Do these concepts have anything to do with each other? Apparently some Mormons think they do, hence Davis Bitton’s corrective essay “How Dark Were the Dark Ages?” (conveniently reposted at Meridian Magazine).
As I noted in an earlier post discussing several recent LDS books on the topic, there is renewed discussion in LDS scholarly circles of “the Great Apostasy,” generally adopting a softer tone and a more informed viewpoint than an earlier generation of scholarship. It’s unclear how much of the new discussion has trickled down to the general membership, however. Bitton’s short essay helps move the general reader in the right direction, emphasizing that the “Dark Ages” weren’t half as dark as previously portrayed and arguing that the term is so misleading it should probably be dropped.
The essay also tries to shed some positive light on the thousand years between the fall of the Roman Empire (in the West) and the Reformation. It is a corrective to the simplified LDS view of history that goes like this: Apostasy, Reformation, Restoration. It seems like there should be some positive social or religious developments that can be dropped into that usual 1300-year gap between Apostasy (shortly after the death of the original apostles) and Reformation (Martin Luther in the 16th century).
Maybe we should devote a few Sunday School lessons each year to religious history and comparative religion? That would help most of us fill in those gaps.