11. Europe: The Christian Ferment

11.2 The Establishment of the Christian Faith

Paul, a Roman citizen endowed with the most vigorous personality, converted to the Christian faith in a flash of conscience that characterizes this type of man (e.g. Charles de Foucauld, Francis of Assisi, Hubert) 1. Paul liquidated the “by God elected group” mentality of the Torah and extended the Christian faith, originally restricted to Jews, to all people. Entrusted with a message destined to the whole world, Paul ended up in Rome while Thomas went to India, where the Christian communities he founded still thrive around Madras but are not expanding.

Besides occasional persecutions due to sadism or demagogy (Nero, 64 AD), the Roman Empire was fundamentally agnostic and tolerant of various religions within its realm, as any colonial empire intelligently administered would be. As a rule, the Roman aristocracy was agnostic but refuge in myths occurred in the face of adverse events. The main contender of Christianity was then Mithraism. This closed sect, full of mysteries and based on initiation, was open only to men and thus successful with the army. Christianity won preponderance because of its universal appeal to all men and women of good will and was readily accepted by the aristocracy, through their slaves. Slavery was a legal situation in Rome. It was not comparable to chattel slavery. Some of the most powerful and learned men of the Empire were slaves, as was also the case in the Ottoman Empire. However, contrary to the competing sects, the Christian sect wanted dominance. This irritated the governors of the Empire, who were forced to intervene against their will (e.g. Ac. 26:31-32), because of the fanaticism of the Christians.

The tension became much more acute when the moral fibre of the Empire started disintegrating. In order to reinforce it, Aurelian, in the years 200, instituted the worship of the Sun and of His Companion, the Emperor. About hundred years thereafter, Diocletian (283-305) energetically reformed the Empire, its administration, its coinage, its army, its taxation system. He radically socialized it. Diocletian replaced the laws of the market with a directed economy. He nationalized a great number of industries. The security of employment and income were guaranteed. As in contemporary Europe, butchers, bakers, constructors etc. had to follow detailed rules. Civil servants controlled every activity. Private entrepreneurs were stripped of their power of decision and crushed under taxes. Workers rested about one day for each day worked. This compares well with the situation in some contemporary European countries.

Diocletian reinforced the cult of the Emperor. Irritated by the Church’s arrogance, Diocletian initiated the most systematic and thorough persecution (in 303) the Church ever had to suffer. The total command of the State over the economic activities of the citizens made the persecution very efficacious. The Emperor struck most heavily in Rome, as he wished to eradicate the Head of the Church. At least, this is the interpretation of the Popes when they claimed leadership of the Church over other Patriarchs. In fact, the repression had stopped in the West in 306 but went on in the East until 312. It was most violent in Alexandria. The Church survived but, from then on, the Roman branch of it no longer trusted temporal powers.

11.2.1 Constantine

Diocletian retired in 305. Constantine succeeded to his father Constance Chlore (i.e. the Pale), who had participated to the persecution, to become in 306 one of the 4 co-emperors who governed the gigantic Roman empire. The persecution had generated thousands of deaths, had disrupted the social fabric of the Empire but had failed to regain the Christians to paganism. In view of this failure, Galere, a co-emperor, promulgated an edict of tolerance on April 30, 311, comforted in 313 by the decree of Milan.

Constantine converted to the Christian faith on 27 October 312. He did so in all sincerity and not by opportunism, because there was nothing for an Emperor to be gained by that. The Christian Emperor favoured the Christian Church in his domain of the Empire without in any way persecuting the pagans nor treating badly the pagan administrators, who could pursue their careers without hindrance. In 324, Constantine eliminated the last of the other co-emperors and reigned alone: from that time on, it was not Christianity that was tolerated but paganism. Constantine did in 324 something autocrats only very rarely dare do, if one takes into account Pharaoh Akhnaton and the Indian emperor Asoka who converted to Buddhism with his whole family: defy and despise the creed of the vast majority of their subjects. Constantine viewed the suppression of animal sacrifices as his own immediate most important task but he did not dare go that far. His son, Constant II, abolished this disgusting practice. Christians were between 5% to 10% of the inhabitants of the Empire (about 70 million people) and Constantine did not attempt to convert the pagans, nor did his Christian successors until Justinian, two centuries later. However, except for Julian the Apostate, all Caesars supported the Christian faith for the slow but thorough Christianisation of the Empire. With such a support, Christianity could develop in an immense empire that was the centre of the world and coextensive with civilization.

Without Constantine, the Church would have remained an avant-garde sect as it remained for 2000 years in India. Why did Constantine convert 2? Because primitive Christianity was a great, modern religion campaigning for a gigantic and loving God who had a passion for humanity, who had a gigantic plan for the saving of humanity, who demanded from his believers a strict morality, all things that the pagan gods did not envision because they lived for themselves. Jupiter cared for humans only in so far that he could copulate with Io (as a cloud), with Leda (as a swan), with Danaë (as a spell of rain) and even with the boy Ganimede, as an eagle. The Christian faith had considerably developed during the three centuries following its foundation, acquiring severe characteristics appealing to men of law and order. In the third century, the merits of Christianity had become a primary object of discussion among intellectuals throughout the Empire. These astringent rules of behaviour are still found in some aspects of Islam and in the severe and fearful Church of Ethiopia but were lost in later Christian developments, since no other religion enjoyed throughout the centuries an intellectual and spiritual enrichment equal to that of Christianity.

It was a demanding religion devised by and made for the elite, that could later in time be imposed to common people only by accretion and, indeed, about half of the Christians abandoned it when a simpler religion, Islam, was proposed to them. From its incipience, the Christian faith was defended and propagated by middle-class disciples. Peter was a fisherman who owned his boat, had helpers, possessed a house and had the means to travel to Rome. Luc was an educated physician whose writing style was elegant. Paul was an articulate, convincing and learned theologian (Act. 26:1+). This faith was a religion of love that had also acquired some philosophical connotations, giving sense to a life perceived hitherto as absurd. Christ had resurrected, which gave him an above-human authority. This newly proposed sense of life was accessible to all, was given to each man and woman by a superior god who also was a living entity. Christ was the master of Life and commanded respect. In the third century, the suffering, the humiliation, the crucifixion Christ underwent were overshadowed by the resurrection. The cross was not a symbol of torment but of triumph.

Christ must be followed and obeyed also for his ethical commands, which were given in the Table of the Laws. The cardinal role played by moral rules in Christianity was foreign to paganism. The texts of this period betray the importance to the Church of obedience and chastity: the greatest sins are disobedience (heresy) and adultery. Both will be mercilessly combated. One adored the Christian god not with the sacrifice of innocent victims but by obedience to the Law. Many bishops, and abbots in later times, were Roman aristocrats of high lineage who had exercised very important administrative functions before joining the ranks. They had no complex of inferiority and were by no means afraid to stipulate rules of conduct to the administrators, including the emperor. The authority of the bishops, the obedience to the Law, the morality of the believers, the integration of each human life in a cosmic stream were all new and appealed tremendously to the elite. The Christian faith brought new and convincing answers to the questions “From where do we come, where do we go, how do we arrive there, to whom do we obey, why and how much?” all questions that had remained unanswered by paganism and Buddhism. Penetrating philosophical questions of this type remained alien to the common people of the Empire, just as is high literature, drama and music, and they distrusted Christians. This was true also for Germanic rulers who imposed the Christian faith on their resisting subjects because it was modern, new and exciting. The new faith, complete in itself with a Holy book, proselytism, a hierarchy, dogmas, a morality, an ecclesiastic authority, a spirituality, a creed, an assembly, had to be imposed from above but also had vocation to occupy all the space.

The first Christian emperors were succeeded by Julian the apostate. He returned to paganism without any opposition and Christianity could have been then a parenthesis, as had been the parenthesis of the cult of the Sun promoted by Akhnaton. Yet, for reasons largely alien to religious concerns, the military choose as Emperor in 364 the Christian Valentinian, who was followed by his son Gratian, who himself co-opted the pious Theodose. In 380, Theodose attempted to give to the crumbling Empire its moral unity by imposing Christianity as the only official religion. He quelled an ultimate pagan rebellion on 6 September 394. From that moment, Christianity became the religion of the Empire: to be Christian meant also to be Roman even if paganism lingered further during 3 centuries, to eventually subdue by the desire of most people to be like everybody else. The progress and development of Christianity during the following centuries was associated with an adulteration of its ideals of purity and sanctity.

Theodose split the Empire between his two sons. The western poorest parts, i.e. Italy, Spain and Gaul went to Honorius while Arcadius received the rich eastern part. About sixty years later, in 456, Odoacer, a Barbarian, put the descendant of Honorius, Romulus Augustule, into retirement, sent back the Imperial Signs to Constantinople and recognized the Basileus as his suzerain. Juridically, the Empire was one again and its seat was Constantinople. The only Emperor was the Basileus.

The Patriarch of Constantinople, who wielded a tremendous power due to the presence of the Basileus, was the Basileus’ servant. In Byzantium, the final authority in spiritual matters was the Emperor. This Empire, based on the rule of Law, possessed a strong administration, a good army, a state-controlled religion, and had a prestige great enough to assimilate the barbaric tribes that penetrated its realm.

For Byzantium, the majesty of the Church was not compatible with the progressive rationalization of the Dogma. Everything was said at the Council of Nicea presided in 325 by Constantine, which closed debate forever. After that, the Orthodox Church attempted no more to add new truths to the common treasure. In contrast with Rome, it was not “veritatum novarum cupida” (eager for new truths). On the other hand, if discussion was tolerated (e.g. the sex of the angels), there must be a final authority to which one may refer. Someone must have the last word. In Byzantium, the Basileus had the last word (fig. 11.3).

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Figure 11.3. The Emperor Justinian and his court, 547 AD. Wall mosaic San Vitale, Ravenna. Bishop Maximian is on the left side of the Emperor. His name is written above his head. The Byzantine style does away with the natural world, with space, volume and movement of life. The only reality is the world of the mind and soul.

The bishops of Rome continued to claim leadership of the Church and the Basileus kept Italy within his domain only with the greatest difficulty. There was no emperor in Rome and the Papacy ascended in an anarchic world as a factor of integration and expansion. The Western part of old Romania slowly evolved a religious society characterized by a dogma continuously redefined by reason, by the ascendancy of a Church authority that rejected any meddling from a temporal power and by the maintenance of the Church’s conscience through ever renewed monachal orders.

Other schismatic and heretic Churches emerged in Africa, the Far West (Ireland, at a time when America was not known to exist) and the East. Christianity splintered up into divergent branches of which Rome was only one offshoot.

11.2.2 The dogma

Dogma today stands for arrogant declaration of opinion, and a doctrinaire is a pedantic theorist driven by stark internal logic who applies principle without allowance for circumstances. The distortion of the meaning of dogma is traced to Counter-Reform and the infallibility of the pope “ex cathedra”, which means “from the pulpit”. The dogma was, initially, discussed by theologians, commented, amended and improved. Theology was a science that evolved during centuries.

The Son of God preached in Aramean but four different writers of whom one was a Greek-educated physician wrote the gospels, not even in Aramean. The rapid extension of the creed to non-Jews considerably reduced the importance of the Old Testament (e.g. 2 Cor. 3:12-16). A Sacred Book and a tradition that could help in the stultification of the Christian Faith were absent.

11.2.2.1. Paul

“It is necessary and useful that heretics exist”, wrote Paul (1 Cor. 11:18-19). From the outset, the Church appears as a community of Dialectic. Contradiction must be brought not for the pleasure of discussion but for the Truth that may result. The Truth, although revealed in its essence once and for all, can all the time be defined and completed (see fig. 11.4).

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Figure 11.4. The evangel of St Luc, end of the 12d century. Bruges, OB, ms71. The text is abundantly commented and annotated.

The Spirit analyses all things, even the deepness of God” asserted Paul again. In the steps of Socrates and the Sceptics, a whole philosophical way of thinking peculiar to European culture is here mentioned. Practically, it means that authority can and indeed must be challenged. The fundamental difference between Socrates and Paul is that this advice was not only taught as a principle but was implemented in the Roman offshoot of Christianity.

11.2.2.2 Marcion

In the second century, Marcion tried to eliminate the Old Testament as well as parts of the New Testament that claimed too heavily continuity. The Hierarchy, essentially puritan Tertullian who thought that the end of the times was near, opposed this. This unjustified maintenance of a filiation with Judaism was, in retrospect, the most damaging error in judgement the Church ever committed.

11.2.2.3 Montanus and the Gnosis

Montanus, in the midst of persecutions, advocated an intolerant and extremist Puritanism while waiting for “the end of the times”. Thereafter arose the debate about the gnosis. The question was whether all believers were equal or if some understood the Mysteries of God better than others did. The answer of the Church was to categorically claim the equality of all believers in the eyes of God. Everyone descends from Adam, everyone is dependent on the same grace, the same sacrifice was accomplished for everyone and God only knows the price of each individual soul.

This answer sustained the courage of the American Negro slaves during their drive to freedom.

11.2.2.4 Mani

Mani, living in Persia that was out of reach of the Basileus, reintroduced the principle of Zarathustra: there are two masters of the world, equally potent. The spiritual Good opposes the material Evil. Orthodoxy, through Saint Augustine who was initially a Manicheist himself, pointed out that the Devil is no God and could thus not be put on the same level. Also, sin is not equal to matter or virtue to spirit. The greatest sin is not sexual depravation or materialism: the greatest sin was committed by an angel, Lucifer, who committed the sin of arrogance in the context of the highest spirituality.

11.2.2.5 Arianism

Arianism originated within the Empire and was a great concern for Constantine. It was based on a text of John: “because the Father is greater than I am” (14:28). It questions the divine nature of Christ as claimed by John elsewhere: “He who saw me has seen the Father” (14:9). Are Father and Son of the same essence (Greek word homoousia) or of a similar essence (homoiousia)? This difference of an iota in the two words means a capital divergence attaining the dogma at its core. The Orthodoxy defined in 321 that Christ is not a human with divine perfection (he is not homoiousia) but is God himself.

This heresy had a particular appeal to the already Christianized invading Germanic tribes who liked to see Christ as a hero. Theodoric, in a fatal error of judgement, imposed it on his Ostrogoths, as he thought his troops would be more cohesive if their religion were different from that of the subjugated Italians. This was true. Yet, he was felt therewith such an intruder that he could never rule them properly. He was poisoned and his tomb can still be seen in Ravenna (fig. 11.8). The Byzantines totally eliminated the Vandals and Ostrogoths while the Franks and Lombards embraced the orthodox catholic Faith, which made their assimilation possible.

11.2.2.6 Nestorius

Nestorianism entered the theological arena during the combat against the Arians. Nestorius, then bishop of Constantinople, could not admit that Christ, i.e. God as defined by Orthodoxy, would have turned human in order to suffer on the cross. The fact that God would be born from a woman, “anointed among all women” but still only a woman was to Nestorius incompatible with divine nature. Post-Logical-Era minds will find incongruous the claim that a creature of God was God’s mother but we are exposing the situation as it was 430 years after the birth of Christ, not as perceived today. The question then was: is Mary Theotokos (bearer of God) or rather only Christotokos (bearer of Christ) as Nestorius claimed? All the mystery of incarnation was questioned again. Orthodoxy defined in 431 that Mary was Theotokos. The council was held at Ephese, lying on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Ephese was for millenaries the world centre of the worship of Diana-Artemis, virgin Goddess daughter of Jupiter. With the place of Jesus secured in the trinitarian concept of God, what about the place of Mary in the pantheon? It was a syncretic tour de force of the Ephesians to replace Artemis by the virgin Mary, proclaimed mother of God, no less. A no-nonsense minded Muhammad will evacuate the notion of trinity, of dual nature of Christ and of virgin mother, two centuries later. He was welcomed by the Nestorians and the Monophysites. Nestorian heretic communities existed for a long time in Central Asia, in China and on the coasts of India.

The affirmation that a woman was the mother of God put Mary in such a prominent position that she was soon viewed as the fourth person adding up to the divine trinity. This was an essential element of progress for women in the Western civilization. They acquired thereby a status not attainable in any other civilization. In addition, the de facto polytheism of the Christian faith made it more acceptable to different popular sensitivities.

11.2.2.7 Monophysites

In response to Nestorius, the Alexandrians said that Christ had only one nature, the divine one. The reader who agrees is a Monophysite and heretic because he denies incarnation as well as the Nestorians. The answer of the Orthodoxy was led by Pope Leo I who had succeeded in protecting Italy from Attila (see fig. 15.2) but could not prevent the looting of Rome by the Vandals. He imposed the dogma that Christ was only one person, integrally God and integrally Human. The Egyptian Church refused this verdict (in 451) and became heretic.

Facing the absurdity of heresy, the Orthodox Fathers of the Church slowly evolved the dogma of Trinity. Julius Ist (pope from 337 to 352) succeeded in maintaining alive the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and the Council of Constantinople reached unanimity of the Christian Churches on this subject in 381. Whereas the dogma of Trinity was elaborated in the Byzantine part of the Empire, the Occidental but still Orthodox communities worried about more practical aspects of Christian morality: the theology of Liberty was at stake. Today, this problem may appear minor to readers who benefit from a freedom of thought, movement and behaviour they assume normal yet never before was permitted in History and still is forbidden in the largest part of the political and religious world at large. It was of capital importance until the 18th century. It started with Hildebrand (see 11.4.1), flared up again with Abelard (see 12.4.1.3), continued on the political level in Flanders in 1302 and attained a paroxysm with the reformation and, within the Church, with Pascal and the Jansenists (see 16.6).

11.2.2.8 Donate and Augustine

The essential question, acute and often raised because persecutions favoured treason, was the quality of the community of believers. Donate, in Cartage, asked the question in its most articulated form. Donate and his friends, animated by a violent need of justice, claimed that the communion of believers is composed solely of those who are perfect. This leads to Puritanism and subjectivism. Saint Augustine, also in Cartage, answered him in 401: one should not judge his neighbour nor should the belonging of somebody to the Church be perennially subject to the scrutiny of examinations of conscience. And sacraments, regardless of the morality of the priest administering them, have an objective value provided his bishop had duly ordained the priest.

This position of tolerance taken by Augustine with the affirmation that mankind does not live in extreme positions was capital to forge the occidental mind. There are no stark and irreconcilable positions opposing good and evil, spiritualism and materialism, holiness and depravation. There are intermediary situations and no situation is so hopeless that it cannot any more change to the better. This view was reinforced in the 13th century by the Dominicans and Franciscans, who evolved the concept of purgatory: the Church had from the onset a problem with the notion of Hell, which clashed with a religion of love. It rapidly made a dogma of the idea that there is not only Heaven and Hell but also an intermediary stage, the purgatory, where the souls judged unworthy to benefit immediately from the blessings of heaven may make penance and redeem themselves. Luther violently opposed this dogma of tolerance.

Like the Monophysites in Egypt, the persecuted Donatists felt no great loyalty for the Empire. They welcomed and actively helped the Moors, the Vandals and the Arabs.

11.2.2.9 Pelagius

This indulgent and affable Irish monk took the opposite view to Donate and, following Socrates, emphasized the natural good will of men that will bring them to the right path. This gave Augustine occasion to proclaim the reality of the Original Sin. The optimism of Pelagius was blasphemy. Man cannot sanctify himself but needs the help of Faith and Grace. The certitude of the existence of the original Sin forbids any hope of establishing on Earth the City of God. Any temporal power has its flaws. We should suffer all of them provided they do not interfere with the Christian’s drive to salvation. At the limit – but only at the limit- revolution is authorized and may become a duty.

The Low Lands’ nobility, especially the Prince of Orange, remembered this when separating from Spain. Cromwell also acted according to this point of view. It is in Augustine that Hildebrand found the arguments needed to fight Caesaro-Papism.

Mainly through Saint Augustine, the Church was provided after the Council of Chalcedony (451) with a solid body of social and political doctrines that allowed confronting schismatics and heretics and negotiate their reunification. A key to the comprehension of the Western mind comes from this religion whose perpetual discovery of new truths and perpetual attacks against Orthodoxy gave it its unique character of violent, nervous intellectualism that no other great religion knows. It gave to European culture restlessness, energy, a taste for the complex and even complication, a desire for discovery and logic and a tendency to value reasoning and action at least as much as contemplation and mysticism. The Church was for centuries at the forefront of the conquest of knowledge. It regressed after the schism of Luther and the counter-reform.

11.2.3 Destruction of the Western part of the Roman Empire

11.2.3.1 The Barbarians

In the West, Cesar extended the limits of the Empire as far as what is now Belgium (8 BC). Celtic Ireland was never occupied. Celtic continental Brittany was left largely alone and Celtic kingdoms were allowed to flourish. In the year 9 AD, the Germans inflicted terrible losses on the Roman legions, in the Teutoburg forest near Hanover. The supremacy of their arms began to be felt and further Roman expansion on the continent was halted. The Barbarians had invaded the civilized world many times before, sometimes successfully (Achaeans, Dorians, Galates) but usually were exterminated (Cimbri, Teutoni). The difference between these early invasions and those that are looming is the superior armament of the new invaders.

The first blow was delivered in 161 AD by the nomad Parths on the eastern front of the Roman Empire, before the partition. The Parths were militarily superior to the Romans in that they possessed a light and fast cavalry and they used stirrups, which gave their horsemen superior stability in combat when launching their deadly arrows. The Romans were defeated because their own cavalry was heavy, never adopted the stirrups and their chief weapon was the infantryman. The Parths were absorbed in 226 AD within the Persian Empire, which became for 400 years a shield against further barbaric invasions. When Persia attacked the Byzantines in the 600′s, the weakening of both Empires was a blessing for the Arabs.

The Germans were seen in Italy in 167 AD. Two years later, Marcus-Aurelius (emperor from 161 to 180) defeated the civilized Marcomans on the Danube. It took 13 years to eliminate them, was very costly and, by destroying these potential allies, the doors of the Empire were flung open. In the South, the Berbers plundered Spain in 177. From 250 on, Goths, Franks, Allamans, Sarmats, Vandals, Burgunds crossed the door in dispersed order and remained in the house (see fig. 11.5)

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Figure 11.5. Europe after the Great Invasions. The Arian Ostrogoths who had occupied Italy and the Balkans (Adrianople 378), the Arian Visigoths who had won the southwest of Europe and the Arian Vandals who had occupied North Africa were later defeated by Byzantine, Norman and Islamic armies. The Salian Franks will absorb the Burgonds and Alamans. These Franks occupied initially Northern France, Belgium and Holland, with Tournai as Capital City.

The barbarians who invaded Romania kept shifting places according to the fortunes of arms. Some tribes, as the Lombards, acquired preponderance only relatively late in time while others, as the Burgundians, were rapidly assimilated by their neighbours. The Vandals, who occupied North Africa, were eliminated from Spain by the Visigoths, yet gave their name to Andalusia, in Southern Spain.

Constantine moved the Capital of the Empire in 330 to Byzantium, from then on called Constantinople, but the bishop of Rome refused to leave his City and this became a tradition. Ecclesiastics belonging to the Roman Catholic Church abandon their flock under no circumstance.

In 410, Alaric’s Visigoths plundered Rome and the Emperor of the Western part of Romania moved the capital to Ravenna, much easier to defend by cavalry than was Rome. Yet, the bishop of Rome did not leave the city.

11.2.3.2 The Nomads

In 395, the first Hunnic squadrons, the moving force that sent the Barbarians running for cover towards the Empire, put foot on European soil and occupied Southern Russia for many centuries. Contrary to current belief, the Huns were a white race (Turko-Toungouse). In 450, the Huns, led by a man of genius, Attila, left the Hungarian Puszta and headed west. Attila was more than a military danger or a subject of terror. He was a threat to the principles of the agrarian civilization and the Church well understood this: “Attila, the scourge of God”. This expression adequately reflects the Christian attitude in front of the attack.

Without the intervention of the Church, the Nomad would have overrun Romania. The “Roman” branch of the Church was the core of the resistance. It organized the propaganda, described the savagery of the Huns, their lust, their carnal appetites, their feeding habits, their cruelty, their utter rejection of human and divine laws, their intemperate rages, all of which were exaggerated. In fact, Attila had spent part of his youth in Constantinople and was civilized but the Church was leading an ideological war and was well aware that some Germanic tribes would foolishly side with the Nomad, as revenge against Rome. Similarly, the crusaders foolishly sought the alliance of the Mongol against the Turk, 700 years later.

The Roman legions, the last ever to be in the field, marched against a superior enemy to protect the Roman Order, the Christian Order, the Sedentary Order. These Roman legions, composed mainly of Germans, faced the Huns and their German allies in 451 at Châlons-sur-Marne, where Attila committed the imprudence of allowing a battle of “all against all”. The issue of the battle was uncertain but Attila died a few years later and the Empire of the Steppes rolled back. Aetius, the ablest Roman general of his time, forced this unexpected issue and was rewarded by being assassinated in 454 by the emperor Valentinian, who feared his competence.

11.2.3.3 The end of the Roman Empire

This capital service was the ultimate the Roman Empire rendered. Odoacer, a Teutonic warlord, deposed the last Emperor, Romulus Augustule, in 476. The genial Theodoric and his Ostrogoths, who ably initiated a program of reconstruction, drove Odoacer out. Although Christians, Theodoric deliberately kept the Ostrogoths heretical Arians, which prevented their assimilation. Theodoric was poisoned in 526 and buried in Ravenna, where the exarque of the Basileus resided for the next 200 years. The Emperor again controlled the Roman branch of the Church.

Theodoric had spent 10 years of his adolescence in Byzantium and was not only cultivated but also civilized: he governed the city and Italy with humanness and favoured its expansion. He was succeeded by his daughter, who was also poisoned. After her death, Belisarius took Ravenna in 540. The Lombards, who had descended from the Elbe to the lower Danube, replaced the Byzantines in Northern Italy in 751. The Lombards left the harbour unattended and marshes formed, which provoked the decline of the city.

At best, the Germans in Romania were only 5% of the population. This was, however, too much for a demotivated civilization that had been fully socialized. Instead of the Barbarians being absorbed, it was the Empire that decivilized. The reasons for the fall of Rome have been analysed many times. W. Durant emphasizes that the internal reason for the downfall was the demoralization of the productive forces. Intelligent and able men took refuge in abbeys in order to escape a civil service career.

The Church slowly gained the barbarians back while organizing the fight against the Nomad and maintaining its own independent position against the various temporal powers it created. Those barbarians who abandoned their own culture and adopted that of the conquered contributed to the destruction. Those who remained unassimilated were eliminated (the Ostrogoths, the Vandals). Those who maintained their own culture while accepting Orthodox catholic Christianity (the Franks, the Burgunds, the Visigoths, the Saxons, the Lombards, the Normans) contributed greatly to the ultimate aspect of Europe and of the world. The Great Schism that produced the Roman Catholic Church as an offshoot of Orthodoxy occurred only in 1054 AD.

11.2.4 Byzantium

For a thousand years after the partition of Romania into eastern and western parts, the Basileus reigned over the richest part of Europe and the Near East. The intelligent, subtle and courageous Greeks continued the traditions of Rome until 1453 AD. This heritage of a juridical, civic and political order was well kept through this hegemonist, colonial Empire until about 500 years ago. From the time of Diocletian, the coinage of the Empire had a guaranteed content in noble metal. The Basileus never indulged in the adulteration of the coinages; the content in gold as well as its purity were maintained until the fall of the Empire. Kleptocracy at that level was unknown in Byzantium. The Roman juridical traditions were synthesized by Justinian I, promulgated in a Codex in 534 and this code remained the legal frame of the Empire until its fall. The Church, official moral fiber of the Empire, was its cement. For all the variety of people populating it, “all men are equal in the eyes of God” and the Basileus was His vicar. The iron fist of the Basileus sitting in the navel of the world ruled Byzantium, the New York of that time, the First Christian City of the World. He was the Defender of the Orthodox Faith and the Patriarch of Constantinople administered it.

The Orthodox Faith being the cement of the Empire and the Greeks having a disastrous disposition at discussion that leads to heresy and schism, monolithic and authoritarian leadership alone seemed possible to prevent separatist and autonomous movements of Syrians, North Africans, Egyptians, etc., despite the fact that they were Christians. Constantine the Great, presiding in 325 over the council of Nicaea on his own authority, defined the Orthodox dogma. Once this was done, the Basileus could not admit that it be put back again under scrutiny or changed. He could not admit innovations, especially not those introduced by a papal authority external to his realm. The Emperor had presided over the council of Nicaea before the Empire was divided and before the Emperor moved to Constantinople. Why then did the head of the Church, subject to the Basileus of course, not move also? And how many battalions had the pope?

The pope had none. When Theodoric and his Christian but heretical Ostrogoths occupied the peninsula, a Byzantine army had to take it back. For two centuries, a Byzantine exarque governed Italy from Ravenna and the Pope was reintegrated within the Empire. The elimination of the Ostrogoths, the embracing of the catholic faith by Clovis in Francia and by the Visigoths in Spain, the reintegration of the Pope within the Empire meant the elimination of the possibility of exclusive heretical faith for the ruling Germanic tribes. The germs of the cohesiveness and originality of the burgeoning European Culture were sown.

11.2.4.1 The Chaos

The Huns had transformed the rich black earth of Southern Russia, long a granary for the Greeks and Romans, into a prairie. This caused North Africa to have an increased importance for the supply of the Empire in cereals. Yet, the Vandals had occupied it in a permanent way. The Byzantines took it back but the resources of the Empire had been severely drained by this attempt to re-establish by sheer force a weak imperial authority that refused to envision a federal union. The Empire was further weakened by famines, earthquakes and pests, so that new invaders could be opposed only with difficulty.

In 540, the Huns invaded Corinth in Greece. They were driven back to Bulgaria. Forty years later, the Danube front was pierced: the Avars took Belgrade and Slavs occupied Thrace and Macedonia. Thereafter, the powerful Persia of Chorsoes entered the offensive and the Imperials were defeated at Edesse. In 620, the Persians joined forces with the Avars and besieged Constantinople. The Persians were defeated but the Balkans could not be cleansed of Slavs. It is in this chaos that Islam expanded.

11.2.4.2 The Arabs

The Basileus did not control the Semitic tribes of Arabia. These nomads took advantage of the weakness of the Empire and attempted to conquer it, basing their drive on a superior ideology: Islam. Persia, as weakened as Byzantium, did not resist. In 638, Antioch and Jerusalem fell. Then Alexandria. In 643, the whole of North Africa. The querulous mood of the Byzantines on theological matters opposing the irritable temperament of the African Church (e.g. St Augustine), the existence of persecuted Monophysites in Egypt, the heavy hand of the Byzantines in fiscal matters and their lack of interest in the agrarian economy of the province taken over from the Vandals, explain the fulgurate advance of the Muslim cavalry in that part of the Empire.

In 646, Armenia, the oldest of Christian nations, began to succumb. Thereafter, naval power came into play and Cyprus was taken. The superiority of the Muslim navy lasted until the battle of Lepantus (1571 AD).

At the beginning of the 8th century, the Bulgars appeared in the North and the Imperials were beaten in Thrace. In the meantime, the Arabs moved through Cilicia, appeared before Tarsus and ended up at the doors of Constantinople. They were defeated in 717. At that particular time, the fall of Constantinople would have meant the disappearance of the whole of the Christian world. Even considering that the ways of God are impenetrable and the future unpredictable, there are many chances that all of us, in the 21st century, would have spoken Arabic as a lingua franca. The Imperial victory was of paramount importance. From that time, the Byzantines resumed again the reconquest that was definitely jeopardized only by the Turks.

The Serbs in the Balkans were Christianized by Constantinople and pacified but the pagan Bulgars defeated the Byzantine armies in 811, followed by a siege of Constantinople. The worst was avoided but the threat subsisted even after the Bulgar conversion in 864. In 1014, the Basileus inflicted on them the disaster of Cimbalougon where all Bulgar prisoners had their eyes pierced with the exception of three hundred who lost only one eye. From then on, Byzantium had its northern frontier secure but the unwarranted barbarity inflicted on the Bulgars ruined for ever the possibility of a great Orthodox alliance to oppose Arabs, Franks and Turks. These enemies were eventually faced in dispersed order because the Basileus insisted on monolithic political authority. He could not envision a federal union. In a true crusading spirit, the Byzantines slowly drove the Muslims back: Crete was liberated in 961 and Cyprus in 964.

11.2.4.3 The Turks

The Seljucid Turks left their Turkistan steppes and conquered Persia in 1051, followed by Mesopotamia (1055) and Syria. In 1071 occurred the disaster of Manzikiert: the Byzantine army was smashed and the Basileus taken prisoner. How could this have happened? The threats faced by Byzantium at that moment were by no means comparable to those the empire had successfully faced in former times. No imperial administrator foresaw the military disaster and the ensuing downfall. The fact is that former military intrigues had made the civilian rulers extremely distrustful about the army, whose strength they consistently weakened. The city’s population felt secure behind the formidable defences of the town and saw no reason to improve them nor strengthen its armed forces, army and navy, despite the evidence of the necessity to maintain them, and readily followed the policy of the civilian administrators. These rulers, preoccupied mainly by palace intrigues and luxurious frivolities, were only a shadow of those former commanders and diplomats who had brought the empire to its zenith. Finally, barbarians had occupied the Balkans in a permanent way and closed the imperial road that linked Constantinople and Salonique to the West : Byzantium was politically isolated, militarily emasculated and diplomatically blunted. The separation from Rome became then an evidence, as well as the attempt of the Western Christians to seize power and replace the Basileus by either the Pope or a Western Emperor. Byzantium was an empty shell and the Franks and Venetians took advantage of this to occupy the land in 1204, for the next 50 years. Yet, these greedy rustic new rulers were content to empty the city of its richness but had no idea of how to administer an empire; they created an havoc that was a blessing for the Turks. The great Schism between Rome and Byzantium had occurred in 1054 and Latin Christianity did not react upon the Manzikiert disaster of 1074. Five years later, Palestine was taken and the Holy Places passed under Turkish command. The Turks followed the Koran without compromise and the great pilgrimage was threatened as it never was by the tolerant Arabs. It took twenty years for Latin Christendom to realize the enormity of the danger and start the crusades. These crusades were definitely lost in 1291 with the fall of Saint John of Acre.

At least, through the joint action of Byzantines and Franks, the fall of Constantinople, which appeared imminent in 1100, receded into the future. In the mean time, in an act of greed and resentment against too subtle and cunning allies, the Franks, essentially the Venetians, plundered Constantinople and established a “Latin Empire” lasting 50 years. This occupation meant the beginning of the end for Constantinople. It never recovered from that treason and slowly declined.

Turkish armies subdued the ferocious Serbs in 1389. Bulgaria became then impossible to defend and Constantinople found itself without a hinterland. The fall of the city was postponed by the onslaught on the Turks by the Mongols first and Timberline later. Despite desperate calls for help, Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453 AD.

The Byzantines were abandoned by the West who saw in the tragedy a punishment of the Greeks for not having sincerely and completely submitted to the authority of the Pope. Moscow, which had just elected its own Metropolite in 1448 without consulting Byzantium, saw in the tragedy a punishment because, in order to save himself, the Basileus had ended the Schism at the council of Florence in 1439. Not only did the West not care, but the various national states which had just arisen began preying on the Orthodox domain and also played the Turk one against the other while in the East, Germans and Poles harassed Russia.

11.2.4.4 The Ottomans in Europe

Three years after the fall of Constantinople, the Ottomans moved north. The Roman Catholic Magyars and Orthodox Serbs stopped them near Belgrade in 1456. This unexpected victory over an enemy that had gained a reputation of invincibility was of capital importance because, at that time, the invasion of Latin lands by the Ottomans was almost bound to be definitive. The delay imposed on them by this setback allowed the West to devise the weapons needed to resist them effectively. This victory of the Magyars over the Turks in 1456 at Belgrade was remembered and lauded by the ringing of the bells of all the Roman Catholic churches in the whole of Christendom every midday at high noon (the Angelus) until about 50 years ago.

In 1526, Suleiman the Magnificent occupied nearly the whole of Hungary and the Ottomans stayed there for 150 years, which impoverished the country forever. The wave of Turkish conquest brought the sultan’s armies under the walls of Vienna in 1529 and again in 1684, about 330 years ago. By that time, the preponderance of the West in technology gave it the weapons needed to resist any onslaught on Latin lands. Parts of Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia were liberated from the Turks and integrated within an Austro-Hungarian Empire where they underwent an intense Germanisation process, which the Serbs and Hungarians fiercely opposed. After the dismemberment of the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Germanic Empires following the First World War, a demand imposed by Clemenceau at the treaty of Trianon in 1920 for which we still pay the enormous price of his shortsightedness, the Latin societies (Slovenes, Croats, Hungarians) felt attracted to the West while in the mean time rejecting Germanisation. The Orthodox constituents of the liberated domain (Serbs, Bulgars, and Greeks) were attracted by Russian Orthodoxy. The societies who had converted to Islam during the Ottoman Rule (Albanians and Kosovars, preferred soldiers in the Ottoman armies) were -and still are- perceived as a foreign body and traitors. The contemporary Albanian (Muslim) mafia is the worst foreign body Europe has to sustain today. Between the years 1995 and 2000, the Albanian mafia organized the prostitution of at least 350,000 women, now working the streets in the West. The willpower of the women, originating from the orthodox domain (Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania) is broken within a couple of weeks by daily gang raping, the confiscation of their identity papers and their transport to foreign lands (Germany, Belgium, etc.) where the customs, the ignorance of the language and the callousness of the police make them vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

References

1. H. Brugmans: Les Origines de la Civilisation Européenne (1958), L’Europe prend le large (1961) and L’Europe des Nations (1970) all three Ed. Georges Thone, 11 rue de la Commune, Liège, Belgium

2. P. Veyne: Quand notre monde est devenu chrétien. Eds. Albin Michel, 2007

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