The Roman Empire’s state religion became the Roman Church.

PURPOSE

Antichristus, a woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder of the pope using the temporal power to grant authority to a generously contributing ruler.

By symbolizing four empires as four beasts, Daniel 7 presents world history, from the Babylonian Empire until Christ’s return. (See here) The fourth beast signifies the Roman Empire. (See here) At first, it had 10 horns, representing the nations of Europe into which the Western Empire fragmented in the fifth century. Then an 11th horn came up, uprooting three of the other horns in the process, dominated the other nations, blasphemed God, and persecuted His people (Dan 7:25). It will be the main enemy of God and of His people of all time. It will become so important that a court will sit in heaven to judge between it and God’s people (Dan 7:26, 9-11, and 14). This 11th horn will be a continuation of the Roman Empire but will only be destroyed when Christ returns (Dan 7:26, 11). It is the main character in Daniel 7. The only reason that Daniel describes the preceding four empires and ten kingdoms is to enable the reader to identify that evil 11th horn. A previous article identified it as the Roman Church. To explain:

In the fourth century, in the year 380, Emperor Theodosius made Trinitarian Christianity the sole and official religion of the Roman Empire and persecuted the other forms of Christianity, including the previous dominant Homoian group, into extinction, at least among the Roman people. (See here).

In the fifth century, non-Trinitarian (‘Arian’) nations, who previously migrated into the Empire, became powerful, assumed control of the Western Empire (the current Europe), and divided it into many nations (see, here), symbolized by the first ten horns. However, these ‘Arian’ nations attempted to remain part of the Roman Empire. Therefore, they not only allowed the Roman Church (the Church of the Roman Empire) to remain in the West but treated it with respect. Nevertheless, it was subordinate to the ‘Arianism’ of the majority population.

The ten horns (kingdoms) in the west co-existed with the Roman Empire which continued to rule in the east.

In the sixth century, Justinian, emperor of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, sent troops to the west to liberate the Roman Church. His troops subjected three of the ‘Arian’ nations in present-day Italy and its surrounds, symbolized by three horns which the eleventh horn uprooted. (See here)

Justinian then set up the Byzantine Papacy, a system in which the Eastern Empire ruled the nations in the west through the Western Roman Church. This continued for two centuries and transformed the Roman Church into a very powerful political institution. Formally still called a church, effectively, it became the Western arm of the Roman Empire. (See here)

In the eighth century, Islamic conquests significantly weakened the Byzantine Empire (see Wikipedia). Consequently, it could no longer control or protect the Roman Church. But this was not the end of the Roman Church. It survived in the West after the final demise of the Roman Empire, as the final and most important fragment of that Empire, symbolized as the 11th horn.

The 11th horn was “little” or “small” when it came up (Dan 7:8; 8:9) but grew “larger than its associates” (Dan 7:20, 24). It became “exceedingly great” (Dan 8:9), meaning that it dominated the kingdoms of Europe.

The purpose of the current article is to explain how and when the Roman Church became “larger” than the other 10 horns. It shows that the church was dominated by emperors and kings from the 4th until the 10th centuries. However, from the 11th century onward, the church managed to free itself from domination and reverse the power relations, to dominate the kings during the ‘High Middle Ages’. This article explains the major events in that process and what power the church had to dominate kings.

See here for a discussion of the characteristics of the Evil Horn in Daniel 7 and 8 that identify it as the Church of the Middle Ages.

The green blocks in the sections below are intended as summaries. 

RULERS DOMINATED

Until the 10th century, the rulers and kings dominated the church:

Roman Rule – 4th Century

After Christianity was legalized in 313, Roman emperors dominated and regulated the Church. The will of the Emperor was the ultimate authority in doctrine.

For example:

      • Emperor Constantine ensured that the Council of Nicaea reached the decision he thought best. (see here).
      • The ‘Arian’ emperors Constantius and Valens exiled Nicene bishops to the other ends of the empire. (see here)
      • Emperor Theodosius unilaterally made the Trinity doctrine the state religion of the Roman Empire. (see here)

The emperors were the final judges in doctrinal disputes:

“If we ask the question, what was considered to constitute the ultimate authority in doctrine during the period reviewed in these pages, there can be only one answer. The will of the Emperor was the final authority.” (Hanson, p. 849) 1Hanson, RPC, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987. Hanson is a wo

They used ‘general councils’, mistakenly called ecumenical councils, to manage the church:

“The history of the period shows time and time again that … the general council was the very invention and creation of the Emperor. General councils … were the children of imperial policy and the Emperor was expected to dominate and control them.” (Hanson, p. 855)

Byzantine Papacy – 6th to 8th centuries

In the 5th century, ‘Arian’ tribes overran the Western Roman Empire, forcing the Church of Rome into submission. After the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire liberated the Papacy in the 6th century, it was subject to the demands of the Eastern Emperors from the 6th to 8th centuries.

After emperor Justinian, in the sixth century, subjected the major Arian nations in Europe (see discussion above), the Eastern (Byzantine) Roman emperors, in what is known as the Byzantine Papacy, ruled the Nations of Europe through the Church for two centuries. Consequently, during that period, the Papacy was subject to the demands of the Eastern Roman Emperors. (See here)

Carolingian (French) Dynasty – 9th century

In the 8th century, Muslim conquests weakened the Byzantine Empire. Consequently, the Papacy sought protection from the Frankish-dominated Carolingian dynasty. However, in the 9th century, the Carolingians also asserted immense authority over the Papacy.

The first clash between the Roman Empire and Islam was in 634, followed by decades of war. In the 8th century, the Byzantine Empire lost its richest provinces. Suddenly, much of the Christian world was under Muslim rule. The peoples of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria largely accepted their new rulers and many declared themselves Muslims within a few generations.

Consequently, Byzantine (Eastern Roman) authority in Italy evaporated. Pope Zachary, in 741, was the last pope to seek the emperor’s approval for his election. By 751, the Roman Church ceased to be part of the Byzantine Empire. This was the end of the Byzantine Papacy.

Since the Byzantine Empire could no longer protect the Papacy, it had to find a new protector. After a period of volatility, the popes found a powerful protector in the Carolingian dynasty. This was a large Frankish-dominated empire founded by Charlemagne (Charles the Great). He was the first emperor to rule most of Western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier. The Carolingian dynasty ruled in western and central Europe during 800–888.

However, the Carolingians followed their Roman predecessors by asserting “immense authority over the Western church” (Britannica). Charlemagne claimed to govern both the church and state. On the other hand, the pope exercised influence in Carolingian affairs by maintaining the right to crown emperors and by sometimes directly intervening in political disputes. Church and state were re-united.

Ottonian (German) Dynasty – 10th century

After the Frankish Empire lost power, the Ottonian dynasty in Germany ruled Europe in the 10th century. It treated the church buildings as property of the State and bishops as officials of the State.

Carolingian power waned in the late 9th and the 10th century. In the 10th century, the Ottonian dynasty in Germany established a new imperial line and became the preeminent power in Latin Europe. Otto I was German king from 936. By suppressing rebellious vassals and his decisive victory over the Hungarians, he consolidated the German Reich, revived Charlemagne’s empire in 962, and became the Holy Roman Emperor (962–973). He used the church as a stabilizing influence to ensure a secure empire.

The Ottos, accustomed to the tradition in which great landowners built and owned the churches on their estates as private property, treated Rome and all important sees in this spirit. Bishops were appointed on royal nomination and forbidden appeals to Rome. (Britannica)

LIBERATION

Specific Events

In the 11th century, for the first time, the church escaped the domination of civil rulers. The church formed the College of Cardinals to appoint new popes, restricting political interference, and the popes challenged the authority of monarchs to control appointments in higher church offices. With the Concordat of Worms, the Emperor agreed to allow the Church to appoint its officials but retained the right to veto the appointments of bishops. 

Traditionally, the monarchs controlled appointments (investitures) of popes and high-ranking church officials. In the 11th century, the kings’ rights in this regard became more circumscribed:

In 1059, the church formed the College of Cardinals to appoint new popes, restricting interference from political rulers.

Beginning in the mid-11th century, in what is known as the Investiture Controversy, the popes challenged the authority of the monarchs to control appointments to the higher church offices. (Investiture means “the action of formally investing a person with honors or rank.”)

The kings and popes continued to argue about lay investiture until 1122 when representatives of the Church and the emperor met in the German city of Worms and reached a compromise known as the Concordat of Worms. By its terms, the Emperor renounced the right to invest ecclesiastics with the symbols of their spiritual power and agreed that the Church would appoint its officials, but that the emperor retained the right to veto the appointment of the bishops. This was a victory for the pope, but the emperor also retained considerable power over the Church.

On the surface, it was a dispute over the appointment of officials. In reality, it was a power struggle over authority over the people.

During this time of increasing dominance, the popes also sought to establish the primacy of Rome over the church worldwide. This worsened tensions between Rome and Constantinople and eventually brought about the Schism of 1054 between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

Pope Gregory VII vs King Henry IV

One famous incident during the Investiture Controversy illustrates how powerful the pope has become. Henry IV, the mightiest king in Europe at the time, had to wait for three days, stripped of his royal robes and clad as a penitent, barefoot in ice and snow, before Pope Gregory was willing to withdraw his ex-communication.

In 1075, Pope Gregory VII, through the Dictatus Papae, claimed the pope as the highest authority in the church and banned lay investiture. 

In response, the German emperor—King Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire, ordered Gregory to step down from the papacy. Gregory then excommunicated the king. Afterward, German bishops and princes sided with the pope. To save his throne, the king tried to win the pope’s forgiveness:

Stripped of his royal robes, and clad as a penitent, Henry had to come barefooted in ice and snow and request admission to the pope’s presence. All day he remained at the door of the citadel, fasting and exposed to the wintry weather, but was refused admission. A second and third day he thus humiliated and disciplined himself, and finally, on 28 January, l077, he was received by the pontiff and absolved from censure. (Cath. Ency. VI, 794)

Henry was the mightiest king in Europe at the time. Imagine the head of the mightiest nation today having to ask the pope for forgiveness in this way. This shows how powerful and arrogant the Church has become.

HIGH MIDDLE AGES

The 11th century was a period of change. In this and subsequent centuries, known as the High Middle Ages, the Roman Church transformed from being subordinate to secular powers to supremacy over them. It developed political power, rivaling and exceeding that of the secular rulers of Europe.

The term “Middle Ages” describes Europe between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries. The ‘High Middle Ages was the period of European history that commenced around 1000 and continued for some centuries. During these centuries, the Church became the dominant power in Europe. This was when the church became “larger in appearance than its associates.”

The Church was not satisfied to have authority over itself. It reasoned that the pope has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole church. Consequently, the pope is the ultimate ruler of the kingdoms within Christendom. Therefore:

Powerful popes, such as Alexander III (r. 1159–81), Innocent III (r. 1198–1216), Gregory IX (r. 1227–41), and Innocent IV (r. 1243–54) claimed authority over emperors and kings.

Emperors and kings, to reign lawfully, had to be in communion with the Pope. Otherwise, the Pope could declare the ruler unfit to reign. 2Emperors and kings had to … be in communion with the Pope, as essential conditions of their reigning lawfully; if these conditions were broken, of which the Pope was the judge, then … he could … declare their ruler unfit to reign. [Cath Dic, 257]

The Popes claimed the right to depose the kings of Western Europe. They were sometimes successful.

The papacy evolved into a great administrative bureaucracy. The papal court created legal machinery of great sophistication and became, in some ways, the highest court of appeals, exercising jurisdiction in a broad range of matters. (Britannica)

In the pontificate of Innocent III (1198–1216), the papal claims to authority reached their zenith. Innocent:

      • Declared that the pope stood between God and humankind as the vicar (stand in the place) of Christ.
      • Claimed jurisdiction over all matters relating to sin.
      • Involved himself in the political affairs of France and the Holy Roman Empire.
      • Called the Fourth Crusade (1202–04), which led to the sack of Constantinople.
      • Approved legislation requiring Jews to wear special clothing.

Innocent’s successors continued his policies and further extended papal authority.

Persecution of Christians

The 11th horn will wear down the saints of the Highest One (Dan 7:25). The authority of the Pope also resulted in the massacre of Christians.

For example:

Innocent III (1198–1216) called the Albigensian Crusade, which was intended to end heresy in southern France and resulted in the massacre of Christians whom the Papacy classified as heretics.

The Inquisition, which was a powerful office set up within the Catholic Church to root out and punish heresy, is infamous for the severity of its tortures. The Spanish Inquisition alone resulting in some 32,000 executions. (History.com)

The Catholic Church authorized the Waldensian massacres. (see here) The Waldensians criticized Catholic beliefs and identified the Church as the harlot of the Apocalypse. In response, the Catholic Church called for the destruction of the Waldensians, absolving all who perpetrate such crimes. In consequence, the Waldensians were looted, raped, tortured, and massacred.

THE CHURCH’S WEAPONS

Factors that, in later years, allowed the Church to become “larger” than the kings of Europe include the following:

Tithing

The Church became very wealthy by demanded that all people, excluding church officials, contribute 10% of their earnings.

Ordinary people across Europe had to ‘tithe’ 10 percent of their earnings to the Church. This allowed the Church to amass a great deal of money and power, as attested by the cathedrals. Built during the Middle Ages, were the largest buildings and could be found at the center of towns and cities across the continent.

Eternal Hell

The Church ruled by superstitious fear by teaching that people would go to eternal hell unless they found salvation through the sacraments and ceremonies of the church.

To control the gates of hell can be quite a lucrative business. The church used this monopoly on salvation to wield power over political rulers:

Popes excommunicated disobedient kings. This meant the king is denied salvation and his vassals are freed from their duties to him.

If an excommunicated king continued to disobey the pope, the popes used an even more frightening weapon; the interdict, which means that many sacraments and religious services could not be performed in the king’s lands, causing civil unrest because the king’s subjects believe they are doomed to hell.

Marriages

The Church made very strict rules around marriages, forcing people to seek permission for marriage from the Church.

The Church attempted to control most marriages among the great by prohibiting marriages involving blood kin and kin by marriage to the seventh degree of relationship. Under these rules, almost all great marriages required a dispensation.

Monasteries

In addition to being centers for spiritual life, monastic communities became storehouses of knowledge, education, crafts, and artistic skills, and were centers for agriculture and production.

Christian monasticism, which is the practice of living ascetic and typically secluded lives dedicated to worship, became popular in the Middle Ages. 

Before the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, books were works of art. Craftsmen in monasteries created handmade books with colored illustrations, gold and silver lettering, and other adornments.

Crusades

The crusades greatly enhanced papal prestige. They gave the people a common purpose and inspired waves of religious enthusiasm.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Catholic Church authorized military expeditions called Crusades to expel Muslim “infidels” from the Holy Land and to return it to Christian control. 

Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade in 1095. Crusaders, who wore red crosses on their coats to advertise their status, believed that their service would guarantee the remission of their sins and ensure them eternal life. They also received worldly rewards, such as papal protection of their property and forgiveness of some kinds of debts.

Since the pope called for the crusades, they were also a sign of the authority of the popes over the political rulers. By participating in the crusades, in a sense, the kings submitted to the Pope’s authority. 


OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    Hanson, RPC, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God – The Arian Controversy 318-381, 1987. Hanson is a wo
  • 2
    Emperors and kings had to … be in communion with the Pope, as essential conditions of their reigning lawfully; if these conditions were broken, of which the Pope was the judge, then … he could … declare their ruler unfit to reign. [Cath Dic, 257]

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