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     Spread of Christianity to AD 325      Spread of Christianity to AD 600

The Church in the Early Middle Ages covers the time from the deposition of the last Western Emperor in 476 and his replacement with a barbarian king, Odoacer, to the coronation of Charlemagne as "Emperor of the Romans" by Pope Leo III in Rome on Christmas Day, 800. The year 476, however, is a rather artificial division.[1] In the East, Roman imperial rule continued through the period historians now call the Byzantine Empire. Even in the West, where imperial political control gradually declined, distinctly Roman culture continued long afterwards; thus historians today prefer to speak of a "transformation of the Roman world" rather than a "fall of the Roman Empire." The advent of the Early Middle Ages was a gradual and often localised process whereby, in the West, rural areas became power centres whilst urban areas declined. With the Muslim invasions of the seventh century, the Western (Latin) and Eastern (Greek) areas of Christianity began to take on distinctive shapes. Whereas in the East the Church maintained its structure and character and evolved more slowly, in the West the Bishops of Rome (i.e., the Popes) were forced to adapt more quickly and flexibly to drastically changing circumstances. In particular whereas the bishops of the East maintained clear allegiance to the Eastern Roman Emperor, the Bishop of Rome, while maintaining nominal allegiance to the Eastern Emperor, was forced to negotiate delicate balances with the "barbarian rulers" of the former Western provinces. Although the greater number of Christians remained in the East, the developments in the West would set the stage for major developments in the Christian world during the later Middle Ages.

Contents

Fifth Ecumenical Council: Second Council of Constantinople (553)

This council condemned certain Nestorian writings and authors. This move was instigated by Emperor Justinian in an effort to conciliate the monophysite Christians, it was opposed in the West, and the Popes' acceptance of the council caused a major schism.[2]

Council proceedings

The council, attended mostly by Eastern bishops, condemned the Three Chapters and, indirectly, the Pope Vigilius.[3] It also affirmed the East's intention to remain in communion with Rome.[3]

Prior to the Second Council of Chalcedon was a prolonged controversy over the treatment of three subjects, all considered sympathetic to Nestorianism, the heresy that there are two separate persons in the Incarnation of Christ.[4] Emperor Justinian condemned the Three Chapters, hoping to appeal to monophysite Christians with his anti-Nestorian zeal.[3] Monophysites believe that in the Incarnate Christ there is one nature, not two.[5] Eastern Patriarchs supported the Emperor, but in the West his interference was resented, and Pope Vigilius resisted his edict on the grounds that it opposed the Chalcedonian decrees.[3] Justinian's policy was in fact an attack on Antiochene theology and the decisions of Chalcedon.[3] The pope assented and condemned the Three Chapters, but protests in the West caused him to retract his condemnation.[3] The emperor called the Second Council of Constantinople to resolve the controversy.[3]

After the council

Vigilius declared his submission to the council, as did his successor, Pelagius I.[3] The council was not immediately recognized as ecumenical in the West, and Milan and Aquileia even broke off communion with Rome over this issue.[2] The schism was not repaired until the late 6th century for Milan and the late 7th century for Aquileia.[2]

Emperor Justinian's policy failed to reconcile the Monophysites.[3]

The Eastern Church

In the 530s the second Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) was built in Constantinople under emperor Justinian I. The first church was destroyed during the Nika riots. The second Hagia Sophia would become the center of the ecclesiastical community for the rulers of the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium.

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Christological controversy after Chalcedon

A thorough understanding of the Iconoclastic Period in Byzantium is complicated by the fact that most of the surviving sources were written by the ultimate victors in the controversy, the iconodules. It is thus difficult to obtain a complete, objective, balanced, and reliably accurate account of events and various aspects of the controversy.[6]

As with other doctrinal issues in the Byzantine period, the controversy was by no means restricted to the clergy, or to arguments from theology. The continuing cultural confrontation with, and military threat from, the Islam probably had a bearing on the attitudes of both sides. Iconoclasm seems to have been supported by many from the East of the Empire, and refugees from the provinces taken over by the Muslims. It has been suggested that their strength in the army at the start of the period, and the growing influence of Balkan forces in the army (generally considered to lack strong iconoclast feelings) over the period may have been important factors in both beginning and ending imperial support for iconoclasm.

Eastern Mystical theology

Western theology before the Carolingian Empire

When the Western Roman Empire fragmented under the impact of various 'barbarian' invasions, the Empire-wide intellectual culture that had underpinned late Patristic theology had its interconnections cut. Theology tended to become more localised, more diverse, more fragmented. The classically-clothed Christianity preserved in Italy by men like Boethius and Cassiodorus was different from the vigorous Frankish Christianity documented by Gregory of Tours which was different again from the Christianity that flourished in Ireland and Northumbria in the seventh and eighth centuries. Throughout this period, theology tended to be a more monastic affair, flourishing in monastic havens where the conditions and resources for theological learning could be maintained.

Important writers include:

Latin Fathers

Those fathers who wrote in Latin are called the Latin (Church) Fathers. Famous Latin Fathers include Tertullian (who later in life converted to Montanism), Cyprian of Carthage, Gregory the Great, Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose of Milan, and Jerome.

Gregory the Great

Saint Gregory I the Great (c. 540 – March 12, 604) was pope from September 3, 590 until his death.

He is also known as Gregorius Dialogus (Gregory the Dialogist) in Eastern Orthodoxy because of the Dialogues he wrote. He was the first of the Popes from a monastic background. Gregory is a Doctor of the Church and one of the four great Latin Fathers of the Church (the others being Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome). Of all popes, Gregory I had the most influence on the early medieval church.[7]

Monasticism

Benedict

Saint Benedict, father of Western monasticism and author of Rule of St Benedict. Detail from fresco by Fra Angelico, c. 1437–46.

In 530, Saint Benedict wrote his Rule of St Benedict as a practical guide for monastic community life. Its message spread to monasteries throughout Europe.[8] Monasteries became major conduits of civilization, preserving craft and artistic skills while maintaining intellectual culture within their schools, scriptoria and libraries. They functioned as agricultural, economic and production centers as well as a focus for spiritual life.[9] During this period the Visigoths and Lombards moved away from Arianism for Catholicism.[10] Pope Gregory the Great played a notable role in these conversions and dramatically reformed the ecclesiastical structures and administration which then launched renewed missionary efforts.[11] Missionaries such as Augustine of Canterbury, who was sent from Rome to begin the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons, and, coming the other way in the Hiberno-Scottish mission.

We know little about the origins of the first important monastic rule (Regula) in Western Europe, the anonymous Rule of the Master (Regula magistri), which was written somewhere south of Rome around 500. The rule adds legalistic elements not found in earlier rules, defining the activities of the monastery, its officers, and their responsibilities in great detail.

Benedict of Nursia is the most influential of Western monks. He was educated in Rome but soon sought the life of a hermit in a cave at Subiaco, outside the city. He then attracted followers with whom he founded the monastery of Monte Cassino around 520, between Rome and Naples. His Rule is shorter than the Master's, somewhat less legalistic, but much more so than Eastern rules.

His Rule:

  • specified a course of seven prayers during the day beginning hours before dawn and ending with evening prayer,
  • specified a diet which provided no meat except for the sick, but several different vegetables, bread, and wine for the main meal,
  • emphasized work as a valuable act in itself
  • required monks to engage in "spiritual reading," which required a library that was often extended to include a wide range of books on secular topics,
  • and emphasized the idea of submission to the Rule and to the jurisdiction of monastic superiors as an essential step on the ladder of humility.

Ireland

Irish monasticism maintained the model of a monastic community while, like John Cassian, marking the contemplative life of the hermit as the highest form of monasticism. Saints' lives frequently tell of monks (and abbots) departing some distance from the monastery to live in isolation from the community.

Irish monastic rules specify a stern life of prayer and discipline in which prayer, poverty, and obedience are the central themes. Yet Irish monks did not fear pagan learning. Irish monks needed to learn a foreign language, Latin, which was the language of the Church. Thus they read Latin texts, both spiritual and secular, with an enthusiasm that their contemporaries on the continent lacked. By the end of the seventh century, Irish monastic schools were attracting students from England and from Europe.

Irish monasticism spread widely, first to Scotland and Northern England, then to Gaul and Italy. Columba and his followers established monasteries at Bangor, on the northeastern coast of Ireland, at Iona, an island north-west of Scotland, and at Lindisfarne, which was founded by Aidan, an Irish monk from Iona, at the request of King Oswald of Northumbria.

Columbanus, an abbot from a Leinster noble family, traveled to Gaul in the late 6th century with twelve companions. Columbanus and his followers spread the Irish model of monastic institutions established by noble families to the continent. A whole series of new rural monastic foundations on great rural estates under Irish influence sprang up, starting with Columbanus's foundations of Fontaines and Luxeuil, sponsored by the Frankish King Childebert II. After Childebert's death Columbanus traveled east to Metz, where Theudebert II allowed him to establish a new monastery among the semi-pagan Alemanni in what is now Switzerland. One of Columbanus's followers founded the monastery of St. Gall on the shores of Lake Constance, while Columbanus continued onward across the Alps to the kingdom of the Lombards in Italy. There King Agilulf and his wife Theodolinda granted Columbanus land in the mountains between Genoa and Milan, where he established the monastery of Bobbio.

Mosaic of Justinian I in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

Spread of Christianity

Christians and Pagans, a painting by Sergei Ivanov

As the political boundaries of the Western Roman Empire diminished and then collapsed, Christianity spread beyond the old borders of the Empire and into lands that had never been Romanised.

The Lombards adopted Catholicism as they entered Italy, also during the 6th century.

Unlike the history of Christianity in the Roman Empire, conversion of the West and East Germanic tribes took place "top to bottom", in the sense that missionaries aimed at converting Germanic nobility first, which would then impose their new faith on the general population.

Ireland and Irish missionaries

Beginning in the fifth century, a unique culture developed around the Irish Sea consisting of what today would be called Wales and Ireland. In this environment, Christianity spread from Roman Britain to Ireland, especially aided by the missionary activity of St. Patrick. Patrick had been captured into slavery in Ireland and, following his escape and later consecration as bishop, he returned to the isle that had enslaved him so that he could bring them the Gospel. Soon, Irish missionaries such as SS. Columba and Columbanus spread this Christianity, with its distinctively Irish features, to Scotland and the Continent. One such feature was the system of private penitence, which replaced the former practice of penance as a public rite.[12]

Anglo-Saxon Britain

Although southern Britain had been a Roman province, in 407 the imperial legions left the isle, and the Roman elite followed. Some time later that century, various barbarian tribes went from raiding and pillaging the island to settling and invading. These tribes are referred to as the "Anglo-Saxons", predecessors of the English. They were entirely pagan, having never been part of the Empire, and although they experienced Christian influence from the surrounding peoples, they were converted by the mission of St. Augustine sent by Pope Gregory the Great. Later, under Archbishop Theodore, the Anglo-Saxons enjoyed a golden age of culture and scholarship. Soon, important English missionaries such as SS. Wilfrid, Willibrord, Lullus and Boniface would begin evangelising their Saxon relatives in Germany.

The next impulse came from the edge of Europe. Although Ireland had never been part of the Roman Empire, Christianity had come there and developed, largely independently into Celtic Christianity. The Irish monks had developed a concept of peregrinatio.[13] This essentially meant, that a monk would leave the monastery and his Christian country to proselytize among the heathens, as self-chosen punishment for his sins. From 590 onwards Irish missionaries were active in Gaul, Scotland, Wales and England.

During the reign of Ethelbert of Kent, Pope Gregory I decided to regain the island for Christianity. Between the sixth and the tenth century, the mission of the Catholic Church and the Hiberno-Scottish mission Christianized England, working largely independently.

Franks

Saint Remigius baptises Clovis.

The largely Christian Gallo-Roman inhabitants of Gaul (modern France) were overrun by Germanic Franks in the early 5th century. The native inhabitants were persecuted until the Frankish King, Clovis I converted from paganism to Roman Catholicism in 496. Clovis insisted that his fellow nobles follow suit, strengthening his newly-established kingdom by uniting the faith of the rulers with that of the ruled.

The Germanic peoples underwent gradual Christianization in the course of the Early Middle Ages, resulting in a unique form of Christianity known as Germanic Christianity in some cases. The Eastern and Western tribes were the first to convert through various means. However, it wouldn't be until the 12th century until the North Germanic Tribes had Christianized.

9th century depiction of Christ as a heroic warrior (Stuttgart Psalter, fol. 23)

In the polytheistic Germanic tradition it was even possible to worship Jesus next to the native gods like Wodan and Thor. Before a battle, a pagan military leader might pray to Jesus for victory, instead of Odin, if he expected more help from the Christian God. Clovis had done that before a battle against one of the kings of the Alamanni, and had thus attributed his victory to Jesus. Such utilitarian thoughts were the basis of most conversions of rulers during this period.[14] The Christianization of the Franks lay the foundation for the further Christianization of the Germanic peoples.

On the Continent, the West Germanic Saxon peoples were converted by force. In the course of the Saxon Wars Charlemagne destroyed their Irminsul in 772, and in 782 he allegedly ordered the beheading of 4,500 Saxon nobles who were caught practicing their native paganism in spite of being baptized, at the Blood court of Verden.

9th century depiction of Charlemagne with popes Gelasius I and Gregory the Great

From the 6th century, Germanic tribes were converted (and re-converted) by missionaries of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Lombards adopted Roman Christianity as they entered Italy, also during the 6th century.

Christian Missionaries to the Alamanni

Christian Missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons (see Anglo-Saxon Christianity)

Arabia

Cosmas Indicopleustes, navigator and geographer of the sixth century, wrote about Christians, bishops, monks, and martyrs in Yemen and among the Himyarites.[1] In the fifth century a merchant from Yemen was converted in Hira, in the northeast, and upon his return led many to Christ.

Tibet

It is unclear exactly when Christianity reached Tibet, but it seems likely that it had arrived there by the sixth century. The ancient territory of the Tibetans stretched farther west and north than the present-day Tibet, and they had many links with the Turkic and Mongolian tribes of Central Asia. It seems likely that Christianity entered the Tibetan world around 549, the time of a remarkable conversion of the White Huns. A strong church existed in Tibet by the eighth century. Patriarch Timothy I (727-823), head of the Church of the East, wrote from Baghdad in ca. 794 of the need to appoint another bishop for the Tibetans, and in an earlier letter of 782 he mentions the Tibetans as one of the significant Christian communities of the Church[2]. The church's bishopric is assumed to be in Lhasa, where it is likely to have been active as late as the thirteenth century, prior to the popular extension of Buddhism.

Carved into a large boulder at Tankse, Ladakh, once part of Tibet but now in India, are three crosses and some inscriptions. The rock dominates the entrance to the town, on one of the main ancient trade routes between Lhasa and Bactria. The crosses are clearly of the Church of the East, and one of the words, written in Sogdian, appears to be "Jesus". Another inscription in Sogdian reads, "In the year 210 came Nosfarn from Samarkhand as emissary to the Khan of Tibet". It is possible that the inscriptions were not related to the crosses, but even on their own the crosses bear testimony to the power and influence of Christianity in that area. Christianity was sufficiently accepted in the region to warrant carving the Christian symbol to protect travellers. Christianity is accepted by many countries.

References

  1. ^ R. Gerberding and Jo Anne H. Moran Cruz, Medieval Worlds: An Introduction to European History 300–1492 (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), p. 33.
  2. ^ a b c "Constantinople, Second Council of." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Three Chapters." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  4. ^ "Nestorianism" and "Three Chapters." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  5. ^ "Monophysitism." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
  6. ^ L. Brubaker and J. Haldon, Byzantium in the iconoclast era (ca. 680-850): the sources (Birmingham, 2001).
  7. ^ Pope St. Gregory I at about.com
  8. ^ Woods, How the Church Built Western Civilization (2005), p. 27
  9. ^ Le Goff, Medieval Civilization (1964), p. 120
  10. ^ Le Goff, Medieval Civilization (1964), p. 21
  11. ^ Duffy, Saints and Sinners (1997), pp. 50–2
  12. ^ On the development of penitential practice, see McNeill & Gamer, Medieval Handbooks of Penance, (Columba University Press, 1938) pp. 9–54
  13. ^ Padberg, Lutz v. (1998), p.67
  14. ^ Padberg, Lutz v. (1998), p.48
  15. ^ Price, Ira Maurice. The Ancestry of Our English Bible. Harper, 1956, p. 193.
  16. ^ Latourette, 1953, p. 333
  17. ^ Anderson, p. 347
  18. ^ Gailey, p. 41
  19. ^ Neill, pp. 58-59; Tucker, 46

Further reading

  • Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan. The Christian Tradition: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600). University of Chicago Press (1975). ISBN 0226653714.
  • Lawrence, C. H. Medieval Monasticism. 3rd ed. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2001. ISBN 0-582-40427-4
  • Trombley, Frank R., 1995. Hellenic Religion and Christianization c. 370-529 (in series Religions in the Graeco-Roman World) (Brill) ISBN 90-04-09691-4
  • Fletcher, Richard, The Conversion of Europe. From Paganism to Christianity 371-1386 AD. London 1997.
  • Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, book 1, chp.19
  • Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, book 3, chp. 1
  • Mingana, The Early Spread of Christianity in Central Asia and the Far East, pp. 300.
  • A.C. Moule, Christians in China Before The year 1550, pp. 19–26
  • P.Y. Saeki, The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China and The Nestorian Monument in China, pp. 27–52
  • Philostorgius, Ecclesiastical History.

External links

See also

History of Christianity: The Middle Ages
Preceded by:
Christianity in
the 5th century
6th
Century
Followed by:
Christianity in
the 7th century
BC 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th
11th 12th 13th 14th 15th 16th 17th 18th 19th 20th 21st

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