Inheriting the "Great Apostasy" : The Evolution of Latter-day Saint Views on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
Early Christians in Disarray : Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy
Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies ; Brigham Young University
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. [From the text]