Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Popes and Kings Together The Origins of the Chruch - State Problem

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
In the last article (September 1999), we have seen how around the ÒEmpireÓ new forces were pressing in on both Church and State. The invasions by the ÒBarbariansÓ and the subsequent movement of peoples changed the face of Europe. Another great and long lasting threat came from a new religion, called ÒIslamÓ. The followers of Mohammed, the self proclaimed prophet of Allah, who had died in 632, had become a massive force of destruction. Branching out from the Arabian peninsula, they had swept through North Africa and had entered Europe through Spain in the West and (much later) through Constantinople in the East. During the 16th century, they advanced as far as the gates of Vienna in Austria. Today, in many countries in Europe, as well as in our own, Islam is making its conquests in a more peaceful manner, through migration. If the Lord tarries, one wonders how later historians will look back at this current development. The relation between Popes and Kings (Church and State) was forged with this threat constantly on the horizon.
The Alliances are Made
During the movement of tribes described earlier, one of the Germanic tribes, the Lombards (ÒLongbeardsÓ), invaded northern Italy in 568 and settled in the Po valley, at the top of the Adriatic Sea, near the former Yugoslav border. They were mainly Arian Christians who soon became orthodox. Pope Gregory I (Òthe GreatÓ) gave the ÒIron CrownÓ (supposedly containing one of the nails of the LordÕs cross!) to their leader. From this time on the history of the church is linked closely with that of the Lombards and the Franks (another German tribe, settled in more westerly regions).

The Lombards were a constant threat to the Pope. The emperor was far away, in Constantinople. The Pope was really the head of the Western Empire, but had little in the way of a fighting army to support him. He was constantly in need of alliances and, as can be expected, popes began to spend more and more time on political rather than on church issues.

You will recall that Clovis the Frank had converted to Christianity in 496. Although Clovis had been a strong ruler, his successors were not. The line weakened; the real power fell into the hands of the major domo, the main nobleman who was the Òhead of the houseÓ.

Charles ÒThe HammerÓ Martel, who had defeated the Muslim army at Tours in 732, thus stopping the threat of further penetration from Spain, was one such major domo in the House of Clovis. His son, Pepin the Short, held the same office, but decided that he wanted not only the power but also the title of king. So he deposed the last of the line of Clovis, Childeric, and sent him off to a monastery. To cover himself from all sides, Pepin sought and obtained the popeÕs approval. Pope Zacharias crowned and anointed Pepin as king in 751. This act had far reaching consequences!

If the pope crowns the king, who has more power? Did the pope have the right to give and, therefore also, to take away crowns? This became the great issue of the Middle Ages.

Pepin returned the favour by defeating the Lombards, who had become a real nuisance to the pope, and donated their lands to the Òbishop of RomeÓ--an area comprising about 20% of modern day Italy. This is called ÒThe Donation of Pepin.Ó The pope is now not only a spiritual, but also a temporal ruler who controlled various parts of Italy until 1870. Even today, Vatican City is an independent nation, ruled by the Pope.

Charlemagne--ÒCharles the GreatÓ
Pepin died in 768 and was succeeded by his sons, Carloman (who died 3 years later) and Carolus (Charles) called Òthe Great.Ó He not only was called Òthe GreatÓ because of his giant stature (he was nearly seven feet tall at a time when the average height was considerably less than it is today), but also because of his accomplishments.

A strong and wise ruler, he gradually won control over all the old Roman Empire in the West (in current terms: northern Italy and Spain, France, Holland, Belgium, Austria and most of Germany). He established law and order, enhanced civilization, promoted Christianity and on Christmas Day, 800, while in Rome, he was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III. He pressed on to subdue many barbarian tribes, turning some to Christianity (sometimes literally at the point of the sword). He secured his borders and established a system of law and courts.

Perhaps his greatest contribution was his educational system. At a time when the Franks and other tribes, although Christian, looked down on learning as a leftover from the weak and effeminate Romans, Charles promoted it by establishing schools throughout the empire. Most of these schools were associated with the local churches and staffed by clergy. He even had a school for the local children in his palace in Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), just outside the southern tip of modern HollandÕs border. He also ensured that ancient books would be preserved by having them copied (by hand!) in the many ÒScriptoriaÓ which he established. Because of this, most ancient writings which we now still have, survived the raids of the Norsemen which followed for a few hundred years after CharlemagneÕs death. His drive to oust the Muslims from Spain was only partly successful. He took over Lombardy and subdued the Saxons in northern Germany after many hard battles.

When Charles died in 834 there were three great empires:

1. Roman Empire - East: the weakest and oldest;

2. Muslim Empire - largest (see introduction);

3. New ÒHoly Roman EmpireÓ of Charles - the youngest and strongest.

The name ÒHoly Roman EmpireÓ survived for nearly 1,000 years until it was ... neither Holy nor Roman nor an Empire.Ó The dream resurfaced with Napoleon (1804-1815) and Adolf Hitler (1939-45) in his ÒThird ReichÓ (Empire).

Both Pepin and Charles had forged cordial relations with the popes; later rulers did not do so. There were three theories regarding the relationship between the two, with the flow of power like this:

God --> Pope --> King who rules over civil affairs in the service of the church

God } Pope - Church

} King - civil affairs

God --> King --> Pope who rules over the church in the service of the King.

Popes argued that spiritual authority was first. They claimed that as the moon receives light from the sun, so the emperor received his power from the pope, who represents Christ to whom all power had been given. Kings (especially Charles) argued that they stood in the line of David and Solomon--kings by appointment from God.

The Empire Crumbled
After CharlemagneÕs death, his sons squabbled about the succession and in 843 the empire was divided into three parts:

West, Frankish kingdom (France and southern Belgium) ruled by Charles;

East, Frankish kingdom (Germany, Austria, Czech, Slovakia, Hungary) ruled by Louis;

Central, Italian Kingdom (the strip from Holland south through to Italy) ruled by Lothair.

In our next instalment we hope to consider how the church fared in the period from 843 to 1244--a period marked by corruption, conflict and the crusades.

Read 1522 times

We have 265 guests and no members online

© Free Reformed Churches of North America