Saturday, July 14, 2018
A History Lesson, Part 5
In June 452, Attila the Hun was destroying everything in his wake and the weakened Roman army avoided him as the population of Rome fled. Since the Roman emperor was doing nothing to save Rome, Bishop Leo — on the emperor’s authority — met Attila at the Po River with a peace delegation. Attila granted Leo’s request to save the city and even promised to withdraw from Italy. The Bishop of Rome had now taken on a new role as the emissary of the emperor.
Three years later the Vandals approached Rome with a huge army, creating a panic in the city. The Roman army mutinied and Emperor Maximus was killed by his bodyguards as he tried to escape the city. With disorganized troops and no general taking leadership, the Vandals invaded the city unopposed on June 2nd. Leo met the Vandal King, Gaiseric, at the city gate leading priests with him. Leo begged for mercy, asking Gaiseric to restrain his troops and not burn the city, even offering money. Gaiseric agreed to let his troops have 14 days looting.
The Vandals thoroughly looted the city for 14 days and then left. Although every house had been looted, the city was not burned and no one was killed. Rome was thankful for their bishop’s actions and he told them is was because of God’s grace. He had now assumed a heathen title of Pontifex Maximus, high priest of religion for the empire (which was also Constantine’s title). Leo had saved Rome a second time as an emperor did nothing.
Leo died in 461, but the bishop of Rome held more power over the people than the emperor did, and after a succession of emperors the western Christian empire fell to the barbarians from the north in 476, leaving numerous kingdoms with people who had allegiance to the Christian leadership, the bishop of Rome. As noted by Shelly, “When the barbarians destroyed the Roman Empire in the West, it was the Christian church that put together a new order called Europe. The church took the lead in rule by law, the pursuit of knowledge, and the expressions of culture. The underlying concept was Christendom, which united empire and church. It began under Charlemagne in the eighth century, but the popes slowly assumed more and more power until Innocent III (1198-1216) taught Europe to think of the popes as world rulers.” (p.161)
Meanwhile, after the fall of the Roman empire, the Byzantine empire became more and more of a theocracy, with the emperor performing priestly functions, “and the Orthodox Church constituting a department of State in charge of spiritual affairs.” (Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, p.126) “Constantinople relied more and more on its political position and was drawn into the orbit of eastern imperial politics. The more religion and politics became intertwined in the East, the less independent became the patriarch of the church.” (Shelly, p.136)
An example of this merging of church and state would be Justinian, who ascended the throne of the Eastern empire in 527 and rebuilt the Church of Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia, consecrating it in 538. With this he claimed he outdid Solomon. Justinian considered himself not only a Roman emperor, but also a Christian emperor, his theory being that the empire and Christianity were to be unified. “He defined his mission of the pious emperor as ‘the maintenance of the Christian faith in its purity and the protection of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church from any disturbance.’” (Shelly, p.146)