Monday 17 January 2022

The Church and the Dark Ages 430–1027 - Phillip Campbell - Reclaiming Catholic History Series Book 3

The Church and the Dark Ages (430–1027) 
St. Benedict, Charlemagne, and the Rise of Christendom
Reclaiming Catholic History Series Book 3
Mike Aquilina (Editor)
Ave Maria Press
ISBN 9781646800353
eISBN 9781646800360

I have greatly enjoyed the other four volumes in this series that I have read. The Church and the Roman Empire by Mike Aquilina and The Early Church by James L. Papandrea were the first two released, and the two that proceed this one in a timeline. The books are being released in a random order. There will be seven volumes in this series. Mike Aquilina is the general editor of the series. This was a volume I was really looking forward to. I have studied the periods prior and the periods after this time frame, but have not had as much focus on these 600 years. I must state that this volume was an excellent read. This book and the whole series are great reads. I spent 20 years as an undergraduate, for the most part because I loved learning. My last degree was in Religious Studies with a focus on Roman Catholic Thought. I would have loved this book and those I have read in this series as resources, for several of the courses I did.   

Many years ago when I did an Introduction to Church History course at Conrad Grebel College at the University of Waterloo, our professor, Arnold Snider, often said throughout the year, “I do not care as much about dates and names and places, as the story of Christianity. On your final exam the main question will be ‘Your uncle Billy at Christmas dinner says: ‘I hear you did the history of Christianity, tell us the story in your own words?’” And that was the one essay question on the exam. This book and the others I have read in the series would have been great resources for that course. Maybe could have even served as textbooks if the course had not been taught at a Mennonite College, if it had been offered at St Jerome’s University I could see these being the books used today. If I had had them they would have been pulled out often for essays, papers and research. This is a great read in an excellent series. But the books are written in such an engaging manner that any Catholic could pick them up and benefit from reading them. And this one is on a very hard time frame in Church history. 

This is the fifth volume published in this series, Reclaiming Catholic History, though it is the third book in the series. The series is being edited by Mike Aquilina and the first published volume was by him as well. About this series we are told by Aquilina:

“The history of the Catholic Church is often clouded by myth, misinformation, and missing pieces. Today there is a renewed interest in recovering the true history of the Church, correcting the record in the wake of centuries of half-truths and noble lies. Books in the Reclaiming Catholic History series, edited by Mike Aquilina and written by leading authors and historians, bring Church history to life, debunking the myths one era at a time.”

Each of the book I have read so far I have benefited from greatly and recommended to several friends and family members. The chapters in this volume are:

Reclaiming Catholic History: Series Introduction
Chronology of The Church and the Dark Ages (430–1027)
Introduction: Anything but “Dark”

Chapter 1: Our Roman Heritage
     Up Close and Personal: St. Augustine of Hippo
     You Be the Judge: Did Christianity cause the collapse of the Roman Empire?
Chapter 2: The Church among Gauls and Goths
     Up Close and Personal: The Cloak of St. Martin
     You Be the Judge: Did St. Augustine invent the doctrine of original sin?

Chapter 3: The Age of St. Benedict
     Up Close and Personal: The Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great
     You Be the Judge: Did Christianity cause a decline in education and literacy in the early Middle Ages?

Chapter 4: Missionary Monks
     Up Close and Personal: Sts. Cyril and Methodius
     You Be the Judge: Were monks “useless”?

Chapter 5: The Church of Rome
     Up Close and Personal: Pope Gregory the Great and Gregorian Chant
     You Be the Judge: What really happened when Pope Leo the Great met Attila the Hun?

Chapter 6: East and West
     Up Close and Personal: St. Maximus the Confessor
     You Be the Judge: Did the Eastern churches ever affirm the primacy of Rome?

Chapter 7: The Carolingian Renaissance
     Up Close and Personal: The Faith of Charlemagne
     You Be the Judge: Wasn’t the Church consumed with worry over the spread of Islam?

Chapter 8: Imperium and Sacerdotium
     Up Close and Personal: King Alfred the Great
     You Be the Judge: Do bad popes disprove papal infallibility?

Chapter 9: Sacramental Controversies
     Up Close and Personal: St. Paschasius Radbertus
     You Be the Judge: Is the dogma of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist a late medieval invention?

Chapter 10: The Cluniac Reform
     Up Close and Personal: St. Berno
     You Be the Judge: Was priestly celibacy an innovation of the late Middle Ages?

Conclusion: Transformation and Continuity

The introduction to this book states:

“This book is about the period of European history, roughly from the death of St. Augustine in 430 to the Peace of God in the year 1027, commonly known as the Dark Ages. Merely by making this statement, we have already opened up a can of worms. What do we mean by “Dark Ages”? Dark in comparison to what? Dark according to whom? If these ages were dark, was this a bad thing? If so, from whose point of view? And by what criteria are we judging whether such-and-such era was good or bad, light or dark?”

Further on it raises questions:

“The questions we raised pertain not to the study of history properly but to another related discipline called historiography. What is historiography? While the discipline of history studies the people and events of the past, historiography studies how historians have perceived these people and events. History concerns itself with historical data, while historiography is more concerned with how historians themselves have tended to view or interpret this data. Thus we could say historiography is the history of history—a way of stepping back and reflecting on the methods and preconceptions we bring to the table when we study history.

For example, to ask what sort of impact the Spanish conquistadors had on the Native American tribes they encountered is to ask a historical question. To ask why the Spaniards are often portrayed as villainous in English-language literature and film is to ask a historiographical question. Now we are asking not about history (What happened?) but rather about historiography (What do we think about what happened?)”

And still further on:

“When people refer to the “Dark Ages,” they are making a value judgment about a historical epoch, whether they know it or not. As we may gather from the use of the word dark, that judgment is negative. Why is this?

The centuries of the Dark Ages are sandwiched between the late classical era—characterized by the decline and fall of the Roman Empire—and the High Middle Ages and Renaissance, which succeeded them. The idea of this time as a period of darkness goes back to the early Renaissance writer Petrarch (1304–1374). Petrarch was a talented scholar of Greek and Latin who had great admiration for the achievements of the Greeks and the Romans. Compared to the high culture of ancient Greece and Rome, Petrarch viewed the Christian Middle Ages with disdain—as a time of barbarism in society, impoverished literature, and ignorance among men. According to Petrarch, those unfortunate enough to be born after the fall of Rome lived in an age “surrounded by darkness and gloom.”

Petrarch spent the better part of his literary career translating and republishing classical Latin and Greek texts. He hoped that his own age would be followed by a brighter time, a time when mankind would enter into a fuller knowledge of himself and the world.”

And most importantly we are told about the source of the name ‘Dark Ages’:

“The term Dark Ages ironically came from the pen of a great defender of the Middle Ages, the Catholic Reformation-era historian Caesar Cardinal Baronius. To counter Protestant claims, Baronius wanted to write a history of the Catholic Church that emphasized the harmony and beauty of the medieval world. And thus he composed his magnum opus, the Annales Ecclesiastici. First published in 1588, this encyclopedic work covered the history of the first twelve centuries of Christianity. In it, Baronius referred to the tenth and eleventh centuries as a saeculum obscurum (“dark age”) because there were relatively few written sources about this period compared to earlier centuries.

Though Baronius meant the phrase as a neutral term referring only to the scarcity of written records—and only of two centuries—the term caught on and took on a meaning beyond what he intended. The “dark ages” became the de facto designation of the Middle Ages during the Enlightenment. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment believed religion to be completely antithetical to reason. The “light” of pure reason was contrasted with the “darkness” of religion and superstition. And hence the entire epoch of Christendom came to be designated as the Dark Ages.”

And those few quotes are from the introduction alone. This book is masterfully written. It grabs your attention, draws you in, and will have you hooked from the beginning. Phillip Campbell is a master of this material and he writes in engaging style. Once you start reading you will not want to put the book down, and if you look at the titles of other books he has penned you will likely want to add several to your ‘to be read’ list. 

This book, as are all in the series, is an excellent resource. It can be read by late high school students or undergrads and used as a resource. It can be read by anyone interested in church history. It is very engaging and entertaining. An excellent resource! Most chapter’s follow the same format or the main history. Then two focused sections. The first is Up Close and Personal and is a profile of a specific person or people. Usually saints or blessed. The next is a section called You Be The Judge, which goes deeper into a question, point of interest or conflict. The book would be worth reading for either of these sections alone. But as a whole thing is very well written. Phillip Campbell does an excellent job of presenting a balanced view. It is terribly well researched. 

I greatly benefited from reading this volume, and already plan to read it again. And I am certain you will as well. I know that I will be reading the remaining two volumes in the series as they release. And will likely circle back and reread them all in order. But I have a feeling this one will get an extra reading in before then.

A great read in an excellent series! 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books in the Reclaiming Catholic History Series:
The Early Church - James L. Papandrea
The Church and the Roman Empire - Mike Aquilina
The Church and the Dark Ages
The Church and the Middle Ages
The Church and the Reformations
The Church and the Age of Enlightenment
The Church Facing the Modern Era

Books by Phillip Campbell:
Ante-Nicene Fathers: Primary Document Catholic Study Course
Epitaphs of the Catacombs: Christian Inscriptions in Rome During the First Four Centuries
Heroes & Heretics of the Reformation
Tale of Manaeth
The Book of Non-Contradiction: Harmonizing the Scriptures
The Catholic Educator's Guide to Teaching History
The Catholic Middle Ages: A Primary Document
The Feasts of Christendom: History, Theology, and Customs of the Principal Feasts of the Catholic Church
The Rending of Christendom
The Story of Civilization: Volume I - The Ancient World
The Story of Civilization: Volume II - The Medieval World
The Story of Civilization: Volume III - The Making of the Modern World
The Story of Civilization: Volume IV - The History of the United States One Nation Under God Text Book
The Story of the Church Textbook: From Pentecost to Modern Times

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