Purpose of this article
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 (Dan 7:7, 24). That horn becomes God’s all-time great adversary (Dan 7:25) and is only destroyed when Christ returns (Dan 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.
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’.
The controversy over the nature of Christ arose early in the fourth century when a presbyter named Arius taught that, with respect to the Son, “there was when He was not.” But since he also believed that the Son existed before time began, the phrase “there was when He was not” does not refer to literal time but means that the Father was the Ultimate Source of all things. In other words, the Son received His existence from the Father and therefore was subordinate to Him
To bring an end to the controversy, Emperor Constantine exerted his influence on the Council of Nicaea of the year 225 and on the formulation of the Nicene Creed. That creed declared the Son to be “true God from true God.” To support this view, the Nicene Creed ventured that the Father and Son are of the “same substance” (homoousios).
However, over the next fifty years following Nicaea, more or less from 330 to 380, the church adopted Arianism and 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 then Theodosius – an ardent supporter 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.
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 reality, controlled the Western Roman Empire. Over the course of 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.
To free the Roman Church in the west from Arian domination, Emperor Justinian, emperor of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire in the sixth century, sent troops to combat the Arian nations and significantly weakened Arianism. His troops 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.
Given the facts of this brief overview, it is not possible to deny the decisive influence which the emperors had on the church’s acceptance of the Trinity doctrine. As mentioned above, Constantine and Theodosius respectively manipulated the key creeds of 325 and 381, and Justinian, through the Byzantine Papacy, wiped Arianism out. These emperors did not develop this doctrine, but they did decide what the church should believe concerning the nature of Christ (Christology).
This means that the church received the Trinity theory from the Roman Empire. As stated in Revelation 13:2, the dragon (the Roman Empire), gave the beast from the sea (the Church of the Middle Ages) “his power and his throne and great authority.”
Summary of this article
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 still, 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
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 regarded as God’s agent on earth. The supreme bishops of the Empire – 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.”
His authority 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. As it turned out, in later years, these pagan nations later became Muslim countries and conquered most of the previous territory of the Eastern Empire.
Justinian’s wars conquered the Italian peninsula and delivered the church in Rome from Arian domination. This commenced the period of 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 (the Byzantine Papacy), 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 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.
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 still 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 was 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
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?
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)
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.
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:
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
Historical Development of the Trinity Doctrine
First 300 years (The persecuted church)
- Justin Martyr – the Son is subordinate to the Father.
- Ignatius – the Son is our God and immortal.
- Irenaeus (died 190) – was he a Trinitarian?
- Tertullian – work in progress
- Origen – work in progress
- Did they refer to Jesus as “our god” or as “our God?
Fourth Century (State Church)
Fifth & Sixth Centuries