chapter twenty-two

The Image of Christ's Holy Church in the shadow of Iconoclasm and Islam

    With its military might the terror of Islam slithered across land after land in the known world, devouring all the ancient Christian populations, threatening Europe as it seeped up through Spain and the southern part of Italy. As we noted in the last installment, the Muslim calendar begain in 622 and reached a crescendo in 666. This was the first warning of the antichrist and the woe that would befall Christianity through the ages including three centuries of Crusades when the blood-stained Islam flage would fly over the land where Jesus once walked. Had Holy Mother Church realized this universal threat early, possibly it could have been curbed and the Crusades never have taken place...the problems in the Mid-East today never to be recorded. But alas, it wasn't so for whatever reasons God so deigned. Remember man is given a free will and the Almighty will not encroach on this. Because the Church was so wrapped up with other heresies, pagan conversions and other threats, little notice was paid to the intrusion of Mohammedanism until it was too late. The Christian Church was soon to be surrounded by heathens; to the north the Normans and Vikings, to the west the Saxons, to the south the Muslims, and to the east the Turks and Saracens - the Byzantine Empire which sought to enforce their iconoclastic movement on the people. It was left to saintly men and women to convert as many as they could under the guidance and leadership of the popes.

    With the death of the holy Pope Saint Vitalian on January 27, 672 the 77th Successor to the Keys of the Kingdom was Pope Deusdedit II, also known as Pope Adeodatus who was elected on April 11, 672. Born in Rome, he continued the missionary efforts of his predecessor by sending numerous priests to convert the Maronites, a determined people of Armenian-Syrian origin. However he never realized the fruits of his labor, dying on June 17, 676.

    He was succeeded by Pope Donus another Roman-born pontiff elected three months later on September 2, 676. His main concern was the schism of the Church in Ravenna in Northern Italy on the Adriatic coast which he succeeded in quelling. He also encouraged all the bishops to back the effort for new schools in Germanic Gaul and in Cambridge, England which St. Vitalian had begun. It was also during his pontificate that Constantinople withstood the first long Arab siege. Having been weakened by wave upon wave of Muslim fighters, the Turckish Bulgars flooded into the area known today as Bulgaria which would further weaken the Byzantine empire. The more the empire was beseiged, the more the Byzantine Emperors clung to their iconoclastic persistence against the veneration of images and icons, persecuting a large crop of martyrs who maintained their faith despite all obstacles. It also further solidified the Greek Orthodox rite in the East, as the faithful and clergy clung to their icons.

    Pope Donus passed on in the second day of April, 678 and he was followed by the holy Pope Saint Agatho on June 27, 678. Throughout his short three year papacy there were many accounts of miraculous healings attributed to him and thus he received the title "Healer." He convened the Sixth Ecumentical Council - Constantinople III in 680 which condemned Monothelitism - the heresy that denied the humanity of Christ. Other than the Council St. Agatho was unable to quell the uprising in the East, therefore he concentrated his attention on the British Isles, solidifying his relationship with the English bishops as well as encouraging Ireland toward becoming a cultural center.

    Pope Agatho died on January 10, 681 succeeded by another holy pontif, Sicilian-born Pope Saint Leo II who assumed the papal tiara on August 17, 682 after a seven month vacancy. He became the 80th in the line of Peter and was pope for less than a year, passing away on August 3, 683. During his short stint he was the one who introduced the sprinkling of Holy Water during religious functions which he emphasized with a special pomp and circumstance that brought the faithful more into an awareness of the magesty of God.

    Leo II was followed by yet another saintly pope who also ruled less than a year. That was Roman-born Pope Saint Benedict II who was elected on June 26, 684 after a 10 month period where no pope ruled. Benedict restored the privilege of Sanctuary which had been abused by the fighting Christian factions throughout Europe who had been so bold to enter churches in search of their enemies. If someone did not acknowledge Sanctuary, that was grounds for excommunication. St. Benedict II's clout with this helped him succeed in liberating the Church from interference by the Emperor - both in Rome and Constantinople, a practice of interference that had been introduced by Justinian the Great, the Byzantine Emperor a century earlier.

    Benedict II passed to his Heavenly reward on May 8, 685 succeeded a month later by Pope John V on July 23rd. Despite St. Benedict's actions, the Byzantine Emperors interfered once again, But John V prevailed. During his short tenure he restored order to island dioceses of Sardinia and Corsica who had sought to select their own bishops. Again John V prevailed, insisting on the right of the Pope to nominate bishops there. He passed on just shy of a year as Pope on August 2, 686.

    The succession of one-year popes continued with the next successor Pope Conon who was elected on October 21, 686. His short pontificate was stained by the anarchy that prevailed in Holy Mother Church and as a victim of the sly followers of the Byzantine Emperor. He was reportedly poisoned by these spies on September 21, 687.

    Pope Saint Sergius was elected two months later on December 15, 687. He was nominated to depose the two antipopes Theodore and Paschal. His pontificate, which gave stability to the Holy See after four straight short-term popes and two antipopes. He reigned for 14 years, ushering in the 8th Century. His papacy was best known for extinguishing the schism that had risen its ugly head in Rome itself, as well as putting an end to the schism in Aquileia in far Northeastern Italy. St. Sergius is credited with introducing the Agnus Dei prayer into the Mass. This holy pope breathed his last breath on September 8, 701.

    Ephesian-born Pope John VI was the choice on October 30, 701 and he ruled the universal Church until January 11, 705. He ransomed thousands of slaves and fought the heartache of Christianity being rejected in the East and in Spain by the Saracens. He also continued the trend of his predecessors to staunchly defend the Church against the political antics of the Byzantine Emperor. With his death the College of Cardinals selected Pope John VII to lead the Church. Born in Rossano di Calabria, Italy he also refused to consent to the ambiguous claims of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian II who in retaliation massacred thousands of Christians. This heinous act drove the Latin rite followers to separate themselves more and more from the Eastern Empire, creating a gap that would eventually lead to the Eastern Church schism a little over a century later. Pope John VII died on October 18, 707.

    He was followed by Pope Sisinnius four months later on January 15, 708. His papacy lasted less than three weeks for he died on February 3, 708. Because his rule was so very short, nothing is really significant during his time in the Holy See, though he expressed often before assuming the papal throne the concern that the walls of Rome were badly in deed of repair from the constant assaults of the Lombards and the Saracens. There was no doubt they needed restoration. This was left to his successor.

    That man was Pope Constantine. Born in Syria, the 88th pontiff was selected on the Feast of the Annunciation - March 25, 708. The Saracens forcibly carried him off to Constantinople, but he stood his ground, succeeding in bring about a short form of peace between Holy Mother Church and the Emperor. Once this was accomplished he was allowed to return to Rome where he encouraged the Spanish Christians to fend off the infidel Muslims infiltrating their shores. It was Constantine who also encouraged the people to kiss the feet of the statue of St. Peter in the Vatican as a sign of obedience to Holy Mother Church. He died on April 9, 715.

    He was succeeded by Pope Saint Gregory II on May 19, 715. Almost his entire pontificate, spanning 16 years, was caught up in the struggle with the iconoclastic persistence of the Byzantine Empire, which in the Edict of Constantinople, forbade the cult of images, calling for destruction of these religious icons held so sacred by the Church. The Byzantine Emperor Leo III, better known as Leo the Isaurian tried to squelch the voice of Rome by invading Italy from the north but the Italian provinces rose up to squash his armies and from 726 up until 843 iconoclasm was shoved in the background. It was a victory for Rome which was greatly celebrated until the death of St. Gregory II on February 11, 731.

    On March 18, 731 Pope Saint Gregory III was elected to be the ninetieth successor in the line of Peter. It was during St. Gregory III's reign that Mohammedanism and Christianity went head to head in the great Battle of Tours in which Charles Martel, also known as "Charles the Hammer", king of the Franks, defeated the Moslems in France. The Moslems had conquered Arabia, Palestine, Syria, Egypt much of northern Africa and had penetrated Spain. The biggest prize they sought was France which would open up all of Europe, but they were turned away and forever the face of Europe was saved from the infidel. Meanwhile, with the iconoclastic movement curtailed in the East, Gregory III turned his full attention toward the invasions of the Lombards in Rome. Needing a boost, the Holy Father asked for and received the able assistance of Charles, king of the Franks to fend off the Lombard invaders. Because of his help, the Pope bestowed on him the title "Most Christian" which was given to each King of France from that time after. He also determined that any charitable donations to the Holy See would be called "Peter's Pence". St. Gregory III was called home by God on March 28, 741.

In the next issue, we will examine the strong link between Rome and France, forged first by King Clovis and strengthened by King Charles Martel and solidified in the annointing of Pippin as King of the Franks, the first investiture of a sovereign by a Roman pontiff. This would be climaxed by the great Charlemagne who we shall cover in the next installment.