Light in the Dark Ages

Benedict Feast Day July 11

Light in the Dark Ages

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The West was certainly wounded badly by the fall of the Roman Empire. Civilization collapsed almost completely. Literacy, once common, was now a rare accomplishment. Culture itself was in danger of dying.

Only the Church had the structure and the resources to shore up the walls of civilization. And one man in particular made that his life’s work.

Cassiodorus was a sixth-century nobleman who had a long career as a top minister in the court of Italy’s barbarian king. But in his old age he went back to his hometown and set up a monastery—a monastery with a very specific purpose.

Throughout Italy, Cassiodorus saw civilization dying. A century and a half of invasions and wars had made books rare and educated readers rarer. The noblemen who had once kept large private libraries—and supported a profitable publishing industry—had largely been replaced by illiterate barbarian chieftains.

So Cassiodorus scooped up every book he could find from the ruined and abandoned libraries of Italy, and set his monks to work copying them. “Of…

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