Christianity responsible for the Dark Ages?


#1

I’ve been debating a neo-pagan who is claims that Christianity responsible for the Dark Ages:

The reason Europe was almost conquered by Islam is because of Christianity. This semitic religion set back Europeans into a dark age never seen by the people who built Rome, Greece, etc. Knowledge, art, science, advancement, were all stopped in their tracks because everyone had to dedicate their lives to some jew nailed to a plank of wood. Instead of worshipping nature and beauty in art, it became some kind of cookie cutter **** where everything was about the same old long haired jew. Medieval Doctors (the handful that existed) were still using ancient Roman medicine as a base, just so you can get an idea how backwards we had become. The church burned people just for saying the world was round for “christs” sake! Just remember, in pagan times Europeans ruled north africa and most of the known world, and the only reason Europe didnt collapse under muslim rule had nothing to do with Christianity (Which created this situation of danger) but rather with the natural will of the people rising to their call in spite of Christianity.

When did all this madness end? When Europeans started going back to their classical roots and furthering themselves from Christianity the renaissance. Then the forces of chaos created a new even worse system, secular humanist enlightenment, which is just Christianity without jesus.

How do I respond to these claims?


#2

Wow, your friend is rewriting history - how convenient!

It wasn’t the Church that drove the West into the Dark Ages. It was the sacking of Rome by the “barbarians” in the 5th century. The West was left with nothing. No government, no food distribution systems, little agricultural know-how. Everyone depended on Rome.

It was the Church that actually saved the West. The people flocked to the only people they knew that had any knowledge - the monasteries. They taught the people how to plant, grow and harvest, how to build, how to care for themselves. It was around these monestaries that the first towns sprouted up. The monks in the monasteries were the one copying manuscripts for the future, they were creating works of art, etc. It was the Church that built the first “universities” (schools). It was the Church that built the first hospitals. I could go on, but…

So, if you (or your friend) will read actual Church history, you’ll see that the Dark Ages were not really that dark.


#3

I’ll just start by saying praise God for the “Dark Ages”!

I’ll add, after saying that, that it seems completely pointless to debate with the person you’re presently debating with. Others might be interesting to debate with, but this person is spewing mockery, open insults and lies, and it’s clear that he’s way too involved in attacking the religion to actually give any of its claims the slightest credence, no matter what history textbooks you bring to bear, and no matter what experts you cite.

I like to debate with reasoning people who are willing to consider other viewpoints and argue intelligently rather than just throw a slew of insults. When faced with ridiculing people of that sort, while on trial, Jesus was silent. He talked with Pilate, the one person of all his accusers who actually had a mind that was willing to consider seriously Jesus’ words. “He who has ears, let him hear,” as Jesus said, and “throw not your pearls before swine.” You can do what you like. I’ve wasted many, many valuable hours arguing with sarcastic and mocking people who aren’t interested at all in thinking about Christianity’s claims. It was an exercise in futility, no matter how good the arguments I raised were. Usually, when pushed into corners, they resort to fallacies rather than admitting, “that’s a good point.”

Anyway, about the specific points brought up:

The reason Europe was almost conquered by Islam is because of Christianity.

Christianity saved Europe from Islam, not the other way around! If one looks back at one’s maps and history textbooks, one can see that historically, Islam swept throughout much of the world. It conquered India and much of Africa, swept through the Middle East and defeated the Sassanid and Byzantine Empires simultaneously! It was an unstoppable menace of the ancient world, and the only force of that time period that was able to effectively repel them was Christian Europe. Christian Europe, under the leadership of men such as Charles Martel, Charlemagne and (later) Ferdinand and Isabella, stopped Islam’s advance and threw it back on its heels. We have much to be proud for, over this. Christ displayed his power in a truly marvelous way by defending Europe so dramatically, when all other nations and empires around it crumbled under the forces of Islamic jihad.

This argument he made is so completely alien to history that I doubt any serious historian would make it. I certainly have never read one make this claim- they tend to praise Charles Martel and the others that defeated this menace for Christendom. He’s probably either quoting some highly biased sources or making up the facts himself, because that’s what he wants to believe.

This semitic religion set back Europeans into a dark age never seen by the people who built Rome, Greece, etc. Knowledge, art, science, advancement, were all stopped in their tracks because everyone had to dedicate their lives to some jew nailed to a plank of wood.

My gosh. If he knew his history, he’d know that barbarian invasions brought Rome to its knees, not Christianity, and the Catholic Church was the only surviving center of culture and knowledge in that time period. A very beautiful one too, I might add :). It preserved knowledge and was the cutting edge of science, education and art in its time. The great painters, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci in the Renaissance created some of history’s most fabulous pieces of art for Christians, in a Christian world. In fact, much of “modern art,” is in a state of intense debate, as many people don’t even think it was art. And the classical music of the past was elegant and lovely, in a more Christian time, whereas our new era, which is further from Christianity, has produced Rock and Roll and throws paint at walls (or a spot in the middle of a blank sheet) and calls it art.

Has this person ever seen the Hagia Sophia? Or any of the monuments, frescos or marble of the Christian Byzantine Empire? Or of the West’s achievements, what does he think of the cathedrals? :eek: :eek: :eek: It is useless to argue with such a person as this. I really recommend you find someone else to argue with.


#4

Instead of worshipping nature and beauty in art, it became some kind of cookie cutter **** where everything was about the same old long haired jew.

This is madly blasphemous and stupid. Don’t respond to it.

Medieval Doctors (the handful that existed) were still using ancient Roman medicine as a base, just so you can get an idea how backwards we had become.

Uhhh . . . isn’t it normal for anyone advancing in medicine to use the knowledge of his recent history as a base? What else is he going to have to base his research off of? The knowledge of the next few centuries that haven’t happened yet?

The church burned people just for saying the world was round for “christs” sake!

That is a lie. It never happened. Christians encouraged and sponsored the research that discovered that the world was round, and no one was burned for the discovery.

Just remember, in pagan times Europeans ruled north africa and most of the known world, and the only reason Europe didnt collapse under muslim rule had nothing to do with Christianity (Which created this situation of danger) but rather with the natural will of the people rising to their call in spite of Christianity.

That is also a lie. The Church never did anything to oppose the fight against Muslim invaders- it encouraged this battle. Perhaps he has forgotten about the Crusades completely?

When did all this madness end?

Where in the world is he getting his madness?

When Europeans started going back to their classical roots and furthering themselves from Christianity the renaissance. Then the forces of chaos created a new even worse system, secular humanist enlightenment, which is just Christianity without jesus.

Well, I agree that the Enlightenment was worse. A lot worse, in fact. And that was the result of the rejection of Christianity. It was not “Christianity without Jesus,” of course. If he knew anything about Christianity, he’d know that.

You know, I very, very strongly recommend that you do no more arguing with this person. His biases are so intense that he will believe anything he hears or concocts from his own brain that is negative about Christianity, but won’t believe anything good (unless he can undermine it with other arguments). He’s believing lies or inventing lies, and he knows nothing about history except a few horrific and stupid stereotypes. Even the most secular, “modern” history book wouldn’t make most of the claims he made. I’ve never heard any of the many agnostics and atheists I’ve argued with make most of those claims, because they are so completely disconnected from anything resembling history.

I really, really recommend you no longer talk with him about this. Find some other agnostic or atheist to argue with and think about that person’s real arguments, things that might be worth knowing about because someone besides him might actually believe the same. You won’t find many people at all who are more hardline biased than this. I never have, in my many years of debating, argued with someone so alien to history.

Just be a loving person around this person and everyone else and pray that God will change his heart.


#5

Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of people are doing today. :frowning:

I can give a great example too.

In my high school history class, we were only taught about the Catholic Church in three periods of history:

  • When Martin Luther rebelled
  • When the Enlightment was discussed
  • When Cortez enslaved the Aztecs

You can imagine how the Church was portrayed in our history textbook. Oh, and I didn’t even know the Church was against the Holocaust until I had read about it on EWTN. Why? Because I never learned it in history class, not even when we discussed the Nazis encircling Vatican City with a chalk line, or something like that.

Sorry for going off topic, btw.


#6

It’s shooting fish in a barrel to respond to things like that.
Break it down into easy steps:

  1. Rome takes over ancient near east more thoroughly and ruthlessly than any imperial power before it. Three continents directly affected. World culture and wealth gravitates to Rome.
  2. Rome disarms rest of ancient near east and most of Europe, much of Africa and a lot of Asia. Rome enslaves captives, provides only profitable employment for intellectuals, taxes people so heavily that many are driven into Rome in search of food and fuel.
  3. Sudden (documented) cooling of Northern Hemisphere leaves mountains and northern reaches of Roman Empire unlivable, desperate. Taxation continues, as Romans, used to an easy life, refuse to give up excesses. Army becomes sickly, sluggish from unhealthy conditions, slack training. People in cold areas learn to make and hide weapons on the sly.
  4. The most desperate peoples charge through the lands between themselves and Rome, taking everything they can use, meeting no resistance because Rome had disarmed the “barbarian” people.
  5. Attacks on Rome intensify until the city has no defense left. Empire collapses, leaving a free-for-all among many peoples, each now hungry, freezing, dislocated and dispossessed, with very little to lose and no way to hold off attacks.
  6. Christians actually teach many to read, which prevents the burning of some scrolls that otherwise might have burned for fuel. Christians walk miles a day carrying food for the hungry to make peace. Christians provide shelter for the enormous homeless population. Western civilization might have been lost forever otherwise. Large majority of Europeans, North Africans, West Asians convert to Christianity voluntarily, impressed by the Christians’ example of peace and compassion during crisis.
  7. Europeans learn to make cities and castles in ways based on need for defense, as well as insulation. Resulting style isn’t to everyone’s taste but has no relationship to any lack of intelligence. Form was following function. Science continues, but peer-review process, publication hampered by shortages, dangers of travel, weather, need to spend much time farming, hunting.
  8. Arabia no longer too hot to travel, movements multiply, constant wars among polytheistic Arab tribes lead monotheists to take role of peacemakers trying to unite their peoples. Mohommad claims to be final prophet, spreads doctrine that actually mandates pilgrimage for males.
  9. Mohommad tries to court Jews, Christians to join his movement. They aren’t interested. He then declares need to convert them, militarily if necessary.
  10. Increasing wealth in Mideast emboldens Muslim armies to attack other peoples.
    And the rest is the history of the Late Middle Ages, not the Dark Ages.

#7

There is unfortunately a grain of truth here.
It was not though Christianity which caused the dark age, but Rome.
Actually, in the far west of Europe, there was not a dark age, only a forgotten golden age.
When Rome was about to fall, Britain was re-armed, and many Saxon and Mid European Auxiliaries formed a redoubt on these Islands.
This redoubt was the source of the Arthurian legends.
History has been re-written to forget Arthur. His legend has been transplanted into Cornwall, where it can be easily disproved, from the Eastern Central Lowlands of Scotland, where the landscape fits the history.
Remember where the Christian revival came from, it was from Scotland, and Northern Britain.
From Iona and from Durham.
Your best copy of the Vulgate was written in Durham!
At this time the seat of Peter was not in Rome, but France.
Rome was a bombed site.
It was the efforts of the Western Europeans who rebuilt Rome, and Rome in her pride chooses to forget this.
History has been rewritten to forget this.
There was no Dark Age in Britain before the arrival of the Black Death, by which time Rome had been saved from obscurity.
There is here no criticism of Catholicity, or Christianity, only the politics of the politicians hiding behind Catholicity and Christianity.


#8

The “Dark Ages”, in my opinion, is not an appropriate or accurate way to describe the Middle Ages. To say that Christianity is responsible for it is absurd - well, certainly if you do indeed regard pre-Renaissance as a ‘dark’ age. It is indeed true that from about the 5th century on there was a decline of interest in the art, architecture and literature of ancient Greece and Rome, but that does not mean that there was a massive void for the next 800 years. The artists of the Middle Ages were merely finding new ways of cultural expression. Indeed much of this was done with and for the Church, especially in terms of art and architecture. Many of our great cathedrals came from this so-called dark-age. They are as pleasing to the eye as any of the great buildings of Greece and Rome, and they were no less complex in their engineering to ensure that such cathedrals would stand the test of time. In addition to this, if the architects of the “dark-ages” had abandoned Roman architectural principles, these cathedrals probably couldn’t have been built as they would not have been able to make use of the Roman style arch which was widely used and perfected by the ancient Romans themselves.

Though the style of art was certainly different from that of the Romans, on its own it is certainly worthy of merit. Some of the greatest artwork I have ever seen comes from the Middle Ages & again, much of it was supported by the Church. There is some marvellous stained-glass for example - something which the Romans are not noted for! Look at the intricate carvings around the doors of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, for example, or the great carved altar-screen of Winchester cathedral in England. They may initially look quite simple, but they all tell a story - a scripture-class through sculpture and colour to educate the illiterate majority. Also, remember, that illiteracy was not a symptom of the Middle Ages - the average Roman was quite illiterate; what was written was written for the upper-classes. By promoting religious art & teaching through art, the Church enhanced the ordinary person’s knowledge rather than diminish it.

Finally, in terms of writing, there were indeed new styles emerging, but history has judged that they have been no less significant than Greek or Roman texts. One need look no further than Chaucer’s The Canturbury Tales - a product of the “Dark-ages” but regarded by many as a masterpiece of English literature. Aside from the poetic content of it, just the sheer volume of writing that Chaucer produced in this work is astonishing. Drama was also encouraged by the Church - indeed it was central to many religious festivals. They were called mystery plays or morality plays. These had a clear didactic function as Greek plays had, and they merged this very often with wit and good humour. Given that they are written in Middle-English they can be difficult to grasp, but if you can get your head around the language they are quite a good read, and not at all a product of a backward, unthinking society.


#9

How do you respond? Give the poor ignorant fellow a few history books so that his convenient mythology can be replaced by actual knowledge. Hand him the books and ask him to get back to you when he knows what he’s talking about.


#10

Indeed, and I don’t think you’ll find many reputable historians today using the term, other than maybe to refer to “what people mistakenly used to call the Dark Ages”.


#11

For a critique of the current situation just before the fall of Rome, give you friend Augustine’s “The City of God”. The first ten books are a critique of the pagan world brought on by the sake of Rome.

God bless,
Ut


#12

First of all, no one was ever burned at the stake for saying the world was round (the idea that there were people in the Southern Hemisphere, cut off from us by a zone of burning heat and thus not descended from Adam, was regarded as a heresy, though I don’t think anyone was burned for it). In fact, the practice of burning heretics at the stake started once the “Dark Ages” were over, just as Christians were turning back to their classical roots. (Admittedly, in this case they were probably influenced by the late Roman code of law drawn up by Justinian, but the Romans had practiced burning at the stake throughout their history.) Your correspondent is making a common confusion between the cultural “darkness” of the early Middle Ages and practices that we find morally repellent such as burning of heretics and witches. These practices were actually more characteristic of the later (culturally glorious) Middle Ages–in fact the execution of witches didn’t become a large-scale phenomenon until the Renaissance.

The basic claim that Christianity helped bring about the collapse of Roman civilization is a much more difficult one to evaluate. The classic statement of this view is in Edward Gibbon (in fact, I’ve just been reading his discussion of Christianity!), but various forms of it continue to be made. There is no way to prove causality on such a huge scale. Inevitably, people with different agendas are going to pick out certain pieces of evidence over others. What historians can do is try to keep everyone honest by refuting obviously ridiculous claims such as the one I dealt with above.

A further point: according to Peter Brown (one of the most distinguished historians of “late antiquity”–in fact he largely created the field out of what had been the borderland between ancient and medieval history), there was a shift in Roman elite cultural values around 200 A.D., away from a civic-minded, rationalistic, “secular” approach toward a greater belief in the supernatural and a more pessimistic attitude to this world. In the earlier period, according to Brown, Roman elites saw “superstition” (excessive and irrational concern with the supernatural is basically how they would have defined it) as characteristic of uneducated people. In the third century and later, we see much less difference between how the elites thought about the universe and how the common people did. Everyone was concerned with omens and miracles and magic and the afterlife. This was obviously favorable ground for Christianity, but it almost certainly wasn’t due to Christianity. That is not necessarily an interpretation favorable to Christianity–it makes the triumph of Christianity seem a byproduct of a larger cultural shift (and not necessarily a good one from many points of view)–and I don’t know if Brown is right. But if he is (and other scholars of the period that I’ve read seem to bear this interpretation out–Ramsay MacMullen, for instance), then one can’t really blame Christianity for the “Dark Ages.” It may be (not that I’m a Marxist or anything) that this shift was itself a response to political and economic changes–the breakdown of the “Pax Romana” at the end of the second century, etc.

It is of course valid to point out that the Church preserved much of Greco-Roman culture throughout the Dark Ages. But in the first place, that leaves the question of why the collapse happened, and in the second place, your friend is not going to be very impressed with this, since obviously one can also point to many aspects of Greco-Roman culture (and not just obviously bad ones) that were despised or rejected by early medieval Christendom.

Edwin


#13

I don’t believe that Christianity had anything to do with securing the borders of the Roman empire.

The Huns (and all of their allies from central Asia) started moving west. They clashed with the Germanic tribes (who had been pressuring Rome on their own) and started a great “falling dominoes” effect that would continue for centuries. Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, Alemani, Suevi, Burgundi…

What did Christianity have to do with recalling the legions from Britain in 410 AD? The were recalled to deal with the threat from the East. What did Christianity have to do with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in Britain at that time much less the Norse who followed in later centuries?

I take a more anthropological point of view to these vast movements of people rather than a classical historical point of view a la Gibbon. The Hunnic peoples, it should be remembered, first threw themselves east and were repelled by the Chinese (remember the Great Wall?). They then moved west and hit the Goths who were not Christian at that time and who were constantly probing against Roman defenses. This was not about Christianity but about a massive movement of people.


#14

The idea that people were killed for saying the world is round or for saying that that the earth circles the sun is a modern myth.
We knew the world is round before Christ and we never forgot it or suppressed it. It never made any theological difference whether the earth circles the sun or v.v. Actually, everything moves relative to everything and there is nothing that ever stands still, but that’s another story for another time. Copernicus wasn’t persecuted; he died of natural causes the year he published his findings. Galileo also died naturally, in his palatial estate where he received a generous allowance from the Church all his life. His crime? He mocked the Pope and refused a normal, slow review process because he wanted to hurry up and have his conclusions adopted. His punishment? He was restricted in his movements to his gigantic grounds, to work there many years in luxury. He expressed regret for his rudeness in later life. No one ever asked him to recant on the movement of the earth. He was simply asked to let other astronomers check his figures on the orbital speeds of planets. He resisted because it would take too long.
Columbus was no iconoclast, either. He wanted to find aquicker route to the East by going west. No one thought the world was flat; they all thought the world was too big and the open sea to stormy to sail. In fact, by the shipmaking state of the art then, it was. He was wrong. Even had anyone thought the world flat, he wouldn’t have disproved such a mistake by going to the Caribbean from the Atlantic coast of Europe. He didn’t cover even a third of the earth’s circumference that way. He proved simply that the Atlantic wasn’t too wide and deadly for a good 15th-Century fleet.


#15

The reason Europe was almost conquered by Islam is because of Christianity. This semitic religion set back Europeans into a dark age never seen by the people who built Rome, Greece, etc. Knowledge, art, science, advancement, were all stopped in their tracks because everyone had to dedicate their lives to some jew nailed to a plank of wood. Instead of worshipping nature and beauty in art, it became some kind of cookie cutter **** where everything was about the same old long haired jew.

Erm, nope. It has more to do with humans fighting each other than the fault of a religion.

Isn’t it awesome that an obscure Jewish sect who has for its head guy some Jew who was convicted of a crime and executed by being nailed to a wooden log (the guy you’ll never want when you’re starting a religion) managed to transform into a religion with millions of members?

The church burned people just for saying the world was round for “christs” sake!

Oh, please. Don’t perpetuate the modern belief that Medieval people are stupid, dirty buffoons who believe the world is flat (and who’s being backwards here?).

Here’s a helpful article: Modern Medieval Map Myths.

Most people (who are incidentally, Christians), with a few exceptions believed the world was round; what was being debated then was whether there are any people in the ‘underside’ of the World…


#16

Ask your friend what great advancements in Science came from the Middle East from 600AD til… well, til even now!!! There are none. And Europe caused this?


#17

BTW, ask your friend if he’s ever heard of Father Capernicus, the man who introduced the “World is Round and the planets revolve around the sun” theory. Yes, a Catholic priest taught this before Galileo.

Your friend is simply displaying his ignorance when he claims Galileo and others were tortured for this claim. Any problems with Galileo came from his anti-biblical-accuracy teaching as a result of the thought that the world is round.


#18

Chesterton said " It would be truer to compare the Dark Ages to a dark room with chinks in the shutter through which particular rays of light could pierce. But the light was daylight, what there was of it; and not even a dull or troubled daylight. It was broad daylight that came through a narrow hole." Cited from Chaucer.

The Dark Ages are named so because everywhere, there was violence, war, invasion and chaos. Despite its upheaval, it was the most creative age of all. While there was not much cultural achievement, it produced the means by which later advances would be gained-it created the very culture itself.

From the Dark Ages, we exit to the Middle Ages, where there was a burst of actvity in the areas of theology, religous art, architecture, science and engineering, music and literature. These sprang forth from the Dark Ages reigns of Charles the Great, and the Gregorian Reforms of Pope Gregory the Great.


closed #19

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