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Author: James Joseph Walsh
Publisher: Library of Alexandria
Of all the epochs of effort after a new life, that of the age of Aquinas, Roger Bacon, St. Francis, St. Louis, Giotto, and Dante is the most purely spiritual, the most really constructive, and indeed the most truly philosophic. … The whole thirteenth century is crowded with creative forces in philosophy, art, poetry, and statesmanship as rich as those of the humanist Renaissance. And if we are accustomed to look on them as so much more limited and rude it is because we forget how very few and poor were their resources and their instruments. In creative genius Giotto is the peer, if not the superior of Raphael. Dante had all the qualities of his three chief successors and very much more besides. It is a tenable view that in inventive fertility and in imaginative range, those vast composite creations—the Cathedrals of the Thirteenth Century, in all their wealth of architectural statuary, painted glass, enamels, embroideries, and inexhaustible decorative work may be set beside the entire painting of the sixteenth century. Albert and Aquinas, in philosophic range, had no peer until we come down to Descartes, nor was Roger Bacon surpassed in versatile audacity of genius and in true encyclopaedic grasp by any thinker between him and his namesake the Chancellor. In statesmanship and all the qualities of the born leader of men we can only match the great chiefs of the Thirteenth Century by comparing them with the greatest names three or even four centuries later. Now this great century, the last of the true Middle Ages, which as it drew to its own end gave birth to Modern Society, has a special character of its own, a character that gives it an abiding and enchanting interest. We find in it a harmony of power, a universality of endowment, a glow, an aspiring ambition and confidence such as we never find in later centuries, at least so generally and so permanently diffused. … The Thirteenth Century was an era of no special character. It was in nothing one-sided and in nothing discordant. It had great thinkers, great rulers, great teachers, great poets, great artists, great moralists, and great workmen. It could not be called the material age, the devotional age, the political age, or the poetic age in any special degree. It was equally poetic, political, industrial, artistic, practical, intellectual, and devotional. And these qualities acted in harmony on a uniform conception of life with a real symmetry of purpose.