To us the universe of the Middle Ages seems small. The whole duration of earthly life, from Creation to Judgment Day, is limited to some 7,000 or 8,000 years. Our globe, a solid, motionless ball, surrounded by air and by fire, is the center of the material world. About it turn the nine successive skies, transparent, shell-like, hollow spheres, bearing the sun, the moon, the planets, and the fixed stars, which together constitute the force called Nature. Outside this round universe of matter is the Paradise of pure spirit, the limitless abode of God, the angels, and the blest. The angels, ministers of the Lord, direct the movements of the celestial bodies, thus shaping existence here below and the characters of men. Of the earth’s surface much more than half is covered by water; but on one side, with Jerusalem in the middle, is the clover-shaped continent of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Christian world is ruled by two great powers, one spiritual, one temporal, both ordained by God: Papacy and Empire, founded by Christ and by Cæsar. Unrighteous ambition has brought them into conflict with each other.

Of ancient history, and of all the wealth of classic literature and art, but little was known, and that little was translated into terms of the present; for the historical sense was quite undeveloped, and so was the idea of progress, so dear to us moderns. To the mediæval mind, Solomon, Alexander, Cæsar, Charlemagne were very much alike. The most noteworthy survivors among the authors of pagan Rome were Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, Statius, Cicero and Livy; to these should be added the Christians, Boethius and St. Augustine, and the scholars and theologians who followed. Greek was lost; but Aristotle, in Latin garb, began in the thirteenth century to dominate European thought, and Platonism had been potent in shaping St. Augustine’s doctrine some 800 years before.

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