Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/24

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8
WESTERN EUROPE IN THE MIDDLE AGES

independent tradition; it is neither decadent classicism nor primitive modernism.

If we try to summarize the results attained by this brief discussion we might say that the civilization of the twelfth century had characteristics which clearly separate it from the civilizations of Rome and of the modern world. It was a Western European civilization rather than a Mediterranean or an oceanic civilization. Political power was divided among a hierarchy of interdependent governments rather than concentrated in a world empire or a group of sovereign national states. The Church was independent of secular authority, but it was more than a private association with limited functions; it set the standards and defined the goals for all human activities. In economics there was neither state regulation nor laissez-faire; instead local custom controlled farmers, artisans, and merchants in the interest of the whole community. In Gothic art, chivalric poetry, scholastic philosophy, and the university system of education the twelfth century created forms which were neither classical nor modern. These characteristics of twelfth-century civilization were not only distinct, but also interdependent; they fused into an organic whole. The economic institutions could not have existed without the political and religious institutions; the art and literature were profoundly affected by the religious and political beliefs of the age. The civilization of the twelfth century was remarkably self-sufficient and self-consistent; it had a flavor, a texture, almost a personality, of its own.

Obviously these elements of twelfth-century civilization are not duplicated exactly in any other period of the Middle Ages. But they illustrate the basic assumptions, the social habits, the aspirations of the other medieval centuries. Conscious choice and the force of external circumstances were leading Europeans toward the pattern of twelfth-century civilization long before that pattern could be fully worked out. Conscious choice and force of habit made Europeans cling to the basic pattern of twelfth-century