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Luthers Schism. And, ” The Dark Ages? “

Please read this with an ounce of whimsical and a pound of sincerity.  Martin Luther, 95 Theses

I was kept up last night about what the issue at hand was for Martin Luther. I am preparing for teaching the book of Romans. Since Romans and Galatians are the two books Luther found the most life changing and useful in his endeavors for change in the church I have been thinking a bit about him. I have read and written quite a bit on the middles ages preceding the reformations. As I have often set out to defend the church of the middle ages it is also something I have aimed to clarify, that the church was no doubt in need of reform.

I have laid out in other places that the church indeed had a couple of reforms take place throughout the middle ages. Specifically the Reform of Pope Gregory VII. Though Gregory VII denied the honor saying that honor was to be given to Gregory the Great whose name he took as Pope. Pope Gregory the Great never sought to have a position in the high church. Against his will he was forced into office. Though it was essential for the church to have actually given the Papal office to a man of humility and integrity. Pope Gregory VII sought to honor Gregory the Great by taking his name and continuing the work of reform that Gregory the first had brought. Simony (the buying of priestly offices) was a serious problem in the church. Along with the buying of offices by corrupt men came the depravity of the priesthood. These were area of great concern for the early reformers. 5751120-M

So Luther had sought to bring about his own reforms. Though he went further than any others had ever gone before. His challenge of the Pope’s authority took on greater meaning as the Papal bull of 1302 ‘Unam Sanctum’ was drawn up. A document that most historians consider to be the most extreme statements of Papal authority ever made. So the problems in the church had never been worse then the century leading up to the time of Luther. It is also of important note that Luther was not the first monk to respond to the abuse within the church in those early times. John Wycliffe in 1384 attempted reform in England, then the Czech Jan Hus in 1415 in Prague. Later we come to Luther in Germany, Calvin and Zwingli in Switzerland (there influence spreading throughout other parts of Europe into Scotland, Germany, France, and Hungary.) This is only to mention a few of the locations breaking into reform or schism with the Roman Catholic Church. There was a great need that the church had for change, reform, and even schism. It is important to note that it was reform that men like Luther sought. But they soon realized they could only settle for a break with the previous Roman Catholic institution.

Thus the story of the church throughout the middle ages is rife with corruptions, wheat and tares. But it remains the church until a split has taken place. Though there has been some actual reform in the Roman Catholic church there has also been a sinking into more error. The Roman Catholic Church like any other denomination has issues that need to be addressed, some more serious then the rest. Clarity about salvation and papal infallibility to name just two. The Catholic church was not wrong to attempt to exercise some control over the translation of scriptures for the sake of protecting them and assuring they would be translated well. The need for the Reforms I believe had less to do with the availability of bibles in the language of the people then it had to do with a) how someone gets saved, b) who has the authority. The need was to recognize scripture as having authority where the Pope did not, and for salvation by Faith and Grace rather then by mere association and participation in catholic church rites. The issue at hand with regards to common people having access to scripture was about the need for people to learn to read at all.

The Latin Vulgate could be read by anyone with an education in most of Western Europe. If you were from Eastern Europe you spoke and likely read in Greek and could read the bible. If you were form Africa there were a number of translations available to those who could read. Even in Europe there are a handful of German translations the predate Luther’s bible.  Again, only to name a few. Bibles were available, though not as many because the printing press was innovated around the time of Luther’s reform and made it possible for Luther’s bible and theological material to spread quicker to the public then any other materiel before it. In fact though Luther translated his work into German it would still only have been readable by someone who could actually read. That is the reason that during the middle ages if you wanted to hear the reading of scripture in your own language you had but to go to a church where that was made possible. It is therefore easier to say there was a great need for the printing press and more frequent work done to translate scripture into other languages. This was a task that the Catholic Church was up for but did so at a slower rate then we would be satisfied by. They were scared of letting just anyone take on this task. We take this for granted today because we know that now large teams of scribes work together to carefully translate the bible from its original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic text.

I feel sad discounting the work of scribes and devout monks who worked hard to translate and copy the scripture before the printing press. Their work is significant and important to say the least. But I think we bring shame on the church and its saints by repeating the mistake of calling this broad era of 1,000 years ‘dark’. Luther’s challenge and subsequent schism with the church of Rome was necessary. But was this an era of 1,000 years of darkness that preceded Luther? Hardly.

Though, it is not easy because of the blanket statements that have continued to shape our thought about history in that period. Instead of blanket statements and generalizations about the churches control over western Europe it helps to see that Europe was fractured into many kingdoms throughout most of the middle ages.  The church only gained “control” or at best “influence” over the kingdoms at certain times, during certain reigns, in certain places. Then, there is the dilemma of the state or kingdom exercising its “control” or “influence” over the church. You see it is not always the church with the power to control. Many of the corruptions came because of the opposite being true. Though both had its way of corrupting the right influence of the church in a culture and period of time. Sadly the middle ages had its moments of Wenzelsbibel03darkness but I would hardly call it an era of 1,000 years of darkness. If there is a dark ages within the church then I would say it existed during the 10th-12th Centuries leading up to the time of Luther. But the ‘dark ages’ was a term given to the entire period from the fall of Rome to the Enlightenment. It is a secular term used to smear religion and Christianity and the very idea of God being something to be banished from the public sphere so mankind could get on with its anonymous progress. By using it as protestants we simply mean it to be a slant against a certain kind of church rather then the church. But by using the term we give credence to the movement of the “enlightenment” and its anti-God (not just anti-catholic) bias. What we aught to do as Christians is recognize what Christ said about his church that it would be full of good wheat and creeping tares that corrupt and distort its message of hope. We need to do a better job observing the details and avoid criticizing those who came before us. Thus I would not even go so far as to use the ‘dark age’ term as it is a secular term used to condemn the church as a whole of holding back human progress. When in fact the period from the 10th-12th century was one of the most exciting times of technological and scientific exploration by Catholic scholastic Universities across Europe giving way to the Scientific Revolution of the 13th-14th century. Again, blanket statements and generalizations confuse and are the opposite of learning. If you want to know truth about this issue you need to look closer and observe more carefully.

Luther’s Reforms/schism was needed for the church as a whole to go on being the true church of which the Catholic church is part of and always has been, even though it has had its issues and still does.

The “Dark Ages” (a term coined by Petrarch, an Italian scholar, in the 1330’s to describe the decline of Latin literature) was a term used heavily by enlightenment figures as a sweeping criticism of the Roman Catholic church and the lack of technological, scientific, philosophical, and artistic progress as the result. To which I say, “ABSOLUTELY POPPYCOCK!”

A closer look is warranted for the serious Christian scholar, minister, and social activist. Dark Ages is a term to avoid in order to ever find unity with Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a term to avoid in order to not invite unwarranted criticism on the body of Christ of which we are a part. It is a term to avoid because it is far to general and directed (even by the most well meaning folks) at the church and not other important spheres of society of which God is also glorified in.

Read these books for further study.

1. Church History in Plane Language – Bruce L. Shelley

2. The Triumph of Christianity – Rodney Stark

3. The book that made your world – Vishal Mangalwadi

4. For the Glory of God – Rodney Stark

5. Hinges of History Series – Thomas Cahill

6. The Genesis of Science – James Hannam

7. The Victory of Reason – Rodney Stark

8. Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature – C.S. Lewis

9. Story of Christianity: Part 1 & Part 2 – Justo Gonzalez

10. Those Terrible Middles Ages – Regine Pernoud

11. Scripture and the Authority of God – N.T. Wright

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“Enlightenment” Myth

enlightenersOne of the most fascinating areas of the ‘enlightenment’ myth is that while the primary figures of the enlightenment, Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Gibbon, and Hume -all being literary men and not scientists felt they could use scientific revolution as proof that there had been a great enlightenment, once the church had lost most of its influence.

The odd reality is that the primary figures of the scientific revolution were actually religious men, both protestant and catholic; Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus, Descartes, Newton, and Pascal.

Both the scientific figures as well as the enlightenment literary men of philosophy mentioned about have had a massive influence on the way that all western people think. There are in effect three groups of men who had a massive impact on the western modern man. 1) The group of men associated with the scientific revolution, 2) those associated with the enlightenment, 3) and finally those who sought to reform the church.

Scientific_Revolution_-_ThinkersIf you want to understand the modern-western world you need to start with Reformation, Scientific Revolution, and Enlightenment. Reformations and those men who fought continue to remind us today that the church had some problems and needed to address them. The Scientific Revolution represents the climax of medieval scholasticism and is a symbol of the outgrowth of Christian Doctrine, Evidence that the Medieval Period was not “Dark”. Enlightenment therefore represents to some extant the secularization of western civilization. Reformations did not initially seek to separate church from state. The Scientific Revolutions as well was not something detached from Christian scholarly vocations. It was the hard work of many to see not just the church separated from state but God separated from reality.

Here it is in an even more simple form.

1. Reformation heavily influences Church and culture

2. The Christian Middle Ages launched the Scientific Revolution

3. The Enlightenment primarily sought to remove God, Church, and Religion from the realm of state, science, and education.

reformers-wall-close-upOvertime the work of enlightenment figures has been effective. The reformed church has gone on to see many more reforms, and many more schisms. Science has gone on as well and continues grow. But along side science and the work of Darwin some have sought to deify the science. Thus today we have, science, and Scientisim. The belief that science and technology can find and hold answers for all people. Nothing else is needed. Though Science continue to thrive as a wonderful service to our humanity.

This should be alarming not only for Christians but for all westerners. The inherited civilization need not be completely secularized. The trouble is we believe a completely different story about the middle ages, and the negative effect of religion. This story, or narrative has been compounded by the literary figures of the enlightenment. They created influential narratives about the previous era that we have all believed. I have off hand mentioned the figure David Hume who was one of the first to reject the existence of miracles. For many the non existence of miracles is common sense. It is common sense because these enlightenment figures had a massive impact. And many were not even scientists. They were philosophers who commented on science and religion.

So am I saying then that our modern era is due to Christian beliefs alone that the modern era blessings have all begun with reformations, and middle age integration of faith? I will take some more time to unwrap my answer to that.

guns-germs-and-steele-diamondLet us consider the influential work of Jared M. Diamond, “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. Just the other day my good friends were referring to this important work. I believe that this is only part of the answer. Many have set out to explain the rise of the west to simply materialistic origins. That is in essence a large part of the work of Jared Diamond, and William McNeil. These theories including other agricultural theories for the rise of western civilization are only a product of the secularization of culture. They are part of the truth. Social Scientist Rodney Stark, in his book devoted to the reason for western success, narrows it down to four categories.

1. Faith in the progress of Christian Theology

2. How Faith in progress translated to technical, and organizational innovations, many fostered by monastic estates.

3. Thanks to Christian Theology, Reason informed both political philosophy and practice to the extant that responsive states, sustaining a substantial degree of personal freedom, appeared in medieval Europe.

4. The Application of Reason in commerce, resulting in the development of capitalism within the safe havens provided by responsive states.

So Rational theology leading to technical and organizational innovations. Rational theology informing the state affairs bringing a greater level of personal freedom culminating in the rise of capitalism. 400000000000000078274_s4

The views of represented by Stark then add another dimension to the understanding of the Triumph of the West is that not merely having access to steal, ships, and good soil. But we should be asking, “Why did westerners excel in shipbuilding, steal work, and farming?” These are in fact the many areas were faith in rational theology lead to faith in innovative progress.

The climax of the middle ages is not only symbolized by the scientific revolution but also by the triumph of reason, rationality, and an integrated faith culminating in the rise of metallurgy, technology, better agricultural practice, and capitalism.

Shocking that medieval Europe believed in reason, rational thought, faith, theology, bringing about innovation, science, technology, new systems of commerce, agriculture, and a political system that provided commoners with greater levels of personal freedom. It becomes very obvious that without many of the enlightenment figures who sought to secularize the state, culture, and education – we would still have all of the many freedoms and innovations we enjoy in our modern era. We do not owe our modern experience solely to those enlightened men of France but also to medieval Europe and the Reformers.

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Two Historical Myths – Two Historical Revisions: Part 1

Myth Number OneImage

For centuries it has been commonly held that after the fall of Rome came the “Dark Ages” -many centuries of ignorance and superstition imposed across Europe by Christianity.

“a dark, dismal patch, a sort of dull and dirty chunk of some ten centuries, wedged between the shinning days of the golden Greeks… and the brilliant galaxy of light given out jointly by those twin luminaries, the Renaissance and the Reformation.” -Anne Fremantle

Voltaire (1694-1778) described the long era as when “barbarism, superstition, and ignorance covered the face of the world”. These same sentiments were carried on by Edward Gibbon, and Rousseau. Likewise popular historian Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) agreed that “it is not inappropriate to call these centuries dark, especially if they are set against what came before and what came after.”

The terms Renaissance and Enlightenment often appear simultaneously, at times along with the word, ‘Reformation”. This is because, of course, they all took place within a single century, and stretching into two or perhaps three. The Renaissance is the french word for “rebirth”. According to standard historical accounts, the Renaissance occurred because of the decline in church control over major norther Italian cities such as Florence.

Western history in summary;

  1. Classical Antiquity, to the fall of Rome
  2. Dark Ages, when the church dominated
  3. Renaissance-Enlightenment, which birthed…
  4. Modern Times

This has been the prominent theme in most standard historical textbooks despite the many historians who have known for some time that this is a complete historical myth. Looked upon by defeated historians as “an indestructible fossil of self-congratulatory Renaissance humanism.” (J. H. W. Liebeschuetz)

It is not appropriate to stop using the terms Enlightenment or Renaissance completely. Rather it is better to understand these eras in light of a more accurate portrayal of the so called “Dark Ages”.


Since it has been said, that it is appropriate to refer to the “dark ages” as ‘dark’ in comparison with the lights of Rome and the continued Greek learning of the Renaissance, lets take a look then at just how great Rome and Greek culture really was. After all it was the Enlightenment and Renaissance era that brought about such a deep Romanticism for the ancient civilization. What if all such reminiscing of the past was exactly that. Romantic ideas about a time long past, a time thought to have been the ideal civilization worth patterning the future after.

What is often forgotten about Rome even in an era when the French fought for revolution and a republic, is that the Roman Empire was, well, an empire. Where constant power struggles took place among the ruling elite, and that beyond border wars that brought wealth to the empire, and some impressive public work projects, very little happened. Change, whether technological or cultural, went on very slowly.

“Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for future developments.” – Roman engineer Sextus Julius Frontinus (40-103)

“Of course half the population of the empire consisted of slaves… Most free Romans lived at a bare substantial level, not because they lacked the potential to achieve a much higher standard of living, but because a predatory ruling elite extracted every ounce of surplus production. If all production above the bare minimum needed for survival is seized by the elite, there is no motivation for anyone to produce more. Consequently, despite the fabulous wealth of the elite, Rome was very poor.” -Sociologist Rodney Stark

“emperors amassed vast wealth but received incomes that were nevertheless small relative to Imagethe immensity of the territories and populations governed” – Economic Historian, E. L. Jones

“When the collapse of the Roman Empire released the tax-paying millions… from a paralyzing oppression, many new technologies began to appear and were rapidly and widely adopted with the result that ordinary people were able to live far better, and, after centuries of decline under Rome, the population began to grow again. No longer were the productive classes bled to sustain the astonishing excess of the Roman elite, or to erect massive monuments to imperial egos, or to support vast armies to hold Romes many colonies in thrall.” (Stark)

What many historians have been content, along with Enlightenment and Renaissance writers, is to simply write off slavery, and become transfixed by the ruin’s of Rome and its ancient monuments. We make the mistake of mourning at the fall of an empire that bled the productive classes when we should be morning the immense sacrifice of the ordinary. There is of course something we could learn from a correct understanding of such an empire as Rome was.

Hence, there was no fall from the glorious Roman empire into the “Dark Ages” of Christian ignorance and superstition. No glorious empire existed, only for the elite ruling class, and only in the minds of intellectual giants of the Renaissance who’s history had been severely flawed by their Romanticism.

So what good happened in the “Dark Ages”?

As I have already mentioned. The elaborate hoax was created primarily by two famous “Enlightenment” intellectuals, Voltaire, and Gibbon. One of the down falls was that most intellectuals had little interest in anything but literary matters. The medieval period was not an era well known for eloquent Latin. At least not as good of Latin as the best from any Roman era. There was limited though not a complete lack of attention paid to the works of Plato and Aristotle, this was taken as ignorance.

I believe it will be sufficient to simply list the achievements made in this era then to expound on the areas where myths have become legends.


As has been said, much of the great Roman empires work force came, not from great technologies, but off the backs of slaves. As soon as the ninth century one-third of the estates along the Seine River, near Paris, had water mills, most of which were church-owned properties. Several centuries later there were mills every seventy feet along the river. (Walter Burkert, Franz Cumont)

By 1086 there were already 5,624 water-powered mills operating in England. “This mechanized the production of woolen cloth and allowed England to dominate the European market.” (Liebeschuetz)

Dams were also constructed and Europeans excelled in bridge building. A five hundred foot bridge was built in Ireland as early as 803. Europeans learned to harness the wind and not only used the power for the same purposes as water mills but used in order to pump water. The Netherlands, and Belgium used wind mills to pump out the sea and restore large portions of their flooded land.

Europeans developed a three-field agricultural system in which one-third of the land was left unplanted each year while still being cultivated and fertilized. This increased production tremendously. The invention of heavy plows brought better cultivation of wetter, more dense soil. Similarly the introduction of horse-collar supplanted the need for slow oxen teams. In monasteries the introduction of plant breeding produced more hardy crops. All together, these “Dark Age” inventions brought far more production with far less effort and time spent.

Chimneys also were invented, so no more holes in roofs letting rain and not allowing smoke to leave houses.

Eyeglasses were invented improving many peoples quality of life.

We all know the middle ages as an era of mounted knights. Well, before the “Dark Ages” there were no heavy cavalry. Stirrups, proper saddles, and lance where an innovation of the middle ages. (Stirrups, and a saddle with a high back brace would allow for knights to charge headlong into battle without falling off horses).

While the Chinese get credit for the creation of ‘gun powder’, Europeans are credited with the most functional cannons used eventually in naval and land battles.

What is so glaringly obvious is the great technological advancement of this era in comparison to that of the Roman times.

Along with great technological advancements came the well documented rise of capitalism. I realize that capitalism alone according is not the great cure all for a culture. Nor is democracy. But, even the infamous Karl Marx regarded the rise of capitalism as creating a “more massive and more colossal productive force than all preceding generations.” In short by the thirteenth century there were 173 banks in Italy having hundreds more branches across Europe. The grassroots of capitalism rose out of an unexpected source; The monasteries. Much more could be said about this. (Check out my Library for recommendations).

A great bit more could be said of moral progress throughout the medieval period. For example, by comparison, Roman philosophers were all slave owners, who viewed women in the same regard. Even an uneducated glance into their work would be offensive to any modern or post-modern person.

The “Dark Ages” saw many attempts and a handful of successful emancipation projects. Not only as a direct result of technological innovation, but as a result of theologians; popes, and monks alike. Slavery did not die easily as we well know. It re-surged in various part of Europe, at a number of times throughout the middle ages. Image

A seventh century King of the Franks Clovis II married his British slave, Bathilda who later reigned when Clovis died.

Charlemagne apposed slavery in the eighth century along with the Pope and other influential clerical voices.

Ninth Century Bishop of Agobard voiced: “All men are brothers, all invoke one same father, God: the slave and the master, the poor and the rich man, the ignorant and the learned, the weak and the strong… there is no slave or free.”

In the eleventh century, St. Wulfstan and St. Anselem successfully campaigned to remove the last vestiges of slavery in Christendom.

I have written previously on “High Culture” in the “Dark Ages”. You can check out a more lengthy explanation at the link. But again, in summary, the middle ages saw great advances in music and the development of polyphony. Wonderful art is littered throughout the period in the great Gothic architecture, stained glass, and “Romanesque” painting.

Literature was regarded as a lost art by Gibbon, Voltaire, Cervantes, Machiavelli, and Da Vinci. The Irony however, is that “each of their native languages had been given their literary form by medieval giants such as Dante, Chaucer, the nameless authors of the chansons de geste, and the monks who, beginning in the ninth century, devoted themselves to writing lives of saints…thus the vernacular prose was formulated and popularized” (Stark)

The next two great developments are left off here until later. The rise of universities, and higher education -specifically science will be be discussed in my next blog. And a second common myth exposed.


Common Myth: The “Dark Ages” existed from 500-1500 AD. Christianity imposed an era of ignorance and superstition all across Europe. A period preceded and followed by the glorious lights of Greek and Roman antiquities, and the Enlightenment-Renaissance.

Common Revision: The Period from the fall of Rome until the Enlightenment across Europe was not ‘dark’ rather, the fall of Rome initiated a great and accelerating learning curve of innovation and progress that was only beginning to reach maturity as is neared the time of the “Enlightenment-Renaissance” era.

Click HERE for PART 2 of this Post – Myth #2

Categories: Bible, Church, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Modern, Philosophy, Renaissance, Science, Society/Culture, Uncategorized, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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