Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The great Roman Empire was large and intricate. It affected the lives of many that lived in a land that “stretched from Scotland to Central Asia, and from Austria into the Sahara.” (1) An Empire of this size needed administrators for the economy, military, politics, and more. As Christianity grew, church officials taking over the administration of areas of the Empire helped to cripple the awe-inspiring civilization and took Christianity from a matter of the soul to that of running nations.
As Christianity was accepted in the Roman culture, the status of religious leaders also grew. Pope Gelasius I saw the role of “the priests is the more weighty, since they have to render an account for even the kings of men in the divine judgment.” (2) Leading a country was not a job for the weak, yet leading the soul was for many that were stronger. As Rome was known for its leaders that led armies and political movements, it was only natural that many educated men found themselves not looking to the military or political circles to lead. They turned to the church. It was “the church deprived the empire of its natural leaders, as able and educated men chose to become bishops and abbots.” (3)
Leaders that once could have helped administer and guide the Roman Empire were leaving their state and becoming church leaders. This left fewer generals to fight the Germanic tribes that began to chip away at the once great nation. Political leaders were no longer as capable. Though Christianity was not the reason for the decline of the Roman Empire, it pulled out many of the assets that it once had and helped it to die.
Christianity was once a religion that focused on the soul and how a man lived. It was under the acceptance of the Empire of Christianity and influence of the Empire that the religion “developed a distinct and complex culture that was heavily classical, with elements of Greek philosophy, Roman law, and classical rhetoric.” (4) The Church was becoming more Romanized instead of the Empire becoming more Christianized. It began to move from an organization concerned for the soul and focused more on politics.
(1) Norman F. Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages: A Completely Revised and Expanded Edition of Medieval History, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1994), 45.
(2) Pope Gelasius I, “Gelasius I on Spiritual and Temporal Power, A.D. 494,” translated by J.H. Robinson, Readings in European History, (Boston: Ginn, 1905), pp. 72-73 via Internet Medieval Source Book.
(3) Cantor, 42.
(4) Ibid, 39.