Justinian and the Byzantine Papacy eliminated Anianism.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

JUSTINIAN THE GREAT

This article series has a dual purpose:

Firstly, it discusses the Historical Development of the Trinity Doctrine.  The purpose is to show that the decisions to adopt the Trinity doctrine were not taken by Church Councils, but by the Roman Emperors; particularly Constantine, Theodosius, and Justinian. 

The second purpose is to identify the eleventh horn of Daniel 7. It grows out of the fourth beast; after that beast has already fragmented into many kingdoms (7:7, 24). That horn becomes God’s all-time great adversary (7:25) and is only destroyed when Christ returns (7:9-14). A comparison of the beasts of Daniel 7 and 8 identified the fourth beast as the Roman Empire. Since these articles also explain the history of the fall of the Roman Empire, they also identify that 11th horn.

PREVIOUS ARTICLES 

In summary, the previous articles in this series cover the following ground:

FIRST THREE CENTURIES

The series starts with articles that show that Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and other church fathers of the first three centuries were not Trinitarians.  They had a very high view of Christ, but always subordinate to the Father, who they identified as the only true and almighty ‘god’.

FOURTH CENTURY

These were followed by articles that trace the development through the fourth century.  Firstly, Emperor Constantine exerted a huge influence on the Council of Nicaea in the formulation of the Nicene Creed.

However, during the fifty years following Nicaea, more or less from 330 to 380, the church rejected the Nicene Creed.  Constantine’s successors, Emperors Constantius and Valens were Arians and actively encouraged the church to reverse the Nicene Creed.  They also exiled bishops adhering to the Nicene Creed and crushed the Nicene party.

But when Theodosius – an ardent supported of the Nicene Creed – became emperor in 380, he immediately outlawed Arianism and exiled all Arian bishops. He did this even before the 381 Council and manipulated that council to accept the Nicene Creed.

FIFTH CENTURY

After Theodosius died, the Western Roman Empire weakened. Germanic tribes, who previously migrated into the Empire, reached such large numbers and high positions in the Roman army that they, in practice, controlled the Western Roman Empire.  Over the fifth century, they divided the territory of the Western Empire into Germanic kingdoms.  Since these Germanic peoples were Arians, the Western Empire was Arian once again!

In the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire), with Constantinople as its capital, Nicene Christianity remained dominant.

SIXTH CENTURY – BYZANTINE PAPACY

The Arian nations that dominated the Roman Church in the west. However, as discussed in the present article, Emperor Justinian, emperor of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire in the sixth century, significantly weakened Arianism by sending troops to combat the Arian nations in the west. They dispersed the Vandals to the fringes of the empire, forced the Ostrogoths back north to South Austria, and barricaded the Visigoths with the new province of Spania.

Some Arian nations remained, but after liberating the Roman Church from Arian domination, the Byzantine Empire continued to protect, strengthen and rule over the Roman Church. Through two centuries of Byzantine rule over the Papacy (known as the Byzantine papacy) , the Byzantine Empire, through the Roman Church, converted the remaining Arian kingdoms, one after the other, to Nicene Christology.

CONCLUSION

Given the facts of this brief overview, it is not possible to deny the decisive influence which emperors such as Constantine, Constantius, Valens, Theodosius, and Justinian had on the church’s acceptance of the Trinity doctrine. As shown in the articles mentioned above, Constantine and Theodosius respectively clearly manipulated the key creeds of 325 and 381.  These emperors did not develop this doctrine, but they did decide what the church should believe concerning the nature of Christ (Christology).  

The huge political manipulation through which the Trinity doctrine came to be accepted does not mean that the Trinity doctrine is unbiblical, but it does mean that we cannot rely on the church councils or traditions as representing the truth.  

SUMMARY

FALL OF THE WESTERN ROMAN EMPIRE

In the fifth century, the Germanic people, who have migrated into the Western Roman Empire over the previous century or more, became a dominant force within the Western Roman Empire due to their large numbers and military supremacy.  They revolted against the severe conditions under which they were allowed to remain in the Empire, sacked Rome twice, and deposed the last Roman Emperor.  Through wars, they divided up the territory of the Western Empire into Germanic kingdoms. However, these nations at least pretended to function as part of the Roman Empire—under the governance of the Emperor in Constantinople.

Although they were Arian Christians, they allowed the Roman peoples and the Roman Church to remain in their territories.  This is one indication of the desire of these immigrants to remain part of the Roman Empire.

The Roman Church had to depend on the Arian nations for physical protection. But the Roman Church managed to grow in strength, partly due to its central and superior organization and administration and expertise in statecraft from years of being part of the Roman Government in the fourth century.

UNITY OF CHURCH AND STATE

Justinian I was the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (also called the Byzantine Empire) from 527 to 565. 

It is important to understand that separation of Church and State did not exist at that time. In the view of the time, the Christian Roman Emperor was God’s agent on earth and the supreme bishops of the Empire were the spiritual heads of the Christian world, acting in harmony with him. Church and State were therefore one.  Justinian believed that “he had the right and duty of regulating by his laws the minutest details of worship and discipline.

This was not limited to the church in the east. In Justinian’s view, the Church included the Church in Rome and he, as emperor, had the right and duty to also protect and regulate the Church in Rome. 

The Imperial conviction always was that the unity of the Empire presupposes the unity of faith. Emperor Justinian protected the ‘purity’ of the faith by persecuting and killing heretics.

DELIVERED THE PAPACY FROM ARIAN DOMINATION.

After the Germanic peoples, in the fifth century, divided the territory of the Western Empire between them, the Church in Rome was subject to their laws and customs. The Roman Church was unable to dominate or to compel the population in Europe to comply with its doctrines.

As a keen supporter of the Nicene church in Rome, Justinian considered it his divine duty to restore the Roman Empire to its ancient boundaries and to liberate the church in Rome from Arian domination. He sent troops to combat the Arian nations in the west:

      • They dispersed the Vandals of North Africa to the fringes of the empire.
      • Following their final defeat at the Battle of Mons Lactarius in 553, the Ostrogoths went back north and (re)settled in South Austria.
      • Justinian’s troops recovered a small strip of land along the Mediterranean coast which formed a barrier between the Visigoths and Rome.

It is remarkable that Justinian attacked the Christian nations in the west, but was willing to negotiate a truce with the pagan nations to his east.  In later years, these pagan nations later became Muslim countries and conquered most of the previous territory of the Eastern Empire.

BYZANTINE PAPACY

Justinian’s wars conquered the Italian peninsula and delivered the church in Rome from Arian domination. This commenced about two centuries which is known today as the Byzantine Papacy because the Byzantine monarch claimed for himself the right to approve the appointment of the bishop of Rome.

On the one hand, the Roman Church was now once again subject to the authority of the Roman (Byzantine) Emperor. On the other hand, the Nicene Church, with the protection and status it received from the Byzantine Empire, the Byzantine Papcy became a powerful social and political institution in Europe. 

This relationship also allowed the Byzantine Empire, through the Byzantine Papacy, a certain level of control over the Germanic nations in the West.  To some extent, the Roman Empire was reunited.

The Germanic tribes, consequently, during the Byzantine Papacy, abandoned Arianism in favor of Catholicism. By the 8th century, Arianism had ceased to be the mainstream belief of the Germanic people as the tribal rulers gradually came to adopt Nicene orthodoxy.   

CONCLUSIONS

Firstly, this article shows how the Trinity Doctrine was advanced by the military might of the Roman Empire. If Justinian, followed by the Byzantine Papacy, did not wipe out Arianism in the territory of the Western Empire, Arianism might have dominated the church today. It is not possible to deny the decisive influence which emperors such as Constantine, Constantius, Valens, Theodosius, and Justinian had on the church’s acceptance of the Trinity doctrine.

Secondly, this article helps us to identify the little horn of Daniel 7 as the Nicene Church. As predicted in Daniel 7:

    • The Roman Empire divided into MANY FRAGMENTS (symbolically, the 10 horns),
    • The 11th horn comes into existence AFTER the Roman Empire has already been fragmented into many kingdoms (horns), and
    • It UPROOTED THREE of the other horns as it came up; the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and the Vandals.  

– END OF SUMMARY –

FALL OF THE WESTERN ROMAN EMPIRE

BARBARIANS DIVIDED THE TERRITORY OF WESTERN ROME

Arian and Chalcedonian kingdoms in 495
Arian and Chalcedonian kingdoms in 495

In the fifth century, the Germanic people, who have migrated into the Western Roman Empire over a century or more, became a dominant force within the Western Roman Empire due to their large numbers and military supremacy.  They revolted against the severe conditions under which they were allowed to remain in the Empire, sacked Rome twice, and deposed the last Roman Emperor.  Through wars, they divided up the territory of the Western Empire into Germanic kingdoms. However, these nations continued to function as part of the Roman Empire—under the governance of the Emperor in Constantinople.

TOLERATED THE ROMAN CHURCH.

There are at least two reasons why the Germanic peoples might have made an end of the Roman Church (the Church in Rome):

Firstly, the Roman Church was part of the Roman government.  In the Roman Empire, there was no separation of church and state.  The church was a department of government.  In practice, the bishop of the Church in Rome was accountable to the Roman Emperor.

Secondly, the Germanic peoples were Arian Christians because they became Christians during the 50 years in the fourth century when the Roman Church was Arian (Fourth Century Arian Period).  These Germanic peoples included the Ostrogoths, the Visigoths of Spain, and the Vandals in North Africa.

Despite these facts, the Arian nations allowed the Roman peoples and the Roman Church to remain in their territories.  This is one indication of the desire of these immigrants to remain part of the Roman Empire.

THE ROMAN CHURCH GREW IN STRENGTH.

After the Western Roman Empire was divided up into these kingdoms, the Roman Church had to depend on the Arian nations for physical protection. But the Roman Church managed to grow in strength. The reasons include the following:

1. Previously, the Emperor appointed the bishop of Rome and the bishop was subordinate to the Roman Emperor.  Now, the church had more independence.

2. The church’s central and superior organization and administration and expertise in statecraft from years of being part of the Roman Government allowed it to stand out among the various Germanic nations that had no central political control.

3. The Germanic nations desired to remain part of the Empire. As the official religion of the Empire, the church had a certain status.

UNITY OF CHURCH AND STATE

Justinian I is traditionally known as Justinian the Great. He was the Eastern Roman emperor from 527 to 565.  He ruled from Constantinople; the capital of the empire.  Due to his religious preferences and actions, he is venerated by the Roman Catholic Church and by some other churches.

WHAT WAS THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE?

This article often refers to the “Byzantine Empire.”  Byzantium was an ancient Greek colony in early antiquity that later became Constantinople; the capital of the Roman Empire.

The Byzantine Empire is simply another name for the Eastern Roman Empire after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD.  The Byzantine Empire, therefore, was the continuation of the Roman Empire.

Byzantine Empire is a term created after the end of that empire.  Its citizens referred to their empire simply as the Roman Empire and to themselves as Romans.

CHURCH AND STATE WERE ONE.

It is important to understand the context of the time. A Cambridge article explains the relationship between church and state in the Byzantine Empire:

The idea of papal sovereignty was foreign to the Byzantines. … unintelligible, unreasonable, and unhistorical. …  (in) their concept of the order of the Christian world … The Christian Roman Emperor was the elect of God and God’s vice-gerent (God’s agent on earth) on earth … His patriarchs or supreme bishops of the Christian Empire … were the spiritual heads of the Christian world, acting in harmony with him. Church and State were therefore one, indissoluble and interdependent.

Modern readers may find this lack of separation of Church and State may be difficult to grasp but unless we understand this concept, we will not understand the history of the church or of the process through which the Trinity doctrine became accepted.

Similar to his predecessors, Justinian believed that “he had the right and duty of regulating by his laws the minutest details of worship and discipline, and also of dictating the theological opinions to be held in the Church”. (Ayer, John Cullen, ed. (1913). A Source Book for Ancient Church History. Mundus Publishing (2008 reprint). p. 553)  The Emperor regulated everything:

At the very beginning of his reign, he promulgated by law the Church’s belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation and threatened all heretics with the appropriate penalties.[See Wikipedia page on Justinian 1]

He made the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan creed the sole symbol of the Church: “We direct that all Catholic churches, throughout the entire world, shall be placed under the control of the orthodox bishops who have embraced the Nicene Creed.” (Codex Justinianus)

Justinian felt entitled to settle disputes in papal elections, as he did when he favored Vigilius and had his rival Silverius deported.

As a result, the church within the Eastern Roman Empire had become firmly tied with the imperial government.  Church and State were one.

ALSO THE CHURCH IN THE WEST

The First Council of Nicaea in 325 affirmed that the bishop of a provincial capital had a certain authority over the other bishops of the province. It also recognized the authority of the sees of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch and granted special recognition to Jerusalem. The First Council of Constantinople in 381 added the see of Constantinople.

Emperor Justinian assigned to those five sees (including Rome) a superior ecclesial authority that covered the whole of his empire. In other words, in Justinian’s view, the Church included the Church in Rome and he, as emperor, had the right and duty also to protect and regulate the Church in Rome

A GENUINE INTEREST IN THE CHURCH

Justinian had a genuine interest in the church.  Over the course of his reign, he authored a small number of theological treatises.  He was indeed a “nursing father” of the Church. Both the Codex and the Novellae contain many enactments to benefit the church.  Just in Constantinople, he built 25 churches (see traditioninaction).  Justinian also rebuilt the Church of Hagia Sophia, with its numerous chapels and shrines, gilded octagonal dome, and mosaics.

SUPPRESSED HERETICS

Even before Christianity was legalized in 313, the Imperial conviction always was that the unity of the Empire presupposes the unity of faith. Emperor Justinian protected the ‘purity’ of the church by suppressing heretics. For example:

The Codex contained two statutes [WIKIPEDIA JUSTINIAN NOTE 76] that decreed the destruction of paganism.  These provisions were zealously enforced.

At Constantinople, on one occasion, not a few Manicheans, after strict inquisition, were executed in the emperor’s very presence: some by burning, others by drowning. [WIKIPEDIA JUSTINIAN NOTE 93]  Manichaeism was a major religion that was founded by the Iranian prophet Mani.  It taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness. (See the Wikipedia page on Manichaeism.)

MONOPHYSITISM

In the east, in Justinian’s time, the main threat to the orthodoxy was not Arianism but Monophysitism.  This sect had many adherents in the eastern provinces of Syria and Egypt. While the Council of Chalcedon in 451 concluded that Jesus has two natures; a divine and a human nature, Monophysitism maintained that Jesus Christ only had one nature; a divine nature or a synthesis of a divine and human nature.

Previous emperors and the Patriarch of Constantinople tolerated Monophysitism and allowed the appointment of Monophysites to church offices but this had been a source of tension in the relationship with the bishop of Rome.

Justin I—Justinian’s predecessor—reversed this policy, confirmed the Chalcedonian doctrine, openly condemned the Monophysites. This allowed him to reestablish the union between Constantinople and Rome.[WIKIPEDIA – JUSTINIAN – NOTE 75]

Justinian’s policies alternated between ATTEMPTS TO FORCE Monophysites to accept the Chalcedonian creed by persecuting their bishops and monks – thereby embittering their sympathizers in Egypt and other provinces – and ATTEMPTS AT A COMPROMISE that would win over the Monophysites without surrendering the Chalcedonian faith.

Justinian’s wife Theodora favored the Monophysites unreservedly. While Theodosius’ wife is venerated in the Catholic Church because she was a fervent supporter of the Nicene Creed, Empress Theodora, for Catholics, was “one of the most … deplorable figures of ancient history,” for “she became an enemy of the Faith and a supporter of the heresies, and she strove to make Justinian enter into conflict with the Holy See at the end of his life” (traditioninaction).  “Near the end of his life, Justinian became ever more inclined towards the Monophysite doctrine” (Wikipedia).

WARS AGAINST THE ARIAN NATIONS IN THE WEST

After the Germanic peoples divided the territory of the Western Empire between them in the fifth century, the Church in Rome was subject to their laws and customs. 

From a catholic perspective, the website Traditioninaction states that the Catholics at the time were groaning under the yoke of the barbarians.  But from a Jewish perspective, “in contrast with the domination of the orthodox church, the Arian was distinguished by a wise tolerance and a mild treatment of the population of other faiths” (Kohler et al, ARIANISM”. Jewish Encyclopedia). 

What we can conclude, at least, is that the Roman Church was unable to dominate or to compel the population in Europe to comply with its doctrines.

As an ardent supporter of the Nicene church in Rome, Justinian considered it his divine duty to restore the Roman Empire to its ancient boundaries and to liberate the church in Rome from Arian domination. Justinian never personally took part in military campaigns, but one of the most spectacular features of Justinian’s reign was the recovery of large stretches of land around the Western Mediterranean basin that had slipped out of Imperial control in the 5th century.

Through these wars, Justinian neutralized the three main Arian nations that prevented the supremacy of the Papacy:

VANDAL KINGDOM OF NORTH AFRICA

The first Arian Christian kingdom which Justinian’s armies attacked was the Vandals in North Africa. Again, from a catholic perspective, “that whole area had been taken over by the worst barbarians, the Vandals” (traditioninaction).  Although the Arians generally tolerated other faiths, the Vandals tried for several decades to force their Arian beliefs on their North African Nicene subjects, exiling Nicene clergy, dissolving monasteries, and exercising heavy pressure on non-conforming Nicene Christians.  This might have been why Justinian attacked them first.

In the Vandalic War of 533–534, general Belisarius defeated the Vandals. [WIKIPEDIA ARIANISM NOTE 40]  The Vandals were dispersed to the fringes of the empire and became lost to history.

OSTROGOTHS IN ITALY

Justinian next attacked the Ostrogoths; another Arian Christian nation.  This war may be divided into three phases:

In 535, Belisarius invaded Sicily and advanced into Italy, sacking Naples and capturing Rome in 536. In 540 he reached the Ostrogothic capital Ravenna and reclaimed it for the Empire.[WIKIPEDIA JUSTINIAN NOTE 52]

But Belisarius was recalled in the face of renewed hostilities by the Persians to the East.  While military efforts were focused on the east, the Ostrogoths made quick gains in Italy. They reconquered the major cities of Southern Italy and soon held almost the entire Italian peninsula.

The third phase of the war in Italy (from 541 to 554) followed after a truce was agreed upon with the Persians.  Following their final defeat at the Battle of Mons Lactarius in 553, the Ostrogoths went back north and (re)settled in south Austria.  Through the Gothic War, Justinian restored Dalmatia, Sicily, Italy, and Rome to the empire after more than half a century of Ostrogoth rule.

VISIGOTHS IN SPAIN

In 552, Justinian dispatched a force of 2,000 men to invade Visigothic Hispania: still another Arian Christian Germanic nation.  This short-lived reconquest recovered only a small strip of land along the Mediterranean coast, known as the new province of Spania (Hispania) before being checked by the Visigoths. This campaign marked the apogee (apex) of Byzantine expansion.  Spania kept the Visigoths as a threat to Hispania alone and not to the western Mediterranean nor to Africa.

Perhaps it is worth commenting that Justinian was willing to negotiate a truce with the pagan nations to the east of his empire but attacked Christian nations in the west.  One obvious reason was that his purpose was to reunite the old empire, but it also reveals his intolerance for Arianism.

BYZANTINE PAPACY

After Justinian conquered the Italian peninsula and delivered the church in Rome from Arian domination, he replaced the pope and also appointed the next three popes.  In this way, Justinian put the church in the west firmly under the control of the Byzantine monarch.  This practice was continued by his successors for the next two centuries. The papacy in the years 537 to 752 is known as the Byzantine Papacy because the Byzantine monarch claimed for himself the right to approve the appointment of the bishop of Rome.  This allowed the emperor to also dominate the Papacy in other ways during this period.

DOMINANCE OF THE GREEK LANGUAGE

One indication of the dominance of the Byzantine Empire, over the church in Rome, during these years, was the Greek dominance of the Roman Church:

The two halves of the Empire always had cultural differences, exemplified particularly by the widespread use of the Greek language in the Eastern Empire and its more limited use in the West.  The spoken vernacular in the West was Latin.

During the Byzantine Papacy, countless Easterners rose through the ranks of the clergy in the church in Rome. At the end of the sixth century, Easterners constituted less than one percent of the papal hierarchy.  In contrast, according to Ekonomou, over a century later, between 701 and 750, “Greeks outnumbered Latins by nearly three and a half to one”.

This confirms that the church in the west was now once again firmly subject to the authority of the (Eastern) Roman Emperor. 

THE EMPIRE REIGNED OVER THE WEST.

After Justinian defeated the Goths, the Roman Church was no longer dependent on the Arian Germanic nations for protection. The church and its Nicene Christology, with the protection and status it received from the Byzantine Empire, became a powerful social and political institution in Europe. 

This relationship also allowed the Byzantine Empire, through the Church, a certain level of control over the Germanic nations in the West.  To some extent, the Roman Empire was reunited.

ARIAN CONVERSIONS TO THE PAPACY

The Franks entered the Western Roman Empire as Pagans.  In 496, before the time of Justinian, Clovis I, the pagan king of the Franks, was the first important barbarian ruler to convert to Catholicism rather than to Arianism.  He forcibly converted the Franks to Chalcedonian Christianity.

After Justinian established protection for the Papacy, the Germanic tribes, consequently, abandoned Arianism in favor of Catholicism.

The first Germanic ruler to convert from Arianism to Chalcedonian Christianity was Reccared I of the Arian Visigoths in Spain. He converted in 587.  Visigothic Spain converted to Catholicism at the Third Council of Toledo in 589

Pope Gregory I reigned from 590 to 604; a few decades after Justinian.  He was perhaps the best-known pope of the Byzantine Papacy.  Britannica describes him as the first of the medieval popes.  With the support of the Byzantine Empire, He reformed the ecclesiastical structures and administration, which then launched renewed missionary efforts to convert the peoples of northern Europe as far north as Ireland. These efforts were able to convert the Arian peoples to Catholic (Nicene) Christianity:

The Anglo-Saxons of Southern Britain were the predecessors of the English. They have never been part of the Empire and were entirely pagan, but were forcibly converted by their kings Æthelberht of Kent, following the work of missionaries sent by Pope Gregory the Great.

The Anglo-Saxons in turn sent missionaries to northwestern Europe – to what is now the Netherlands. 

The Visigoths also converted to Catholicism during the Byzantine Empire.

Aripert I of the Lombards converted to Catholic Church in 653. Grimwald, King of the Lombards (662–671) and his young son and successor Garibald (671) were the last Arian kings in Europe. By 700, the Lombards in northern Italy have moved away from Arianism to Catholicism.

By the 8th century, Arianism had ceased to be the mainstream belief of the Germanic people as the tribal rulers gradually came to adopt Nicene orthodoxy.   

CONCLUSIONS

Firstly, this article shows how the Trinity Doctrine was advanced by the military might of the Roman Empire. What would the Christian world have looked like if Justinian did not effectively wipe out Arianism in the territory of the Western Empire?  If Europe was allowed to remain Arian, Arianism might have dominated the church today.

Secondly, this article helps us to identify the little horn of Daniel 7 as the formal Christian Church:

In Daniel 7, the Roman Empire (the fourth empire) divides into MANY FRAGMENTS (symbolically, the 10 horns). – This article mentions some of these kingdoms, such as the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, Franks, and the Anglo-Saxons.

The little horn comes into existence AFTER the fourth (Roman) empire has already been fragmented into many kingdoms (horns). – The Papacy was not able to dominate until after Justinian conquered the Arian nations.

The little horn UPROOTED THREE of the other horns as it came up. – The Roman Empire uprooted the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and the Vandals to establish the Papacy.  

Daniel 7 also explains that the eleventh horn will become larger than the others, persecute the saints, and attempt to change the law. The next articles will explain this.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

Christology of the persecuted church (First 300 years)
 – Introduction
 – Polycarp
 – Justin Martyr
 – Ignatius of Antioch
 – Irenaeus
 – Tertullian – work in progress

 – Origen – work in progress
 – These ancients referred to Jesus as our god.
Fourth Century (State Church)
 – Council of Nicaea – A.D. 325 
 – The Nicene Creed Interpreted 
 – Fourth Century Arian Period 

 – What did Arianism believe in the fourth century?
 – Long Lines Creed – one of the creeds during the Arian period
 – Death of Arianism – Emperor Theodosius
Fifth Century
 – Fall of the Western Roman Empire;
 – Why the Roman Empire fell;

 – Roman Church grew in strength despite Arian domination 
 – The Fall of Rome proves Daniel as a true prophecy.

 Justinian and the Byzantine Papacy wiped Anianism out. Current
Middle Ages

 – The massacres of the Waldensians

 

 

Historical Development of the Trinity Doctrine – Fifth Century Arianism

This is an article in the series on the historical development of the Trinity doctrine.  The current article considers the Fifth Century but is also an overview of the events in the preceding century.

SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE

EARLY CHURCH FATHERS

Irenaeus
IRENAEUS

The church fathers of the first 300 years were not Trinitarians.  For them, the Father was “the only true god.”  They also had an extremely high view of Christ, namely that He was “born of the very substance of the Father” “before time began.”  Nevertheless, they saw the Son as subordinate to the Father, who is “the Head of Christ.”

NICENE CREED

COUNCIL AT NICAEA

After he legalized Christianity in 313, Emperor Constantine had a huge part in the formulation of the Nicene Creed of 325.  That creed elevates the Son to “true god from true god.” (I use the word “god” because the ancient languages did not have a word equivalent to the modern word “God.” In Greek they used the word theos, which is a general word for all gods.) 

FIFTY YEAR ARIAN PERIOD

After the Council of Nicaea, the Arian controversy continued. Soon after Nicaea, Emperor Constantine became convinced that the Nicene Creed was not Biblical.  During the next 50 years, the emperors were Arian.  Arianism, therefore, dominated the church.  Religious freedom was not part of Roman culture.  During this fifty-year Arian period, the church converted many Germanic peoples to Arian Christianity.  At this time, also, large numbers of Germanic people began to migrate into the Roman Empire. 

However, in 380, Theodosius became emperor.  Being a zealous Nicene Christian, he immediately outlawed Arianism.  He persecuted Arians so effectively that it disappeared among the elite in the empire.  However, the Germanic peoples (called ‘barbarians’ by the Romans) remained Arian.

BARBARIAN DOMINATION OF THE WEST

After Theodosius died in 395, the Germanic immigrants became a dominant force in the Roman Empire.  They tolerated figurehead Western Roman Emperors until 476 when an Arian Germanic chieftain deposed the last Western Roman Emperor.  They then divided the territory of the western provinces between the Germanic tribes. However, these tribes continued to function as part of the Roman Empire.  Since these Germanic tribes were Arians, the Western Roman Empire was once again Arian dominated.

THE ROMAN CHURCH IN THE FIFTH CENTURY

The Roman Church survived throughout this period. One reason is that the Germanic tribes wished to remain part of the Roman Empire and the Roman Church was an official part of the Roman system of government.  For example, the emperors appointed the bishops and they were accountable to the emperors. For that reason also, the Roman Church actually grew in strength.  

One consequence of the growing strength of the Church in Rome was that the Germanic peoples converted to the Nicene Church, rather than to Arianism.  At the end of the fifth century, the Franks were the first.  The other nations converted to Nicene Christianity over the subsequent centuries.

CONCLUSION

The purpose of this article series is to show that the religious preferences of the Roman Emperors determined the Christology of the church.  The fact that the church today is dominated by the Trinity doctrine is the direct result of decisions taken by Roman Emperors. The current article refers to the roles which Constantine and Theodosius played. The next article discusses Justinian’s wars on the Arians.

 – END OF SUMMARY – 

CHURCH FATHERS – FIRST 300 YEARS

The Church Fathers of the first 300 years were not Trinitarians.  For them, the Father alone was the “Lord God Almighty,” as “the only true god, the unbegotten and unapproachable” and as “Lord of the universe.”

But they also had an extremely high view of Christ: They wrote that He was “born of the very substance of the Father” “before time began.”  “Every knee should bow” before Christ Jesus.  But that is not because Jesus is the Almighty, but because it is “the will of the invisible Father.”  In other words, in their view, the Son is subordinate to the Father, who is the only true ‘god’.  Justin Martyr explicitly put Jesus “in the second place” next to God.  Irenaeus, quoting the New Testament, refers to the Father as “the Head of Christ.”  Polycarp, also quoting the Bible, identified the Father as Jesus’ God (e.g. Rev. 3:12).

NICENE CREED (325)

After Christianity was legalized in 313, emperor Constantine played a huge role in the formulation of the Nicene Creed of 325.  While the Bible and the early fathers described the Father as “the only true god,” the Nicene Creed elevated the Son as Homoousios (same substance) with the Father and as “true god from true god.”  This elevates the Son to near equality with the Father.  The article Nicene Creed discusses whether that creed declares the Son to be fully EQUAL to the Father.

THE WORDS “God” AND “god”

The reader might be surprised by the references in this article to “god” rather than to “God.”  The reason is that ancient languages did not distinguish between upper case and lower case letters. Consequently, the Bible writers and these early fathers did not have a word that is exactly equal to the modern word “God,” which we use today as a name for one specific Being; the uncaused Cause of all things.  The ancient word which they used (theos in Greek) had a more general meaning and is equivalent to the modern word “god.” They used that same word for the Greek gods.

These early writers (Ignatius, Irenaeus, etc.), therefore, literally referred to the Father as “the only true god,” but to Jesus as “our god.”  To translate theos as “God,” with a capital “G,” is an interpretation.  Translators today, generally, assume the Trinity doctrine in which Jesus Christ is equal with the Father. Both are regarded as the uncaused Cause of all things.  Such translators translate theos, when it describes Jesus, also as “God.” 

It is important to know that that is an application of the Trinity doctrine and does not necessarily reflect the intention of the early writers.  

As shown above, the earliest church fathers had an extremely high view of Christ but did not regard Christ as equal to the Father.  For that reason, it may be preferable to use the word “god” rather than “God.”  That might reflect the intensions of these ancient writers better.  For example, the phrase “true God” is a tautology, for there is only one true God.  But “true god” is a logical phrase.  See the article Jesus is our God for a further discussion of this crucial principle.

FIFTY-YEAR ARIAN PERIOD (330-380)

The Council of Nicaea did not end the Arian controversy. The bishops went on teaching as they had before. Within a few years after Nicaea, Church leaders convinced emperor Constantine that the Nicene Creed was not Biblical.  During the 50 years after Nicaea, the emperors were Arian.  For that reason, Arianism dominated the church in that period (See Fourth Century Arian Period.). 

Religious freedom was not part of the culture of the Roman Empire.  Just like Constantine exiled all church leaders who did not accept the Nicene Creed, the emperors after Constantine viciously persecuted the church leaders who taught the Nicene Creed. 

Many alternative creeds were formulated during that 50-year Arian period, for example, the Long Lines Creed.

During those fifty years, the Gothic convert and Arian bishop Ulfilas went as a missionary to the Gothic tribes across the Danube.  Ulfilas translated the Bible in Gothic and had success in converting the Goths to the Arian form of Christianity.  The conversion of Goths led to a widespread diffusion of Arian Christianity in the years 340 to 350 among other Germanic peoples as well, such as the Visigoths, the Vandals, the Lombards, Svevi, and Burgundians. (See the Wikipedia page on Arianism and the Britannica pages for Goth and Ulfilas.)

More or less at this time, the Germanic tribes began to migrate in large numbers into the Roman Empire.  (See Migration Period.)  Rome referred to them as “barbarians,” but they were the people that occupy most of Europe today.

DEATH OF ARIANISM (380)

In 380, Theodosius became emperor.  He was a zealous Nicene Christian and immediately outlawed Arianism.  He so effectively persecuted Arianism that it disappeared among the elite in the empire.  However, not being subject to the Roman emperor, the Germanic tribes remained Arian.

BARBARIAN CONTROL OF THE WESTERN EMPIRE

As discussed in The Fall of Rome, more and more Germanic immigrants were recruited into the Roman army.  The Imperial forces became dependent on Germanic soldiers.  They were also appointed in top positions in the military of the Western Roman Empire.  Since Roman generals always were very influential in the Roman Empire, this put the ‘barbarians’ in a very strong position. 

Theodosius was the last Roman emperor to rule the entire Empire. Soon after his death in 395 Germanic people were, in reality, in charge of the Western Roman Empire    But the Graeco-Roman population still treated them as second class citizens.  Therefore, to obtain equal rights and permanent residency in the empire, the Germanic people revolted against the severe conditions of their tenure in the Roman Empire.  They sacked Rome in 410 and again in 455. (See Fall of the Roman Empire.)  

Although they dominated the Western Empire already from the beginning of the 400s (the fifth century), they tolerated figurehead Western Roman Emperors until 476. In that year Odoacer—an Arian Germanic chieftain—deposed the last Western Roman Empire.  He soon conquered the whole of Italy. During that time, the territory of the Western Empire was divided between the Germanic tribes, particularly the Goths and Vandals.  However, to some extent, they still functioned as part of the Roman Empire.  In name at least, they were subject to the emperor in Constantinople.  For these reasons, historians today prefer to refer to the Transformation of the Western Roman Empire; rather than to its Fall.  It was a slow process over decades and even centuries during which the Germanic people wrestled control of the Western Empire from the Romans. 

Theodosius had made an end of Arianism among the Roman people in 380, but now, through the Germanic domination of the Western Roman Empire, it was once again Arian dominated.

THE ROMAN CHURCH IN THE FIFTH CENTURY

THE ROMAN CHURCH COULD HAVE PERISHED

The Roman Church survived throughout this period. There are at least two reasons why we might have expected the Church in Rome to perish with the demise of the Western Empire:

Firstly, the Church in Rome was part of the government of the Roman Empire. 

CONSTANTINE THE GREAT

After emperor Constantine I legalized Christianity in 313 AD, the church became closely married to political powers of the times.  It became very different from what we know today as a church: It rather functioned as a government department.  The emperor was the real head of the church.  He appointed bishops and they were accountable to him.  The emperor also had the final say with respect to controversies in the church, such as concerning Christology.  For example:

Emperor Constantine had a huge role in the decisions of the Council of Nicaea.  He called the council, presided over it, guided the discussions, proposed and enforced the important word Homoousios and exiled all bishops that did not agree.

When Theodosius I became emperor in 380, the imperial capital was solidly Arian. But he immediately outlawed all other forms of Christianity, exiled Arian bishops, and banned Arians from the Council of 381.  The 381 Council was simply a formality.  (See Death of Arianism.)

Christianity, consequently, became wealthy and the religion of any ambitious civil official.

Secondly, the Church in Rome advocated Nicene Christology, while the Germanic peoples were Arians. 

Since Nicaea – in the year 325 – because the Church functioned as a department of government, these Nicene and Arian Christians often exiled and persecuted one another.  Constantine’s successors—the emperors Constantius and Valens actively encouraged the church to reverse the Nicene Creed and they exiled bishops adhering to the Nicene Creed, crushing the Nicene party (see Fourth Century Arian Period).  Theodosius, on the other hand, was a Nicene Christian and acted mercilessly against ‘heretics’. He was responsible for the first official executions of Christian ‘heretics’. [Jones 1964, p. 164]

THE ROMAN CHURCH SURVIVED

Despite these factors, the new Germanic Arian rulers in the fifth century in the Western Empire allowed the Church in Rome to continue unhindered.  Arianism and the Nicene church of the Roman people existed side by side.  The Jewish Encyclopaedia describes the situation:

“Most Germanic peoples—such as the eastern and western Goths, as also the Franks, the Lombards, the Suevi, and the Vandals—were baptized into Arian Christianity.  These tribes settled in widely spread districts of the old Roman empire.  A large number of Jews, already resident in those lands, fell under Arian domination. In contrast with the domination of the orthodox church, the Arian was distinguished by a wise tolerance and a mild treatment of the population of other faiths.  This conduct was traceable to some degree to certain points of agreement between the Arian doctrine and Judaism.  The very insistence upon the more subordinate relationship of the Son to the God-father is much nearer to the Jewish doctrine of the Messiah than to the conception of the full divinity of the Son, as enunciated at Nicaea.”
(Kohler, Kaufmann; Krauss, Samuel. “ARIANISM”. Jewish Encyclopedia. Kopelman Foundation.)

The Wikipedia – State Church of the Roman Empire states that the tolerance of the Arian Germanic tribes towards other religions resulted in entirely separate Arian and Nicene (catholic) systems of churches and bishops in the previous Western Empire. 

Although the Arian Germanic tribes were generally tolerant towards Nicene Christians, the Vandal regime in North Africa tried to force their Arian beliefs on their North African Nicene subjects, exiling Nicene clergy, dissolving monasteries, and exercising heavy pressure on non-conforming Nicene Christians.  This matter will become important when we read of emperor Justinian’s efforts in the sixth century to regain control of the Western Empire, for the first ‘barbarian’ nation which he attacked was the Vandals.

THE GERMANIC ARIANS TOLERATED THE ROMAN CHURCH.

The Arian nations allowed the Roman (Nicene) Church to co-exist unhindered for at least the following reasons:

The Germanic people, after they took control of the Western Empire, intended to remain part of the Roman Empire and the Roman Church was part of the Roman system of government; accountable to the emperor.  The Germanic people voluntary—in name at least—subjected themselves to the Roman Emperor, who reigned from the east. 

Religious persecution was part of the Roman culture.  Roman emperors always used religion to strengthen the unity of their vast empire and persecuted religions that threaten unity.  But, according to Daniel, the Roman Empire “devoured and crushed and trampled” (Dan. 7:7). Perhaps the barbarians were not as barbaric as the Romans.

THE ROMAN CHURCH BECAME STRONGER.

Actually, instead of perishing, the Church in Rome grew in strength after the ‘barbarians’ wrestled control of the western provinces from the original Graeco-Roman population (Britannica).  The reasons include the following:

The Church had a strong, centralized organization: The pope in Rome is the head of the Church. All clergy, including bishops and priests, fell under his authority. Bishops supervised priests; the lowest ranking members of the clergy. For most people, local priests served as the main contact with the Church.

At the same time, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, there was no single state or government that united all people who lived on the European continent. The transformation of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century was a time of great political chaos and warfare and the well-organized church became the only stabilizing force. As secular governments came and went, the Papacy remained.  The church was a stable force during an era of constant warfare and political turmoil.

The Church also bonded people together. It gave a sense of communal identity.  At the local level, the village church was a unifying force in the lives of most people. It served as a religious and social center. Religious holidays, especially Christmas and Easter, were occasions for festive celebrations.

ARIAN CONVERSIONS TO NICENE CHRISTOLOGY

One consequence of the strength and influence of the Church in Rome was that ‘barbarian’ nations converted to the Nicene Church, rather than to Arianism:

The Franks and the Anglo-Saxons also were Germanic peoples but never were Arians. They entered the Western Roman Empire as Pagans.  

In 496, Clovis, king of the Franks, converted to Nicene Christianity—as opposed to the Arianism of most other Germanic tribes.  Consequently, sometime between 496 and 508, Clovis I forcibly converted the Franks to Christianity. (So much for religious freedom!)  This led to widespread conversion among the Frankish peoples across what is now modern-day France, Belgium, and Germany.  Three centuries later, it led to Charlemagne‘s alliance with the Bishop of Rome.  This was the first of the Germanic peoples to convert to Nicene Christianity.

Æthelberht of Kent did the same for the Anglo-Saxons (see also Christianity in Gaul and Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon England)

Visigothic Spain was Arian until 589. 

The Lombards were Arians until the 7th century.

CONCLUSION

The first main conclusion from this article is that the religious preferences of the Roman Emperors determined the church’s Christology.  Emperor Constantine had a huge role in the formulation of the Nicene Creed.  During the next 50 years, the emperors Constantius and Valens enforced Arianism.  In 380, Theodosius—a zealous Nicene Christian—became emperor and immediately outlawed Arianism.  In the fifth century, Germanic immigrants dominated the Western Empire.  Since they were Arians, the West was Arian once again.  But, as the next article will show, in the sixth century, emperor Justinian gave Arianism a death wound and it died during the subsequent Byzantine Papacy. The fact that the church today is dominated by the Trinity doctrine is the direct result of decisions taken by Roman Emperors.

The second main purpose of this article is to explain how the Papacy rose to dominance.  This topic will be developed further by subsequent articles.

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

Christology of the persecuted church (First 300 years)
 – Introduction
 – Polycarp
 – Justin Martyr – Current Article
 – Ignatius of Antioch
 – Irenaeus
 – Tertullian – work in progress

 – Origen – work in progress
 – Jesus is our god.
Fourth Century (State Church)
 – Council of Nicaea – A.D. 325 
 – The Nicene Creed Interpreted 
 – Fourth Century Arian Period 

 – What did Arians believe in the fourth century?
 – Long Lines Creed – one of the creeds during the Arian period
 – Death of Arianism – Emperor Theodosius
Fifth Century
 – Fall of the Western Roman Empire
 – Why the Roman Empire fell 
 – The Fall of Rome proves Daniel as a true prophecy.
 – Roman Church grew in strength
Sixth Century
Justinian and the Byzantine Papacy eliminated Arianism.
Middle Ages

 – The massacres of the Waldensians