The "Dark Ages" (A. D. 500 - 700)

With the sixth century begins the period in church history known as the Dark Ages. "Iniquity and vice revealed unblushingly under the protection of Church sanctity." Spiritual power and voluntary obedience of the gospel had been displaced in the Catholic church by forms and ceremonies borrowed from Judaism and Paganism. The worship of Mary, and saints, and relics, had been introduced, and a belief in the saving efficacy of human works had superseded faith in the Saviour of sinners. Heathen idolators were being converted to Catholicism, the only requirement made of them being a transfer of their worship from their gods to the images of Christ and the saints, with an oral profession of faith in Christ. Church and state having been united under the reign of Constantine in the fourth century, the Christian religion had become very popular, and vast multitudes of heathens were constantly flocking into the so-called Catholic church. In this century under the reign of Justinian an effort was made to enforce religious uniformity throughout the Roman Empire, and severe penalties were enacted against all who would not conform to the corruptions of the church of Rome.

In the year 534 the power of the Vandals was broken in Africa by the Arabs, and the true followers of Christ, known as Donatists, were driven from their peaceful abodes. In the various parts of the Empire where the people of God were found, persecutions were so waged against them for their refusal to unite with the corrupt church, that they fled for refuge to the mountainous districts of northern Italy, northern Spain, and southern France. They were still known by the names, Novatianists, and Donatists. Having fled to the mountains they were called Montanists (or Mountaineers). They were occasionally called Ana-Baptists or re-baptizers, because they refused to recognize the validity of Catholic baptism, but baptized all who came to them from that party. This faithful people, banished, reproached, anathematized, and condemned as criminals by Greek and Roman, were still watched over and preserved by the almighty Shepherd of Israel, and continued, like the burning bush, amid the fires of persecution, unconsumed and undismayed. They were the true, independent, spiritual churches of Jesus Christ, composed of baptized believers, to whom the true gospel of the Son of God, and the pure service that belongs thereto, were more precious than life itself with all its attendant blessings. The altar-fires have been kept burning by this linked brotherhood through all the gloom and blood of centuries, through every trial and every storm. No disasters could shake and no sufferings could appal the firmness and fortitude of this God-fearing people, through whom the true succession of the church of Christ is to be traced.

As we have already observed, these people have received different names, borrowed from men of influence who had held high positions in the dominant church, and had suddenly lifted their voices against its corruptions, and were, consequently, driven from its communion. It is very easy to see how these spiritual churches which had never followed after the great apostasy, would hail, with enthusiastic delight and gratitude, the appearance of a prominent and bold reformer who, in the midst of a corrupt church, would come forth as a messenger from God, to plead for the truth. It is only reasonable that those scattered and obscure disciples of Christ should rally around the newly arisen advocate of those sacred principles which they cherished with deathless love. In the public mind and on the pages of partisan history they would soon become identified and lost in the new movement, and would receive the name of the standard bearer around whom they clustered. So it was in the case of the Montanists, Tertullianists, Novatianists, and Donatists. While the Catholic church had seemingly triumphed by imperial interference and merciless persecution, and had formed a national church into which infants were received to membership and pagans were admitted without any change of heart, and from which none were excluded except for "heresy," the church of Christ, against which he had said that the gates of hell should not prevail, was sheltered amid the mountains of Armenia, descended through the night of centuries, gleamed along the path of succeeding generations, and finally burnst forth in these glorious states (in America) of ours where God's people still enjoy its heavenly blessings.

The Montanists, as they began to be called in the sixth century because they fled from the fire of persecution and sought the caves and fastnesses of the mountains, continued to exist in the seventh century. In that century Gregory I., Emperor of Rome, who was made Pope of the church of Rome in 590, issued papal mandates condemning and urging the persecution of certain heretics whom he called "Montenses or Ana-baptists." He describes them as the advocates of a spiritual church, the membership of which should be regenerated persons only, and as re-baptizers of those whom they received from other societies. They are spoken of as a multitude and as descendants of the Donatists. The purity of their character has never been questioned. Their writings have been destroyed by their enemies from whose records we learn all we know about them. It is reasonable to suppose that they have been grossly misrepresented, but it appears that their chief heresy consisted in the independency and purity of the churches and the re-baptism of those who came from other organizations.

During this century the deep night of the dark age universally prevailed, so that the true followers of the Saviour were hidden in the gloom. Civil and religious rights were all taken away, and scourging, imprisonment, confiscation of property, banishment, and death were decreed by the Greek and Roman Catholics against all dissenters. The Jews shared with the Montenses in this cruel and inhuman treatment. During this century Mohammedanism arose and spread over the greater part of southern Asia.

The Paulicians spring up in Armenia in the latter part of the seventh century, and were so called because they placed particular stress upon the spiritual principles taught by the Apostle Paul. As their books were all burned, and the only account we have of their doctrine was written two hundred years later by their enemies in the Catholic party, it is impossible for us to gain any definite idea of what they believed and taught, but vast multitudes of them finally existed, as the accounts of their horrible destruction by the Catholics plainly testify. Mr. William Jones refers to them as the genuine successors of the Christians of the first two centuries.

- Elder John R. Daily, Primitive Monitor, 1897, pp. 322-326.

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