This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #178, titled, “The Germanic Kingdoms, Part 5.”
When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.
Our Scripture for today is 2 Corinthians 5:20 which reads: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.”
Our History of Christianity quote today is from Ramon Llull [LUHL]. He said: “Death has no terrors for a sincere servant of Christ who is laboring to bring souls to a knowledge of the truth.”
Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Germanic Kingdoms, Part 5” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).
Soon, however, there were conflicts between those who followed this form of Christianity, and those who belonged to the Scotch-Irish tradition. In Northumbria [NORTH-UM-BREE-AH], we are told that this conflict became serious, for the king followed Scotch-Irish tradition, and the queen held to the Roman one. Since the date for Easter differed, one of them was fasting while the other was feasting. In order to solve the difficulties, a synod was held at Whitby in 663. The Scotch-Irish stood fast on the traditions they said they had received from Columba. The Roman missionaries and their partisans retorted that St. Peter’s tradition was superior to Columba’s, for the apostle had received the keys to the Kingdom. On hearing this, we are told, the king asked those who defended the Scotch-Irish position:
“Is it true what your opponents say, that St. Peter has the keys to the Kingdom?”
“Certainly,” they answered.
“Then there is no need for further debate. I shall obey Peter. Otherwise, when I arrive at heaven he might close the doors on me and keep me out.”
As a result, the Synod of Whitby decided in favor of the European tradition, and against the Scotch-Irish. Similar decisions were made throughout the British Isles. But this was not due simply to the naïveté of rulers, as the incident at Whitby would seem to imply. It was really the almost inevitable result of the pressure and prestige of the rest of Western Christendom, seeking uniformity throughout the church.
In Italy, the Germanic invasions brought a chaotic situation. Although in theory there were emperors in Rome until 476, these in truth were no more than puppets of various Germanic generals. Finally, in 476, Odoacer [OH-DOH-AY-CER], leader of the Germanic Heruli [HER-UH-LY], deposed the last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, and wrote to Zeno [ZEE-NO], the emperor at Constantinople, telling him that now the empire was reunited. At first Zeno [ZEE-NO] was flattered by this, and he even gave Odoacer [OH-DOH-AY-CER] the title of “patrician.” But soon there were conflicts, and the emperor decided to rid himself of the Heruli by inviting the Eastern Germanic Ostrogoths to invade Italy. This was done, and for a short while Italy was under the rule of the Ostrogoths.
Since the Ostrogoth invaders were Arian, the older population of Italy, which followed the Nicene or Catholic faith, looked to Constantinople for support. This in turn made the Ostrogoth rulers suspect that their subjects plotted treason. For this reason, the orthodox were often persecuted, although usually not on religious grounds, but rather on charges of conspiracy. It was thus that Boethius [BO-EE-THEE-US], the most learned man of the time, was put in jail by King Theodric [THEE-OH-DRIK]. While in prison he wrote his most famous work, On the Consolation of Philosophy, which debates predestination and free will, as well as why evil men prosper while good men are ruined. In 524 he was executed, jointly with his father-in-law Symmachus [SEE-MAH-KUHS]. Two years later, Pope John died in prison. Since then, Boethius [BO-EE-THEE-US], Symmachus [SEE-MAH-KUHS], and John were considered martyrs of the Roman Church, and the tension between the ancient population and the Ostrogoths grew. Finally, when the Byzantine Empire, under Justinian, had a short period of renewed grandeur, Justinian’s general Belisarius [BEL-EH-SAHR-EE-US] invaded Italy and, after twenty years of military campaign, he and others put an end to the kingdom of the Ostrogoths.
But in 568 the Lombards invaded Italy from the north. As Constantinople began losing some of the power it had gained under Justinian, there was the danger that the Lombards would overrun the peninsula. Thus, by the middle of the eighth century, the popes, aware that they could expect little help from Constantinople, began to look to the north for help. Thus developed the alliance between the papacy and the Frankish kingdom that would eventually lead to the crowning of Charlemagne as emperor of the West.
In summary, from the fifth to the eighth century Western Europe was swept by a series of invasions that brought chaos to the land, and destroyed a great deal of the learning of the antiquity. The invaders brought with them two religious challenges that until then seemed to be matters of the past: paganism and Arianism. Eventually, both pagans and Arians were converted to the faith of those whom they conquered. This was the Nicene faith, also called “orthodox” or “catholic.” In the process of that conversion, and also in an effort to preserve the wisdom of ancient times, two institutions played a central role, and thus were strengthened. These two institutions, to which we now turn, were monasticism and the papacy.
Next time, we will begin looking at “Benedictine Monasticism.”
Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.