What Challenges and Opportunities did the Western Church face with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire? At the beginning of the 5th Century CE, the Roman Empire covered most of the known world- from Africa to Britain, Persia to the Atlantic Ocean. The strength and cohesion of the Roman Empire underpinned the strength and cohesion of the Christian church. For empire and church alike, there was (in theory at least) one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Christian baptism was initiation into the church and society alike. Being conquered by the Roman army meant acceptance of baptism into Christianity. In 410 CE, wave after wave of barbarian forces descended on Rome. Legions from all over the Empire rushed to defend the capital, but they arrived too late. Rome was looted and burned, ushering in what became known as the “Dark Ages” in Europe. Monasteries and churches and libraries all over Europe were destroyed; knowledge and learning were lost. In 476 CE Rome fell to the Goths and the Empire and much of Christian learning moved East where a new and dazzling version of the Empire and Church were arising. The only places of learning and study of the faith to remain in Europe were in Ireland. Rome never conquered Ireland, which was controlled by warring warrior chiefs. Christianity came to Ireland with Patrick, who, in his youth, had been brought to Ireland from England as a slave. Having escaped slavery, Patrick felt a call to bring Christianity to Ireland and returned as a bishop in 432 CE. By 461, Ireland was overwhelmingly Christian A new society of monks arose in Ireland By 471 CE there were hundreds of monasteries in Ireland. Abbots, not bishops, controlled the Church. Powerful Abbesses such as Brigid of Kildaire also contributed to the special nature of the Church in Ireland. In the monasteries learning flourished and the finest scholars in Greek, Hebrew and Latin emerged. Copying sacred texts became a priority and , with the great libraries of Europe destroyed, every book written before 1000ce that we now possess was preserved by the Irish monks of this era. Copying sacred texts became a priority and , with the great libraries of Europe destroyed, every book written before 1000ce that we now possess was preserved by the Irish monks of this era. The Dark Ages in Europe has been defined as being from the death of Augustine in 430 CE to the time of Thomas Aquinas ( d.1274) The fall of the secular Roman empire in the West did not mean the end of Christianity in Europe, but it did signal the end of much scholarship and learning. With the fall of Rome, the Church became the source of unity. Monasteries and missionary monks spread from Ireland in a new missionary enterprise to reconvert Europe. Ironically, the fall of the Western Emperor meant the rise in the power of the Pope of Rome as both religious and secular leader. Popes began to emphasise more and more that as the literal and scripturally validated successors to Peter, they were head of all Christendom. In 537 CE, Emperor Justinian in the East began campaigns to recapture the West for the Empire. In 540 CE the Byzantinian army was in Ravena, the alternative capital of the former western empire. In the East, the Patriarch of Constantinople, became concerned at the Pope seeking “emancipation” from Constantinople, now the centre of the Empire. In 565CE Justinian died and the Western provinces again fell back under barbarian control. As the Chair of Peter and symbol of unity to all Europe, the Papacy became a coveted prize for the noble families of Rome. Popes were made and unmade, arrested, tortured and murdered in an unholy scramble for power and riches. One notorious example was Pope John II whose family gained him the Papacy at 19 and who terrorised women who came to worship at St Peters, abducting and raping them. In 799CE Pope Leo III escaped opponents in Rome attempting to kill him by fleeing over the Alps to the court of Charles, King of the Franks. Charles, who drove back the Muslim advance on the West and became known as Charles the Great (Charlemagne), marched on Rome and had Leo restored as Pope. On Dec 25th 800, Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope, and thus began his campaign to unite Europe under Christ. In 20 years, Charles, sometimes using a scorched earth policy, forcibly took and converted the pagan forces of Europe. Having conquered Europe, Charles decided to improve the widespread ignorance of the faith- even among the clergy. He established a centre for learning for bishops, then set up schools. Charlemagne began his own renaissance- the Carolingian Renaissance and recovered the Irish literature preserved by the monks in Ireland. 90% of all scripts we have today come from Charles’ scriptorium. In 814 CE Charlemagne died, ending a 47 year reign. Charles’ legacy was a peaceful, united, religious Europe. But he also left behind two struggles: a power struggle between church and state, Pope and Emperor; and the struggle for unity and power in the church between the Pope in the West and the Patriarch of Constantinople in the East. The East saw Leo’s coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor an act of schism. In the late 8th Century, vicious warriors from the north, called Vikings, plundered the wealthy monasteries of Ireland. In their sleek ships they sailed up the rivers of Europe into the Holy Roman Empire, destroying peoples and cultures. Churches and monasteries, with all their wealth and treasure, were special targets. In 845 CE Vikings raided and looted Paris. Christians were murdered and taken as slaves. The Vikings rounded Spain and swept into the Mediterranean. Fearing they were being abandoned by God, Christians found a renewal of faith and turned to relics and saints, especially Mary, a loving mother. In 896 CE Europe faced a second invasion: Maygars from the Steppes of Central Europe. They burned churches and monasteries in Saxony and preachers began to speculate that the end of the world was nigh. From Iceland to Italy Europe was under siege from Vikings and now central Europe faced destruction from the Maygars. In 985 CE an outnumbered Otto King of the Franks won a decisive battle against the Maygars bearing a lance which he believed held a nail from the Cross. Otto the Great was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by John XXII . Otto II helped restore the church and the corrupt Papacy. In 999CE , his son’s tutor, the monk Jerbert was crowned Pope Sylvester II. It was not a coincidence that Sylvester II and Otto III worked to restore the Holy Roman Empire, for it was Sylvester I and Constantine who modelled the first Christian Empire 650 years earlier. By the year 1000CE the Papacy had been restored, Europe was once again a Christian Empire. In 999CE the Maygar king became Christian; the Vikings of Denmark and Norway had converted and pagan empires folded into Christian Europe. In 500 years, Rome had been sacked twice, but the Papacy and Church faced not the Apocalypse, but a new Millennium and the Empire as Christian as it was under Constantine.