Christian main page Did the church cause the dark ages?
Charles Freeman thinks so.

Charles Freeman
The Closing of the Western Mind (Vintage, 2002)

Freeman's thesis is that Christianity started out open to intellectual exploration. But, once it came into power, it substituted obedience to authority under the guise of 'faith' and opposed itself to reason.

In short, Freeman claims nothing less than that Christianity can be blamed for the onset of the dark ages that lasted until the Renaissance.

Freeman has a detailed argument, but the gist of it is simple: power corrupts. And it became to easy for the church to identify itself with God and to say that opposition to a policy, or to a bishop was opposition to God. Given that Constantine was a warrior who claimed God's authority for war, it became easy for his church to believe that warfare was God's will.

There are some weaknesses to his argument. His version of Paul would not be recognized by contemporary Pauline scholars. He conflates Christ with the church at times. But can anyone refute his basic premise: that the institutional church in its demand for authority and unquestioned obedience put the brakes on intellectual activity?

This book deals with a significant turning point in western cultural and intellectual history, when the tradition of rational thought established by the Greeks was stifled in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. This 'closing of the Western mind' did not extend to the Arab word ... and so its roots must be found in developments in the Greco-Roman world of late antiquity. p. xv.

By proposing that Christian faith (which exists in the world of muthos) might contain"truths" superior to those achieved by rational argument (logoi) it was Paul, perhaps unwittingly in that he appears to have known virtually nothing of the Greek philosophical tradition he condemned, who declared the war and prepared the battlefield. p. 120

Last updated 6/13/06; © 2006 John P. Nordin