3a – The Germanic Age: 500-1000 AD

Notes Outline


    1. Rise of the Papacy (c.450-600)
      1. As the Roman Empire began to collapse, the Roman Church became the defender of law and order and naturally stepped in to fill the governmental vacuum throughout the Empire.  As Rome lost control over regions and cities, local bishops would step in to organize and administrate day to day life, and thus the Church became instrumental in regaining the unity and stability that had been shattered by the Germanic invasions. 
      2. Regarded by many as the first pope in the modern sense, Leo I (400-461) singularly persuaded Attila the Hun (known as the “Scourge of God”) not to attack Rome in 452, and when the city finally fell to the Vandals in 455, he convinced their leader not to burn the city.  Accomplishments such as these held great sway in the public mind and added to the practical governance of the Church in society at large.
      3. Hoping for support against the invading Lombrds, Pope Stephen II (d.757) crowned Pepin the King of the Franks in 754, who in turn conquered the Lombards and gave their territory (the “Donation of Pepin”) in central Italy to the Pope in 756, birthing the Papal States which dominated the life of the papacy until 1870.
    2. Rise of Islam (c.632-750)
      1. The loss of the Middle East and North Africa in the 7th and 8th centuries to Islam is arguably the greatest loss the Church has ever suffered.  In one century, Islam almost completely uprooted and destroyed the cradle of Christian civilization.
      2. The Eastern Empire (i.e. Byzantine Empire) was ripe for revolt because of high taxes, and schisms/controversies in the Church, which was married to the Empire (thus, Muslims were often seen as liberators).  Moreover, because of prolonged warfare with Persia, both sides were exhausted militarily.  
      3. In only a couple decades, Mohammed (570-632) claimed his heavenly visions (610), fled to Medina (622), returned to Mecca (630), and crowned himself king of the Arabian Peninsula (632).  After Mohammed’s death, there was a struggle for a khalifah, i.e. “successor” or “representative,” which resulted in the two primary streams of Islamic faith, Sunni based on election (~85%) and Shi’a based on lineage (~15%).  
      4. After the settling of the Caliphate, Islam quickly swept through the Middle East, Persia and North Africa, conquering Jerusalem (637), Syria (640), Persia (650), Asia Minor (678), Carthage (697), and Spain (715) before being stopped by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours (732).
    3. Rise of the Franks (c.481-870)
      1. As the Roman Empire began to fall to Germanic invasions in the 5th century, the Frankish kingdom began assert its independence, fighting its own battles with the Visigoths and Saxons.  After consolidating power over most of Gaul at the Battle of Tolbiac (496), Clovis I (grandson of Merovech) adopted his wife’s Nicene faith and was baptized on December 25, 496 with 3000 of his warriors.
      2. The Merovingian kings continued to rule the Franks until the Carolingians began to rise in positions of power, most notably Charles Martel (688-741), who was notoriously ruthless and brutal.  Charles’ son Pepin the Short (714-768) deposed the last Merovingian king in 751 with the blessing of Pope Zachary.  The cooperation between the Papacy and the Carolingian dynasty climaxed in 25 December 800, when Pope Leo III crowned Pepin’s son, Charlemagne (742-814), the first “Emperor of the Romans” (Augustus Romanorum).
      3. This event set the standard for the “medieval synthesis” for the next 800 years—i.e. politics, social organization, education, art, music, economics and law were based on Christian faith as communicated by the Church and protected by secular rulers.  Though the Church benefited politically and financially from the “Carolingian Renaissance,” it ultimately led to decadence and degeneration, as it had with Constantine.
      4. The fall of the Carolingian Empire started late in the 9th century with repeated Viking raids and Magyar invasions.  This led to the transition of power to the Germans and the “Holy Roman Empire” under Otto the Great in 962, setting the foundation for feudalism and the medieval Church for the next 500 years.
    4. Rise of the Vikings (c.793-1066)
      1. The Viking Age began dramatically on 8 June 793, when Norsemen (chiefly from Denmark, Norway and Sweden) destroyed Lindisfarne Abbey, massacring hundreds of monks and taking others as slaves.  The event shocked and alerted royal courts throughout Europe.  
      2. Afterward Ireland and England suffered repeated raids (destroying all the major centers of Western learning, e.g. York, Iona, Bangor, etc.), before the invaders set their sights on Western and Northern Europe.  In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Vikings killed a third of the monks and clergy in Western Europe.
      3. More than anything, the Viking invasions (along with Magyar and Arab invasions) led to the European “Collapse of Security,” which established the need for military protectionism, the fundamentally characterization of medieval feudalism—“the system, in its most basic essence, is the granting of land in return for military service.”
      4. As centralized governments weakened, two distinct classes emerged: landowners (lords and vassals) and non-landowners (serfs and slaves).  The Church became increasingly involved in feudal economy, acquiring over 30% of irrigable land in Western Europe at its height, which led to great corruption.


    1. Benedictine Monasticism
      1. Benedict of Nursia (480-547) is known for his reform of western monasticism which had begun to decline in fervency, lacking structure and discipline.  Benedict established a monastery on Mt. Cassino in central Italy in 529 and formulated a rule that would guide most of western monasticism until today (cf. vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience).
      2. Benedictine monasteries were led by an Abbot (from Ar. Abba) with the primary duty of corporate worship.  Benedictine monasteries were the primary source of agricultural development in their time and the primary means of preservation of ancient learning in Europe through the middle ages.
      3. Wealth and power resulted in the decline of Benedictine monasticism.  Because of the advances in agriculture and the donations of the wealthy, corruption ran rampant, and during the medieval Church, Abbots commonly became feudal lords.
    2. Celtic Monasticism
      1. As the most vigorous missionary movement in Western Europe for several centuries, Celtic Monasticism modeled many ideals of modern missiology: 1) deep devotion, missionary passion, love of learning, and respect for vernacular cultures.
      2. The Celtic monastery was not an end in itself (for salvation), but rather it was seen as a missions base, a place of protection and preparation for going out.  Celtic monasticism became renowned for its peregrini (lit. “migrant ones”), who would travel in bands to places no one else would go, to the most distant and difficult places among the most violent and brutal peoples.
      3. Bangor Monastery (c.555-824)
        1. The Annals of Ulster tells us that the monastery of Bangor was founded by Comgall (517-601) in approximately 555.  The monastery had such widespread influence that the town is one of only four places in Ireland to be named in the Hereford Mappa Mundi (c.1300).
        2. Comgall instituted a rigid monastic rule of incessant prayer and fasting, which attracted thousands (according to the Annals, over 3000 by 602 when Comgall died).  Bangor became famous for its 24/7 antiphonal choral psalmody, in accord with Patrick’s vision and the practice of St. Martin’s houses in Gaul.  Bangor was destroyed by Viking raids in 824, which all told killed over 3000 monks.
        3. Multitudes of missionaries were sent out from Bangor including Columbanus (to Europe), Columba (to Iona, western Scotland), Mirin (to Paisley, SW Scotland), Molua (to Friar’s Island, western Ireland), Findchua (to Leinster, eastern Ireland) and Moluag (to Argyll, western Scotland).
        4. Though Bangor was focused on prayer and fasting, it also became known for its education and learning.  There was a saying in Europe at the time that if a man knew Greek he was bound to be an Irishman, largely due to the influence of Bangor.
      4. There was always a tension between the Celtic and Roman Church, which continued until the Celtic Church came under the authority of Rome at the Synod of Whidby in 664.  Differences in the appearance of monks and the dating of Easter (lunar vs. solar calendars) represented differing authority structures (bishop vs. abbot).
    3. Cluniac Monasticism
      1. Known as the “Restorer of Monasteries,” Odo of Cluny (879-942) was raised in the Church of St. Martin of Tours, studied in Paris and later entered a Benedictine monastery in Burgundy.  Under Berno, Odo moved into the newly built (by William I, Duke of Aquitaine) monastery at Cluny (909) and succeeded him as abbot in 927.  
      2. By the beginning of the 10th century, the European Church and the Papacy had fallen into deep corruption and scandal (particularly simony and concubinage).  Adopting and reviving the Benedictine Rule, Cluny quickly became the major educational center in the West, and over a thousand Cluniac monasteries spread throughout Europe.  Cluniac monasteries formed somewhat of an independent infrastructure within the Roman Church, with other monasteries reporting to the Abbot of Cluny rather than the bishops.