Inheriting the "Great Apostasy":
The Evolution of Latter-day Saint Views on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
Inheriting the "Great Apostasy": The Evolution of Latter-day Saint
Views on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
Eric R. Dursteler
The idea of a universal apostasy is one
of the foundational elements of Mormonism. Indeed, it is often privileged
with an uppercase A and designated
as the "Great Apostasy." In this context the term refers specifically
to what Latter-day Saints perceive as the "falling away"1
from Christ’s original church and his teachings in the centuries immediately
following his crucifixion. It is no exaggeration to say that the concept of
apostasy is one of the linchpins of the Latter-day Saint faith: without an
apostasy there would have been no need for Joseph Smith or for a restoration.
The great doctrinal commentator and Latter-day Saint apostle Bruce R. McConkie
stated, "The apostasy is the first great sign of the times."2Among the Latter-day Saint faithful, the explanation and justification
for this pivotal moment are historically based; indeed, as one acute observer
has commented, "For Mormonism more than other religions, history evolves
as part of the church’s canon."3
The concept of a historical apostasy was most fully developed in the works
of three influential Latter-day Saint doctrinal commentators and General Authorities—B.
H. Roberts of the First Council of Seventy, apostle James E. Talmage, and
apostle and future church president Joseph Fielding Smith—who wrote
around the turn of the twentieth century. For each of these writers, the key
moments of the apostasy were the first Christian centuries, when innumerable
"plain and precious" truths were lost (1 Nephi 13:28). In their
divine chronologies, however, the Middle Ages and Renaissance also play an
important, if relatively brief, role in the historical evolution that led
ineluctably to the restoration. All three writers point to the darkness of
medieval times as the fullest expression of the effects of apostasy, in contrast
to the light that the Renaissance revival of learning reflected into the world.
The Renaissance set the stage for the Reformation, which, in turn, acted as
a prelude to the restoration.
While this binary vision of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was common
in the intellectual world of the late nineteenth century, scholars have since
come to see it as an obsolete and outmoded historical paradigm. Despite this
transformation, the ideas of the aforementioned triumvirate of turn-of-the-century
thinkers continue to influence Latter-day Saint views of history. This essay
historically situates these influential commentators’ viewpoints on the Middle
Ages and Renaissance within their broader vision of the great apostasy. It also
considers the enduring appeal of their views within the Latter-day Saint community.
The question of the historicity of the Latter-day Saint view of apostasy or
the specific events it purports to describe, while important and suggestive
themes, are beyond the scope of this essay.
The Apostasy in Latter-day Saint Thought
During Mormonism’s first sixty years, discussions of apostasy were very much
a part of the faith’s dialogue, but it was not until the last decade of the
nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century that more
systematic and influential treatments of the apostasy appeared.4
The most consequential were those of B. H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, and
Joseph Fielding Smith, three of Mormonism’s most influential doctrinal and
theological thinkers. These writers all attempted to historicize the nature
and progress of the great apostasy. Largely
as a result of their writings, LDS theories of apostasy were codified
in the first decades of the twentieth century as part of an extremely fertile
theological era of definition and reconciliation with secular learning, described
by Leonard J. Arrington as "the stage of creative adaptation."5
These three scholars and church authorities of the second generation of Mormonism
were most responsible for systematizing LDS theology. All wrote widely and
perceptively on many of the doctrinal issues of the day.6 While
Smith and Roberts disagreed fiercely about evolution and other issues, Talmage
often staked out something of a middle ground between them. In marked contrast,
their historical theologies were virtually identical, particularly in how
these men understood the place of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in the apostasy
and the relationship of those periods to the restoration.7 The
church leadership and membership alike generally embraced the "priestly
narratives" of Roberts, Talmage, and Smith as authoritative in their
day; unquestionably, those works have provided the foundation for all subsequent
discussions of the apostasy.8 In many ways, this trio’s conceptualizations
still inform how Latter-day Saints think about the apostasy.
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Latter-day Saint Writings on the
The first comprehensive treatment of the
apostasy was that of B. H. Roberts, whom philosopher Sterling M. McMurrin
has called "the intellectual leader of the Mormon people in the era of
Mormonism’s finest intellectual attainment."9 In his Outlines
of Ecclesiastical History, first
published in 1893 as a Seventies quorum manual, with five subsequent editions
following over the next thirty years, Roberts developed a wide-ranging and
all-encompassing view of the apostasy. He restated and amplified his ideas—though
not substantially altering them—in a 1929 series of radio lectures published
as The Falling Away.10 Reflecting the view common since Joseph Smith’s time, Roberts
saw the apostasy primarily as the loss of priesthood authority—that
is, the loss of divine sanction to act in the name of God in conducting such
saving ordinances as sacrament, baptism, and temple sealings—and the
end of continuing revelation. In these foundational works, however, Roberts
attempted to historicize the theology of apostasy. He focused particularly
on historical and doctrinal developments in late antiquity, changes in ordinances,
the infiltration of pagan philosophies, the rise of the Mass, and variations
from the original organization of Christ’s church. For Roberts, the first
three Christian centuries were the key period in the great apostasy. By the
time of Constantine, the church that Christ had organized had ceased to exist.
Roberts’s ideas and approach, more than those of any other Latter-day Saint
scholar, effectively set the parameters and pattern for all subsequent discussions
of the apostasy; indeed, his oeuvre provided the basic outlines of "a
Mormon theology of history, nearly Augustinian in its vision."11
While Roberts’s chief emphasis was on the first Christian centuries, he treated
the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as important transitional moments in the
lockstep evolution from apostasy to Reformation to restoration. In his discussion,
Roberts concentrates on what he considered to be evidence of both the omnipotence
and the depravity of the papacy as well as on the "state of morals"
within the church.12 Roberts also identifies a number of medieval
events that he sees as preparing the ground for the all-important Reformation.
He traces "the progress of popular liberty" to the rise of a "commercial
class" around AD 1200 that financed the crusading movement in return for
grants of "political privileges" from cash-strapped monarchs. This
development, according to Roberts, led to the breakdown of the "Feudal
Land Tenure System" and the ultimate weakening of the ecclesiastical
stranglehold on European society. Despite these seemingly positive developments,
however, Roberts’s Middle Ages are painted overwhelmingly in murky, monochromatic
tones. These are the Dark Ages, a backward bookmark between New Testament
Christianity and the beginnings of its revival with Martin Luther. This period
was, in his words, an "age of darkness," the "midnight period
of our world." He exclaims: "A period of fifteen hundred years!
In which a famine for the word of God existed; a period when men wandered
from sea to sea, and ran to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and found
it not. How pitiful the picture of it!"13
In Roberts’s theological chronology, this fifteen-hundred-year "Age
of Darkness" was not only spiritual but also intellectual, blighting
all aspects of European life: "The intellectual stupor of Europe had
been as profound as spiritual darkness had been dense." Into this spiritual
and intellectual obscurity, however, a ray of light began to break through
with the "Revival of Learning" in the latter part of the fifteenth
century, which set the stage for Luther’s theses and eventually Joseph Smith’s
vision. Roberts points to a number of significant innovations in this period
of awakening: the invention of gunpowder, the compass, paper, and printing;
the discovery of the Cape route to India and Columbus’s discovery of the Americas;
innovations in art; and "a greater knowledge of antiquity" spread
by Greek refugees fleeing the fall of Constantinople after 1453.14
These are the key elements in Roberts’s binary view of the Middle Ages and
Although Roberts effectively set the parameters of what came to be the view
of the apostasy most widely held in the Latter-day Saint community, the most
recognizable and noted work on the topic is not his but rather Talmage’s slender
volume The Great Apostasy,15
written in 1909, before his call as an apostle. Though in many ways quite
derivative of Roberts’s earlier Outlines, Talmage’s book, intended
"for use in the Mutual Improvement Associations,"16 is
still in circulation and is regularly referenced today. Indeed, it often appears
on approved reading lists for Latter-day Saint missionaries.17
Like Roberts, Talmage emphasizes the nexus of apostasy and loss of priesthood
authority; he devotes the bulk of his historical exegesis to the initial stages
of apostasy in the early Christian church, emphasizing both external and internal
causes. In his final chapter, "Results of the Apostasy—Its Sequel,"
however, he briefly surveys medieval oppositions to the church in Rome as
a bridge to a discussion of the Reformation. When Talmage describes revolts
against the "tyranny . . . [of] the thoroughly apostate and utterly corrupt
. . . Church of Rome," he uses language reminiscent of Roberts’s in describing
the Middle Ages:
The awakening of intellectual activity . . . began in the latter part of
the fourteenth century. The period from the tenth century onward to the time
of the awakening has come to be known as the dark ages—characterized
by stagnation in the progress of the useful arts and sciences as well as of
fine arts and letters, and by a general condition of illiteracy and ignorance
among the masses.
This era of darkness was enlightened by
"the revival of learning," which opened "the struggle for freedom
from churchly tyranny."18
In his widely respected Jesus the
Christ of 1915, Talmage makes even more explicit the relationship
of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance:
Under the tyrannous repression . . . [of] the Roman church, civilization
was retarded and for centuries was practically halted in its course. The period
of retrogression is known in history as the Dark Ages. The fifteenth century
witnessed the movement known as the Renaissance or Revival of Learning; there
was a general and significantly rapid awakening among men, and a determined
effort to shake off the stupor of indolence and ignorance was manifest throughout
the civilized world. . . . [I]t was a development predetermined in the Mind
of God to illumine the benighted minds of men in preparation for the restoration
of the gospel of Jesus Christ.19
The lockstep linkage of the three Rs—Renaissance,
Reformation, and Restoration—at the center of Roberts’s depiction of
the great apostasy is abundantly evident in Talmage’s writings.
The influential writings of Roberts and Talmage culminated in the work
of Joseph Fielding Smith, the third prominent Latter-day Saint theologian
of the apostasy in the early twentieth century. Smith was a son of President
Joseph F. Smith and a grandson of Hyrum Smith; he was ordained an apostle
in 1910 at age thirty-three and was ordained and set apart as the tenth president
of the church in 1970 at age ninety-three. Called a "soldier of truth"
by his biographer grandson,20 Smith was also one of the most important
doctrinal thinkers and probably the most influential conservative force of
Mormonism’s second century. He published more books and articles than any
other Latter-day Saint president,21 and President Heber J. Grant
considered him "the best posted man on the scriptures of the General
Smith’s views on the apostasy first appeared
in his 1922 publication Essentials in Church History. His introduction includes a brief overview of the
"falling away," which serves simply to set the stage for the real
focus of his treatise: the restoration of all things by Joseph Smith and the
subsequent history of the church he founded.23 A decade later,
Smith published a much more extensive study on the apostasy in The Progress of Man (1936). This rich treatise was commissioned by the
board of the Genealogical Society of Utah, which, because of the "grave
conditions" of the day, "thought it would be timely to have a course
of study giving a brief outline of man’s history on the earth." Smith’s
text was no ordinary universal history, however; it was "an outline history
of man interpreted in the light of revelation. It tells of . . . [the] everlasting
conflict between good and evil, light and darkness, freedom and oppression,
[and] . . . the final and destined triumph of truth."24 Smith’s
striking litany of binary oppositions foreshadows his treatment of the medieval
Smith devotes more attention than Roberts
or Talmage do to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as they relate to the
Latter-day Saint understanding of the apostasy. In his discussion, he links
the Renaissance’s revival of learning to Europe’s increasing encounters with
Islam and the rest of the world through the Crusades, Mediterranean trade,
and the travels of Marco Polo. Despite Smith’s greater detail, however, he
does not depart significantly from the path outlined by Roberts and Talmage.
Like both of them, he finds divine technological intervention in the invention
of the compass, paper, gunpowder, and printing, though in each case he goes
into greater detail than the other writers do. The Middle Ages for Smith,
as for Roberts and Talmage, are the "dark ages [which] commenced with
the fall of Rome and continued during the greater part of the next thousand
years." It was an era characterized by a "condition of mental and
spiritual stupor and stupidity."25
As with his precursors, Smith also saw the "Springtime of the Renaissance"
beginning to stir in the dark medieval winter. For him this thaw began in
the twelfth century, when "the world was like a great giant who gradually
began to stir from a long drunken stupor." The real awakening, he believed,
occurred during the Renaissance of the fourteenth century—the age of
Petrarch, Giotto, and Boccaccio. Smith even appropriates Roberts’s language
in describing this era as "The Revival of Learning." He departs
from his predecessors in generally avoiding their often virulent anti-Catholic
stance (especially characteristic of Roberts), and he also suggests that,
despite what he perceived as the terrible darkness of the medieval era, "the
Spirit of the Lord was working among the people," preparing the way for
"the day in which the fulness of freedom and religious liberty was to
be ushered in." This time of preparation, for Smith, was the Renaissance.26
Several key features of the Latter-day Saint view of the historical apostasy
emerge from the writings of Roberts, Talmage, and Smith. All three emphasize
that at its core the apostasy consisted of a loss of priesthood authority
on the earth. All three devote most of their discussion to the early Christian
centuries, which they see as the pivotal age of apostasy. In their often brief
treatments of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, all three resort to the metaphor
of light and dark. While their exact datings of the apostasy may vary slightly,
in general the period from approximately AD
500 to 1500 is characterized as an undifferentiated mass and labeled the Dark
Ages.27 The Middle Ages, for these LDS observers, were an age of
abject backwardness, of obscurity and apostasy. Roberts referred to this period
as the "age of darkness," the "midnight period of our world."
For Talmage, it was a "period of retrogression."28 Other
contemporary Latter-day Saint authors embraced this language as well. Hugh
B. Brown, in a 1941 discourse revealingly entitled "The Night of Darkness,"
terms this period "the Dark Ages, a time which has been designated as
the midnight of time, . . . in which not only the artificial lamps of men
burned low, but also the celestial lights of God’s inspiration were extinguished."29
The darkness of the era was twofold in Latter-day Saint apostasy literature.
On the one hand, there was the spiritual darkness of apostasy created by the
absence of direct revelation and priesthood authority. The roots of this view
can be traced back to Joseph Smith’s accounts of his first vision, in which
the spiritual darkness of his day was due to absent priesthood authority but
was penetrated by the light of God and Christ breaking through to him in his
moment of despair.30 On the other hand, there is the innovation
of Roberts, Talmage, and Smith that expands this metaphor of darkness beyond
the purely spiritual realm. In their depictions, not only were the Dark Ages
spiritually benighted, but the backwardness and degeneration of the spirit
were accompanied by an absolute decline in Western civilization. For Talmage,
"the dark ages . . . [were] characterized by stagnation in the progress
of the useful arts and sciences as well as of fine arts and letters, and by
a general condition of illiteracy and ignorance among the masses."31
In "this period of retrogression" in Europe, "civilization
was retarded and for centuries was practically halted in its course."32
For Smith, it was an age characterized by intellectual and spiritual "stupor
In contrast to the dark of the Middle Ages, these Latter-day Saint writers
emphasize the light of the period immediately preceding the Reformation, the
Renaissance, which is a privileged age in this holy history. For Talmage,
the intellectual revival of the late fourteenth century was part of a general
trend of rebellion against tyrannical ecclesiastical power. This "rapid
awakening among men, and a determined effort to shake off the stupor of indolence
and ignorance" was predetermined by God "to illumine the benighted
minds of men in preparation for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ."34
For Roberts, "the intellectual stupor of Europe had been as profound
as spiritual darkness had been dense. But with the close of the fifteenth
century, literature, science and art seemed to spring into active life."35
Similarly, Smith writes of the Renaissance that "the Lord never intended
that man should be kept in ignorance [as existed in the Middle Ages]. The
time had to come when the minds of men were to be freed from the chains that
In sum, the historical narrative of the great apostasy generated by these
Latter-day Saint thinkers during the pregnant doctrinal and intellectual atmosphere
of the early twentieth century emphasized a generalized view of the period
from AD 500 to 1500 as a time
of spiritual and intellectual darkness in which all revelation and, indeed,
progress of any sort disappeared. About 1500, the revolutionary changes associated
with the Renaissance opened heaven’s door a crack and allowed a beam of light
to penetrate the gloom, thus setting the stage for the Reformation, which
in turn blazed the trail for the restoration of all things by Joseph Smith.
What I hope to show in the remainder of this paper is that the generally monochromatic
discussion presented in LDS historical surveys of the medieval bridge between
the great apostasy and the restoration is firmly planted in historical assumption
of the nineteenth century and earlier. These ideas, while embraced in their
day by many, perhaps even most, scholars, have largely been superseded by
the scholarship of subsequent generations.
The Sources of Latter-day Saint Apostasy Literature
An examination of the citations of these
three influential Latter-day Saint writers shows clearly that they relied
chiefly on two types of sources in crafting their viewpoints: the highly polemical,
popular, confessional, historical literature of the nineteenth century and
the anticlerical literature of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. While
these authors often did not cite their sources, as was common in their day,37
still a survey of their references is revealing. Roberts seems to have roamed
most widely with his research, relying on a range of Protestant, Catholic,
and Enlightenment authors.38 His chief historical source was the
Protestant theologian and historian Johann Lorenz von Mosheim, especially
his Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern.
Roberts supplemented Mosheim with other important Protestant histories, as
well as several Catholic sources, though these were used to support his ultimately
anti-Catholic position. As Richard L. Bushman has rightly observed, Talmage’s
and Roberts’s ideas were conceived "with the liberal assistance of Protestant
scholars who were equally committed to belief in the apostasy of the Roman
Church." He adds, "It would be interesting to know if . . . [they]
have added anything to the findings of Protestant scholars."39
Latter-day Saint apostasy literature also owed a great debt to the anti-Catholic
polemics that dominated turn-of-the-century historical writing in Protestant
Roberts, as well as Talmage and Smith,
was influenced by Enlightenment and Romantic historians and trends. Latter-day
Saint theologians, like many Romantic writers, tended to view history as drama,
"the unfolding of a vast Providential plan," and generally shared
the Romantic belief that a historian’s task was "to arrange apparently
disconnected events in their proper order."41 Influential
in a different way were the great Enlightenment histories, in which it was
common to see "nothing but barbarism, ignorance, superstition, violence,
irrationality, and priestly tyranny" from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance,
which those writers viewed as the birth of the rational, secular, modern era—that
is, their own day. The Middle Ages, for them, provided the perfect irrational
foil for their own, enlightened age. This philosophe history of progress posited the "dark centuries"
of the Middle Ages as the gloomy backdrop against which the first stirring
of modern progress, the light of Renaissance Italy, burst forth.42
Or as Voltaire, in his Essay on Universal History famously described it, the Italians "began to shake off the barbarous
rust, with which Europe had been covered since the decline of the Roman Empire."43
While the sources they cited tended toward
outdated religious and philosophical works of a polemical nature, Roberts,
Talmage, and Smith also relied to a degree on more recent general works, particularly
those of a historical nature, to flesh out their understanding of the historical
continuum of the apostasy. These included popular histories such as Franâ‰ ois
Guizot’s History of Civilization in Europe (1828) and general textbooks such as John J. Anderson’s
of General History: Being an Outline History of the World from the Creation
to the Present Time and P. V.
N. Myers’ Mediaeval and Modern History, and General
History for Colleges and High Schools. Treating the relationship between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
as an evolution from dark to light, so characteristic of Latter-day Saint
apostasy literature, is evident in these texts. Anderson, for example, wrote:
"The epoch at which Modern History commences is the dawn of intelligence
that broke upon Europe in the latter part of the 15th [sic] century. . . . [T]he West, emerging from the night of mediaeval ignorance,
began to glow with the first beams of an intellectual and social illumination."44
Roberts, Talmage, and Smith were apparently
quite unaware of the burgeoning professional historical literature of their
age, and indeed it would be unfair and unrealistic to expect them as generalists
and nonprofessional historians to have been up-to-date on the latest historiographical
developments of the day. However, elements of their thought suggest clearly
that they were indirectly influenced by the work of one of the great nineteenth-century
historians, Jacob Burckhardt, and by the less innovative though widely influential
English scholar John Addington Symonds. This link may seem at first glance
rather tenuous: none of the authors makes direct reference to Burckhardt,
and only Smith explicitly cites Symonds.45 All three, however,
appropriate directly both the concept and wording of the title of the second
volume of Symonds’s Renaissance in Italy, "The Revival of Learning," in their histories.46
Yet it seems clear that Burckhardt’s seminal vision of the Renaissance permeated
the views of these three Latter-day Saint thinkers. Some evidence of this
can be found in the sources that these authors relied upon, but their reliance
on Burckhardt is even more evident in their way of conceptualizing the medieval
and Renaissance periods in relationship to the "great apostasy."
An examination of the ideas of Burckhardt and Symonds clearly reveals Latter-day
Saint apostasy literature’s debt to their work. Burckhardt was one of the
most respected and influential historians of the nineteenth century, and his
great 1860 masterpiece, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, was
one of the most important historical monographs of that century.47
With this work Burckhardt made his name. More importantly, he created a widely
influential paradigm that must be dealt with by students of the Renaissance
to this day. As Karl Brandi wrote, "Our conception of the Renaissance
is Jacob Burckhardt’s creation."48 The
Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy is a varied and rich work
that has often suffered from overly reductive treatments, so a summary of
its ideas is challenging. At its core, however, is a simple question, Whence
modernity? Burckhardt felt compelled to find the roots of modernity, and in
his greatest work he argued that he had traced them back to Renaissance Italy:
"The Italian Renaissance must be called the leader of modern ages."49
To make his case for a dramatically changed Renaissance world, Burckhardt
had to contrast it clearly with the Middle Ages. Thus he resorted to a language
and metaphor that should ring familiar to readers of Latter-day Saint apostasy
literature: "In the Middle Ages both sides of human consciousness . .
. lay dreaming or half awake beneath a common veil. The veil was woven of
faith, illusion, and childish prepossession." This was true for all of
Europe except in Italy, where "this veil first melted into air."
Italian Renaissance culture freed itself "from the fantastic bonds of
the Middle Ages" and witnessed the discovery of the individual.50
The era was marked by a spirit of self-discovery, a recognition of human worth,
and especially a dynamic outpouring of artistic activity by individualist
geniuses, all of which emphasized the profound changes of nascent modernity
and marked a sharp break with the past. In short, for Burckhardt the Renaissance
represented the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern world.
Burckhardt’s Civilization of the
Renaissance in Italy made such a powerful, paradigmatic statement
that few posited any competing interpretations. Instead, most scholars devoted
themselves to supplementing and fleshing out elements of the master’s vision.51
For English-speaking readers, one voice rose above the others, that of John
Addington Symonds, an English gentleman scholar and poet whose multivolume
Renaissance in Italy
(1875—86) developed a similarly broad and engaging portrait of the age.
Symonds’s vision of the Renaissance was not as conceptually sophisticated
as Burckhardt’s; indeed, he openly acknowledged his debt to the Swiss historian.
However, while Burckhardt’s reputation grew slowly in the English-speaking
world, Symonds’s "embarrassingly exuberant,"52 if accessible,
prose was much more widely read, and it was ultimately through him "that
the Burckhardtian Renaissance came to life in the minds of generations of
students."53 And it was Symonds’s exaggerated emphasis on
the light/dark metaphor to characterize the medieval/Renaissance dichotomy
that came to permeate late-nineteenth-century views in the English-speaking
While Symonds was certainly a fine literary stylist, as a historian he was
often derivative and tended toward exaggeration, hyperbole, and high drama.54
In contrast to Burckhardt’s more subdued and careful tone, Symonds characterized
the Renaissance as "the most marvellous period that the world has ever
known."55 In his view, art, innovation, and knowledge all
"had long lain neglected on the shores of the Dead Sea which we call
the Middle Ages." In contrast to this bleak medieval landscape, the Renaissance
brought "the emancipation of the reason for the modern world, and . .
. shattered and destroyed . . . the thick veil . . . between the mind of man
and the outer world, and flash[ed] the light of reality upon the darkened
places of his own nature."56 This passage suggests both the
similarity of Symonds’s interpretation to Burckhardt’s and his expansion and
exaggeration of it. In contrast to Burckhardt’s ultimately negative view of
his age,57 Symonds sketched a historical trajectory that celebrated
the triumphant march of progress, connecting the Renaissance to the Reformation
and eventually to the English Revolution, all three acts in the "drama
of liberty" so dear to the liberal, Protestant historiographical
tradition of the nineteenth century.58 In this drama, the Middle
Ages were a time of intellectual backwardness and darkness, a world in which
the individual was limited by the corporate tethers of community, guild, family,
and especially church. The Renaissance that began in Italy flashed brilliant
illumination into this dark, medieval world, waking (and creating) the independent,
freethinking, modern individual.
The Apostasy in Recent Latter-day Saint Literature
This nineteenth-century view expressed
most influentially by Burckhardt and Symonds, but shared and expanded by many
others, should seem very familiar. In the Latter-day Saint apostasy literature,
the treatment of this transitional era is clearly shaped by these views, which
were generally widely accepted in nineteenth-century historiography. As Anthony
Molho has persuasively demonstrated, American historians and the public in
general from the late nineteenth through much of the twentieth century were
fascinated by the Italian Renaissance. Americans saw their new land as the
culmination of the historical process, the epitome of modernity. Thus they
enthusiastically embraced Burckhardt’s genealogy that traced the roots of
the modern world—their roots—to the city-states of Renaissance
Italy.59 That Latter-day Saint authorities like Roberts, Talmage,
and Smith should embrace this vision, then, is not at all surprising; their
vision of the Middle Ages and Renaissance was in many ways entirely harmonious
with the prevailing view of the contemporary historical community.
What is revealing is that, while scholars of the past century have increasingly
distanced themselves from this Burckhardtian paradigm, Latter-day Saint treatments
of the apostasy since the time of Roberts, Talmage, and Smith have retained
much of their binary vision of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The persistence
of this view is most evident in the writings of Bruce R. McConkie, perhaps
the best-known and most influential LDS doctrinal commentator of the last
half of the twentieth century.60 McConkie’s rich and varied ideas
span a wide body of work. He initially developed his views on the Middle Ages
and the Renaissance in relation to the apostasy in the first edition (1958)
of his ambitious and authoritative Mormon Doctrine,61 but his most detailed
exposition on the apostasy appears in his final work, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (1985). In
the context of a discussion of the eleventh article of faith, McConkie addresses
the rise of religious freedom, the apostasy, and the Middle Ages as a critical
prelude to the Reformation and the restoration in ultimately familiar terms.
For him, the period from Constantine until 1500 was "The Black Millennium,"
in which "the world lay in darkness."
It was a black and abysmal night; the stench of spiritual death poisoned
the nostrils of men; and the jaws of hell gaped wide open to welcome the sensual
sinners who loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
In our more enlightened day, it is difficult to conceive of the depths to
which government and religion and morality, both private and public, sank
in what men universally describe as the dark ages. . . .
[This was] such a decadent age that man, made in the image of God, was more
like an animal than a divine being. Morality, culture, literacy, learning
in general, even theological inquiry—all these were at a low ebb.62
In contrast to this gloomy medieval world is the Renaissance, "A Day
The Black Millennium must end. A few hundred years thereafter, the gospel
is to be restored. . . . Let the earth spin and the darkness pass, and a few
rays of light will soon dawn in the eastern sky. . . . Then during the fourteenth
and fifteenth centuries and the first part of the sixteenth, there came an
awakening. It began in Italy, where the darkness was deepest, . . . and resulted
in "achieving freedom from the intellectual bondage to which the individual
man had been subjected by the theology and hierarchy of the Church. . . .
The Renaissance insisted upon the rights of the life that now is, and dignified
the total sphere for which man’s intellect and his aesthetic and social tastes
by nature fit him."63
Clearly, the vision of Roberts, Talmage, and Smith, but also of the nineteenth-century
scholars, has survived intact. The Middle Ages are still the Dark Ages, their
inflated span lasting from AD 500 to 1500. The spiritual retardation of this age is still
accompanied by material and intellectual backwardness. And the Renaissance
is still privileged as the turning point in this history, the staging ground
for the Reformation and restoration. McConkie is not unique among Latter-day
Saint writers and authorities in his continued embrace of this dichotomous
view; indeed, even today many within the broader Latter-day Saint community
probably still accept the image that Roberts, Talmage, and Smith created almost
a century ago.64
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Twentieth-
Although the nineteenth-century view seems
to have been remarkably durable in the LDS historical vision of the Middle
Ages and Renaissance, it has been abandoned by the broader historical community
as a problematic paradigm. The suggestive formulae of Burckhardt and his followers
set the parameters for a fruitful and energetic debate that emerged after
1900 over what many saw as his teleological, oversimplified, and binary depiction
of history. Trying to summarize the very rich historical literatures about
medieval and Renaissance Europe that have evolved in the past century would
be impractical. Still, a discussion of several dominant trends may illuminate
the chasm that has arisen between Latter-day Saint scholars of the apostasy
and the work of the larger historical community.65
In the Burckhardt/Symonds portrait, the Middle Ages do not appear in a particularly
sympathetic light; consequently, medieval scholars were among the earliest
to challenge the description of their age as "one long, dreary epoch
of stagnation, of insecurity, of lawless violence."66 This
"revolt of the medievalists" became increasingly vocal after 1900
when medieval studies underwent a dramatic expansion that produced a significantly
altered understanding of this period, leading one eminent medievalist to observe
that "no book written about the European Middle Ages before 1895 or so
is still worth reading except for curiosity’s sake."67 While
perhaps a bit hyperbolic, this statement is revealing for what it suggests
about Latter-day Saint reliance on views that the broader historical community
now considers obsolete and dismissive of this important era. Where Latter-day
Saint authors often emphasize the backwardness and darkness of this age, medievalists
since 1900 "have sought to reveal and celebrate the ideas and institutions
of the high Middle Ages."68
Not only have medieval scholars emphasized the complexity and diversity of
medieval civilization, but they have also insisted on its direct relationship
to the developments that Burckhardt situated in the Renaissance. Essentially,
this medievalist response has argued for continuity over radical change, for
evolution over revolution. Johan Huizinga elegantly stated this position in
his 1919 Dutch classic, The Waning
of the Middle Ages,69 and it was also at the heart of
Charles Homer Haskins’s influential 1927 work, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century. Haskins argued
that many of characteristics of the Renaissance—the revival of classical
Latin literature, Greek science, and Greek philosophy—had medieval roots.
He attacked the Burckhardtian paradigm head-on: "Do not the Middle Ages,
that epoch of ignorance, stagnation, and gloom, stand in the sharpest contrast
to the light and progress and freedom of the Italian Renaissance?" His
The continuity of history rejects such sharp and violent contrasts between
successive periods. . . . [M]odern research shows us the Middle Ages less
dark and less static, the Renaissance less bright and less sudden, than was
once supposed. The Middle Ages exhibit life and color and change, much eager
search after knowledge and beauty, much creative accomplishment in art, in
literature, in institutions.70
Huizinga and Haskins led the frontal assault on the Renaissance, but others
joined them, defending the Middle Ages by drawing explicit links to modern
institutions. Frederic William Maitland, for example, traced English common
law and the jury system of trials—institutions still in use in the United
States and Great Britain—to the thirteenth century. Joseph Strayer emphasized
the construction of rational, centralized governmental institutions and the
rise of national identities during the medieval period. More recently, scholars
have traced "a continuous rising stream of rationality from the military
advances of feudal technology and the organization of urban commerce in the
tenth century, through the classical recovery and dialectical capacity of
the twelfth century, to the culminating anticipations of the scientific revolution
in the fourteenth century."71
The work of the medievalists in the first half of the twentieth century was
primarily devoted to demonstrating the continuity and relevance between medieval
and modern times. Since the sixties, this "highly overdetermined . .
. discourse of continuity and progress" has been replaced by a rich and
more particularized field that does not lend itself to easy categorization.
Recent scholarship, influenced by postmodernist, anthropological, and feminist
theories, has "demodernized" and "defamiliarized" the
Middle Ages, emphasizing their fundamental alterity. To be sure, these new
interpretations have not gone unchallenged, but as Norman Cantor has recently
observed, "The one conclusion that everyone can agree to is the great
complexity of high medieval culture, society, government, law, economy, and
This refashioning of the Middle Ages as
"other" has been mirrored within the community of Renaissance scholars
who have challenged the position posited by their intellectual forefather,
Jacob Burckhardt. While his views still inform debates within the field, it
is probably safe to say that during the past century scholars have effectively
revised the majority of Burckhardt’s most evocative hypotheses. Burckhardt
is generally no longer read to understand the history of the Renaissance,
but rather as an important figure in the historiography of the idea. For example,
in contrast to Burckhardt’s vision of the progressive secularization of Italian
society—and indeed its irreligiousness—scholars have emphasized
the complex and profound religiosity of the Renaissance. With the medievalists,
they have convincingly shown that Burckhardt’s revival of antiquity, evidenced
in humanist thought, had deep medieval roots and that so-called medieval philosophies
persevered in popularity throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries
and beyond.73 The Renaissance state, which Burckhardt characterized
famously as "a work of art," has been shown to have been a far cry
from modern, centralized, rationalized, bureaucratic nation-states.74
And finally, in the area of Burckhardt’s most suggestive hypothesis—the
rise of the individual—scholars have convincingly shown the importance
of networks of relationships, patronage, and kin groups in the definition
of self and in the construction of late medieval and early modern identities.75
Where Burckhardt and subsequent generations
of scholars sought to trace and link the Renaissance to the modern world,
the most recent generation of Renaissance scholars, paralleling similar trends
among medievalists, have generally abandoned the search for modernity in fourteenth-
and fifteenth-century Italy. Inspired by the work of anthropologists such
as Clifford Geertz, Victor Turner, and Mary Douglas, they have sought to "defamiliarize
. . . the Renaissance," emphasizing the alterity rather than the modernity
of Renaissance Italy.76 They describe the age as a "distant
and alien reality," which must be penetrated and studied in much the
same way as anthropologists studied the equally exotic Balinese or Berber
cultures. The elaborate ritual life of the Renaissance, its criminality and
violence, its witchcraft and superstitions are but a few of the areas of "alienness"
or "pre-modernity" to which anthropologically inclined historians
have turned their attention.77 So complete, indeed, has been the
refashioning of the Renaissance that the label itself has become a source
of debate: increasingly, the less ideologically pregnant label "early
modern" has come into favor.
The century since Burckhardt published The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy
has seen a considerable change in the way the Renaissance is understood in
its relationship to the Middle Ages. The Renaissance is no longer seen as
the cradle of modernity, nor is it seen as separated by a chasm from the medieval
world. Warren Hollister’s assessment seems a fitting epitaph:
A few generations ago the medieval centuries of European history were widely
regarded as "The Dark Ages." Western man was thought to have dropped
into a deep slumber at the fall of the Western Roman Empire in a.d. 476, awakening
at length, like Rip Van Winkle, in the bright dawn of the Italian Renaissance.
. . . It was . . . a millennium of darkness—a thousand years without
Today this ungenerous point of view stands discredited, although it persists
among the half-educated. Several generations of rigorous historical scholarship
have demonstrated clearly that the medieval period was an epoch of immense
vitality and profound creativity. The age that produced Thomas Aquinas and
Dante, Notre Dame de Paris and Chartres, Parliament and the university, can
hardly be described as "dark" or "barbaric."78
What implications do these historiographical developments have for Latter-day
Saint visions of the great apostasy, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance?
It seems clear that Roberts’s views of Medieval darkness and Renaissance brilliance
were formed in the bosom of nineteenth-century scholarship and religious polemics
and that Talmage and Smith inherited his vision in large measure. Theirs is,
as Davis Bitton has written, a "conception of history . . . of the past
century."79 Though diverse opinion certainly persists among
students of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, one would nonetheless be hard-pressed
to find any historian who would argue that the Middle Ages were a period of
political, technological, social, or cultural backwardness, or that the Renaissance
was the moment that brought light back into a dark world. Yet curiously, this
view has often persisted in LDS narratives of the "great apostasy."
Ideas clearly have remarkably long half-lives.
Despite the persistence of the turn-of-the-century paradigm of Roberts, Talmage,
and Smith, recent years have seen the stirring of a more expansive and balanced
view of the apostasy among some Latter-day Saint authorities and scholars.
Though the familiar light/dark metaphor has not disappeared entirely, there
have been some efforts to emphasize the spiritual nature of the apostasy without
embedding it in an ahistorical picture of accompanying intellectual and moral
decline. The Latter-day Saint apostle M. Russell Ballard, for example, has
written that the darkness of the Middle Ages refers to the absence of "the
light of the fulness
of the gospel of Jesus Christ, including the authority of His holy priesthood,"
yet he also notes that good Christians lived during this time.80
The apostle Dallin H. Oaks likewise affirmed that during the apostasy "men
and women . . . kept the light of faith and learning alive" and that
"we honor them as servants of God."81 Indeed, despite
his affinity with the work of Roberts, Talmage, and Smith, McConkie too acknowledged
that "many good and noble souls lived during the dark ages, . . . and
they received guidance from th[e] Spirit."82
While none of these recent entries can fairly be compared with the all-encompassing
early historical narratives of apostasy, still they suggest perhaps the first
stirrings of a change that may bridge the disjuncture between traditional
Latter-day Saint and contemporary scholarly views of the Middle Ages and the
Renaissance. These and some other recent works are moving away from necessitating
and justifying the restoration by depicting the apostasy as an age of complete
degradation, moral stupor, and intellectual stagnancy. Instead, the apostasy
is depicted simply as an age in which priesthood authority did not exist,
a view that may be closer in some ways to the views of apostasy in Mormonism’s
earliest days. By emphasizing the spiritual nature of the apostasy, Latter-day
Saints may be able to acknowledge the historical complexity and richness of
the Middle Ages and the Renaissance without challenging the need for God’s
calling of Joseph Smith to effect a restoration of priesthood authority. In
this new picture there is no disjuncture between the accepted historical understanding
of the age and Latter-day Saint ideas on apostasy. If justification for such
a reevaluation is necessary, historical precedent and inspiration for further
research into other vintage views of apostasy can perhaps be found in apostle
John Taylor’s 1873 statement:
I have a great many misgivings about the intelligence that men boast so much
of in this enlightened day. There were men in those dark ages who could commune
with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of
eternity and gaze upon the invisible world[,] . . . have the ministering of
angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages
I pray God to give me a little darkness, and deliver me from the light and
intelligence that prevail in our day.83
2 Thessalonians 2:3. Kent P. Jackson has recently suggested that this phrase,
derived from the Greek apostas’a, should be rendered more dramatically as
"rebellion," "mutiny," "revolt," or "revolution"
(see his book From Apostasy to Restoration
[Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996], 9; also Todd Compton, "Apostasy,"
in Encyclopedia of Mormonism,
Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 626.
3. Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling, Mormon
America: The Power and the Promise (New
York: HarperCollins, 1999), 247; see Edwin S. Gaustad, "History and Theology:
The Mormon Connection," Sunstone,
November-December 1980, 44—47. Historian Richard L. Bushman has noted,
"Mormons have hung the course of western civilization since Christ"
on the framework of the apostasy ("Faithful History," Dialogue: A Journal of
Mormon Thought 4 [fall 1969]:
19). See also Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press,
1985), 51, 73.
See the somewhat confusing book by Janne M. Sjödahl, The
Reign of Antichrist or The Great "Falling Away" (Salt
Lake City: Deseret News, 1913); also George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjödahl,
Commentary on the Book of Mormon,
ed. Philip C. Reynolds (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1955—61), 1:113—33;
Leonard J. Arrington, "The Intellectual Tradition of Mormon Utah,"
Proceedings of the Utah Academy
of Sciences, Arts and Letters 45, pt. 2 (1968): 358. See Thomas
G. Alexander, "The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith
to Progressive Theology," Sunstone,
July—August 1980, 28—32; and Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the
Latter-day Saints, 1890—1930 (Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, 1986), 272—306.
In their number must be included John A. Widtsoe, another influential theologian-apostle
(see Alexander, "The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine," 28). However,
because he wrote little about the apostasy, I do not discuss him in this article.
Most scholars emphasize the importance of the triumvirate of Roberts, Talmage,
and Widtsoe in the development and definition of Latter-day Saint doctrines
at the turn of the century but ignore Smith’s importance. Perhaps this is
because of his conservative rather than progressive doctrinal positions, or
because of his opposition to the other three scholars over key theological
issues. Arrington, in "Intellectual Tradition of Mormon Utah," 358—62,
reports a survey of "some fifty prominent L.D.S. intellectuals"
who ranked Roberts first, Talmage fifth, and Widtsoe sixth among the most
influential Latter-day Saint intellectuals. Smith does not appear on the list
On the evolution dispute among Roberts, Talmage, and Smith, see Richard Sherlock,
"’We Can See No Advantage to a Continuation of the Discussion': The Roberts/Smith/Talmage
13 (1980): 63—78; D. Michael Quinn, The
Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature,
1997), 64; and Alexander, Mormonism
in Transition, 286—88.
The quotation is from Shipps, Mormonism,
Sterling M. McMurrin, "B. H. Roberts: Historian and Theologian,"
foreword to B. H. Roberts, The Autobiography of B. H. Roberts,
ed. Gary James Bergera (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1990), viii. See Robert
H. Malan, B. H. Roberts, a Biography
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966); Truman G. Madsen, Defender of the Faith: The B. H. Roberts Story (Salt
Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980); and Quinn, Mormon
Hierarchy, 686—88. For a critique of Roberts as a historian,
see Davis Bitton, "B. H. Roberts as Historian," Dialogue 3/4 (1968): 25—44;
for a less critical recent assessment, see Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whitaker,
and James B. Allen, Mormon History
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 34—37.
10. See B. H.
Roberts, Outlines of Ecclesiastical History: A Text
Book (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons Co., 1893). I
quote only from the first edition. See also his series of radio lectures published
as The "Falling Away,"
or The World’s Loss of the Christian Religion and Church (Salt
Lake City: Deseret Book, 1931). Roberts also gave a brief overview of the
apostasy in his introduction to History
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Period 1 (Salt
Lake City: Deseret News, 1902), 1:xlii—xcvi. Outlines
has generally received less attention than Roberts’s subsequent works, but
he had a very high opinion of them (see Autobiography
of B. H. Roberts, 220—21, 229). Davis Bitton, in "B.
H. Roberts as Historian," classifies Outlines
and The "Falling Away"
not as history but as "works of polemic," "highly tendentious,"
and "historically naïve" (26).
11. Bitton, "B.
H. Roberts as Historian," 42. See McMurrin, "B. H. Roberts: Historian
and Theologian," xiii.
12. Roberts, Outlines of Ecclesiastical History,
210; also Roberts, The Falling Away,
13. Roberts, The Falling Away, 142, 145; see
Roberts, Outlines of Ecclesiastical
History, 231—32. Roberts borrows this picture of benighted
wanderers from Amos 8:11—12.
14. See Roberts,
Outlines of Ecclesiastical History,
229—30; and his Falling Away,
15. James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy Considered in
the Light of Scriptural and Secular History (Salt Lake City: Deseret News,
16. John R. Talmage, The Talmage Story: Life of James
E. Talmage—Educator, Scientist, Apostle (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft,
1972), 171. See Quinn, Mormon Hierarchy, 703—5.
17. For an example
of Talmage’s reliance on prior authorities and the Victorian tendency to "borrow
profusely" without attribution from the work of other scholars, see Malcolm
R. Thorp, "James E. Talmage and the Tradition of Victorian Lives of Jesus,"
Sunstone, January 1988,
8—13. For a synopsis of Talmage’s key arguments regarding the apostasy,
see Compton, "Apostasy," 1:57—58.
18. Talmage, The Great Apostasy, 150.
19. James E. Talmage,
Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City:
The Deseret News, 1915), 749.
20. Joseph Fielding
McConkie, "Joseph Fielding Smith," in The
Presidents of the Church, ed. Leonard J. Arrington (Salt Lake City:
Deseret Book, 1986), 321.
21. See Amelia
S. McConkie and Mark L. McConkie, "Joseph Fielding Smith," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 3:1354.
22. Quoted in
McConkie, "Joseph Fielding Smith," in Presidents
of the Church, 329.
23. See Joseph
Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History (Salt
Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1922), 6—21.
24. Joseph Fielding
Smith, The Progress of Man (Salt Lake
City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1936), 1, 4.
25. Smith, Progress of Man, 192, 194, 201—5,
for the foregoing discussion are found in Smith, Progress
of Man, 197—98, 200, 206. Because of his long life, Joseph
Fielding Smith’s views, while first expressed in The
Progress of Man in 1936, reappeared over the next three decades
in a number of the prolific author’s other writings, including Essentials in Church History (Salt
Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1922), Seek
Ye Earnestly (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1970), 315—31,
and Answers to Gospel Questions,
ed. Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1960), 3:170—84.
27. See Shipps,
28. Roberts, The Falling Away, 145—46; Roberts,
Outlines of Ecclesiastical History, 229; and Talmage, Jesus the Christ,
749. For an earlier example of this widely shared view, see Parley P. Pratt,
Key to the Science of Theology, 3rd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret
News, 1874), 116.
29. Hugh B. Brown,
Continuing the Quest (Salt Lake
City: Deseret Book, 1961), 385—86.
30. See Shipps,
31. Talmage, Great Apostasy, 150.
32. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 749.
33. Smith, Progress of Man, 194.
34. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 749; and Talmage,
Great Apostasy, 150.
35. Roberts, Outlines of Ecclesiastical History,
229; and Roberts, Falling Away,
36. Smith, Progress of Man, 197. Hugh B. Brown
recycled this language of convergence and Roberts’s line of argument almost
word for word in a 1941 address (see Hugh B. Brown, "Divine Prophecy
and World Events," Deseret
News, Church Section, 5 April 1941, quoted in Brown, Continuing the Quest, 385—86,
37. On the prevalence
of this practice and the different definition of plagiarism in this period,
see Thorp, "James E. Talmage and the Tradition of Victorian Lives of
Jesus," 11. On modern citation practices, see Anthony Grafton, The
Footnote: A Curious History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
38. Because Roberts’s
books were preserved in the B. H. Roberts Memorial Library, part of the historical
archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is possible
to get some sense of the range of his readings. For an illustrative selection
of Roberts’s library holdings, see John W. Welch, ed., The Truth, the Way, the Life: An Elementary Treatise on Theology,
2nd. ed. (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 1996), 743—52.
39. Bushman, "Faithful
History," 18—19. See Compton, "Apostasy," 1:57.
40. See Edward
Muir, "The Italian Renaissance in America," American
Historical Review 100 (October 1995): 1098.
41. David Levin,
History as Romantic Art (Stanford,
CA: Stanford University Press, 1959), 8—26, quoted in Bitton, "B.
H. Roberts as Historian," 43. See J. B. Bullen, The Myth of the Renaissance in Nineteenth-Century Writing
(Oxford: Clarendon, 1994), 11.
42. See Karl H. Dannenfeldt, ed., The Renaissance: Basic
Interpretations, 2nd ed. (Lexington, MA: Heath, 1974), vii—viii. For
a discussion of Enlightenment historical thought and the place it assigned the
Middle Ages and Renaissance, see Wallace K. Ferguson, The Renaissance in
Historical Thought: Five Centuries of Interpretation (New York: Houghton
Mifflin, 1948), 78—112; also Paul F. Grendler, "The Renaissance in
Historical Thought," in Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, ed. Paul
F. Grendler (New York: Scribner’s, 1999), 5:260—61.
An Essay on Universal History and on the Manners
and Spirit of Nations, quoted in Denys Hay, The Renaissance Debate (New York:
Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1965), 13. See Bullen, Myth of the Renaissance, 17—26.
These anti-medieval, and often anti-Catholic, polemics were rooted in the
thought of Italian humanist scholars intent on privileging their age by denigrating
their medieval predecessors. On this topic, see Theodor E. Mommsen, "Petrarch’s
Conception of the ‘Dark Ages,’" Speculum 17 (summer 1942): 226—42; Franco Simone,
"La coscienza della rinascita negli umanisti," La Rinascita 2/10 (1939): 838—71,
continued in vol. 3/11 (1940): 163—86; Paul Lehmann, "Mittelalter
und KÅ¸chenlatein," Historische
Zeitschrift 137/2 (1928): 197—213; Grendler, "Renaissance
in Historical Thought," 259—60; and Ferguson, Renaissance in Historical Thought, 1—28.
44. John J. Anderson,
A Manual of General History: Being an Outline
History of the World from the Creation to the Present Time (New
York: Clark & Maynard, 1874), 231.
45. Smith, Progress of Man, 197.
46. John Addington
Symonds, Renaissance in Italy (New York:
Modern Library, 1935), 1:327. "The Revival of Learning" is the title
of a section in Roberts’s Outlines
and in his Falling Away, as
well as in Talmage’s Great Apostasy.
Smith, in his Progress of Man,
composed an entire chapter under the same title.
published in 1860 as Die Cultur
der Renaissance in Italien, Burckhardt’s Civilization
of the Renaissance in Italy was first translated into English by
S. G. C. Middlemore in 1878. I use the 1954 Modern Library edition of Middlemore’s
translation, The Civilization of
the Renaissance in Italy (New York: Modern Library, 1954). On Burckhardt
and the intellectual milieu of his time, see Lionel Gossman’s important Basel in the Age of Burckhardt: A Study in
Unseasonable Ideas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000),
201—95; Grendler "Renaissance in Historical Thought," 261—62;
Peter G. Bietenholz, "Jakob Burckhardt," in Encyclopedia of the Renaissance, 5:288—91;
and Hans Baron, "Burckhardt’s ‘Civilization of the Renaissance’ a Century
after Its Publication," Renaissance
News 13 (fall 1960): 207—22.
48. Walter Goetz,
ed., Propylπen Weltgeschichte (Berlin: Propylπen,
1931), 1:157, also quoted in Ferguson, Renaissance
in Historical Thought, 179. As evidence of the continuing influence
of Burckhardt’s paradigm, see the recent lively forum discussion on the status
of the Renaissance idea: American
Historical Review 103 (February 1998): 51—124.
Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy,
416. See Felix Gilbert, History:
Politics or Culture? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990),
50. Burckhardt, Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy,
51. See Ferguson,
Renaissance in Historical Thought, 290.
52. Anthony Molho, "The Italian Renaissance: Made in
the USA," in Imagined Histories: American Historians Interpret the Past,
Anthony Molho and Gordon S. Wood, eds. (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1998), 265.
Renaissance in Historical Thought,
204—5. See J. R. Hale, England
and the Italian Renaissance (London: Faber and Faber, 1954), 169—96;
Philip Lee Ralph, The Renaissance
in Perspective (New York: St. Martin’s, 1973), 4—6; Bullen,
Myth of the Renaissance,
15—16, 251—55; Grendler, "The Renaissance in Historical Thought,"
5:262; and Paul F. Grendler, "John Addington Symonds," in Encyclopedia
of the Renaissance, 5:292—93.
54. See Molho,
"The Italian Renaissance: Made in the USA," 265; and Ferguson, Renaissance in Historical Thought, 204. The nuances
of Burckhardt’s view are evident in his defense of the Middle Ages from overzealous
"enemies." He writes that one can "misjudge the Middle Ages,
to be sure, but in the long run one could not despise the period. . . . [O]ur
existence had its roots in it, even though modern culture was derived predominantly
from antiquity. . . . The Middle Ages were the youth of today’s world, and
a long youth" (Jacob
Burckhardt, Judgments on History
and Historians, trans. Harry Zohn (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958),
25, 32; see 26—27, 61—62).
55. J. A. Symonds,
The Renaissance: An Essay read in the Theatre,
Oxford, June 17, 1863 (Oxford: Hammans, 1863), 8—9, cited
in Bullen, Myth of the Renaissance,
56. Symonds, Renaissance in Italy, 1:4—5,
57. See Gossman,
Basel in the Age of Burckhardt, 226—49;
and Peter Gay, Style in History
(New York: Basic Books, 1974), 144—49.
58. See Symonds,
Renaissance in Italy, 5—6;
and Philip Benedict, "Between Whig Traditions and New Histories: American
Historical Writing about Reformation and Early Modern Europe," in Molho
and Wood, Imagined Histories, 299.
59. See Anthony
Molho, "Italian History in American Universities," in Italia
e Stati Uniti concordanze e dissonanze (Rome: Il Veltro, 1981),
205—8; Molho, "American Historians and the Italian Renaissance:
An Overview," Schifanoia
8 (1990): 15—16; and Molho, "The Italian Renaissance: Made in the
USA," 263—94. See also Hajo Holborn, "Introduction,"
in Burckhardt, Civilization of the
Renaissance in Italy, v—vi.
a son-in-law of Joseph Fielding Smith, often cited Smith’s works, including
The Progress of Man, in developing
his own views on the apostasy. He also regularly cited Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols.
(Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954—56), a collection of Smith’s sermons
and writings that McConkie himself compiled. See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City:
Bookcraft, 1958), 166, 646—47.
61. See especially
McConkie’s entries on "Apostasy," "Church of the Devil,"
"Dark Ages," and "Signs of the Times" in his Mormon Doctrine, 40—44, 129—31, 165—66,
New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 669—70.
New Witness for the Articles of Faith,
670—71. McConkie is quoting in part from David S. Schaff, History of the Christian Church,
vol. 5, pt. 2, The Middle Ages from
Boniface VIII., 1294, to the Protestant Reformation, 1517 (New
York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 559—60. Schaff, 555—60,
cites Burckhardt and recommends him (and Symonds) as an important authority
on the Renaissance. McConkie’s reliance on Schaff, then, provides a direct
connection in 1985 to Burckhardt’s 1860 masterpiece.
64. Most recently,
see Arnold K. Garr, "Preparing for the Restoration," Ensign,
June 1999, 34—45. See also Alvin R. Dyer, Who
Am I? (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966), 531—33; Alvin
R. Dyer, The Meaning of Truth,
rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973), 114—18; and Victor L.
Ludlow, Principles and Practices
of the Restored Gospel (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 515.
During the height of the cold war, Latter-day Saint leaders often emphasized
the explicit link between apostasy in the Dark Ages, the Renaissance revival,
the Reformation, and the eventual rise of the United States. See Mark E. Petersen,
The Great Prologue (Salt
Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), 1; and Ezra Taft Benson, This Nation Shall Endure (Salt
Lake City: Deseret Book, 1977), 142—43.
65. For a recent
general overview of many of the themes and important figures of Renaissance
historiography, see the excellent Encyclopedia
of the Renaissance, especially Grendler, "The Renaissance
in Historical Thought," 5:259—68, and "Interpretations of
the Renaissance," 5:286—305.
Renaissance in Historical Thought, 329
Renaissance in Historical Thought,
329; Norman F. Cantor, Inventing
the Middle Ages (New York: Quill, 1991), 44.
68. Cantor, Inventing the Middle Ages, 27.
See Ferguson, Renaissance in Historical
69. First translated
into English as Johan Huizinga, The
Waning of the Middle Ages (London: E. Arnold and Co., 1924).
70. Charles Homer
Haskins, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927), v—vi.
71. Cantor, Inventing the Middle Ages, 369; see 66,
182, 251. See Gabrielle M. Spiegel, "In the Mirror’s Eye: The Writing of
Medieval History in America," in Molho and Wood, Imagined Histories,
72. Cantor, Inventing the Middle Ages, 27.
See Spiegel, "In the Mirror’s Eye," 247—51.
73. Two scholars
have been particularly influential in reworking Burckhardt’s depiction of
Renaissance humanism: Paul Oskar Kristeller and Charles Trinkaus. For a sense
of Kristeller’s work, see his Renaissance
Thought: The Classic, Scholastic and Humanistic Strains (New York:
Harper, 1961). See also Charles Trinkaus, In
Our Image and Likeness, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1970); and his The Scope
of Renaissance Humanism (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan
74. On the Renaissance
state see, among many important scholars, Giorgio Chittolini, Formazione dello stato regionale e le istituzioni del contado
(Turin: Einaudi, 1979); and Chittolini, CittË†,
comunitË† e feudi negli stati dell—Italia centro-settentrionale (secoli
XIV-XVI) (Milan: Edizioni Unicopli 1996); also Julius Kirshner,
ed., The Origins of the State in
Italy, 1300—1600 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).
75. For example, see Jacques Heers, Le clan familial au
Moyen Age (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1974); Francis W. Kent,
Household and Lineage in Renaissance Florence: The Family Life of the Capponi,
Ginori, and Rucellai (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977); Anthony
Molho, Marriage Alliance in Late Medieval Florence (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1994); and Stanley Chojnacki, Women and Men in Renaissance
Venice: Twelve Essays on Patrician Society (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2000).
76. Muir, "The Italian Renaissance in America,"
1096. For a somewhat melancholy description of the waning of Renaissance studies,
see William J. Bouwsma’s 1978 presidential address to the American Historical
Association, "Renaissance and the Drama of Western History."
77. Molho, "The
Italian Renaissance: Made in the USA," 284. See also Anthony Molho, "Burckhardtian
Legacies," Medievalia et Humanistica,
n.s., 17 (1991): 133—39; Molho, "American Historians and the Italian
Renaissance," 18—20; and Molho, "Italian History in American
78. C. Warren
Hollister, Medieval Europe: A Short History,
2nd ed. (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1968), i. For a clever examination
of the enduring misconceptions of the Middle Ages in modern culture, see Fred
C. Robinson’s presidential address to the Medieval Academy of America, "Medieval,
the Middle Ages," Speculum
59 (October 1984): 745—56; also Mommsen, "Petrarch’s Conception
of the ‘Dark Ages,’" 226—42.
79. Bitton, "B.
H. Roberts as Historian," 43.
80. M. Russell
Ballard, Our Search for Happiness: An Invitation to
Understand the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt
Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993), 30—32.
81. Dallin H.
Oaks, "Apostasy and Restoration," Ensign,
May 1995, 84—87.
New Witness for the Articles of Faith,
477. See also, Compton, "Apostasy," 1:58.
83. Journal of Discourses 16:197; see Compton, "Apostasy,"
This is an abbreviated version of an article that first
appeared as "Inheriting the ‘Great Apostasy': Medieval and Renaissance
in Mormon Thought" in Journal of Mormon History 28 (Fall