Tomorrow morning I wil be lecturing on the rise of Feudalism and how that remarkable social order laid the essential foundations for Medieval Christendom. It is one of my favorite subjects precisely because like faith, the Feudal culture of the Medieval age was a perpetually defeated thing that somehow always survived all its conquerors.
Feudalism was forever a paradox. It was a romantic riddle. On the one hand it was marked by the greatest virtues of morality, charity, and selflessness; on the other hand it was marred by the flaming vices of perversity, betrayal, and avarice. It was often timid, monkish, and isolated; oftener still, it was bold, ostentatious, and adventurous. It was mystical; it was worldly. It was tenderhearted; it was cruel. It was ascetic; it was sensual. It was miserly; it was pretentious. It gripped men with a morbid superstition; it set them free with an untamed inquisitiveness. It exulted in pomp, circumstance, and ceremony; it cowered in poverty, tyranny, and injustice. It united men with faith, hope, and love; it divided them with war, pestilence, and prejudice. It was so unstable it could hardly have been expected to last a week; it was so stable that it actually lasted a millennium.
Whatever its strengths or weaknesses--and however much it paralleled our own strengths and weaknesses--the most obvious fact about the strange and unfamiliar Feudal world of Medieval Christendom is that it is indeed, strange and unfamiliar--at least, it is to us Moderns.