Question: "What were the Dark Ages?"

The “Dark Ages” are commonly considered to be the early part of the period known as the Middle Ages. Often the term “Dark Ages’ refers to the initial five hundred years following the fall of Rome. It is thought of as beginning around 450 AD and continuing till 1000 AD. Many trace the start of this period of history to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476. During this time period Rome and other cities deteriorated because of the invasions of barbarians from northern and central Europe. Since there was no longer an imperial authority with the power to protect the citizens of the cities, the urban population declined sharply during this period of history. Another consequence of the lack of a strong central power was the development of the feudal system especially from 900-1150 AD. During this feudal age, most parishes had rural populations and towns tended to be less numerous and smaller. Castles and walled towns were guarded by the feudal lord’s armies that provided security and safety to the peasants and townspeople from the invading barbarians. One of the consequences of the feudal system was the decline in church structures because of feudalistic pressures and control that was put upon them.

It was during this time that a new religious movement, called monasticism developed. After the establishment of the Benedictine order at Monte Cassino in 529 AD, monasticism spread quickly throughout the medieval church and the monastery replaced the functions of the early church and became a link between the classical city and medieval city. The withdrawal of the church from cities to monasteries caused the church to be orientated more inwardly than outwardly. While some times the church is blamed for the spiritual darkness of the dark ages, in many ways it was the only light, no matter how dim, that shone in the darkness of surrounding barbarism and heathenism. During this time it was the priests and the monks that saved from the ruins of the Roman Empire the treasures of classical literature, along with the Holy Scriptures and patristic writings and preserved them for better times. Certainly while the light that shone was more from ecclesiastical tradition and not always the clear light found in the Word of God, nevertheless it was light in the dark days of that time and it continued until the Reformation brought the true full light of Christ back to the world. Yet even throughout this spiritually dark time Christ had His witnesses in all ages and countries.