Requiem for an Empire?

In 06 Conclusion on 2011/08/13 at 1:22 PM

When the western portion of the Roman Empire collapsed in 476,  there was chaos.  It seemed impossible; the Roman Empire was dead.  Into the breech would step the Church, the only institution left standing.

The Church alone survived as a unified, multi-national force for order.  The Church possessed laws, an educated hierarchy respected for fairness and an inclination towards charitable works. It would be the popes who guided; the monks would be the transmitters.  Benedict, the counterpart of  Basil, would establish monasticism in the West.

The goal of Benedict’s Rule was to imitate, as much as possible, the life of Christ.  And, through chastity, prayer, work , lead a life of service.  This meant  doing whatever corporal or spiritual work was needed, in moderation, without frenetic activity; always remembering that  to work is to pray.

Popes sent monks as missionaries to Christianize pagan barbarians.  The popes saw the future of the civilized world and the of Church in the conversion of the vast populations of Barbarians (the primitive Germanic tribes in particular) beyond the former boundaries of the empire.

First, would come civilizing the barbarians; then, their Christianization.  The monasteries were known as a source of information on agriculture, husbandry and architecture.  The Barbarians also sensed something of God Himself in the kindness of these good monks.

The new mission outreach was rural at first rather than the urban focus of the East.  As in the early days of Christianity, it was the spoken word rather than the written word that made converts.

From the wreckage of Rome, a network of Catholic monastic scholars preserved law, language and literature transmitting the heritage of classical Greece and Rome.  Patrick, for example, would  teach the Irish Latin through the Scriptures and the Classics.  Then, the Irish became the tutors of the English who in turn became tutors of the Germans, resulting in bringing God to the Barbarians and the West being referred to as Christendom, the Catholic Civilization as it was known for 1,500 years before being called Europe.

Later, the question would arise: What authority did the pope have over Christendom’s  political structure?

A future pope, Gregory VII, would explain that  the pope is neither king nor emperor, having no temporal power (other than the papal states).  As Vicar of the Church, he is, rather, the moral judge of kings and emperors with God-given authority to bind and loose.  The Pope is a moral judge, not merely a teacher, a delegate of Christ’s authority to absolve and condemn. (Judging is not the same as governing.)  It is not his role to establish a theocracy; however, he has a duty to assert his God-given authority to call all men to moral account for their actions.

The Book of Hebrews spells out a Christian’s duties in 13:7: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.”  He continues in 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account.”

So, as with all empires before her, Rome fell, and time brought about her requiem.  And, as the requiem Mass promises to all the Faithful, death brought about a new life, a new civilization of order, of Faith, of a Church founded on the footprint of Rome.  Life was, as it will be through Christ, victorious over death.


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