1. The Barbarian Invasion of The Roman Empire (271-540 A.D.)

    The Romans used the word "barbarians" to refer to peoples who lived outside the boundaries of the Empire. These outside people included the Sassanid, successors to the Parthians and older Persians; the primitive Picts and Scots of the extreme northwest; and many Germanic groups, tribal and agricultural, extending from what is now Denmark, along the Rhine and Danube, to the north coast of the Black Sea. The Franks, Alamanni, Burgundians, Lombards, and Goths were all Germanic groups. In the fourth century these groups of people exerted a steady pressure on the boundaries of the Empire. The Sassanids held Mesopotamia and Armenia. The Picts from Ireland, Picts from Scotland, and the Germanic Anglo-Saxons from across the North Sea assailed Britain. The Franks lived along the lower Rhine river; some within the Empire on the left bank were hired by the Romans to hold at bay the other Franks living east of the river, outside the Empire.

    The Germanic assaults for long time consisted of no more than raids, easily repulsed by frontier troops. This state of relative equilibrium broke down abut A.D. 375, and was followed for about two centuries by "barbarian invasions". The Germanic bands wandered over the territory of the Empire, devastating and in some cases settling down. By the sixth century A.D. they established somewhat indeterminate kingdoms. What broke down the relative equilibrium was the appearance of the Huns, a fierce Asiatic people who had originated on the western frontiers of China. About A.D. 375 sweeping through the grasslands north of the Caspian Sea, the Huns fell upon the easternmost Germanic tribes, the Ostergoths (or, East Goths), who were living peacefully north of the Black Sea. The Ostergoths moved west pushing on the Visigoths (or West Goths), who in terror of the Huns sought refuge within the Empire. The Huns, moving west, threw the other Germanic tribes into confusion, and started them on a great wave of migrations. The Visigoths crossed the Danube River in A.D. 375; remained in Macedonia and Thrace until A.D. 395; moved on through Greece and into Italy, where they plundered Rome in A.D. 410, sojourned in southern Gaul from A.D. 412 to 507; and finally settled down in Spain about A.D. 415. The Alamanni simply crossed the upper Rhine River. Half of the Suevi went with the Vandals to Spain, settled down in the mountainous north, and held their own against the Visigoths and later against the Moslems. The following are chief Germanic kingdoms founded within the territory of the Empire:

    Visigoths - Southern Gaul, A.D. 412-507;
    Visigoths - Spain, A.D. 415-711;
    Ostrogoths - Italy, A.D. 489-554;
    Vandals - Spain, A.D. 400-424; Africa, A.D. 420-548;
    Franks - Northern Gaul, A.D. 486;
    Franks - Southern Gaul, A.D. 507;
    Lombards - Italy, A.D. 568.

    Germanic tribes had threatened the northern frontier of the Roman Empire for several centuries. But these tribes were not able to cross the frontier and the enter empire until the middle of the third century.

    1. The Goths.

      The most important of these tribes were the Goths. The Visigoths, the western branch of the of the Goths, occupied the Roman province of Dacia and forced the Emperor Aurelian to abandon it in 271 A.D. The Visigoths were converted to Christianity during their occupation of Dacia, by Roman prisoners taken on raid into the Empire. About the end of Constantine's reign, Ulfia, a descendant of one of the Christian Roman prisoners, was consecrated head of the Christian community there by an Arian bishop. The Visigoths, therefore, became Arian Christians and eventually spread their Arian faith to most of the other German tribes on the border of the Empire. Ulfia's most important achievement was the translation of the Bible into the Gothic language, for which he invented the Gothic alphabet.

      The barbarian eastern branch of the Goths appeared on the Danube frontier of the empire in the latter part of the fourth century A.D, and pressed by Mongol tribes behind them, they asked permission of the Roman authorities to cross over into the empire. They obtained permission and took refuge within the empire from the Huns. But when they were mistreated by the Romans they rebelled and destroyed Emperor Valens and his army at the battle of Adrianople in A.D. 378. Many crossed the Danube after the battle and started their migrations within the empire. Theodosius manage to subdue the Visigoths, but they were allowed to remain within the empire as Roman allies, under their own rulers, and with a regular subsidy.

      In A.D. 395 the empire was divided between Arcadius and Honorius, the two young sons of Theodosius. Alaric, the new king of the Visigoths, began to exploit the differences that now developed between East and West. Apparently encouraged by Constantinople, he invaded Italy in A.D. 401. On the night of 24 August A.D. 410, Alaric stormed the walls of Rome in a surprise attack and pillaged the city for three days. Soon after Alaric abandoned the city. The event apparently had little permanent effect on the empire as a whole. Rome ceased to be the administrative center of the West and the Emperor and his court moved to the coastal city of Ravenna. But the psychological effects of the sack of Rome was far reaching. For the first time in 800 years Rome had been taken by a foreign army. Far away in a monastery at Bethlehem, Jerome wept: "The city which has taken the whole world is itself taken!"

    2. The Vandals.

      After the sacking of Rome in A.D. 410 and the death of Alaric, the Visigoths finally settled in Spain about A.D. 426 and founded a kingdom. They were followed by other Germanic tribe, the Arian Vandals from east of the Rhine who finally settled in North Africa. The Vandals, lead by Gaiseric, had crossed from Spain into North Africa in A.D. 429, and by A.D. 435 controlled much of the coast, capturing Carthage in A.D. 439. Augustine died in A.D. 430 as the Vandals besieged the city of Hippo. Under the Arian Vandal rule (A.D. 429-533) the Catholics and Donatists were persecuted for a long period. The Vandals mastered the sea and in A.D. 455 attacked Rome itself. the Romans were unprepared and leaderless. Pope Leo I, it is reported, again saved Rome by pleading with Gaiseric for restraint in his fourteen-day sack of the city. For in A.D. 452 Attila the Hun had invaded Italy but was persuaded to withdraw -- according to tradition, by a Roman delegation led by Pope Leo I. The next year Attila died and his army dissolved, and the Huns were absorbed into the surrounding population.

      The next two decades were filled with wars against the Vandals and complicated intrigues, in which puppet emperors were set up and deposed at will by barbarian generals. Eventually, the barbarian Roman army in Italy revolted -- the army of true Romans had long ceased to exist -- and elected as their king Odoacer, one of the barbarian officers of the imperial guard. In A.D. 476 Odoacer deposed the last Roman Emperor in the West, the little Romulus Augustulus, and sent his imperial regalia to the Eastern Emperor Zeno, affirming his allegiance to the government at Constantinople and seeking to be recognized as ruler in the West. Odoacer was himself overthrown in A.D. 493 by Theodoric, chief of a group of Ostrogoths, who had served previously in the Eastern Empire. Theodoric now ruled a Gothic kingdom in Italy, taking over all the old Roman administration including the Senate. His administration of both Romans and barbarians worked surprisingly well, at least until near the end of his reign, when harmony was destroyed in the intrigues that accompanied the death of the statesman Boethius.

    3. Boethius.

      Anicius Manlius Torquatus Severinus Boethius (A.D. c.480-c.524) was Roman statesman and philosopher. He was educated at Athens and Alexandria, and was Consul of Rome and minister to Theodoric, the Arian king of the Ostrogoths. He was accused of treason, imprisoned, and executed. While awaiting execution in Italy, he wrote his most famous work De Consolatione Philosophiae (On the Consolation of Philosophy), in five books, a dialogue between Boethius and "philosophy", who lead him from despair over his situation to "that true contentment which reason united with virtue can give." Earlier in about A.D. 520 he wrote five Tractates (known as Opuscula Sacra) in defense of orthodox theology. One of these books, which systematically applied Aristotle's logic to Christian theology, earned him the title of the "first scholastic", that is, one who attempts to harmonize faith and reason. This work was taken seriously throughout the Middle Ages, getting commentaries on it by Aquinas and others, and Boethius was later canonized. In his writings he attempted a synthesis of Hellenistic, Roman and Christian thought, "saving" the best of the old, and using it to generate the new. His numerous treatises in logic and theology, his translation of Aristotle's works on logic, as well as the commentaries by Porphyry, Cicero and Victorinus, contributed to the development of philosophical terminology in Latin. His equation of "hypostasis" with "person" led Boethius to define the term "person" as "an individual substance of rational nature." His contributions have earned the title not only of "the last representative of ancient philosophy" by some, but also "the first of the Scholastics", by others. Boethius belonged to the Neo-Platonic tradition and attempted the typically Platonic task of reconciling Plato and Aristotle, to the advantage of Plato. His untimely death in A.D. 524 prevented him from translating from the Greek the works of Plato and Aristotle into the Latin.

    4. Emperor Justinian.

      After the death of Theodoric in A.D. 526, the generals of the Eastern Emperor Justinian (A.D. 527-565) temporarily reconquered Italy. Jusinian's general, Belisarius, reconquered North Africa in A.D. 533 and catholic Christianity recovered much of its vigor. Now it was directed mostly against the Eastern emperor's compromises with the Monophysites than against the Donatists. During the Arian persecution a mutual tolerance between the Catholics and Donatists had developed, each recognizing the other. The last of the Germanic tribes to enter the Roman Empire, the Arian Lombards, arrived in Italy in A.D. 568. But the imperial army was unable to defend Italy against the Lombard invasions after Justinian's death in A.D. 565, and Italy was once more dominated by barbarians. Although the imperial army managed to hold Ravenna and some other parts of Italy, Rome itself was governed by her new bishop, Gregory I (A.D. 540-604).

  2. Pope Gregory the Great.

    Gregory became Pope in A.D. 590. He was born in Rome into a distinguish Roman aristocratic family with a long tradition of imperial service that encouraged piety and enabled him to receive a good education in grammar and rhetoric. He studied Latin literature extensively but knew no Greek or Hebrew. He was familiar with the writings of Ambrose, Jermone, and Augustine but knew little of the classical literature or philosophy of Greece. His outstanding performance as a student of law led to his appointment as prefect of the city in about A.D. 570. Later he decided to renounce worldly things and gave up the fortune that he inherited from his father and used it to provide for the founding of seven monasteries, including one in his family home which he dedicated to St. Andrew and he entered it as a monk about A.D. 575. Gregory was brought back into public life by Benedict I, who ordained him a Roman deacon. Between A.D. 579 and 586 he was active as a papal representative to Constantinople and was successful in some instances, but failed to obtain aid for Rome against the Lombards. During these seven years, when he was papal ambassador in Constantinople, he did not even learn Greek. Upon his return to Rome, he was made abbot of Saint Andrew's monastery. When Pope Pelagius II died of the plague, he reluctantly accepted his election as pope and was consecrated in A.D. 590.

    1. The Lombard invasions.

      The Lombard invasions ended Roman imperial domination of Italy and gave the pope a new independence. But the Lombards threatened to overwhelm the city of Rome in a barbarian flood. When Gregory became pope in A.D. 590, Rome's situation was desperate. Rome faced the Lombard threat with no hope of help from the imperial exarch at Ravenna, and famine and plague were also in the land. In an effort to secure Rome against invasion by the Lombards, Gregory entered into a factional dispute with the church at Ravenna and imperial exarch. Unable to reach an agreement which would unify Italian peacemaking efforts, Gregory took command without hesitation, provisioned the city and provided for its defense, sent orders to generals in the field, negotiated with the Lombards, and finally in A.D. 592 made a truce with the Lombard duke, Aruilf of Spoleto, without the Emperor's authorization. No pope before Gregory had dared to do so much. When the Lombard king entered Rome in A.D. 594, Gregory moved to save Rome by paying a large ransom and committing himself to an annual tribute. Since it was Gregory and not the emperor who undertook these duties usually assumed by the civil government, this was an important step in the formation of the Papal States. Thus making the pope a temporal ruler.

    2. The Authority of the Pope.

      The ineffectiveness of the imperial governor at Ravenna in combating the Lombards, brought home to the papacy the need to find another solution. The conversion of the invaders to catholic Christianity was one possible solution, which Gregory did in fact try. He supported the Lombard Queen Theodelinda, who was catholic Christian. Eventually the Lombards were weaned away from Arian to catholic Christianity, though this did not solve the political problems of the papacy.

      In ecclesiastical affairs, Gregory attempted to strengthen the position of the Roman pontificate through handling of the church both East and West. While recognizing the jurisdictional rights which other churches had over their own territories, he maintained that the See of Peter had been entrusted with the care of the entire church and therefore had universal jurisdiction. Gregory was convinced that "to all who know the Gospel it is apparent that by the Lord's voice the care of the whole church was committed to the holy Apostle and prince of all the Apostles, Peter." As Peter's successor, he, Gregory, would exercise universal jurisdiction over the whole church. In the Eastern Church he asserted his position by reversing a decision against two priests made by the patriarch of Constantinople (John IV the Faster) and strongly objecting to the patriarch's use of the title "ecumenical (universal) bishop." Gregory also asserted his position in the Western Church by seeing that bishops were elected according to canonical procedure and by working to heal the Donatist schism. Gregory wrote a series of important letters to Germanic rulers elsewhere in the West. By this time the Arian Visigoths in Spain had accepted catholic Christianity. Gregory's letters to Reccared, the first catholic Visigoth king of Spain, demonstrate the pope's desire to make his influence felt there. He was able to place the Spanish Church in the care of his friend Bishop Leander of Seville.

    3. Clovis and the Franks.

      The Franks in Gaul were the only Germanic tribes to enter the Roman Empire as pagans and not as Arian Christians. About A.D. 500, Clovis, the first great ruler among the Franks, decided to accept catholic baptism, following his marriage to a catholic princess. According to a Frankish history, Clovis agreed to accept Christ if the Christian God gave him victory over another tribe with whom he was at war. Clovis won his battle against the Alemanni; then, with three thousand of his warriors, he was baptized. This event shows the general pattern of early medieval conversions. The conversion to Christianity was essentially a matter of royal policy. The ruler's conversion decided the religion of his subjects. Catholic queens and princesses did much to bring about the conversion of their husbands and their kingdoms.

      Clovis' conversion laid the foundations for an important alliance between the papacy and the Franks. Although the Franks showed great devotion to the See of Peter and the Roman church from a very beginning, this did not mean that the pope had great influence on royal policy. The harsh, even barbaric, conditions of Gaul under the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings proved very detrimental to the church during the 6th and 7th century A.D. Gregory, determined to revive the church in the West, attempted to launch reform in Gaul. He was thwarted by the Merovingian rulers, who indulged in such practices as appointing layman as bishops and selling church appointments. These Frankish rulers simply assumed that the church was freely at their own disposal. Gregory was able to link the independent Frankish Church to Rome by restoring the vicariate. Gregory's efforts pointed the way to the reform of the 8th century A.D.

    4. The Mission to England.

      One important result of Gregory's relations with the Merovingian kings was the mission to England and the conversion of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. This was the result of Gregory's vision to convert the "barbarians" and make them members of a "Christian commonwealth" led by the pope. Gregory's vision became reality in medieval Europe. Gregory's deep interest in the mission to England is shown by the simple, perhaps apocryphal, story told by pious papal biographer. Gregory while still a monk in Rome, one day saw some attractive fair-haired, blue-eyed young children in the slave market. On inquiring who they were, Gregory was told that they were Angli from England, and that they were pagans. He replied that these young lads were not "Angles" but "Angels"! And when he were told they were from Deiri (Yorkshire), he decided that they must be delivered from the wrath (de ira) of God by missionary work. In A.D. 595 Gregory ordered his representative in Arles, in southern France, to purchase Anglo-Saxon slaves to be brought to Rome for training as clerics. In A.D. 595 Gregory assembled a team of forty monks under Augustine (not to be confused with Augustine of Hippo), who was the prior of the pope's own monastery in Rome. With Frankish priests as interpreters, the team arrived in England just before Easter A.D. 597. Gregory's information indicated that the Jutish kingdom of Kent should be the target of the mission. Its king, Ethelbert, was married to a catholic Frankish princess, Betha. Ethelbert accepted Catholicism, and, since he was nominal overlord of the neighboring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Essex and East Anglia, catholic Christianity came to three out of twelve Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. By late A.D. 597, the pope appointed Augustine archbishop of the church in England. King Ethelbert gave the new archbishop his own palace in Canterbury, which became the first episcopal center in England. Pope Gregory instructed the rather unimaginative Augustine on how to convert the pagans; they were to be weaned slowly away from their current religion.

      The evangelistic efforts among the Angles and Saxons went slowly, and were directly affected by intense political and religious competition among the kings. Archbishop Augustine was also concerned about the Celtic church, its attitude towards the Anglo-Saxon mission, and its practices, which differed from those of Rome. Bede, the historian, wrote that Augustine's attempts to unite the Celtic church and Rome failed on three basic issues; namely his requirement that the Celtic church adopt the Roman method of arriving at the date of Easter, adopt the Roman tradition of baptism, and join his mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons. Relations between Augustine and the Celtic churchmen turned sour. The Celtic bishops took offense when the archbishop refused to stand to greet them. They refused to accept him as their archbishop. But by the third quarter of the seventh century a generation of churchmen emerged who combined the order and authority of Rome with the emotional and imaginative vigor of Celtic Christianity. Aidan of Lindisfarne, the first Celtic churchman to take an active part in the mission to the Anglo-Saxons, with a number of other Anglo-Saxon churchmen, such as Wilfrid of York, took the lead in overcoming paganism and racism. Again with royal support, this time that of Oswy, King of Northumbria, this mission achieved success. The Synod of Whitby in A.D. 664 confirmed the Romanization of British Christianity. Five years later two churchmen were sent to England by the pope to complete the reordering of the church in England. Theodore of Tarsus, a Greek who served the pope as Archbishop of Canterbury, and Hadrian, from North Africa, stand out as the real founders of the catholic church in England. They built on the foundations laid by Pope Gregory and Archbishop Augustine, and drew on the spiritual and intellectual vigor of Celtic Christianity.

    5. Gregory the Writer and Theologian.

      Gregory was a prolific writer; he wrote the Magna Moralia, a commentary on the Book of Job, he emphasized moral interpretataion and resorted to allegorizing in order to derive his ethical formulas. He pictured Job as a type of Christ, his wife as a type of the carnal nature, the seven sons as types of the clergy, and the three daughters as types of the faithful laity. He also wrote the Book of Pastoral Care, which concerns pastoral theology. He emphasized the prerequisites for the bishopric, the virtues a bishop needs, and the need for introspection. The work made a great appeal to the monks of his day because of its ascetic nature. It became a basic textbook for training of the medieval clergy. Gregory also reorganized the liturgy introducing the Gregorian chant, which came to have a more important place in the Roman Catholic church than that developed by Ambrose. This chant involved the use of a stately and solemn monotone in that part of the worship that was chanted.

      Gregory was also an outstanding theologian. He is ranked by some with Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine of Hippo as one of the four great doctors of the Western church. He laid the groundwork of the theology that was held by the Roman church throughout the Middle Ages until Thomas Aquinas formulated his Summa. Gregory's theology is Augustinian, but with another emphasis than that of Augustine. His interests were practical. He believed that man was sinner by birth and choice, but he softened Augustine's view by asserting that man did not inherit guilt from Adam but only sin, as a disease to which all were subject. Man is fettered in original sin, as was evident from his birth in lust. He maintained that the will is free and that only its goodness has been lost. He believed in predestination, but he limited it to the number of the elect and often spoke as if predestination is simply divine foreknowledge. Grace is not irresistible, he believed, because it is based on both foreknowledge of God and, to some extent, the merits of man. Man is saved by the work of Christ, received at baptism, but sins committed after baptism must be satisfied. Works of merit wrought by God's assisting grace make satisfaction. "The good that we do is both of God and of ourselves; of God by prevenient grace, our own by good will following." Penance is the proper reparation for sins after baptism. It involves recognition of the evil of the sin, contrition, and satisfaction. The church has many helps for him who would seek merit or exercise penance. The greatest of these is the Lord's Supper, which Gregory viewed as a repetition of the sacrifice of Christ, available for the living and the dead. The Canon of the Mass, which he changed somewhat, was widely used in his day; and it showed the growing tendency to consider the Communion as a sacrifice of Christ's body and blood each time it is performed. He also emphasized good works and the invocation of the saints in order to get their aid. Gregory upheld the idea of purgatory as a place where souls would be purified prior to their entrance into heaven. The idea of purgatory was not new with Gregory. The first faint intimation may be found in Hermas of Rome. With Cyprian it is more evident, and he cites in this connection Matt. 5:26. Augustine, on the basis of I Cor. 3:11-15, argued that purgatory was not improbable, though he felt no absolute certainity about it. Casarius of Arles held more definitely to the conception; to him it was a fact. Gregory now taught purgatory as an article of faith. "It is to be believed that there is a purgatorial fire before the judgment for certain light sins." He held to the verbal inspiration of the Bible but gave tradition an equality with the Bible. The Bible he interpreted allegorically to bring out its moral and ethical teachings. It may safely be said that medieval theology bore the stamp of Gregory's thought. He also gave to early medieval catholicism its distinctive character, stressing the cult of saints and relics, monasticism and asceticism.

      Gregory was the first pope who had been a monk. Monasticism, especially Benedictine monasticism, was from this period closely allied with the papacy. Together these institutions gave medieval catholicism its distinctive character.