Occasionally the question comes up, as it has again this week, as to why we focus so much on the spirituality, symbolism, social structures, and history of the Middle Ages. Although the answer can be pieced together from various posts, it may be good to summarize it in one place. Clearly, the primary authors who have awakened the knowledge of Tradition regarded the Middle Ages as exemplifying the Traditional spirit. Since it is closest to us, at least those of us in the West, in time, language, and culture, it seems to be the most suitable model for demonstrating tradition in action. This, despite the fact that Rene Guenon points out that the contemporary West is as distant from the Middle Ages as it is from the Asian civilization; after all, isn’t to be called “medieval” considered an insult today?
In 1937, Mircea Eliade wrote an essay, “The Valorization of the Middle Ages” in which he mentioned Julius Evola, Rene Guenon, and Ananda K Coomaraswamy among the exponents of those elites who recognize the importance of the symbol and the primacy of transcendence in the Middle Ages. He followed that up with two radio programs on the Secret Language of Dante, the Fedeli d’Amore, and the Holy Graal, themes quite familiar to readers of Evola and Guenon. Hence, those neo-pagans and new rightists who disvalue the Medieval civilization reveal their ignorance, or at least distance, from the intellectual leaders of Traditional understanding.
Beyond its own value, the proper understanding of the Middle Ages is the gateway to understanding other traditions. We can point out three in particular:
- The Western pagan tradition was preserved in the Middle Ages, which is made clear in the idea of the two Romes.
- Ananda Coomaraswamy mentions several works of the Ancient and Medieval eras that are necessary preparations for any Westerner to understand the teachings of the Vedanta.
- Guenon, in his book on Dante, points out that Dante was greatly influenced, directly or indirectly, by Islamic and Sufi sources.
Clearly, those seekers looking at Sufism or Hinduism for an initiation into Tradition, ought to be well-grounded in the practices and literature of the Middle Ages before making that decision.
Addendum: Since this topic has also come up recently, remember that for most of the Middle Ages, the Latin and Eastern churches were united; even after the schism, the theology was similar; hence, anything of traditional value in the East can also be adopted, or recovered if necessary, by the West. The Greek speaking part of the Empire regarded themselves as Roman, as much so as the West. The breach between the two was to a large extent the result of the Nordic influence on the Western Empire, which was the result of Nordic and Roman collaboration as Evola often points out.