There are a number of myths about the so-called middle ages: they thought that earth was flat etc. Most of these myths were fabricated in the 19th century. Why? Because that was the apex, in the West, of “Modernity,” the Enlightenment, when we told each other that we were more rational, more mature, more advanced than earlier generations. We were making progress (e.g., stealing Africans for slavery, child factory labor). We were “getting better every day, in every way” or that’s what we told ourselves.
In order to make this story plausible we needed a period of relative intellectual darkness (hence “the dark ages”) and inferiority. This is how cultural myths get started. They don’t have to be true. They need to serve a purpose, to be plausible, and they need a degree of ignorance in the intended market for the myth. About the same time, in historical theology, summaries replaced sources and Latin began to fall into disuse. After all, if we’re Enlightened and they were so barbaric, what is the point in reading them?
Have you ever wondered how the middle ages became “middle”? Relative to what? Says who? This move actually began with the Renaissance but intensified with the Enlightenment. To be sure, the Renaissance was an age of intellectual renewal but they also marketed themselves and the movements associated with the Renaissance and they wanted to set themselves apart from the earlier, ostensibly less enlightened periods of history.
These myths also, not coincidentally, served the correlate purpose of marginalizing Christianity. They still serve this purpose.
Here is the post.
Ps. A couple of caveats: 1. I don’t think most medievals bathed often; 2. Thomas did discuss angels and pins but not angels dancing on pins. It only seems like a silly question to those who know a priori there are no angels. That’s not Enlightenment as much as materialist dogmatism.