The New World Order After the Fall of Rome

Most people in Asia and Africa tend to view Christianity as a Western religion. That is why when we try to evangelize those in countries such as China, Japan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and others, they tend to be resistant to the Gospel. They consider it as a form of Western imperialism beginning all the way back to the Roman Empire to the medieval Crusades. However, unbeknownst to them, Christianity is actually Eastern in origin as it was started in Jerusalem, Israel and spread unto Samaria, Damascus, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople, formerly known as the Byzantine Empire in present-day Turkey.

The main reason why Christianity spread to the West was of course due to its acceptance and proliferation in the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, ironically, it is likewise the fall of the Roman Empire in the West that further caused the spread of Christianity to the present-day European nations. According to Justo Gonzalez, although the so-called “barbarians” appeared to the Romans as looters with their minds set on destruction, most of them really aspired to settle within the borders of the Roman Empire, and there enjoy some of the benefits of a civilization that until then they had only known from afar. Thus, after a period of wandering, each of the major invading bodies settled in a portion of the Empire. These “barbarian” civilizations included the Ostrogoths and Visigoths, the Vandals (where we get our word “vandalism”), the Franks, the Angles and Saxons, the Burgundians, the Irish, the Scotch, and the Lombards. Among those who were instrumental in the proliferation of Christianity in these lands were St. Patrick, St. Benedict, St. Scholastica, Gregory the Great and Leo the Great. As far as the institutions are concerned, it is monasticism and the papacy that were instrumental in the survival and propagation of Christianity to its pagan conquerors. Conversely, it was likewise the barbarian invasions that brought about the great upsurge in the pope’s authority. In the East, the Empire continued existing for another thousand years; but in the West, the church became the guardian of what was left of ancient civilization, as well as of order and justice. Thus, the most prestigious bishop in the West, that of Rome, became the focal point for regaining a unity that had been shattered by the invasions.

Another major cause of Christianity’s spread in the West instead of the East are the Arab conquests led by a man named Mohammed/Muhammad, an Arab merchant who had come in contact with both Judaism and the various Christian sects that existed in Arabia—some of them rather unorthodox. His message, which he claimed had been revealed to him by the angel Gabriel, was that of a single God, both just and merciful, who rules all things and requires obedience from all. Mohammed claimed that he was not preaching a new religion, but simply the culmination of what God had revealed in the Hebrew prophets and in Jesus, who was a great prophet, although not divine as Christians claimed. To consider a created being equal to God was the greatest sin a person can commit against the One True God, Allah. This sin was called “shirk” and the religion was called “Islam,” which means “submission to God.”

The Arabs, under the leadership of Mohammed’s successors called the “caliphs,” invaded and conquered the Byzantine Empire including Damascus in Syria, Jerusalem in Israel, Alexandria in Egypt, North Africa, the Persian Empire, Carthage, and then all of Spain except for the extreme northern areas. The advance of the Saracen (Moslem) armies was only halted by their defeat by Charles Martel at the battle of Tours, which marked the end of the first wave of Moslem expansion. Thus, many of the ancient centers of Christianity—Jerusalem, Antioch, Damascus, Alexandria, and Carthage—were now under Moslem rule. In Carthage and the surrounding area, Christianity completely disappeared. In the rest of the vast Arab holdings, it was tolerated, but ceased growing, and eventually was content with holding its own.

Advertisements

Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Are You Saved

On September 15, 2013, for the first time in my life, I attended an Eastern Orthodox Church where the liturgy used is that of St. John Chrysostom. So far, it is the only Orthodox cathedral in the Philippines and Southeast Asia as it is the only stand alone church building personally consecrated by His Eminence Metropolitan Nektarios Tsilis of the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. It was a unique and wonderful experience! It was as if I was transported to Constantinople back in the fourth century A.D. Compared to the Roman Novus Ordo Mass which most of us Filipinos are used to, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is longer and more solemn as more symbolic gestures are performed. Moreover, almost the entire liturgy was sung with the exception of the homily. After the Divine Liturgy, I had a short chat with the priests, Fathers James Doronela and Gregory Latoja, about Orthodoxy and they even lent me a booklet (pictured above) about salvation, which is the one they use in basic catechism.

Unknown to a lot of Filipinos, Eastern Christianity existed just about the same time or even before the Roman church. Centuries prior to the Great Schism of East and West, there were originally five centers of Christianity which were called patriarchates. These were: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. The first four comprised the Greek Eastern churches while the last one, Rome, comprised the Latin Western church. For Christians at that time, both East and West, the church was one. Historians, however, can now see that by the early Middle Ages the two branches of the church were drifting apart, and that the final schism, which took place in 1054, was long in the making. In the West, the demise of the Empire created a vacuum that the church filled, and thus ecclesiastical leaders—particularly the pope—also came to wield political power. In the East, the Empire continued for another thousand years and its autocratic emperors kept a tight rein on ecclesiastical leaders.

Although it is obvious that every church thinks of itself as orthodox, that title has become such a hallmark of Eastern Chalcedonian Christianity that it is often called and has been known as the Orthodox Church as opposed to the Catholic Church based in Rome. After the Islamic Arab conquests, the Orthodox Church was blocked to the south and east by Islam, and thus its expansion was in a northerly and northwesterly direction. Those areas of Eastern Europe were populated mostly by Slavs, who had invaded them after the Germanic peoples. They occupied most of what is today, Poland, the Baltic countries, Russia, Czechoslovakia (Czech and Slovak Republics), Yugoslavia, and Greece. Later on, they also encompassed Bulgaria and a vast portion of the Danube basin.

Although the East and West already experienced schism during the fifth century, the final schism of 1054 occurred when the Bulgarian archbishop Leo of Ochrid, accused the West of error because it made clerical celibacy a universal rule, and because it celebrated communion with unleavened bread. When the dispute grew, Pope Leo IX sent an ambassador to Constantinople to deal with it. But his choice was most unfortunate. Cardinal Humbert, his legate, knew no Greek and did not care to learn it. To his mind, the Eastern married clergy and the authority that the Byzantine emperor had over the church were the very enemies which he had vowed to destroy. He and Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople exchanged insults. After a dramatic and politically motivated excommunication against “heretic” Patriarch Cerularius, as well as any who dared follow him, the break between East and West was finally accomplished.

The Great Doctors of the Church

carlo-braccesco-four-doctors-of-the-church

Known as the Doctors of the Church, they are among the most influential figures of the fourth century, namely: Bishops Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom of Constantinople, Jerome of Italy, and Augustine of Hippo.

St. Ambrose was the governor of the City of Milan during the episcopacy of Auxentius, an appointee by an Arian emperor. After the death of Auxentius, the election of a successor could easily turn into a riot between the Arians and the orthodox. Thus, in order to avoid a possible disorder, Ambrose decided to attend the election. Trained in the best rhetoric and popular for his efficient and fair rule, he was able to address the crowd. Suddenly, from among the crowd, a child cried, “Ambrose, bishop; Ambrose, Ambrose!” The crowd went along and Ambrose was unexpectedly made bishop of Milan. He was not yet even baptized at that time and was only a catechumen. Hence, it was expedient that he be raised through the various levels of ministerial orders and after eight days; he was consecrated bishop of Milan on December 1, 373. He then undertook the study of theology with the help of a priest and soon he was one of the best theologians in the Western church. Ambrose’s fame was such that Fritigil, queen of the Marcomanni, had asked him to write for her a brief introduction to the Christian faith. After reading it, she resolved to visit him in Milan, but on her way she learned that the wise man had died on April 4, 397.

Among the many who went to listen to Ambrose preach, there was a young teacher of rhetoric who had followed a long and tortuous spiritual pilgrimage, and who was so entranced by the bishop’s words that he returned to his mother’s faith, which he abandoned many years before. Eventually, the young man, whose name was Augustine, was baptized by Ambrose who does not seem aware of the exceptional gifts of his convert, who later on would become the most influential theologian for the West since the apostle Paul.

St. Augustine’s spiritual journey can be readily read in his autobiographical memoir entitled “The Confessions”. Born of St. Monica, an arduous and devout Christian in the year 354, in the little town of Tagaste, North Africa, his father was a pagan Roman official. Eventually, though his mother’s intercession, his father was converted to Christianity. While pursuing the best education his parents can offer in Madura and later, Carthage, Augustine’s sexual proclivity resulted in a love-child named Adeodatus, which means “given by God.” After suffering from sickness, Adeodatus died sometime later. His reading of the works of Cicero, a famous orator, lawyer and philosopher led him to Manicheism. According to its founder, Mani, the human predicament is the presence in each of us of two principles: “light,” which is spiritual, and “darkness,” which is matter. Salvation then is consists in separating the two elements and in preparing our spirit for its return to the realm of pure light, in which it will be absorbed. Later on, he became disappointed with the teachings of Manicheism and became a Neoplatonist. However, because of Monica’s insistence coupled with prayers, the young Augustine attended the church of Ambrose to check him out and listen to his sermons. As a professor of rhetoric, Augustine appreciated Ambrose’s exposition of Scripture and as time went by, became an admirer. Soon, Augustine’s major intellectual difficulties with Christianity had been solved with the help of Ambrose. After a few years, Augustine’s fame as a theologian spread and when he visited Hippo, its bishop, Valerius, took interest in him and ordained him to serve the latter at Hippo. Four years later, he was made bishop jointly with Valerius who feared that another church might steal his catch. When Bishop Valerius died later on, Augustine became the sole bishop of Hippo.

Many of Augustine’s first writings were attempts to refute the Manichees and later on, the Donatists, then against Pelagius. A significant contribution to theology was Augustine’s view of our bondage to sin and the monergism of God’s grace in predestination. That is why both Catholics and Protestants consider Augustine as their theologian par excellence. He was the last of the great leaders of the Imperial Church in the West. When he died, the Vandals were at the gates of Hippo, announcing a new age. Before we completely leave the discussion of the Imperial age however, there were St. John Chrysostom and St. Jerome.

John of Constantinople, named Chrysostom (golden-mouthed) on account of his eloquence, came into the world of Christian parents in the year 344 in the City of Antioch. He studied rhetoric under the pagan Libanius, the most famous orator of the age. A lawyer by profession, he thereafter in 374, began to lead the life of an Anchorite in the mountains near Antioch but in 386 the poor state of his health forced him to return to Antioch where he was ordained a presbyter. In 398, he was elevated to the See of Constantinople and became on the greatest lights of the Church. Nevertheless, John had enemies in high places such as Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria and the powerful Empress Eudoxia who sought to bring several false accusations against him in a farce council resulting in his exile. The Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches honor him as a saint and count him among the Three Holy Hierarchs, together with Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus. John is known chiefly as a preacher, theologian and liturgist. One of his significant contributions to the church is the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

Last but certainly not the least in his contributions to Christianity, was St. Jerome. Jerome is known for his translation of the Scriptures into Latin, the prevailing “international language” of that time. He made the Bible accessible to the Latin speaking West and later on, his translation, known as “the Vulgate”, became the official version of the Roman church. Jerome tried the life of a hermit but conceded that he was not made for it. Ironically, in spite of his lustful weakness to women, he found a great deal of help amidst a group of rich and devout women who lived in the place of a widow, Albina. Besides Albina, the most prominent members of the group in whom Jerome found solace were her widowed daughter Marcella, Ambrose’s sister Marcellina, and the scholarly Paula, who with her daughter Eustochium, would play a leading role in the rest of Jerome’s life.

Emperors and Theologians

cappadocian-fathers

In reading church history, I came across the stories about the significant men of the fourth century, namely, Emperor Julian the Apostate; Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria; and the Great Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus.

Julian’s father was a half-brother of Constantine, and therefore Julian was a first cousin to the three emperors, the surviving sons of Constantine, namely: Constantine II, Constans and Constantius II. Sometime thereafter, Constantius became the sole emperor of the Empire. Because Consantius had no children who could aid him in government, he decided to call on his cousin Gallus and gave him the title of “caesar,” that is, of junior emperor as the emperor then was called “augustus.” As rumors spread that Gallus was conspiring against Constantius, the latter had the former arrested and beheaded just a few years after having made him caesar. Constantius then decided to set aside the bad experience with Gallus and called his one surviving relative to share his power and giving him the title of caesar and appointing him to rule in Gaul. Unexpectedly, Julian, who had spent his life among books and philosophers, became a great ruler but Constantius gave him little support. When Constantius suddenly died prior to marching against Julian, the latter had no difficulty in marching to Constantinople and claiming the rule of the whole empire.

Although baptized and raised a Christian, Julian sought both to restore the lost glory of paganism and to impede the progress of Christianity. This religious policy earned him the title by which history knows him: “the Apostate.” Rather than persecuting Christians, Julian followed a two-pronged policy of hindering their progress and ridiculing them. He even wrote a work Against the Galileans. Despite his animosity towards Christianity, Julian applied what he learned therefrom in reinvigorating paganism, including the adoption of the clergy hierarchy similar to that which was observed by the church at that time. As he was moving along in enforcing his anti-Christian policies, he died unexpectedly.

The next great figure of antiquity was Athanasius of Alexandria. Athanasius is well known because of his significant contribution during the Council of Nicea. Being so dark and short, his enemies called him “the black dwarf.” Although the time and place of his birth are not known, it is assumed that he was Coptic in ethnicity due to the language that he spoke and his complexion. Therefore, he was a member of the lower classes in Egypt. After the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, most people thought that the Arian problem has been finally dealt with. However, not long after the death of Constantine did the Arians regain supremacy due to the influence of the new emperor, Constantius II who was himself a staunch supporter of Arianism. As a convinced Arian, Emperor Constantius felt the need to rid himself of the champion of the Nicene faith. Instead of banishing Athanasius, by the use of force, Constantius ordered a synod to condemn Athanasius. Athanasius took refuge among the monks of the desert to whom he had a close relationship. Although Athanasius never saw the final victory of the cause to which he devoted his life, his writings clearly show that he was convinced that in the end Arianism would be defeated. As he approached his old age, he saw emerge around himself a new generation of theologians devoted to the same cause. Most remarkable among these were the Great Cappadocians, to whom we now turn our attention.

They are called Cappadocians because they hail from the region of Cappadocia in the southern Asia Minor, in lands now belonging to Muslim Turkey. The first two, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa were bothers. However, unknown to most people, their sister Macrina played a major role in the Christian life of Basil when due to his studies in Caesarea, he became vain and especially after their brother Naucratius had died unexpectedly. Macrina became Basil’s counselor since he was so badly shaken due to his close relationship with Naucratius. Macrina spent the rest of her life in monastic retreat in Annesi. Her fame was such that she was simply called “the Teacher.”

In Annesi, Basil and his friend, the other Cappadocian Father and later Patriarch of Constantinople, Gregory of Nazianzus, founded a community of men similar to the one Macrina had founded for women. They believed that the core of monastic life is service to others; hence, the necessity of community life for one who lives alone has no one to serve. Basil also wrote rules to be followed in the monastic life.

Prophets of the Eighth Century

I have read pages 303 to 337 of Reading the Old Testament by Rev. Fr. Lawrence Boadt, CSP. Boadt discussed the rise of prophecy during the exilic period of Israel’s history. These prophets such as Amos, Hosea and Isaiah, were known by the Jews as the “Latter Prophets”. He notes that Amos marks a turning point in our understanding of prophecy since up to that time; our knowledge of prophecy depends on stories about the prophets, from Samuel and Nathan to Elijah and Elisha. From Amos on, we can study and examine their actual words. The author also significantly notes the similarity of the Jewish prophetic wordings to those used by the pagan prophets, also called “diviners” or “oracles”, of the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms.

Amos’ basic message stresses God’s moral rule over the entire world and the divine demands for justice and concern for the outcast and oppressed; and yet, since God has specially chosen Israel and entered into a relationship of knowing and loving them, He holds the nation particularly responsible for a just and upright way of life.

As for Hosea, Fr. Lawrence divides the book into three sections: (a) Chapters 1-3 describe in different ways the broken marriage between God and His people and serve as a kind of preface to the rest of the book; (b) chapters 4-13 gather the actual oracles delivered by Hosea throughout his ministry; and (c) chapter 14 stands as a closing vision of hope after judgment.

After discussing Isaiah’s prophecy, the author took up Micah of Moresheth who looked out at the same nation as Isaiah and saw the same injustices and evil everywhere. He divides the Book of Micah into four parts which alternate between judgment and hope, to wit: (a) 1:1-3:12 describe the oracles of judgment against both Samaria and Judah; (b) 4:1-5:15 records oracles of hope and restoration; (c) 6:1-7:7 is a legal trial against Israel for its sins; and (d) a vision of God’s victory over Israel’s enemies.

The Wisdom of God

I have read pages 278 to 288 of An Introduction to the Old Testament by Temper Longman and Raymond Dillard along with pages 71 to 78 of a book of the same title but authored by David Carr.

In Carr’s book, the chapter looked at some texts in the Bible that contain strong “echoes” of past ancient empires in the biblical texts, specifically the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. These echoes may indicate that these texts were written during the early monarchy when scribes were most dependent on foreign models in creating the first Israelite written corpus. Some of these texts were traditionally attributed to Solomon while others are originally anonymous.

Since Proverbs is a collection of collections, it is particularly difficult to summarize with a single theme or set of themes. Nevertheless, major features of the book include its prominent focus on female figures toward the beginning (1-9) and end (31:10-31), and its repeated emphasis on the importance of the “fear of Yahweh” (1:7, 29; 2:5; etc.) throughout.

The lead themes through most of Ecclesiastes are the absurdity of all human striving and the daily pleasures of daily life. Yet, the last verses of the book as well as isolated sections in its midst affirm the more traditional idea that good eventually is rewarded and evil punished. Many would take these more traditional affirmations to be late additions to the book.

As for Song of Songs, many readers insist that one must decide that it is either about human desire or about divine-human love. The poetry of the Song, however, is more elusive. The dense metaphors and disconnected dialogues invite readers to build their own images of what is happening. The lack of explicit divine references and other features of the Song suggest that the book was meant to evoke the drama of human love. Still, the poetry allows multiple readings, especially now that the Song stands in a Bible that elsewhere depicts God’s love for His people.