Cathy asked:

My Lutheran friend says the Catholic church during the Middle Ages actively discouraged and prevented people from receiving an education and that only the wealthy and the clergy could receive an education. He also says the Protestant Reformation is when education became available to the masses.

Mark Brumley replied:

"... First of all I would go to a resource called Those Terrible Middle Ages by an author Regine Pernoud who was a medievalist and she has a real good background on the Middle Ages including the development of the educational institutions like universities which the Catholics invented. In the Middle Ages, if the Catholic church was trying to not educate people they probably should not have invented universities. Now the argument is going to be made that, well that was just for rich people, in which case I would say well if the Catholic church was going to try to limit education simply to rich people the Catholic church probably should not have developed monastic schools, cathedral schools and other institutions that educated people.

Now it's true that education in the Middle Ages was not like education today. You lived in a fairly hierarchical society, and the general thinking was that it was difficult for people who were in the poorer classes and so on to devote the time to getting and education. They were working ... sixteen hours a day, but that wasn't because of the Catholic church, that was because of a little thing called the collapse of western civilization that occurred in the fifth and sixth centuries when you had all those barbarians, mostly Germanic invade the Roman Empire and the western world went into upheaval. It really was the Church that perserved culture and tried to communicate it, tried to educate people as best as it could under the circumstances. And gradually, and especially in the twelfth century there was a kind of a renaissance of the twelfth century before the renaissance that we typically associate with the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and the development of schools the medieval school system and universities took place. So if the Church was trying to keep people from becoming educated it sure didn't do a very good job.

... until about the eighteenth century there wasn't a lot of upward mobility in cultures so people didn't start out poor and then rise and become wealthy ... and that was just because of the dynamics of culture and economic life and so on as time goes on and we have the development of economic life and stable institutions in the west, by the way significantly contributed to by the Catholic church, and the emergence of institutions in the high middle ages that would develop into economies and so on and the economic structures that we associate with the modern world then you have more social mobility. But that again the lack of social mobility in the sixth century in western Europe was not the fault of the Catholic church, if anything the Catholic church was trying to raise peoples physical and cultural standards of living."

Source material:

Those Terrible Middle Ages: Debunking the Myths by Regine Pernoud

How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

Formation of Christendom by Christopher Dawson

Religion and the Rise of Western Culture by Christopher Dawson


Catholic Answers, "Open Forum" (San Diego: Catholic Answers, 2014)

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Show air date: July 29, 2014

Name of show: Open Forum

Guest comments by: Mark Brumley

Question appeared in show: 42:31

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