The First Rummage Sale – The Dark Ages (con’t)

In this second post about the first major reconfiguration of the Christian church I will be covering some ancillary info about just who was affected by the Dark Ages and will be talking a little about the person “saved” the church for a later resurrection.

First of all I have found that the term “Dark Ages” has many definitions and stated causes. For purposes here I will define the period as between the fifth and the tenth centuries. Many, looking at different cultural aspects, expand it to include four hundred years beyond that. Generally speaking this was a very dreary period of intellectual darkness and economic depression that occurred in Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire. “Barbarians at the gates” was a very descriptive way of saying what happened. Basically barbarians took down the mighty empire and intellectual and spiritual leaders pretty much vanished as a result.

Why did the Roman empire collapse?  Again there are many different explanations for it. Some, with very pointed agendas, say the church itself was the primary cause and particularly the papacy. I fall more in line that it was caused by an economic collapse due to spending an inordinate amount of  money required to reign in the many different populations and their lands that were taken over by the empire. Military spending gobbled up more than half of all the resources available. There was just not enough left over to maintain stability within the empire. In other words they just grew too big.

One thing worth noting about this period was the it actually only affected about 20% of the world’s population, primarily those in what we know today as mostly Western Europe. Up until this study I ignorantly presumed that it was a world wide event but in reality most of the world was unaware of the Dark Ages.

The Dark Ages was the time when the Christian church radically moved from a period of great power as an empire religion into its monastic period of hunkering down. I also believe that this mammoth change in the church allowed it to survive until a later more enlightened period known as the Renaissance. Gregory the Great was the person who primarily lead this change. He was the Pope from 590CE to 604.

Here is how Phyllis Tickle described the move from the early church into the Dark Ages:

What politically and culturally would very swiftly spiral down into the Dark Ages was already at work peeling the Christianity of the Early Church away from the laity and inserting into the resulting vacuum a kind of animistic, half-magical form of a bastardized Christianity that would characterize the laity and much of the minor clergy over the next few centuries.

It was primarily due to Gregory’s beliefs in a monastic lifestyle that really saved most of the early church documents and practices from also being bastardized. These things were held in trust in remote abbeys and nunneries waiting for a time to spring anew and that would take more than five hundred years to come about! It is only because of Gregory that we maintained most of the documents we have about the early Christian church before this time. The church might have looked very different today without them.

The First Rummage Sale ….The Dark Ages…

Continuing with our study of the “rummage sales” within the Christian church every five hundred years lets look at the first one.  Before we start I will admit that I didn’t know much about this period of time before this study so I relied on several books on the shelves behind me and in my Kindle to help me understand.  I will put those references at the end of the last post on the topic for those who are interested.

The first great rummage sale happened when the church moved from the late Roman period into the Dark ages. When Constantine made Christianity the State religion of the Roman empire around 350CE  he did so primarily to try to shore up his crumbling empire. Long story short it didn’t work. Well it actually worked for a while. The Christian church became a powerful influence in the world.  It became an empire religion. But then the Roman empire started imploding so did the power of the church.

Here is how Mrs. Tickle summarized this. For brevity the following was gleaned as bits and pieces from the book:

During the sixth century, the Apostolic Church…gave way to an organized monasticism as the true keeper and promulgator of the faith….

Stupendous as this reconfiguration was, and has been, for global Christianity in all three of its major parts, the agonies of the sixth century gave something of far more immediate and dramatic use to Western Christianity and culture. They gave the Western world a reconfigured form of monasticism that functioned not only as a way of private holiness but also as a way of societal and political stability….

All these things that are familiar to us now and that had been the Christianity of Constantine and his immediate successors require at least a rudimentary literacy as well as a civil stability that allows the free flow of worshipers from home or business to places of worship and godly instruction. Late fifth-century Romans had neither. What politically and culturally would very swiftly spiral down into the Dark Ages was already at work peeling the Christianity of the Early Church away from the laity and inserting into the resulting vacuum a kind of animistic, half-magical form of a bastardized Christianity that would characterize the laity and much of the minor clergy over the next few centuries.

During those centuries of darkness, and largely because of Gregory’s prescience and acumen, Western Christianity would be held in trust in Europe’s convents and monasteries. The monks and nuns would not all be pure or brilliant or even, in many cases, themselves literate. But enough of them would be so that the great treasures of the first five centuries of the Church would be preserved, and then added to, by the great minds of the Dark Ages.

Next time we will delve a little further into Gregory the Great’s role in this church transformation and talk a little more about some of the quote above, and what happened to the church during this period.