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  • Writer's pictureMichael Martin

The New Dark Ages / The New Middle Ages

In his magisterial, if somewhat long-in-the-tooth study The Waning of the Middle Ages, Jan Huizinga diagnoses the end of that mysterious and wondrous time in decidedly psychological terms. “At the close of the Middle Ages,” writes Huizinga, “a somber melancholy weighs on people’s minds.” [1] As I have written on this blog and in my recent book, Sophia in Exile, I detect a similar melancholy strain in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, originally published by early English publisher Caxton in 1485 during the twilight of those same Middle Ages. The same sensibility resounds in this famous engraving by Dürer:

I raise these points not out of scholarly or antiquarian interests, but because I see the same cultural development all around me. We, too, are living during a cultural decline and deflation characterized by melancholy; and I would argue that the “pandemic” (read “plague” if you want) is not so much a cause but a symptom of this degeneration.

Like the medieval period, our times are a blend of superstition and ignorance combined with blind faith and an increasingly feudal societal structure. I see superstitious belief in “the science,” which has taken over the authority once held by the Church, replete with the punishment of heretics. I see ignorance widespread, but particularly in college students, who don’t seem to know much about anything for the most part. They’re completely ignorant about history—even the Holocaust—religion, philosophy, politics. I could go on. I noticed this decades ago when I started teaching, but it is far worse (and even more depressing to behold) now. As I said to a class yesterday, “If you don’t ask the Life Questions now, when will you? How can you learn to Live in Truth if you’ve never thought seriously about what Truth is?” People really don’t go to college looking for answers to these questions anymore; their aims, though no fault of their own making, are more utilitarian. As a result, the last generation or so is more susceptible to the influence of propaganda, and ours is certainly the Golden Age of Propaganda, aided and augmented by the pernicious prevalence of social media and surveillance technologies. Perhaps students can’t grapple with the Life Question because they’ve been trained by these technologies to avoid them in order to avoid social and technological ostracization and recrimination. But what should one expect when even a Supreme Court nominee can’t answer simple question about biology?

Unlike the earlier age, our own is not suffused by a religious culture. So we don’t get the consolation of Heaven, only the threat of a technocratic Hell. “You’ll own nothing and be happy” is the promise of the new manorial barons to their ignorant and obedient serfs. We should expect nothing less: we’ve been chemically and technologically lobotomized.

All this is to say that we are now living in a New Dark Age. There is simply no other way to describe it.

Nikolai Berdyaev saw all of this over a hundred years ago. In his book The End of Our Time, first published in Russian in 1919, Berdyaev, taking the mantle of prophet, looks into the future: “The time is coming fast when everyone will have to ask himself whether ‘progress’ was progress or whether it was a most vicious ‘reaction,’ a movement away from the meaning of the universe and the authentic foundations of life.” [2] He wrote this under the threats of Communism and Socialism, “the end and crown of all contemporary history,” a phrase he used as the opposite of a compliment. [3]

Berdyaev, however, also prophesied the coming of what he called “The New Middle Ages.” He did not propose a retrograde movement to the past, but traced the trajectorial habits of history to predict what would happen next: an era of universality, that was also a feature of the earlier Middle Ages: “The idea of universality so characteristic of the middle ages has ceased to have any influence in ours. It is only when human personality is rooted in the universal, in the cosmos, that it finds an ontological ground to give it its chief substance.” [4] But his vision also has economic and social implications:

By this path we should be obliged to revive rural economy and return to trades, organizing ourselves into economic association and trade corporations. The town will have to link up with the country again, and competition be replaced by co-operation. The principle of private property will be kept as an eternal foundation, but will be limited and spiritualized in application: no more of those scandalous huge private fortunes with which we are so familiar. There will be no pretence at equality, but neither will there be avoidable hunger and poverty. We shall have to have a much more simple and elementary material culture and a spiritual culture that is more complex.” [5]

The future, that is, is a religious one. It is also a Distributist one (if only the alleged Distributitists would stop reading The Hobbit for five minutes and actually do something.) But Berdyaev also has something to say about woman in this future (and he doesn’t need to be a biologist to do so):

It seems to me that women will be very much to the fore in the new middle ages; an exclusively masculine culture was undermined by the war [WWI], and in these later most trying years the influence of women has been considerable and their achievements recognized as great. Woman is bound more closely than man to the soul of the world and its primary elemental forces, and it is through her that he reaches communion with them. Masculine culture is too rationalizing, out of touch with the mysteries of universal life: this is corrected through woman. Women are filling a notably important role in the present religious revival; as in the gospel, they are predestined to be the myrrh-bearers. Day is the time of the exclusive predominance of masculine culture; at night the feminine element receives her rights…. It is the eternal feminine that has so great a future in coming history, not the emancipated woman or epicene creature” [6]

All he describes here, of course, is the essence of Sophiology.

In this regard, I can’t help but think of Nimue’s enchantment of Merlin in Le Morte Darthur. Merlin enthralled by Nimue, and who “allwayes he lay aboute to have hir maydynhode” is tricked by Nimue into divulging his magical power, by which she entraps him in a stone. I think we can interpret this as a prediction of the aged and decrepit masculine magic of the technological and of war being arrested (not killed) by the feminine. Remember: even the grievously wounded Arthur repairs to the Isle of Avalon to be healed of his hurts by a community of women, and is one day promised to return as the Rex Quandam, Rexque Futurus, the Once and Future King.

So, I think we are indeed living in a Dark Age, but I also think we live upon the cusp of a New Middle Ages. But nothing is guaranteed. I think the present Archons also see this movement—and are doing their utmost to hold on to their power through the same tools that destroyed Arthur’s realm: war, magic (or technology to you and me), and a profound misunderstanding of the feminine.

I predict most of our institutions, now faltering, will soon fail, despite the machinations of the Archons. The medical-corporate-industrial complex will implode. The educational system will do likewise. Lastly, it will happen to governments. With them our understanding of economics will undergo a vast realignment.

So what will come in their place? Time to start planning.

Michael’s latest book is Sophia in Exile. He can be reached at See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Divine Feminine. There are also a few spots open in the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening as Christian Path course being offered at the end of April. See more here.

1, J. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (Edward Arnold, 1924), 22.

2. Nicholas Berdyaev, The End of Our Time, trans. Donald Attwater (Sheed & Ward, 1935), 76.

3. Ibid., 78-79.

4. Ibid., 85.

5. Ibid., 95.

6. Ibid., 117-18.

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