The End of History Fallacy
At what specific point does the historical Middle Ages end? This is one of the topics that fascinated middle school student Sunghyun Cho (yeah, that's me). Let's look at the similarities between the Renaissance view of the Middle Ages and the modern view of the Renaissance.
Medieval is a historical term that refers to the period between the 9th and 15th centuries, thought to be sandwiched between the glory of antiquity and the intellectual rebirth of the Renaissance. The term Middle Ages (or, in Latin, medium aevum, middle ages) was coined during the Renaissance, a time of renewed interest in the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. Renaissance scholars saw themselves as the heirs of classical knowledge and viewed the period of separation from antiquity as a time of cultural stagnation and decline. This belief led them to name this period, which they perceived as lacking in outstanding achievements and intellectual prowess compared to the ancient world and their own time, the Middle Ages, or "Middle Ages". The term medieval stuck, and the weight of the Renaissance scholars' original perspective is still felt today. However, as historians delved deeper into the period, they found that the Middle Ages were far from a time of darkness and ignorance. On the contrary, the era saw significant advances in science, technology, philosophy, and the arts, with the establishment of universities and the flourishing of classical scholarship. Like their Renaissance counterparts, Medieval scholars contributed to preserving and disseminating classical knowledge. They also made intellectual breakthroughs, with figures like Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, and Hildegard of Bingen shaping the course of Western thought.
Ironically, the modern view of the Renaissance reflects similar sentiments, as does the Renaissance's disdain for the Middle Ages. We recognize the artistic and cultural contributions of the 16th century. Still, we are endlessly critical of its scientific and engineering methodologies, lack of human justice, and politically underdeveloped civil society. The humanistic movements that emerged during the Renaissance emphasized studying classical texts and pursuing knowledge. Still, these movements also relied heavily on the authority of revered figures such as Aristotle and Ptolemy, which hindered the development of new scientific methodologies. From our current perspective, which values evidence-based reasoning and experimentation over authoritative texts, including empirical investigation, skepticism, and the scientific method, the Renaissance is perceived as a period lacking modern scientific inquiry's rigor and precision. Furthermore, the engineering achievements of the Renaissance, while impressive at the time, pale compared to the technological marvels of the modern world. Architectural feats of the 16th century, such as the construction of St. Peter's Basilica, pale compared to current achievements like the space station and the Large Hadron Collider. In this sense, the Renaissance is "medieval" in its own right, standing between ancient technologies and current innovations.
Then again, we will eventually be medieval, too, around the year 2500. History is always subjective and relative despite what we consider the pinnacle of human science and technology. In the end, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and modern perspectives on these times emphasize how important it is to understand the complexity and interconnectedness of human history. The same goes for us. We often think that we are nearing the end of our self-growth and that we will stay the same in the future. We think it's too late to make a fresh start. But remember, your today is also your medieval age. Eventually, Diligent Immatures build the Future.