UPON all this came the enormous incident of the Black Death. Here half the people, there a third, there again a quarter, died; from that additional blow the great experiment of the Middle Ages could not recover.
Men clung to their ideal for yet another hundred and fifty years. The vital forces it had developed still carried Europe from one material perfection to another; the art of government, the suggestion of letters, the technique of sculpture and of painting (here raised by a better vision, there degraded by a worse one), everywhere developed and grew manifold. But the supreme achievement of the thirteenth century was seen in the later fourteenth to be ephemeral, and in the fifteenth it was apparent that the attempt to found a simple and satisfied Europe had failed.
The full causes of that failure cannot be analyzed. One may say that science and history were too slight; that the material side of life was insufficient; that the full knowledge of the past which is necessary to permanence was lacking—or one may say that the ideal was too high for men. I, for my part, incline to believe that wills other than those of mortals were in combat for the soul of Europe, as they are in combat daily for the souls of individual men, and that in this spiritual battle, fought over our heads perpetually, some accident of the struggle turned it against us for a time. If that suggestion be fantastic (which no doubt it is), at any rate none other is complete.
~Hilaire Belloc: Europe and the Faith, Ch. VII─The Middle Ages.