Friday, October 19, 2012

Christian Empire




In my humble opinion, one reason why Christianity has suffered so in recent years is due to the lack of a safe and established "home base" as it were. People once described the western and near eastern world as "The Mohammedan World" and "Christendom". Sadly, while the Mohammedan world remains in tact (though perverted beyond what it was under the Sultans) Christendom has vanished from the globe. It would be hard to say exactly when the Christian Empire started and ended but God has almost always had a nation which was His religion's primary guardian on earth. In the Old Testament this was Israel, after the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine there was at least the beginning of a Christian Empire, but the old Rome was not destined to last much longer. Decadence, poor economic decisions, short-sighted foreign policy mistakes and political in-fighting (sound familiar) all worked together to bring down the original Roman Empire. It fell first in the west and although for a short time it seemed the stalwart east would see it restored, it did not happen and though the Eastern Empire lingered, it was increasingly fragmented, plagued by in-fighting and managing a slow decline.

In 800 AD history was made when Pope St Leo III crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans. The new Holy Roman Empire had been born although most of its life would be left to the German half of Charlemagne's dominion following the death of the great Christian monarch. Part of the reason for this, it must be said, was papal fear of the barbarian tribes and an inability to reconcile with the Roman Emperor in Constantinople. However, relations between the Pope and the Kaiser in the west were not always cozy either but, by and large, it was the Church that always prevailed. The Kaiser derived his authority from God only through the Church but the Pope received his authority from God directly through the succession of Peter. At the height of Christendom, during the reign of His Holiness Pope Innocent III, virtually all of Europe was united in the Christian Faith under the guidance of kings and the Holy Roman Emperor who all answered to the Pope. The Empire was instrumental in guarding the Church from such things as the Muslim invasion, providing leadership in the Crusades and generally a safe haven for the Papal States (always a top priority for the popes).

Today it would be hard to even comprehend a country in which the entire society was based on Christianity, Papal authority and divine investiture, or even the Divine Rights of Kings. However, the Holy Roman Empire was no centralized autocracy, despite what the enemies of traditional monarchy may say. The princes were autonomous rulers, the Emperor had authority only in the areas of defense and foreign relations, in addition to having the Pope as a moral policeman and check against arbitrary tyranny. Most day to day authority was done on the local level and included a diverse group of leaders, military, noble and religious. The feudal system was at its height during the early period of the Empire. Today people are critical of feudalism because it forced the serfs to work for a lord indefinitely, yet without the protection of the lord the serf would probably not have survived at all. The Holy Roman Empire established by Charlemagne brought Western Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the great era of the High Middle Ages. All Christians were united by one Faith with one spiritual ruler (the Pope) and one temporal ruler (the Kaiser). Since the Pope had crowned Charlemagne and successive Holy Roman Emperors the people also knew that their own king was not the ultimate authority but that God and the Church with their moral truth, were at the heart of their civilization.

The eastern half of Christendom had an altogether more difficult time (if that is possible) with a seemingly endless parade of one crisis after another, coupled with endless squabbles for the imperial throne. Powerful enemy forces included the Persians, the Arabs and finally the Turks as well as intermittent warfare with European neighbors and (unfortunately) the Latin west. After the disastrous battle of Manzikert, the Byzantine Empire was never quite the same and, on more than one occasion, Byzantine rulers seemed adept at always choosing the worse of two evils. However, even after the fall of Constantinople, the Orthodox Christian world was not without hope. The rising power of Imperial Russia picked up the mantle of leadership in the east and accepted the responsibility of being the strongest protector of the Orthodox faith. As in the west, church-state relations were not always peaceful, but with almost all that had been the East Roman Empire in Muslim hands, there is no telling what would have become of Orthodoxy had it not been for the Russian Empire which stood firm on the Orthodox faith and protected it from harm.

For a time, many in the east might have looked to the west and marveled at the (fairly) consistent level of unity maintained by the Pope and the Emperor. Though, if they did, they did not for very long as the Catholic west soon suffered a split that ran far deeper than the national divisions of Eastern Orthodoxy. Despite many attacks by foreign powers it was an internal problem that proved most damaging to the Holy Roman Empire: the birth of the Protestant movement. Luther was harbored by princes wishing to have more power and who did not take kindly to submitting themselves to the moral authority of an Italian cleric in Rome. Divisions arose and Catholics and Protestants became locked in ideological as well as physical combat. Of course, some Protestants had perfectly noble intentions and even at the time many Catholics admitted that the Church was in bad need of reform. Unfortunately, that was not the result and things might have turned out very differently had it not been for the great Hapsburg ruler Emperor Charles V. Despite having what seemed to be the entire world arrayed against him, and faced with self-serving rulers on every side, Charles V managed to fight the Protestants to a draw, make peace with them and defeat a Turkish invasion. Without his imperial leadership Christendom or at least Catholic Christendom would likely have died then and there.


The next great enemy to arise was the liberalism of the so-called "Age of Reason". Ideas such as “every man his own priest” and a focus on individual interpretation of the Bible quickly led to a myriad of contradictory “truths” which caused many people to shrug off religion entirely in favor of the uncontestable “truths” of science and reason. This led to an arrogant thirst for uniformity and regimentation that spelled doom for a body like the Empire, which was made up of many autonomous countries with diverse cultures. The world also found out that there were none so bloodthirsty as the advocates of enlightenment and reason. The French Revolution destroyed the traditional monarchy in France, the tragic Queen Marie Antoinette was in fact the sister of the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. Christians were persecuted, royalists were murdered in the streets and even the Pope himself was arrested. As revolutionary armies marched across Europe they spread the liberal ideas of government by sacred, secular documents and one-size-fits-all political ideologies. It all meant a grim future for Christendom, east and west, and it also meant that the Holy Roman Emperor had to go. After his defeat at Austerlitz Kaiser Franz II felt he had no choice but to give up his crown and the Holy Roman Empire officially came to an end.

In the aftermath, the forces of the counter-revolution did make something of a come-back but the damage that had been done seemed impossible to undo. Without a central stronghold for Christendom, the west became increasingly skeptical, increasingly secular and increasingly republican -even before the monarchies began to fall. Only the east, in Imperial Russia, seemed immune. There the old legacy remained, there was an empire with no political formulas, no written constitution and no political parties; just the faith, the Tsar and the family. However, perhaps because of this, the Russian Empire seemed deliberately targeted and when that second great eastern empire fell, it fell not just to people of a different faith or no faith but to people intent on eradicating all faith entirely. It had all the horrors of the French Revolution, only worse. Such a vicious regime based on such artificial fancies could not and did not endure but in neither east nor west has that central empire been restored. It can hardly be considered a coincidence that the faith continues to struggle as well. All those who claim to be devout Christian people should take an honest look at history and the world around them and accept the fact that the “walls of separation” so many cherish have not been used to protect but to divide and conquer; destroying the empires and then destroying the faith.

Think about it. -MM

7 comments:

  1. Excellently put. Might i also add the Islamic peoples have had a blow to monarchy when Kemal Ataturk abolished the Caliphate as part of his efforts to erase tradition and get rid of Ottoman customs. Also, the split of Christianity into Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant camps has weakened us considerably. Lastly, have you done a piece on Scottish, Irish, or Welsh monarchy? I feel these might have good examples of monarchy at it's best.

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    1. That is true and a large part of why Islam has caused so much trouble in recent years is due to the lack of a single guiding force that the Sultan provided. You could say the same about things like Confucianism which, after the fall of Imperial China, was first suppressed but is now being brought back and perverted as simply a celebration of tyranny.

      I don't know that I have done anything on the 'type' of monarchy used in the Celtic periphery but I have done articles on Scottish and Irish kings. On Wales, I am as yet too uninformed as to their story prior to being conquered by England.

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  2. In many ways the West's success became its own downfall. The triumph of Christianity, and its influence in shaping European culture, and its emphasis on reason eventually was pushed by others to the point where they rejected the need for the ancient faith. And it is certainly NOT a coincidence that first the monarchy went, and then the faith, in most European countries.

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  3. There is no separation of Church and State. That battle cry came out of the so-called "Age of Enlightenment" (or "Age of Reason"). We are witnesses to that battle cry; just look around you. The Church and the State can coexist as long as both respect each other's jurisdiction. The Church has its role and the State has its role as ordained by God.

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    1. You said "There is no separation of Church and State" but you also said "The Church and the State can coexist as long as both respect each other's jurisdiction. The Church has its role and the State has its role as ordained by God.". That's almost the definition of , or rather a definition of "separation of Church and State".

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  4. Although Christianity is still strong in the Americas and other parts of the world, it has been slowly declining in Europe mostly because of the spread of secularism, atheism, and agnosticism and some examples include Czech Republic, Estonia, and Sweden. It seems very likely to me that even some of those who call themselves Christians don't consider their religion to be important in their daily lives and some neglect it completely. Even if Christianity still has a home base in Europe, I don't think this declining trend can be reversed especially when Christians are not as united in their religious beliefs as Muslims and many denominations exist just because of small disagreements on interpretation of the Bible.

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  5. I just discovered your blog and this article. Personally, I'm in love with it. Keep up the good work! Ad hoc signo vinces!

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