The Dark Ages, the time period in Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire
The Dark Ages was a period of perceived economic and cultural decline in Western Europe; this decline affected the fields of commerce, literacy and law more significantly. This period occurred after the decline of the Roman Empire. It took place from 450 AD to 550 AD and was characterized by a regression of the intellectual prowess of the once brilliant Western Europe. There was also the fear of lurking danger and insecurity because there was a lot of robbery through violence and force. This period of terror was caused by barbarian Goths, vandals and Visigoths who conducted violent raids. The barbarians originated from central and northern Europe.
These Dark Ages took place during the medieval period. It is referred to as the “Dark Ages” because there was a general feeling of fear, despair and anguish among the European countries. The political scene of this period was chaotic as there were too many political leaders all competing for maximum power and influence. This led to conflict, tension and a rise in insecurity. It is also referred to as the Dark Ages because there are very few historical records of this period; the works of literature and art that came from this period are very limited. The level of humanism was also very low because there was no respect for life or human relationships. This period was characterized by intense conflicts during which many people were killed. The term ‘dark’ is also used to denote the uncivilized and barbaric cultures of this period.
The church was a source of refuge for many people during these Dark Ages for many people used Christianity as a source of solace and comfort from the difficult times. However, the Christian was in constant turmoil. The Church had been divided into two main groups that were Christianity and Catholicism. They both believed in God but practiced different doctrines and followed different principles. Both groups held each other with contempt and disdain, thus there was a constant struggle between them as to which was the superior denomination. Protestants were opposed to the papal hierarchy and doctrines such as praying through the Virgin Mary. Catholics however, used this period to convert more people into Catholicism; they maintained a positive outlook towards life despite the fact that the reality was grimmer. This attracted more people to Catholicism hence their numbers grew more than the Protestants.
Muslims on the other hand used the Dark Ages to cause more disorder and chaos. Despite the fact that Western Europe was in total collapse, the Muslims continued to traverse the kingdom spreading controversial messages and implanting divisive ideas among the people. They also participated in violent raids and conquests. Christian leaders were angered by the havoc and suffering the Muslims were causing, Muslims also viewed Christianity as an inferior religion. This caused sharp divisions between Christianity and Islam. Intellectuals during and after this period blamed the decline of intellectualism and commerce on the advent of Christianity. They argued that Christianity condoned poverty and unrealism because of its emphasis on seeking spiritual wealth as opposed to material and worldly wealth. These religious conflicts exist even in modern day culture. This is because Protestants and Catholics still differ over their different doctrines. There are conflicts between Islam and Christianity while some intellectuals believe that religion breeds mediocrity and unnecessary conflict in the world.
The Dark Ages therefore can be compared to the state of religion and religious services among different denominations and cultures today. This paper will however focus on the Christian religion. In the Modern day Church and the Dark Ages’ Church, one of the similarities was conflict over leadership. In the Medieval Dark Ages, conflict began when the political leaders dissented to the influence that the Popes had over the affairs of the state. Philip the Fair of France was opposed to the fact that the Pope was questioning his political decisions. He wanted this to end thus, when the Pope died, he ensured that the next Pope was of French origin and moved the Vatican to France. The next Pope, Gregory XI moved the Vatican back to Rome and died shortly afterwards. His successor was a French Pope but the French objected sharply to his appointment and appointed their own Pope in protest. Therefore, the Catholic Church had two popes. These conflicts led to people’s renouncement and loss of faith in Catholicism.
In the Catholic Church today, there are still issues that cause people to lose faith in the church or convert to other religions. Pope Pius XII was the Pope during the period when Hitler’s rule did not condemn the inhuman activities of the heartless ruler. He failed to reprimand the barbarism that led to the death of millions of people in the Holocaust. His silence during this period made many people to lose hope and believe that the church leadership did not care about them. Therefore, many people abandoned their Christian faith during this period (Daniel-Rops, 2001).
There have also been leadership issues in modern papacy as many Catholic faithfuls express dissatisfaction with the fact that most of the time the Pope is selected from European countries. This has been a contentious issue with some feeling that continents such as North America, South America and Africa are not fairly represented in the Vatican. This has led to disputes in the Catholic Church, which is comparable to the leadership disputes of the Dark Ages. In the Catholic Church today, there are also conflicts over the criteria that is used to select Saints and Cardinals. Over the years, there has been growing concern and outrage over the fact that the selection process of Cardinals and Saints is not transparent enough. In recent times, there have also been several cases of sexual misconduct by priests and other church leaders. Despite the fact that priests are supposed to be celibate, holy and sexually pure, there has been an increase in cases of sodomy and child sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. In addition to this, there are church leaders who practice homosexuality, which is condemned by the Bible. This has given rise to feelings of discontent as people begin to view this process with suspicion and disgruntlement.
In the Dark Ages, there was a high level of corruption in the Church. Church leaders lived in luxury and comfort, whereas the Christian adherents suffered under the strain of poverty and misery during to the Dark Ages. Such leadership made people doubt the genuineness of their leadership. The Church appeared to be using its resources for its own benefit while neglecting the welfare of its members. Church leaders were chosen by the level of favor they had amongst political leaders, therefore the selection processes were usually unfair. This can be compared to the church today because many churches today lay more emphasis on materialism than on Christian doctrines and principles.
The process of selection of church leaders is also marred with controversy and corruption due to politicization. Thus, this has enabled the Church to be used for advancing the political motives of the political leaders. This reduces the credibility of the church among its followers just like in the Dark Ages. During this period of conflict and corruption within the church, there was a general distrust in Christianity by its followers. It is during this period that the plague called Black Death occurred. This plague wiped out almost a quarter of Western Europe’s population. Christians believed that it had been caused by the state of the church. Even today, calamities are sometimes blamed on the decadence of the church (Daniel-Rops, 2001).
This period was also characterized by the corruption of Biblical scripture for many priests translated the Bible to an extent where the original meaning of the scripture was lost and therefore lost its meaning. The Bible was translated to a form that suited the priests and church leaders. Therefore, their teachings were no longer credible. In modern-day Christianity, Bible translation has been commercialized with the Bible being converted into several different languages and versions. In some cases, this has led to mistranslation of certain scripture. Hence, this may lead to the alteration of the teachings of Christianity. The fact that the Bible has been translated from its original form so many times has led to the questioning of the truthfulness of its teachings, and hence loss of faith and trust in the scripture.
The Dark Ages were a period where people lived in fear, uncertainty and worry about their futures. There was death, destruction and hopelessness all around, therefore the people needed religion because it gave them a sense of hope. Unfortunately, the religious leaders did not meet their expectations, as they were worldly and indifferent towards the problems of the common civilians. They lived a life of relative comfort and luxury despite the difficult times. This led to the breaking-up of the church with people who were dissatisfied with the doctrines and the teachings of the Church breaking into many groups.
This new church was known as Protestantism. The people who remained under the Catholic Church persecuted the people who had broken off from Catholicism and this led to conflict and dispute between the Catholics and the Protestants. Many new churches were formed hence the birth of different denominations. The Protestant church was further divided into several sub-groups such as Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists and Calvinists. This is similar to modern day Christianity that is highly liberalized. There are several sub-branches of the Christian church all over the world. There are still differences between the Catholic and Protestant churches. Although both denominations are Christian, there has been a vast difference in their beliefs and practices from the Dark Ages up to date. For instance, they use different Bibles with the Catholic Bible having more books than that of the Protestants.
Daniel-Rops, H., (2001). The Church in the Dark Ages. New York, NY: Phoenix Press.