Feb 262014

imagesDepending on your perspective, we now enter the “Middle Ages” the “Dark Ages” or for Roman Catholicism, the “Golden Ages”.

It was golden for Rome because of the reign of Pope Gregory the Great, who institutionalized much of what we know as modern Catholicism.

Taken from Andrew Corbett’s website:

What marks Gregory the Great’s appointment as a turning point in world history, let alone Church history, was that he firmly established the supremacy and power of the Bishop of Rome, over the other bishops, expanded the realm of the Roman Church to Britain, greatly increased the wealth of papacy possessions, organised a highly respected army to defeat the enemies of Rome, and developed a chant which became known as the Gregorian Chant.

  • It was Gregory the Great who laid a foundation for successive popes to introduce spurious doctrines and practices into the Church. Among his doctrines were:
  • Salvation based on grace and the merits of man
  • The idea of purgatory as a place where souls would be purified prior to their entrance to heaven
  • Church tradition was equal in authority to the Bible
  • The Mass as a re-sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood
  • The invocation of the saints in order to gain their aid
  • And, the sacramental hierarchical system of the institutionalised Church (sacerdotalism).

Benedict started the Benedictine order of monasteries and instituted the Rule of Benedict.

Monasteries would be critically important conduits socially and politically in the life of the church in this period.

In the East, the Emperor Justinian put his mark on Orthodoxy and history with the Justinian Code that is still the basis of much international law.

From  http://www.neobyzantine.org/byzantium/society/culture_justinian_dynasty.php

“Justinian’s legislation dealt with almost every aspect of the Christian life: entrance into it by conversion and Baptism; administration of the sacraments that marked its several stages; proper conduct of the laity to avoid the wrath God would surely visit upon a sinful people; finally, the standards to be followed by those who lived the particularly holy life of the secular or monastic clergy. Pagans were ordered to attend church and accept Baptism, while a purge thinned their ranks in Constantinople, and masses of them were converted by missionaries in Asia Minor. Only the orthodox wife might enjoy the privileges of her dowry; Jews and Samaritans were denied, in addition to other civil disabilities, the privilege of testamentary inheritance unless they converted. A woman who worked as an actress might better serve God were she to forswear any oath she had taken, even though before God, to remain in that immoral profession. Blasphemy and sacrilege were forbidden, lest famine, earthquake, and pestilence punish the Christian society. Surely God would take vengeance upon Constantinople, as he had upon Sodom and Gomorrah, should the homosexual persist in his “unnatural” ways.

Justinian regulated the size of churches and monasteries, forbade them to profit from the sale of property, and complained of those priests and bishops who were unlearned in the forms of the liturgy. His efforts to improve the quality of the secular clergy, or those who conducted the affairs of the church in the world, were most opportune. The best possible men were needed, for, in most East Roman cities during the 6th century, imperial and civic officials gradually resigned many of their functions to the bishop, or patriarch. The latter collected taxes, dispensed justice, provided charity, organized commerce, negotiated with barbarians, and even mustered the soldiers. By the early 7th century, the typical Byzantine city, viewed from without, actually or potentially resembled a fortress; viewed from within, it was essentially a religious community under ecclesiastical leadership.”

Church and state become completely intertwined in this century in the East and West.

Dionysius Exiquus (d. c. 550), a monk in Rome, establishes modern system of dating, using events after Christ as “Anno Domini,” in the year of our Lord.

Muhammed is born in 570…and a new enemy of Christianity with him.

The Visagoths who sacked Rome in the last century also took Spain…and when King Recared the Visagoth converted to Catholicism (and repudiated Arianism) he brought the faith that continues strong in these countries to this day.

  31 Responses to “Church History: 500-600”

  1. My apologies beforehand.
    This is not my best effort as it’s been a tough few days here.
    I trust Xenia and our commentors will make up for my lack.

  2. Michael,
    Don’t feel bad – it should only be meant as a conversation starter to begin with. 100 years in a page is an impossible task.

  3. MLD,

    Thank you, you’re right.
    My hope is to provoke, good questions, good conversations, and further study.

  4. The BB link is not working and brings me to this link.

  5. Yup. Ditto on that Broderson link.

    Good post here. Look forward to reading the comments/conversation.

  6. Brodersen link is fixed.

  7. Reposting this from last week as it is finally the right time frame.

    Interesting story I read about St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury. (different St. Augustine than last weeks).

    This all happened around 597 AD.
    This Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory on a mission to England.
    Some points I got from the story were that Gregory wasn’t interested in abolishing all pagan customs and told Augustine as much. He told him to build churches on old pagan temples so that people would come to places they were familiar with.
    Also, in this and other stories from the same time periods, it seemed to me that King’s often seemed to convert due to primarily pragmatic reasons.
    Ethelbert of Kent was primarily persuaded it seems by the “learning, piety, discipline, and a ready-made band of activists who were keen to go out and spread these virtues among his people”
    Augustine even helped him create the first code of Anglo-Saxon law.
    Augustine spread the news that judgement was nigh and that Jesus could return any minute.
    Ethelbert was baptised and let Augustine make Canterbury his headquarters to spread the Gospel, hence the later primacy of Canterbury in England.

  8. I was away from home all day and wasn’t able to participate. I just have a few thoughts:

    Salvation based on grace and the merits of man<<<

    This is synergy. God does his part and we cooperate. The Catholics went awry (IMO) by quantifying everything: Say ten hail Marys, read two pages of Scripture and get 5 years off in Purgatory, venial and mortal sin categories, that treasury of merit they have, etc. The East saw the Church as a hospital; the Latin West began to see it as an accounting firm. Synergy in the East is man cooperating with God without the idea of man having any merit, so that's a big difference.

    Church tradition was equal in authority to the Bible<<<

    I think this is how the Roman Church views this. The East says that the Bible is part of the Tradition. It's not the Bible and Tradition, or the Bible vs Tradition, but the Bible *in* Tradition. Tradition is the deposit of the faith of which the Scriptures comprise the most important, but not the only, part.

    The invocation of the saints in order to gain their aid<<<

    Yes. This is a great blessing.

    And, the sacramental hierarchical system of the institutionalised Church (sacerdotalism).<<<

    This existed before Gregory the Great. St. Ignatius of Antioch (1st century) spoke of the sacramental hierarchy of bishop- priest-deacon.

    Monasteries would be critically important conduits socially and politically in the life of the church in this period.<<<

    They still are, as that striking photo of the Ukrainian monks standing between hostile camps demonstrates. There are rumors flying on EO blogs and forums that the large monastery those monastic belong to (Kiev Caves) is on lock down to keep the place safe from destructive mobs. That's what I've heard, anyway.

    The Eastern Church could have written Luther's 95 Thesis because we also reject papal supremacy, papal infallibility, purgatory, indulgences and the immaculate conception of Mary. (The immaculate conception of Mary is not about the virgin birth; it says that Mary was born without sin.)

    That's about all I can think of to say.

  9. “the Latin West began to see it as an accounting firm”

    excellent observation

  10. was it Warren Hollister, the medieval historian, who remarked that the Roman period was only a golden age if you were a male patrician who was naturally immune to common communicable diseases? In a number of ways Renaissance era polemics regarding the medieval period severely undersell and underestimate some of the intellectual and scientific innovations that were going to take place in the “Dark Ages”.

    As my brother has put it, what people should keep in mind about the practical reality of the “Dark Ages” was the fall of the single imperial system that had conquered so many cultures fell apart so regionalism kicked in again. So the “decline” in a unified imperial civilization is a double-edged sword.

  11. not that anyone has a reason to care what my brother said in itself, but he’s more the military history fan and mentioned that the Dark Ages and the rise of feudalism happened because the fall of Rome meant the loss of the infrastructure that preserved and transmitted ideas and commerce. The Dark Ages was simply locavore everything before a few discoveries. 🙂

  12. There are a lot of things to like about the monastic system.
    They were vitally involved in the life of the community.
    Indeed, a lot of times community grew up around them.
    Centers of learning, health care (of a sorts) and ,if they owned lands, they tenanted them out for a price which employed and fed some.
    Wasn’t a perfect system, but I see a lot of good going on through them.
    Of course, if a king got on their bad side, he was written into history as a bad king. After all, who else was keeping records to say otherwise at the time. 😉

  13. Derek,

    It was hugely important…and some amazing stuff came out of it.

  14. It is disappointing that monasteries, at least in America, don’t really play the kind of role they used to.

  15. I’m not even sure what their purpose is now…there is an EO one near here….

  16. You know what would be the best modern place for monasteries to make a comeback and to recover the original mission they seemed to embody?

    Places like Detroit. Places like Memphis.

    Anyplace where you have giant tracts of decaying urban life with tons of people with no hope.

    Churches do a lot of good, but they are limited in a way in that congregation members time is spent mainly on living and working. As someone, who spends most of life just trying to squeeze on into the next day, I realize the fact that church members can’t spend the amount of time necessary to do something like this.
    You need people whose lives revolve around it to get something like that done.

    But, guess the real problem lies with the fact that there are so few people choosing a monastic life anymore.
    Probably because of the celibacy thing.

    This Protestant sees much that was good with the monastic system.

  17. They serve a great purpose in the Orthodox world:

    1. They pray for everyone who asks them to.
    2. They publish books, paint icons, knot prayer ropes, make soap, etc.
    3. They are offer hospitality for world-weary pilgrims
    4. Their ascetic lives are good examples for the rest of us
    5. Orthodox bishops are selected from their number
    6. They are a great place to go to get counseling, if you are willing to accept hard advice
    7. They are little pieces of Eden on earth

  18. What is the monastery near you, Michael? I didn’t know of any in Oregon.
    Do you mean Fr. Seraphim’s parish in Rogue River?

  19. Holy Ascension Orthodox Monastery is located in Detroit.

  20. St. Paul’s Orthodox Skete in located in Memphis.

    (A skete is a small monastery.)

  21. Xenia,

    There is one right over the border in Northern California.
    Very nice folks who have invited me to visit.

  22. I guess what I am saying Xenia is that, monasteries are not playing the kind of role that they used to in a way that says “This is a vital part of the community and if gone the community would be much weaker for their loss”
    Center of community type things.
    Another part of the problem is the overwhelming nanny government.
    But, in places like Detroit, that is falling apart quickly and offers a chance for a more vital and community building/supporting role for places like monasteries.
    Lots of land going to waste that could be used and cultivated for the needs of the residents. Lots of people that are jobless that could help out with tasks that make communities more self-sustaining.
    A lot of the roles monasteries played in the past could be viable in the future, ’cause it looks to me that government will have to trim back at some point and services to the poor will be on that chopping block. Detroit is sort of like looking at what could be.

  23. I think you all would enjoy this book, Everyday Saints. Its a best-seller in Russia. It’s a gently humorous book about life in a Russian monastery. I love this book. It will give you a feel for Orthodox monasticism and it’s entertaining, too.


  24. “Muhammed is born in 570”

    We could have done without that. Can we get a do-over God?

  25. I stopped in at a monastery when I was on a motorcycle trip. I had lunch and then found a soft place in the grass and slept for about an hour.

  26. http://mizmooz.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/pilgrimage-to-st-xenias-skete/


    I spent part of a week at St. Xenia’s Skete in northern California a few years ago. It’s in the middle of nowhere and I think only the kitchen has electricity and running water. It was a wondefulr few days and here’s some photos I took.

    Monasticism is very vital in the EO world. We visit monasteries all the time. My advisor and the main teacher at my school is a monastic.

  27. This is not meant in anyway to put down anything that monasteries do or contribute to church life.

    But, monasteries seem, these days, to be retreats from the world.
    Whereas, most of the books on monasteries from the early middle ages I have read throughout my life show them in constant interaction with larger communities of people.

    I will admit though that most of the material I have read on monastic life is from the western tradition.
    Is eastern monasticism more focused on contemplation and retreat?

    But, that seems to be the focus of the western monastics now also.
    I can’t speak for monasteries throughout the rest of the world.

    And none of this is to say that contemplation and retreat are necessarily bad, but modern western monastics seem to have abandoned a lot of the other side of the coin.

  28. Some of that was not phrased exactly right.
    Probably shows I need to go to sleep soon.
    Night all.

  29. No beef with monasteries over here. Personally I couldn’t do the monastic life due to high levels of testosterone and general sinfulness but I think the monasteries are much better examples of “Jesus!” than say an Elevation Church etc.

  30. One of my squad members last deployment was going through a rough time, divorce while deployed.
    Because of that, he was in the process of converting to the RCC.
    When he got his leave time, he spent it at a Trappist monastery to help him deal with everything going on.

  31. Picked up a free copy of “The Rule of St. Benedict” and reading a little at night before bed.
    So far, some good stuff and some questionable stuff. Overall, not bad though.

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