At the region of Caesarea Philippi, after Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ in Matthew 16:18, Jesus said to Peter, “And I say unto you: you are Peter, the Rock, and on this Rock I will build my church, and the power of death shall never conquer it. ” From the beginning of this scripture until the 15th Century, the Church went through various organizations, guidelines and had a variety of purposes. From the 1st to the 3rd Century, the Early Roman Empire was a highly urbanized world state having grown from tiny settlements to an emerging empire.
The Roman Empire began when the Roman Senate gave Octavius (Caesar’s heir) the title Augustus, thus becoming the undisputed leader of Rome. Under Octavian rule, Rome was apparently stable both politically and socially. He also two centuries of peace, also known as the Pax Romania. During the first two centuries, Rome flourished and was prosperous with new territories such as ancient Britain, Arabia, and Romania. Rome became the most influential political institution in European history and it developed into the economic capital of the Mediterranean world.
Common culture in early Rome was widespread though people of many different cultures were allowed to retain their heritage into modern times. Romans owed their allegiance to family authority and to the Roman gods and goddesses hence it was no wonder that Christianity emerged as an urban phenomenon without large-scale integration. During the 4th century, Constantine was proclaimed Emperor following the death of his father Constantius. He was of great military prowess and the troops loved him.
Constantine was only able to establish himself as ruler only after two decades due to constant wars between him and his rivals for the throne. Constantine is reported to have had a vision before the Battle against Maxentius in which Christ appeared to him and ordered him to inscribe ‘XP’ on his soldiers’ shields. He later gained victory in the battle. Constantine then converted to Christianity as the bringer of victory. The organization of the church during this period was such that the entire Empire became Christianized and Christian persecution ended.
The Edict of Milan was issued in 313 that required people to tolerate Christians. Constantinople, which was built by Constantine, became the new capital (after replacing Rome) The Germanic Kingdoms characterized the period between the 5th and 7th Century. Various Germanic tribes had invaded and settled within the Roman Empire causing it to fall. However, the church preserved the Roman culture. This period was significant in that it marked the end of direct imperial authority in the West. The Franks rose as the dominant Germanic group.
In the early 5th century, the Salians (a group of the Franks) established themselves in most of the Loire river territory. Clovis I, a Salian King, overthrew Syagrius (Gaul Roman Governor) extensively grew the power and dominance of the Frankish Kingdom. In 496, Clovis converted to Christianity and as a result, there was a close connection between the Frank monarchy and Papacy. After the death of Clovis I, the kingdom was divided amongst his (Clovis I) four sons, and then went through various divisions as well as reunifications before eventually being consolidated by Clotaire II in 613.
After his death however, authority passed from kings to the great officers of state. During this period also, Islam spread through North Africa. Earlier on during the first Islam establishments, other religions were given freedom of worship as long as they accepted Islamic Political leadership and paid a non-believer’s tax. However, with time, Islam became stricter and non-believers were not tolerated resulting in ‘holy wars’ (jihads) that lead to the extensive spread of Islam through North Africa. During this period, Slavs settled into the abandoned sites of the Balkans.
This helped define the boundaries of Western Christendom. The Byzantine Empire was weakened by a series of wars between rival Christian sects. In the period between the 8th and the 9th century, also referred to as the Carolingian Age, Pepin and his son founded a new Frankish Dynasty. At the Carolingian Age, the Frankish Dynasty linked up with the Papacy. In early 8th Century, there were two major developments that contributed to the need for a revived Western empire: Firstly, Muslims had conquered much of the Byzantine Empire territory in the 7th century and secondly, Byzantine emperors posed a threat to the Papacy.
Byzantine emperors had continually provoked the papacy through a series of actions they took such as increasing taxes, banning the use of religious statues etc, while these continued to be used in the west. The Lombards also, threatened Rome. Because of these, the papacy sought the help of the Franks through King Pepin who first took on the Lombards. However, Charlemagne (Pepin’s son) ultimately seized Northern Italy and established Papal sovereignty in Italy. He also sought to expand the whole of the Frankish kingdom to consist of most of the western empire territory. Charlemagne conquered extensively beyond Rhine.
He created a centralized government and promoted Benedictine monasticism as well as literary culture. The Frankish kingdom was predominantly Christian, extensive and powerful and as a result Pope Leo III sought an alliance with it and crowned Charlemagne, ‘Emperor of Romans in the West’. Charlemagne, with the new title, didn’t have any new powers but the title legitimized his rule over Central Italy. As a result, the western Imperial title was revived. The empire had become big and managing it was difficult and it had also become vulnerable to tribal division hence Charlemagne adopted a defensive posture.
The success and unity of the kingdom was attributed to him hence after his death, the kingdom crumbled. In 843, the empire split under the grandsons hence marking the beginning of ‘France’ and ‘Germany’. The Germanic Empire and the rise of Papacy characterized the 10th to the 11th century. German King Otto I tried on one occasion to conquer lands in Italy but failed. His breakthrough was when he defeated Berengar II, the king of Italy on the request of Pope John XII. The Pope later crowned Otto I, emperor and he takes on the “Kingdom of Italy.
” Pope revives imperial title, tying northern Italy to Germany. In his reign, he combined military prowess with religious faith. He tried to establish a centralized monarchy by keeping positions of power within close relatives. For instance, Otto’s eldest son ruled Bavaria. His attempts for a centralized monarchy disadvantaged him in that, his relatives tried on several occasions to overthrow him and it led to unpopular people getting in positions of power. This caused him to change his governance tactics by replacing stem duchies with non-hereditary fiefs, which he granted to churchmen.
The churchmen were loyal, and he was able to use their literacy skills in legislation. Otto conquered the lands of the Danes and the Slavs in the north and east respectively. During this period also, the papacy becomes a strong, independent power asserting universal authority and sole authority to create bishops thus on collision course with German Kings. This led to the Investiture Conflict (1076-1122). The cause of disagreement here was the issue of investiture by laymen rather than by churchmen.
Laymen mostly attributed this to the monastic reform movement from Cluny where Cluniac leaders advocated for an end to simony and control of the church. Power wrangles between emperors and the church characterized the following period. Clerics became increasingly integrated into a separate autonomous church hierarchy with an autocratic leader, the Pope. The emperors therefore lost their power over the Papacy and gained potential rivals by giving up their powers of appointing loyal bishops. German kingship was hence weakened.
The 12th to the 13th Century largely consisted of Papal Hohenstaufen struggle peak of Papal Monarchy. During this period, Hohenstaufen of Swabia (known in Italy as Ghibellines) held the German and imperial crowns for over a century. The Guelphs (Welfs), Papal allies, plotted consistently against the Hohenstaufen rulers. After the death of King Henry V, who left no heir, Hohenstaufens and Welfs continued fighting for kingship. As the succession feud went on, other German princes took advantage of this rivalry to play warring factions against each other and increase power for them.
The princes elected a series of weak emperors who could not challenge their authority. This led to a civil war that eventually reached Italy. In 1152, with the election of Fredrick I (born of a Hohenstaufen father and a Welf mother), the conflict finally settled. Peace terms in 1153 give cities virtual independence, but the conflict continued for another two centuries and became known as a Guelph- Ghibelline Conflict, primarily an Italian conflict between those against the Papacy and those supporting it.
Fredrick I (Barbarossa), who wanted to portray himself as an equal to the Pope added the title “Holy” to his name. Fredrick I tried to exert his imperial authority over the cities of Lombards and on the Papacy who had become increasingly independent but the Lombards in the Battle of Legnano (1176) later defeated him. The struggle later on continues with Fredrick II who is both the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Naples/ Sicily. This threatened to squeeze papacy. Pope Gregory IX in collaboration with the Lombard League tried to take over Sicily but Fredrick responded by taking over all Papal States.
Fredrick died before he could secure his position against the Lombards and under Conrad IV; the Hohenstaufens were finally removed from Sicily. Under the prevailing situation, the Pope (Innocent IV) is flees to France and declares the emperor exposed. The Papacy is successful and Germany becomes fragmented into numerous units because of the fracturing of central authority. It becomes virtually autonomous. In the 14th Century, Avignon served as the seat of the Papal court. During this period, the Avignon Papacy French King shifts papal seat to Avignon and he dominates the Papacy.
In the late 13th century, King Philip IV and the Papacy were in conflict because the King wanted to levy taxes on the clergy. Pope Boniface VIII forbade the clergy from paying taxes to laymen and Philip retaliated banning the exports of coins. As a result, the papacy was deprived of French revenues. Philip arrested the Papal legates and a conflict ensued. He summoned the first French Estates-General, which supported him and somewhat isolated the Pope. Boniface then made a Declaration of Papal Supremacy but was later imprisoned by Philip’s supporters.
In 1305, Philip elected one of his adherents a Pope and forced him to live in France, where he was under French control. During Philip’s reign (The Babylonian Captivity), the Pope was forced to suppress the religious and military order; the wealth of the Papacy was confiscated, taxes were increased and Jews and Lambards were executed. During the 14th Century, northern Italian cities were expanded. In addition, Northern Italian civic ideology set the pace for humanism and Renaissance. The 15th century was the period of the great Renaissance. This great cultural movement took place in parts of Europe.
It marked the rejection of a period of European history referred to as the Middle Ages where people used to believe that the most important task for all human beings was allegiance to God and they concentrated on resisting temptations. This period marked the beginning of the modern era of human history. In addition, there was the development of printing during this period. Religious books were produced; numerous people bought and read the books. This largely contributed to the reformation, a religious movement that later lead to Protestantism.
People in this period expressed their discontent with the church and were calling out for reforms. Rome became a city for Renaissance culture. Rome was rebuilt at the time of Pope Nicholas V (1147-1455). The defense walls were repaired, churches restored and new palaces were rebuilt. In addition to events occurring at this period, there was the fall Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. The Ottomans made Constantinople their capital and later renamed it to Istanbul (found in present day Turkey). Also, the Hapsburg emperors increase their holdings in the Eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire.
The 16th Century marked the Age of Reformation. King Charles V was the leading figure as Holy Roman Emperor, King of Castile, Aragon, and Sicily. Martin Luther who called for reforms within the church led the reformation movement and he refused to submit to church authority. In an attempt to calm the revolt, Luther was summoned by Charles V and declared an outlaw. He then went into hiding but distributed pamphlets containing his writings where he argued his cause. The Lutheran movement gained many followers from diverse backgrounds but mostly composed of peasants.
During the late 15th century and the early 16th century, under the reign of Emperor Maximilian I, the Hapsburg empire enormously expanded as a result of a series of convenient marriages such as that of Philip I of Castile and Joanna (daughter to Ferdinand V and Isabella I) thereby establishing the Hapsburg’s claim to Spain, Italy and the Americas. Charles V was a strong emperor and the princes and dukes feared him. Charles encountered Turkish expansion. In the war with the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan recognized the holy roman emperor as an equal and gave up on his insistence of Austrians to pay tribute to him.
Also during this period, Swiss cities began to assert for autonomy. In conclusion, the church from the first to the 16th century underwent various developments. From Christianity emerging as an urban phenomenon in the earlier periods to being forced on the masses in the middle centuries and later being left on the masses to make their choices personally, the church has truly evolved.
• Harrington, Joel F. Holy Roman Empire. Microsoft® Encarta® 2006 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2005. • Mellor, Ronald J. Roman Empire. Microsoft® Encarta® 2006 [DVD]. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 2005. • •