Tuesday, May 09, 2017

"at the draught of the fishes" - Literacy Rates in Medieval Europe and the Roman Empire

Around Tokyo 

Literacy Rates in Medieval Europe and the Roman Empire

It is considered that Romans and other citizens of the Roman Empire could read the Gospels more often than Europeans in the Middle Ages:
What were literacy rates in Medieval Europe? How did they compare to literacy rates in the Roman Empire? 
W V Harris wrote what's considered the definitive book on Roman literacy levels (Ancient Literacy) and he estimates that about 15% of Italians were literate under the Principate; rather more in Greece, less elsewhere in the Empire. Other historians have challenged his figures, believing them to be rather low. 
Stephen Tempest's answer to How literate would the majority of knights have been in the High Middle Ages? 
To summarise, literacy levels were probably much lower than in Roman times during most of the Middle Ages - perhaps only 6% in England in 1300 - but after the Black Death rose steadily, until by the Renaissance they were probably higher than they had been under the Roman Empire.  
Mediaeval literacy was first and foremost the domain of the Church, but the urban bourgeoisie also found great use for it, followed much later by the gentry and nobility.
So, when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity for its state religion in 392, many Roman citizens should have read the Gospels written in Greek or Latin and made judgment on their contents by themselves, since there must have been no Christian church system such as ones we see today.

However, in the Middle Ages, as the literacy rateslower than that in the Roman Empire suggest, Europeans were a kind of forced to believe in the interpretation of the Gospels written in Greek or Latin by the church and accept creeds established by the church.

Since around 1500 when typography was introduced into European societies by Gutenberg and translation of the Greek and Latin Gospels into local languages was started by Martin Luther and so on, much more Europeans came to read and study the Gospels by themselves.  However, the authentic interpretation of the Gospels and other New Testament documents by the Vatican was not critically challenged by the general public.  This condition has continued even to today.

Nonetheless, there is no reason why we should not review and examine the contents of the New Testament and challenge old authentic interpretation of them.  For example, we may find that three of the four Gospels were not written on the assumption that Christ Jesus was God.

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Luk 5:8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
Luk 5:9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: