¶ … Rise of the Papacy: An Examination
With the collapse of the Roman Empire, the bishop of Rome did indeed grow in more power and prestige through the 6th and 9th centuries, creating a new way of life with new expectations. No one really expected the papacy to grow in power and prestige as rapidly as it did, however. This paper will look at the factors which led to its dominance in both Western Europe until the Reformation while examining both the positive and negative ramifications of this new regime.
If one were to examine Rome by the end of the fifth century, it would look like a city which contained a range of small barbarian kingdoms which were competing for the ability to rule, the once-great Roman empire. Two of the main barbarian groups were the Ostogoths who were displaced from the north of the Black sea, and the Lombards, who were supported by the Byzantines, were ones who were integrated with Roman culture most strongly (McFarland, 2013). In nearby Spain, the Visigoth Monarchy flourished and were known as the "defenders of the church" as they were ones who abandoned the heresy of Arianism (McFarland, 2013). All in all, it was a time of chaos and struggle. "The Frank's, with King Clovis' leadership aimed to assimilate with old Roman culture rather than replace it with the new Merovingian dynasty, powers waxed and waned at the sporadic warfare as power changed hands. It was in this crucial time of turbulent and chaotic power exchanges between barbarian tribes that eventually led to the Papacy rising up and establishing power centered in Rome in the 6th to 9th centuries" (McFarland, 2013). However, in order for power of the papacy to rise up, the collective consciousness of the greater society had to be opened up to it: this had to occur through the seed of faith being allowed to develop, without the immediate danger of being trampled in the realm of chaos and war. The great effort for power among these barbaric sectors continued to rage on, yet Ireland remained a realm that was free of conflict and almost serenely immune from the barbarian drama (Louth, 2007). Ireland could be viewed at this time as a place of placidity, free of barbarian control. Saint Patrick was the spokesperson of Ireland and Catholicism at this time and was a missionary: he engaged in magical battles with pagan druids and used spells which overpowered his opponents, thus converting King Laoghire and his people to Christianity (McFarland, 2013). This was just the beginning: monasteries started to grow throughout the Celtic lands, and Christianity started playing a much larger role in the lives of these people, with monastic traditions setting standards for living and for what was considered traditional Catholicism. Thus, Ireland acted as a hub of Christianity from which all movement and progress radiated (Papadakis, 1994). This type of forward movement and order of Christian faith meant a steady progress from Ireland outwards. In this manner, Catholicism started to spread throughout the regions where Roman had fallen.
It's important to remember that the papacy and the traditions connected to the papacy had always been a priority to Christians, with Rome occupying the region where Saint Peter and Saint Paul had been martyred. At this time, there were five marked and established seat of patriarchal authority: in Rome, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople (McFarland, 2013). During this time Christianity began to express more regional differences in east vs. west and thus Rome became more important to the West as a beacon.
During this time, in order to fully understand how the Papacy came to such specific amounts of power, it's important to examine the bishop of the fourth century, Damasus I: this bishop was the one who could see his authority as bishop originate as established by Jesus (McFarland, 2013). All of his agendas then influenced his successor, Siricius who then took the title on as Pope, finally by AD 495, the Pope at that time (Gelasius I), was elevated in power and status to the point that he was referred to as the "Vicar of Christ": at this moment, "The power of the papacy was founded, and the political control of the Roman Catholic Church soon followed. The case for supremacy over the church organization was implemented, and a demand for all other powers to subordinate to Peter's rock as the champion of true Christianity expected. The weak emperors of Milan failed to govern Rome, and the bishops were ready to fill the vacuum...
This was the type of momentum that allowed the papacy to continue to rise to power and gain speed. For instance, when Gregory the Great became pope in AD 590, his rule brought reform, scholarship and great power and notoriety to the papacy at large, fighting for it to be separate from the state and making firm proactive actions to establish a Church of England (Criswell, 2005). As the Church continued to gain momentum, owning considerable amounts of land and money, the pop of the era began to take even greater liberties, and issued coins (AD 781) with their name and image on them.
As the Church expanded and grew more powerful, the monasteries were frequently the backbone and the foundational reason that this rapid development was even possible (Heather, 2005). However, even though the church was steadily growing in power, there were still debates and levels of contention which would abound about specifics. "Eventually, their Celtic customs were gradually replaced by Roman ones, and by the eighth century, Ireland was fully integrated into the greater Catholic Church. The power of the Papacy increased slowly but steadily, contributing to its dominance in Western Europe until the Reformation because of Rome's perceived authority over Christianity" (McFarland, 2013). Contentions and arguments still arose even though the papacy was gaining so much power. There were accusations of corruption and that idolatries were the hallmarks of Satan. Even at this time many practicing barbarians were allowed to keep their barbarian practices as long as their powers were relinquished.
Thus, as the papacy gained momentum, there was still a great deal of drama that didn't allow it to expand as enormously fast as it would have liked. For example, Medhurst sought to impeach the Roman Catholic Church, accusing it of being Satanous, and of preaching the other gospel that Satan spoke of. During this time of expansion there were many accusations in this arena: the church was constantly accused of corrupting the expression of the Word of God with false teachings and pagan rites. Regardless of the opinions expressed and where the truth lay, the reality was that the fact that the papacy had risen to power in this way was thoroughly a good thing for the development of society at this time and the evolution of the individual. "If the Roman Catholic Church had not assumed power within the vacuum created by warring barbarians, peace would not have ensued, and the Christian faith becomes confused with different tribes setting different standards. Also, it was the Roman Catholic Church which created a stable environment with great financial resources to help the people through direct distributions to the poor and the rescue of prisoners who had been kidnapped by the rebels" (McFarland, 2013). These were absolutely crucial elements of development for society. Thus, while the rise of the papacy meant that a truly flawed institution was coming to power, it also meant that there was going to be an elimination of many of the elements which were contaminating society. The papacy coming to power meant that a more aggravated moral structure was placed upon the people, forcing them to shrug off a lot of the inadequacies of earlier behavior. The rise to power of the Church also meant that people who were going through extreme suffering had more of a vehicle and an outlet for support, and were more likely to survive. Moreover, there was more of a construct brought with the Church for people to live a civilized life, with missions being strongly communicated and corresponding doctrines also supported. Furthermore, given all the factors involved, one could argue that Western Europe owes its entire survival to the Church. The Church was able to remodel the barbarian in a way that allowed a certain level of placidity and decorum to descend over the land.
However, the rise to power of the papacy brought with it a great deal of negative aspects as well. The rise to power of the papacy also led to corruption and abuse. The rise of power changed the practice of faith among followers forever. All these aspects came at a price, and at a trade-off.
Criswell, D. (2005). The Rise and Fall of the Holy Roman Empire. New York: Publish
Heather, P. (2005). The Fall of the Roman Empire. Oxford:…
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