I am generally a fan of Rick Steves’s video-travelogues on Europe that air regularly on PBS. Tonight I queued up his “Florence: Heart of the Renaissance” on the DVR player. Sadly, it is from start to finish a rehashing of now discredited views of the Middle Ages and the Church’s role in the development of science, art, and learning.

Indeed, his opening sentence gives it away: “This time we explore the city that pulled Europe out of the Middle Ages and into the modern world.” This is followed seconds later by a remark about Europe “wallowing in centuries of relative darkness” after the fall of Rome with little “learning, commerce, or travel.” He then skips forward to “about 1400” when there was a renaissance of interest in the cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome and “the Church finally lifted its ceiling on learning.” It’s as though nothing of significance happened for roughly 900 years and Michaelangelo and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (the stunning Florence Cathedral), to cite two Florentine examples of the period, appeared out of nowhere.

This is pure rubbish of course, and for a masterful treatment of the West’s steady, continuous, and Catholic rise to modernity, you can scarcely do better than Rodney Stark’s new How the West Won; Henrik Bering’s review in the Wall Street Journal is a good synopsis. (My apology for shilling for Stark so aggressively — his book is that good.)

In any event, enjoy Rick Steves’s infectious enthusiasm for travel and his appreciation for art and culture, but disregard his lazy discourses into history.

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