WCR Logo


August 15, 2016

The Dark Ages is a term often used to refer to the early Middle Ages in western Europe from the sixth century through the tenth. What was "dark" about the Dark Ages? Primarily the lack of intellectual, scientific and technological innovation.

In some quarters, the Dark Ages is also characterized as an era dominated by a repressive Christian faith that enchained the intellect to superstitions. However, to the extent that civilization was preserved, the Church was a major contributor, although Muslim culture rose to its greatest glory in this period. The Church, for its part, spent great energy dispelling superstitions in the backwoods of Europe.

Today, it is clear to many that the world is heading toward a new dark age. The growth of terrorism, declining respect for human life, unrepentant destruction of the natural environment, rapid collapse of the family and social isolation of increasing numbers of people are all symptoms of this.

Giving a full explanation of all this would be a major project. Yet, one has to finger consumerism with its priority on things over people, an economy obsessed with economic growth and short-term profits, expanding economic and cultural inequality, increasing hostility to religious faith, a priority on individual autonomy over the common good, and ultimately a failure to understand the nature of the human person.

Ironically, this spiritual crisis is peaking when intellectual, scientific and technological innovation are at historic peaks. Ours is a time of unprecedented prosperity. We have the ability to solve the world's problems. Why can't we do it?

The simple answer is that because humanity has lost its orientation to God, everything else is becoming unglued.

This is true, but to leave the explanation there misses much. The early modern Enlightenment arose, not to defy God, but because the Church itself was stultifying and repressive. The Church realized that the human person was a being open to God, but failed to recognize the extent to which the person is open to the world. Our destiny is in heaven, but we get there only by helping God divinize creation.

God gave humans an intellect, not so that we should lobotomize ourselves, but so that we should question every aspect of what God has created - natural, social, aesthetic and intellectual - and by so doing come to know God better.

The Church's error has been to fight modernity tooth and nail for centuries, before finally, at the Second Vatican Council, realizing that she had to overcome her superior sense of separation so she could again make her contribution to history.

The wall between Church and modern society is now well-fortified. To avoid the new spiritual dark age, the Church must break down those walls and demonstrate her desire to contribute to a healthy post-modern world. It will not be an easy task.