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Chapter 2

The Crown of the Cśsars Passes to the Papacy

 

The year A.D. 330 was to alter the culture and history of Europe forever. Having dominated the mighty Roman Empire for more than four centuries, the center of Roman power was moved from Rome to the Bosphorus as Emperor Constantine I transferred the seat of government to Con-stantinople, a name he devised in order to perpetuate his own place in history.

This event of great historic significance set the Papacy on course for ultimate political power. As the Roman Catholic historian and apologist Henry Edward Manning wrote,

But from the hour when Constantine, in the language of the Roman law, "Deo jubente," by the command of God, translated the seat of power to Constantinople, from that moment there never reigned in Rome a temporal prince to whom the Bishops of Rome owed a permanent allegiance. (The Temporal Power of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, Second edition, London: Burns & Lambert, pp. 11, 12)

After ten years of fearful persecution under Emperors Diocletian, Max-imian and Galerius, the relief and joy of Christians knew no bounds. Emperor Galerius had, in 311, eased the plight of the Christians by enacting the Edict of Toleration. However it was Constantine who provided full freedom and civil rights to Christians by enacting the Edict of Milan in 313. Yet one form of persecution was soon to be replaced by another. This emperor, raised in pagan philosophy, deemed it his prerogative to ensure that by force of the state, Christians walk the pathway which he felt proper. Christians had merely exchanged pagan persecution for a Christian form. In time the church itself adopted the philosophy of the emperor and those formerly persecuted became, themselves, the persecutors.

Persecution by Christians was first instituted against pagans. That intolerance which faithful Christians had endured for three centuries was now directed at pagans. This was an omen of times ahead and a serious degradation of true Christian faith which eschews coercion.

 

By the manifesto of Constantine and Licinius there had been substituted by the classical idea of the commonwealth the notion of two more or less distinct orders, the one political, the other ecclesiastical. With that of [Emperor] Theodosius [I], the relationship between these orders was finally determined by the complete subordination of the temporal to the spiritual power. (Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1940, p. 328)

Cochrane points out tható

The formal liquidation of paganism under Theodosius [who died in 398] and his successors has been characterised as "perhaps the only example of the total extirpation of any ancient, and popular superstition" and thus deserving of consideration as "a singular event in the history of the human mind." (Ibid., p. 329)

Emperor Theodosius Iís legislation against paganism began in 391. It forbade all forms of pagan religious practices. In 392 all pagan temples and their treasures and idols were appropriated by the state.

Thus was Europeís descent into intolerance, cruelty and control of the human conscience inflicted by a union of state and church. Forgotten was Christís edict, underlining their separation, when He accorded the church and the state separate arenas of influence:

Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesarís; and unto God the things that are Godís. (Matthew 22:21)

It was a small matter to move from persecution of pagans to persecution of devout Christians who opposed the increasing decline in faith and practice and the destruction of Bible doctrine among the Christian elite in Rome.

The first Christians to endure a state-backed ecclesiastical persecution were the Donatists of North Africa. They objected to a church backed by the state. In a real sense these Christians, centered in Carthage, were the forerunners of those foresightful Americans who included the doctrine of the separation of church and state into the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Despite the gallant and courageous opposition of the Donatists, their martyrdom and fidelity, the die was castóEurope was doomed to centuries of church-inspired, state-implemented persecution of dissenters.

With the transfer of the capital of the Roman Empire to the far eastern reaches of the Balkan Peninsula there arose a steady increase in the political power of the Papacy. Heretofore, despite its growing defects and deviations from the pure faith of its founder, Jesus Christ, the Christian Church, previously partially purified through generation after generation of state-instigated intolerance and vile persecution, had confined itself largely to matters ecclesiastical.

But now, as the Bishops of Rome found the capital of the empire far removed from the eternal city, they commenced to flex their secular arm, enforcing their convictions upon others of different persuasion. In general the empire assented and often implemented the whims of the church, seeing such support as essential to the unity of the empire.

The title Pontifex Maximus was held by the head administrator of the Roman pagan religion. Eventually the Caesars envied this title of high honor and power; and first Julius Caesar and then Augustus Caesar made the title and office their own, as did later emperors. Thus developed a religio-political power well suited to the aims and ambitions of Roman bishops.

When, in 375, Emperor Gratian declined to accept this august title, believing its pagan origins unsuited to a Christian monarch, the Bishop of Rome, Pope Damasus I, appropriated the title Pontifex Maximus to himself. Thus the religio-political title of the Caesars passed without objection to the Papacy, together with its implied union of church and state.

But two mighty impediments to the growing ambitions of both popes and prelates remained. The first of these was the political and military might of the Emperors of the Roman Empire, a might the Papacy could not match. Thus the empire remained pre-eminent in the arenas of politics and military strength. Those attributes of state, as some popes recognized, could be used to the churchís advantage in the enforcement of its ecclesiastical will. Rome accomplished this usurpation during the era of the Holy Roman Empire, which ruled from 800 to 1806.

Following the transfer of the capital of the empire to Constantin-ople, the decline in the power of the empire well suited the ultimate destiny of the Papacy. That decline was gradual but it is generally agreed by historians tható

When the insignificant Romulus Augustulus was deposed (476), there was no longer even a titular emperor. (Paul Hutchinson & Winnifred E. Garrison, 20 Centuries of Christianity: A Concise History. First edition, p. 93, 1959, Harcourt, Brace & World Inc., New York)

Now the road for escalating Papal political power was cleared of impediment. With the acceptance of the title of Universal Bishop, when offered sixty-two years later by Justinian, the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, the course of Europe under Roman Catholic dominance was set.

Robert Neville, in his book, The World of the Vatican, has truly asserted, "In certain respects the Pope himself appears to be the lineal descendent of the Caesars" (Harper and Row, New York, page 10). Neville points out that terms such as Pontifex Maximus, the Roman Church, and Diocese stem from the emperors. He could have added others such as Cardinals, but the greatest evidence for Nevilleís conclusion is the convergence of prophecy and history in this matter.

The second impediment to European dominance, which successive Bishops of Rome envied, was in a more difficult area and took a little longer to overcome. The Bishops of Constantinople contested, often with great vigor, the primacy among Bishops coveted by their counterparts in Rome. So exasperated was the Roman Bishop with the persistent claims of the Bishop of Constantinople to the right to acceptance as the Universal Bishop, that Pope Gregory I, who occupied the Roman See from 590ó604, forgetting his own ambitions akin to those of his fellow Bishop John in the east, exploded,

I say confidently therefore, that whosoever calls himself Universal Bishop, or even desires in his pride to be called such is the forerunner of antichrist." (Samuel J. Cassells, Christ and Antichrist, p. 12 óextracted from i. 6 Epi 8.30)

This accusation was the first of many declarations of competing Popes who designated each other as the antichrist. It was a cherished Papal designation of their enemies and the pretenders to the Papal See. On one occasion there were three "antichrists," each so designated by the other two competing popes. Cardinal Baldassarre Cossa, the original Pope John XXIII, Cardinal Angelo Corrario, known as Pope Gregory XII and Cardinal Pedro de Luna, a Spaniard who adopted the title of Pope Benedict XIII, each declared the other two to be antichrists and, consequently, duly excommunicated them on the grounds that they were heretics and schismatics. In the early fifteenth century, in the eyes of many contemporaries the only credibility had by each of these claimants to the title of Universal Bishop lay in their valid declarations condemning each other.

But, indeed, fifty-eight years prior to Gregory Iís invective aimed at the Bishop of Constantinople, the issue had been decided by the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, Justinian, residing in Constantin-ople. Perhaps fearing too much influence at the center of his government, he officially declared the Bishop of Rome as the Universal Pontiff in 533.

There may have been yet another, more subtle reason, for Justinianís decision. The pope who should have benefited from this imposed arbitration, John II, was quite impotent to obtain the least mileage out of the title, since Rome was overrun at that time by the invading Ostrogoths. John II died two years later and his successor, Agapetus I died on April 22, 536, the year following his election. Agapetusí successor, Sylverius, fared no better, also dying the year after his election. It would seem that Papal appointment was an omen of death.

Still the Ostrogoths maintained their strong control of Rome, and any preeminence accorded the Bishop of Rome by Emperor Justinian was merely titular, conveying no enforceable ecclesiastical authority whatsoever.

It was surely with some trepidation that Vigilius assumed the role of "Universal Bishop," considering the short tenure of his immediate predecessors. Nevertheless history testifies that he "had schemed to become pope." (Joseph Brusher S.J., Popes Through the Ages, D. Van Nostrand Company Inc., 1959, Foreword by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, Archbishop of Los Angeles). Joseph Brusher, Jesuit professor of History at the University of Santa Clara, records that Vigilius, although he held the Papal seat for eighteen years, "was not popular in Rome," and that "he reaped more trouble than satisfaction from his ambitious sowing." (Ibid.)

Yet, rather than following the fates of the two preceding popes by dying the year following his inauguration, Pope Vigilius in 538, the second year of his reign, benefited from the defeat of the Ostrogoths and their consequent expulsion from Italy. Thus in that pivotal year, 538, Vigilius became the first Roman Pontiff enabled to exercise as well as to hold the powerful titles of Pontifex Maximus and Universal Bishop. Here commenced the astonishing history spanning a period of one thousand two hundred and sixty years of Papal dominance over most of Europe. This dominance was dented, but certainly not destroyed, even after the dramatic events of the Protestant Reformation.

It took the intervention of Napoleon Bonaparte to finally crush Papal political power when he directed his military chief in Italy, General Berthier, to declare a republic in Rome on February 15, 1798 and take Pope Pius VI captive to France, where he died the following year. Thus the long religio-political Papal dominance of Europe was extinguished one thousand two hundred and sixty years after it began.

The Roman Church, without dispute, had by 538 inherited the seat of the Caesars, as Adolf Harnack recorded in his book What is Christianity?,

It [the Papacy] is a political creation, and as imposing as a World-Empire, because of the continuation of the Roman Empire. The Pope, who calls himself "King" and "Pontifex Maximus" is Caesarís successor. (New York, Putnam, 1901, second edition, page 270).

The same historian concluded tható

The Roman Church in its way privily pushed itself into the place of the Roman World-Empire, of which it is the actual continuation. (Ibid.)

Alexander Clarence Flick in his historical work, The Rise of the Mediaeval Church, concluded that,

The mighty Catholic Church was little more than the Roman Empire baptised. Rome was transformed as well as converted. The very capital of the old Empire became the capital of the Christian Empire. The office of the Pontifex Maximus was continued in that of the Pope. . . . Even the Roman language has remained the official language of the Roman Catholic Church down through the ages. (New York: Burt Franklin, 1959 pp 148, 149).

With the Christian Churchís gradual transition from a persecuted, pure apostolic faith in the early decades after Christís death until its blossoming as a religio-political empire scarcely more than half a millennium later, the very fabric of the Christian church had suffered such a metamorphosis that no rightful evaluation could accord the same status or the same faith to the church of a.d. 31, as to that of 538. An entirely new religion had emerged. The persecuted had become the persecutors, the ruled were now the rulers, the humble were now the arrogant, and eyes that had turned ever to Christ now turned to the Bishop of Rome. The simple meeting places were replaced by resplendent cathedrals. The poverty and simplicity of the church had become the affluence and opulence of the ecclesiastical body, while the church now grew in numbers not by conviction and conversion, but by birth ensured by infant baptism, and even by forced baptisms of those who did not consent.

In 538 it could be stated with veracity that the Papacy had accepted the scepter of the Roman Empire covered by a thin veneer of Christianity. The sum total of this transformation was the Dark Ages.

 

 


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