8th Century Problems

The earlier decline of classical civilization had affected virtually every sphere of life, by no means just the Church. The old Roman roads now lay neglected and unusable, the Gesta municipalia—the document registers of the principal legal transactions that took place in towns—were closed and forgotten, and the education of laypeople tailed off. Only very few people in the early Middle Ages could read and write. The highly literate society of classical antiquity, to which the Church Fathers had contributed in no small way, had been supplanted by a culture that largely (to a greater extent in the north and east of the Frankish Empire than in the south) made do with orality and was defined by it. The spoken language determined the way life was lived, communications, and social practices; and last but not least, it shaped the prevailing mode of thought.

In such circumstances, then, long-winded description rather than analysis was the order of the day, while facts were amassed and strung together instead of being systematically arranged, and cause and effect were not always distinguished from each other; indeed, sometimes they were even reversed. It was not common practice to reach logical decisions or to differentiate between facts. Mental constructs such as “the whole and its parts” still lay far in the future. . . . The Christian faith and the organization of the Church now found themselves confronted by almost insurmountable linguistic barriers.

–Johannes Fried, Charlemagne, 221-2

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