The "Dark Ages" is a term used to describe the first 500 years of the Middle Ages, but the term is falling out of favor with historians. The period begins with the fall of Rome in AD 476 and lasts until about year 1000.
During this time, uncivilized people, sometimes called Barbarians, made advances and progress against Rome and into Europe. Cities were sacked and people moved in droves to the country. Power decentralized, allowing feudal leaders to initially take over smaller areas. Lords and dukes built walls around their own cities, raised armies, and sponsored their own local churches, thus decentralizing the church as well.
These changes sparked monasticism. The Benedictine Order at Monte Cassino, established in 529, modeled monasticism for scores of other orders and monasteries. Christian leaders flocked to monasteries, leaving cities without shepherding. While the church did become more inwardly than outwardly focused, it also became a place of protection for early church literature and art as well as for the ruins of the Roman Empire and classical literature. The darkness the church left in wide areas was reformed as concentrated light in the monasteries.
God could not be stopped, nor His church snuffed out. His plans to preserve His church were not thwarted. The Reformation released the church back into societies and cultures in new and vigorous ways.
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