Continuing with our study of the “rummage sales” within the Christian church every five hundred years lets look at the first one. Before we start I will admit that I didn’t know much about this period of time before this study so I relied on several books on the shelves behind me and in my Kindle to help me understand. I will put those references at the end of the last post on the topic for those who are interested.
The first great rummage sale happened when the church moved from the late Roman period into the Dark ages. When Constantine made Christianity the State religion of the Roman empire around 350CE he did so primarily to try to shore up his crumbling empire. Long story short it didn’t work. Well it actually worked for a while. The Christian church became a powerful influence in the world. It became an empire religion. But then the Roman empire started imploding so did the power of the church.
Here is how Mrs. Tickle summarized this. For brevity the following was gleaned as bits and pieces from the book:
Stupendous as this reconfiguration was, and has been, for global Christianity in all three of its major parts, the agonies of the sixth century gave something of far more immediate and dramatic use to Western Christianity and culture. They gave the Western world a reconfigured form of monasticism that functioned not only as a way of private holiness but also as a way of societal and political stability….
All these things that are familiar to us now and that had been the Christianity of Constantine and his immediate successors require at least a rudimentary literacy as well as a civil stability that allows the free flow of worshipers from home or business to places of worship and godly instruction. Late fifth-century Romans had neither. What politically and culturally would very swiftly spiral down into the Dark Ages was already at work peeling the Christianity of the Early Church away from the laity and inserting into the resulting vacuum a kind of animistic, half-magical form of a bastardized Christianity that would characterize the laity and much of the minor clergy over the next few centuries.
During those centuries of darkness, and largely because of Gregory’s prescience and acumen, Western Christianity would be held in trust in Europe’s convents and monasteries. The monks and nuns would not all be pure or brilliant or even, in many cases, themselves literate. But enough of them would be so that the great treasures of the first five centuries of the Church would be preserved, and then added to, by the great minds of the Dark Ages.
Next time we will delve a little further into Gregory the Great’s role in this church transformation and talk a little more about some of the quote above, and what happened to the church during this period.