages’"

#1 Comment By Hildebrand On May 10, 2017 @ 2:27 pm

Yes, funny lecturing about tolerance.

By the way, the early Protestants were not just peaceful believers. They had an idea about converting the royal family, and some reasons for thinking François the first was close to them.

No tolerance intended, but the forced conversion of all the inhabitants of the realm.

Just look in Geneva, next door, and Calvin obtaining Servet’s being burnt alive.

And do you think it was fanatical catholic faith that prompted Louis XIV to repel the Nantes edict ? Nay. Politics. And the Nantes edict was not only a toleration edict, but a act that gave lots of privileges to the Protestants, including places fortes (their own fortified town) that were points of access for the Brits.

#2 Comment By Captain P On May 10, 2017 @ 3:10 pm

Hildebrand – “Of course the French monarchy had to massacre tens of thousands of Protestant men, women, and children – otherwise the monarchy might have become Calvinist and executed ONE person just like Calvin did!”

#3 Comment By G Harvey On May 10, 2017 @ 3:12 pm

Hating the Middle Ages, blaming the Medieval era, is de rigueur for Protestants (because if the Medieval period were something really bad then all the destruction of lives and property, as well as theft of property, required to establish the Reformation were worth the cost) and Liberals (who are the ‘secular’ version of Protestant Reformers).

The Whig sense of history (we are evolving upward out of darkness, via ‘revolutions’ in stages) requires the Middle Ages to be the Bad Guy starting point.

Any discussion of France’s Henry IV and the Edict of Nantes is a waste of time if not preceded by a detailed study of the rise of Protestantism is French speaking lands, including learning the body count, as well as matters such as Protestant desecration of Catholic Churches.

Before the French Revolutionaries smashed Catholic altars and urinated and defecated in sanctuaries, French Protestants (like their English and German fellows) did so.

And so it makes perfect sense that those who falsely demean the Middle Ages and whitewash the Reformation’s war against Christendom slobber all over Moslems.

#4 Comment By April Shower On May 10, 2017 @ 5:29 pm

The appalling ignorance you point out is the least of it. The Economist is only interested in history to the extent that it furthers its designs on the present and near future.

When your stock in trade is globalist BS, little details like a mere three or four century error in dating hardly matters. What matters is correct thought.

#5 Comment By Jack Waters On May 10, 2017 @ 6:14 pm

Servet was warned that he would be killed if he came. He came anyway. That’s suicide. Which is a mortal sin if I remember my Catholic doctrine correctly.

#6 Comment By Viriato On May 10, 2017 @ 8:58 pm

@Jack Waters: LOL, by that logic martyrdom is a mortal sin.

#7 Comment By Simon94022 On May 10, 2017 @ 10:35 pm

Once upon a time The Economist was an informed, erudite and occasionally witty periodical. Sadly, there are many other examples besides this one of its gobsmacking ignorance.

#8 Comment By AJ On May 11, 2017 @ 12:27 am

This is what came of universities that abandoned the foundations of a real education in order to encourage play in the sandbox of leftist groupthink. What new levels of profound ignorance will be displayed in the work of SJW-marinated graduates?

#9 Comment By Moone Boy On May 11, 2017 @ 2:41 am

Well, isn’t that the Economist?

As someone once put it: it seems like a great read about everything, until you read their writing about something you actually know about.

That, and as one female intern once put it (to the editor’s credit – he pointed this out in an anniversary edition I think) the smug British schoolboy sense of clubbish humour.

#10 Comment By icarusr On May 11, 2017 @ 4:27 am

Jack Waters and Viriato:

The early Christians would have called it “suicide by lions”.

Captain P: Beautifully captures the sentiment. I belonged to a minority religion in Iran and one of the many causes of the revolution was the perception of “privileges” granted to the adherents. For example, such extreme privileges of the police protecting temples being ransacked, adherents not being barred from government work or attending university, houses not being attacked and so on. Why, even some adherents managed to be successful – FOR SHAME – under the old regime. Even highly educated and otherwise perfectly rational and apparently “secular” folks tut-tutted occasionally about these basic protect- I mean, extreme privileges. Funny that three hundred years later, we are still debating the merits of over-turning a religious tolerance edict that unleashed yet another wave of bloodshed and warfare across not just France but also Europe …

Hildebrand: You do know, don’t you, that the Edict of Nantes was issued after a national massacre and massive religious cleansing but a king who actually converted from Protestantism to Catholicism to be able to accede to the French throne, right? So much for forced conversion of the entire country …

G Harvey: “Liberals (who are the ‘secular’ version of Protestant Reformers).” Seriously dude/ette? Since when is “Hating the Middle Ages, blaming the Medieval era” a “Liberal” (I think you mean “liberal” but why quibble?) thing? Hate why and blame for what? Is it really so difficult to put a single sentence together without dragging in ideological tribalism?

#11 Comment By LFM On May 11, 2017 @ 8:28 am

Captain P says:
May 10, 2017 at 3:10 pm
Hildebrand – “Of course the French monarchy had to massacre tens of thousands of Protestant men, women, and children – otherwise the monarchy might have become Calvinist and executed ONE person just like Calvin did!”

The protestant princes of France and the surrounding duchies had every intention of forcibly converting French Catholics if they got the chance. The trouble was that in France, outside the south, Catholicism was too deeply entrenched, both emotionally and socially. That’s why Henri IV decided that ‘Paris is worth a Mass’.

When Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 in the hope of re-establishing better relations with Rome, the Pope of that time, Innocent XI, thought it was a foolish and uncharitable move.

#12 Comment By Furbo On May 11, 2017 @ 11:26 am

Well, ‘Early Modernity’ would have been more accurate, but less effective rhetorically, since medieval has become a synonym for ignorance and cruelty. In truth I know few even educated people who could even fuzzily bracket the End of Rome, Dark Ages, Middle Ages, etc.

#13 Comment By Akhilesh Pillalamarri On May 11, 2017 @ 12:28 pm

I agree with the broad point made by Larison here, especially with the misuses of chronological terms, but I wonder, perhaps, if we focus too much on terminology. These terms were all created by later historians and grafted onto the past in an attempt to neatly periodize history (this happens in particular if you have a linear, rather than cyclical view of history). Nobody who lived in the Middle Ages thought of themselves as living in a “Medieval” period.

#14 Comment By sherparick On May 11, 2017 @ 12:46 pm

It is gobsmacking both how ignorant and lazy (has the Erasmus team at the Economists never heard of “Google” search. I guess being an OxBridge graduate does not mean what it once did.)

Louis IV, particularly under the influence of his second wife, stout Roman Catholic, and the Edict of Nantes was the culmination of a policy of ever increasing hostility to French Protestants. It also was part of the ideology of the late 17th century, that “Cuius regio, eius religio” would be the principal in France as it was through rest of Europe.

The divisions created by historians (Antiquity, Late Antiquity, Dark Ages (Early Middle Ages), Middle Ages, Early Modern, etc.) are pretty arbitrary, and none so arbitrary as between the Middle Ages and Early Modern (witch trials were being held in Salem, Mass, in 1690s, and Roger Bacon was conducting scientific experiments in 1250s Oxford). This is a fine example of Whig thinking in that “Middle Ages bad – Modern good thinking, which given the catastrophes of the 20th and early 21st centuries is pretty funny.

Is kind fun reading the comments and watching the old Protestant v. Catholic knives come out. Once the U.S. becomes a Religious republic, I guess the fight will be which religion will the favorite, the “right” one.

(As a note, the late Bourbon monarchs, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI did not massacre tens of thousands of Protestant men, women, and children. It was mostly a campaign of harassment and property confiscation that would cause people to “convert” or go into exile. Not pleasant, but not a killing field. [2]) Hilldebrand may may be thinking about the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, which occurred in 1572, which was echoed in the Rwanda massacre’s of the 1990s.

#15 Comment By Mark Thomason On May 12, 2017 @ 10:28 am

This is especially important because Louis XIV was the beginning of modern France as we know it today, of the strong central state controlling over local powers.

Until him, the Dukes and lesser nobility did pretty much as they pleased. He brought them firmly into line, and they never got away again. It was how he ended a long period of civil disorder, and established the state.

That he did that with strong religious bigotry is important.

Today France has a doctrine of Laicite, excluding all religion, but it operates as a religion of state itself, against any dissent, just as always. Muslims are a target of that, just as always. The thinking has not changed, just the excuse.

#16 Comment By Dominique Watkins On May 12, 2017 @ 3:08 pm

The Economist has been going down hill for years. As April points out it’s Globalist BS and I’d add Secular Humanist Hog Wash. This week they suggest surrogate mothers should be paid for their services.

#17 Comment By Colonel Bogey On May 12, 2017 @ 4:16 pm

Monsignor Ronald Knox, reacting in mock-horror against some target of the left in his day, said “Why that’s mediaeval! No, it’s worse than mediaeval, it’s downright Victorian!”

#18 Comment By JonF On May 12, 2017 @ 5:03 pm

Re: By the way, the early Protestants were not just peaceful believers. They had an idea about converting the royal family,

Yep. They routinely vandalized Catholic Church, and on one occasion they tried to kidnap Charles IX and his mother Catherine di Medici. They also spurned repeated attempts by Catherine (who was regent) to grant them a modicum of tolerance and demanded all of France instead.

#19 Comment By connecticut farmer On May 14, 2017 @ 10:16 am

I guess they don’t teach history in Europe either.

“Mistakes of the Middle Ages!”

#20 Comment By sherparick On May 15, 2017 @ 11:22 am

Since we appear to evolving (in the sense of “changing”) into a monarchy from a republic, it is interesting to read how much the French Wars of Religion appear to be a family squabbles among the ruling and richest families of France; Valois, Bourbon, Montmorency, Conde, and Guise. Just link to Wikipedia.

Somehow I found this could be an apt description of our current regime:

“…Marrying Jacqueline de Montbel, Countess d’Entremont, and returning to court in 1571, he grew rapidly in favour with Charles IX, becoming a close mentor to the weak, easily manipulated King…” Hopefully, Mike Pence won’t take the drastic action against Jared that the Duke of Guise did to Admiral Coligny and have him thrown from a window.