CHHI 301-History of the Church I
June 15, 2015
The beginning of the Dark Ages or Early Medieval period is said to begin with the fall of the Western Roman Empire. This “brought significant political, religious, and social changes in the European society. Other important events of the Middle Ages included the rise of the Papacy and the establishment of Charlemagne’s empire.” (Newman) The powerful Roman Empire was gone. But the church was not. It had the incredible privilege of being the leading force in Europe. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the church became very influential in Europe The major religions during this time period of the Middle Ages in Europe were Catholicism and Christianity. “Christianity in the middle ages dominated the lives of both peasants and the nobility. Religious institutors including the Church and the monasteries became wealthy and influential given the fact that the state allocated a significant budget for religious activities.” (Newman)
Within the city of Rome after the fall, there appeared two “denominations, the Arian’s and the Athanansian. Also in the picture was the Celtic “church,” which in the picture was the Celtic “church” which was more a series of missionary compounds than a denomination made up of local churches. The Benedictines were still less like a church. “They came along later and compacted with the Celts in establishing missionary compounds all over Europe. By the time the Vikings appeared on the horizon over 1000 such mission compounds had spread up throughout Europe.” ("400-800 A.D")
Celtic Peregrini (wandering evangelists) or their parallel in Benedictine communes (“Jesus People”), held the Bible in awe. As part of their weekly routine to discipline themselves, these men would sing through the complete book of Psalms.” It was primarily they who enabled the Kingdom and the power and the glory to be shared with the barbaric Anglo-Saxons and Goths.” ("400-800 A.D")
It is true that many strange (even bizarre and pagan) customs were mixed up as secondary elements in the various forms of Christianity that were active during the period of the Christianization of Europe. Even though the Western Roman Empire and Celtics continued to battle each other, these engagements more than likely resulted in an improvement of the shared biblical foundations of their faith. But we must also remember the relative chaos introduced by the invasions.
The Pope at the beginning of this medieval period was Gregory I the Great. Gregory was born to a wealthy and pious Roman family. About the age of thirty he was appointed urban prefect of Rome; shortly afterward he resigned to devote himself to religious works. With his inherited wealth he established seven monasteries, including one of his family estates in Rome, which he entered as a monk. In 577, he became one of the seven deacons responsible for administering the Roman Church. Two years later he became papal nuncio to Constantinople, the most significant consular assignment in the church. Upon returning to Rome a few years later, he resumed monastic life but in 590 was elected to the papacy.
Gregory is especially significant for his role in increasing the power and authority of the papacy. He firmly believed the Roman pope was Peter’s universal church, a view not accepted in some areas. In numerous ecclesiastical disputed he asserted the papacy’s supremacy over the whole church. His efforts were not always successful, but by his death the authority of the papal office had been greatly enhanced. Equally significant was Gregory’s assertion of political authority for the papacy. Italy was in turmoil due to the expansion of the Lombard’s. The emperor in Constantinople paid little heed to Italy’s pleas for assistance, and Gregory, fearing that Rome would be overrun if he did not take action, became deeply involved in counteracting the Lombard threat. His actions