2.3 One, Holy, Roman, Empire

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What Challenges and Opportunities did
the Western Church face with the
decline and fall of the Roman Empire?
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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.
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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.
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By 461, Ireland was
overwhelmingly Christian
 A new society of monks
arose in Ireland
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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.
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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.
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Monasteries and
missionary monks spread
from Ireland in a new
missionary enterprise to
reconvert Europe.
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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.
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In 565CE Justinian died
and the Western
provinces again fell
back under barbarian
control.
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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
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Charles the Great
(Charlemagne), marched on
Rome and had Leo restored as
Pope.
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On Dec 25th 800, Charlemagne
was crowned Holy Roman
Emperor by the Pope, and thus
began his campaign to unite
Europe under Christ.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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