Medieval Europe and the Evolution of the Church State
How Constantine's Deception lead to a Holy Roman Empire
And the virtual collapse of the Christian church
The Decline of the Roman empire and the rise of tribal powers
Constantine and his "conversion" o
The Edict of Milan grants legal rights to Christians
The Council of Nicea The first church council conducted under the governmental oversight of the Roman empire.
Diocletian reorganized the empire in attempts to rebuild a workable chain of command, and political structure which would defuse growing political power struggles. Persecuation of the Christians is reignited.
Thousands of Germans cross the Rhine into the Roman Empire
Romulus Augustus, the last Roman emperor in the West is deposed and the Roman empire is officially ended.
500-1000: Early Middle Ages [ or Dark Ages]
565-750: Christianization of Britain begins
565: Saint Columba begins his missionary work among the Scotish
597: Saint Augustine begins his missionary work in England.
711-715: Moslem conquest of Spain occurs as the Moslem forces drive across northern Africa
768-814: Reign of Charlemagne and the beginning of the Holy roman Empire
936-973: Otto I (the Great) Otto is crowned emperor, reviving the Roman Empire in the West.
1000-1350: High Middle Ages
936: Otto the Great begins consolidation of the Holy Roman Empire
1164-1216 Reign of King John of England
1215: Magna carta is presented to King John
1073-1216: Papal officers attempt Church Reforms
1095-1291: The Crusading Era of Christian armies which travel south to fight against the advancing Moslem influences in the Middle east, and south eastern corner of Europe.
1350-1500: Late Middle Ages
1305-1377: The Papacy engages in cultural conflict between Italy and France.
1337-1453: Hundred Years War ignights between France and England
1347-1351: The Black Death sweeps across Europe
1378-1415 The Great Schism between France and Italy continues over choice of a pope to lead the church.
1453: Fall of Constantinople to the Moslem forces
a) The Conflict of church and state power
b) The merging of the two under Constantine
2) The Fall of the Roman empire
a) Peace for the Christians
b) Political power over the activities of the church.
3) The First Council of Nicaea
a) Maintaining control over the peoples through religious means
b) Augustine's justification
4) Transference of true Christian influence and thought.
a) Monastic influence
b) The Gutenberg press
c) Luther and his 95 Treatises
The Church, the body of Christ, the living representation of the living God on the face of the earth has been maligned, discriminated against, and at times attacked by political forces, yet Christianity continues to change individual lives. The church has withstood attack from without, and disagreement from within to arrive today where it still remembers Jesus Christ's death and resurrection as its source, and purpose. Those who are not Christians do not know how to deal with a group of people who insist that there is only one way to heaven, who claim as their leader a vagabond Jew who died martyrs death. Yet still the church flourishes.
Yet during one period of history the church was almost completely destroyed. During the middle ages, the church misplaced its purpose, and perspective. The disruption of it's mission to change lives did not come from external forces which attempted to destroy it, but rather political forces which attempted to co-opt its purposes, and change them to suit and support their own desire for power. It was the merging of political and church power from the time of Constantine to Luther which turned the church away from her mission of world evangelism to one of self aggrandizement, power acquisition, and leading by military domination rather than by humble, self sacrificing service.
The merging of state and religious power began the decline of true Christian influence in Europe. The Roman Empire had begun a slow state of decline toward the late 300's, as the military had conquered as far north as the Germanic tribes, and into the British Isles, east to turkey and west to Spain. Roman rule defined the known world, but the political will to expand the empire soon thereafter began to wane. The people tired of war, and the politicians were turning their attention to personal desires in Rome.
Due to the size of the empire, Diocletian created a division of power and responsibilities. This system was called the tetrarch. The senior rulers were titled 'Augustus' while their sub-rulers were entitled 'Caesars'. Imperial edicts could be issued in the names of all four of the emperors and Caesars, or in any of their names. (Bartlebys.com, online)
The roman emperors had long walked the fine line between secular authority, and divine protection / inspiration. The pantheon of roman gods and goddesses had slowly evolved to include the emperor, and he was considered to be divinely appointed to royalty. In the east, Diocletian built Constantinople into the government seat, and:
"The emperor was chosen by the army and ruled absolutely. Beginning with Diocletian, the pomp and ceremony of the Persian court was adopted. The emperor was lord and everything surrounding him sacred. He wore a diadem, purple and gold robes, and jeweled slippers. Subjects prostrated themselves in his presence." (Bartlebys.com, online)
Rome had long flirted with the divine identity, even before Diocletian. The emperor's words were unchangeable, as were the desires of the god's, and those that ascended the throne were said to be blessed by, or appointed by the gods. The Caesars were said to be uniquely cared for by the gods for the well-being of the empire. As such, allegiance to Rome and roman citizenship precluded participation in other religions. Roman citizenship was exclusive and incompatible with the exercise of another citizenship. According to Guterman,
The following is from Cicero, oration for Balbus, which further outlines the exclusive nature with which Rome understood its power, and allegiance to itself
"No citizen of ours may, according to the civil law, be a citizen of two states. . . . Oh Laws, prepared by our forebears, forbidding anyone to be a member of more than one state . . . jurisconsults regarded Roman citizenship as incompatible with any other." (Guterman, 1951, p 19-20)
Understanding this cultural perspective serves as an important under girding of understanding the power which Constantine wielded when he declared himself to be a Christian, and Rome a Christian nation under the Edict of Milan. After winning an important battle over Caesar Maxentius at Milan, Constantine issues this edict.
'When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I, Licinius Augustus, fortunately met near Mediolanurn (Milan), and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule"( University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 28)
So with a sweep of his hand, Constantine ended the persecution of the church, and declared that he was also a member of the Christian church. As one who was close to divine himself, who would question his proclamation? His friend Eusebius, a devoted Christian scribe (Maier, 1999) of the time chronicled Constantine's actions, and his new found devotion, so who would dare question the emperor's sincerity.
At this time, the merging of Christian religious influence and roman political power began. As the Emperor proclaimed his allegiance to the Christian god, so all of the roman citizen's, starting with the military, also were expected to bow their knee to this new God in order to be considered good Romans. Just as allegiance to Rome meant singular worship of the emperor prior to his conversion, allegiance to his god was mandated after his conversion. Thus the slow descent of church influence began to be replaced with the sword, or iron boot of political ambition.
To demonstrate the power which the emperor wielded over the church, and the beginning of the secular influence within the dealings of the church, consider the first council of Nicaea. Requested by Constantine, the counsel of bishops gathered in Nicaea in order to address cultural difference which was occurring within the church body, and to establish orthodox practicums for the faithful to follow. Out of this counsel came the first statement of faith, which was universally and enthusiastically accepted? However, also from this council came a number of unbiblical canons as the political began to control the sacred. Some of these are:
Canon 3: All members of the clergy are forbidden to dwell with any woman, except a mother, sister, or aunt.
Canon 7: confirms the right of the bishops of Jerusalem to enjoy certain honors.