It is really not an overstatement nor an understatement to say that Catholicism (the Eastern and Western versions) was on its way to overtaking all of true Christianity by 800. All of the remaining digressive churches from the Iberian Peninsula in the west out to Persia in the east, and up to what would become Germany had by the twelfth century ceded their authority either to Rome or in part to Constantinople. And the imperial popes of Rome were assuming greater political authority in all of Europe as time passed.
On Christmas day 800, while Charles, successor to Pepin the Short, was kneeling in prayer at Saint Peter’s, Pope Leo III set a crown on his head in a premeditated anointing. The people followed him as he hailed the new king, Charlemagne – as “Charles Augustus, crowned by God, the great and pacific emperor of the Romans, life and victory.”
This act was the declaration of independence from the Eastern Church and the Greek emperor. While mostly symbolic, it had acted to solidify the schism, although it would not be complete in doctrine until the fourteenth century. Popes had been crowned since Boniface III in 606 and had become the ruling force since Leo II had ceded to Pepin the authority as “Patrician of the Romans” aligning the army under the King and his sponsor.
Also during this period the Saracens, that is the rising leaders of the kingdom of Islam, attacked and were repelled at Tours and Poitiers (732) by another patron of Rome, Charles Martel (Charles the Hammer). This was the salvation of Europe from the conquerors of Islam under the Caliphs. And the pope, in league with the strongest of the European kings, in time became the protector of all of “Latin Christianity.” They had from the fifth century come to control nearly all congregations, through first the primary Metropolitan Bishops in Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria, and then off into the countryside.
The unwillingness of Constantinople and the East to ally with Rome began in the fifth century and continued until the final separation in 1312. The final straw was supposedly the division over baptism. But that is mostly nonsense, as both groups had by then left the truth so far behind that baptism was of no value, regardless of whether by immersion or effusion. The East was less liberal or willing to drive for doctrinal changes, but the Western church took up the full mantle of changing Christianity from the roots of congregational independence and New Testament authority. Unaligned groups came under the liege of Rome with its enforcement arm of the kings. And these kings were equally as skilled as had been the Caesars in the quick removal of dissidents and in seizing treasuries and dividing the loot with their patrons in Rome and elsewhere.
And so darkness had descended upon the Western world as the scriptures were ripped from the hands of common men and women, and the power to impose order was given over to the unscrupulous and greedy.
The West soon sanctioned the doctrine of the Universal Authority and Infallibility of the Pope, and The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary; and while the Eastern Churches allowed marriage of the lower clergy, Rome now allowed none. Soon Rome stopped offering the Lord’s Supper, and supplanted it within the Roman Churches with the Eucharist, withdrawing altogether the offering of the cup from the people, along with numerous other and often greater heretical departures.
So the first cause of the (religious) Dark Ages was both political and ecclesiastical. The second cause was plainly the usurpation of power by the Roman Church hierarchy. Christ and the scriptures had left only one person in charge of all the congregations: Jesus Christ the Lord. And there was no temporal throne to the Kingdom of God in this world. There is not one ounce of authority to grant rule over doctrine and for the imposition of office whether over one or over all of the churches. Not overseers, not any other person or group has been granted any authority over the structure and worship of the assemblies (whether singular or plural). The scriptures are completely silent on this.
Increasingly radical departures were introduced up through the eleventh century. The clergy became the priests and the first rung on the ladder of apostasy. Monastic orders ruled the day. The removal of any access to the word of God was complete by the fourteenth century.
The Word of God had by now been hidden completely from common view by the agents of the god of this world. But in short order there arose the sects of the Cathari, and men like Peter De Bruys, the Waldenses and Albigenses, early dissenters Duns Scotus and Roger Bacon, all mostly forgotten in history – leading up to the time of men such as John Huss of Bavaria and John Wyclif and the dawn of enlightenment and reform. Most of these were dissenters who objected to the feudal Popes and their authority. Some tried earnestly to fill the hands of common men with copies of the scriptures. The reward for many of them was to be branded as heretics and to be burned or sawn apart or both. In response came the further inquisitions all sanctioned by the reigning popes, led first by William the Conqueror, and later and most infamously to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, the patrons of Cristobal Colomb, known to us as Columbus. No less a historian than Edward Gibbon noted that more people died under the hand of the inquisitors of Rome than had died under all of the Caesars combined. And mixed right in the middle are the Crusades, which were begun with the intent of stopping the rise of Islam – not as is taught by some, as a search for chalices, pieces of a cross or ancient robes – even though such foolish pursuits often followed.
The bottom line in all of this is that there was no record of any sound churches of the likes of those which had been established by the apostles. There was no history of sound men worshiping and going about in silence and in the shadows to avoid the masters of destruction. The truth had fallen into disuse. But it had not fallen into oblivion. The Prophet Daniel recorded, “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; and it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” God never said that it might not be left unattended for a time. And those empires certainly were destroyed. However the apostasy never stopped.
I personally believe that in every age there has always been a very small minority or remnant to carry on in earnest obligation before God. But in these times it was only by individual effort and not at all collectively, and certainly not perfectly. However, through the mention of some of these you may grow to understand the verity of that, and then seek to know more.
Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things.
Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book.”