Festschrift on the Anniversary of the Roman Empire, 16 January 27 BC.
What if what we have in Western Christianity is simply the continuation of the state religion of the Western Roman Empire and in Eastern Christianity the continuation of the state religion of the Eastern Roman Empire. The reformation of the faith and church to its true self would then need to happen outside the former empire, which it did in the Lutheran Reformation, originating in Germany.
This post will examine this development in ten sections.
I. The Founding of the Roman Empire on 16 January, 27 BC.
II. Diocletian Splits the Empire into East and West, July 285.
III. Constantine, 306.
IV. Constantine is Emperor both East and West, 325,
V. Theodosius, Last Emperor East and West, Opens New State Religion, 380.
VI. Theodosius, Last Emperor East and West, Closes Old State Religion, 392/3.
VII. Western Empire Collapses in 476, Eastern Empire Continues to 1453.
VIII. West Makes Comback As Holy Roman Empire, 800, Lasts Until 1806.
IX. Summation nostra aetate, In Our Time.
I. The Founding of the Roman Empire on 16 January, 27 BC.
Rome was founded from early settlements on 21 April 753 BC by the twin brothers Romulus (hence the name) and Remus. Romulus was the first of seven kings, the remaining six being elected. He divided the men into those fit for military service and those not, then from those not established the Senate as an advisory council of 300 men, 100 from each of the three Roman tribes, the Ramnes or Latins, the Tities or Sabines, and the Luceres or Etruscans, from the best men as he saw it. The word senate comes from the same root as senile, btw, meaning old man, take that as you will, and he called its members patres, fathers, their descendants being patricians. He also established a legislative body, the Comitia Curiata. If you're hearing modern English words committe and curia, you're right: it literally means a co-meeting of an assembly of men. There were 30 curiae, 10 for each tribe. The Senate proposed the new king to the Comitia Curiata, then the people voted and if successful the candidate would be determined by an augur to see if it was God's will, and if so he would then ask the Curia to grant him imperium, rule. The new king (rex) was pretty much everything -- top executive, lawmaker, judge, and king of sacred rites or rex sacrorum.
In 510 BC, the Senate and people of Rome changed this and established Res publica romana, the Roman Republic. The Senate governed, and the king's power was split, held by two consules (singular, consul) for a one year term, and the rex sacrorum as well as other chief priests and the virgins of Vesta were run by a new office, pontifex maximus, the supreme bridge builder literally, and in emergencies a dictator could be chosen for a six month term. Yes, there's still a pontifex maximus in Rome.
Some consider the Roman Empire to have begun with Julius Caesar's appointment by the Senate as dictator in perpetuity in 44 BC. Julius accepted this position in the Temple of Venus Genetrix, and the denarius was minted with his image and "dictator perpetuus" on one side and the goddess Ceres -- goddess of growth, agriculture and maternal love, the Roman version of the Greek Demeter -- and the title "augur pontifex maximus", high priest of the college of pontiffs, the highest position in the Roman religion, on the other. He did not rise to accept his position, and Senators fearful that he would make himself king assassinated him in the Senate on the Ides, aka the 15th, of March 44 BC.
Others consider the Roman Empire to have begun 2 September 31 BC when Octavian defeated his rival Marc Antony and his ally Cleopatra of Egypt at the naval Battle of Actium in the Ionian Sea, and also ordered the execution of Cleopatra's son Caesarion, who was 17 and was held to be, and very likely was, the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, though Julius had named Octavian, his grand nephew, his son and heir.
Others yet, and these are the guys who are right, consider the Empire to have begun with the Senate giving Octavius, or Octavian, the title augustus (honoured, or august, one) on 16 January 27 BC. With any rival claimants dead by suicide, execution or military defeat, Caesar Augustus, Octavian, was the undisputed ruler, and became pontifex maximus in 13 BC. And the rest is history, as they say.
Caesar Augustus was the first real Roman Emperor, though for some time the facade of the Roman Republic continued. Despite frontier fighting with those outside the Empire, the Empire itself enjoyed a peace, the pax augustana or pax romana, that would last from 27 BC to 180 AD, attaining its greatest extent under the emperor Trajan (98-117).
But by the third century, things became unworkable. The sheer size of the empire, the lack of any clear method of succession of power, and consequently frequent civil war, and the inability of the military to preserve internal order since they were concentrated on the borders to preserve external order, which in turn became impossible to maintain against invaders, about destroyed the empire.
II. Diocletian Splits the Empire into East and West, July 285.
Diocletian put a band aid on things, and in July 285 in Milan, then called Mediolanum, split the Empire in two, with his friend and fellow general officer Maximian first as "Caesar" of the West, then on 1 April 286 Maximus as "Augustus" of the Western half too, Diocletian remaining "Augustus" of the Eastern part. Diocletian set up Nicomedia, in modern Turkey, as the Eastern Roman capital in 286, and Milan as the Western Roman capital in 293, though Maximian largely ruled from Trier, then called Augusta Treverorum, in modern Germany. Though Maximian would commit suicide on Constantine's orders and Diocletian it seems committed suicide over it, so retirement wasn't so good.
Diocletian also considered the expansion of Christianity a threat to the state and launched possibly the most violen persecutions in history, certainly the most violent since Nero.
The arrangement yielded no new pax romana, although the persecutions would end with Galerius in 311. The underlying problems remained. Running such a far flung empire would be a big job to-day, but then there was no Internet, no TV, no radio, no phones, no air travel, no railroads, no motor vehicles, etc. The split of the empire to manage it better resulted in an arrangement called the Tetrarchy: each half would have its Augustus, with a Caesar as an assistant. Diocletian was the last Emperor of an undivided Roman Empire. Going forward, Diocletian was Augustus in the East, with Galerius the Caesar, and Maximian was Augustus in the West, with a guy named Constantius the Caesar.
On 1 May 305, Diocletian and Maximian retired as Emperors simultaneously in Milan and Nicomedia -- the first to leave power voluntarily. This left the Caesars to become the Augusti, Galerius ruling the East and Constantius ruling the West.
Now, this Constantius had this wife Helena. Well, maybe. I mean, he had this Helena, but whether she was wife or concubine is not documented. Anyway, they had this son in 272 and he was named Constantine. But, in 293 when Diocletian named Constantius as Western Caesar, part of the deal was he divorce Helena and marry Theodora, the step-daughter of Maximian, the Augustus whose Caesar he was to be. Which he did. Helena did not remarry and lived afterward in obscurity, though her son Constantine was very devoted to her, and also wanted to become Caesar, but a military officer named Severus got the nod instead at the insistence of Galerius, the Eastern Augustus.
III. Constantine, 306.
Constantine served with his father's military campaigns in England, where he was trying to solve part of the mess described above, which historians call the Third Century Crisis. Their base of operations was a town called Eboracum.
Eboracum was the name of a city founded by the Romans in AD 71 in England. The Romans began conquering what is now England in AD 43. A group called the Brigantes originally collaborated with the Romans but became more troublesome and eventually the Roman Ninth Legion under General Quintus Petillius Cerialis was sent to put and keep them in order. This accomplished, a fort was established and given a Latinised version of the native Celtic name for the place, "field of yew trees". General Cerialis was named Governor of Britain by Roman Emperor Vespasian, who ruled from 69 until he died in 79, and was himself a distinguished military officer and had participated in the original Roman invasion in 43. Eboracum was a centre of Roman power in England for some time to come.
When Constantius died there on 25 July 306, his army immediately proclaimed Constantine his son Augustus, but, Galerius said Severus had the job. Constantine notified Galerius, and Galerius got so mad he about burned the portrait Constantine had sent. In the end, he gave him the title Caesar, not Augustus, which still went to Severus.
Constantine conquered his way back toward Rome, showing an ever more clear disgust for the "barbarians" beyond the Empire's frontiers. In Rome he was put down as the son of a harlot, a reference to Helena's unclear status, and Maxentius, son of Maximian, claimed the title Emperor. Maximian proposed a deal -- his daughter Fausta would be Constantine's wife, though he already had one, but hey, and he gets the title Augustus and will lay off Maxentius.
Constantine took the deal, dumped his wife and married Fausta in Augusta Treverorum (Trier) in 307. The next year Galerius was so concerned about the West's inability to settle down that he called a council with himself, Maximian and the retired Diocletian, whose compromises no-body accepted. By 310 Maximian was in open revolt, said Constantine was dead, took back the royal purple, but the army remained true to Constantine, who was of course very much alive. In July 310, captured at Massilia (now Marseille, France), Maximian hanged himself. At firsr Constantine said it was a personal tragedy, but then said it was the result of a conspiracy to kill him and he was offered suicide rather than be tried and executed, then issued a damnatio memoriae, a damnation of memory, sort of the original airbrushing out of the photos, where all coins, statues, inscriptions etc with a person's name were defaced or destroyed, against him.
When Diocletian, in retirement in a palace he had built in his native Dioclea (hence his name) near Salona, Dalmatia (modern Split, Croatia), heard of this he went into a deep despondency, and seeing the Tetrarchy once hailed as bringing order to the whole world in ruins through the actions of Constantine and his longtime friend and colleague Maximian dead, he died on 3 December 311, most likely by suicide too. So retirement didn't work out too well for either retired emperor.
This though left Constantine without the prop of legitimacy through Maximian, whose son Maxentius was ready to take up the fight, and on 25 July Constantine began to appeal to a supposed ancestry and a vision from Apollo as the authority for his rule rather than the tetrarchy and councils. Constantine won over Maxentius' forces throughout Italy and took Rome.
Constantine went to Milan, the Western Roman capital, to forge an alliance with the new guy in the East, Licinius. That was the marriage of Constantine's sister to Licinius. Supposedly this meeting is the origin of the Edict of Milan, granting tolerance to Christianity. Actually, it wasn't an edict, wasn't from Milan and wasn't the granting of tolerance. Galerius had done that just before his death in 311, and the Edict of Milan is actually a letter to the governor of Bithynia, a Roman province in what is now Turkey containing a town named Nicaea, by Licinius granting tolerance to all religions and restoration to Christians of property taken from them during persecutions, and signed by both emperors. The "Edict" was more of a middle ground from tolerance per se into a favoured status with special provisions for Christians, leading to the eventual proclamation of Christianity as the state religion.
But the alliance fell apart. War broke out between the two, Constantine in the West and Licinius in the East, and by 320 Licinius began persecuting Christians again, allied with Goths of the native pagan religions, and by 324 full scale civil war was underway. Constantine's forces won, sporting a symbol said to have been revealed to him, the labarum, or chi-rho. Licinius surrendered, on a deal that his life be spared, but Constantine had him killed the next year anyway.
IV. Constantine is Emperor both East and West, 325.
That next year, 325, was a big one. From that point on, Constantine was the emperor both West and East. He began to rebuild Byzantium, close by Nicomedia, as the second or New Rome (Nova Roma), later renaming it Constantinople, Constantinopolis actually, meaning Constantine's City, imagine that. The ceremony of dedication on 11 May 330 was partly Christian and partly pagan -- and you thought Yankee Stadium was syncretism! He also, though not a bishop, not a priest, not even a baptised Christian, called a church council to settle correct theology about Jesus against primarily the Arians. You get to do that when you rule your known world.
To top that, next year in 326 he did something even more amazing than calling a council of the Christian church when you're not a Christian -- that is, if you believe Baptism is a means of grace uniting one to the life of Christ rather than through a personal decision -- namely, he had his son and wife killed, with his mother's prodding. Exactly what that was all about will probably never be known, but it was one of two things. Supposedly Fausta his wife was raped by Crispus his son (how classically Greek) or the two were having an affair, and either he discovered this and had them both killed, or, Fausta lied that it happened to keep Crispus, who was not her son, from being named emperor over her sons, he believed it and had his son killed, then found out she lied and had her killed. Either way, wow.
Days Of Our Lives and then some more. Crispus was the son of Constantine and his wife Minervina, whom Constantine had to divorce to marry Fausta to get on with his upward career mobility. And here's Helena his mother, who got dumped by gramps Constantius for exactly the same reason. How bizarre is that? Fausta won though -- Crispus was executed but her three sons all became Roman emperors. Oddly, none of them revoked the damnatio memoriae of her enacted by Constantine. At any rate, the whole thing changed Constantine forever, and he never set foot in the Western Empire again.
So he who was first proclaimed emperor in a far flung northwest outpost of the Western Empire by an authority that had no authority to do it, the army, ends up solidifying the Roman Empire in the East as the West slowly crumbles. By 337 Constantine was wearing out being Great and all, and he finally sought Baptism on 22 May just before he died, from not one of the victorious Trinitarians at the Council of Nicaea he called, but from Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, long a court favourite despite a brief exile and chief apologist for Arius. Really. I'm not making this up.
Not to mention Constantine retained the title pontifex maximus, the title of Roman emperors as head of the pre-Christian Roman pagan state religion priesthood. Maybe that's why there's no pope in the East. Well, actually there are "popes" in the East, but in the pontifex sense, not in the pontifex maximus sense of the one in Rome. After Constantine's death, the Western Empire was split between two of his sons, and the East went to his middle son, all three having variants of his name. Constant power struggle from within and invasions from without destabilised everything.
Eventually, a Spanish military officer in the Roman army named Theodosius became Augustus/Emperor in the East in August 378 by Gratian the Western Emporer after Valens the Eastern Emperor was killed in battle, then when Valentinian II, the remaining Western ruler, was found hanged on 15 May 392 -- the preacher at his funeral in the Western capital Milan, the bishop thereof, Ambrose, as in "Saint" Ambrose, steering clear of whether it was murder or suicide -- became Emperor of both East and West, the last to do that.
V. Theodosius, Last Emperor East and West, Opens New State Religion, 380.
While the end of the persecutions was welcome per se, the favoured status of Christianity also transformed the religion from one for whose truth one would rather die than betray to a religion one joined for political and social gain. The transformation of Christianity's status was complete when Theodosius I, on 27 February 380, declared Nicene Trinitarian Christianity the official, universal, or catholic, state religion of the empire. He deposed some bishops and appointed others in the new state religion, and ended state subsidy for the former state religion. So much for my kingdom is not of this world.
VI. Theodosius, Last Emperor East and West, Closes Old State Religion, 392/3.
The Olympic Games began in 776 BC. The Greek city states were almost constantly at war, but for the Games, there was peace. In addition to athletic qualification, one had to be male, of the free class, and Greek speaking to participate. There are several myths as to why the games began, but why the games ended is clear. The Emporer Theodosius I, aka Theodosius the Great, the last Emperor of both the Eastern and Western Roman Empire, outlawed them after the games of 393 AD as part of the establishment of Christianity as defined at the Council of Nicea as the state religion, as we saw.
For that matter, he also shut down the Temple of Vesta in the Forum in Rome, put out its "eternal" fire, and disbanded the Vestal Virigins. He started out fairly tolerant of pagans, whose support particularly among the ruling class he needed, but got himself excommunicated by St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, in 390. His governor in Thessalonica had been assassinated, and he ordered massacres in retaliation, but after excommunication did public penance for months and his orders against pagan institutions probably were an extension of this. The Olympic Games, by whatever account associated with the pagan Greek gods, became, as they say, history.
This also ended a practical effect of the games -- time was counted in Olympiads, the four year interval between games, giving a unity to the various calendars of the city-states, and this of course ended with the games no longer being held. The site remained, however, until it was destroyed in an earthquake in the Sixth Century. In the 2004 modern Olympic Games, the shot put contest was held in the ancient stadium. What's a stadium? Where the stade (stadion) race is run, the original single event of the Olympics, a sprint of somewhere around 200 metres, the exact length unknown. Over time other events were added, and the games were one of the two great rituals of ancient Greece, the other being the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Now, the basis for the Eleusinian Mysteries was the story about Hades seeing Persephone out one day picking flowers, went nuts for her and took her away to, well, Hades, the realm of death, with the OK of Zeus, her dad. Her mom Demeter, aka Ceres by the Romans, goddess of life, therefore fertility and agriculture, went looking for her, abandoned her duties, causing famine and drought, and finally with the help of Zeus found her and thus ended the calamity with the first Spring. However, Persephone had to abide by certain terms. She had to spend four months with Hades in the Underworld, four months with Demeter, and the last four she could choose, and she chose Demeter. The four months with Hades are the hot, dry Greek Summer, prone to drought and forest fires, during which the saddened Demeter neglects her duties until Persephone comes back.
Theodosius shut down the Eleusinian Mysteries too, in 392! There were a few holdouts from the Nicene Christian end, but they were stomped out four years later by Alaric, King of the Goths, who was an Arian Christian. So, between Nicene and Arian Christianity and an earthquake, the more or less thousand year era of the Olympic Games and two thousand year era of the Eleusinian Mysteries came to an end. And speaking of forest fires, in Persephone's four months with Hades, aka Summer, of 2007, massive forest fires nearly destroyed the site of the ancient Olympics, which hosted one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the twelve metre tall ivory and gold Statue of Zeus, but thanks to modern firefighting, unless you say Zeus relented to save what's left and let Persephone come back and then Demeter got active again, what's left is still left and made it through this most recent threat.
What's of Lutheran interest about this? Well, the Games of course have their modern version, though one no longer needs to be male or Greek speaking to participate. The Mysteries, what were they? Nobody knows for sure. They were secret initiation rites into the deal about Demeter and Persephone, thought to unite the initiate with the gods, with divine power and a good outcome in the afterlife. Nobody knows exactly how they started, but they drew from all over, open to all, free and slave, male or female, as long as you hadn't murdered anyone and weren't a barbarian, which is not what you may think, it's someone who can't speak Greek and instead makes stupid sounds like bar-bar, literally. There were Greater and Lesser Mysteries, the Lesser being done every year around March, when Summer is just around the corner, and the Greater every five years in late Summer, when the Fall rains and planting come and the new year (in the local calendar) begins.
So whaddya think, on Sunday morning do we have a toned down Greek mystery religion filtered through Nicene Christianity and the new Imperial state religion loosely based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Jewish messianism that would have passed into history long ago were it not so reinvented through Greek mythology, or do we have the revealed religion of God through Jesus Christ, completing and fulfilling the incomplete hints of it found in human religion in Greek antiquity and everywhere and in the previously revealed religion of the Old Covenant?
I'll go with the latter. And I'm glad the site of the classic Games made it through the 2007 fires.
VII. Western Empire Collapses in 476, Eastern Empire Continues to 1453.
The Western Empire continued until 4 September 476, when Romulus Augustus (what a name, combining one of the traditional founders of Rome with Octavian its first emperor!) was deposed deposed by the Germanic king Odoacer and never succeeded. So he was the last Western Roman Emperor. Well, sort of. His father, Flavius Orestes, was appointed by Julius Nepos as a senior general officer, magister militum, working with the Germanic foederati. The foederati -- see the word federal in there? -- were non-Roman tribes bound by a treaty (foedus) where though they weren't citizens they weren't colonies either. But they had to supply troops to Rome, and by this time the Western Roman military relied heavily on them. Orestes struck a deal with a Germanic foederati king, Odoacer, to overthrow Julius Nepos, which they did on 28 August 475 in Ravenna, which had become the Western capital in 402. Nepos fled to, guess where, Dalmatia, same as old Diocletian. Orestes put his son Romulus Augustus on the throne though he was barely a teen. But then Odoacer turned on Orestes and captured and killed him on 28 August 476, then deposed Romulus on 4 September 476, though letting him live in consideration of his young age. The Roman Senate, acting for Odoacer, asked the Eastern Emperor Zeno to reunite the Empire, but Zeno said Julius Nepos was the rightful ruler, yet allowed Odoacer to rule in Zeno's name though Nepos was recognised as Emperor.
So, you could say Julius Nepos was the last Western Emperor too. Nepos, btw, was killed in exile by his own soldiers, caught in the middle of his own efforts to retake power from Odoacer and the efforts of the Emperor before him, Glycerius, to exact revenge. Glycerius was not a rightful Emperor, having been appointed by a previous magister militum, Gundobad, rather than the rightful appointer, the Eastern Emperor Leo I, who eventually appointed his nephew Nepos (hence the name). Glycerius surrendered to him without a fight, Gundobad having abandoned him, in consideration for which Nepos made him bishop of Salona, Dalmatia. When Nepos was killed 25 April 480, Odoacer, who wasn't even a Nicene Christian but an Arian, made him bishop of Milan.
Ah yes, bishops in a direct line of succession from the Apostles.
The Eastern Empire considered itself and called itself Roman to the end. Latin was for some time its official language, though Greek was used outside the court and eventually became official. Yet in Rome, the elite spoke Greek, though in time that passed too. Each half, while sharing many common elements, took on its own culture even though the Roman borrowed much from the Greek, and the eventual prominence of each's language both symbolises and contributes to the outcome.
The East outlasted the West by about a thousand years. It continued until its defeat by the Ottomans in 1453. The Ottoman Empire itself lasted from 1299 to 1922 when the British Empire, having won World War I, partioned it into the Middle Eastern countries that are in the news almost daily right now.
After the Eastern Empire fell, Czarist Russia, having long since become Eastern Orthodox from the Eastern Roman Empire, considered itself the "third" Rome -- Rome itself being the first and Constantinople being the second. Constantinople, the Eastern Empire capital itself a rename of Byzantium by Constantine after Constantine, got renamed again as Istanbul on 28 March 1930 by the secular Republic of Turkey, which would no longer deliver mail addressed to "Constantinople" and had moved the capital of Turkey to Ankara, the new name for Angora.
VIII. West Makes Comeback as Holy Roman Empire, 800, Lasts Until 1806.
Hey, whatever happened to Eboracum, where his father's army had proclaimed Constantine Emperor? It's still there! After the Western Empire fell in 476, the Angles -- more Germans -- invaded and took over and called the city Eoferwic. Then the Vikings -- not more Germans exactly, but Germanic -- blew in in 866 and called in Jorvik, probably a re-pronunciation easier on Viking ears. Then in 1066 the Normans -- not a bunch of guys named Norman but people from Normandy just across the English Channel -- really blew in and took over, William the Conqueror sacking the place, and in time the name morphed from Jorvik to York, with variant spellings. And that's what it is to-day -- York, England. And everyone knows about the new York in, well, New York. Guess what, there's a York here in Nebraska too!
So what's that all about, a French smoothing over of rough Germanic edges? Some see it that way, but that's not really the deal. The Normans themselves result from Vikings -- there you go, more Germanic types -- raiding the area, joining up with the locals, providing a hedge against yet more Vikings raiding the area, taking on the local culture and adding their original one, and becoming The Northmen, from which the names Norman and Normandy derive.
So it's Frenched-over Vikings on top of Vikings on top of Germans on top of Romans on top of Celts on top of, some say, the Old Ones. That's where my ancestors came from. And they say the US is a melting pot! True that, but where we came from is a melting pot too.
Well, once the Western Empire fell, the West attempted to come out of what are called the Dark Ages of overrun by the "Huns", those formerly outside the Empire, with the formation of the Holy Roman Empire when on Christmas 800 Leo III, the Bishop of Rome, an office which to this day bears the title pontifex maximus, crowned the King of the Franks Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor (imperator augustus, to be exact). This was a conscious attempt to re-establish the Western Roman Empire -- though someone famously said it was neither Roman nor holy nor an empire -- and lasted about a thousand years, until the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, dissolved it in the Napoleonic Wars in 1806.
Things were off to a roaring good start, with the chief religious functionary of the state religion crowning the head of state and all. Charlemagne put to-gether a pretty good empire, emphasising -- in case you thought this was a new idea with the current European Union -- a pan-European identity. Well, actually, his grandfather Charles Martel, which means "The Hammer", put it to-gether for him but did not take the title Emperor, or even King as his son Pepin did at Pope Zachary's nomination. Charlemagne completes the transition from his grandfather and father as Roman Emperor, Imperator Augustus to be exact, so crowned by the Roman Pope in 800.
But we all die, even emperors, and Charlemagne died 28 January 814 in Aachen (Germany), his capital. He was buried the same day in Aachen Cathedral -- hell, call it right, the Kaiserdom, Imperial Cathedral -- which he had begun as his palace chapel and was consecrated in Mary's (as in Jesus' mother) honour by Pope Leo III in 805. In 1978 it was among the 12 places designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. An eyewitness account says when Emperor Otto III opened the vault in 1000, Charlegmagne was sitting upright as if still ruling, only the tip of his nose having decomposed. It's been opened since without similar report.
Back to the story, Charlegmagne the year before he died had named his only surviving son who wasn't a bastard -- not what you think, I mean in the technically correct sense of not the legitimate offspring of a husband and wife -- his successor. Well, sort of. It's always "sort of" when it's "Roman". Charlemagne was actually married to Desiderata, princess daughter of the Lombard (a Germanic tribe in northern Italy) king Desiderius as part of a peace with him, in 770, but the next year the marriage was annulled, Pope Stephen III having said Pepin said he was to be married to someone Frankish, and she went home to her dad's court and war came in 774. This getting rid of inconvenient first wives is sort of a pattern, isn't it -- right along with the church finding it OK, in case you thought Henry VIII started it. But, there were no kids and the next year he married the 13 year old daughter of Swabian (Southern Germany) Count Gerold, Hildegard. There were nine kids, though he appears to have had this Himiltrude in there somewhere as a wife or concubine, so maybe Hildegard was Wife #3. Oh well.
Anyway, this son and successor is Louis, known as the Pious. Originally, folllowing the usual custom, Louis was to share his father's rule divided with his brothers, and such were Charlemagne's provisions in the Divisio regnorum (Division of the Rule) of 806, but by 814 his two brothers who also weren't bastards were dead so Louis got the whole pie. He rushed to Aachen and crowned himself, though on 5 October 816 Pope Stephen IV, who followed after Leo III who had crowned his father, crowned him officially in Rheims. Then ordered everyone to be loyal to Louis.
Louis tried real hard, but most of his rule was plagued by continual frontier wars with those outside his realm and civil wars, three of them, with those inside his realm. Starting to sound like the problems that always get Roman Empires -- running a big realm with no modern communications or travel, keeping the lid on externally and internally, and specifically re internally providing for an orderly succession, Gets 'em every time. Louis had his unmarried sisters and bastard brothers enter convents and monasteries, to avoid power brokering marriages -- he also ordered all cloisters to follow the Rule of St Benedict, kick ass Louis! -- and provided for an orderly succession in his ordinatio imperii of 817, which both followed the custom of dividing among sons and also the custom of the first-born taking pride of place, that being Lothair who would be Emperor.
But there were problems. His nephew Bernard was also in on the succession deal, but when he revolted and wanted more, Louis had him blinded, from which he died two days later. So in 822 he does public penance before the Pope (Paschal I this time), and let his relatives out of their monastic orders, both of which lost him his cred with the nobles and pretty much everyone. On top of that, his wife Ermengarde died in 818, whom he seems to have genuinely loved, and in 820 he marries Judith, daughter of Count Welf of Altdorf (way southern Germany, called Weingarten since 1865 from the name of the wealthy abbey, Benedictine of course, founded there in 1065), which leads to a son Charles in 823. Which led to the civil wars, the existing sons of the deceased wife having none of this new guy horning in on what's theirs. Louis died on 20 June 840 and war over who got what continued for three years until the Treaty of Verdun in 843 settled things among the three surviving sons and pretty much set the Europe we know now, along with its conflicts. Lothair got the Emperor title and the Middle Frankish Kingdom, Louis "the German" got the Eastern Frankish Kingdom which is pretty much Germany now, and Charles "the Bald" got the Western Frankish Kingdom which is pretty much France now.
But no real empire emerged. The Middle Frankish Kingdom fell apart and the other two and about anyone else with some money and an army were at it all the time, including the damn Vikings from the North. The guy who really re-established things was Otto I, son of Heinrich der Vogler (Henry the Fowler) out of East Francia, Louis the German's third. Heinrich ensured the recognition of West Francia by East Francia which was still under Carologian rulers. But when his son Otto was crowned with the title Emperor on 2 February 962 by Pope John XII at St Peter's Basilica in Rome, this was the translatio imperii, the transfer of rule, in which this German empire was considered -- especially by those who ran it and/or hoped to benefit from it -- as the new Roman Empire in direct succession from the old Roman Empire, though of course the actual Eastern Roman Empire was still up and running at the time.
For that reason, Otto is considered by some the real first Holy Roman Emperor. The Holy Roman Empire -- Das Heiliges Roemisches Reich in German, or Sacrum Romanum Imperium in Latin -- earned the quip of not being holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire by largely being held to-gether by the same three forces Otto put it to-gether. One was his control over bishops and abbots and their investiture into office not to mention selection for office; Two was proprietary churches, meaning they belonged to the ruler who owner the land on which they stood unless otherwise agreed by charter; Three was the use of an appointed rather than hereditary advocatus, or Vogt in German, to run church properties and estates. Power was a balance of concessions to local rulers for support in order to have power over local rulers, with the Pope in the balance too.
For example, Pope John XII who had crowned Otto soon turned on him, so Otto went back to Rome, deposed Otto, and had a layman elected Pope, that being Leo VII, but then John attempted a comeback, but died and was followed by Benedict V, so Otto heads back to Rome again to get rid of Benedict and make them promise to quit electing popes without the Emperor's approval.
Silver and gold have I none indeed.
So on it goes, back and forth. Eventually, the Golden Bull of 1356, passed by the Reichastag, the legislature of the HRE, and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, fixed the election of "Roman Emperors" to be by seven electors who would elect a "King of the Romans" (rex romanorum, roemischer Koenig) in Frankfurt in the old East Francia. Emperor-elect was sufficient for rule, but the Pope would then officially crown the King of the Romans Holy Roman Emperor. The electors are: the Archbishops (who were also temporal rulers, hence the term Princes of the Church) of Cologne, Mainz, and Trier, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the King of Bohemia, the Duke of Saxony, and the Margrave of Brandenburg. The papal coronation was not specified, and the last HRE to be crowned by a Pope was Charles V, crowned HRE by Pope Clement VII in Bologna in 1530.
Charles V, he to whom the Augsburg Confession is addressed? Yes, the same. He was Spanish too -- yay -- the son of Felipe I and Joanna (sometimes called The Mad) of Castille, though he was born and raised in Ghent, Flanders (modern Begium then under Spanish control) and never did speak Spanish very well despite being King of Spain too, as Charles I. He is said to have said "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse".
Charles' reign would have been peaceful except for a few things: by his time the Eastern Roman Empire had collapsed in defeat to the Ottomans in 1453, who were then threatening to conquer Europe itself; colonisation of the Americas and the Pacific had opened up an entirely new world to manage, literally, and the combination of Christian, non-Christian, and political elements from the state religion of the Roman Empire through the same state religion of the Holy Roman Empire had finally sparked an effort to recall the church to its nature and mission as established by Christ, not Romans of varying descriptions. And that effort is called the Lutheran Reformation.
Charles more and more left dealing with the Reformation to his brother Ferdinand. He hoped the Council of Trent would solve everything and put everything back to-gether. It didn't. How to handle the worldwide empire, and the wealth that flowed from it, in the Americas (including Nebraska where I am right now) and the Pacific, almost continual war with France, and almost continual war with the Ottoman Empire -- led by Suleiman the Magnificent, no less -- was an enormous job, and eventually took its toll, not to mention lifelong health problems such as epilepsy, arthritis, and an inability to eat well due to an enlarged lower jaw. Charles abdicated all his titles on 16 January 1556, leaving his son Felipe II King of Spain and its empire and his brother Fernando Holy Roman Emperor, and retired -- not as you or I do, but with an entourage of fifty or so to special apartments -- to the monastery of Yuste in Spain, not a Benedictine one but of the Hieronymites, the Order of St Jerome, a Spanish order which took St Jerome as its patron saint and lived under the Rule of St Augustine, like the Augustinians of whom Martin Luther was a member. He died there 21 September 1558.
16 January. Remember that? 16 January 27 BC, when the Roman Senate make Octavian Emperor, Augustus. 16 January 1556, Charles to whom the Augsburg Confession is addressed as a statement of Christian teaching abdicates everything.
The Holy Roman Empire continued until Napoleon. Francis II was the last Holy Roman Emperor, and after his defeat by Napoleon at Austerlitz abolished the HRE on 6 August 1806. Ironically, the monastery of Yuste, where Charles V, also a Hapsburg, had retired was also destroyed in the Napoleonic Wars.
Francis II though, thinking the HRE was about at an end, set up shop as Franz I, Emperor of Austria in 1804, and this dynasty lasted until Karl I, when it was defeated in the First World War. On 11 November 1918, Armistice Day, he relinquished the throne, but he did not say abdicate, hoping to be recalled. He never was, the Austrian parliament enacted a law 3 April 1919 banning any Hapsburgs from Austria unless they accepted simple status as citizens, and he died in poverty in forced exile in Madeira, an island off Protugal, 1 April 1922.
On 3 October 2004 he was beatified, one step before being declared a saint, by Pope John Paul II on the basis of the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints 2003 conclusion of his heroic virtue and one miracle through is intercession, who also declared 21 October, the date in 1911 of his marriage to Princess Zita, as his feast day. On 31 January 2008 a second miracle (one won't do it for sainthood) was formally certified, the miraculous cure through his intercession of a woman in Florida -- who's a Baptist!
His oldest son, Otto, headed the family for many years, opposed Hitler, who sentenced him to death, and was active as a Member of the European Parliament of the European Union until 1999, and in January 2007 passed the torch of head of the House of Hapsburg to his oldest son, Karl, though he remains Crown Prince and pretender to the throne, and lives in Bavaria. Archduke Karl, born 11 January 1961, was also a member of the European Parliament and serves as director of the non governmental organisation (NGO) UNPO, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation.
Whew, we're done. You know, you just can't make this sort of stuff up.
IX. Summation nostra aetate, In Our Time.
The Roman Empire, the Eastern and the Western Roman Empire, and the Holy Roman Empire, spanned over 1,800 years, and are now gone. Great guys like Otto and Karl seem worlds removed from the carryings-on of some of their ancestors. We all seem worlds removed. The current Pope Benedict hasn't crowned any emperors. What has this to do with anything?
The state religion of the Roman Empire, the Eastern Roman Empire and the Western Roman Empire, Czarist Russia and the Holy Roman Empire after them, respectively, has outlasted the empire which created them, and is still with us in their respective churches. Tu es Petrus, thou are Peter, Christ said to Peter in the phrase often cited for their legitimacy. Legitimacy? Who in their right minds looking at all we've looked at find the slightest thing about Thou art Peter about it? Who in their right minds would find such fleshly goings-on at all related to God become Man in the flesh? Yet this perversion of the Incarnation from a truth and an event into a theological and ecclesiastical principle, a fabrication for the benefit of those who would benefit from it by those who would benefit from it, is a captivity from "Babylon" that continues to captivate many. Until it is recognised as such.
What one finds is Christian elements mixed up with pagan elements of the old state religion, largely focussed on matters of succession, the longstanding bane of the empires, with generous helpings of political necessity and expediency thrown in too, into a hybrid or synthesis continuing to this day.
This is not at all to say that the faith of Jesus Christ delivered to the Apostles disappeared. It is to say that Christianity took on much, some of which it would regard as essential and not cultural, from the state which adopted it as its new state religion, the Roman Empire East and West.
Tertullian first applied the pagan Roman religious term pontifex to a "bishop" about 225 when the Roman bishop, aka pope, Callistus relaxed the penance for adulterers -- as a derogatory reference, not a good thing, describing him as acting like a pagan religious leader. Pope Damasus (366-384) is said to have been the first to use the term, though others say this is unsubstantiated. Nonetheless, Theodosius, he who ended the Olympic Games etc, called him pontifex, and the term became a reference to a bishop, summus pontifex or the original phrase pontifex maximus for the bishop of Rome, the pope. Leo I and Gregory I are also cited in this regard.
And behave like the officers and head of the old pagan religion they did, for centuries, as we saw. The idea of a bunch of pontifices in a collegium pontificum headed by a pontifex maximus/summus derives not at all from the institution of Christ but from the morphing of leadership and ministry in the church after the Roman Imperial state religion appropriated the model for its pastors as Christianity took on the role of state religion, then further took on its Eastern and Western characters due to the collapse of the Western Empire and its subsequent history centuries before the collapse of the Eastern Empire.
The differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as a religious image of the differences between the culture of the Eastern and Western Roman Empire. The Western Church, complete with a pontifex maximus, inherited Rome's administrative and legal bent, and the Eastern Church inherited Constantinople's more philosophical and artistic bent. The formal schism between the two in 1054 had immediate theological causes, but was culturally inevitable, bound to happen theology or not.
Remember, in the East, the Eastern Empire still existed at this time, but the Western Empire was gone, with the intended reincarnation as the Holy Roman Empire in its place, and the recognition of the bishop of Rome as "first among equals" at world-wide, called ecumenical from the Greek, church councils was then also extended to the bishop of Constantinople, the new Rome. In the lands of the former Western Empire the modern languages spoken are derived from Latin, which remained its liturgical language, whereas in the lands of the former Eastern Empire the languages are not derived from Greek, which was not its liturgical language other than for Greeks.
Thus the primary remains of this in the West is the Roman administrative, legalistic flair, and in the East the philosophical, mystical flair. In Roman Catholicism, even with the moderating and revisionist slant given it by Vatican II, one hears the religion of the Western Roman Empire, and in Eastern Orthodoxy one hears the religion of the Eastern Roman Empire.
While the Roman Empire, as a unified whole and as a divided empire, has passed into history, their eventual religions have not. And so the reformation of the church, the freeing of it from the accretions of Imperial culture East and West, was to happen from outside the Empire, had to happen from outside the Empire. And so it did, the Reformation being then not an event in the Western Church surviving the Western Empire, but an event in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church from outside the Empire, undivided, Eastern, or Western.
And about those accretions. They aren't necessarily bad. What's bad is if they contradict the books the church has said we can rely on, the Bible. Not if they are not found in the Bible, if they contradict the Bible. Big difference. What's also bad is, whether they do or don't contradict the Bible, if they are made into essentials. On these points, the Reformation would go well beyond the Lutheran Reformation to a near eradication of them, and then a replacement of them with other forms of righteousness before God through works rather than Jesus Christ, either way confusing justification before God with santification, personal growth in faith and grace -- confusing participation in the sacraments, personal decisions for Christ, avoidance of immorality and doing good works in general, with justification before God through faith given by the Holy Spirit apart from any external or internal work or act on my part in the saving Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This post- and non-Lutheran Reformation resulted first in new state churches, sometimes forcibly including Lutheran ones (the Prussian Union comes to mind) and later in churches influenced by the "Enlightenment" political and theological theories which have become the unofficial state religions of the modern Western secular liberal states, abandoning even their prior confessions of faith, one broad group representing the religious Left and another the religious Right.
So, confessional Lutheran churches uphold and teach the faith of Jesus Christ taught in the Bible and accurately stated in the Book of Concord, and uphold and maintain the usual customs, rejecting only what contradicts the Gospel and recognising that the rest are customs, not Gospel or even Law. We are the churchly echo of neither the ancient empire nor the contemporary liberal state. And we worship accordingly, in the historical liturgy of the Divine Service, where God the Divine serves us his Word and Sacrament, not the other way around.
And after all this stuff, the great thing is, all you really need to know is laid out in the Little Catechism. The thing I like in poking around in all this stuff is that you appreciate ever more fully that all you really need to know is laid out in the Little Catechism, and that, in view of all this stuff that happened, what a miracle of the Holy Spirit it is that we have it!
Some asides. You pick up some interesting tidbits along the way too. Like the Roman goddess of agriculture, Ceres, a figure of which tops the capital of Nebraska, is why we call it cereal. Or that July is for Julius Caesar and August for Caesar Augustus. You get to have your own month when you're a founding emperor and then proclaimed a god, otherwise we'd call the old fifth and sixth Roman months Quintember and Sextember, as we still do the remaining months September (7th), October (8th), November (9th) and December (10th).
Textual Note. This post is an entirely new entity. It consists of new material and material rewritten from four earlier posts, "A Wonder of the World and Forest Fires" on 27 August 2007, "Eastern Church/Empire, Western Church/Empire" on 1 September 2007, " 25 July A.D. 306 in Eboracum, Britannia" on 25 July 2008, and "More Twelve Days of Christmas, 2008" on 27 December 2008. About the most consistently hit page on this blog is the Eastern/Western one, but so much else related to it is in the other three or wasn't included in them, so the format was to assemble all the material from the prior posts and the new material within the structure of the Eastern/Western post.
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