Adopting a Medieval-Peasant Mindset

When tempted to unrighteous anger at what is beyond our control, we should follow the example of some saintly and joyful medieval peasant.

Modernity bombards us with opportunities to get angry. Televised news, social media, and digital journalism capture events from around the globe and tee them up to the public consciousness with seamless rapidity. It is no surprise that in a sinful world much of what we see on our phones and TVs would move us to anger. 

Unfortunately, the anger that surrounds and follows “current events” is often unrighteous and unbridled. This anger can be remedied by mentally imitating a sort of saintly medieval peasant in regard to global news. This exercise in mindset calls for the proportionate ordering of anger and its constructive expression through activity rather than passivity.

Before the advent of news networks, the amount that people heard about world events was in direct proportion to how geographically proximate they were to those events. An entire city might turn out to hear a merchant tell stories of the Orient, since it was a rare opportunity to hear about that part of the world; but for local news, one need only sit in the nearest pub and keep an open ear. People generally paid attention to what was happening in their own communities. 

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Today, in a great feat of irony, local news and global news have switched in their perceived importance. How many people meticulously keep up with the latest happenings in China, the Vatican, Russia, or Washington, D.C., (and are consistently enraged with what they find)? How many of these same people have had a substantial conversation with their neighbors recently, volunteered at their Church, or learned the history of their hometown? Our own communities have a greater bearing upon our lives, after all.

Furthermore, our local communities demand our attention because when injustices occur it can actually be within our power to correct them. No amount of anger at global affairs is likely to change them; and when anger is consigned to prolonged and bitter passivity it can become sinful resentment. Righteous anger, whenever possible, seeks constructive correction, and this is only possible within our sphere of influence. 

Jesus did not devote His ministry to preaching against injustices in the city of Rome; He was too busy driving out moneylenders in the Temple of Jerusalem. In fact, He instructed us in Matthew 24:6 how we should react to global news: “And you shall hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that ye be not troubled. For these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” We are not Manicheans, who believe that good and evil wage an equally matched war throughout eternity. Christ has already won the victory. Jesus did not devote His ministry to preaching against injustices in the city of Rome; He was too busy driving out moneylenders in the Temple of Jerusalem.Tweet This

When tempted to unrighteous anger at what is beyond our control, we should follow the example of some saintly and joyful medieval peasant. He has little practical use for such trivialities as global news because his priorities are organized in importance from the local to the distant. After all, the harvest must be brought in, the Church roof is in need of mending, and Christmas festivities are right around the corner. Why fret over what is outside one’s own humble slice of this earth? 

Furthermore, there is a fact which was as true for the Medievals as it is for us today: news is often mere glorified gossip, hardly worth the investment of energy that many give to it. Henry David Thoreau wrote in Civil Disobedience and Other Essays that 

The newspaper is a Bible which we read every morning and every afternoon, standing and sitting, riding and walking. It is a Bible which every man carries in his pocket, which lies on every table and counter, and which the mail, and thousands of missionaries, are continually dispersing. 

Thoreau’s broader thought is hardly Catholic orthodoxy, but his observation is incredibly pertinent today, especially in regard to the little devices in our pockets. It used to be said that the devil sits on our shoulder; today we know that he sits in our pocket, sometimes out of sight but rarely out of mind. How would the world be truly transformed if we devoted that same energy to Scripture or a small book of prayer?

The point of this article is not that all medieval peasants were holy; nor is it to say that paying attention to global events is always useless or immoral. Reading the news temperately so as to have an intelligent conversation about reality can be good; however, that should be a relatively low priority when compared with investing in our own communities. 

Furthermore, consuming the news should spring from a spirit of thoughtfulness and charitable consideration, not rage. If we are angry at the state of affairs in the world, then, in the words of Padre Pio, let us “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless.” We should remember to joyfully mind our business, our family, and our community as a simple and saintly peasant of old might. God will heal all things in His time; let us devote our energy to those places where we may be His instrument and entrust the rest of the world to His loving Providence.    

Author

  • Nathaniel Lamansky

    Nathaniel Lamansky graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville with a B.A. in Humanities and Catholic Culture. He currently resides in Montana.

tagged as: Catholic Living

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