Theodosius attempts to stamp out the remnants of the Arian movement from his realm, but not before it spreads to Rome’s fiercest enemies. Paganism, on the other hand, is outlawed, and eradicated from the realm, leading to the further rise of the Christian movement. Bishop Ambrose of Milan exercises his new authority while building the church into a political and legal institution, adding to its ecclesiastical strength.
Shalom, and welcome to our history podcast. This is a production of Kingdom Preppers.org. I’m your host, Kingdom Prepper, and you’re listening to: Churchianity: Two Thousand Years of Leaven. We continue with our history.
Part 7: Christian Independence
Doctrinal disputes created deep divisions in the ancient catholic church, which often led to violence, like the Arianism problem seen at the end of our last podcast. Beginning with Constantine’s reign, these disputes forced the intervention of the sitting emperor, and all groups and parties in dispute sought the aid of the Roman government, which they hoped would crush the opposition. Constantine attempted to settle the Arian dispute by summoning an ecclesiastical council over which he presided. This idea would fruition into the sixth-century situation of the Byzantine emperor being seen as both king and priest, caesar and pope.
On the path to this kind of supreme power, the men who succeeded Constantine had to destroy two important elements that threatened the dominance of the church: Arianism and the paganism of the Roman aristocracy. The Arian adherents were too unified and too strong to be crushed by orthodox Christians without the aid of the emperor, so the leading orthodox bishops pleaded with the Roman state to step in on their behalf. Arianism had spread far and wide, and it had gathered such strength and force that Constantine was baptized by an Arian bishop on his deathbed. Even his sons who sat the throne after him sympathized with the Arian movement. By the middle of the fourth century, the opposition against Arianism was halted by powerful rulers who also sympathized with the cause. But two decades later, the emperors who assumed power would begin to favor the side of the orthodox church and reject Arianism.
When Theodosius ruled, he made sweeping changes that would stamp out the Arian problem in much of the realm, but not before great damage was done. Theodosius was an orthodox emperor who condemned the Arian movement and sought to destroy any trace of it from the eastern half of the empire, which was his domain. This was also the half where Arianism thrived. Before he could fully suppress the movement by passing laws forbidding Arians to meet, Arianism spread to the empire’s fiercest enemies. In his book, Medieval Christianty, Kevin Madigan writes:
“. . . Europe, no longer an empire but an aggregation of smaller kingdoms, now was home to practitioners of Germanic religions, to Catholic Christians, and to baptized Germans who practiced a form of Christianity that was regarded as dangerously heretical by Catholic Christians. . . .
“Born of a Cappadocian Christian family that had been captured by the Goths, Ulfilas was fluent not only in Greek and Latin but in Gothic as well. Consecrated bishop around 340 by Eusebius of Nicomedia, an Arian who was then bishop of Constantinople, Ulfilas laid the foundation by which the Goths later became Arian Christians and Gothic became a written language based on Greek. Aside from preaching an Arian creed, he translated the New Testament into Gothic. In this way, his Arian style of Christianity passed from the Goths to other Germanic tribes and moved back into the western empire when the German tribes crossed the old frontiers, established kingdoms, and began to settle.
“The western Goths, or Visigoths, terrified of the Huns (who were migrating westward from Central Asia), already occupied the banks of the Danube late in the third century, when Dacia was given to them by the Romans. . . . In a conflict over land and food, they defeated the Romans at Adrianople. Emperor Theodosius I thereafter recognized them as Roman allies and confirmed them in their possessions along the Danube.”
Christianity’s second great enemy, Roman paganism, saw a slight resurgence when Julian the Apostate, a nephew of Constantine, ascended the throne in 361. After rising to power, Emperor Julian—who was raised a Christian, but secretly embraced paganism—openly expressed his favor of the polytheistic religion and set about reversing the Christian policies put in place by Constantine and his successors. Julian was educated in Neoplatonism and was a great admirer of Greco-Roman culture. He sought to elevate classical paganism to a higher level of sophistication and made it a priority to restore the pagan Roman temples that had been abandoned by the masses who flocked to more alluring mystery religions.
Paganism was dealt a near lethal blow when Julian’s efforts were halted during a battle against the Persians.
“. . . Julian launched a Persian campaign.”
Writes Susan Wise Bauer, in The History of the Medieval World.
“In 363, he marched east with eighty-five thousand men. . . . One June day, during yet another Persian ambush, Julian was struck by a Persian spear that lodged in his lower abdomen. He was carried back to camp, where he slowly bled to death: one of only three Roman emperors to fall in battle against a foreign enemy.”
The other two were Valerian and Decius. Following Julian’s death, all emperors who rose to power after him, in both the east and the west, were thereafter Christian. But while the emperors who immediately succeeded Julian embraced Christianity, they did little to oppose paganism. It wasn’t until the last two decades of the fourth century that the church experienced vindication by gaining the support of emperors who would suppress and eventually crush paganism entirely. Gratian, an emperor of the west who ruled from 375 – 383, separated paganism from the Roman state and excluded the age-old title, Pontifex Maximus from the list of those usually associated with the emperor. No longer was a Roman emperor high priest of the Roman cult.
Gratian also ordered the pagan Altar of Victory removed from the curia, the principal meeting place of the Roman Senate in the Forum Romanum, ending centuries of dearly held tradition within the highest ranks of the state. The removal of the pagan altar led to a debate between a man named Symmachus, leader of the pagan elites, and Bishop Ambrose of Milan. Symmachus argued that all roads led to the Creator, therefore the pagan Roman religion should be left alone. Ambrose argued that Christianity was the one true religion and all others were to be destroyed. Co-Emperor Theodosius, who would later gain control of both the eastern and western halves of the empire, sided with the orthodox bishop and thereafter made the practice of the ancient rites of paganism—both in public and in private—illegal throughout the entire realm.
This new legislation, which devasted the pagan aristocracy, caused a remnant of them to rally around a Roman general who promised to restore paganism if his usurpation succeeded. The general and his army managed to take control of Rome, but Theodosius annihilated them in a final battle in 394. A year later, Theodosius would be dead, but his sons, who succeeded him as emperors in the east and the west, passed additional anti-pagan laws, and many pagan temples and sanctuaries were destroyed. Thus ended the freedom of religion in ancient Rome.
Following the events of 394, Christianity enjoyed greater privileges and saw its catholic clergy placed in equal standing with the realm’s most celebrated pagan priests. Toward the end of the fourth century, the privileges extended to the church by the orthodox emperors included the fiscal as well as the judicial variety, since the church was elevated above the common law of the empire, and was thus a state within a state. The church was in effect able to establish its own law which it steered by internal tribunals. This became canon law. Sentences passed on individuals through the realm’s imperial tribunals could be bypassed by bishops who chose to exercise the church’s right of sanctuary.
The ordinary law courts of the Roman state relinquished judicial control over the church, so its clergy was exempted from its strictures. Through the acts of the late-fourth century Roman emperors—Theodosius in particular—the ancient catholic church, for the first time in history, was fully independent of the Roman state’s imperial jurisdiction. This was all necessary in order for the church to fulfill the prophecies that pointed to its unrivaled strength, which it would later amass on its course to achieving full power.
With its newly held status as a state within a state, the church—especially in the western half of the empire—was now in a good position to withstand the prophesied invasion of the barbarians in the fifth century, which devastated the imperial Roman state and reduced the words “Roman emperor” to that of a hollow title, devoid of any power. By the time of Theodosius’s reign, the barbarians already had a foothold in the realm, but Theodosius managed to appease and pacify them, keeping them at bay. Theodosius’s successors, on the other hand, who lacked his competence, only managed to enrage their Germanic enemies. The result was that:
“[I]n 406 the Rhenish frontiers gave way, and many tribes burst across.”
Writes Norman F. Cantor, in his book, The Civilization of the Middle Ages.
“There was officially a western Roman empire until 476, but the last emperors had no influence on the course of events. They had even abandoned Rome for Ravenna in the early fifth century. This left the Eternal City open to the invaders, and the bishop of Rome emerged as the leader, taking the place of the absent emperor.
“As the Roman state disintegrated in the fifth century, the attention of men in the West came more and more to be directed to the only institution that could provide some unity and leadership to religion and education—the bishopric of Rome, the acknowledged leader of the Christian church in the West.”
The course of history was undergoing irreversible changes in this period. While Diocletian had divided the realm into east and west, Constantine, upholding this division, enacted policies that freed the church from the grip of the state, ending its persecution and imbuing it with certain freedoms and privileges. Theodosius I, the last of what is considered the great emperors, did more by destroying Christianity’s main rivals, and establishing the Christian movement as the state religion. After him, there would be no other single ruler over the entire realm, nor would the administrative aspect of the empire be reunited under one emperor.
In August of 410, Alaric, an Arian leader of the Visigoths, sacked Rome, the former capital of the empire, which sent shockwaves throughout the realm. The barbarians would become a permanent fixture in western civilization. Seeing the precarious nature of this situation, Pope Leo I, the first of the popes to assert any real influence, negotiated with barbarian kings who had invaded Italy. In 452 he requested that the city of Rome be spared by the invading Huns.
In Mysteries of the Middle Ages, Thomas Cahill writes:
“The pope and his brother bishops, all public men in their classical mode, moved quickly and deftly to secure the peace of their increasingly fractured realms (and, in the process, to aggrandize themselves). By the early fifth century, the barbarian hordes were pouring into Italy from the north and east, attracted mightily by settled farmlands and sweet vineyards. By mid-century, one massive influx—the Huns under Attila—looked to march on Rome, now a defenseless former capital. Pope Leo the Great, a bishop of massive dignity, intelligence, and purpose, traveled north to Mantua and met with Attila. The pope used every trick he had—from eloquent words to elegant panoply to a tangible aura of spiritual authority—and so impressed the Hun that he agreed to desist. It was an encounter of mythological proportions and would bolster the reputation of Rome’s bishop for centuries to come. The pope could not be withstood, not even by an unbaptized savage.”
In 455, Pope Leo again negotiated with the invading Vandals. Here we see the pope replacing the emperor as defender of the realm. It was Pope Leo I, bishop of Rome from 440 – 461, who established the foundation for the supremacy of the papal office, which would begin to reach its height under the eleventh-century popes. The Petrine doctrine, which was formulated by Pope Leo, is based on the words Yeshua spoke to Peter in Matthew 16:15 – 19. Leo’s interpretation of this exchange asserts that Yeshua intended for Peter’s supposed successors to share in his power, each being given the keys of the Kingdom, as it were. The bishop of Rome, who ruled over a city where Peter is believed to have been a missionary, and was supposedly martyred, was to be the head of the entire church, being invested with absolute authority over matters of faith and morality. The Roman pope was to be seen as Yeshua’s vicar, or substitute on earth. Again, this would not begin to be fully realized until late in the eleventh century, as the early popes failed to assert any kind of influence associated with the prestige of the papal office, aside from Leo himself.
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To be clear, the Christian independence that was realized in the late fourth and early fifth century was not extended to individuals within the institution. That independence was reserved for the leadership—bishops sitting atop the very apex. Individual conscience was under the direct control of the church hierarchy, which was just as authoritarian as the Roman state itself. The church and the state, at this time, operated in different arenas, and one did not yet absorb the other. Morals and affairs of religion were the business of bishops, not the emperor. But this was mainly true in the west, as the eastern half of the realm, centered in Constantinople, made no such distinction.
It was Ambrose, bishop of Milan, and his colleagues, who gave the church most of its structure after imperial policies were passed in its favor. It was they who developed the church into a political and legal institution complete with bureaucracy, like any sovereign government. The bishops believed that as the emperor had the charge of maintaining order within his vast realm, so too did the church leadership have the charge of maintaining the morality of the Christian body while shaping overall Christian theology. And this could be achieved through force where reasoning alone failed.
Because the church and the state were still separate and distinct in the west, tensions would mount and inevitable clashes of authority were certain. Those clashes were often centered on control of the minds of the people—and it was people who overlapped the jurisdiction of both institutions. This clash of authority could be seen early in the age of church independence, while Theodosius I was still emperor. He had ordered Bishop Ambrose to see that a synagogue was rebuilt, after a horde of angry Christians burned it to the ground. While Theodosius was an orthodox Christian and no sympathizer of those who held to religions outside of his own, he felt this incident fell within his jurisdiction of maintaining order. Bishop Ambrose disagreed, claiming that it was instead a civil matter that was to be handled by the church.
Ambrose easily won that contest, and Christian money, as he had argued, was not used to rebuild a Judahite synagogue. Another incident brought the powers of state and church into further conflict following the murder of imperial officials at the hands of Roman citizens and Theodosius’s brutal response. A governor, who had been drinking at a tavern in Pannonia suffered a drunken experience that left a popular charioteer in prison. The charioteer was set to compete the next day, but the governor refused to release him, so his fans rioted and stormed the governor’s headquarters. The governor and other officials were killed.
When Theodosius heard of the matter, he immediately retaliated by having all involved in the riot, executed. The result was a massacre of some six to seven thousand citizens of Thessalonica. Theodosius put the matter behind him, but when he attempted to enter a church in Milan, Ambrose, the bishop of that important city, refused him. Theodosius was a baptized Christian, so, despite being emperor, he was subject to church discipline in matters of morality.
Since it was understood that the emperor had overstepped his bounds, Ambrose excommunicated him, barring Theodosius from receiving the cherished sacraments as punishment for his crime. In a bizarre twist, the emperor actually yielded, humbling himself before the church by begging Ambrose to pardon him. The bishop did, and Theodosius was reinstated.
Of this, Susan Wise Bauer writes:
“The Christian historians who recorded this merely say that Theodosius then confessed his sin, did penance, and was restored. But what passes almost as a footnote is the fact that it took Theodosius eight months to do so. Standing on the steps and looking at Ambrose’s unyielding face, Theodosius must have realized that his decrees were having an unintended consequence. The single, catholic church held his empire together because it was greater than the state, greater than any national loyalty, greater than any single man. It was greater than the emperor.”
Turning once more to Norman F. Cantor, he writes that:
“Ambrose became the dominant force within the Christian church in the crucial decades of the 370s and 380s. Naturally, he brought the attitudes of a Roman official to the church and to society. With his bureaucratic cast of mind, he played a large role in moving the church toward a legalistic style of ecclesiastical life and toward the establishment of canon law as a system based on punishment, duty, office, and obligation. He was deeply concerned with obedience, believing that the role of the bishop was like that of a Roman governor. Bishops had already begun to depart from their early role as pious wise men—the spontaneous leaders of the Christian flock—and Ambrose crystallized the new concept that bishops were authoritarian figures quite separate from ordinary laypeople. A bishop dictates, decrees, and pronounces edicts, and the ordinary Christian is more apt to fear than to love him.”
With Ambrose wielding such power and influence at this early stage, we see the beginnings of a state church slowly taking shape. Ambrose only achieved the success he did because a large Christian population supported him; and counted among those Christians were emperors. In this way, Ambrose, having their ear, was able to influence state policy. This is why pagan opposition could be removed by Theodosius, and why Gratian, the young emperor susceptible to Ambrose’s control, could be moved to have the pagan altar of Victory withdrawn from the Senate.
Ambrose’s influence reached beyond emperors, however. While he presented the theory of the church existing as both a civil and ecclesiastical power, he proved, through his actions, that the church was in fact above the state in many matters, and this would pave the way for the state church that would emerge much later.
That said, the eastern half of the empire was structured quite differently from its western counterpart.
“Following Constantine’s example . . .”
Writes John M. Riddle:
“. . . the emperors maintained that they were responsible for the church’s unity, and, in most cases, that also meant giving approval for appointments to ecclesiastical offices. The emperor appointed the patriarch in Constantinople, generally considered the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Patriarch means “rule of the father,” similar to the late Latin vernacular word papa, for “father” (in English, “pope”), for the head of the Roman Church. In theory, only one “catholic” or “universal” church existed, but by the late fourth century, the eastern and western churches were separating into the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches over different theological interpretations and the inability of the emperor in Constantinople to determine the religious status of the pope residing in Rome.”
East and west, therefore, became more and more distinct over time, though there was still one Roman empire. In both halves of that empire two separate churches had begun to amass power, being led by a pope—in the case of the western church centered in Rome—or a patriarch—in the case of the eastern church centered in Constantinople. This division speaks to the prophecy found in the book of Daniel, chapter 2 in particular, where Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a statue whose various parts represent succeeding empires that would dominate the known world and control the fate of Yah’s chosen people, Israel. Rome, unlike all the other empires before it, would usurp the message of Yah’s people, and assume their role in dispensing that message to the world—albeit in a corrupted form. In that chapter, the prophet Daniel told the king:
 “ ‘You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome.  The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze,  its legs of iron. . . .’ ”
—Daniel 2:31 – 33
In verse 38 of Daniel 2, Nebuchadnezzar was told that he was the head of gold, meaning Babylon was the first kingdom in succession within the prophetic dream. We all have one head on our bodies, signifying that Babylon would be one kingdom with one ruler. But the next kingdom is associated with a chest and arms. Arms signify that the kingdom would have two regions of control, and we learn that the next empire is formed by a combination of Media and Persia.
 “. . . your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians.”
We have already shown that the Greek empire was the third succeeding Kingdom in the very first podcast of this series. And while Greece, which is represented at first by the middle or lower torso of the statue—signifying one united empire with one emperor—that kingdom is also pictured as including the thigh region, which indicates a connection to the next kingdom in line. This speaks to the Greco-Roman culture and language adopted by Rome, the statue’s “legs of iron.” Rome is seen as long legs, signifying not only its impressive span of uninterrupted rule, but also the important eventual, and permanent, division of the empire into east and west, as we see with Rome and Constantinople. This was true of the imperial administration, as well as the later ecclesiastical one, when the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches emerged as controlling forces within the empire.
Those two churches, however, which comprised one Roman empire, would go from being legs of iron, to feet of iron and clay, meaning that their iron rule would be dampened by outside forces, like the Arab invasion, the rise of independent European states, and the emergence of yet other powerful nations far west, in the new world. Those nations would share the power once wielded solely by the church, signified by the feet of iron and clay in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. The king’s dream, and the representation of that great statue, of course reaches down to our time, and many who live now will witness the culmination of Daniel’s prophetic interpretation.
That wraps it up for this episode of Churchianity: Two Thousand Years of Leaven. A production of Kingdom Preppers.org, this episode was written, produced, and hosted by yours truly, Kingdom Prepper. All praise, honor, and glory are due to my boss, Yah Elohim, and to his right hand, Yahushua HaMashiach. You can access the transcript for this episode on our website. Yah willing, our history will continue in the next podcast. Shalom.
Keywords: Ulfilas, Goths, Visigoths, Adrianople, Gratian, Symmachus, Daniel 2 31-33, Daniel 5 28, Nebuchadnezzar, legs of iron, feet of iron and clay, prophetic dream, eschatology, end times, Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, east and west, churchianity, two thousand years of leaven, history of Christianity, church history, Hebrew history, kp, kingdom preppers