I. Growth of Christian Organization:
1. Little organization at first: Early
Christians thought Jesus was coming right back to set up a New Heaven and New
Earth. So at first there is no
distinction between laity and clergy. But
in order to survive the church needed to develop some organization to preserve
and teach its doctrines in the midst of an empire originally committed in
principle to its suppression. By
the 2nd c. AD a church organization began to form.
"Prophets, or teachers, appeared in the very first churches, the
informal groups of Christians organized by the missionaries; soon elders,
overseers, and presidents followed.
Diversity to Unity of Doctrine: Council
would take hundreds of years for Christians to figure out what the official
view of the Jewish carpenter from Nazareth was. “A multitude of
Christianities flourished in the second century:
Gnosticism, Montanism, the radical Paulism of Marcion, the communities
that formed around such men as Irenaeus in Lyons or Tertullian in North
Africa. Each viewed the others as
heretical and each authenticated its own views by an appeal to various
criteria of legitimacy: possession
of the true interpretation of the Septuagint; or of the true Christian
scriptures, once they had come into existence; or of the authentic oral
tradition; or of the Holy Spirit, evinced variously through prophetic visions,
true apostolic succession, the charismatic inspiration of gnosis (divine
knowledge) and/or the ability to heal. The
church upon whose canon subsequent Christianity eventually depended, the
‘orthodox’ church, was the survivor of these early power struggles,
emerging indisputably as victor only in the fourth century, when Constantine
became its patron and suppressed its rivals” (Fredriksen From Jesus to
2. Early in the fourth century, new trouble was caused by Arius, a
priest in Alexandria, who argued that Christ could not be equal with God,
since he had been created by God, nor could he be eternal like God, since
there must have been a time when he did not exist....Arius's doctrine, known
as Arianism, spread so rapidly that the Emperor Constantine, who had embraced
Christianity as a unifying force in the empire, became alarmed.. He ordered
Christian bishops to meet in the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325 to
establish one position. Led by Athanasius, the patriarch of Alexandria, the
council condemned the teachings of Arius, and formulated the Nicene Creed,
which remains the basic statement of belief of the Roman Catholic, the Greek
Orthodox, and some Protestant churches:
We believe in one God the Father All-sovereign, maker of heaven and earth, and
of all things visible and invisible:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten son of God, Begotten of
the Father before all the ages, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten
not made, of one substance with the Father....
Arianism remained an expansive force, however, and was carried by
missionaries to several of the Germanic tribes that were penetrating the Roman
NOTE: "Recent research, however, is emphasizing another Constantine. Outside Eusebius' Life [of Constantine], there is virtually no evidence that suggests that Constantine knew anything much about Christ or even of the requirements for Christian living" (Freeman The Closing of the Western Mind 155 ). For example, "His early allegiances were entirely conventional. When in 307 he married, as a second wife, Fausta, the daughter of Maximinian, who had abdicated as Augustus in 305, he adopted Maximinian's favoured protecting god, Hercules. By 310, when he asserted his descent from Claudius Gothicus, he clamed that Apollo had apeared to him in a vision (clearly Constantine's favoured method of receiving divine messages), offering him a laurel wreath and promising that he would rule for thirty years. About the same time he became intrigued by the cult of Sol Invictus, the cult of 'the unconquerable sun'" (Freeman 156). Later, after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in which he defeated Maxentius for control in the West, Constantine claimed he had a vision from the Christian God and started an enormous building program of churches as well as giving tax exemptions to Christian clergy. To maintain stability in the empire, though, Constantine "did not break with the pagan cults that still claimed the allegiance of most of his subjects" (Freeman 158). In fact, a triumphal arch he built three years after his victory at the Milvian Bridge has imagery with reliefs of Mars, Jupiter and Hercules, all traditional pagan gods of war. In fact, "Constantine was still issuing coins bearing the images of Sol Invictus as late as 320" (Freeman 160).
In the mid-3rd century in North Africa, Egypt and Palestine men and
women began to drop out of Roman society and devote themselves to prayer and
fasting. The earliest Christian
ascetics (those attempting to please God by self-denial) were hermits who
withdrew from the world to live in seclusion in the wilderness or desert.
Many were fanatics; for example, Simeon Stylites sat forty years on top
of a 50-foot column; others went to excess by; dressing in skins and living in
filth. There may have been
earlier models (Essenes in Jerusalem; certain kinds of Neoplatonism and
Pythagorean brotherhoods). Many
were uneducated, ordinary people that may have represented a counter culture
against the late Roman society (cf. Athanasius in his Life of Anthony
says "And all were free from the tax collector."
[Peter Brown, a scholar of this period, says asceticism was a way to
escape biological determinism, i.e., societal demands on men and women.
This was the first life of a saint written in Christianity—immensely
popular; authoritative in the Middle Ages and Renaissance;
iconographical in art: Antony
became a symbol of the contemplative life, and is depicted fighting demons
right down to today—Salvador Dali, Cezanne; Augustine was more for communal
life than eremitical, but saw Antony as living for God and resisting self).
By 4th c. pilgrimage: peace
of Constantine imposed on empire allowed people to travel to see sites of holy
2. Benedict of Nursia (480-547?)
The monastic life originally appealed to believers who sought new forms
of dedication once the official recognition of Christianity had ended the
heroic period of sacrifice and martyrdom.
People from Palestine and Egypt brought these ascetic values to Europe:
"Saint Pachomius in Egypt, however, in the early fourth century,
hit upon the idea of organizing the hermits of Upper Egypt into small groups
cooperating in agricultural work, and these communities soon spread across the
Mediterranean into Europe. The
Person Responsible for disciplining these groups and for making the
institution of monasticism a permanent part of Christianity [in the West] was
Saint Benedict of Nursia" (Willis 121).
Benedict became a monk in Subiaco outside Rome and lived by himself
with a small group; they flee to Monte Casino (between Rome & Naples)
where he starts a monastery on the ruins of a pagan settlement, that
eventually had the greatest impact on European monasticism (his rule will
flourish when Charlemagne imposes it on all Frankish monasteries).
Benedicts rule is one of organizational genius:
there are still monks living there!
“Benedict had himself experienced extreme asceticism by living for
three years at the bottom of a pit, but he decided that hard work rather than
excessive contemplation was a sign of true humility before God” (Willis
emphasis on the importance of physical toil contrasts strikingly with the
philosophy of classical Greek thinkers such as Aristotle, who were convinced
that such labor inhibited the life of contemplation” (Greaves 167).
Benedict wanted to steer a path between the austere, crazy asceticism
of the East and the moral laxity he saw around him.
Therefore, he insisted on a life of moderation of prayer, communal
worship and labor [monastery intended to be self-sufficient] by insisting on
three important elements in his rule: 1)
ora et labora (prayer and work); 2) lectio (reading and
absorbing the scriptures); 3) stability of place:
the worst kind of monk is the Irish who moves around.
He made all monks take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
Influence: Monasticism will be the most dynamic civilizing force in W. Europe
from the 6th to the 12th centuries AD!
3)maintained the majority of the schools & libraries & hospitals that existed in MA
“The influence of the monasteries was thus enormous.
They opened up new lands by felling forests and draining marshes.
Their great libraries were centers of study of the ancient Latin
manuscripts and refuges for the intellectuals of the age.
They provided schools not only for future Church people but also for
lay nobles. In their workshops
the arts of the Roman Empire in architecture, sculpture, and metalwork were
preserved, while many advances were made in the techniques of weaving,
glasswork, brewing, and wine making. The
popes themselves became the greatest protectors of the monasteries, especially
when the monks' sense of superiority as "regular" clergy (i.e.,
observers of a rule [regula]) over the "secular" clergy
(i.e., the priests [bishops, archbishops] working in the world [saeculum])
led to rivalry between the two groups within the church" (Willis 122).
Cultural and Spiritual Changes during the Empire
Unrest among conquered peoples (esp. Egypt, Gaul & Judea) were
often revolts for retention of their own culture and against exploitation.
Economic problems: The
middle and upper classes were living the high life while unemployment and
poverty plagued masses. Emperors
would later debase coinage to support military.
Roads were too narrow for large carts (built for legions); unrest was
disrupting the flow of goods; the upper classes were not investing in
Values of classical humanism (esp. rule of reason) being challenged by
passions and feelings involved in mythic-religious movements (non-rational
ritual, mystery, magic and ecstasy in: occult,
magic, alchemy, astrology and mystery religions among masses and new
philosophies among the elite emphasizing union with God rather than rational
examination of nature and life. “The
Roman Empire had imposed peace and stability, but it could not alleviate the
feelings of loneliness, anxiety, impotence, alienation, and boredom, which had
been gaining ground in the Mediterranean world since the fourth century BC”
V. Augustine and the sack of Rome
Augustine (354-430) was
born in Tageste on Nov. 13, 354 AD. His
mother, Monica, was a Christian while his father, Patrick, was a minor
official in the Roman government (maybe a Hasidic black).
He studied grammar and classical literature in Mandaura and then
rhetoric in Carthage. He had a
concubine (common law wife) during his student days, and in 372 (or 373) she
bore him a son, Adeodatus. Monica
sends her away, and Augustine opens a grammar school in Tageste (373-4) and
then teaches rhetoric in Carthage from 375-383.
During this time, despite his mother's Christian influence, for 10
years he becomes a member of the Manichaean sect ["Named after its
founder Mani, a Persian of the third century AD, Manichaeanism was an offshoot
of Zoroastrianism that saw existence as a continuing war between good and
evil" (Greaves 169); spirit=good, physical=bad].
In 384 Augustine goes to Rome to better himself financially (&
disappointed with his students), but he was not a successful teacher in Rome
because of his frame of mind. Finally,
he acquires a public teaching post in Milan and becomes a professor of
rhetoric. He was very successful
and relatives came from everywhere. Here
he hears the priest Ambrose and is impressed that such an intelligent man
could take the Bible seriously. He
is also influenced by the Neoplatonists in Milan.
in 386, at 32 years of age, he is converted (see Confessions for the
tolle lege, tolle lege scene). He
then becomes a priest until in 395 he becomes the bishop of Hippo [the old
bishop is too infirm to serve; Augustine walks in and someone says, "Let
him do it!"]
397 Augustine writes Confessions, his autobiography of which the
importance is his self-reflection: "I would know myself that I might know
Thee." It is very difficult
to speak of an autobiography before Augustine in Greek or Latin culture after
or until 14th c. and the self-consciousness of the Renaissance (cf. Petrarch's
Letters to Posterity). Memoirs
had related a life in terms of social, political or military affairs, but Augustine's
intimate self-scrutiny of the significance of life is new:
his confessions of failing, his profession of faith in God (much of it
is prayer to God), his confession of praise.
wrote his City of God [Charlemagne's favorite book; had it read to him
at meals] in 412 when in his 50's. He
wrote this book as an answer to those wanting to blame Christians for the sack
of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths [i.e., for refusing to worship Roman gods and
refusing to serve in the army; Christianity had been official religion of Rome
since 392!]. Augustine said that
Christians should not worry about the City of Man on earth but the City of
God; God's heavenly city is what is important.
Furthermore, he explained that history was moving toward the
establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth; i.e., history is linear, not
cyclical: history is moving
toward a goal. ON THE
ONE HAND, THIS IS THE FIRST
ATTEMPT IN THE WEST TO FORMULATE A COHERENT, ALL-EMBRACING PHILOSOPHY OF
Fall of Rome
In 378 the Visigoths (who had been driven
westward by the Huns) defeat the Romans in the Battle of Adrianople [one
of history's decisive battles] and destroy the legend of the invincibility of
the Roman legions, leading to a century and a half of chaos.
By 410 Alaric and the Visigoths sack Rome.
The Vandals sack Rome in 455. Finally
Romulus Augustus is forced to abdicate as the last western Roman emperor in
Italy in 476 [the traditional date of the FALL OF ROME] and the
rule Italy, first under
Odoacer (476-493) with the support of the Roman Senate, and then after
the invasion of the
Theodoric (493-526 ),
who killed Odoacer.
), who killed Odoacer.
Many theories have arisen
to explain the fall of Rome. The
best are as follows:
the growing power and changing character of the army:
The empire had grown so big that Rome had to recruit soldiers from the
provinces (Germans, Illyrians, etc.), the very people they were supposed to
hold in check! In fact, by the
end of the 4th c. AD the Roman army and its generals in the West were almost
completely German! The army had
increased in power until it became responsible for non-Roman emperors in the
3rd and 4th c.
barbarian invasions: These
invasions caused high taxes for a stronger army and aggravated other problems.
economic decline: Taxes
increased while the value of money declined; political instability (invasions
& civil wars) made trade impossible; the army was eating up funds; all
were exacerbated by population decline (15 yrs of plague during M. Aurelius'
reign and other plagues with constant warfare).
spiritual malaise: The
urban upper class neglected responsibilities to public life with the
aristocrats secluding themselves in huge country estates.
The poor majority no longer had loyalty to the state either.
By the 6th
century, there are now three elements that would combine in the Middle Ages to
produce a unique Western civilization: 1)
classical Greek & Roman culture, 2) Christianity, 3) Germanic culture.
Christianity vs. Classical Humanism
"During the 2nd century AD Greco-Roman civilization lost its
creative energies, and the values of Classical humanism were challenged by
mythic-religious movements" (Perry 140-1), yet both classical humanism
and Christianity are parts of who or what Western people are:
individual worth: based on God's love for humanity and a person's response to
purpose of life: to attain
salvation in a heavenly city (by accepting God & his revelation).
ethical values: derived from
God's will (therefore spiritual insight & belief in God, not reason, are
the sources of values).
God: a living, loving, compassionate Being.
Augustine's influence in all this.
individual worth: man's capacity
to reason & to rule his life by reason.
purpose of life: arete
"excellence" (full development of one's talents).
ethical values: arrived at
through reason (=laws of nature discernible by reason)
God: a logical abstraction (a
principle of order, the highest truth, i.e., impersonal, unfeeling, uninvolved
with human concerns: (cf.
Aristotle Magna Moralia "It is foolish to love Zeus.").
at Athens: 1) Plato's Academy, 2) Aristotle's Lyceum, 3) Epicurus' garden, 4)
Zeno's open-air stoa. ]
NOTE: It must be noted that Christianity will inevitably be Hellenized. The Hellenization of Christianity includes very great influences of two important philosophies of the Greek world:
Stoicism: a designer of the
universe explains the order and regularity of nature and natural law; universal
brotherhood of man (all are united in Christ-Logos vs. all a spark of Divine
Logos). Early Christians are going
to like many of the ideas of Stoicism and incorporate them into their view of
human beings and the universe.
Platonism: the world of the senses
is opposed by a higher order open to intellect Augustine's City of Man vs. City
of God dichotomy reflects this as well as the heaven vs. hell preached in
Christianity from the beginning.
The Importance of Rome
foundation of the Roman accomplishments is no doubt their genius at absorbing
and assimilating influences from outside and going on to create from them
something typically Roman. At the
risk of leaving out some very important contributions of the Romans to the West,
the following list is offered:
government (republican form of government; idea of one world state)
engineering (roads, aqueducts, sewers, etc.)
religion (Christianity spread rapidly in the 4th AD when emperors made it
official religion of Roman Empire)
art & literature (Greek art and literature came down through Romans)
calendar (division of year into 12 months of unequal length introduced by Julius
Caesar in 45 BC)
architecture (Romans achieved a style that is one of the most impressive of all
our legacies from the ancient world).
alphabet & language: our
alphabet came from the Romans and about 80% of English is now Latin rooted.