The Church as Authority and Power
Without a doubt that the western world is indebted to the Church
for acting as a "carrier" of culture and civilization
during this turbulent period of history. Through the writings
of Augustine, the Church possessed a blueprint of how a christianized
society should look: the Roman world of Augustine had ended with
the confrontation between the Christian world and barbarism. Tribal
migration from the north, the movements of the Vandals, and the
various Gothic tribes changed the political sphere of Rome's influence.
Furthermore, the political and ecclesial uncertainties had created a rift
between the Byzantine and Roman world - as Rome trembled under
the pillage of Alarich in 410, the threat of Attila, and the plundering
of the Vandals in 455, the eastern Roman empire grew in stature
and strength in the city of Constantinople. With it, the growing
strength of the position of the Patriarch of that city also increased.
Yet Rome was endowed with particular gifted forces. Upon the throne of
Peter sat Leo I (440-461), who through his personality and strength
of character gave the Papacy unprecedented power and authority.
The sixth century historian Gregory of Tours gives a detailed
account of the conversion of the Franks and the early germanic
people to Christianity. According to Gregory, Clovis was converted
to Christianity in 496 following the battle against the Alemanni
where Clovis called on the Christian god for help:
O Christ ... if you accord me the victory ... I will believe
in you and be baptized in your name. I have called on my gods,
but I have found from experience that they are far from my aid
... it is you whom I believe to be able to defeat my enemies
(Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks II, 30; quoted in Eleanor
Duckett, 1938: 231).
Under Gelasius (492 - 496 AD) and especially under Gregory I [590 - 604
AD] (later to be called 'Great'), the senior bishop of Rome imbued
the society of his time with undoubted spiritual strength. An
aristocrat by birth, Gregory had witnessed the destruction of
Rome when the city had changed hands three times during Justinian's
battles with the Ostrogoths:
Ruins on ruins .... Where is the senate? Where the people?
All the pomp of secular dignities has been destroyed .... And
we, the few that we are who remain, every day we are menaced
by scourges and innumerable trials (Quoted in Davis, 1957: 80).
This experience solidified within Gregory the determination to bring a
sense of peace, purpose, and stability through his pontificate.
The concept and application of law had always been a great strength
of the Romans. By this time, the lex Romana had become the "lex
Romana et Christiana" and this highly sophisticated body
of written law was transmitted to the barbarian world with which
the Church came into contact. The episcopal synod became a vehicle
by which adaption and accommodation between the will of Christian
Rome and ancient pagan laws, customs and rituals became effective.
Between the sixth and tenth centuries the Church gave barbarian society
institutions, laws, and a concept of belonging through written history.
All of Italy, and vast areas of Spain, Sicily, Germany, France, Britain,
Ireland, North Africa, as well as Greece and its empire came under the aegis
of Rome. The millions of illiterate Vandals, Goths, Franks and Lombards
that swept into the empire were to become part of a new Christian force.
At this time of the Church's history, the political allegiance between Rome
and Byzantium became more and more strained. Equally tensions were developing
between the Eastern and Western Churches in matters relating to theological
interpretation. Consequently, the Roman Church began to look more towards
her new found allies. The rise of the Franks had been meteoric, while the
Byzantine empire saw an internal erosion of its military power, and erosion
of its ecclesiastical and political influence, and a coming confrontation
with a new religious force - the faith of Islam. By the year 700, Christianity
had already lost half of its territory to the Mohammedans: these Islamic
victories had closed the world south and east of the Mediterranean to both
Rome and Constantinople.
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