The Council of Chalcedon and the End of the Roman Empire

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Course: Church History I

Lecture: The Council of Chalcedon and the End of the Roman Empire

… why any attempt to revise the council, to modify its conclusions in order to bring into a more comprehensive theological framework. The dissident churches of the east was consistently rejected because any attempt to modify Chalcedon was seen in Rome as a way of downgrading the Roman Church, or downgrading the authority of the Roman Church, I should say, and therefore, of course, could not be considered, could not be tolerated for any reason whatsoever. So the defense of Chalcedon became one of the pillars, if you like, of the Roman Church in subsequent centuries and that has to be remembered and, of course, the motives for that have to be remembered as well.

What might have happened had the Roman Empire retained its unity, had it continued to survive, is, of course, impossible for us to say. Things may eventually have worked out rather differently. But the council of Chalcedon came at a moment when the western half of the Roman Empire was in its death throes, and this is what we need to look at today because this is a very important thing. The Roman Empire was ruled by one person for the last time in the year 395. This was the year when the Emperor Theodosius I died. And after his death, the empire was divided into two parts. The western half which basically this map will tell you what was the western half and what was the eastern half. I mean, you can fiddle about the actual boundary but you get a good idea from looking at the map what I'm talking about. The western half went to his elder son, Honorius, and the eastern half to his younger son, Arcadius.
Honorius did not set up his capitol in Rome which you might think he would have done but rather in the city of Ravenna which is in northeastern Italy here, in Ravenna. Why? Because Ravenna was nearer to the frontier along the Rhine and Danube, and the frontier was under constant pressure from barbarian invasion. All right? Arcadius, of course, ruled in Constantinople.

Unfortunately, the Western Empire was ruled by people who were not terribly good at what they were supposed to be doing and they were unlucky enough to find themselves in a political situation which was increasingly difficult. The first problem was that in the middle of the fourth century after the first council of Nicaea, supporters of Arias were, of course, dispersed. I mean, they went different places and we talked about the semi-Arians, people like Eusebius of Caesarea and so on. But one of the most interesting people was a man who in his native tongue was called Wulfila and in Latin is called Ulfilas – that’s the Latinized version of this. You can see from his name that he spoke a Germanic language related to English because, as I’m sure you can see in the name Wulfila, what his name was, it means “little wolf.” And the fact that you recognize it, especially after I tell you, is not an accident. Wulfila was a Goth from the gothic tribes who were living – they had originally come from Scandinavia but they had sort of moved down over the years into Eastern Europe and they were in what is now Romania, that sort of area at this time. But Wulfila had at some point been captured as a slave and taken to Constantinople where he was converted to Arian Christianity. And he was obviously a very bright person and decided to sit down and translate the Bible into his native tongue, and this translation still exists; the Gothic Bible of Wulfila is still available. I mean, you can find it. I don’t know that Lifeway sells many copies but you can in fact get it somewhere, probably some local Pentecostal church will have it. But it’s very interesting because it’s the oldest translation into a Germanic language, which is, of course, related to English, so it’s very interesting to see how it was, what it looked like, and so on, at that time.

Anyhow, with this Bible – and somehow he got his freedom; I don’t really know how. I don’t think anyone really knows how – he became a missionary to his own people. And he went back north of the Danube outside the Roman Empire and preached the gospel to them in its Arian form. Now I don’t know that the Germanic tribes were terribly bothered about this. I mean, they were not sophisticated enough to know very much about Arianism as a doctrine, but nevertheless that was the form of Christianity which they adopted. And subsequently, after their conversion, they invaded the Roman Empire hoping to persuade the emperors to give them shelter, to allow them to stay there, to settle and so on, and in return they would become good citizens, et cetera. But the fact that they were Arians was a barrier, of course. This was a problem. And so instead of being welcomed, they were in fact spurned, you might say. They were not treated very well.

And in the year 378 they revolted in a great battle which took place outside the city of Adrianople which is here, just where in Turkey – it’s in Turkey now, but it’s where Turkey, Greece, and Bulgaria meet. Just there in southeastern Europe. At this great battle of Adrianople, the Roman emperor of the time was killed. The Goths won the battle. And this was very significant because it was after that battle that Theodosius became emperor. It paved the way for him to become emperor and for the declaration of Christianity as the only state religion in the Roman Empire.

The Goths, meanwhile, they had won the battle but, of course, they had no way of profiting from this. I mean, they didn’t know what to do. They couldn’t sort of organize a country or anything like that. They didn’t have that kind of ability, so what they did was they wandered as sort of just nomads through what are now what we think of as the Balkans. I mean, they just kind of every year they moved a little bit further west and in the early 400’s turned up in Italy which is where they wanted eventually to settle, where they were hoping they could settle. And, of course, in Italy they met with the same kind of opposition that they had met earlier, but to make a long story short, the Gothic king who was a man called Alaric at this time was sufficiently powerful to be able to threaten the emperor Honorius who was in Ravenna at that time – to threaten him but not to overthrow him. However, in the sort of battling back and forth between these two, Alaric was in fact able to capture the city of Rome and sack it in the year 410.

Now as a military operation, this was not a very significant event. I mean, it didn’t gain anybody anything, but psychologically it was a terrible blow for the Romans, because for the first time in 800 years the city of Rome had fallen to a foreign invader, and this was a terrible shock to the system. Such a shock, in fact, that Augustine who was in North Africa at the time sat down when he heard the news and wrote what was to become his famous book on the City of God, the City of God which started life as a tract defending Christianity in the wake of people who said, well, you see what happened when Rome abandoned its ancient gods. The gods abandoned Rome. Rome fell to the barbarians. You see, this was the end of Rome and so Christianity is a bad thing. And Augustine sat down to write what turned out to be the history of the world and order to prove that this was an entirely false conclusion to draw and that the struggle between good and evil was something that went right back to the beginning, that empires rose and fell, that Rome had no claim to eternity. In that sense, Rome was a false god and you couldn’t worship the power of the Roman Empire anymore than you could if the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians and whoever else had gone before. And Augustine’s main conclusion was that empires would rise and fall but the Christian church because it was the power of God on earth would grow and continue forever. So this was the line which he took in that book, and it’s very interesting that the City of God has never been out of print since. You can buy it in Barnes & Noble, possibly even in the Beeson bookstore if you can wake them up. It’s still very much with us today, but it came out of that event and it’s a great thing to understand.

Now by the time Alaric got to Rome and was sacking Rome, other barbarians had invaded the Western Empire from a different direction. Rather than coming down this way and around like that, they had come across the Rhine into what is now France and moved down into Spain. This was, of course, a great migration of people which took many years before it finally reached its fulfillment, but different tribes highly organized military operation which poured into the Western Empire from the year 407 onwards. In 409 they were in Spain and a couple of years later they got to North Africa. And there different groups established kingdoms of their own. Some of these kingdoms – like the Kingdom of the Burgundians, for example, in southeastern France – have disappeared, leaving very little trace. I mean, there is still a place called Burgundy, of course, but you don’t tend to think of that as a barbarian tribe which invaded and ended the Roman Empire although that’s what it was, of course.

The Visigoths who reached Spain established a kingdom in Spain from the year 409 onwards. It lasted for exactly 300 years. It was overthrown in 711, so 302 years, by the Arabs, of course. And the Visigothic kingdom of Spain was going to become one of the most powerful but also one of the most interesting countries in the world because it was there perhaps more than anywhere else that the Christian church became allied to a state to create a kind of national church, a Spanish church, which was somehow specially connected with Spain in a way that had previously not happened anywhere in the world. So the Visigothic conquest of Spain was going to have important long-term effects like that.

A branch of the Visigoths whom we call the Vandals, invaded North Africa, and although it took a long time, in the year 433 they finally captured Carthage and established a kingdom there. So gradually different parts of the Western Empire became subject to various barbarian kings. Now the one thing these kings had in common was that they were all Arians officially, but the Arianism of the barbarian tribes of the west was not the Arianism of Arias. I mean, you can’t really say it was the same thing. It was a political doctrine which the Germanic tribes maintained, and if you ask why they maintained this – I mean, what was the point of maintaining this – the reason was that it was a very useful way of marking themselves off from the native people.

The only way that the barbarians could maintain their power in Spain and North Africa and so on – because remember in terms of population they represented less than 1% of the total population – so the only way they could rule these countries effectively for longer term was by maintaining their identity and maintaining a very close-knit military establishment. I mean, they had to do that for survival. And one of the best ways of doing this was to maintain a separate religion because, of course, this would impede the natural process of intermarriage with the natives, because intermarriage with the natives meant diluting the stock. I mean, when you have 99% of the population being one thing and 1% the other, you can see that intermarriage is going to favor the 99% over the 1% and favor it probably very quickly.

So this was actually a strategic thing. It was an important thing from this point of view, but it was largely political. That’s the point. They didn’t really get involved in theological arguments one way or the other during this time. It has a significance because it was during this time in Western Europe that attachment to the orthodox view, the non-Arian view, the church which the people themselves called Catholic. The word Catholic was used at this time to mean the universal church. That to be a Catholic came to be associated with being Roman as opposed to being barbarian – the barbarian Arians versus the Roman Catholics. And so the notion that to be Roman and to be Catholic are somehow the same thing really comes from this time. There's a fusion here of identities and, of course, this reinforced the power of the Roman bishop. It did not reinforce the power of the Roman Empire because that was gone beyond recall, but the power of the Roman bishop became greater because his spiritual authority was recognized by the vast majority of the population in these different countries. And as long as that was the case, of course, the rule of the barbarians in the west was unstable. I mean, you could not say that this was a definitive answer to the problem of what to do with the remains of the Roman Empire. Something would have to give in the end because long-term 1% of the population could not go on ruling 99% by maintaining a different religious view. I mean, this was not going to work. But it took time for this to develop and, of course, this is the important thing that we need to look at, at the moment.

Italy was behind Spain and North Africa and Gaul, what is now France, in this development. It remained for a few years longer, theoretically under the rule of the Roman emperors but the emperors increasingly became puppets of various generals and so on, and these generals tended to be of Germanic origin. And finally in the year 476 one of these generals, a man called Odoacer, got tired of it, packed off the last emperor in Rome, retired him, and sent the crown and the regalia of the empire to Constantinople. Officially, what he said was we don't need an empire in the west any more. We'll reunite the Roman Empire by letting the eastern emperor - the emperor in Constantinople - be our sovereign. In fact, of course, what he was doing was renouncing Roman authority completely. I mean, it was the end of the Roman Empire in the west at this point. And this Odoacer was another Arian. They were all Arians, the barbarian Arians in this way.

Now this left a situation in which the eastern emperor - the emperor in Constantinople while theoretically emperor of the west as well - had no way of exercising his influence in the west except through the church. The church was the only institution which he could rely on to agree with him or to support him emotionally, spiritually, and so on, because these were the Romans and the Catholics in the west, and so they would technically regard themselves as subjects of the emperor in Constantinople and take a rather dim view of their barbarian rulers. And, of course, the barbarian rulers were well aware of this and so they too were suspicious of the church and its leadership and so on. So this was the situation in the west.

Now that might have continued indefinitely except that in the year 483 the eastern emperor decided it was time to try to reunite the Eastern Church. In other words, he was aware, of course, that Antioch and Alexandria had rejected the decisions taken at the council of Chalcedon. The difference between Alexandria and Rome as far as he was concerned was that he ruled Alexandria. I mean, Alexandria was part of his empire and Rome was not, at least not in reality. I mean, it was in theory but not in practice. And therefore, of course, it was much more important from his point of view that he reconcile Alexandria and Antioch to his rule and what Rome thought about it, well, they could worry about that later. And so what he did in the year 483 was he published a document which is called the Henoticon - it's in your notes somewhere - which Henoticon means unity or unifier, something like that. And the Henoticon said we reject the decisions of Chalcedon. We are going to stick with what Cyril of Alexandria said. We will make Cyril of Alexandria the standard bearer of orthodoxy. We don't have to worry about the Chalcedonian definition, and we hope that this will be a compromise that everybody can agree to. In other words, we'll go back to an earlier period. We'll just turn the clock back to a pre-Chalcedonian era.

The result, however, of the Henoticon was not quite what the emperor, whose name was Zeno, intended. It seems to have mollified Alexandria up to a point. I mean, there was obviously something moving in their direction. But it had very negative consequences in Antioch where, of course, reaffirming Cyril of Alexandria was another way of not reaffirming Nestorius. And so the whole Nestorian Antiochian tradition was clearly being rejected at this point. The result of this was that the remaining Nestorians in Antioch emigrated. They just got up and left the Roman Empire and went to Mesopotamia and Persia and so on where they settled. This was to have very serious implications later on because when the Arabs arrived, the Nestorians as they were, they had brought with them, of course, Greek culture and so on. And it was largely as a result of their influence that the Arabs took on board things like Aristotle and Euclid and so on, and the great Arab civilization of the Middle Ages owes a great deal to this influence, that they absorbed ancient Greek culture via the Nestorians. I mean, they were the kind of intermediaries so there was an important cultural influence in that way.
But anyhow, they left the Roman Empire, which from Zeno's point of view was fine. That's good. Bye-bye. But the vacuum which was created in Antioch and Syria was not filled by people from Constantinople. Oddly enough, it was filled by people from Alexandria so that the Monophysite influence which had previously been nonexistent in Syria spread in that direction. So the whole of the eastern Mediterranean came under the influence of Alexandria and the Monophysite tradition, making it therefore even more important for the emperor in Constantinople to come to some kind of understanding with them and try to sort of keep them on board as part of the one universal church.

The difficulty was, of course, that he could not do this and stay on good terms with Rome as well, because Rome - which obviously realized that it could do what it liked because the emperor wasn't there to interfere - simply said no way, we're not accepting the Henoticon. This is a denial of the council of Chalcedon and we will excommunicate you, which they promptly did. And so from the year 483 onwards the Roman Church, and therefore the whole of the western church, was not in communion with the east. There was a break here. Now this, of course, is important because it shows for the first time that the Roman Church was capable of maintaining and independent existence, that it did not need the eastern emperor in order to protect it, that if anything, it was the emperor who needed the church in order to have his influence spread in the west, not the other way around. And so in dealings between Rome and the eastern emperor, Rome always had the stronger hand in the long run because Rome represented the people. I mean, insofar as there was any sort of democratic voice, the Roman Church was closer to the people of Italy and Spain and North Africa than this distant emperor was, of course. So they had the power on the ground at that point. And so the schism, this sort of schism between east and west, was also a product of the Henoticon.

Now that might have carried on indefinitely. I mean, there's no particular reason why it shouldn't have done, except for two factors which come into play. Zeno had not reckoned on the fact that there were people in Constantinople who also supported Chalcedon. It wasn't just Rome. There was an influential theological movement in Constantinople itself which defended the council of Chalcedon against its detractors which did not like the Henoticon either. And so Zeno had to cope with theological opposition based in his own capitol. Now these were Greek people. They weren't particularly bothered about Rome, but they had theological reasons for disagreeing with the emperor's proposed solution. The emperor, of course, was interested in this mainly for political - it was a political compromise as far as he was concerned, and these people stood on the basis of doctrine, doctrinal orthodoxy.

Now as long as the emperor and his successors were able to control the government, there was not much these people could do. I mean, they could agitate, they could preach, they could run around the place and so on, but they were the opposition to the official state machine. It was only in the year 518 that things suddenly changed because there was a palace revolution in Constantinople and the throne was given to a man called Justin - the emperor Justin I. But Justin was a figurehead. He wasn't the real emperor. The real emperor was his nephew, Justinian, who was also Justinian I, and Justinian I became emperor when Justin died in 527 and reigned as emperor until 565. Justin and Justinian came from this area, what is now Serbia in former Yugoslavia. This area was Latin speaking so Justin and Justinian spoke Latin as their mother tongue, something which was increasingly uncommon at Constantinople, which of course was Greek, and needless to say, the rest of the eastern Mediterranean was Greek as well. The fact that Justin and Justinian were Latin speakers meant, of course, that they had a western orientation. For them, Rome and Spain and places like this were places that they thought of if not exactly as home nevertheless as closer to them in culture and mentality and everything else than the east. And one of Justinian's great projects was to re-conquer the Western Empire, to bring the Latin-speaking world back into the fold.
In order to do this, of course, he had to make peace with the Roman Church. It was pointless to try to invade the west without making peace with the church. And so in the year 519 he tore up the Henoticon. He rejected the Henoticon and told the Pope - the Roman bishop; we can call him the Pope now legitimately, I think - that as far as he, the emperor, was concerned, the Pope had jurisdiction over all the Latin-speaking churches. This decree of the emperor in 519 is of great historical importance because it is one of the documents which is still trotted out today in defense of papal authority. The universal jurisdiction of the Roman bishop was recognized by the emperor in the year 519, so you will still find this quoted today by Roman Catholics defending papal primacy in the church. So it's not something that's just an ancient historical monument; it's something that you have to bear in mind now.

At the time, of course, it was simply from the emperor's point of view a strategic move. I mean, he was planning an invasion of Italy, and in order for this to be smoothed over, to sort of get the thing going the right way, this is part of his preparation. Now Justinian in all of this was, of course, a very great man. I mean, he had many qualities to him which are easy to forget if we aren't careful. For a start, he was extremely concerned that the legal basis of the empire should be put on the right foundations. I mean, Roman law was, of course, a very complex thing, but it had never been properly codified. I mean, various people had tried it - Theodosius tried it. Various people wanted to do this, but Justinian actually achieved what others had failed to do, and he got all these lawyers together. I mean, this will just show you how great a person he was. He managed to get a whole lot of lawyers together in the same room and get them to agree, which is more than anyone in the United States has ever achieved, so recognize that he's quite an important person here. And the codification of Roman law which took place under Justinian is of universal significance because the code of Justinian is the basis for Roman law today. And, of course, Roman law is the foundation of the legal system in all European countries except for the British isles and in Latin America and in isolated places like Louisiana and places like that you'll get - well, you get the survival. It may come in the form of sort of you'll think of it as French civil law or something like that, but basically it comes from Roman law and from the code of Justinian initially. So this was to have a tremendous impact, has had a tremendous impact on the whole of western culture. I mean, we can't just dismiss this as something unimportant because the way in which a legal system functions subtly but profoundly affects the way in which people think.

And we all know, of course, that there's a difference between the United States and Latin America. I mean, most people tend to notice this before very long. But they tend to notice it in rather superficial ways. They go to Peru and come back and say it was dirty. That's their understanding of how Alabama differs from Peru. You know what I mean? It's a very sort of superficial impression that they get. I'm not saying that this is untrue; I'm just simply saying that you need to go a bit deeper than this. And it's very important that we understand this because Roman law operates in ways that common law does not. I mean, common law is very different, and I give you an example of this. Roman law is based on principles, and so you will enunciate a principle, a general principle, and then individual cases - you know, things which develop as time goes on. Individual cases are determined in the light of the principle, the underlying principle involved. Common law, on the other hand, is based on precedent, and you build up precedent case law and so on, and whether something is valid or not valid more or less depends on what you can prove was done in the past.

Now let me give you a concrete example of this and how this works so that you understand it. Is a faxed document to be accepted for legal purposes or not? In other words, if you fax your birth certificate to the Divinity School, do we accept this as evidence that you exist and were born on a certain day and so on, or do we have to see the original? Well, if you are in a Roman law jurisdiction, the answer to this is very clear because a Roman lawyer by the name of Oppian who lived about 200 A.D. and whose writings are preserved for us in the code of Justinian - it's thanks to Justinian that we know of this man and what he had to say - made it quite clear that a copy does not have the force of the original. Therefore, to produce a copy of a document, this is not as valid as the original text. And so a fax is not to be regarded as having the same legal authority as the original document.

Now the only way you can get round this in a Roman law system is by passing another law to say that a fax - because of the nature of the copying because it is an exact copy rather than a handwritten thing or whatever - can be an exception to this and it can be accepted with the force of the original, but you would have to pass a law to that effect. If you don't pass a law to that effect, the basic principle remains and faxes are no good. So you don't accept this. All right? That's to give you an example.

Now in common law it's different, you see, because in common law the question of whether a fax can be accepted or not is determined by usage. In other words, you fax your documents through to the Divinity School and we say, all right, yes, we'll take that. And we go on taking that and we go on taking it, and we take it and we take it and we take it, and we take it until the day when somebody says, well, I don't know that you really should do that because how do you know what people are faxing? There could be scratch marks on the original that don't come across in the fax, and what's going on here? I mean, maybe we shouldn't do this. And then it becomes a legal case - should we do this, should we not do this - and the judge has to decide whether there's sufficient evidence from precedent, you know, whether this has been going on and so on, whether this practice can be allowed to continue and be accepted as valid or whether it has to be stopped. But until you get to that point, it's okay. You can sort of go along with this.

Now you see this is a very simple example, but you can see from what I've just said that you're tackling what is perhaps an everyday occurrence, a minor problem in a way, from totally different premises, from the opposite end of the spectrum. And this can have very serious consequences when you get into more complex issues. For example, in the Roman legal system, if you are accused of a crime, you have to prove your innocence. You're guilty until proven innocent, which is the exact opposite of common law. In common law, you're innocent until proven guilty. This is why the Sanford values committee operates under Roman law as you probably know. It's appalling. I mean, it really is. But you're innocent until proven guilty, and to us this is something that we take for granted, and this is why when someone whom you know perfectly well has committed a crime and they report it in the news, they say so-and-so has allegedly done this and so-and-so has allegedly done that. Because you know that behind so-and-so there's a lawyer who's going to get him off.

Like that case - did you hear? There's a case which has just come up to the Supreme Court. Have you heard about this? That some man who was arrested in 1998 in Illinois for driving 71 miles an hour in a 65 mile an hour zone was suspected of being something more than just a speeder because he was wearing a suit. How about that? And he told the police officer that he was on his way home from Las Vegas, which was a stupid thing to say. I mean, he's in the middle of Illinois. You're on the way home from Las Vegas. Oh yeah. Anyway, the police officer got suspicious. Did anyone hear this? Oh, this is before the Supreme Court right as we speak. The police officer got suspicious, called in another police officer with a search dog, and the dog sort of sniffed around the car and sort of sniffed at the trunk and said "in there." They open the trunk and found sort of marijuana like you wouldn't believe sort of stacked in the back of the trunk. And on the basis of this, he was given twelve years in jail. The courts in Illinois overturned this conviction, not because there wasn't marijuana in the back of his car but because the police officer who had stopped him for speeding had no right to do a drug search on him. You see, that was excessive in terms of that's not what he was stopped for and sort of the liberty of the subject, et cetera, you see was such that, I mean, somebody with marijuana in the back of their car has to be allowed to get away with it because that's not why he was stopped initially. And so this is now being appealed and the Supreme Court is trying to decide whether dog searches for drugs for people who are caught speeding are legit and whether this is legitimate extension of the law or not. But this is because we are saddled with these views, you see, that people are innocent until proven guilty, that they have rights and other inconvenient things like this.

This would not be a problem in Mexico or Argentina or somewhere like that, where you are guilty until - you see what I mean? - until proven innocent, and somebody like that would be in jail, would stay in jail, and that would be the end of it. Well, unless, of course, they were related to the President, in which case they probably wouldn't stay in jail, but you know how it is. Because it's a different way of thinking. All right? And what we think of as rights and limits and so on, on the power of the authorities and what have you, just does not exist. People don't think in that way.

Now this is of enormous importance. You have to understand this, how important it is, because even in modern times when you have these different ways of thinking, it makes it extremely difficult for people who are brought up in one legal tradition to unite in any serious way with people from the opposite end of the spectrum because they just don't think alike. I mean, this is why, for example, in the European Union, why Britain is always the odd one out because it has a different legal system and they think differently so that when a directive comes from Brussels to say that all cucumbers must be six inches long and you mustn't have them longer or shorter - they have these rules. I mean, in continental countries, in France or Italy or somewhere like that, they disregard the law because they say, well, in theory, cucumbers should be six inches long. That's the principle. But, of course, real cucumbers don't act like that so we ignore it. That's how they live. No, really. This is true. I mean, it's set down as an ideal. This is what we're aiming for but we don't actually expect to get there. Whereas, of course, in a common law jurisdiction, if you have a law which says cucumbers must be six inches long, then they have to be six inches long, and if they're not, somebody will sue you. And so this is the trouble, you see, and so the British say, well, we can't have a law like that. Our courts would be full of people suing us because they've got seven inch long cucumbers. I mean, what is this? So we obviously can't do that, so we're not taking on board this directive, which is then interpreted by the French, the Germans, the Italians, and so on, as being uncooperative. I mean, what do you mean you're not doing that? Well, because we would enforce the law. And, of course, the Italians look at you and I don't think there is a word for enforce in Italian. You're doing what? And so it's just a completely different way of thinking.

And you need to understand that in dealing again, you see, in religious things between Roman Catholics and Protestants - particularly English-speaking Protestants - again, this is a large part of the problem, that our way of thinking about something like church government is very different from the Roman Catholic way of thinking. And even English-speaking Protestant churches like the Episcopal Church or the Methodist Church which may have an organization which on the surface looks similar to the Roman Catholic Church, you know, with bishops and so on, a Methodist bishop or an Anglican bishop is not the same sort of animal as a Roman Catholic bishop because a Roman Catholic bishop is basically a foot soldier for the Pope. I mean, you just do what the Pope says, and it's all sort of chain of command from the top down. But then look at the way the Roman Catholic Church operates, you see. I mean, the Roman Catholic Church has these principles, these rules. Abortion is a sin. Why is it a sin? Well, the Pope says it's a sin; therefore, abortion is a sin. So how come more Roman Catholics have abortions than anybody else? You go somewhere like Poland. I mean, it's enormous. Poland is a hugely Roman Catholic country but it has more abortions per head of population than anywhere else in the world, I think. And you sort of say to yourself, well, how does that work? And they sort of say, well, of course, the Pope has to say abortion is wrong. That's his job. He's the Pope. But we can't live like that so we don't do what the Pope says. And, I mean, this is what you find if you go into a place where there's a Catholic mentality, with a Catholic basis to society. You have all these laws and all these rules and regulations but the ordinary people pay no attention. I mean, divorce is not permitted in the Roman Catholic church, but then you have phenomena like John Kerry, for example, who's a good Catholic and been divorced. Somebody told me that he's on his third marriage. Is that true? He's certainly on his second. Anyhow, as somebody said the other day - I heard this on the radio - they said he claims to be a good Catholic. How can he be divorced and remarried? Well, these things happen.

Now in a Protestant church, you see, it doesn't work like that because in a Protestant church, people are expected to keep the rules, and if the rules are unworkable, they get changed, which, of course, from a Catholic point of view is scandalous because how can you change the rules to suit the situation? That's opportunism and lack of principle and all the rest of it. Whereas we say, well, it's not working so we have to change the rules, but the rules we have we expect people to obey. And you don't really understand what this means until you experience it. You have to go and live in a country which doesn't think like this to appreciate what the difference is, that you come back here and signs saying Speed Limit 25 or something are not just decorations that people have left up after Christmas. They're actually meant to be enforced. You know what I mean? It's a completely different thing.

I mean, in Paris, for example, if you ever go to Paris, one of the most interesting things in Paris in my opinion is in the Metro, the regulations governing the use of the Metro. And they will tell you quite proudly, it's all written there on it, these regulations were brought into force on the 8th of March 1942. The law governing police, security, and public transport in France passed on the 8th of March 1942, is still in force, and every Paris Metro station has this proudly proclaimed on the regulations for governing the Metro. Now you, of course, would just walk through this and you would say, well, so what? But then when you think about the history, I mean, who exactly was running Paris in France on the 8th of March 1942? Well, of course, this was Hitler. It was the Nazis who passed the law in France governing police, security, and public transport, and this law has never been repealed. Well, why not? Well, because it's too useful. I mean, the Nazis weren't bothered about things like the rights of the citizen. I mean, this just got in the way. And the fact is that the - this is absolutely true, that the modern French law governing this, governing police - get this, police - security and public transportation, this was passed by the Germans. And I remember asking one Frenchman about this and pointing this out, and he said, "Oh yes, well, imagine if we'd done it ourselves what a mess it would be. I mean, at least the Germans are organized." And so I said, well, yeah, this is true but don't you think that sort of freedom's got some? And he said what? You see what I mean? They don't think like this.

So this difference is something that you really have to appreciate because it does go very, very deep into our way of thinking, into the mindset of people, and it affects a great many aspects of life that we don't perhaps fully appreciate. I mean, even something like, for example, resistance to the metric system, which is totally illogical, which should not exist, which in a technologically advanced country like the United States - I mean, the United States should be more metric than the rest of the world, not less. I mean, well, given its technological advance and so on, and you say to yourself, well, why doesn't this happen? I mean, in somewhere like France or Russia or somewhere like that, government decree, you know, tomorrow we will be metric, and that's it: tomorrow you're metric. But not here. You see what I'm saying? Because the mentality is different. The way things function is different. And it really affects everyday life in ways that we don't appreciate, and let's say if you have a problem with this, go and live in Brazil for a week. Well, you'd have to be there longer than that. Go and live in Brazil for a year or in France or Italy or somewhere like this and you'll come back and suddenly you'll realize what the difference is. You may not be able to express it very clearly but you'll have a sense of this, and then once you learn to drive again - in other words, once you learn you have to obey the rules - which, of course, no one in Italy would ever do - you're in a different mindset. Anyway, that goes all the way back to Justinian.

Where are we? Justinian fulfilled his dream of re-conquering the West at least up to a point. He re-conquered Italy. He re-conquered North Africa. He re-conquered part of Spain but not very much of it, and the Spanish thing never really got very far. The trouble was that when he re-conquered Italy - we'll concentrate on Italy - first of all, of course, the Pope lost his freedom because once the Pope was safely back inside the empire, the emperor was not going to tolerate expressions of independence from him. But secondly - and this was what caused the long-term collapse of this whole vision - the reintroduction of stable government, which is what happened, I mean, you know, the Roman government - the Eastern Empire - brought back with it the rule of law, the rule of the courts, the rule of the civil service and so on. You can imagine what this means in practice. This means it has to be paid for. The great thing about the barbarian invasions from the point of view of the average person in the Western Empire and one of the reasons why the barbarian invasions were accepted as readily as they were was that they were an enormous tax break because the system of taxation which had been very developed under the Romans collapsed. And the barbarians kind of lived on their own in sort of camps and so on and so they provided for their own needs, and taxation was actually either nonexistent or very light under barbarian rule. This changed when the Romans reappeared. The old tax regime was brought back again. And, of course, as you know, there's nothing like tax to alienate people from the government. And so the reintroduction of Roman rule - no, not you, of course. I mean, I know you love paying tax, but the average person doesn't. And this alienated the ordinary people from the Romans. They claimed to be Romans themselves. As long as the emperor was far away and not interfering with them, they were happy to be his subjects. But when the emperor suddenly reappeared and re-imposed taxation on the people – which, of course, to him was normal and natural; this was what liberation was all about and so on – this was received very differently.

And so what happened when Justinian re-conquered the parts of the west that he re-conquered was that he managed to alienate both the people and the Pope at the same time. And, of course, it was only a matter of time before this would begin to tell. When the power of the empire declined and when it was eventually overcome in the west, nobody regretted its passing. In a sense, it was the re-conquest which made people in the west realize that they were no longer Roman in the old sense of the word, that something new had emerged and it was something which they at the end of the day actually preferred. They didn't want the old system back again. And, of course, once that realization began to sink in, then the question of, well, what new system can we install? How are we going to do this? And inevitably, of course, the bishop of Rome, the Pope and the papacy was going to play a central role in that. And so the move towards the Middle Ages as we understand it really begins at this particular time.


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1 Church History I - Quiz 11

Church History I - Quiz 11


1 hour 1 min

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