Were the "Dark Ages" Really That Dark?


As Mormons, perhaps under the influence of Enlightenment thinking, we seem to subconsciously accept the idea that nothing good occurred during the "Great Apostasy" or the Dark Ages. That's not really correct.

LDS scholar Davis Bitton wonders, of those of us who make such claims, how versed we actually are with medieval history.
In Western Europe, as opposed to the Eastern Empire with its great center at Constantinople, a period of decline is clearly evident even before the collapse of Roman rule... But even during these discouraging times, stretching roughly from AD 500 to 1000, Europeans came up with some inventions that proved extremely important in the long run.
Bitton laments that we refer to this period as the "Dark Ages":
But a period of darkness? Please. That designation helps not at all in understanding.
He clarifies
Yes, I know. What many Latter-day Saints mean when they refer to the Dark Ages is that the Great Apostasy had occurred. The fullness of the gospel was not on the earth. I am not going to argue that point.

But how much baggage must I take on here? Just because I assert that an apostasy occurred, am I allowed, without study, to pretend that I understand a long period of human history? We don’t like it when anti-Mormons pretend to describe us and our religion without conscientious study. We don’t ask that they agree with us, but they should be fair. It has even been suggested that a faith culture should be judged not by its worst but by its best. To me, there is something unseemly about the rush to judgment that allows a wholesale dismissal of a thousand years with a wave of the hand.
Along those same lines, LDS prophet John Taylor said that
I have a great many misgivings about the intelligence that men boast so much of in this enlightened day. There were men in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world. There were men who could tell the destiny of the human family, and the events which would transpire throughout every subsequent period of time until the final winding-up scene. There were men who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness...
Were the Dark Ages "dark"? Perhaps relatively. But the lights didn't simply go out and everything good cease to exist. Certainly, as Nephi saw in vision, many plain and precious gospel precepts were lost, but, as Jacob related, the prophet Zenos noted in his parable of the Olive Trees that the roots of the gospel of Jesus Christ were never lost from the earth--not even during the so-called Dark Ages.

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