{8}           Invasions & the Papacy

ERA 3 << Medieval Church (1): Expansion & Conflicts (AD 600–1000) >> SESSION 1

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 1, chapters 26-27

†        8.1.1  Easter controversy

·         Problem & decision: The question about the proper date to celebrate Easter appeared in mid-2nd-c. The Eastern church held that Easter should be celebrated always on the 14th day of Nisan in the Jewish calendar. In contrast, the Western church celebrated Easter on the Sunday after the 14th day of Nisan. The Council of Nicea [325] supported the Western church, symbolizing the future victory of the Western church.

†        8.1.2  Dominance of the Roman bishop

·         Trend to dominance: Between 313 and 450, the Roman bishop came to be acknowledged as the first among equals. Pope Leo I claimed supremacy over the worldwide church [440]. The Council of Constantinople [381] recognized the primacy of the Roman see. In addition, the Roman church was blessed with many able bishops. In 4th-c and 5th-c, the popes repeatedly saved the city of Rome through leadership and negotiations.

†        8.1.3  Pope Gregory I (540–604)

·         Papal power: Gregory was elected to be pope in 590. His greatest work was to expand the power of the papacy to Gaul, Spain, Britain, Africa, and Italy. He appointed bishops. He succeeded in getting the title of “head of all the churches” from the emperor. He sent missionaries out to convert barbarian tribes.

·         Theology: Gregory confirmed many non-biblical theological inventions, including purgatory, mass for the dead, transubstantiation, penance (private lay confession), veneration of relics. He also gave tradition a place of equality with the Bible. He used allegory excessively in exegesis.

†        8.1.4  After Gregory

·         Intervention by the emperor: The Eastern church was divided by Christological controversies and the emperors demanded the support of the popes to their own theological positions. Those who refused were treated harshly. The election of a pope had to be confirmed by the authorities in Constantinople.

†        8.1.5  Formation of the Papal States

·         Donation of Pepin: Frankish king Pepin defeated the Lombards and gave the former Lombard capital to the pope [756]. This became the Papal States. Charlemagne later expanded the territory [781].

·         False decretals: Pope Nicholas I made use of a collection of forged documents called False Decretals [865]. It included Donation of Constantine—claiming that Emperor Constantine had granted Rome to the pope. The documents asserted the supremacy of the pope over all ecclesiastical leaders.

†        8.2.1  Invasion & evangelization of the Teutonic tribes

·         Conversion: There were many invasions by barbarian tribes into the empire [375–1066] by Teutonic, Viking, Slav, and Mongol peoples. After they settled down, missionaries were sent from Rome and Constantinople among them and most tribes were converted to Christianity. The most powerful group were the Franks.

†        8.2.2  Evangelization of other areas

·         Expansion: Christianity expanded to Britain (3rd-c), Armenia (3rd-c), Ireland (5th-c), Germany (8th-c), Low Countries (8th-c), Scandinavian (9th-c). Because of mass conversions of whole tribes, some might not have a real experience of faith. In addition, there were insufficient priests to teach and train the new converts.

†        8.2.3  Slavic kingdoms

·         Slavs: Eastern Europe was occupied by the Slavs. In Moravia, two missionaries Cyril and Methodius converted the people [862]. In Bulgaria, the king became a Christian [863] and the people followed. In Rusia, Queen Olga was converted by German missionaries [950], followed by mass conversions.

†        8.3.1  Mohammad (570–632)

·         Islam founded: Mohammad was an Arab merchant who knew about Judaism and Christian sects. He claimed that an angel Gabriel revealed to him about a single God (monotheism) [610]. Mohammad founded the first Muslim community in Medina [622]. They began a military and political campaign to control all of Arabia.

†        8.3.2  Muslim conquests

·         Victories over the Byzantine Empire: After Mohammad, Muslims conquered northern Africa [647] the Persia [651], and Spain [711]. Their advance in Europe was finally halted by Charles Martel at Tours [732].

†        8.3.3  Islam

·         Quran: The main source of Islam is the Quran. It is repetitious and unorganized. God known as Allah made his will known through 25 prophets, including Moses and Christ; but Muhammad was the latest and greatest prophet. Muslims deny Christ’s deity. Islam is fatalistic with its passive submission to the will of Allah.

†        8.3.4  Effects

·         Christianity diminished: Many ancient centres of Christianity were now under Muslim rule. There, Christianity ceased growing. The Byzantine Empire was weakened and the power of the papacy increased.

†        8.4.1  End of arguments on the natures of Christ

·         Monothelitism: There was discussion on the relationship between the divine and human wills of Christ. Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople [610–638], proposed that there is only one will because the divine will took the place of the human will. It gained the support of Pope Honorius [625–638].

·         Council of Constantinople III [680–681]—It condemned monothelitism, and Pope Honorius. The council declared that the two wills of Christ exist harmoniously, and the human will is subject to the divine will.

†        8.4.2  Use of images

·         Worship of icons: Icons are pictures of Jesus Christ and the saints. Some people (iconoclasts, destroyers of icons) objected to using them in church. In opposition were the iconodules (worshippers of icons).

·         East vs West: Emperor Leo III ordered all pictures and images destroyed [730]. Eventually, the church in the East eliminated statues but kept icons. In the West, Charlemagne and the pope favoured the use of visible symbols of divine reality. The church in the West continued to use pictures and statues in worship.

·         Council of Nicea II [787]—The council condemned the iconoclasts and distinguished between worship which is due only to God, and a lesser worshipful veneration which is to be given to icons.

†        8.4.3  Theology in Eastern Orthodox Church

·         Stagnation: The greatest concern was to keep the orthodox tradition. Eastern theology remained stagnant until modern times, except John of Damascus. Other Eastern theologians contributed mostly in mysticism.

·         John of Damascus (675–749)—He wrote Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, a summation of the theology at that time. It became the standard expression of orthodoxy of the Eastern church.

·         Simeon the New Theologian (949–1022)—He was the systematic exponent of the technique of inner prayer.

·         Gregory Palamas (1296–1359)—He taught a silent meditation reciting repeatedly the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” The goal was the vision of the divine light and union with God.


[1] treasure our heritage

Evangelism by missionaries has long been a Christian tradition.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

Barbarians were all converted by missionaries.

[3] avoid past errors

The disunity of the north African church led to their disappearance after the Muslim invasion.

[4] apply our knowledge

Pope Honorius is a reason against papal infallibility.

[5] follow past saints

Christian mystics sought a closer relationship with God.