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The Age of Ignorance and Neglect

In the year 1500, after a thousand years of neglect, the
roads built by the Romans were still the best on the
- A World Lit Only by Fire, by William Manchester
Learning was still regarded as paganism:

The church encouraged ignorance: "Saint Bernard
of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the most influential Christian of
his time, bore a deep distrust of the intellect and declared
that the pursuit of knowledge, unless sanctified by a holy
mission, was a pagan act and therefore vile."
-- A World Lit Only by Fire - The Medieval Mind and The
Renaissance, by William Manchester
The good Christian should beware of mathematicians and all
those who make empty prophecies. The danger already
exists that mathematicians have made a covenant with the
devil to darken the spirit and confine man in the bonds of
-- Saint Augustine of Hippo, 5th century

The facts of history prove that:
(1) The pagan power to which Christianity succeeded in
Europe had already given the world a fine general system of
(2) Christianity contemplated the complete ruin of this
school-system without a murmur, indeed applauded its
disappearance, and made no effort to replace it.

(3) So little was done in the way of education during the
thousand years of absolute Roman Catholic domination that
more than ninety percent of the people in every Cathonation
were illiterate and densely ignorant.

(4) The modern school-systems that have opened the eyes
of the masses and enabled them to rise are due entirely to
secular sentiment, and their development was in most cases
opposed and retarded by the Churches.
-- The Story Of Religious Controversy, by Joseph McCabe,
historian and former Franciscan monk
The ancient Roman and Hellenic world had been highly
literate. Under the ignorance brought on by Christianity with
its hatred of all that was pre-Christian, most of Europe and
the Christianized countries of North Africa, which had earlier
been part of the Greco-Roman world, were sunk into

The Roman municipalities supplied free elementary
instruction for the children of all workers. Anywhere you
went, in a suburb of Rome or a small Italian town, you
would see the teacher, in the porch of a house perhaps,
teaching the children how to write on wax-faced tablets.
Practically every Roman worker could read and write
by the year 380 A.D., when Christianity began to have
real power. By 480 A.D. It destroyed nearly every
school in the Empire. By 580 A.D, and until 1780 at
least, between ninety to ninety-five percent of the
people of Europe were illiterate and densely ignorant.
That is the undisputed historical record of Christianity
as regards education.
-- The Story Of Religious Controversy, by Joseph McCabe
The Church, however, got an early and fair start on its
wonderful career as the organizer and creator of civilization.
In 529 [by priest-prompted edict of Justinian] "the schools
of philosophy were closed. From that date Christianity had
no rival." (CE. ii, 43.) We have read the Imperial Law of
Justinian with the fatal title: "Pagans Forbidden to
give Instruction"; consequently "the State schools of
the Empire had fallen into decay." (CE. xiii, 555.)
Thenceforth the Church, inspired by its Holy Ghost, was the
sole Mentor and Instructor of Christendom.
-- Forgery in Christianity, by Joseph Wheless, where CE
refers to the Catholic Encyclopedia
What the Church did
In the course of the fifth century this Roman system
of schools was entirely destroyed. By the year 400, as
I said, Christianity had become, by imperial decree,
the sole religion of the empire, which means of the
entire civilized world apart from India and China. By
the year 500, there was not a single trace left of the
pagan structure of schools. No writer on education can
prove the existence of a single school in Europe at that date.
To say, that Christianity gave the world schools, when
its triumph was followed by the annihilation of the
finest education system the world had ever seen until
the second half of the nineteenth century, is a
constructive untruth of a monumental character; for
there is not the least controversy anywhere about
these two facts -- that the pagan Romans of the fourth
century had a fine system of general and higher
education, and that the whole of it perished in the
fifth century.
Although I was for several years a professor, and ultimately
head of a college, in the Church of Rome, I then knew
nothing whatever about these facts. We merely copied from
earlier apologists, and repeated the traditional claim that
"Christianity gave the world education." These traditional
claims we never dreamed of checking by modern authorities.
The preacher who repeats them today is usually honest.
They are given to him as part of his clerical education. They
occur still, as brazenly as ever, in his apologetic literature.
There is not one preacher in a thousand who goes further
and inquires if the facts, as given in modern history, support
the claims he makes.

Learning in the middle Ages
How profound was the night that now enveloped Europe,
and how fully the Church was responsible for it, may be
gathered from a letter written by Pope Gregory "the Great"
to a French bishop. Gregory ruled the Church from 590 to
604 A.D. The triumph of Christianity was now complete.
Paganism was very dead; and civilization had almost expired
with it. The Goths had not destroyed Rome, but it had
suffered, decade by decade, to fall into ruin by the forty
thousand miserable and grossly ignorant Christians who now
moved, like lizards, amongst the moldering buildings that
had once housed a million happy, open-eyed folk. Europe at
large was correspondingly desolate.
-- The Story Of Religious Controversy, by Joseph McCabe,
historian and former Franciscan monk
Under Christian hatred for knowledge, many ancient works
of literature, science and philosophy were destroyed for
being "the work of the devil". Much of this was active
destruction as books were burnt, but other books were lost
through passive destruction: purposefully neglected and left
to hopefully crumble to dust, making sure no copies were
made. Other works had already perished in Christianity's
earlier, large-scale destruction of antiquity's libraries.
In the Levant and the Middle East, which had been part of
the Hellenic world, the pre-Christian Assyrians, the Arabians
who followed their pre-Christian religions, and Jews
preserved a few. The remnants of this pre-Christian
literature were translated into Arabic as well as some
other Middle Eastern languages. When Islam arose,
these Greek works (along with Indian, and the few
remaining Persian works that survived the parallel fall
of Persia to Islam) were also heavily used as
references and building blocks for new literature in
Arabia. In this way, ancient Hellenic knowledge was
reintroduced into Europe, along with the introduction
of pre-Christian knowledge from Persia's ruins and

Greek literature was preserved in the Greek Empire, and
was conveyed to Europe by the Jews and Moors. As to Latin
literature, genuinely religious monasteries regarded it, like
Tertullian, as "inspired by the devil," and would not look at
it; and the great bulk of the monasteries were too gross and
ignorant to do any copying. (Fortunately, in every age there
was an abbot or a bishop here and there who loved a cup of
wine and a maid as well as Horace did, and they preserved
the treasure for us.) Copies even of the Latin classics were
exceedingly rare in the middle Ages, Heerlen shows,
although a parchment-book lasted practically forever.

Where the monks did spend any part of their time in "the
writing room," they were, naturally, copying the Fathers of
the Church and later Christian literature. In a corner of the
great British National Library at London there is a full
collection (the Migne collection) of the works of the Fathers,
Latin and Greek: five or six hundred large quarto volumes of
closely printed ... what should I call it? No one seems to
approach this gallery of literary fossils except myself. It is all
waste paper from the modern point of view. And that is
almost all we owe to the famous monks. Heerlen insists that
they destroyed more classical works than the barbarians did.
-- The Story Of Religious Controversy, by Joseph McCabe
Sometimes monks did preserve ancient Greek and Roman
works - accidentally:

In one singular and unintentional way, however, is it true
that "the preservation of fragments of Greek and Roman
classics is due to the monasteries, which were the
custodians of manuscripts of the ancient Greek philosophy,"
science, and literature. Such manuscripts existed in great
numbers in the age of Greek and Roman culture; they were
written on enduring parchment. When the Light of the Cross
dimmed Pagan culture, and its learning became abhorrent to
the pious Christian, the monks needed papyrus for their
literary efforts, so they gathered in the manuscripts
wherever found; -- and thus they "preserved" them: "Due to
cost of vellum, old books were scraped and used again" --
(that is the meaning of "Palimpsest") -- for the scribbling of
the precious monkish chronicles and theological folderol
soon to be noticed. "In the West much use was made of old
manuscripts from the seventh to the ninth century, when, in
consequence of the disturbed state of the country, there was
some scarcity of material, and the old volumes of neglected
authors were used for more popular works. ... The practice
continued down to the sixteenth century.

Many Latin and most Greek manuscripts are on reused
vellum. A manuscript in the Vatican contained part of the
91st Book of Livy's 'Roman History.' The famous Sinai Bible
discovered by Tischendorff was written over by lives of
female saints. Monkish treatises covered parts of the Iliad
and the Elements of Euclid. The 'De Republica' of Cicero,
was discovered under the Commentary of Augustine on
Psalms, and several of his Orations under the Acts of the
Council of Chalcedon." Other such monkish palimpsests were
discovered to contain the Institutes of Gaius; eight orations
of the Roman senator Symmachus, the Comedies of Plautus,
parts of Euripides, epistles of Antoninus Pius, Lucius Verus,
Marcus Aurelius, and others, the 'Fasti Consolaris' of 486,
the Codex Theodosianus, are among the precious remains of
Greek and Roman erudition which were "Preserved" in this
monkish fashion in the erudite monasteries. (NIE. xvii, 762-
3.) As for "monks constantly occupied in copying the classic
texts," for the preservation and diffusion of Pagan culture, it
is a joke! They couldn't read Greek nor good Latin, and
nobody else could read at all, -- also, Holy Church and
Churchmen loathed Pagan culture and literature.
-- Forgery in Christianity, by Joseph Wheless
Christianity even managed to ruin Latin, the very language
used by the Roman Church for Christian literature. And
eventually, under Christianity even Roman nobility
would become illiterate:

Our only indications of the moral condition [in the first half
of the 7th century] are Papal documents (written in such
barbarous Latin that one can scarcely read them)
-- The Story Of Religious Controversy, by Joseph McCabe
It is on record that at this time [10th century] some of these
members of the highest Roman nobility could not write their
own names; how many could we do not know. It is useless
to ask us to consider these vices as relics of paganism, when
we know that from being a generally literate city, and in its
higher class a very refined and cultivated city, Rome under
the Popes had sunk to an illiteracy that has no parallel
elsewhere in the history of civilization.
-- The Story Of Religious Controversy, by Joseph McCabe,
historian and former Franciscan monk
A bishop of Len (in France) of the eleventh century says:
"There is more than one bishop who cannot name the letters
of the alphabet on his fingers."
Ordinary priests had not the slightest understanding
of the Latin they mumbled. Even the secretaries of the
Papacy at Rome sent out their documents in the most
atrocious Latin, full of common grammatical errors.
Kings and nobles could not sign their names. Their
signatures had to be cut for them in wood and stamped on
documents. The illiteracy of Europe had increased to more
than ninety-nine percent.
-- The Story Of Religious Controversy, by Joseph McCabe,
historian and former Franciscan monk
The French writer Montalembert is responsible for the myth.
His discovery that "every monastery was a school" is still
quoted everywhere, though every serious historian of
education will tell you that not one monastery in one
hundred educated even its own monks. ...The overwhelming
majority of the monasteries of the Middle Ages were colonies
of fat and gross sensualists, mainly hypocritical peasants,
who could not write their own names. Impossible? In his
"History of Pedagogy" Compayre shows that at the
close of the thirteenth century, which is supposed to
be the most intellectual and scholarly period of the
Middle Ages, not one single monk in the largest and
greatest monastery of France, St. Gall, could read or
-- The Story Of Religious Controversy, by Joseph McCabe
In history we divide time into three parts, Ancient Times, the
Middle Ages, and Modern Times; and we consider the Middle
Ages (as we ought to say) a period of dark and turbulent
semi-barbarism lying between two phases of civilization,
ancient paganism and modern paganism.
Let us be quite clear what we mean by the middle
Ages. Roughly we mean from about 500 A.D. when
paganism and the Roman Empire were extinct, to
about 1500 or 1600 A.D. The first half of this period,
say from about 500 to 1100, we call the Dark Ages.

The Church is deeply and terribly responsible for the
Dark Ages, for the suspension of the evolution of
civilization for a thousand years. Today there would be -
- as will be the condition in a few centuries -- no war, little
or no poverty, no ignorance, no crime, and infinitely more
happiness, if the Christian church had been a civilizing force.
By the end of the fourth century Christianity was
established. The world was now Christian, and I would
advise any serious inquirer to find for himself what
happened. If he cannot read the original Latin
authorities, he has two learned works, which cover
the period: the Protestant historian Dean Milman's
"History of Latin Christianity," and the "History of
European Morals" of Mr. Lecky: a Rationalist, but a
man who says all that can justly be said, and much
more, in favor of Christianity.

These two historians agree entirely that Europe passed into
a state of moral chaos. The Dean is at first disturbed when
he approaches the period, and he piously reflects, "the evil
was too profoundly stated in the habits of the Roman world
to submit to the control of religion." But Milman was too
candid a scholar to maintain that insincere position.
The evil was new, not inherited from the pagans, and
it grew worse and worse as the world moved farther
away from paganism.

For the fifth century our one authority is the priest
Salvianus. In a Latin work "On the Providence of God" he
very frankly describes the morals of the Christian world in
which he lives, and he explicitly says that there has been a
very considerable deterioration of morals since pagan days.
-- The Story Of Religious Controversy, by Joseph McCabe,
historian and former Franciscan monk
The Middle Ages, is that period roughly from the end
of the Ancient era in the fifth century to the
Renaissance in the fourteenth century, was a
millennium of almost unrestricted rule of Christianity
in Europe. The major part of this era has been termed
the Dark Ages. As historian Joseph McCabe observed
in the 1920's:
"No one except an expert today reads any book written
between 420 and 1100 A.D.; and if that doesn't mean a
Dark Age we wonder what the word means."
-- The Lies And Fallacies Of The Encyclopedia Britannica, J.
In contrast, even ancient non Christian literature is
widely read today, for example the writings and
poetry of Greek and Roman authors such as Homer,
Ovid, Tacitus, Cicero, and Seneca, and students of
mathematics and natural sciences today study ...
principles of mathematics and geometry first laid
down by ancient Greek philosophers such as
Archimedes, Euclid, Thales and many more.

...The ascent of Christianity into temporal power was
accompanied in parallel by the decline in secular
...By the year 1100, 99 percent of Christian Europe
was illiterate. It was secular developments, such as
the Renaissance in the fourteenth to sixteenth
century, and the Enlightenment in the eighteenth, that
rejuvenated the education system in Europe. The
Renaissance, in part, was an attempt to revive the
great pagan works which Christianity had successfully
suppressed until then.
But where possible the churches still continued to
suppress education. By any count they were pretty
successful; for up to the beginning of the nineteenth
century, fully 90 percent of Christian Europe was
As recently as 1846, we find the English illiterate.
statesman, Richard Cobden (1804-1865) complaining, in a
letter to a friend, that he faced extreme resistance from
clergymen of all denominations in his quest for mass
Indeed the attitude of the Catholic Church was no different
from the English Protestant. The historian Thomas
MacCaulay (1800-1859), in his book History of England
(1845) has this to say about the Catholic Church's attitude
towards education and intellectualism:
...During the last three centuries to stunt the growth of the
human mind was her chief object. Throughout Christendom,
whatever advance had been made in knowledge, in freedom,
in wealth, and in the arts of life, had been made in spite of
her, and has everywhere been in inverse proportions to her
power. The loveliest and most fertile provinces of Europe
have, under her rule, been sunk in poverty, in political
servitude and in intellectual torpor.
End of non-Christian Roman Civilization, start of the Dark
Ages of Christianity

Before the dazzling Light diffused by the Church blinds us to
the view, let us take a farewell look at the Pagan civilization
of the Roman world, as recorded under the Antonine
Emperors and their successors, such conditions prevailing
quite up to the era of [Christian Roman Emperor] Justinian
and the Church; -- it will be a millennium and a half before
we see a spark of such like:
"The internal peace and prosperity were no less remarkable
than the absence of war. Trade and commence flourished;
new routes were opened, and new roads built throughout
the Empire, so that all parts of it were in close touch with
the capital. The remarkable municipal life of the period,
when new and flourishing cities covered the Roman world, is
revealed by the numerous inscriptions that record the
generosity of wealthy patrons or the activity of free
burghers. ... Guilds and organizations of all conceivable
kinds, mainly for philanthropic purposes, came into
existence everywhere. By means of these associations the
poorer classes were in a sense insured against poverty. ...
The activity of the Emperor was not confined to
merely official acts; private movements for the succor
of the poor and of orphans received his unstinted
support. The scope of the alimentary institutions of
former reigns was broadened, and the establishment
of charitable foundations such as that of the 'Puellae
Faustinianae' is a sure indication of a general
softening of manners and a truer sense of humanity.
The period was also one of considerable literary and
scientific activity. ... The most lasting influence of the
life and reign of Antoninus was that which he
exercised in the sphere of law. Five great Stoic
jurisconsults [named] were the constant advisers of
the Emperor, and under his protection they infused a
spirit of leniency and mildness into Roman legislation
which effectually safeguarded the weak and
unprotected, slaves, wards, and orphans, against
aggressions of the powerful. ... An impulse was given
in this direction which produced the later golden
period of Roman jurisprudence under Septimus
Severus, Caracalla, and Alexander Severus."
-- (CE. i, 587.) [Catholic Encyclopedia]
For vivid contrast, we may here recall the "vivid
remark" of Bishop St. Bruno, in the year 1049, that
"justice had perished" (CE. vi, 793) and the
confession, relating to the beginning of the
Reformation five hundred years later: "Churchmen in
high places were constantly unmindful of justice."
(CE. xii, 767.) The "golden period of Roman
jurisprudence" had been replaced by Christian
"superstitions in the administration of justice during
many centuries of the Middle Ages, and known as
ordeals or 'judgments of God.' ... These 'judgments of
God' gave rise to new superstitions. Whether guilty or
not, persons subjected to the trials would often put
more confidence in charms, magic formulas, and
ointments than in the Providence of God." (CE. xiv,
341,) Up to as late as 1538 "the legal lore had hitherto
been presented in a very barbarous form." (CE. i, 273.) As
for benevolence,: charity, the care of the poor, the
protection of the weak against the strong, the cursory Pagan
record just quoted must suffice; their continuance in the
Christian Dark Ages is sufficiently belied by the shocking
social conditions to be cursorily noticed in the general
cultural sketch to follow. As for widows and orphans, one of
the proudest brags of the clerics, the Church by sword and
rack and stake, has made an infinity more of widows and
orphans that she ever scantily cared for in her monkish
lazzarettos and pestilential lying-in shambles.
-- Forgery in Christianity, by Joseph Wheless, where CE
refers to the Catholic Encyclopaedia
About these "judgments of God" ordeals for
determining truth and justice:
Not without astonishment can we look back at what,
in those times, were popularly regarded as criteria of
truth. Doctrines were considered as established by the
number of martyrs who had professed them, by
miracles, by the confession of demons, of lunatics, or
of persons possessed of evil spirits: thus, St. Ambrose,
in his disputes with the Arians, produced men
possessed by devils, who, on the approach of the
relics of certain martyrs, acknowledged, with loud
cries, that the Nicean doctrine of the three persons of
the Godhead was true. But the Arians charged him
with suborning these infernal witnesses with a
weighty bribe. Already, ordeal tribunals were making
their appearance. During the following six centuries
they were held as a final resort for establishing guilt
or innocence, under the forms of trial by cold water,
by duel, by the fire, by the cross.
What an utter ignorance of the nature of evidence and
its laws have we here! An accused man sinks or swims
when thrown into a pond of water; he is burnt or
escapes unharmed when he holds a piece of red-hot
iron in his hand; a champion whom he has hired is
vanquished or vanquishes in single fight; he can keep
his arms outstretched like a cross, or fails to do so
longer than his accuser, and his innocence or guilt of
some imputed crime is established! Are these criteria
of truth? -- History of the Conflict Between Religion
and Science, by J.W. Draper This is what had replaced
ancient non-Christian Rome.