An eighth-century depiction of the arrest of Christ from the Book of Kells .
Church historian Philip Jenkins, who studied the Dark Ages (with his apologies for the term) as an undergraduate, compares the spread of Christianity in that era to its spread in our own:
The central fact of the [Dark Ages] was the conversion of [the British Isles and Scandinavia] to Christianity, which meant thinking about the nature of mission, and the relationship between old and new faiths. When for instance a formerly pagan society accepted Christianity, how much of their old ways should they retain? How many old customs or cultural forms could be brought within the scope of church life? Moreover, Christianity meant literacy: how did that transform the older society, and what scope did that allow for the old spiritual and cultural leaders, whether pagan priests or druids?
For many years now, my main area of research has been in Global or World Christianity, namely the historic shift of the faiths center of gravity to the Global South, to Africa Asia and Latin America. In many instances, the issues at stake in this growth are very similar indeed to those of the Early Middle Ages. In Africa, for instance, Christianity boomed when it broke free from the constraints of the European missions, and developed a mass following among independent churches with native leadership. Often though, Western Christians were (and are) alarmed at what seemed to be concessions to old pagan ways, in matters like healing, exorcism and spiritual warfare. The debates resonate immediately with anyone familiar with Europes own conversion era.
Jenkins goes on to quote a letter Pope Gregory the Great wrote to Abbot Mellitus as the abbot set off to evangelize England in the year 601, a letter that shaped missionaries’ attitudes for centuries. Read the whole post at The Anxious Bench . And if you’ve never read his 2006 Erasmus lecture on Christianity in the Global South, then read that, too .