Chesterton writes in A Short History of England (which I have not yet read):
But the truth is that it is precisely in the arts of peace, and in the type of production, that the Middle Ages stand singular and unique. This is not eulogy but history; an informed man must recognize this productive peculiarity even if he happens to hate it. The melodramatic things currently called mediæval are much older and more universal; such as the sport of tournament or the use of torture. The tournament was indeed a Christian and liberal advance on the gladiatorial show, since the lords risked themselves and not merely their slaves. Torture, so far from being peculiarly mediæval, was copied from pagan Rome and its most rationalist political science; and its application to others besides slaves was really part of the slow mediæval extinction of slavery. Torture, indeed, is a logical thing common in states innocent of fanaticism, as in the great agnostic empire of China. What was really arresting and remarkable about the Middle Ages, as the Spartan discipline was peculiar to Sparta, or the Russian communes typical of Russia, was precisely its positive social scheme of production, of the making, building and growing of all the good things of life.
As usual, GKC gets past the cliche, into a luminous insight, in a few rolling sentences.
Since I have been interested in productivity during this Lent, that part of it is why I chose this particular quote, though the rest is good too.
I haven't been used to thinking of the Middle Ages as a peculiarly productive time, but now that I think about it, it makes a lot of sense. And productivity is essentially Christian in many ways (though Judaism, of course, had a huge influence upon Christianity). Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski wrote about this in All Ye Who Labor, which I have been trying to reread.
Labor was despised by the Greeks, but was rehabilitated by early monasticism. The Romans were industrious, and so were the Egyptians in a way, but they did not have that sense of the dailiness and hands-on and dignified nature of God's early commission of the human race to:
fill the earth and subdue it
St Josemaria Escriva's main theme in his writings was about the value of ordinary work in sanctifying oneself and one's environment:
Our calling discloses to us the meaning of our existence. It means being convinced, through faith, of the reason for our life on earth. Our life, the present, past and future, acquires a new dimension, a depth we did not perceive before. All happenings and events now fall within their true perspective: we understand where God is leading us, and we feel ourselves borne along by this task entrusted to us. Christ is Passing By, 45