Dark Ages & Singing


Can anyone refute this historical claim about the terribly Dark Ages from a protestant sermon? Thanks!

Did you know that there was a long period of history – known as the Dark Ages – when the church didn’t sing? For almost a thousand years congregational singing in the church was practically non-existent. Between about 500 ad and 1500 ad singing in the Roman Catholic controlled church was only allowed by clergy or members of monastic orders. Gregorian chanting inaugurated by Pope Gregory was the main fare. To make matters worse, these ‘songs’ were chanted in Latin – a language the lay people didn’t understand.

The church experience of the average worshipper during the Dark Ages would consist of something like this: Your family would have to endure a service in which you were not allowed to sing; and you had to listen to a sermon [also delivered in Latin] you couldn’t understand. All this so that you could give money so that you could enjoy the forgiveness of sin. How tragic!

Did you also know that one of the distinguishing marks of the Protestant Reformation –along with sola fida and sola scriptura - was the reintroduction of congregational singing?


I just finished a book about St Columba. The Apostle of Scotland. The Irish monks had such an influence during 6,7 +800s. Celtic people sang a lot. Every monk had a harp. All Celtic history was recorded in song. People knew what the Latin meant.
st julie


I would recomoned flipping through a Protestant hymn book and showing them songs written by Catholics during this time period. I’m going straight from memory here, so I could be wrong, but look up “Be thou my vision,” “All Creatures of Our God and King,” and “O, Come. O Come. Emmanuel.”

Ironically enough, many Protestant chruches in America didn’t sing in church for a period of time.


It is true that certain parts of the Mass were chanted and that the choir was almost exclusively composed of monks and clergy. However, Catholics did sing hymns at the end of Mass and were certainly allowed to sing outside of Mass.

This is a mischaracterization of the truth like the reference to buying the forgiveness of sins. (Exactly why is it that so many Protestants can’t grasp the difference between absolution and an indulgence? Even Luther knew that distinction!)


I think the decline of congregational singing was a very bad thing. However, it’s clear that people did participate in Mass in all sorts of ways and found a lot of meaning in it. Tell him to read Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars or John Bossy’s Christianity in the West 1400-1700.



Saint Ambrose (the mentor of Saint Augstine) certainly encouraged the congregation to sing. There was a famous incident when he was ordered by the Ceasar to allow an Arian Bishop to preach. He refused, and his congregation surrounded the church, keeping the Arian out.

Troops were sent – and the congregation sat on the ground, necks bowed to receive the sword, singing. As the troops came up, they began to drop their swords and take their places beside the congregation, singing along with them.


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