Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lesson 3 - The Church and The Germanic Tribes

The Church was the Religious, Cultural and Civilizing Factor of the Western World until the discovery of America (1492). Europe and Catholic Church are two names for the same thing. The story of the Barbarian Invasions belongs then to Church History, too.

The Barbarians were, for the Romans, all those people living outside the limes or boundaries of the Empire. These barbarians for us are people of varying race, who lived beyond the frontiers of the Empire; Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Franks, Huns and others. They all had this in common: they were Pastoral people, masters of great herds of cattle, living a more or less Nomadic life, possessing no cities and not given to agriculture. The Empire had always attracted them, for the easier, more secure thing that life within its frontiers was.

The invasion of the Germans were only a part of a great Migration of Nations which lasts for about two thousand years, from the year one thousand before Christ (Dorean Invasions) to the year one thousand after Christ (last Invasions of the Vikings).

The Roman Empire, with which the Church had become so intimately bound up since the days of Constantine, seemed built for eternity and its capital destined to be the Mistress of the World for all time. Christians shared this belief in the eternity of Rome and the Roman civilization. This was, however, an illusion. the huge fabric of the Empire fell before the repeated attacks and onslaughts of the Germanic tribes from the north of the Danube and east of the Rhine.

The Roman Empire could do nothing else but succumb to these onslaughts. The Fall, though rapid, could be foreseen. The Roman Empire full of conquests and avid of pleasures, had abandoned the use of arms to give themselves to the pleasures of city life. But the most serious problem was the low rate of birth: the wish of luxury, immorality and divorce had destroyed family life. The Roman Empire was like a sick body, incapable of living any longer.

The Church is by no means responsible for this state of affairs. Surely she could have reconstructed with her divine doctrine, the family, society and all the other institutions, but she had no time to wholly Christianize them. It was too late to do this, when at the beginning of the fourth century, the State embraced Christianity. Pagan society was too much given to materialism, to natural pleasures, too rotten. Politically, the Church was unable to save the Roman Empire. Being incapable of avoiding the Barbarian Invasions, she tried very hard to bring them to the knowledge of the Christian doctrine.

The Roman Empire, then, crumbled in front of the barbarians. It was not hate or thirst of conquests that moved them to abandon their countries. Whether they were pushed by other barbarian races or because their population was increasing and found it difficult to live in poor lands, it is certain that their move westwards was an inevitable need.  From the first century many Germans crossed the frontiers and established themselves within the Roman Empire. This was, however, a peaceful invasion. The Roman Empire fought them at the beginning, but tired of it, admitted them within the boundaries of the empire and gave them land to settle down with the charge of defending the boundaries against other invaders.

This peaceful invasion, which lasted for four hundred years or more, was substituted by a new one, terrible, devastating and violent to the extreme. This happened at the beginning of the fifth century. From 405 we have the invasions of the Suevi, the Alans, the Vandals, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Franks. From 451 the most indomitable of all the Barbarians, the Huns, poured down upon all the frontiers of the Empire pushing all the other people. The onslaught was indeed formidable. The Roman Empire, maimed by the succession of so many attacks, crumbled finally in 476. Romulus Augustulus, the last Roman Emperor, was dethroned by Odoacer, king of the Heruli, who, in turn, was murdered by Theodoric the Great (494), king of the Ostrogoths.

The epoch of the Barbarian invasions became, from the sixth century to the eight century, an epoch of Barbarism. The permanent wars relaxed even more the people. Spiritual life decayed. The men of those times had no time for spiritual or cultural questions.

These were difficult, tormented times, when the moral, spiritual, religious, economic and political order sank very low. The Church saved religion and culture and became the consoler of the poor and afflicted. The bishops were now true pillars of society, they looked for food and gave them to the people, consoling them in their affliction

The great Graeco-Roman culture was saved by monasticism and the monks. In the monasteries were kept together with knowledge of antiquity, the treasures of the ancients, through the study and copying of precious books. Without this help of Catholic monasteries, humanity would have fallen into the most extreme spiritual poverty.

The future belongs to the alliance between the Church and the new and young German peoples. The Church was the heir of the glory and dignity of Rome, and the greatest influence making for peace and unity in the Western world. The barbarians needed the Church. She offered the blessings of religion, order, peace, culture and civilization. She became the mother and mistress of these rude and proud German warriors. This work of converting, evangelizing and civilizing the Germans was not the work of a day. It took centuries before all of them could be converted to Catholicism.

Migration Period

The Migration Period, also called the Barbarian Invasions, was a period of human migration in Europe that occurred from ca.300 to 700 AD. This period marked the transition from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages. Migrations were catalyzed by profound changes both within the Roman Empire and on its "barbarian frontier." The migrants with the most lasting influence were the German tribes, such as Goths, Vandals, Lombards, Suebi, Frisii, and Franks, although important roles were also played by the Huns, Avars, Slavs, Bulgars, and Alans..

Some would say that the medieval ages is a mixture of
1.     Roman – influence of the Roman Empire, both the East and the West
2.     German – influence of the Germanic tribes who brought about the Fall of Western Roman Empire (476)
3.     Christian – influence of the Catholic Church.

Origins of the Germanic Tribes

The Germanic peoples came out of southern Scandinavia, Denmark and the adjacent lands between the Elbe and Oder rivers, some time after 1000 BC. The first wave moved westward and southward, pushing the resident Celts west to the Rhine River by about 200 BC, and moving into southern Germany and against the Roman province of Gaul by 100 BC, where they were stopped first by Gaius Marius and then Julius Caesar.

A. First Phase of Migration (300-500)

The Visigoths entered Roman territory, after a clash with the Huns, in 376. Fritigern (a Visigothic chieftain) was killed while meeting with Lupicinus (a Roman lieutenant of Emperor Valens). The Visigoths rebelled, eventually invading Italy and sacking Rome itself in 410, before settling in Iberia and founding a kingdom there that endured for 200 years. They had been followed into Roman territory by the Ostrogoths led by Theodoric the Great, who settled in Italy itself.

In Gaul, the Franks, a fusion of western Germanic tribes whose leaders had been strongly aligned with Rome since the 3rd century, subsequently entered Roman lands more gradually and peacefully during the 5th century, and were generally endured as rulers by the Roman-Gaulish population. Fending off challenges from the Allemanni, Burgundians and Visigoths, the Frankish kingdom became the nucleus of the future states of France and Germany.

The initial Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain took place in the 5th century, when for all intents and purposes Roman Britain no longer existed.

B. Second Phase of Migration (500-700)

The second phase saw Slavic tribes settling in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in eastern  Germania Magna, and gradually making it predominantly Slavic. In 567, the Avars, alongside the Lombards, destroyed much of the Gepid Kingdom (an East Germanic Gothic tribe). The Lombards settled in northern Italy in the region now known as Lombardy. The Bulgars, people of either Turkic or Iranic origin who had been present in far Eastern Europe since the 2nd century, conquered the eastern Balkan territory of the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century.


Christianity and the Germans

By the year 500 German military sovereigns ruled in Ravenna, Paris, Toulouse, and Carthage. When the Germans became Christians they were a people physically and spiritually healthy, full of the unspoiled vigor of the youth. They also had their notable culture and, as the Roman historian Tacitus tells us in his "Germania", together with many defects and vices, they had a series of noble virtues: an austere moral conception of life, a high sentiment of honor, a great love for freedom and justice, a spirit of solidarity for the family, the race; courage, fidelity to the given word, hospitality, purity of customs and profound respect for the monogamic marriage. We can appreciate here, no doubt, a positive complex of great values upon which the gospel of Christ could take root.  The Church need not reject all these positive virtues. It was enough to purify them, to elevate them to higher level.

German paganism collapsed, without difficulty, in front of the Christian religion. We can obviously conclude from here that they did not think this religion alien to them and to their nature, on the contrary the belief in one and unique God, almighty creator of heaven and earth, wise governor of the world, Lord of demons and destiny, who rewards and punishes, was the motive and explanation why they embraced Christianity. At the same time, this religion freed them from the darkness of human misery, giving them comfort and permanent security. This is why they readily accepted Christianity.

The particulars about the conversion of the Germans are often wrapped in darkness and difficult to reconstruct. But in difference to the first Christian centuries, this happened not by individual missions, done with purely spiritual means, but by conquests en masse, supported by external and political motives. The rule was for the chief of the tribe to embrace Christianity and the nobility and people would follow suit.

We must not forget the fact that among the Germans there was a straight union between State and cult; this is why the conversion of the Germans to Christianity was not only a religious act, but also a political one. As far as we know, during the Barbarian Migrations, the use of force was never used  in converting the Germans to Christianity; on the contrary, the Germans of pagan or Arian religion (Visigoths and Vandals) had recourse to it against the Christians and Catholics.



A singular fact, owing to the particular circumstances in which the conversion of the Visigoths took place, is this: that almost all German tribes received the Christian religion in the form of Arianism, which was later on repudiated in the Church of the State. Some of these people remained faithful to Arianism until their destruction (Ostrogoths, Vandals), others abandoned it to embrace Catholic orthodoxy, but much later (Visigoths, Suevi, Burgundians and others). This explains the sufferings and oppressions of the Catholic Romans and the grave damages inflicted to the Germans themselves.

Arianism is the denial of divinity of the Logos. It is a Trinitarian heresy resulting from the attempt to state the precise relationship of the Divine persons. In emphasizing the unity of God and seeking to reconcile that unity with the sonship of Christ, Lucian and his disciples such as Arius, subordinated the Son to a position where He was deprived of His divinity. The Divine Word, Arius said, is God’s foremost creature and creator of all others, but He is not of the substance of God the Father and not eternal. This was certainly a basic issue, for what is Christianity if Christ is not God?

Between 350 and 381, the Arians discovered their own disunity. Three factions now struggled for control. These are the factions:
1.                       The Anomoeans The Son/Logos is totally unlike the Father.  These are the pure Arians – the
               true heretics.
2.                      The Homoeans: The Son is like, similar to the Father but the similarity is in will and action. 
              These can be called Arians, but more moderate than the Anomoeans.
3.                    The Homoiusians or Homoi-ousians:  The Son is similar to the Father in substance, in essence, in everything.  The similarity is in all, in being, in essence.  These are improperly called semi-Arians, but very close to the Orthodox Fathers.  St. Basil and the other Cappadocians, like Gregory of Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa, made serious efforts to bring these semi-Arians to orthodox Christianity.

These three have to be distinguished well one from the other.  And they have to be distinguished from the orthodox party, to wit:
Homousians or Homo-ousians: f They say that the Son is CONSUBSTANTIAL, that is, omousios  to the Father, ONE IN BEING with the Father.  They affirm the perfect equality of the Son to the Father, without any confusion.  The two are distinct persons.


Conversion of the Visigoths to Christianity

The first German people to embrace Christianity as a group during their transmigration to the South were the Visigoths. These people were stationed along the banks of the Lower Danube and the West and North Banks of the Black Sea. In the Council of Nicea (325), we find a bishop for the "Goths" named Theophilus, probably a Greek. The most important missionary, however, is Wulfila or Ulfila, the son of Cappadocian parents, (311-383) who had been captured by the Goths in one of their raids into the Roman territory. He was ordained priest and consecrated "bishop (in 341) of the Christians in the land of the Goths" by the philo-Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia. Wulfila translated the Bible into the Gothic language. This translation is a linguistic and cultural monument of first importance. As Arianism was in the ascendance in the East in the latter half of the fourth century, it was Arianism, better to say semi-Arianism and not Catholic Christianity that was preached to the Goths. In the Synod of Constantinople of 360, Wulfila signed a homeist confession, a semi-Arian formula, taking position against Catholicism.

Under the influence of the Visigoths all the East German people who in the fifth century irrupted into the Roman Empire embraced the doctrine of Christ in the Arian form.

This Arian heretical Church, closed and in contraposition to the universal Catholic Church, was kept and zealously defended by them as a national patrimony.

The characteristics of German Arianism were the homeist confession (the Son is only similar to the Father, not coeternal with him) and rejection of the Trinitarian and Christological speculation (logos) of the Greeks; also the use of the German language in all religious functions and the dominion of the king in the government of the national Church, because he named the bishops and convoked the synods, the insertion of the clergy in the military life, and finally the System of the Own Church (ecclesia propria), private property of the patrons of the land, who had built them under their own authority.

In the Balkans, the Visigoths soon came into conflict with their Roman protectors. There was an uprising because of the evil treatment received at the hands of petty officials. In the battle of Hadrianopolis of 378 the Emperor Valens was defeated and killed in action. Theodosius the Great, like St. John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople, tried to induce the Visigoths, very numerous in the Roman army, to embrace the Nicean orthodoxy, but met with little success. Arianism maintained itself among them, even after their devastating invasions of Greece and Italy (410) sack of Rome under Alaric (410) and their final establishment in southern Gaul and Spain.

We have here the first independent German state on Roman soil. The change to Catholicism took place much later, in the sixth century. And this is how it happened. We have to study this if we are to see how these great people became Catholics.

King Leovigildus in Visigothic Spain (568-586) dealt with his Catholic subjects with great rigor, even sometimes with cruelty. He tried to achieve religious unity in Spain under the form of Arianism towards 584. He saw this as the best means to achieve also political unity. His sons however, embraced Catholicism. His Catholic son, St. Hermenegildus, married to a Frankish princess, Ingurthius, rebelled against his father but without success, because he was defeated and beheaded in prison (585). Leovigildus was pressed politically by the Suevi (another Germanic tribe with a little kingdom in northwest Spain). The Suevi had embraced Catholicism again towards 560 due to the efforts of St. Martin of Braga. Leovigildus defeated the Suevi and absorbed them into his kingdom. Leovigildus died soon after (586) and he was succeeded by his second son Recared.

Recared (586-607) soon "moved by grave reasons" embraced Catholicism the very first year of his reign. His example was followed by the great majority of Arian bishops and of his subjects. He had for this a great collaborator in the person of Leander of Seville (d. ca. 600). The official conversion of the kingdom to Catholicism took place in the Synod of Toledo.

We can see from the number of synods celebrated at Toledo that the Visigothic Church possessed a very active religious life. Many rural parishes and monasteries were founded; in the background, however, many barbarian usages continued to exist, such as magic, divination, worship of trees, fountains and stone and other natural objects and required the closest vigilance of the Catholic bishops.

Isidore, archbishop of Seville (ca. 600-636), brother and successor of Leander and the most learned scholar of his time with his universal knowledge and literary output, tremendously important for the Middle Ages, conferred to the Spanish Church days of glory and splendor.  He wrote his Etymologies, a compendium of all possible knowledge. He also wrote the History of the Visigothic Nation. The Church and State were closely united, but a national Church that left little for the supreme direction of the papacy.  The Church was always a stabilizing factor during the time of political upheavals, but St. Braulio of Zaragosa, St. Ildephonsus of Toledo (ca. 607-667), St. Julian and others conferred days of glory for Visigothic Spain. Monasticism flourished in Visigothic Spain.

Weakened by internal dissentions, the Visigothic kingdom collapsed on the invasion of the Arabs (711).


The Ostrogoths and their Relations with Christianity

Due to their close relation with the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths or oriental part of the Goths, became Christians in the course of the centuries, but they embraced heretical Christianity in the form of Arianism (IV century) and they remained so till they were blotted out by Justinian's generals Belisarius and Narses (555). These people had lived in relative peace in the regions of the actual Croatia, Serbia and part of Hungary. Under the leadership of the great king Theodoric (471-526), who had been educated, militarily speaking in Constantinople, the Ostrogoths invaded Italy in 489, in connivance with the Emperor of the East, Zeno (474-492). The condition of Italy was extremely sad. With the assassination of the West Roman Emperor Valentinian III (433-455) the agony of the multi-secular empire could not be arrested. In 476 one of the German heads Odoacer, Arian Christian and king of Heruli, dethroned the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus (474-476).

This was the inglorious end of that Empire that had once dominated the world. The East Roman Emperor Zeno (474-492) recognized Odoacer as regent and conferred upon him the title of Patricius Romanus (479).

Odoacer however, did not last for too long. Thirteen years later (476-490), Theodoric with his Ostrogoths overcame him and finally assassinated him (493) at Ravenna. The Heruli hence were absorbed by the Ostrogths. The kingdom of the Ostrogoths comprised Italy, Sicily, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, Rhaetia and Provence.

The government of Theodoric, recognized by the East Roman Emperor Anastasius (492-518) was, on the whole, happy for Italy. The king was even favorable to the Roman culture and the bishops and Catholics could freely exercise their religion. He took as secretary and civil administrator of his kingdom the famous Roman Cassiodorus (468-555). Not only that, when Monophysitism was favored by the court of Constantinople, the Catholics of Italy found in the king a great adversary of the heretics. Boethius (470-525) a great philosopher and author of the De consolatione Philosophiae, became his chancellor.

At the end of his life, because the Romans (once the Acacian Schism [484-519] was solved in 519), tended once more towards Byzantium, he began to persecute the Catholics, wrongly believing that this meant an alliance against him. He showed himself a fanatic Arian and unjustly beheaded the famous Christian Roman philosopher Boethius (470-525) and his father-in-law, Symmachus, who was the ranking senator and put Pope John I (523-526) into prison where he died.

Only legend has transformed this great German king into a life-long persecutor of Catholics. His mausoleum can still be admired in Ravenna. After his death (526) the Ostrogoth kingdom did not last long. The great Justinian (527-565) attempted its recapture and, after 20 years of havoc and destruction, the last kings of the Ostrogoths, Totila (540-552) and Teias (552-555) fell like heroes in front of the might and greater military strength of the Byzantines and with them the Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy disappeared forever. The emperor of Byzantium governed through his official representative the Exarch residing at Ravenna.

The Lombards in Italy

The Byzantine Empire could not enjoy for long the fruits of its victory over the Ostrogoths in Italy. St. Benedict (480-543) had behold the fall of the Ostrogoths in a vision. Indeed, the Ostrogoths were obliterated by the Byzantines but just over ten years later another group of Barbarians swept over the Alps and passed into Italy. These were the Lombards. The invasion of the Lombards was the last in Italy (568), but in many respects also the most destructive and terrible. In a short time, Italy, once before a fair nation, was a desolate country. It means for Italy the end of the Ancient Epoch.

The Lombards under the command of their king Alboin (561-573), called by the Exarch of Ravenna, Narses, conqueror of the Ostrogoths, in revenge against the East Roman Empire, poured into Italy and easily occupied the northern regions of Milan and Pavia, where they established their capital. In front of this brave human landslide and avalanche the best Byzantine generals could do nothing. The Lombards conquered most of Italy except Ravenna, seat of the emperor's representative; Rome, seat of the Pope; Naples and a few smaller territories. Italy had been seriously weakened during the Byzantine-Ostrogtohic War (535-555). Nothing could be put up to resist and oppose the new Barbarians.

The Church was in imminent danger; she was proscribed. Many sees were left vacant and were transferred to Byzantine territory. The Roman landowners were eliminated and substituted by the new Lombard conquerors. The losses and devastations wrought by the Lombards were innumerable and, from the very beginning, they declared themselves enemies of Romanism and of Catholicism and of everything related to it. Hence, the sufferings of the Italian people and the Church. Due precisely to the Lombard's opposition to Romanism and Catholicism the Church never accepted them and constantly tried to collaborate with Byzantium in getting rid of the Lombards. When she got no help from the Byzantines, in the subsequent centuries, she asked the Franks to come to her rescue. Charlemagne in 774 defeated the Lombards who slowly were absorbed by the Franks. But this is still to come. In fact before this, two hundred years of history elapsed, and these years are very pivotal for the Church.

We have to study the Lombard's history in Italy if we are to understand the birth of the papal states and the close collaboration  between the Papacy and the Frankish kingdom during the early Middle Ages. Let us, then, see what happened after the death of the first Lombard king Alboin (573). With his death the advance of the Lombards was stopped. Their conquering impetus was checked. The Lombards had a taint of Christianity under the form of Arianism. The large majority were pagans. The anarchy that followed Alboin's death (573) continued for sometime. What matters is that Autharis (584-590) became king and had married a Catholic princess from Bavaria, named Theodolinda (d. 628). With the favor of the queen, a part of the people became Catholics. When Autharis died, Theodolinda married again to king Agilufus (590-616). He supported the missionary work of the great Irish monk St. Columban (543-615) founder of the famous monastery of Bobbio (612 or 614) in northern Italy wherefrom, in subsequent years, great missionary activity was exercised among the Lombards. These people however, continued in part faithful to Arianism and paganism. The kings were in general Catholics, but sometimes the Arian reaction was fearful. We cannot speak of a total conversion of the Lombards from Arianism and paganism until the time of Pope Vitalian (657-672) who sent from Rome innumerable missionaries to the Lombards. Rome instituted at Pavia, capital of the Lombards, a missionary see whose first bishop was St. Damian and finally in 698 the Lombard king Cunibert (687-700), in a synod celebrated at Pavia, completed the religious unification, ending also the Aquileian Schism.[1]

The Burgundians and their Christianization

These people lived at the beginning of the fifth century, along the banks of the river Rhine, near Worms and the rivers Main and Neckar (Frankfurt and Heidelberg). Possibly they embraced first Arianism from the Visigoths. Pressed by the Huns, they moved West to Eastern France and they were soon Romanized. With Segismonde (516-523) most of the people embraced Catholicism, then being also helped by their absorption in 537 by the newly converted Franks. This meant their end as independent people.

The Vandals: Enemies of Romanism and Catholicism

These barbarians were already Arians when, together with the Suevi and Alans, left Pannonia and after terrible havoc and devastation in Gaul, established themselves in Spain in 409. They remained Arians even after their passage to the Northwest Africa (429) where their king Genseric (428-477), a gifted and exceptionally capable man founded an independent kingdom. This barbarian king declared himself enemy of Romanism and Catholicism. More than this: the Vandals conceived the idea of blotting out Catholicism from the lands they had occupied. This intolerance, something strange to the German mentality, burst out especially under Genseric and Hunneric (477-484). Many Catholics died as martyrs for their faith. The nobles and bishops were especially punished by the persecutors. We can really speak of a period of persecution in Northern Africa. In the end, however, the great Byzantine emperor Justinian (527-565) bent on recapturing the West Roman Empire from all the barbarians, annihilated the Vandal kingdom in Northern Africa. This was achieved under his excellent general Belisarius (534). The Barbarians whom Salvianus (d. 480) had praised for their clean moral conduct, in comparison to the corrupted Romans, were, at this time, weak people, destroyed by the climate and the "dolce vita" in northern Africa.[2]

The Franks and their Conversion to Catholicism

The Franks, the people with the greatest future and the people who would have the greatest relation with the Church, were the ones to embrace Catholicism and never to abandon it. All the other barbarians were first Arians because of their contact with the Visigoths who, through Wulfila's work, embraced Arianism; the Franks had contacts with Christianity before they crossed into the Roman Empire. It was due to the influence of Roman Christian soldiers.

The Franks came from Northern Europe, but in the course of the third century had already penetrated into Roman territory. In the lower Rhine (Belgium, Holland and Northern France). They were divided into two main tribes: the Sallians, who occupied Flanders and the Ripuarii (Riparians), a little to the north, from Mainz to the sea.

The total conversion of these people did not happen until the reign of the young and valiant king Clovis (481-511). In fact this Frankish king did not only give unity to his people, but also spread considerably his kingdom, placing the foundations of the Frankish kingdom. He overcame Syagrius, called by the Barbarians "King of the Romans", who had maintained himself in central France as the Roman representative. Syagrius (430 – 486 or 487) was the last Roman official in Gaul, whose defeat by king Clovis I of the Franks is considered the end of Western Roman rule outside of Italy.This made him master of the north of Gaul as far as the Loire. He then turned on the Alamans whom he drove back across the Rhine, and upon the other kings of his own nation whom he also defeated and slew.

In 494 he married Clotilde. She was a devout Burgundian Catholic. Three years later he himself became a Catholic and was baptized at Rheims by the bishop, St. Remy. Thousands of his warriors followed his example.

His decision to become Catholic was momentous. According to Gregory of Tours (538-594), in his Historia Francorum II,31, in a difficult battle against the Alamans he made a vow to become Catholic if he were victorious. He was indeed victorious and he kept his word. On Christmas day, 496, he was baptized. Catholic France was born.
In reference to this event we have to observe that:
  1. Modern critics would only admit as true the fact of his conversion and the approximate date. The circumstances of his invocation to the God of the Christians are an adornment of a subsequent legend. It has a similarity with Constantine's conversion.
  2. We have also to note that this conversion was received by the contemporaries with great joy and, immediately, they compared it to that of Constantine the Great.

The conversion to Catholicism is not only momentous, but is also a turning point in Church history and one of the greatest events in world history. It was a point of departure of a new era. At the moment when it took place not one of the princes who ruled what had been, and what still was, the Roman Empire, was a Catholic. The remaining Emperor, Anastasius (492-518) was a Monophysite and his Catholic subjects were cut off from the head of the Church by the Acacian Schism (484-519).

Its effect upon the future of the Franks was not less momentous. In their case, and in their cases alone, there was not between the civilized subject and the Barbarian ruler the greatest of all the barriers, namely, that one was Catholic and the other anti-Catholic. Here alone was the fusion of Roman and Barbarian possible from the very beginning, and it began from the very moment of the baptism.[3]

At the same time, the gates to the classical culture were opened to the Franks and the expansion of Arianism was arrested. A psychological advantage was clear from the beginning to the Frankish king; having been the only one to go straight to Catholicism, when the others were either Arian or pagan, he was looked upon by the Catholic people of the West as the defender and protector of orthodox religion. The leadership and supremacy of the Carolingian Monarchy in Western Europe over the Church was prepared here and the unification of all the German people under one faith.

Of all the barbarian kingdoms, the kingdom of the Franks survived, and it gave their name to the vast Roman territory where they established it. The Vandals in Africa lasted until 535, the Ostrogoths in Italy till 555, the Visigoths in Spain until 711. But under the Franks Gaul became France, the fruit of the union between Frank and Gallo-Roman based on their common acceptance of the Catholic faith. Of all the barbarian invaders only the Franks survived to be a permanent dominating influence in Europe and in the world.

With the union of Germanism and Christianity under one faith (Catholicism), of ancient culture and the Roman art of government, Europe began a period of great cultural and political progress.

The conversion of the Franks to Catholicism did not mean, in fact, a radical change of life, but rather an external religious change. The attainment of the high Christian ideal was rarely achieved. The Franks felt very happy and took pride in their being Christians (Vivat qui Francos diligit Christus), having many pious foundations, fond of relics and with a tremendous devotion to St. Martin of Tours (316-397), who became the patron of the people. On the other hand, however, their customs were rough, faithful to many pagan usages, full of superstitions, of perfidy, assassinations and immoral practices. The decadence of the Merovingian kings reaches its highest peak at the end of the VI century and the beginning of the VII century, in the bloody fights between Queen Bruniquilde in Austrasia and the concubine of Chilperic I (561-564) Fredegunde in Neustria (d. 597) when the kingdom witnessed innumerable and heinous crimes. We must not think that because they became externally Catholics, they were so in reality. Oftentimes their Catholicism was just a slight veneer over their terrible and depraved barbarian habits.

The Church became rich and powerful, the bishops, counselors of the crown, played an important role and yet this Church depended on the King. She was a Church of the State and Nation, over which the influence of the papacy was negligible, although externally she followed the Roman way of life (Ecclesia vivit lege Romana). More in particular, the nomination of bishops rested not with Rome but with the king and the nobles. These people did not look at the merits or capabilities of the chosen people. Many in fact, were guilty of simony. No doubt, in this atmosphere, the Frankish church became decadent and the scientific and literary activity practically non-existent and the practice of the synodal meetings, very common up to the sixth century, almost disappeared.

The monasteries however, as would happen earlier in the Medieval times, became centers of piety and culture. At the end of the sixth century and the beginning of the seventh century, St. Columban (543-615) exercised in the Frankish kingdom a strong and efficacious penitential preaching for more than twenty years (590-610). This great Irish monk and abbot became founder of many monasteries, of which two excel all others, namely that of Luxeuil (590) in Burgundy, center of missionary, ascetical and scientific life and that of Bobbio (614) in Lombard, Italy.
The civilizing and religious capacity of the Church did not disappear. A profound reform, however, was necessary, reform that was to come from the outside, in the eight century, carried out by the great Boniface (680-755). The Frankish kingdom, because of Boniface's missionary activity, would once again become the most important in the Church, a flourishing and active member of the Church.

Thu Huns

The Huns were a group of nomadic (roaming) herdsmen, war-freak people from the steppes (grasslands) of North Central Asia, north of China (Mongolia), who terrorized, pillaged, and destroyed much of Asia and Europe from the 3rd through 5th centuries. The use of the stirrup gave the Huns a technological advantage over other warriors of the time. Stirrups are loops hung from a saddle that support a horse rider's feet; these let the Huns brace themselves on their horses while wielding swords or shooting arrows.

The Chinese successfully defended themselves against the Huns in the 3rd century (the Huns were then led by Mao-tun, the first great leader and uniter of the Huns). The Chinese started building their Great Wall to defend themselves against the Huns. The people of India, Persia (modern Iran), and eastern and central Europe were invaded by separate hordes of Hunnish warriors attacking on horseback. In Europe, groups of Huns defeated the Goths (Germans) of Eastern Europe, the Slavs, the Franks (French), the Roman Empire, and many others. The Huns settled in the area that is now called Hungary.
A Hunnish horde under the leader Rugulas (also called Rua, Roas, or Rugila), attacked the eastern Roman Empire (ruled by Emperor Theodosius) in A.D. 430, forcing the Romans to pay huge tributes of gold to the Huns or face more destruction.

Upon Rugulas' death in 433, Attila the Hun (ca. 406-453) and his older brother Bleda (nephews of Rugulas) became co-leaders of the Huns. After killing his own brother in A.D. 445, Attila took control of the Huns. He was the most successful king of the Huns and was often called the "Scourge of God."

Under Attila's rule, the Huns united and extended their territory greatly, reaching ever deeper into Europe. After a defeat at Chalons (in what is now northern France) in A.D. 451 by Romans and Visigoths, the Huns invaded Italy (in 452), destroying much of northern Italy. Pope Leo (I) the Great (ca.400-461) intervened and convinced Attila to stop the destruction of Italy -- Rome was spared.

Attila died during his sleep on the night of his last wedding. He had many wives. He died from a serious nose bleed (a nasal hemorrhage), but some people say that he was poisoned. After Attila's death, Attila's sons fought over who would rule the Huns. The resulting chaos was exploited by the Ostrogoths and other Germanic tribes, who used the opportunity to revolt against the Huns. The Hunnish empire soon broke apart.


Angles, Saxons and Jutes

Anglo-Saxon are the Germanic tribes who invaded the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th  century, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Benedictine monk, Bede, writing in the early 8th century, identified the English as the descendants of three Germanic tribes:
  1. The Angles, who may have come from Angeln (in modern Germany; Bede wrote that their whole nation came to Britain, leaving their former land empty. The name England originates from this tribe.
  2. The Saxons, from Lower Saxony (in modern Germany) and the Low Countries.
  3. The Jutes, possibly from the Jutland peninsula (in modern Denmark)

[1]  N.B. By an imperial edict Justinian (527-565) published a condemnation of the so-called Three Chapters (544) of the following: 1) Theodore of Mopsuestia (349-428), condemnation of the person and the writings; 2) the writings of Theodoret of Cyrus (393-4580, enemy of Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), and 3) condemnation of a letter from a presbyter, and later bishop, Iba of Edessa, against the anathematisms of Cyril. This condemnation of the three Chapters was hesitantly approved by the Easterners but was not accepted by the Westerners who saw in it a violation of the Council of Chalcedon (451), which with the three precedent councils were the four pillars of the Christian faith. Justinian forced Pope Vigilius (537-555), to accept that condemnation in the Second General Council of Constantinople of 553. The Westerners finally also relented, but the ecclesiastical provinces of Milan and Aquileia, separated themselves from Rome. This separation came to be known as the Schism of Aquileia. Now with Pope Sergius I (687-701) union with Rome was finally achieved.

[2]  Salvian was a presbyter from Marseilles, called the "Jeremias" of his time. He describes the corruption of the decaying Roman Empire and the vitality of the Germans; Cfr. De Gubernatione Dei, VII, 6.
[3] Philip Hughes, II, p.57.

1 comment:

  1. Great share! But you might just want to try having medieval irish church history, it would be really interesting!