|Emperor Constantine the Great|
It is evidence of how far modern Christianity has drifted from its original, traditional, roots that all of this is mostly unknown to modern Christians but the Roman emperor was seen as an extremely significant, even essential, figure for the Christian religion. The early Christians and Medieval Christians certainly understood this which is proven by the long tradition, today almost completely unknown, of prophecies, visions and other miraculous events concerning the Roman emperors. Regular readers will know as I have talked about these before such as the Emperor Augustus being revealed a vision of the birth of Christ, the Emperor Tiberius being moved to forbid any persecution of the Christians or the Emperor Marcus Aurelius putting a halt to such persecutions after witnessing a miracle in battle called down by Christians within his army. There was even a legend in the Middle Ages that Pope St Gregory the Great had momentarily resurrected Emperor Trajan in order to baptize him and spare this model ruler from the torments of Hell.
|Emperor Basil I|
The fact that the Investiture Dispute happened in the first place is evidence of the fact that church and state were not separate and that no one could imagine them fully being so. This occurred during the imperial reign of the Salian Dynasty but was to come up again, in a way, during the subsequent reign of the Hohenstaufen Dynasty. Emperor Frederick I (Frederick Barbarossa), feeling himself affronted by Pope Alexander III, earned the eternal wrath of the Catholic Church by taking the side of Anti-Pope Victor IV against him. However, he had initially tried to remain neutral, advised the bishops in his lands to do the same and refused to recognize either papal claimant, calling for a council to be summoned to decide the matter. When Alexander III refused on the grounds that the pope cannot be subject to the decisions of a council (and being rather unpopular likely fearful of the outcome), it was only then that Emperor Frederick gave his support to Victor IV. He did this because of the long history, again, going back to Constantine, of the Emperor being so significant a figure in the Church. In his view, if the Church could not sort out its own problems, the Emperor must step in to decide the issue.
|The coronation of Charlemagne|
Although doctrinal disputes certainly exist, it is also true that a major foundational reason for the very existence of two distinct versions of the Christian religion, one eastern and one western, is due to the fact that the Western Roman Emperor was eliminated and only the Pope remained whereas, in the east, the Emperor carried on being the one expected to maintain discipline in the Church, summon councils and so on as had been the case before. When a new version of the empire was revived in the west, with the coronation of Charlemagne, it was initiated by the pope and later disputes arose because what the pope had given, the pope felt entitled to take away, in addition to the fact that he had gained land, subjects and political power and was thus a political player for the first time. The popes, though they tried, could never have the same sort of disputes with the eastern emperors given that their reign extended back to the original Roman Empire, predated the papacy and was not therefore in the gift of the pope to give or to take away. What neither ever did was to presume you could have one or the other and still have traditional Christianity as it had been handed down to them.
This period, specifically because it was so troubled, inadvertently highlights the importance that the imperial monarchy had for the Church. Whereas the Gothic west had largely fallen under the sway of the Arian heresy, King Theodoric the Great being an Arian, the east remained more solidly of the old faith. Pope John I, though old and frail, was dispatched to Constantinople to persuade the Emperor to stop being so harsh and discriminatory toward the Arians. Imagine that for a moment, the Roman Catholic Pope went to the Byzantine Emperor to plead the case of the Arian heresy! How successful he was seems to be somewhat in dispute, some accounts saying he did get the Emperor to back off the Arians somewhat, others saying Justinian committed to nothing substantial and sent him home. In any event, it did Pope John little good for King Theodoric had him arrested soon after returning, fearing that he had been plotting with the Emperor against him to retake Italy and the frail, old pope died in captivity. Nonetheless, there was some balance, there was recourse if one side got out of line.
|Coronation of Emperor Otto the Great|
I have said before and will go on saying that for the majority of Christian history none of the faithful would have been able to imagine having Christianity without an emperor as an integral part of the picture. I am also firmly convinced that it is no coincidence that Christianity is in such a sad state today when an emperor or even anything of the sort has been absent for so long. The enemies of all I hold dear about western civilization certainly recognized that taking down the imperial power would aid in taking down the spiritual power as well. This is not, however, to say that they are solely responsible. If everything had been working as it should have been, I don’t think they would have stood a chance. In the west, the papacy certainly did a great deal of damage to the traditional hierarchy for the sake of politics only to find that not long after the empire ceased to exist in any way other than a name the papacy itself no longer had much real influence either, having frittered it away by constantly shifting positions. Now the spiritual authority of Christianity is, I think, in real danger of being lost and there is no emperor to come to the rescue as in the days of Otto III.
|Emperor Valentinian II|
More along these lines:
The Tiburtine Sybil & Imperial Prophecy
Christ and the Emperor Tiberius