Archive | May 2015

Spreading Christianity in England

The Spread of Christianity in England was one that had a few setbacks. Britain was part of the Roman Empire and Roman natives there were protected by Roman troops, until the 400s when they were forced to return to the continent when the conflicts with the Barbarians were intensifying. When the Roman army left the British, they were left unprotected and with the bother of coping with their territorial enemies.

Lacking war skills, the Romano-British hired the Saxons as mercenaries, who in turn, took land for themselves by dispossessing the Romano-British from theirs. The Romans were left with a small territory to live in known as Wales. Here, they were quite angry at the Anglo-Saxons for having taken their lands, that they did not feel the urge to convert them to Christianity. Evangelization would have to come from somewhere outside Britain.

Around the year of 600, missionaries from Rome and Ireland arrived to the Anglo-land to convert the people. Pope Gregory the Great (r.590-604) in Rome had lots of problems to struggle with. There was no temporal authority to handle Rome’s problems, there were famines, plagues, and the Lombards were invading the land. Therefore, Pope Gregory was almost obliged to make peace with the Lombards, which he did, and established hospitals and relief services while he was at it. In the settling of things, Pope Gregory realized that maybe the East would not be reliable any longer, so in the convenience of security, the papacy turned to the West and pushed for a more systematic evangelization.

Pope Gregory the Great sent missionaries aided by St. Augustine of Canterbury to England. The Pope instructed them in saying that the missionaries had to try hard to adapt the Anglo practices to Christianity and be patient in their conversion for they wouldn’t do it instantly. He told them to not destroy their temples and maintain the outward ceremony of their rituals to use them to worship the true God and interpret things in a Christian sense. There were substantial conversions, including the one of their king’s (King Ethelbert).

Sooner or later the question came in knowing if the Celts (Romano-British) and the Anglo-Saxons could be reconciled or at least -if possible- lead the Celts to combine forces with the missionaries to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons, but they said something like this, “We will never, never preach the faith to this cruel race of foreigners who have so treacherously robbed us of our native soil!”

Meanwhile, there were two manners of practicing Christianity competing for dominance in England. The Irish monks, with their extreme religious rudiments and tough forms of asceticism were in the north and the Benedictine monks were in the south. These differences caused confusion among the Anglo-Saxons in knowing which was the correct form of practice. Controversy was resolved in the Synod of Whitby (664), a meeting where it was asked which form of dating Easter was correct, the Irish or the Benedictine. The Benedictines said that they were using the one the successor of apostle Peter was using, so the king preferred to follow the practices of the successor. This Irish-Benedictine interaction yielded the Northumbrian Renaissance.

The Northumbrian Renaissance brought biblical illuminations, epic poetry, and other things that emerged from the monasteries. The key monastery was the one of Jarrow, which was home to the Venerable Bede of Germanic ancestry. Bede wrote the ecclesiastical history of England. By Bede’s death in 735, the Northumbrian Renaissance will begin to fade, but Northumbrian learning will continue to be spread in Europe by St. Boniface. The Frankish kingdom will be the cultural center of Europe by the eighth century and Charlemagne’s advisor, Alcuin (student of the Venerable Bede), will be a major factor in accomplishing this.


The Carolingian Renaissance

The Frankish Emperor Charlemagne, member of the Carolingian family, was a man that thought of himself as a mere Barbarian and thus praised the ancient Roman Empire. He desired to bring back to life a civilization that would have made ancient Rome proud. However, this civilization could be better due to its emphasis on Christianity. Charlemagne’s longings gave birth to the Carolingian Renaissance which lasted from 768 to about the year of 840. This rebirth was different from others in the fact that there wasn’t much original work, but instead preservation of the antique works performed in earlier centuries, specifically those having to do with religious material (e.g. the writings of the “latin fathers”, the learning of latin to read the Bible, more accurate translations of the religious literature, etc.).

Of course, there was an establishment of bringing back the old form of doing government in ancient Rome. The Frankish government would now be responsible of encouraging the formation of roads, schools, the administration of justice, etc. For the first time, Franks would now have a fixed capital in the city of Aachen, this would enable a more accurate rule. Aachen would be the live model that represented Charlemagne’s idea of rebirth, due to the mere fact that its court chapel was built similarly to the one you would have seen in a prominent Roman city. He was consciously building before the model of Rome and everywhere he would go, Charlemagne would seek great artists and support them.

Education was fomented greatly during the Carolingian Renaissance to the ruling elite, to the churchmen, and then to a broader public. Within the schools, theology, poetry, and science would be studied. Many cathedral schools were born; every monastery and cathedral needed to have a school to teach the clergy and the laity how to read and write. In this scholar development, the emperor realized that he had a shortage of scholars to teach and study. Therefore, he brought some from Ireland, Britain, and Italy.

In the midst of these scholars one became a very important advisor for Charlemagne, this was Alcuin of York. Alcuin was involved in the court school around the palace where many aristocrats and advisors assisted. However, Alcuin asked for a less demanding job and became the abbot of Tours, in there he continued the job of the renaissance where he took the monks to create more accurate latin translations of the Bible, latin fathers, and the latin classics.

I believe that the Carolingian Renaissance provided lots of contributions to the West. One of the most important contributions is the introduction of a single standard of writing, which is practically the one used today. This style is called “Carolingian minuscule”. Back in the old days, writing styles would differ in different geographic areas of the world. For example, the Roman style was all capitals and no space between the words, Carolingian minuscule changed this by introducing commas, lower-case letters, space between words, apostrophes, etc.

The Franks and the Church

Perhaps the most or one of the most important Barbarian groups known for the development of Western Civilization is that one of the Franks. This barbarian group was localized within the area of Gaul. With its tremendous power at battle and capable leaders it was able to conquer and spread its kingdom to become the mightiest of the barbarians. When they began to convert to christianity following their Merovingian king’s conversion (Clovis), they enabled the expansion of Christendom.

Their conversion was easy, but slow and this took the Church to train and teach the Franks with great dedication. For this reason, France is known as the “eldest daughter of the Church”. The Franks gave Christianity an advantage with respect to conversion, as they were not Arians, religion which basically taught that Christ was not God. That is to say that they were not structured with preconceived ideas about Jesus Christ, so it was easier to teach them and convert them to Christianity than it was with other barbarian groups who believed in the heresy of Arianism.

However, their conversions normally were in the masses following their leaders’ choices, which would put to doubt the sincerity of some of those who converted instantly, simply pursuing the leader. This led some Franks to worship both their gods and Jesus, even within the clergymen. During the mid-seventh century, the Frankish army would sacrifice women and children to satisfy the battle spirits. Then, St. Boniface would be the one to officially report to the Church the conditions in Merovingian Gaul, which were poor indeed. People were buying church offices to gain influence, using church property to enrich their families, clerics would engage in marriage, and others would carry weapons and shed blood. The church of the Franks needed reformation.

In order to carry out the reform, St. Boniface obtained the assistance from the Mayors of the Palace which were the Carolingians, mainly Pepin the short and Carloman. This reformation created a bond of friendship between the Franks and the papacy as they were now in continuous contact.  Meanwhile, the Carolingian family grew in fame and power. They took full control of the office of Mayor of the Palace and made it a hereditary office, they began to exercise the authority de facto (unofficial but legal) of the king, and held outstanding military power famously proven by Charles Martel who defeated the Muslims at the Battle of Tours (732).

The Merovingians were fierce warriors, but incompetent rulers in every single area of the administration. They also had problems between themselves and slaughtered each other’s families and people. The Frankish kingdom needed order and it was being established mainly by the Catholic Church alongside the Mayors of the Palace or Carolingians. Therefore, in realizing this, Pepin the Short became interested in legitimately acquiring the title of the king and this meant that he would not take it by force but ask for it.

Pepin went to the current pope, Pope Zachary I, and asked him if it was a good situation for the king to have no power and for those who had it to not hold the title of the king. Zachary answered saying that it was not good, that it was disorder and unnatural, so he blessed the change of dynasty from the Merovingian family to the Carolingian family in 751. To me this all seems very political (not genuine), as the Church would want something in return to the favor it gave to the Carolingians and Franks, in general, of establishing order. The Church would seek allegiance, protection, and military power with the mighty Franks as it had to cope with Roman aristocrats, the Byzantine Empire, and the Lombards who wanted to take Rome by force and not respect the Pope’s authority.

All those factors gave rise to the Papal-Frankish alliance. The popes were beginning to grow more and more doubtful of the reliability of the Byzantine emperors in being their allies and protectors. First of all the Byzantines were involved in heresies like monothelism and iconoclasm, they harassed some popes, sometimes sought to control the decisions of the church, and were not very worried about the grow in power of the threatening Lombards. Hence, when the Anglo-Saxons (Boniface and Clement) came as missionaries to convert the German peoples and reform the Frankish church, they became the key link of uniting the Papacy with the Frankish leaders.

When the conflict of the Popes between the Byzantine empire and the Lombards began, the Popes could not simply break away from the alliance with Byzantium as that would have made them vulnerable to any attack by the Lombards that surrounded Rome. For some time in the 7th century, the Lombards reduced their pressure on the conquest of rome, until their leader, Aistulf, acquired the power and renewed their ambition. The moment Aistulf took the city of Ravenna, the Byzantines simply responded with a diplomatic note of protest. This worried the Papacy evermore and in the fall of 753, Pope Stephen II became the first pope to cross the Alps and negotiate with Aistulf to forswear the siege of Rome and return conquered territory. When that failed, the pope went to the Franks, specifically Pepin the Short who defeated the Lombards and returned the stolen land to the Popes.