Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Y1K Problem

One example of the "white mantle of churches"
So...the Venerable Bede suggests that time be reckoned since the year of Christ's birth. People start numbering years. They start to notice a disturbing trend: they are approaching a big even number: 1000. Ralph Glaber lived through this traumatic transition, and left us an account.

Born in 985 in Burgundy, at the age of 12 his monk uncle found him a place in the monastery of Saint-Léger-de-Champeaux for education and discipline, but he was expelled for bad conduct. He later joined the Benedictines at Cluny, becoming a monk of his own accord. He later lived at two other monasteries. He died in 1050. His life's work was a five-volume chronicle called Historiarum libri quinque ab anno incarnationis DCCCC usque ad annum MXLIV ["History in five books from 900 to 1044"]. His Latin was far from elegant, his grasp of historical facts was far from accurate, and yet the history he wrote provides us with insight to the mood of the time.

And that mood was dark and dire. Glaber saw corruption everywhere:
Warned by the prophecy of Holy Writ, we see clearer than daylight that in the process of the Last Days, as love waxed cold and iniquity abounded among mankind, perilous times were at hand for men's souls. For by many assertions of the ancient fathers we are warned that, as covetousness stalks abroad, the religious Rules or Orders of the past have caught decay and corruption from that which should have raised them to growth and progress.. . From this [covetousness] also proceed the constant tumult of quarrels at law, and frequent scandals arise, and the even tenor of the different Orders is rent by their transgressions. Thus also it comes to pass that, while irreligiousness stalks abroad among the clergy, froward* and incontinent appetites grow among the people, until lies and deceit and fraud and manslaughters, creeping abroad among them, draw almost all to perdition!
After the millennium was survived, however, he lets us know that the world changed for the better:
It was as if the whole world were shaking itself free, shrugging off the burden of the past, and cladding itself everywhere in a white mantle of churches.
The phrase "white mantle of churches" has entered the lexicon of medieval imagery, and is remembered and used in print more than Glaber's darker imagery of the corruption leading up to the year 1000.

*FYI: "froward" is not a typo; it means "to lead away/astray"

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