I read a great opinion piece by David Brooks on the Medieval Mind in the New York Times about a month ago that I’ve been meaning to share. In it, Brooks bemoans the disenchantment that is the hallmark of the modern world. And while modern society has benefited from growing knowledge about the world that surrounds us, we have lost the sense of wonder and magic that seems so pervasive to the medieval worldview.
Brooks notes that, for the premoderns, the night sky was an “intimate and magical place.” The heavens, to them, were a ceiling of moving spheres, rippling with signs and symbols, and moved by the love of God.” C.S. Lewis once noted that the medieval world “was tingling with anthropomorphic life, dancing, ceremonial, a festival not a machine.” For us moderns, it is an expanse of “black, cold, mostly empty vastness, with planets and stars propelled by gravitational and other forces.”
Brooks closes his article by reflecting on writers like C. S. Lewis and John Ruskin who “seized on medieval culture as an antidote to industrialism — to mass manufacturing, secularization and urbanization.”
I sometimes wonder if knowledge must lead to disenchantment. I remember when I was a kid and I looked at the stars in the night sky in blissful ignorance. They looked so beautiful and ethereal in the night sky. I loved gazing at them. I even believed they would grant wishes (thank you Disney Pinocchio). Then a loving adult–I think it was my mom–informed me that the stars were actually just balls of gas. This was, um, not quite so romantic. It was like something snapped in my head. I continued to wonder at the beauty of nature, but it was a little depressing and disenchanting.
People often say that familiarity breeds contempt. I don’t believe this is necessarily true–some things (and people!) you love even more as you get to know them better. But I also think that one of the reasons I love, say, my husband, even more as I spend more time with him, is because I believe he is more (pardon the expression) than just the some of his parts. I think that is one of the most important lessons that we can bring away from our medieval predecessors: there is more to this world than meets the eye.