Dark Ages Myths, help dispelling them?

Thanks to the wonderful World History curriculum at my district, we are told that, “Nobody, not even some priests, could read the Bible, so the people didn’t know what God said.” I can see part of this, but there is more to the story, right?

The next idea is from the 95 Theses, largely laughable but for this quote(paraphrase): “Rather than be merciful to the neighbor, the Church instead wants their money.”

Next, related to the first, is the vaguely implied idea that the Dark Ages kept the faithful in the dark, and that they just did whatever the Catholic clergy told them to. Polyphony and Gregorian Chant, and all of the rituals of the Church were ways to keep them in the dark from the Christian past.

I know this is silly, but I’d appreciate some help. Also, my history teacher is super nice. Just saying that.

…well there’s anti-Catholic propaganda; then there’s revisionists’ history; then there’s anti Catholic propaganda… :whistle::whistle::whistle:

Check this out, it will help you shed some light on what truly transpired:

The Catholic Church - Builder of Civilization (youtube.com/watch?v=m5siHd1P5zk)

While it is true that pagans and barbarians would raze almost everything in their path as they murdered and pillaged the fact remains that the Catholic Church, through the efforts of Monks and other Clerics, constantly reproduced (by hand–the printing press had not been invented) not only Sacred Books but everything from art to science.

Though it is true that some Priests did not have much of an education (inclusive of those who may have been illiterate), the fact remains that it was the Church who contained the most amount of learned and literate members (funny thing most "historians don’t tell you is that even monarchs had very little education–some could barely write their own names since “education” was seen as something for the weak and fragile); conversely, women were not allowed to be educated–one of the reasons why convents were rejected and destroyed (nuns would educate their novices.

I’m sorry for your “teachers;” they seem to be stock in the “blame the Catholic Church” twilight zone:

During the High Middle Ages Europe was in a process of immense development and technological and societal expansion. During this time we get the first universities, where not only theology was studied (as some might believe) but also theoretical physics, optics, astronomy, mathematics and other sciences. People from all over the Christian world, even from remote Scandinavia and Iceland, came to study at famous universities like Bologna or Sorbonne. During the 14th century, empiric studies in the school of nominalism lay the foundation of the modern scientific method. Just because one was Christian, one was far from locked and stuck with dogma. On the contrary, it was often the clergy, monks and nuns who produced great thinkers and scientists – Yes, even Pope John XXI (d. 1277) wrote books on logic and medicine! Already in the 6th century we have Issodorius of Seville, the father of modern science and vividly studied in both the Christian and Muslim world during the middle ages. Then we have English bishop Robert Grosseteste (1168-1253), who wrote several works on astronomy, physics and optics. His disciples in the so called Oxford-school continued his work and focused their work on mathematics and experimental science. Then we have the monk and scientist, author and inventor Roger Bacon (1214-1292) who developed the theoretical optics. Then we have a bunch of philosophers like Berengar of Tours, Pierre Abélard, Roscelin, William Ockham, John Duns, Jean Buridan, Bonaventura, Nicolas Oresme - the latter was a poor Norman son of a peasant (born ca 1320) who became a doctor, bishop, scientist and author of no less than 35 works on theology, economy, politics, mathematics, physics and astronomy. He was the first to perform calculations involving probability, and invented mathematical graphs. Most people know of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who embraced the works of Aristotle and Averroes. Domincan friar Durand de Saint-Pourcain discovered around 1320 that the planetal orbits are not concentric, but excentric (proved in the 17th century by Kepler). During the high Middle Ages the scholars and scientists commented and developed ancient knowledge. In the 11th century, the philosophical school of Scholastics was born. The scholastics studied Arab and classic antique scholars, especially Aristotle. **They used a strict scientific argumentation in their studies, used to this day. **(allempires.com/article/index.php?q=dynamic_middle_ages)

…so, if they are talking about lack of modern lighting tech or phones or internet, well, yes, dark ages!

Maran atha!


It is true that books were expensive and somewhat rare before the printing press and Bibles were mostly printed in Greek and Latin. However, the Bible was not any kind of a secret. Many people could read those classical languages. All Western priests were supposed to be able to read Latin, Eastern presbyters could read Greek.

Pursue and enjoy academic history!

But, just had to point out, as you learn “history” you will find there is no such thing as revisionist history, only revised historiographies.

Exactly. This was the point of many of the reforms of the Counter-Reformation, to ensure that this was the case everywhere.

You really shouldn’t bother with people who believe in the “Dark Ages” - no such period existed and it’s a result of atheistic propaganda from enlightenment historians like Gibbon and others

Wonderful thread!

Will post more information here later.

Looking forward to it.

Might also get the obligatory accusation of triumphalism from the liberals but if triumphalism is rejoicing in the Truth of Jesus Christ and His Church, the Catholic Church then look at it as a compliment. :slight_smile:

Please remember your teacher is the authority in your class. What the teacher says is the right answer on the tests, even if it is not the correct answer from history. Should you wish to engage your teacher on a discussion of the items in question, it is best done outside your class (between classes/after school, etc.), in a manner where you are not able to be presented as a disrespectful, trouble making, insolent young person. You may also want to involve your parents or other adults (perhaps a Catholic teacher at your school) as witnesses to the discussion.

The truth of the matter is not as clear cut as your teacher presents. I suppose there were many priests who were not highly educated by today’s standards, but they did proclaim (read out loud) the word of God to the people. There may have been some illiterate monks involved in copying the manuscripts, but a great many were literate. The irony is it was the Catholic Church’s preservation of western knowledge during the middle ages that enabled the Renaissance to happen.

It also should be remembered that clergy were frequently the second, third, fourth, etc. son of nobility and so were better educated than the common people.

Here are a few web links:



And there is a book that might help: Those Terrible Middle Ages: Debunking the Myths by Regine Pernoud - amazon.com/Those-Terrible-Middle-Ages-Debunking/dp/0898707811

Best of luck with your studies, and remember to treat your teacher with respect and charity.

Yes. One of things I most enjoy pointing out is all the efforts the Church made to help people read the Bible.

Promotion of Scripture Study & Bible Reading in Church History

For example, consider these remarks from St. Alcuin of York, who was a British monk in charge of educating an academy in Germany:

798 A.D. - St. Alcuin of York - “Accustom the boys to…learn the sacred Scriptures, [so] that when they are grown up they may teach others. … [S]tudy the text; understand its meaning [so] that you may both feed yourselves and feed others with the food of the spiritual life.” Also: “Therefore the reading of the Holy Scriptures is necessary, for in them each may learn what he must follow and what avoid.” (Letters to the Monasteries of Lindisfarne and Hexham, at it appears in G.F. Browne, Alcuin of York, p. 136, 138)

St. Alcuin clearly promoted Bible reading and Scripture study. This was not just one lone monk, either. He was the major player behind the Carolingian Renaissance, through which Emperor Charlemagne created additional incentives to study throughout his empire. In this example, not only was St. Alcuin in charge of his own academy in Germany, but he was writing to monasteries in England to get them to adopt a program of Scripture study for students in their schools as well. Already, Scripture reading was spreading from throughout Germany and England.

In 1215 A.D. the 12th Ecumenical Council took up this cause and helped spread literacy precisely so that more people could read the Bible: “[In] each cathedral church there should be provided a suitable [income] for a master who shall instruct without charge the [priests] of the cathedral church and other poor [students]… [Each] metropolitan church shall [also] have a theologian to teach scripture to priests and others and especially to instruct them in matters which are recognized as pertaining to the cure of souls.” (Fourth Lateran Council Canon 11)

Notice that the Council requests that all cathedrals and city churches have a teacher who can teach people to read the Bible – freely, “without charge.” Why did they do this if they didn’t want people to read the Bible? Shortly after the protestant revolt, the Council of Trent repeated this canon:

1546 A.D. - 19th Ecumenical Council - “[Let all churches] at least have a master — to be chosen by the bishop… — to teach grammar gratuitously to clerics, and other poor [students], that so they may afterwards, with God’s blessing, pass on to the said study of sacred Scripture.” (Council of Trent Session 5 Chapter 1)

And: “Furthermore, those who are teaching the said sacred Scripture, as long as they teach publicly in the schools, as also the [students] who are studying in those schools, shall fully enjoy…[special] privileges…” (Council of Trent Session 5 Chapter 1)

The Council also said that the reading of Scripture is “necessary to the Christian commonwealth.” (Council of Trent Session 5 Chapter 2)

Why did the Council make these decrees, not just for priests but for “other poor [students],” if they didn’t want anybody reading the Bible? Answer: they Did want people reading the Bible, because the Church has always recognized that knowledge of the Bible is good and praiseworthy, and in a certain sense necessary for Christendom to flourish.

There was a lot of illiteracy, but the Church did everything it could to spread literacy, precisely so that people could read the Bible.

The next idea is from the 95 Theses, largely laughable but for this quote(paraphrase): “Rather than be merciful to the neighbor, the Church instead wants their money.”

There are two implications here: the Church didn’t show mercy to people, and the Church was greedy.

The first charge is wrong for many reasons, but among them is this: the Sacrament of Reconciliation was free. Anybody could go to their priests and confess their sins and be forgiven. Redemption is the ultimate sign of God’s mercy, and the Church offered this freely through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, therefore it was not unmerciful.

As to the second point, two points come to mind: first, I have heard from many reputable sources that there were abuses involving clergymen who tried to sell indulgences for money. Even the 19th Ecumenical Council recognizes that some men were obtaining “evil gains” through the abuse of indulgences, and required bishops to search out clergymen in their dioceses who were abusing indulgences and report them in a synod. (Session 25 Decree Concerning Indulgences) Martin Luther and the Council of Trent seem to have agreed on this point: the abuse of indulgences to acquire “evil gains” was bad and needed to be stopped. But secondly, the very fact that the Church condemned this is really good evidence that the Church was not greedy. Some people In the Church were greedy, but that’s true everywhere. The Church did what it could to stop the abuses, and that’s a legitimate reform.

I hope that helps. Please let me know. God bless!

What about the myth of the Spanish inquisition and the Catholic Church…

Instructor is always right and you wont change their mind.

BUT- This myth that the Church chained bibles to keep people ignorant and take advantage of them is so absurd I cant believe thinking people actually subscribe to it.:mad:

Before the advent of the printing press in 1450-ish, it took a year or longer to copy and make a bible. So that’s the equivalent of maybe $30,000 in today’s salary. If your professor had a $30,000 book he/she would probably not just leave it sitting on the doorstep. They would safeguard it.

We know through most of our 2,000 year history people could not read. The critics of the Church are applying today’s standards to yesterdays occurrences. The Church made concessions to the people and spoon feed them scripture in the Mass. they also put statues or icons in the Church so that the illiterate could have somewhat of a idea of what was being discussed.

I wish these mature adults would care enough to explore more deeply the reasons why the Church did things. If you want to learn about something go to their sources, not the enemies of the source.

I have corrected one my history professors before. You need to call people out when they are wrong. Your educators may or may not have heard the other side of the story before. Either write on one of your papers (which is what I did) or talk to them outside of class about how it makes you feel.

Peebo, you need to start another thread for that. The Spanish Inquisition happened in the “Early Modern” period, not in any kind of “Dark Ages.”

Every parish church had a priest’s missal and a ectionary book, with all the readings and prayers. Every priest read the prayers from the missal and the readings from the lectionary. Sometimes they weren’t terribly good at it, and there were a few scandalous cases where priests apparently just mumbled, but the fact they were a scandal tells you how few they were.

Bishops either trained and educated priest candidates at their own house (the beginning of seminaries) or at a cathedral school. Later on, priest candidates went to universities. All priests had to be personally ordained by some bishop, or by an abbot with the powers of a bishop. They didn’t just pick people out at random.

In a small village, the priest might be the only one who knew how to read and figure (ie, do math), so he was often called upon by the whole village and its lord, to write letters and do accounts. This was a pain in the butt, so priests had a lot of incentive to teach these basic skills to both adults and children.

In anything bigger than a village, the lord’s steward would know how to read and write. So would any merchants or prosperous farmers. So would lawyers and physicians. Often their wives and kids would also know how to read and write.

Nuns often knew how to read and write, because that was an important part of a convent education. They had to know Latin so as to sing the Hours and the Mass. Nuns also copied out and illuminated books, just as monks did. Recent research has revealed that they were doing a lot of the big Carolingian copying project, for example, but even in the Dark Ages, they show up as copyists and illuminators.

The Franks actually tended to educate normal laywomen living at home more highly than the men, because men were expendable but women tended to live. It was the job of women to run the household and cure the sick, and an educated woman brought a much higher brideprice to the clan. (And she’d be coming back to her birth family in the end, if she lived, so no investment in her education would be lost to her family by marriage, unless she died in childbirth or the like.)

Education was time-consuming and expensive, but it also tended to spread. There was less schooling in times of turmoil, and more in times of peace. Knowledge never died out entirely.

But yes, the average Dark Ages peasant probably knew more Bible stories and sayings and proverbs than the average American who claims to be Christian. They had retentive memories and not a lot of entertainment to distract them. So they actually paid attention in church.

I like putting it on papers.

Hi, Peebo!
Here’s some info on it:

Henry Kamen asserts that the ‘myth’ of the all-powerful, torture-mad inquisition is largely an invention of nineteenth century Protestant authors with an agenda to discredit the Papacy.[2] Although records are incomplete, about 150,000 persons were charged with crimes by the Inquisition and about 3,000 were executed.

Thomas Madden describes the world that formed medieval politics: “The Inquisition was not born out of desire to crush diversity or oppress people; it was rather an attempt to stop unjust executions. Yes, you read that correctly. Heresy was a crime against the state. Roman law in the Code of Justinian made it a capital offense. Rulers, whose authority was believed to come from God, had no patience for heretics”.[21] The monarchs decided to introduce the Inquisition to Castile to discover and punish crypto-Jews, and requested the pope’s assent. Ferdinand II of Aragon pressured Pope Sixtus IV to agree to an Inquisition controlled by the monarchy by threatening to withdraw military support at a time when the Turks were a threat to Rome. The pope issued a bull to stop the Inquisition but was pressured into withdrawing it. On 1 November 1478, Pope Sixtus IV published the Papal bull, Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus, through which he gave the monarchs exclusive authority to name the inquisitors in their kingdoms. The first two inquisitors, Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San Martín, were not named, however, until two years later, on 27 September 1480 in Medina del Campo.

The Inquisition was created through papal bull, Ad Abolendam, issued at the end of the twelfth century by Pope Lucius III as a way to combat the Albigensian heresy in southern France. There were a huge number of tribunals of the Papal Inquisition in various European kingdoms during the Middle Ages. In the Kingdom of Aragon, a tribunal of the Papal Inquisition was established by the statute of Excommunicamus of Pope Gregory IX, in 1232, during the era of the Albigensian heresy. Although not an inquisitor, as canon lawyer and an advisor to James I of Aragon, Raymond of Penyafort was often consulted regarding questions of law regarding the practices of the Inquisition in the king’s domains. “…[T]he lawyer’s deep sense of justice and equity, combined with the worthy Dominican’s sense of compassion, allowed him to steer clear of the excesses that were found elsewhere in the formative years of the inquisitions into heresy.”

The Inquisition was extremely active between 1480 and 1530. Different sources give different estimates of the number of trials and executions in this period; Henry Kamen estimates about 2,000 executed, based on the documentation of the autos-da-fé, the great majority being conversos of Jewish origin. He offers striking statistics: 91.6% of those judged in Valencia between 1484 and 1530 and 99.3% of those judged in Barcelona between 1484 and 1505 were of Jewish origin.[28]

For the next few centuries, while the rest of Europe was slowly awakened by the influence of the Enlightenment, Spain stagnated.[58] However, this conclusion is contested.

The censorship of books was actually very ineffective, and prohibited books circulated in Spain without significant problems. The Spanish Inquisition never persecuted scientists, and relatively few scientific books were placed on the Index. On the other hand, Spain was a state with more political freedom than in other absolute monarchies in the 16th to 18th centuries. The backwardness of Spain in economy and science may not be attributable to the Inquisition.[59]

The first sodomite was burned by the Inquisition in Valencia in 1572, and those accused included 19% clergy, 6% nobles, 37% workers, 19% servants, and 18% soldiers and sailors.[67]

Nearly all of almost 500 cases of sodomy between persons concerned the relationship between an older man and an adolescent, often by coercion; with only a few cases where the couple were consenting homosexual adults. About 100 of the total involved allegations of child abuse. Adolescents were generally punished more leniently than adults, but only when they were very young (under ca. 12 years) or when the case clearly concerned rape, did they have a chance to avoid punishment altogether. As a rule, the Inquisition condemned to death only those sodomites over the age of 25 years. As about half of those tried were under this age, it explains the relatively small percent of death sentences.

As with all European tribunals of the time, torture was employed.[83][84] The Spanish inquisition, however, engaged in it far less often and with greater care than other courts.[83][85] Historian Henry Kamen contends that some “popular” accounts of the inquisition (those that describe scenes of uncontrolled sadistic torture) are not based in truth. Kamen argues that torture was only ever used to elicit information or a confession, not for punitive reasons.[86] The torture lasted up to 15 minutes.[83] (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Inquisition)

Maran atha!


…let’s not forget the various depictions found in the parishes’ stained glass windows where Biblical stories were told!

Maran atha!


The good old “Dark Ages” appears again. I suggest the following:


Ask anyone the following: Why are they called the Dark Ages?


Weird. Every modern curriculum I’ve read doesn’t call it “Dark Ages” anymore specifically because things weren’t as backwards and ignorant as pop culture seems to think. It was by no means an educated wonderland. But check it.

Byzantium carried on Roman education. They said the Byzantine Emperor had a mechanical throne that would move about. The Islamic word during the Middle Ages was hugely educated compared to Western Europe. And the poor whipping boy, Western Europe, the monasteries were beacons of learning and culture. Sure, things like literacy wasn’t widespread. But there were dedicated centers of education and learning maintained by the Church. Those stained glass windows we all love? And those ornate triptychs? They were methods of educating the masses who couldn’t read. And bring up the Carolingian Renaissance. Charlemagne paid for vast projects to educate the Holy Roman Empire citizens.

I think the myths of the Middle Ages being devoid of intellectualism stems from looking on the Renaissance and Enlightenment with rose-colored glasses. And that the education it did have weren’t so much focused on rational inquiry and critical thought which are hallmarks of education and academia for the subsequent ages.

…critical thought? …would that not just be the same reasoning of the “new and improved European nation/s?”:

The intellectual roots of critical thinking are as ancient as its etymology, traceable, ultimately, to the teaching practice and vision of Socrates 2,500 years ago who discovered by a method of probing questioning that people could not rationally justify their confident claims to knowledge. (criticalthinking.org/pages/a-brief-history-of-the-idea-of-critical-thinking/408)

…it sounds more as a rejection of the past so as to not credit the Church for her efforts in contributing, nay, fostering science and development!

Maran atha!


This is probably because before the printing press in the 15th century, Bibles literally had to be hand written by monks and friars, so it was difficult to get hold on them. You can respond to say that the Church tries to get the message of the Gospel to people who didn’t have easy access to the Bible. Like stain-glassed windows teaching the life of Christ, and sermons preached, along with the Bible being preached at every Mass.

In addition, the Holy Rosary gave those who prayed it an intense meditation on the 15 (now 20 with the Luminous mysteries) big parts of Christ’s life.

The idea that the “Church officials” (like it’s the FBI) wanted to keep them in the “dark” is that they wanted their souls to get to heaven, everything else is secondary. Gregorian chant and polyphony notes are just an aspect of the Church’s liturgy to allow the faithful to pray better, since Gregorian chant is sung prayer.
But your school’s curriculum will make humanistic principles look superior, so like an increase in navigation and voyages in the Renaissance will be made to look good above the morality of Europe, until the voyagers hurt the natives, then it’s apparently the Church’s fault, again.

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