We are prone to think of evolution in human affairs as being the ruling principle. As a consequence of this, we are apt to consider that since intervening periods between the nineteenth century and the Middle Ages were lacking in education, in applied science, and in interest in physical science to a great degree, beyond doubt, then, the Middle Ages must have been still more lacking in these desirable qualities of education and human knowledge. This is the sort of deduction that greets one constantly in so-called histories of education, and especially in such supposed contributions to the history of the relationship of science to religion or theology as have been made here in America. This deduction, as I have said before, is made by men who are the first to asperse the medieval scholars for having used deduction too freely, and who are ever ready to praise induction. The induction in this matter–that is, the story of the actual history of science in the Middle Ages–is the direct contradiction of the deduction from false principles. Intervening centuries not only failed to progress beyond the Middle Ages, but some of them were far behind the achievements of that unfortunately despised period. Once more Prince Kropotkin has touched this matter very suggestively. After describing the achievements of applied science in the Middle Ages, he says:
“Such were the magic changes accomplished in Europe in less than four hundred years. And the losses which Europe sustained through the loss of its free cities can only be understood when we compare the seventeenth century with the fourteenth or thirteenth. The prosperity which formerly characterized Scotland, Germany, the plains of Italy, was gone. The roads had fallen into an abject state, the cities were depopulated, labor was brought into slavery, art had vanished, commerce itself was decaying.”
In the meantime the reformation so-called had come, and had carried away with it in its course nearly everything precious that men had gained during the four centuries immediately preceding. Art, education, science, liberty, democracy–everything worth while had been hurt; most of them had been ruined for the time. Even the nineteenth century did not succeed in bringing us back to a level with the earlier centuries in all the intellectual and esthetic accomplishments.
James J. Walsh, The Popes and Science (1908)