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The Rise of the Papacy

The Rise of the Papacy

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Published by: joshlumpkin22 on Jul 18, 2011
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Joshua LumpkinCHHI 301-D0124 April 2011
Rise of the Papacy
In
A.D.
380, Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity to be the official religion of theRoman Empire. Not long after this, in an effort to normalize Christianity, the bishops establisheda chain of command within its leadership structure that would become known as the Patriarchs,with the bishop of Rome at the top, known as the Pope.
1
Although it would not be instituted untilthe eleventh century by Pope Gregory VII, the title of pope—a derivative of the Latin wordmeaning “father”—had been used since the early church to refer to bishops in the EasternChurch.
2
Besides the Pope, the Patriarchs included the bishops of Alexandria, Antioch,Jerusalem, and Constantinople. This standardization of Christianity would be a first stride in the proliferation of authority being vested in the Roman popes, a long-awaited victory after centuriesof Christian persecution.The papacy began with Peter, a disciple of Jesus, who is considered to be the first of theRoman popes, because of the charge given to him by Christ.
3
Nearly all scholars concede thatPeter visited Rome, and that he likely died there. A notable successor of Peter was Clement,though it is unclear whether or not Clement followed Peter immediately.
4
What is undeniable isthat throughout the times of the early church, leading up to the end of the fourth century
A.D.
,Christianity suffered round after round of persecution. It appears that the moment one persecution was being laid to rest, another arose. This created in the hearts of Christians not onlya deep-seated fear of government authority, but a devotion to and an utter reliance upon each
1
Jerry H. Bentley and Herbert F. Ziegler,
Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, 2
nd 
 Ed.
(New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2003): 318.
2
J. Van Engen, “Papacy,”
 Evangelical Dictionary of Theology
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001): 888.
3
Matthew 16:18-19
4
Justo L. Gonzalez,
The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation
(New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1984): 282.
1
 
other. Near the end of the third century
A.D.
, the power structure of the Western Roman Empire began to wane, and by 306, Constantine, son of Constantius—one of the four tetrarchs of theRoman Empire, had become emperor .
5
Constantine, a pagan at the time, was in favor of unifyingthe Western and Eastern empires. His conquests brought him to the battle of the Milvian bridge,where his attempt to take Rome and its emperor, Maxentius, proved successful.
6
ThereConstantine had what can only be described as an intense spiritual experience, and wasconverted to Christianity. In 312, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, making it legal for Christians to practice their faith within the empire. With Maxentius’ defeat, Constantine becamethe emperor of the entire Roman Empire. Some time after 324, he moved the capital of theempire from Rome to his newly constructed city, Constantinople.
7
 This newfound freedom of faith-expression led Christians to spread their Gospel messagethroughout not only the empire, but beyond its borders, to Germanic people groups like theVisigoths. While for years the Visigoths lived in relative harmony with the Romans, the adventof the Huns near the end of the fourth century
A.D.
created real political chaos on through themid-fifth century, when Attila mobilized a crusade across Hungary.
8
 
While Attila the Hun diedonly years—not decades—into his campaign, it is almost impossible to overemphasize the affecthis conquest had on the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Ironically, he never ventured heavilyinto the empire, and there is no evidence to suggest he even visited Rome. However, becauseAttila began his campaign through Hungary and then moved into the borderlands of the Roman
5
Jerry H. Bentley and Herbert F. Ziegler,
Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, 2
nd 
 Ed.
(New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2003): 314.
6
Justo L. Gonzalez,
The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation
(New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1984): 126.
7
Jerry H. Bentley and Herbert F. Ziegler, 314.
8
Ibid., 315.
2
 
Empire, he pushed the Germanic tribes further into Roman territories, causing an uprising thatled to the sacking of many cities by the Visigoths, Franks and Vandals, including Rome herself.
9
 With the future of the Western Roman Empire in uncertainty, the papacy seized itsopportunity for power and influence. Reasoning for the cause of papal primacy, Gonzalez notes:It was the Germanic invasions that brought about the great upsurge in the pope’sauthority. In the East, the empire continued existing for another thousand years. But inthe West the church became the guardian of what was left of ancient civilization, as wellas 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.
 The people found themselves in social chaos, standing on the brink of a thousand years of amedieval Europe. Given the circumstances, it is not difficult to see why the church would beconsidered the light in the Dark Ages.Several grueling years would drag by before there became some semblance of order inthe West. After the fall of the western part of the empire, the western church, for all intents and purposes, came under the authority of the church in the East. As a result, the Roman popessquabbled endlessly with the Eastern emperors, in an effort to maintain some sense of controlover how the western church was ruled. Power changed hands incessantly, eventually resultingin the Acacian Schism between the East and West that would last for thirty-seven years.
11 
Though the schism ended in 519, the hostility would exist for two hundred more years until themid-eighth century, when the Roman popes completely separated from the Eastern RomanEmpire and came under the authority of surrounding kingdoms.
 In 768, Charles I, who was also known as Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, becameKing of the Franks. He began his reign with a series of military campaigns, eventually
9
Ibid., 316.
10
Justo L. Gonzalez, 282.
11
Ibid., 283.
12
J. Van Engen, “Papacy,”
 Evangelical Dictionary of Theology
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001): 888.
3

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