I say that this is big because my first encounter with the Western reception of the classics was in my History 102 course textbook back in the day. The whole thrust of that text, thinking back upon what I remember, was anti-Western and definitely anti-Catholic. Even at the time in my life when I was probably most receptive to such a message this was evident and somehow disturbing. I loved the class, I loved the text, and I utterly loved the professor, a certain Dr. Cromey, who jumped easily from subject to subject without any notes, dropping title after title of suggestions for further reading while the class blankly stared on — for the most part.
I wish I could remember the title of the textbook so I could revisit the passages that are emblazoned into my memory. That such a small nation as Israel should have such great influence in the subsequent development of the world, this is a testament to the power of ideas! Let’s not touch the content of those ideas with a barge pole, nor reflect on the fact that they lie close to the hearts of billions of people still today. The early monastic movement was typified by St. Simon Stylites, who stood for years atop a pole and people came from all around to do homage to the worms that fell from his flesh. Never mind the cultivation of contemplative prayer by a host of more moderate figures such as we find in the Conferences of St. Cassian. St. Jerome was such a curmudgeon that he even outdid St. Augustine in suggesting that the merit of marriage, and thus the loss of virginity, is that it brings about more virgins. Forget about his philological prowess or that the libertine culture he opposed made free use of enslaved boys and girls. Priestly celibacy and Transubstantiation were only first officially declared at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. Never mind that celibacy had been common practice in the West for centuries, and that the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist got its first known unequivocal written mention by St. Ignatius of Antioch, the disciple of St. John the Evangelist, no later than 110 A.D.:
"Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the grace of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead."
Letter to the Smyrnaeans
Or something along those lines. But from what I picked up last night, we can say the exact same thing about medieval culture in the Middle East. They, too, adopted the cultural wealth from the lands they took. That’s just the way history works. The way the text read, though, it you’d think they had saved the classics from a burning Rome. And the monastic Christian intermediaries? They were apparently all up on poles somewhere raining down maggots. And of course no mention whatsoever of the great efforts these early Christian scholars in adopting the wealth of pagan learning, led on by intellectual humility and the conviction that God is rational.