In the Olivet Prophecy in Matthew 24 Jesus spoke of the world that would exist between His departure and His future second coming.
One of the stark predictions that Christ offered is, "For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many" (Matthew 24:5).
Author William Manchester (1922-2004), in his book A World Lit Only by Fire, gives historical illumination to these prophetic words of Christ. He established the stark fact that the medieval church during the Dark Ages (roughly between A.D. 400 and A.D. 1000) bore little resemblance to the first-century Christian Church.
Readers should take Mr. Manchester's testimony seriously because he was a very competent researcher, publishing a number of other important historical works. He had already established his academic credentials with a generally acclaimed, multivolume biography of Winston Churchill. His study of the former British prime minister's life complements the excellent multivolume work of Martin Gilbert in England.
Mr. Manchester wrote in his book about the Dark Ages: "Soldiers of Christ swung their swords freely. Every flourishing religion has been intermittently watered by the blood of its own faithful, but none has seen more spectacular internecine butchery than Christianity" (1992, p. 7, emphasis added throughout).
The expression "soldiers of Christ" in this context reminds one of "Christian gunmen" of latter-day 20th-century Lebanon. But how does all this square with the plain teachings of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount? Was this really the Church He had built (see Matthew 16:18)?
Mr. Manchester wrote: "Christianity was in turn, infiltrated, and to a considerable extent subverted by the paganism it was supposed to destroy. Medieval men simply could not bear to part with Thor, Hermes, Zeus, Juno, Cronos, Saturn and their peers. Idol worship addressed needs the church could not meet" (pp. 11-12).
This dubious process of mixing paganism with Christianity is called syncretism.
The sheer amount of evidence overwhelms. "As mass baptisms swelled its congregations, the church further indulged the converts by condoning ancient rites, or attempting to transform them in the hope—never realized—that they would die out. Fertility rites and augury were sanctioned: so was the sacrifice of cattle…Christian priests, like the pagan priests before them, also blessed harvests and homes" (p. 13).
William Manchester added this comment about sainthood in the Roman Catholic sense. "Neither Jesus nor His disciples had mentioned sainthood… [Even] Augustine deplored the adoration of saints" (pp. 13-14).
The sad story of the Borgia family is very well documented on pages 75 through 87. Christian book reviewers hesitate to repeat this tragic story of a ruthless and immoral pope, Rodrigo Borgia, to the general public, but one sentence illustrates the tragic character of this man: "Breaking any commandment excited him, but he was partial to the seventh" (p. 77).
The question our readers may well ask is, What did such extreme behavior have to do with the Church of the living God? In reply we recommend our free booklet The Church Jesus Built. WNP