ORB Masthead with site navigation toolbar; see bottom 
of page for text version of toolbar

Encyclopedia | Library | Reference | Teaching | General | Links | About ORB | HOME


Yuri Koszarycz

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.

Next | Index |

Encyclopedia | Library | Reference | Teaching | General | Links | About ORB | HOME

Copyright ©1999, Yuri Koszarycz. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.The contents of ORB are copyright © 1995-1999 Laura V. Blanchard and Carolyn Schriber except as otherwise indicated herein.