Augustine to the Plague of Justinian
World History - Chapter Twelve
The End of the West to the Death of the Ancient World
First, let’s move ourselves through the 300’s, Constantine’s reign, and beyond. He reigned as sole emperor from 324 to 337, a controversial and flamboyant man who not only gave Roman Christianity its political muscle but moved the capital of Rome to Constantinople on the site of what would become Byzantium and is known today as the city of Istanbul in Turkey. The Roman Empire, ruled from Constantinople, would continue to exist for a thousand years after the empire in the west had disintegrated politically and come under the behind-the-scenes manipulations of the bishop of Rome. Modern historians aside, even the enemies of the Eastern Roman Empire called it Rome right up until its end in 1453.
In 332 to 334 Constantine took the field to assist the Sarmatians. He defeated Araric, king of the Goths, who had crossed the Danube to invade Moesia in 332. When the ungrateful Sarmartians begin to raid within the empire itself he encouraged the Goths to continue their war against them. He did nothing while Geberic, the new Gothic ruler, crushed Wisumar, king of the Sarmatians. He then let the remnant of the defeated Sarmatians settle in the empire.
Constantine then divided the empire among his three surviving sons, but retained complete authority until his death in 337.
According to the emperor’s faithful admirer, Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, Constantine believed right up until the end that salvation was attained by “entering the mysteries” through the sprinkling of water just like in the pagan religions over which he also ruled. With the heresies of some of the early church fathers accumulating into one apostate edifice by this time, Constantine provided the one thing that was necessary for Satan’s success in undermining Christianity – a political state to absorb it.
So, after 267 years of fiery trials (33-300) there appears a “Catholic” or universal church (catholic - a word Ignatius borrowed from Plato) which came to believe several things over various periods of time in different locales in opposition to the scriptures and the teachings of the early church leaders from Antioch, where Christians were first called so;
1. Mark wrote at Peter’s dictation; Matthew wrote a gospel in Aramaic.
2. John the apostle didn’t write Revelation; a presbyter did.
3. Salvation by works after being sprinkled with water or having water poured on oneself or after being immersed.
4. The Lord’s Supper is an unbloody sacrifice offered by a priest, but it is really “unbloody” blood.
5. Philosophy and science are both equal authorities with the Scripture; tradition is also of equal authority.
6. Infants must be baptized in water to get them regenerated.
7. After a session in purgatory, everyone may eventually get saved.
8. A bishop is the supreme authority, even if he is sexually immoral and a drunk.
9. Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle wrote God-breathed (inspired) literature.
10. There is no literal Heaven or Hell, and possibly no bodily resurrection.
11. All local churches were under the authority of the bishop of Rome through his functionaries in various locations.
12. The Bible includes Bel and the Dragon, Tobit, Judith, and possibly the Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistle of Barnabas.
13. The pastor of a local assembly is a priest.
These heresies were added to the belief that the dictates of “the church” should be enforced by civil authority in the same manner that they were in pagan cultures or in many cases in an even more draconian manner.
Several groups of protestors sprang up that in varying degrees fought against the established state church. Although, over time, they believed in many radically different things, some of which we would not only not understand but disagree with vehemently today, many of them had a few things in common. They believed in salvation by grace, in baptizing only believers, they mainly used the Old Latin Bible as their final authority, the local church was an independent entity bound only loosely to a larger organization that could not dictate basic practice, and they were independent of Rome or the civil authority, not acknowledging the right of either to dominate them and not participating in either civil authority or Roman Catholic. Through history they received different names under the general title of Anabaptists or rebaptizers, (this does not mean that the modern Baptist denomination were once the Anabaptists) given because they baptized adult believers even if they had been baptized as infants or children. The specific names they received were often given them by Rome and were meant to be perjorative or refer to some part of their beliefs that was thought to be wildly heretical. Some names given to Rome’s enemies were Montanists, Novatians, Donatists, Paulicians, Paterines, Picards, Lionists, Bulgarians, Montenses, Messalians, Euchites, etc.
As it turns out there were thousands, if not millions of Bible believing Christians who were persecuted by the official church rejecting what they perceived to be an anti-scriptural, pagan hierarchy hiding behind a church-state setup. Each time a group of Christians would leave this system they would receive names by the authorities to label them as heretics. Some later names in more recent history include Dispensationalists, Fundamentalists, Separatists, Waldenses, Albigenses, Vaudois, Cathari, Petrobussians, Quakers, Calvinists, etc. etc.
Early on, some of the main differences in practice between the separatist sects and the state church of Rome was their view on the power of water baptism, whether or not they should baptize their babies, and whether or not the Christian church is under the authority of the state.
One of the principal thinkers of the state-church and perhaps the most influential philosopher in the history of Christianity was Augustine of Hippo who was born in 354 and died in 430. Born and raised in North Africa he was educated in philosophy and rhetoric and had early on followed the heresy of Mani, a Babylonian mystic, and his Manichean religion. Mani was essentially a Gnostic who believed like modern new age adherents that mankind had been graced by a successive series of enlightened men like Zoroaster, Plato, etc. of whom Jesus was merely one in a progression. Augustine eventually rejected Manichean religion and became a Roman Catholic under the influence of his mother, Monica, and the preaching of Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, Italy. As a Catholic he was essentially what is called a Platonist or a Neoplatonist. He had a tremendous influence upon all future mainstream Christian thinkers and was the ultimate inspiration for John Calvin.
Augustine left us with many works by which to judge his philosophy of Christianity but “The City of God” is the most brilliant of his works, dealing with topics that we would understand today such as abortion and euthanasia, making the famous remark regarding the unborn child that he would leave when life began to other, more learned men but that he thought that if you could kill it, then it must have been alive. He, more obviously than Origen, intermingled Greek philosophy with Christian dogma. Only, instead of being denounced as Origen was, Augustine became Christian history’s most influential thinker.
Taking from “Augustine through the Ages, An Encyclopedia”, edited by Allan D. Fitzgerald; “..Augustine could not have been a Christian philosopher without his platonic schooling.” In regard to his views on predestination, the same book says, “…while writing his Ad Simplicanum, Augustine resolutely gave precedence to grace over free will, placing the good thoughts, desires, and deeds of humanity firmly on the doorstep of God’s gracious mercy…Salvation was simply to be hoped for from a gratuitous-acting, merciful God. Augustine had already stressed in Ad Simplicanum that God’s choice of one person over another took place on the basis of his judgment made before time;..” Essentially, Augustine would argue against the early Greek and Latin fathers that predestination was based not on foreknowledge but on God’s foreordination. With regard to Salvation he believed that there was none outside of the community of believers, the church, as expressed in the Roman Catholic Church. Also, the Holy Spirit operated within the Church as an organization rather than in the body of every believer. If you left the church you rejected God and no longer possessed or were possessed by the Holy Spirit.
With regard to Augustine’s views on a separation of church and state authority, the book, “From Irenaeus to Grotius, A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought” edited by Oliver & Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, his “Letter 53” among others makes it quite clear that this Church organization is perfectly correct in having its dictates implemented by the civil authority. Compare this, in contrast, with the doctrines of some Anabaptist sects who would not only not petition the secular authority to enforce their beliefs but would
not even acknowledge the authority of the civil authority with regard to anything but the prosecution of blatantly criminal behavior. Regardless of your opinion of Augustine’s beliefs there is no question of his brilliance and of his relevance, even today. I think it would be helpful for every Christian to read “The City of God”, after being firmly grounded in scripture themselves, of course so as to not be deceived by his errors.
The book, “Huns, Vandals, and the Fall of the Roman Empire” by Thomas Hodgkin, tells us that Augustine died at the age of 76 in the third month of fourteen month of a siege of his city of Hippo by Vandals in 430. I quote, “For ten days before his death he ordered that, except when the doctor visited him, or his meals had to be brought to his bedside, no one should enter his chamber, in order that all his waking thoughts might be given to prayer.” And so, this most important of all Roman Catholic thinkers passed away.
By contrast, the next great Christian thinker we will look at was John Chrysostom. He was a contemporary of Augustine, living from 347 to 407, and became the bishop of Constantinople. He denounced the love of power by the Roman Church and the Empire at the time. His powerful preaching and literal view of the Bible led to his death while in transit to being banished. Not surprisingly, he was born in Antioch and studied in the Antiochan school of Christianity, known for its literal view of the Bible. Oddly enough, he was accused of being partial to the works of Origen, who was in disfavour at that time. This accusation is odd because Origen’s disciples favored the allegorical method of interpretation of the scriptures so popular today and Chrysostom was a literalist from the Antiochan school, as I said. Some scholars give him credit for coining the term, The Bible, or O’ Biblios, when before, the writings of the Old and New Testament were called the Scriptures.
There are far too many great figures in Church history for us to touch on every one in this course but let me offer a warning for the serious student. Whether it be Augustine, Chrysostom, Calvin, or Luther, don’t look for these great men of the faith to be perfect either in their personal lives or in their theology. Errors or disagreements in one way do not discredit all of their statements or works. Men are not infallible. The Bible itself should be your final authority in all matters of faith, practice, and doctrine and where leaders adhere plainly to the sense of the scripture you can safely sit at their feet and listen to their wisdom but when they depart from the Bible’s clear teaching you should be compelled to shut out what they say. As the Bible says that no one is good but God, we can also say that no one is perfect in their thinking but Him, as well. Seeing clearly,
there have become essentially two strains of Christianity; one, powerful, with the full authority of the state, relegating the scriptures to just one part of a mosaic that is The Church and its teachings, allegorizing difficult passages to compromise them with political realities and scientific/philosophic fashion and a second that adheres strictly to the Bible’s clear revelation of God in a literal sense and regards all human political institutions as infested with evil influences directed to do right only by saved men of conscience who might operate within their confines. One Christianity is represented by
manuscripts and teachers from Rome and Alexandria and one from Antioch and the far reaches of places like Roman Britain and beyond. This is an oversimplification, perhaps, but in an overview such as this it is impossible to dwell on the delicacies and intricacies of history year by year. One could prepare a thirty class course on Augustine alone if one were so inclined.
Constantine had commanded Eusebius to provide him with 50 Bibles for the sake of creating unity in the church throughout the empire. Many modern scholars view Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus to be both part of this assembly of books. Around the time of both Chrysostom and Augustine’s youth a Goth named Ufilas (Ulfilas) came to Constantinople and saw the need for a Bible in his native tongue. Having no written language in Gothic, he proceeded to create one and then to translate a Bible from Greek. Along with the Old Latin of the second century and the Syriac Peshitta (which had later corruptions added to it) this helps us to understand what the true word of God contains.
Compare this verse in the Gothic Bible and the Authorized Version of 1611;
“And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. “
Luke 2:33, AV1611 (aka King James Bible)
“ jah was Iosef jah aiþei is sildaleikjandona ana þaim þoei rodida wesun bi ina.
— And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. “
Luke 2:33, Gothic Bible
Now, compare this in contrast to the Alexandrian texts prepared for Constantine, keeping in mind that the verse in Luke states that Joseph is not Jesus’ father. Here is Jerome’s Latin Vulgate and a translation of it after;
“et erat pater eius et mater mirantes super his quae dicebantur de illo”
(and his father and his mother marveled………etc.) Luke 2:33
Now look at Mark 1:2, a reference to Malachi 3:1 with a reference to Isaiah 40:3 in the next verse;
“As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.” Mark 1:2 KJB.
Vaticanus and Sinaiticus both contain an error, attributing the reference in Mark 1:2 to Isaiah rather than “the prophets” as the original must have said and refer to Joseph as Jesus’ father, which is not true.
“sicut scriptum est in Esaia propheta ecce mitto angelum meum ante faciem tuam qui praeparabit viam tuam” Mark 1:2, Jerome’s Latin Vulgate
(As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY”)
The AV and Gothic readings are supported by the vast majority of manuscripts and by such works as Tatian’s Diatesseron of the second century. Welcome to the minefield of Bible translation; the Alexandrian versus Antiochan Christianity. As Benjamin Wilkinson, the scholar, said and I paraphrase, it is impossible to pursue righteousness if one is zealously clinging to error.
The word, Pope, was first used by the Roman Synod of 495 in reference to Pope Gelasius I. He went further than all of his predecessors in insisting that the bishop of Rome had authority over all Christians. This is the legacy of Constantine. A hundred years later, Pope Gregory I, was the first pope to use the Roman pagan title of Pontifex Maximus, or Supreme Pontiff, officially, although it had come up before on many occasions. To draw the cord tighter that is the common thread through all history of Satan’s counterfeiting of God’s order of things in order to draw mankind away from His creator, let me quote for you from Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia which regards itself as a neutral source of information;
“The practice of religious and secular duality in the sovereign has a long history, having passed from the Roman to the Byzantine emperors, where it perhaps reached its zenith in the West. The Romanov dynasty of Russia, the Third Rome, claiming direct descent from the Roman emperors, also claimed supreme authority over the Russian Orthodox Church. The first of the Holy Roman Emperors, Charlemagne (c. A.D. 742 or 747 – 814) is said to have regretted that he allowed himself to be crowned by the Pope rather than crowning himself; since his authority was supposed to come directly from God, he was in no need of a “bridge builder”. Likewise, the sovereign of England is Supreme Governor of the Church of England since the Tudor schisma extracted Anglicanism from the papal authority, re-awarding itself the title Defender of the Faith (originally awarded by the Pope to the young Henry VIII rewarding a book written before his schism) but now for the new, Protestant version – while it is the Established Church in England and Wales, in Scotland Presbyterianism is.
Eastern traditions, from the ancient Egyptian to the Japanese, have carried the concept even further, by according their sovereigns demigod status. The secular equivalent of the emperor as Pontifex Maximus is the philosopher-king of the Greek sages, with whom the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is said to have identified, as a stoic, and to which the Prussian king Frederick the Great and the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte aspired, both as philosophes.”
The state-church of Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt lives on. Only the names change.
The emperor Theodosius was the last emperor to rule both east and west. When he died in 395, the empire was permanently divided. Alaric, the Visigoth king, entered and sacked Rome in 410, the first time an invading army had entered Rome in 800 years. Rome was not even the capital of the empire at this time. Milan, and then Ravenna, had been made the capital of the western empire and only the bishop of Rome held firmly to Rome as his center of power and authority. Constantinople would always be the capital in the east. The last emperor in the west, Romulus Augustulus, in fact of Germanic origin, was defeated in 476 by Germanic chieftain, Odoacer, in a dispute over payments of land grants to mercenaries working in the service of Rome, so it was an internal struggle that
destroyed the western empire rather than an external invasion. But, Rome fell from within, corrupt and decadent morally, and declining into the darkness of the type of Christianity that was the spiritual guide of the last emperors. Gibbon, one of history’s greatest scholars, blames Christianity for the fall of pagan Rome and this is partly true, but Rome had long been rotten. Still, the empire continued in the east until 1453. Perhaps, Rome’s division was foretold in Daniel’s vision recorded in Daniel, chapter 2, with the east continuing as a political-religious power and the west as an ecclesiastical power dominating lesser, political entities throughout the medieval period.
Then next person of interest in early Christian thinking we will discuss is known as Jerome. He was born around 340 and lived to 420. He was a respected Catholic scholar who was given the chore by Pope Damasus in the late 4th century of revising the Old Latin Bible used by the Christians of the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, Southern France, and Britain which was given to them by the Christian missionaries from Asia Minor. This was the Bible in the language of Rome and its very presence in the hands of the common Christian was a thorn in the side of the hierarchy at Rome. History books will often tell you that Pope Damasus ordered a revision of the Old Latin because of many various versions that were confusing the laity with variant readings but a closer inspection of the matter reveals that the truth is something else. The Old Latin Bible was essentially a Byzantine/Syrian text probably first done in 157AD, according to the 19th century scholar, Frederick Scrivener, in Antioch. It is the predecessor of the Authorized Version known as the King James Bible which has been the primary Christian Bible, called the Common Version in America’s colonial days, for nearly 400 years. What Jerome did was to replace Syrian readings in the Old Latin Bible with Alexandrian readings approved by Rome. This action was roundly denounced by other scholars of his day such as Helividius and his student, Jovinian, and subsequent followers as a vain attempt, using grossly corrupt manuscripts, to replace the true Bible. Opposed to the original Bible were Augustine, Jerome, and Ambrose but it took banishment and civil punishment to stop the mouths of the dissenters. However, the Christians of the Vaudois in the Alps mountains who had been worshipping without the consent and approval of any bishop of Rome since as early as 120AD continued to use the Old Latin Bible right up until the reformation when numerous vernacular Bibles were produced by some of their greatest preachers such as Olivetan and Diodati, friends of the great John Calvin.
By the 12th century the Vaudois were known as Waldenses, which according to some is derived from the name of one of their more famous pastors, Peter Waldo, a famous street preacher of the 12th century. The dissenters had also been known in the early years of the Christian era by other names but they were, we must remember, always named by their enemies and accused of every heresy that can be imagined in order to put them in the worst light possible. It is simpler to refer to all of the dissenting sects as Anabaptists (not confusing them with modern Baptists) due to their insistence upon believer’s baptism as they all had a number of differing beliefs based on their particular group and location. But as for many Christians who might read this, there are a number of differing doctrinal
beliefs all united only by our faith in salvation only through the Lord Jesus Christ and the authority of the scriptures.
Helvidius and Jovinian accused Jerome of using inferior and corrupt manuscripts to perform his translation, which has come down to us as the Latin Vulgate. Jerome completely altered what became known during the Reformation as the Received Text or the Textus Receptus, known then as the Greek Vulgate, represented by the vast majority of manuscripts by his use of the minority text, representing less than 44 of over 5,000 manuscripts today, of Alexandria. Jerome’s response to Helvidius was to attack him for his scriptural beliefs, in opposition to established church doctrine, that Mary had other children (Matthew 1:25) and the brethren and sisters in Matthew 12:46-49, Mark 3:31-35, & Matthew 13:55-56 were, indeed brothers and sisters, and not cousins, as the state church insisted, in his work Against Helvidius. Jerome’s only acceptance of the corruption of the manuscripts he used was to acknowledge that the most controversial verses in the Bible, 1 John 5:7,8, were actually in the original Greek manuscripts but had been removed by scribes. Still, he chose not to include it in his original Vulgate. It was only centuries later that it was added back, in spite of the fact that this verse had been quoted or alluded to in every century and was even quoted at the Council of Carthage (See Michael Maynard’s, ‘A History of the Debate over 1 John 5:7’). It was more recently, once again, removed from versions of the Vulgate.
Jerome was devotedly committed to the textual criticism of Origen, “an admirer of Origen’s critical principles”, Swete says in his “Introduction to the Greek Old Testament” as quoted by Benjamin Wilkinson in ‘Our Authorized Bible Vindicated’. The manuscripts of Origen that Jerome used, very similar to Codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, retained a number of questionable books that Protestants later rejected as being spurious. And although Jerome acknowledged that these seven books; Tobith, Wisdom, Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, had been rejected also by the Jews and did not belong in the Bible, he included them because the Papacy approved of them. Origen had won. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate or simply The Vulgate as it was called distinguishing it from the Greek Vulgate or commonly accepted Bible and the Old Latin which had previously been referred to as the Latin Vulgate was the main Bible of Vatican Christianity for over a thousand years, its falsehoods, lies, and corruptions mixed with truth helped to usher in the Dark Ages until the Reformation while scattered bands of Christians in remoter parts of the Christian lands held onto the Old Latin until the time of
the great John Calvin, Olivetan, Diodati, Tyndale, Erasmus, Luther, and others. Jerome’s compromising with the truth is evident by his admissions of the weakness of his work in that books and verses were added or kept out based on Papal whims and Church doctrine rather than their being inspired by God or accepted by the vast majority of Christians through history or not. There is a distinct demarcation between Alexandrian Christianity and Antiochan Christianity even today.
The next important figure in the Christianity of this era is a giant that stands astride Christian history like the mythical Colossus of Rhodes was to alleged have stood astride the harbor at Rhodes. His name was Patricius or Patrick and he is so important that he is claimed by both types of Christians as a hero, even though he did not use the Vulgate of Jerome or even acknowledge the Pope. Still, he is called a saint by the Vatican, a man whose greatness even an enemy must acknowledge. He plays an important role in how God used the Irish people to literally save western civilization.
Cahill’s ‘How the Irish Saved Civilization’ makes this comment that bodes ill for our modern times about the condition of Rome in the late 4th and in the 5th century. “There are, no doubt, lessons here for the contemporary reader. The changing character of the native population, brought about through unremarked pressures on porous borders; the creation of an increasingly unwieldy and rigid bureaucracy, whose own survival becomes an overriding goal; the despising of the military and the avoidance of its service by established families, while its offices present unprecedented opportunity for marginal men to whom its ranks had once been closed; the lip service paid to values long dead; the pretense that we still are what we once were; the increasing concentrations of the populace into richer and poorer by the way of a corrupt tax system, and the desperation that inevitably follows; the aggrandizement of executive power at the expense of the legislature; ineffectual legislation promulgated with great show….” All were the conditions at the end of the western empire.
By the middle of the 4th century, the Vandals, who had already seized large areas of Spain and Gaul, had taken North Africa, Rome’s breadbasket. Through most of the century armies of Goths and Huns drove over the Danube doing great damage to the eastern provinces, creating panic and desolation. By 410, the year of Alaric’s sack of the city of Rome, the Roman garrison in Britain had been removed because it was badly needed elsewhere. Now, the German Angles and Saxons, on Britain’s eastern shores and the slave raids of the Celts from pagan Ireland were even more terrifying. In fact, there was massive enslavement of freemen and freewomen and even if a Roman citizen was bought out of slavery he or she was often then the slave of a person of wealth on one of their great estates to pay off the ransom. The ancient world was dying, the pagan world of Greek and Roman culture was disintegrating and a new world was slowly being made in the ruins of the chaos. Of the many thousands of slaves bound around the year 401 we have the account left by a boy named Patricius, made a slave by Irish Celtic raiders at the age of sixteen.
Patricius’ was a Romanized Briton who could look forward to a good education in the classical world. His father and grandfather had been Christians. He was taken to Ireland, which had been somewhat isolated from the Christianizing of Rome. It was a wild, dangerous place full of myths about legendary heroes and legendary monsters. There are books called “Legendary Ireland”, “Irish Legends”, & “Ireland in Poetry”, among others that will be of interest in getting a visual and mental appreciation of the Ireland of history and myth. The Irish called themselves the sons of Mil, survivors of the Great Flood
through their descent from Noah, reaching Ireland from Spain and taking it from a tribe called Tuatha De Danaan, the People of the Goddess Danu. While secular historians dismiss their connection with the Great Flood as the result of later writers inserting Biblical themes back into earlier works, they all do agree with the arrival of the Celts, possibly from the area of Spain in about the 4th century BC.
Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church”, tells us that Patrick spent six years as a shepherd among these people before escaping to Britain or France, depending on the source and was enslaved a second time. Then, in a dream, he was begged by a man to bring Christianity to Ireland. So, remarkably, he returned to the land of his enslavement and spent the rest of his life turning them to Christ, dying in approximately 493. He is claimed by the Roman Catholic Church as being sent by a Pope but he, himself, makes no mention of such a thing. Patrick is a figure of controversy as the Catholics have attributed all sorts of fanciful myths to him such as having driven the snakes out of Ireland to some Protestants even doubting his existence as there is no literature mentioning him until 634 and even a later writer, Bede, completely ignores him. However, his brand of particularly Celtic Christianity, which was later supplanted by Roman church-state Catholicism, would have been in sharp contrast to it. His work in Ireland was so effective, using the Old Latin Bible of Textus Receptus readings that by the 6th and 7th centuries Ireland became known as the “Island of Saints”. At a time when books were not even being copied in Europe, when the darkness of the semi-barbarism and semi-paganism of the Roman church was triumphing, the Irish were producing and copying a great quantity of books and even sending out missionaries to Europe to capture the souls of a truly heathenized pseudo-Christianity and still pagan barbarians for Christ.
Ruckman, in his “History of the New Testament Church”, says “Patrick recognized only the Scriptures as the final authority in matters of faith and practice and never appealed to a bishop, council, pope, or king for any religious advice regarding any spiritual issue.” He baptized thousands of grown men, the baptism of adult males a sure sign of growth and power in a church, while many modern churches baptize mostly women and children, a sign of weakness in preaching to the stony hearts of adult males. He is credited for having started over three hundred local assemblies or seven hundred, depending upon whom you read. The religious institutions that came out of his teaching preserved the Old Latin Bible first translated in or about 157 and used extensively by the early church, not Jerome’s Vulgate, translated for Rome’s purposes.
Darkness was descending upon Europe and the ancient world was about to be annihilated in one of the worst natural disasters recorded in history, surprisingly ignored by secular historians except for passing comments. While so-called Christian heretics are being executed by the thousands by the Roman church-state for not stepping in line with the doctrines of the bishop of Rome and still trying to follow the Christianity of the apostles with differences with New Testament doctrines varying from location and ethnicity, but united by a belief in the authority of the scriptures and salvation by faith, and the apostasy of Rome, a plague was set to sweep the ancient world from China to Middle America.
Back to Britain for a moment, Foxe, writer of the famous ‘Book of Martyrs’, in his work about Christian history entitled, ‘Acts and Monuments’, tells us, Hengst and Horsa, leaders of the Anglo-Saxon invasion from Northern Germany, didn’t enter Britain until 449, years after more modern historians put the first wave of invaders there. It is possible that at this time the legendary King Arthur was a real, flesh and blood British king fighting to keep the invaders at bay. Foxe is quoting William of Malmesbury, an English historian of the 12th century. Another source for British and subsequent English history is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and the writings of a Christian called, ‘The Venerable Bede’. Christianity had come to Britain in the first century and was firmly ensconced there. Schaff’s ‘History of the Christian Church’ lists no less than ten different legends on how it arrived but Foxe agrees with the one concerning the conversion of a King Lucius in the second century. However, many writers, including Ussher, have insisted that Paul visited Britain and others, including English legend, pose an argument that Joseph of Arimathea not only went there to evangelize the people but is buried there. I have a small bottle that a world traveler friend of mine bought at the gift shop at that supposed first church in Britain filled with water from the Jordan River at the spot where the Catholic Church says that Jesus was baptized by John. This unsolicited relic from a Catholic friend is an example of how much human beings wish to rely on such things to strengthen their faith rather than reading God’s word and praying.
In any event, the emperor Constantine was born in Britain as was a famous heretic, Pelagius. Tertullian, writing in 208, informs readers that Christianity was present in Britain in many places that Roman missionaries had not even visited. It is clear from the differences between British or Celtic Christianity and that practiced by Rome that Britain was evangelized by missionaries from the Middle East, as Schaff implies. The main differences Schaff notes have to do with the date of the keeping of Easter and the authority of the bishop of Rome. Now, we come to the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th.
In his work, ‘Catastrophe, A Quest for the Origins of the Modern World’, David Keys, the archaeological correspondent for the London newspaper, The Independent, tells us that in 535 mankind was hit by one of the greatest natural disasters ever to occur. For 18 months, much of the light and heat from the sun was blotted out which resulted in plague, famine, climatic chaos, war, migration, and massive political change on every continent.
The hundred year period after this saw the final end, Keys tells us, of the supercities of the ancient world, the end of Ancient Persia, the rise of the Byzantine empire within the framework of the Eastern Roman Empire, the end of ancient South Arabian civilization, and the collapse of Ancient American Teotihuacan, Tikal, and the Nazca which we have mentioned previously.
But, on the other hand, from this disaster forward we can witness the rise of Islam, and the formation of nation states like France, Spain, England, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Cambodia, and the power of the Turks. Procopius, Roman historian, wrote of the climate changes as “a most dread portent”. 6th century Church historian, Evagrius, gave a gruesome description of the plague that swept the Roman Empire starting in Egypt, first appearing in the Meditteranean port of Pelusium. It entered by way of the Red Sea through a canal built by the emperor Trajan and spread through Alexandria, and Constantinople, killing a third of the empire’s population and nearly half of the residents of the capital itself. John of Ephesus said that everywhere one looked were corpses, split open and rotting, with no one alive to bury them. He said that in Constantinople, as many as 16,000 people died in one day and everywhere he went to try to escape the plague he saw unharvested grain and domestic animals running around like wild beasts with no one to attend to them. People dropped dead as they spoke to each other. The emperor, Justinian whom this plague is named after by secular historians, began to deal with this massive death by burying citizens in mass graves, each capable of accommodating as many as 70,000 corpses. There were at least 4 great plague epidemics in the following century. Many historians see them as separate, distinct outbreaks but when taken with the other events that happened at the same time they can’t reasonably be seen that way. It was, in fact, one long integrated event lasting between 180 and 210 years.
Justinian’s reign was a difficult one and he eventually left the administration of the empire to others and devoted himself to theology. Durant notes in his fourth volume of ‘The Story of Civilization’ entitled ‘The Age of Faith’, that, “Earthquakes were especially frequent in this reign, a dozen cities were almost wiped out by them, and their rehabilitation drained the Treasury. In 542 plague came, in 556 famine, in 558 plague again. In 559 the Kotrigur Huns crossed the Danube, plundered Moesia and Thrace, took thousands of captives, violated matrons, virgins, nuns, and threw to the dogs the infants born to women captives on the march, and advanced on the walls of Constantinople.” Not since Attila the Hun, defeated by the great general, Flavius Aetius, called “the last of the Romans”, had ravaged both east and west a century before had the empire been under such a great barbarian threat. It was a very difficult time as the ancient world entered into its death throes and the medieval world or the dark ages was beginning. It was at this time that the great general Belisarius, worthy of independent study, now an old man, defeated a Hun army in a battle which was noted in Ripley’s Believe It or Not because he lost not a single soldier in the engagement and the enemy was completely routed. Durant con-siders Justinian the last ancient emperor of Rome; that antiquity ended with him.
The plague that devastated the ancient world, starting in the East African trading cities of Essina, Toniki, Rhapta, and Opone, spread to the Roman world, as I said earlier, through Egypt. First, the Roman Empire was hit, then Persia, and eventually, China was assaulted by it directly from the Middle East. Transported by ships from port to port, carrying grain, infected rats and their infected fleas, it rolled its way up the Red Sea collapsing the civilizations of East Africa and Southern Africa as well, as Bantu agriculture went into a decline. The ports of East Africa traded in 50 tons of ivory each year with Rome in a trade controlled by Greek and Arab merchants. The plague ended this trade, fortunately, for the 5,000 or so elephants killed per year to sustain it. The Roman Empire was so devastated that the political turmoil that resulted ended with 70% of the land territory being lost to barbarians who also lost a great deal due to the plague. Having had to pay a tribute of over 30,000 pounds of gold over thirty years as protection money to the Avars, a barbarian tribe from the steppes, the empire was financially drained. Between 610 and 620 Greece was invaded by Slavic warriors and its racial makeup and history were forever changed. By 616, the Persian army had captured the entire Middle East and was on the doorstep of Constantinople. By 626, with the capital surrounded by Persians and barbarians the situation looked hopeless. In the end, the enemies were beaten back with both sides being exhausted by war and disease. The Persians eventually fell to Arabic Islam and the Avars to the rising Turkish tribes.
In post-Roman Britain there is no evidence that the Celts in the west had anything to do with the Saxon invaders in the east and that included trading with them, as well. Britain at this time was covered by an immense forest, all but gone now, and this isolation was much more possible than it would be in later times. The Saxons had a tough time making their conquest of the island complete for quite awhile with legendary and semi-mythical leaders like Arthur defeating them. Of the tribes vying for control of “the Isles” were the Angles, from which we get our word, English. In fact, the dominant invaders were Angles and Saxons from which we get Anglo-Saxon, and the Jutes. Hundreds of tiny Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were eventually melded into the slightly larger units of Sussex, Surrey, Kent, Essex, early Wessex, East Anglia, and early Mercia. By the early sixth century, Anglo-Saxon expansion had virtually been brought to a standstill by Celtic or British resistance.
Then, in around 535, or so tree ring evidence tells us, major climatic changes, lasting for 20 years, had a great impact on Britain. Irish annals speak of a famine in 538. There are records of heavy flooding in Britain, intensely cold winters, and a storm in London which killed 250 people destroying many homes. In 550 large hail stones fell on Scotland. Two years later Scotland experienced what was called “violent rain”. The winter of 554 was extremely severe and in 555 there were severe thunderstorms across Britain. But, nothing was like the Bubonic Plague that reached Britain in about 549. The Annals of Ulster in Ireland report losing many of their leading men to the plague. In Wales, the Welsh Annals, important members of the nobility, essential leadership against the Saxons died. Starting perhaps at Tintagel, on the north Cornish coast, the mythical
place of Arthur’s conception, the plague swept the Isles. Towns and cities were reduced to a fraction of their population by this horrible plague.
In several Arthurian stories and in other poetry there is the legend of “the Waste Land”, a place where nothing lives. These legends place the beginning of this event at around the time of Arthur’s death in about 537 by some accounts. Most of the Waste Land references appear to be in Celtic lands such as Wales. The ability to fight the Saxon invaders was eliminated by disease, famine, and climate extremes. The Celts were
reduced to the area of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland and the Anglo-Saxon invasion was complete. The former Roman province of Britain, birthplace of emperors, was now becoming England.
The plague swept through France and Spain, as well, making great political changes along with changes in population centers. The emergent states of France, named after the tribe called the Franks united under their most famous king who had promised to convert to Christianity if he won his greatest victory which he did, Clovis, and Spain, conquered by the Visigoths, were made possible, in part, by the devastation wrought by this disease. It is interesting to note that the Visigothic version of Christianity was called Arian. However, the Catholic Church, by this time, was calling all beliefs not in line with theirs; heretical and Arian. It was a common perjorative used by them to denigrate their enemies.
China had become fragmented in many different kingdoms but the climatic disasters of the 6th century changed that scenario. The Nan Shi or The History of the Southern Dynasties and Sui-shu or The History of the Sui Dynasty records the severe dust storms that swept China. It was then hit by severe frost and there was even snow in August, ruining crops in a province that was on the same parallel with Spain. Crop failure led to famine, even a series of famines. These disasters had two important political effects; one led to greater power assumed by central governments for the welfare of the people and the other was the weakening of their economies. This led to uprisings and rebellions, particularly among the Vietnamese near Hanoi. Buddhism had come to present a messiah figure named Maitreya who would come to save the world when it was completely steeped in evil and this belief became dominant during the troubled times. Maitreya has made a comeback under the mantle of New Age belief today and can be found extensively on the internet as having actually returned already and even to have allegedly spoken to the United Nations. This “New Age Messiah” has an outspoken advocate in a phony named Benjamin Crème. But, the world will look to anything but Jesus Christ.
The climatic upheaval, disease, and famine resulted in the unification of China with the power center being in the north after the Sui under the Emperor Wendi, invaded the south with a force of half a million men and a navy.
This disastrous century also unified the Korean peninsula under the Silla dynasty and its successor state, Koryo, from which we get the name Korea, which came to power after the downfall of the Silla in the tenth century.
Japan, too, was hit by plagues and extreme climate change during the 6th century and had to deal with a great Korean immigration. The epidemic that struck Japan was probably smallpox and in many areas as much as 60% of the population died. Buddhism became a dominant religious force in Japan when the native gods seemed helpless to stop the pestilence, or perhaps, as some believed, were angry with the Japanese for unfaithfulness. Chinese culture brought from Korea had a tremendous impact on Japan and the final triumph of Buddhism at that time added to the disasters of disease and plague helped form the Japanese into a coherent nation.
In the Americas’early sixth century, Teotihuacan was at its peak. A powerful city, a metropolis, the heart of a religio-military empire that held sway over what is now the southern part of Mexico and much of Guatemala and Belize. It was an empire that consisted of many different tribes and kingdoms, some of whom had been conquered and some of which were long term allies and some who were paying tribute. Religion and trade bound it together. The largest city in the Americas at between 100-200,000 people it was the 6th largest in the world. Several million Mayans and Mexicans depended on the trade it oversaw for their survival. The city was the center of mass manufactured goods such as obsidian spearheads and blowpipe darts to knife blades and beautifully made statues of human beings and animals, a flourishing industry, as in Rome, for idol worship. Many other workshops have been found that specialized in making baskets, mats, pottery, and textiles, as well as jewelry made out seashells and statues cut from basalt.
Archaeological evidence in the suburbs reveals a large merchant community of foreigners with an import-export business that must have been on a truly massive scale. The majority, though, of the inhabitants would have been farm workers. The society existed on agriculture as most societies did at that time. The priest-kings who ruled over this empire derived their authority from the gods, particularly, the rain god, Tlaloc, and credited themselves for the blessing of rain.
In the late 1960’s an American tree ring specialist, Valmore La Marche of the University of Arizona, collected a substantial number of high altitude bristlecones from Campito Mountain in California suggesting climatic deterioration beginning around 535AD. Growth did not return to normal until the late 550’s. In eastern Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, about 500 miles east of Teotihuacan there is archaeological evidence of a 25 to 50 year long drought that started in the middle of the 6th century. Similar evidence in Chile and Argentina show that the winter of 540 would have been the coldest winter in 1600 years. A 1983 Ohio State University study of Peru’s 18,711 foot high Quelccaya glacier revealed to OSU’s ‘Institute of Polar Studies’ that there must have been a horrific drought around the middle of the 6th century, lasting upwards of 30 years. Colombian archaeologists, Clemencia Plazas and Anna Falchetti, studying the San Jorge
basin in Colombia published that the mid-sixth century was the driest period in history and this was confirmed by studies in the lower Amazon basin in Brazil and in lakes in the Colombian Andes. These studies were all done separately, at different times, and by different scientists from different universities in different countries but all came to a similar conclusion that might serve to explain to us what happened to the great city of Teotihuacan, if they are correct in their assumptions and conclusions.
Evidence at Teotihuacan itself reveals burned temples, deaths from malnutrition, deserted houses, smashed idols, and murdered members of the city’s elite who, as was practice, would have taken responsibility for the good weather that allowed their civilization to continue and therefore, would probably have been held responsible for the drought. University of Houston anthropologist, Rebecca Storey, has studied over 150 skeletons in a cemetery on the south side of the city and has published that even before the collapse of the city people had started dying younger. By the time the city was abandoned 70% were dying before the age of 25. The previously mentioned book, ‘Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens’, tells us how the Mayan city of Tikal also slipped into a “dark age” about the middle of the 6th century, with idols smashed or unfinished and the king at that time, Wak Chan K’awiil, or Double Bird, disappearing. For the next 130 years not a single dated monument or even a fragment of one is identified at Tikal. The Maya finally collapsed completely as a civilization of note by the mid-700’s. They still exist today as the most poor and desperate natives of Central America today but once were a mighty civilization. When you see news stories about their tragic fates in hurricanes and other natural disasters just remember that once they ruled over great cities in the jungles of Mexico with kingly names like Animal Skull and Spearthrowing Owl.
Teotihuacan, boasting a population of 5 to 8 times as many people as the largest Mayan city and overseeing at territory dozens of times larger than any Mayan city was, however, the focal point of Mesoamerican civilization and its downfall heralded a vast change in the centers of power and the dominance of peoples in the region.
In North America, the Anasazi of New Mexico and Arizona, where Puebla Indians still live in Pueblo towns, have left us evidence of a highly advanced civilization after 1000. However, at the time period we are discussing they were hunters and gatherers and did not even live in villages, archaeologists tell us. In the mid-sixth century all of this changed. Suddenly, they became 80% agricultural, improved their hunting technology by adopting the bow and arrow over the spear, used sophisticated stone axes for farming, and the inevitable pottery became more widespread. This “sudden” transformation has confused archaeologists and historians alike. But, clues abound and many of these scientists think that the climatic events occurring around the time of middle 6th century helped push the hunting and gathering Anasazi into contact with another Indian or Native American, if you want to be politically correct, culture from hundreds of miles to the east called Late Woodland culture although I doubt that is what they called themselves. Ceramic pottery gives the clues as to their contact via trade.
What all of this pottery evidence suggests to archaeologists is that this was a time of great population movement and interaction which is often the result of stresses on the environment that sustains a people; things such as drought. While other cultures around the world were dying or convulsing in horror there were some that were just starting the uphill climb from savagery to civilization. Of course, there often isn’t much difference between the two except for some fancy buildings.
Let’s go back to Europe but to the end of the 6th century, our focal point here. There was a figure at that time who arose to a position of power and prominence who stands as a giant among his kind. Gregory was the first Pope with real power, independent of the
emperor, and holding court over a spiritual empire in the vanquished political empire of Rome in the west. He molded the papacy into an independent, temporal power capable of making treaties, setting political policy, and eventually making war. He had great conflicts with the emperor in Constantinople trying to keep Italy from falling to the Lombards and in doing so established his power. He was truly a secular leader ruling a spiritual kingdom ruling a secular kingdom. If this is confusing to you, it was particularly confusing to the Emperor Maurice back in Constantinople.
One of his most important moves with regard to the Christian religion was his shock and horror at the success of Celtic Christianity, the kind that Patrick taught. The fact that they (men such as Columba) sent missionaries to Europe itself and were even found among the Anabaptist, Waldensian, Vaudois groups of Northern Italy and Southern France he perceived as a threat to his own authority as the head of all Christians. So, he sent a man named Augustine, not our scholar from earlier, but the head of a monastery, a place wholly devoted to studying religion in an environment separate from the world, to “convert” these heathen Christians to “true” Christianity, in other words, approved by Rome. By blackmail and threatening of foreign invasion, added to bogus miracles, the papacy was able to have Celtic Christianity outlawed at the Synod of Whitby, later, in 664.
If the Emperor Justinian stood with one foot in the ancient world and one in the modern, Pope Gregory I stood squarely in the front door of the Dark Ages. His legacy hovered over mainstream European Christianity like a giant in spite of the apostolic Christians still baptizing adult believers only, using the Old Latin Bible, believing in salvation by faith alone, and in the authority of the scriptures over any human being in power and living in remote mountain villages and on the edge of the former political empire of Rome in the west. A darkness has descended over Europe now, a spiritual darkness that will last for almost a thousand years. It is so dark that in some places at certain times it will even be punishable by death to actually own a Bible of any kind and to have a Bible translated into the common vernacular or in any language other than Latin, specifically Jerome’s Vulgate, was a crime most certainly punishable by death. There will be times that reading the Bible, even if you have the approved one, will be a crime. But, not everywhere and not at all times. The medieval world, in spite of what you
may have heard was rich in Bibles and Bible manuscripts. It was an obsession. But, we’ll save that for our class on that period.
For now, here’s a timeline for our world from Augustine’s birth in 354 until the death of Pope Gregory I in 604;
350-376 sees the rise of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Ermanaric, who unites the Ostrogoths and Visigoths in a vast empire extending from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea comprising all of the modern Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Romania.
351-355 marks great internal and frontier disorders with Germanic barbarians making serious inroads into Gaul as a result of the Civil War between Constantine’s heirs and rebellious generals leading uprising after uprising.
In 355 Julian becomes emperor in the west and defeats his nemesis, the Alemanni tribe, at the Battle of Argentorate in 357. He also fights the tribe known as the Franks.
358-363 Constantius, emperor in the east, fights with Persia
360-361 Civil War between east and western emperors for control. Upon hearing of Constantius’ death en route to oppose him, Julian renounces Christ and becomes known as Julian the Apostate for returning to Paganism, ruling both east and west.
363 Julian invades Persia, dying in battle.
364-378 Valentinian and Valens rule in west and east.
367-369 Gothic War with Valens.
368-369 Chaos in Britain with Saxon pirates and Scottish and Pict uprisings.
371-372 Part of North Africa rebels.
372-374 Huns or Hsiung-nu appear after 200 years of moving west when beaten by the Chinese.
376 Huns invade the Gothic Empire and the panic stricken Gothic refugees appear at the Danube begging for entry into Rome.
377 War with Gothic refugees. Chaos, Barbarian attacks, and Civil Wars plague Rome year after year through the next century until the west collapses as a political unit in 476, the traditional date of the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
407-600 marks the rise of the Burgundians, Vandals, Bulgars, Slavs, Avars, and the Franks with the Lombards finally invading Italy and becoming the ancestors of the modern Italians.
474-600 The Eastern Roman Empire is on the defensive. Justinian, its greatest emperor is on the offensive, however, retaking Italy only to lose it to the Lombards and re-taking some of the empire’s possessions in North Africa under the great general Belisarius. He fought great wars with Persia as well.
The importance of this timeline is that it shows that the Roman Empire in the west was collapsing and being changed into the Europe that we have come to know in the Dark Ages with 30 bishops of Rome, now called Popes, giving a sense of regularity and sameness of authority to a chaotic situation made all the more disastrous by a world reeling from climatic change and widespread epidemics.
The next class will be a more thorough study of the Americas up until the arrival of the Europeans to stay. It will cover the entire time of the Medieval period in Europe or the Dark Ages, which are sometimes, I think mistakenly, divided between Dark Ages and Middle Ages. We now turn to the Americas after the fall of the old order in the great catastrophes of the 6th century up until the time of the invasion by the Europeans. After that, it is on to Medieval Europe until the Reformation.