Lecture 13: The Restoration of the Roman Empire and the Barbarian Kingdoms
Course: Church History I
… kings of Italy were not a pushover. The eastern empire thought that it could reinvade Italy and conquer it relatively easily, but instead of that, it found itself engaged in twenty years of warfare trying to pacify a country which just didn’t want to lie down in that way. And the result was that at the end of twenty years Italy was devastated, in particular the aqueducts which supplied water to Rome were destroyed and therefore, of course, Rome was very severely affected by these wars and so on. So although the eastern empire did in fact succeed in re-conquering Italy, the Italy which it took over at the end which it finally subdued was a very much impoverished place and therefore, of course, people were very unhappy with what had gone on during this period. So the restoration of the empire, as I say, came at a very heavy cost.
The one area which was unaffected by all of this is Gaul, what we now call France, because there in the north of Gaul in the area around Paris and so on a barbarian kingdom had been established by the Francs, the Francs who, of course, were to give their name to the country at a later stage. The Francs were not Arians. They were pagans, and they remained pagans for most of the fifth century. So in other words, they conquered this territory in what is now northern France but without accepting any form of Christianity. However, as I said the other day when we were talking about England, the king of the Francs – a man called Clovis – married a Christian lady. This was the sort of standard technique, and she was an orthodox lady. She was a Catholic, not an Arian, and, of course, this was regarded as the means by which Christianity would penetrate the Frankish kingdom and, sure enough, I don’t know how long they were married before this took effect, but you can picture it, can’t you, sort of. “Clovis, come here. Clovis!” And a few years of that and you know who won. He eventually accepted Christianity and accepted Christianity in its Catholic form, in other words, not the Arian variety. And in this way, the Frankish kingdom became the first barbarian kingdom in the west to accept the Roman version of Christianity. This was a very important move because it gave the Frankish kings a special status in the eyes of the papacy. The papacy for many centuries thereafter would regard the king of the Francs as its great protector, the great ally on which it could rely.
Now this was politically a very astute move because it meant that suddenly Clovis was an acceptable ruler in a way that, say, the Visigothic kings or the Vandals in North Africa and so on, were not. The vast majority of the population, of course, had always followed the Roman version of Christianity. They were not Arians and so in this respect they were out of line with their rulers or their rulers were out of line with them, and so there was always a sort of tension in these kingdoms and for this reason the Vandal kingdom in North Africa, for example, collapsed as soon as the eastern armies arrived. The Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy, the barbarian kingdom in Italy, although it fought back really didn’t have a lot of chance because the ordinary people didn’t support their Arian rulers. And so these countries were weak. They couldn’t really resist an outside invasion on this line because of the religious division between rulers and ruled.
The Frankish kingdom overcame this and as a result Clovis was able within his own lifetime to extend his empire south to the Mediterranean because it’s what is now southern France at this time or had been ruled by the Visigoths in Spain. Their kingdom extended into southern France. Clovis pushed them back across the Pyrenees and established quite a sizeable empire on the territory of what we now call France. And so the French kingdom you can say really began around this time, and it was a kingdom in alliance with Rome.
This also meant, of course, that when the eastern emperor began the re-conquest he didn’t really have an excuse for going into the Frankish kingdom because whereas the others were Arians and therefore heretics and therefore fair game, Clovis was a Catholic and therefore not fair game. And so he was kind of left alone and indeed his kingdom was left alone, and it was never re-conquered in this particular way. So this is another important point to bear in mind. Once Rome was recaptured, however, by the eastern emperor, the position of the Pope declined. If the emperor could control the Pope directly – I mean, the Pope was his subject and he could more or less tell the Pope what to do – respecting the Pope’s powers and privileges was no longer a very important consideration. And so the re-conquest had the effect, of course, of diminishing the authority and importance of the papacy as an institution.
However, the papacy continued, of course, to have an influence beyond the boundaries of the empire. That is to say, beyond what they had managed to re-conquer and therefore the emperor couldn’t just dismiss it completely. He had to pay some attention to it. Particularly after the year 568 because in that year Italy was invaded by another barbarian tribe, this time the people who called themselves the Langobardi, and you can see from their name and hear in their name Langobardi, the people with the long beards. We now call them the Lombards. That’s the way that the name has sort of been corrupted. They invaded the north of Italy, northern Italy, and established a kingdom there and worked their way down the peninsula, but they were unable to capture Rome. They never conquered Rome and there were various other coastal cities like Ravenna which they didn’t conquer either.
So there were parts of Italy around the coast which remained in the emperor’s control, but the central part of Italy and the north of Italy became this Lombard kingdom. The Lombards were pagan: another problem. They were enemies of Rome, of the eastern empire, and of course, enemies of the Catholic Church as well. So here again there’s a situation which although it had just been overcome a generation before, they’re back in the same boat again with a barbarian ruler who was not in sympathy with the religion of the vast majority of the people. However, the people who were under Lombard rule did not resent it in the way that you might expect because, again, for them it was a deliverance from taxation. I mean, this was always the case; they preferred to live under pagan rulers who didn’t tax them as opposed to living under a Christian emperor who did. So you can understand the pocketbook motive here. And so the Lombards were actually stronger than you might otherwise imagine.
It also, of course, did not entirely displease the Pope that these people were in the neighborhood because it gave him greater influence in Constantinople. You see, the Pope was now once again an important person on the frontiers of the empire and therefore could not be offended very easily without the empire losing ground in this way. So although it wasn’t a very good thing in some ways, you can see how the papacy benefited politically from this situation.
None of this would have made much difference though had it not been for the quality of the men who occupied the papal office, and here the outstanding person is the man whom we know today as Gregory the Great - Gregory who became Pope in the year 590 and who was Pope for the next 14 years until he died in 604. Gregory was a great theologian, a great writer. He has left us a number of things and is generally recognized as one of the great doctors of the Latin Church. He is ranked with Ambrose and Augustine and Jerome as one of the top four, if you like, in the Latin Church in this way. So he was a very great man in many respects. Gregory really shaped the papacy as an institution. He overhauled its bureaucracy, or perhaps you might say he established its bureaucracy on some kind of rational ground for the first time. Gregory also tried to impose on the church the rule of monastic celibacy for clergy. He didn’t succeed in this. It’s very difficult to persuade the clergy not to marry, even more difficult to persuade them to give up their wives if they’d already married. You may find that hard to believe but, yes, it was difficult. And so he didn’t succeed in this endeavor, but he did his best. You see, he was himself a monk and he wanted to try to ensure that the leadership of the Roman church was in the hands of monks.
Now there were two reasons for this. One of them was spiritual because Gregory believed, as many people at that time believed, that monks were somehow closer to God than other people because of the sacrifices which they had made, the vows which they’d taken of poverty, chastity, and obedience and so on. This was a higher form of spirituality, and so Gregory thought that by staffing the church with monks he was in fact staffing it with spiritually minded people, people who were prepared to make sacrifices for their faith. This is one aspect of it.
The other aspect of it, of course, is that a church full of monks is a church full of people who you can deploy as you wish because the snag with a married clergy, then as now, is that you can’t move them around very easily. This is always the problem. Now you know you don’t think about this particularly. We’re a more mobile society in any case and people move around more now than they used to do, but it’s a major operation if you have a wife and children to sort of move the whole lot of them halfway around the world. I mean, it’s still a major operation today to do that kind of thing, but imagine what it would have been like in the sixth century to send an entire family, say, to Britain from Italy. I mean, this would be an undertaking so vast and so expensive and difficult that people just didn’t do this. Whereas if you had an army of single men that you could just sort of tell, well, you go off here and you go off there and you go off somewhere else, of course, it’s much easier to do. And so Gregory saw this as a way of having a more efficient kind of church as well, you know, people whom he could deploy on tasks that he felt were necessary.
So there were these two aspects to it that were part of his drive in this respect, and in fairness to him, I think we have to say that he got results from this. The biggest result, of course, and the most long-lasting one being the conversion of England because it was one of his monks, Augustine, whom he sent to England in the year 597 to begin the evangelization of that country. And of course, that was a tremendous success, and it also demonstrated that the Roman church could function outside the bounds of the empire and indeed construct and build up its own empire, its own kind of spiritual empire in a way that the emperor could not touch, because of course the English converts, the new English church which came into being, had nothing to do with the eastern empire. They were sort of way off the charts as far as Constantinople was concerned and this was a whole new sphere of missionary endeavor which the Roman church was undertaking. So Gregory had a tremendous success in that respect, and this raised the prestige of the papacy. It meant that the churches of northern Europe which were converted through the Roman mission would be loyal to Rome because of this origin, because they felt they owed their conversion to the activity of the Roman church. And surprising though it may seem now, the English church was in fact one of the most loyal supporters of the papacy for many, many centuries after 597. So Gregory laid very secure and worthwhile foundations from his point of view in this way, and so that has to be borne in mind as well.
After Gregory’s death though, things began to unravel in Rome. First of all, there was a Pope Honorius who toyed with heresy, one of the heresies of the Eastern Church which is called monothelitism. Monothelitism was an attempt to pacify Alexandria after the collapse of the Henoticon and all the sort of attempts with Zeno to abolish Chalcedon and so on. The doctrine of monothelitism says that although Jesus Christ, the incarnate Christ, is one divine person in two natures, he has only one will. And it was thought that this was a way of trying to bridge the gap with Alexandria which wanted to insist that the incarnate Christ has only one nature. If you can say that he has only one will, the idea being, well, you have only one will, you have only one mind, you have only one spirit and so on, that perhaps in some way this could be a bridge to their way of thinking.
Of course, monothelitism was rejected by the Chalcedonian party, that is to say, by the monks of Constantinople and by the entire western church on the whole mainly because of what Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but thy will be done,” the night before he was crucified. What does this mean if he has only one will? If his will is the will of God, and there’s no human will in Jesus, how could he possibly say that on the night before he was crucified? It has, of course, much more serious implications because if Jesus had only one will and this will was divine, in effect, it removes the possibility of his sinning because if sin is an act of the will and the will is a divine will, then of course, it cannot sin. So in effect you’re coming back to not just the actual sinlessness of Christ, that he did not sin, but the impeccability of Christ, that Christ could not have sinned and therefore, of course, could not have been tempted. You start sort of pushing this all back on the basis of the one will doctrine.
It has, of course, other implications which were perhaps not immediately obvious at the time but which we can see if we look further down the road, and that is the basic question of whether the human will – that is, your will and my will – is part of our human nature or whether it belongs to our personhood. In other words, is it part of the divine gift of personhood, the image and likeness of God in us, or is it something which is part of our human nature? And the answer to this question – it is very difficult to understand the importance of this until you see what the implications are – because the implication really is, can you lose your will? Can you lose control of your will, and if you do, do you cease to be a person?
Now we, of course, today know that you can in fact lose control of your will. You can be hypnotized and be made to do things that you would not willingly do, consciously willingly do. You can be drugged and your will can be altered by drugs. You can be brainwashed and your will can be altered in that way. And there are cases of this, I mean, this has happened to people. In fact, in the 1940’s it was a technique used by Communists in particular to get Christians to deny their faith. They would brainwash them and then get them to sign confessions or statements renouncing their faith, and these people didn’t really know what they were doing because they had lost the free use of their will. And so this question of the use of the will and so on has very serious implications really for us today because the practical issue here is if you become a human vegetable on a life support machine or something like this, you lose the use of your will. You can’t really function in that way. Does this mean that you cease to be a person? Does this mean that you lose your salvation, because you can’t actually function as a human being?
Now, of course, when we put it like this, we have to say, well, no, it doesn’t mean these things. And this has very serious implications when you come to discuss things like euthanasia. I mean, I know euthanasia is an extremely complex and difficult subject, and please don’t get me wrong, I do not believe in keeping people artificially alive forever like that poor woman down in Florida. I mean, this is a scandal in my opinion. But anyhow, nature should be allowed to take its course, that’s one thing. But it’s another thing to deliberately kill people. You see what I mean? Letting someone die to my mind is fine. So anytime you want that, just come along, I’ll happily let you die. No questions asked. But killing them is another matter. I mean, euthanasia is a different thing, and this is an issue that I think is one which is obviously very emotive and something which you battle through.
But the question of the will and the ability to function if you think that someone has lost the use of their will, therefore, they are no longer really a person, and because they’re not really a person they’re not really human. They’ve lost some something of humanity; therefore, you’re not really killing a person. You’re just sort of ending the functioning of a body. You see what I’m saying. The whole debate becomes different if you start thinking along those lines. And this is something that we have to be very careful about because we have to insist that to be a person is not dependent on whether you have the use of your will or not. The loss of the use of the will does not mean loss of personhood.
Now, of course, the corollary of this, the other side of this, is that if this is true, if your personhood is not dependent on your will whether you have a will or not, it also must be the case that your personal relationship with God is not dependent on your will one way or the other either. And this again is very important because, first of all, it means that you don’t cease to be a Christian simply because you can no longer relate to God in the way that normal human beings do. I mean, if I’m sort of in a coma and I can’t pray or whatever in the way that normal people do, this does not mean to say that I have lost my relationship with God. And I mean, we must never think like this, that somebody who’s in this state for whatever reason has somehow forfeited their salvation. I mean, this would be a dreadful thing to say.
But it also means, of course, on the other side, that salvation cannot be a matter of the will either – that, in other words, to become a Christian is not a question of whether you decide to become one or not. You can’t limit the work of God in your life to a kind of offer which then you can freely choose or not choose. I mean, this is too superficial. It’s too simplistic. I am not saying that you can be converted against your will. That’s another thing. But I’m saying that you cannot simply reduce it to a mental decision taken by the will that goes no deeper than this, because, of course, if you see it merely at that level, then you can will yourself into it but you can will yourself out of it as well. I mean, you are reducing the work of God to something which you are in control of, in effect, in your life. And if God is really at work in your life, then you are not in control of this. He is in control of this and He will work through your will, of course, and so on. I’m not saying you do it unwillingly, but it’s not reduced to that level.
Now for those of you who find this utterly shocking, let us compare it to something that you have an experience of – most of you anyway – in human life and that is the experience of falling in love. When you fall in love with somebody, is this willful or unwillful? Well, it’s a difficult question to answer because if you’re in love with somebody, it’s not as if it’s against your will. I mean, you’re not in love with somebody fighting, screaming, desperately trying to get out of it. That comes later. That’s when the love wears off, you know, and the bills start coming in. But at the beginning, you know what this is like. I mean, when you fall in love with somebody, it sort of takes over your will. It takes over your mind. But it’s not something which is purely a matter of will either. You see what I mean? Your will goes along with it. Your will is involved with it and you feel tremendously liberated in many ways because of this. But it’s also something which you can’t just switch off. I mean, you can’t sort of wake up in the morning and say, well, I’m not in love with so-and-so anymore because I’ve decided I don’t want that anymore. If it’s genuine love, it’s not something you can just get rid of. You see what I mean? It may wear off for other reasons at different times. I’m not saying that it will never wear off, but it’s not something you can just switch on and off as you like at will, in other words. So you see what I’m saying? We have this in our human experience and we know from this kind of situation that the will is involved. The will is very much a part of all of this, of course, but the will is empowered by something which is deeper than the will. It’s something which actually takes you over in a more complete way, and if this is true of human love, how much more is it going to be true of divine love? If you’re in love with God or God is in love with you, then surely this must be something which you can’t just switch on and off at will. It’s deeper than that and it’s a sort of all-embracing experience.
So what I would say to you, those of you who are hot on the free will kind of idea, is compare it with falling in love, and say that the role of the will is similar in both cases. It is not a case of the will being chained and you’re battling against this. This is not the way it works and I’m not suggesting for one minute that it is, but I’m saying that it goes deeper than the will. It’s something which is more than just that. And the reason it’s more than just that is that being a person is more than just having a will. Having a will may be part of your reality, part of your life, but it’s not the whole thing and so to be joined with God, to be united with Christ and so on, is something which has to touch you; it has to reach you at a deeper level.
So this whole argument about the one will of Christ has very serious implications for our understanding of who we are and of what our salvation actually means, and it was in the course of this debate – so that one of the popes was briefly apparently persuaded to sign on to the one will doctrine which, of course, is a heresy. Now this was a very serious thing, not so much for him personally but for the Roman church because the Roman church had always boasted that it had never fallen into any kind of heresy. And even today one of the great embarrassments that the papacy has to deal with is this problem pope. I mean, did this pope fall into heresy or not? And, of course, the objective historian will say, well, yes, he did, and the defender of the Roman church will say, no, no, it was all a misunderstanding and he really didn’t. So these two varieties of view which come up, and it really depends on what doctrine of the papacy you have. If you have a doctrine of the papacy which says that the Pope is infallible, well, then, of course, the Pope could not have fallen into heresy. Even if he did, you have to reinterpret it. If you don’t really worry about that and say, well, it can happen to anybody, then the objective evidence would suggest that Honorius did in fact adopt the monothelite view and fall from grace at least in the eyes of his contemporaries at that time. Anyway, either way, the papacy sort of fell in prestige after the death of Gregory. I mean, things didn’t always go terribly well.
At this time, of course, Rome was still under the emperor in Constantinople. The emperor actually arrested one of the popes, a Pope Martin I, carted him off to Constantinople, charged him with treason, and then banished him to the Crimea of all places, where he died, so the pope couldn’t get away with what he wanted to do. That was a very clear evidence of that, and as long as the emperor was able to do this, as long as he could actually control what was going on in Rome, the papacy didn’t have a lot of hope.
However, towards the end of the seventh century, things began to change. And they changed – the first measurable change, the first time when we can actually see that there was a change afoot, occurs in the year 692 because in that year a council held in Constantinople laid down the canon law of the church, that is to say, the rules and regulations governing worship and doctrine and the clergy and so on. Now these rules were an attempt to codify the practice of the churches. Inevitably, they were codifying the practice of the eastern churches. I mean, they were the majority. They were the ones who were in control and they wanted their customs, of course, to be accepted by everybody. This is understandable.
However, some of these things that they did went directly against Roman practice. In other words, whether this was deliberate or not – and this is an argument again you can debate forever as to what the truth of the matter is – but whether you think Rome did this deliberately or, rather, the council in Constantinople did this deliberately to offend the Romans or whether this was accidental really doesn’t matter. The fact is that Rome was not prepared to accept the result.
What were some of the things that were getting in the way? Well, one of the big things was what sort of bread should you use at communion. This may not seem to you to be a major problem, but the custom of the Eastern Church was to use leavened bread, in other words, mushy sort of bread, the kind of bread that we think of as bread. And the reason for this was that in the new dispensation, the new covenant and so on in Christ, the old law had been taken away and to use unleavened bread was a Judaizing practice in their eyes, so you were to use just ordinary bread. The Roman Church stuck to unleavened bread, what we think of as wafers really today – crackers, that sort of thing. Because, of course, that’s what Jesus used at the Last Supper, being Jewish, you see, and it was Passover and all the rest of it. And this argument as to what sort of bread should be used divided the church because the Eastern Church said you must not use unleavened bread because this is Judaizing and it’s a denial of freedom in Christ, et cetera. The Roman Church said you must not use leavened bread because this is a departure from the actual practice of Jesus himself, and if you’re going to show the continuity with the Last Supper and so on, this is what you should do.
We don’t argue about this today. I mean, I’ve never come across anyone, at least not around here, who argues about this. But it’s interesting to see how things change because while we don’t argue about the bread, we argue about the wine/grape juice. And perhaps you can understand the feelings that this aroused. I mean, if I mention the bread, you think, oh, well, why do they fight about that? But if we mention the cup and what are you putting in the cup, then you can perhaps see how an issue like this which ought not to be a problem can in fact become an issue. I mean, do you have fermented grape juice or do you have unfermented grape juice?
Now the New Testament, of course, is not clear one way or the other, I suppose, on this particular point, but a lot of people today are very insistent that you should have one or the other, and of course, they may have very good reasons. I’m not denying that there aren’t good reasons. There are always good reasons for this kind of thing, but if it becomes a bone of contention, if it becomes an issue in the church, if you allow it to divide the church, I think we would have to say this is going too far. I mean, somebody may have one reason for doing one thing and one reason for doing another thing, but if you start turning it into a theological principle one way or the other, you’re pushing beyond what the New Testament says and you’re actually causing trouble that should be avoided.
Well, anyhow, this happened in the late seventh century with the bread. They didn’t care about the wine. That wasn’t an issue for them. And surprising as it may seem, this problem was not solved – it arose in the year 692 and it was solved in the year 1439. So about 750 years later, which just shows you how you can sort of spin it out if you’re really determined. So anyhow, it was a major issue for a long time but that was one of the things.
Another issue, of course, was the question of ordination, and this was complicated, particularly the question of married men being ordained. I mean, obviously, this doesn’t apply to women at this time so we don’t have to worry about that but the question of married men being ordained or not. Thanks to Gregory the Great in the Western Church, of course, the idea of ordaining married men was very unpopular, not to say that it didn’t happen and it wasn’t illegal or anything like that, but it wasn’t particularly popular because Gregory would have preferred the clergy to remain celibate even though he couldn’t actually enforce this as much as he did. The Eastern Church, on the other hand, adopted a rule which said that married men could and should be ordained but that once you were ordained you could not subsequently marry, and if you were to become a bishop in the church, you must be celibate. And this remains the rule in the orthodox churches to the present time so that if you meet a Russian Orthodox or Greek Orthodox bishop, the bishop will be a monk, a celibate monk, but the priest may well be married. And as long as he got married before he got ordained, that was fine. In other words, you could ordain someone who was already married.
The difficulty, of course, came and still is a difficulty today, if for some reason the priest’s wife dies and, although this is perhaps not a very common occurrence now – remember for many centuries in childbirth this happened quite a lot – the priest could then not remarry. This is the snag. So that a Greek Orthodox priest or a Russian Orthodox priest, if he loses his wife – if his wife dies, he cannot then remarry, which may not be a problem if they’re like 75 but if they’re young, it’s a real problem if a wife dies leaving a young family, especially with a baby or something like that. This becomes a big difficulty and it’s worth realizing this, being aware of this, so that the next time Frederica comes around – well, you know, they don’t mention this kind of thing. There’s always a side to it that they don’t talk about very much, and this is one of the things you have to bear in mind.
Anyhow, the Western Church was not prepared to accept this kind of discipline, curiously, because the Western Church wanted a completely celibate priesthood. They didn’t want married men to be ordained. But because they weren’t prepared to accept this discipline and couldn’t impose celibacy for social reasons and so on – it just wouldn’t work – they ended up allowing priests to go on marrying, so in other words, they ended up with the worst of both worlds from their point of view, and it was several centuries more before celibacy was actually finally imposed but this was another bone of contention and things like this, little things maybe but things which affected people personally and therefore, of course, were taken very seriously.
Now the Roman church was expected to ratify these canons. I mean, the emperor sent them to Rome and said, look, this is the decision; you have to take it on board. The Pope refused. And for the first time since the re-conquest of Italy in the 500’s, no army came from Constantinople to enforce the decrees. In other words, the papacy got away with it, rejecting these canons. This is the first sign that the control of the emperor is beginning to weaken in Italy. For whatever reason, he could not actually force the Pope this time to accept these decisions, and so gradually you begin to see the Western Church moving away from eastern control.
This became more obvious in the eighth century. In the eighth century when a new dynasty in Constantinople came to power and in the year 726 the emperor launched a campaign against icons, against images, on the basis that the second commandment says thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. He decreed that no pictures of any kind should be permitted in the church. This was the beginning of a movement which we know as iconoclasm, the smashing of the images. Iconoclasm. Now iconoclasm was very unpopular with a lot of people for several reasons. People don’t like having to smash their pictures; that’s one thing. A lot of these pictures, of course, had been painted or given by people in memory of somebody in the family, the usual kind of thing, so that causes problems like this. Some people believed that it was a concession to Islam because Islam, of course, was now on the move in a way that it hadn’t been before and Islam was radically opposed to any kind of image of God, and so there were problems there. But mostly it was felt that to deny the possibility of having images is to deny the incarnation of Christ because the underlying theological issue is this: the iconoclasts would say God is invisible; therefore, you cannot make a picture of the divine; therefore, any picture which purports to be a picture of the divine is really a form of idolatry and, therefore, it should be destroyed.
The contrary argument to this is the son of God became a man in Jesus Christ. He must have been visible even if we don't know what he looked like. The people who met him realized they were meeting somebody. They saw him. And the person they were meeting, the person they were talking to and dealing with was God, you see, the son of God, so therefore the son of God must be depictable in some way. I mean, it must have been possible for someone to have made a picture of Jesus. If cameras had existed at that time, it presumably would have been possible to photograph him, and to say that you cannot make a picture of Jesus is, therefore, to deny what the incarnation is affirming. You're saying, well, you know, Jesus is not really God. If you draw a picture of Jesus and said this is the real Jesus, I mean, is he God or is he not God? If he is God, then you can draw a picture of God. If he's not God, then you can't.
Well, anyway, this argument went back and forth for a long time, and Rome took the side of those who were opposed to iconoclasm. In other words, Rome suddenly became a place of refuge for people who were running away from the emperor and his policies even though Rome was still officially subject to the emperor. Oddly enough, the other place of refuge where people went was Damascus which was the headquarters, the capitol of the Muslim rulers, the Caliph, the Caliphate of Damascus at that time, and it's very odd because, of course, although Muslims were against images, they were against images for Muslims. They didn't really care what Christians did, and so Christians who wanted images, who wanted pictures of Jesus, could go and take refuge in Muslim countries which were officially against images but for Christians it was okay. You see what I mean? So that's another oddity, but that happened as well.
Anyhow, the emperor in Constantinople lost a lot of credibility and a lot of support because of this policy. I mean, he obviously believed it was the right thing to do. I mean, I have no doubt that this was a matter of faith as far as he was concerned, but the cost of this was quite high. The cost was revealed in the year 751 because in that year the city of Ravenna which had been the capitol of Italy, of Roman Italy or Imperial Italy, fell to the Lombards at long last. The Lombards had been trying to capture it for ages and never succeeded, but in 751 they managed to do this and extinguishing thereby the rule of the eastern emperor in Italy. This scared the Pope more than anything else because, of course, the Lombards were still pagan. It was one thing to have the pagans next door where they could be used against the emperor as situation dictated. It was quite another thing to have them in the house, and when this happened, the Pope realized that trouble was on the way. He was jumping out of the frying pan into the fire sort of thing, and so what did he do? He appealed to the king of France to rescue him.
It just so happened at this time that the kings of France had fallen into a very degenerate state. They had maintained a pagan custom which said that the king must not do anything, that once you become a king - now this is true. It's a very strange thing but it's a kind of - you see this sometimes in Africa or someplace like this with a tribal chief. It's something similar. But the king represents the welfare of the nation and so you sort of sit him down, sit him on his throne, feed him and the fatter he gets, the healthier the kingdom is. You know, it's this sort of thing. And so this is what they did with their kings. And in particular the king's hair was allowed to grow. They weren't allowed to cut the king's hair. It was a sort of Samson idea, and as long as the king's hair grew longer and longer and longer, this was fine.
Now if you have this sort of totemistic idea of the king, well, that's all very well. If you expect the king to do something, I mean, obviously, somebody who sort of weighs 500 lbs. and has hair sort of round his ankles and things like this is not really going to get very far. And so the kings of the Francs had become really a liability, particularly after the Muslims had invaded, the Arabs had invaded Spain and were in fact invading France at this time, and the whole thing was a desperate struggle. I mean, the Francs really had to get their act together in order to survive.
The result was that a family of chief ministers – called the mayors of the palace, actually – took over the running of the government because the king was just a useless creature sitting around like this. Well, by 751 the mayors of the palace were tired of this. They felt that as they were doing the work they ought to get the pay and decided that the time had come to bump off the king and take over the throne, change the system. This the mayor of the palace who was a man called Pippin did with the covert blessing of the Pope. In other words, they struck a deal. The Pope said I will recognize you as king and we'll get rid of this crazy system that you've been having all these years. You bump off the king. Make yourself king. I'll recognize you if in return you invade Italy and liberate Ravenna. The deal was struck. It happened as the Pope requested, and the result of this was that in the year 754 the king of the Francs was able not only to deliver – he destroyed the Lombards completely – but not only was he able to set the Pope free from the Lombards but he also gave the Pope the territory which had previously been ruled by the imperial governor in Ravenna, and this territory was rather strange. It was the city of Rome itself – Ravenna is up here – and a kind of corridor across Italy linking the two together.
This gift of the king of the Francs in the year 754 became the Papal States, and the Pope for the first time became a temporal ruler, in other words, king of his own country in effect, which was this band of territory in central Italy. And the papacy remained the ruler of this territory until 1870 when it was finally conquered by the new kingdom of Italy and the Pope lost his temporal authority after more than a thousand years. So be aware of this. You see, the establishment of the Pope as a temporal ruler in Italy was due to this. And, of course, it sealed the alliance between the kings of the Francs and the popes, and this alliance is going to be the determining factor, you might say, in the development of Medieval Europe at least for the next several centuries. But it came about in this way and although the Pope was still officially a subject of the emperor in Constantinople, by this time this had become purely nominal and it was only waiting the next stage of development before the link with the east would be formally broken as well as practically broken. It was practically broken at this time with the establishment of the Papal States. It was another 50 years before it would be formally broken and the Western Church would go its own separate and distinct way.