3b – The Germanic Age: 500-1000 AD
- Benedictine Monasticism
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Celtic Monasticism
- 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.
- 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.
- Bangor Monastery (c.555-824)
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- Cluniac Monasticism
- 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.
- 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.
- Western Europe
- Known as the Apostle of Scotland, Columba (521-597) was trained at Clonard Abbey under Finnian (470-549) and was friends with Comgall at Bangor. In 563, he crossed to Iona with a team of 12 and established a monastery, which became a base of expansion throughout Scotland after the conversion of the Pict king, Bridei.
- Later, king Oswald of Northumbria converted and in 634 called for teachers from Iona (rather than England). Aidan (d.651) came and established a monastery at Lindisfarne, and walking from village to village, he slowly explained Christianity and reportedly did thousands of signs and wonders.
- England – In 596, Gregory the Great, sent a Benedictine monk, Augustine (c.530-604), who would later become Archbishop of Canterbury (598), to England to evangelize the pagan King Ethelbert of Kent who had married a Christian princess, Bertha, from Gaul. King Ethelbert allowed them to preach freely, and in one year (culminating on Christmas Day, 597) over 10,000 were baptized.
- France – A disciple of Comgall and a primary leader at Bangor, Columbanus (550-615) went to Brittany (NW France) with a band of 12 when he was about 40. He planted monasteries throughout eastern France and Switzerland (most notably Luxeuil, from which there are said to have been sixty-three apostles sent out who founded over one hundred different monasteries).
- Northern Europe
- Holland – Known as the Apostle of the Frisians, Willibrord (c.658-739) was a disciple of Wilfrid (c.634-709), who introduced Benedictine monasticism to England and led a large number of monasteries throughout Northumbria. At the request of Pepin II, Willibrord crossed over to Frisia (modern Holland and Belgium) with 12 companions in 690 and established numerous monasteries. Based from the Abbey of Echternach (f. 698), Willibrord often worked with Boniface followed by numerous miracles.
- Raised in a prosperous family in southern Britain, Boniface (c.672-754) entered the monastic life at Adescancastre at an early age against his father’s wishes. There he was a monk and taught until the age of 40, when he served under Willibrord in Frisia. After being commissioned bishop of the Germanic territories in 722, he worked in Northern Hesse, and in 723 he cut down the sacred oak of Thor at Fritzlar.
- Under the protection of Charles Martel, Boniface established bishoprics and Celtic type monasteries throughout Germany. Moreover, he was the first to establish communities of women in the penetration of unknown territories, which in turn became centers of faith, learning and agriculture.
- Later, with the help of Bavarian duke Odilo, Boniface erected the four famous sees of Bavaria: Freising, Regensburg, Salzburg, and Passau, which went on to be the largest diocese of the Holy Roman Empire. Multitudes of signs and wonders were attributed to Boniface before his martyrdom in Frisia in 754.
- Known as the “Apostle of the North,” Anskar (c.801-865) lived in the monastery at Corbie, France when he was young after his mother’s death. Childhood visions set his life on a trajectory of missions that led to his accompanying exiled king Harald back to Denmark in 826. In 829, king Bjorn of Sweden requested missionaries, and Charlemagne’s son, Louis the Pious, appointed a team led by Anskar. There he organized the first Swedish church on Birch Island.
- In 831, Anskar was appointed Archbishop of Hamburg giving him the right to send missions into all the northern lands. Hamburg thus became a missions base to Scandinavia, and though the Vikings destroyed his monastery, school and library in 845, he moved to nearby Bremen and continued the work. Eventually he won the favor of the king of Denmark and built a base of evangelism in Schleswig, from which he went again to Sweden in 851 and consecrated Gotbert, the first bishop of Sweden.
- Eastern Europe
- The territory of Great Moravia was originally evangelized by missionaries from the Frankish Empire from the early 8th century. The first Moravian ruler, Mojmír I, was baptized in 831 by Reginhar, bishop of Passau, which initially supervised the Moravian church.
- In 862, prince Rastislav, nephew of Mojmír I, requested missionaries, and the Eastern Emperor Michael III sent Cyril (826-869) and Methodius (815-885), brothers from a noble family in Thessalonica. Together they produced the Glagolitic Script (which became the basis of the alphabets of all Slavic languages today) and went on to translate the Scriptures and liturgy into Slavonic.
- Poland – The establishment of a Polish state was in conjunction with its adoption of Christianity in 966 (known as the “Baptism of Poland”) under Duke Mieszko I (c.930-992), who had married Dobrawa (a Christian and daughter of Boleslav I, Duke of Bohemia) in 965. By pledging allegiance to the recently established Holy Roman Empire (962-1806) under Otto I, he consolidated power and secured Poland’s borders. Within a century, evangelization of the country was considered complete by the king.
- Hungary – Of Mongolian origin, the Magyars were first organized by the Grand Prince Árpád in 895. Universally feared, they were a ruthless and destructive people who made raids throughout Europe in the early 10th century. However, the raids ended when they were checked by emperor Otto I at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955. Soon after (c.960), Bishop Pilgrim of Passau sent priests to Hungary who baptized around 5000 people, and later King Stephen I (c.967-1038) declared Hungry to be a Christian country.
- Bulgaria – By the witness of his sister and a slave in his court, Khan Boris I (c.815-907) was secretly baptized at Pliska in 864 by an embassy of Byzantine clergymen, together with his family and select members of the Bulgarian nobility. Though there was initially great opposition from his unbelieving subjects, Christianization of country steadily spread. Boris also conversed with the pope Nicholas I in Rome (c.866), which infuriated Patriarch Photios in Constantinople, resulting in the “Photian Schism,” a major precursor to the final split between the Eastern and Western Church in 1054.
- The Assyrian Church of the East (historically known as the Nestorian Church), which grew out of those who followed Nestorius (c.386-451), Archbishop of Constantinople, became based in Persia and Mesopotamia by the 6th century. From the reign of Hormizd III (457-459) serious persecution of the Church in Persia grew less frequent and the church began to have recognized status.
- For several centuries, the Celts and Nestorians composed the most vital missionary groups in the Church, spanning all of China, much of India and penetrating deep into Hephthalite Hun territory (c.535). The bishoprics in Merv and Herat (c.424) were elevated to metropolitan sees in 544 and 585, respectively, and became major centers from which Nestorian monks embarked on evangelistic journeys.
- After the Muslims final defeat of Persia in 642, religious practices were allowed (and thus monasticism flourished), but the Assyrian Church was heavily taxed and proselytism was outlawed. Though the spread of the Assyrian Church initially slowed, it became increasingly favored by the Caliphate, and by the late 8th century, nearly all of the learned scholars in the Caliphate were Nestorians.
- By the time of the patriarchate of Timothy I (779-820), the Assyrian Church oversaw a greater geographic area than any pope before the Age of Exploration (including about 18 metropolitans), and Timothy, in writing about “all the provinces under the jurisdiction of this patriarchal see,” spoke of “the Indians, the Chinese, the Tibetans, [and] the Turks” therein.
- From Merv, a bishopric was established in Bukhara (a prominent trade-route city), which in turn became a center of learning and evangelism (later elevated to a metropolitan see by the 8th century). From there Samarkand received a bishop during the patriarchate of Yeshuyab II (628-643).
- Patriarch Timothy I wrote in 781 of consecrating bishops for the Turks and for Tibet: “The king of the Turks with nearly all the inhabitants of his country, has left his ancient idolatry, and has become Christian, and has requested us in his letters to create a Metropolitan for his country; and this we have done.”
- The Mar Thoma Church continued in India with limited interaction with the Assyrian Church (retaining the Syrian liturgy until the 17th century). Between the 3rd and the 9th centuries, there were waves of immigrants from Mesopotamia to Kerala.
- Cosmas Indicopleustes (Lt. for “Indian Navigator”) was a Nestorian Christian and merchant from Egypt who traveled to south India between 520 and 525 AD, documenting the existence of large Christian communities in southern India and Sri Lanka (c.535).
- During the patriarchate Yeshuyab II (628-643), a metropolitan see was created for India, and at the embassy of Alfred in 833, Nestorian Syrian Christians are described as being prosperous and enjoying high status along the Malabar Coast.
- Under Patriarch Yeshuyab II (628-643), Nestorian missionaries reached China, and in addition to several bishops a metropolitan see was appointed. One of these bishops, Alopen, is commemorated on the Nestorian Monument (dated 7 January 781).
- The Nestorian Monument (formally translated A Monument Commemorating the Propagation of the Ta-Chin Luminous Religion in the Middle Kingdom) was originally discovered outside the city of Xi’an in Central China in 1623. It is a 10ft tall limestone slab that recounts the biblical narrative and the arrival of missionaries from Assyria via the Silk Road in the 7th century.
- With the institution of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and its defeat of Turkestan in 630, the Silk Road was reopened, and in 635, Bishop Alopen received recognition of Christianity by Emperor T’ai Tsung, who subsequently ordered its universal dissemination.
- Severe persecution broke out in 845 under Emperor Wu Tsung, an ardent Taoist, and with the fall of the Tang Dynasty to general Huang Chao and the Later Liang Dynasty, Christianity was completely outlawed.
- Though the Monument clearly states, “The religion spread throughout the ten provinces… monasteries abound in a hundred cities,” most have disregarded it as “exaggeration.” However, the recent discovery of a 10ft by 5ft nativity scene in a pagoda (c.640) outside of Xi’an (~30mi from the Nestorian Monument) confirms the prominence of the Assyrian Church in China.
- Russia developed as a nation around Scandinavian traders in search of wealth, with Kiev as the economic center. Patriarch Photius first attempted to reach the Kievans by sending a bishop there around 866. In an encyclical letter, he claimed that the two princes of Kiev, Askold and Dir, embraced Christianity, which resulted the formation of the Metropolitan Diocese of Russia under the Patriarch of Constantinople.
- Little progress was made until Prince Vladimir of Kiev (c.958-1015) converted and brought all the citizens of Kiev to the Dnieper River for baptism on 1 August 988. Though known to be a zealous heathen, Vladimir’s Christian grandmother, Princess Olga (who ruled Kiev from 945 to 964), and his marriage to the sister of the Byzantine Emperor eventually led to his conversion.