Separating the wheat of evangelization from the chaff of heresy and Islamism in awaiting the harvest
The Century of Mohammedanism - 666 raises its ugly face
Born innocently enough in 570 in the city of Mecca, the man known as the prophet Mohammed would go on to literally change the landscape of the world thrusting a new religion on nations, one that was diametrically opposed to Christianity and one which was fashioned by satan himself. It was in 610 that Mohammed began telling followers that he had visions, gaining many converts and he aroused hostility and anger among the local authorities and the aristocracy at that time. He was forced to flee into exile in Medina twelve years later to regroup and form a formidable army that toppled Mecca in 630. But that was nothing compared to what they would do next. With his death two years later, Mohammed would leave an empire that would wreak havoc on the Christian world for centuries to come right up to our present time. By 643 Islamism had captured the Persian empire and from there it was an easy march into Jerusalem where in 661 the fourth caliph was murdered and replaced by the Omayyad dynasty. But five years later a new breakaway sect came into prominence known as the Shi'ites, a ruthless band who believed the caliph who had been murdered Ali was the legitimate successor of Mohammed. In addition, they rejected the official interpretation of the Koran and set in motion that if you were not committed to Allah, you must die! This included Christians who were dedicated to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Where before paganism and heresy were the greatest threats to the Church, in the year 666 the Shi'ite Muslims, spewing their form of ruthless Islamism, became the main threat to all Christendom. Note the year - 666! It is not a coincidence. The Blessed Virgin Mary imparted to respected locutionist priest Father Don Stefano Gobbi on June 17, 1989 the significance of this year regarding the number of the beast: "666 indicated once, that is to say, for the first time, expresses the year 666, six hundred and sixty-six. In this period of history, the antichrist is manifested through the phenomenon of Islam, which directly denies the mystery of the Divine Trinity and the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Islamism, with its military force, breaks loose everywhere, destroying all the ancient Christian communities, and invades Europe and it is only through my extraordinary motherly intervention, begged for powerfully by the Holy Father, that it does not succeed in destroying Christianity completely."
This was the first peg in the triumverate of these two New Testament millenniums, building to the next 1332 which would be 666 times twice and issue in the Protestant Revolt. For now we remain in the seventh century in this review, focusing on the Church during this turbulent time. While Mohammedans were overrunning Western Asia, Africa and lower Spain, the Church in the East was convulsed with unceasing theological disputes as they Eastern Church had to contend with the violent interference from the Byzantine emperors on ecclesiastical questions. While things tended toward decay in the East, new Church life was being awakened in England, Scotland and Ireland and from the British Isles to Germany and Switzerland, especially in the eighth century with the emergence of the man known as the apostle of Germany - Saint Boniface. The seventh century saw the most Popes to rule during one centennial - twenty. In 628, when the Byzantines conquered Persia, the Emperor Heraclius recovered the True Cross which had been placed Constantinople by Saint Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. In 649, Pope Saint Martin I convened the Lateran Council to condemn two erroneous theses promulgated by Heraclius and his successor Constans II in order for Rome to attempt to reconcile the heretics of Monophysitism with Holy Mother Church. The Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680, also known as Constantinople III condemend Monothelitism, the heresy that Jesus had only one will - the Divine and not human will. As the century ended anti-Rome sentiment was growing in the East because of the celibacy issue.
The Century of Saint Boniface and Evangelization
The seven hundreds could be noted as a century of growth for the Church when emperors came on board, carrying the standard of Holy Mother Church into battle against the vandals and followers of Mohammed. The emergence of St. Boniface and his being dispatched to Germany by Pope Gregory II played a significant role in this century of evangelization. Boniface received a martyr's crown in 753 and, like the blood of the early Christians, his death sowed the seeds of Catholicism throughout northern Europe. Add to this the conversion of Pepin II who virtually ruled the entire Frankish kingdom. His son Charles Martel defeated the Arabs in 732, and Martel's son Pepin III founded the Carolingian dynasty in 751 in which he granted certain lands to the Holy See which would be the beginning of the Papal States. The empire would be inherited by his son Charlemagne who became the sole ruler in 771 and, as the century ended he was crowned by Pope Saint Leo III as the first Holy Roman Emperor, setting in motion a line of rulers who should have worked in alignment with Rome in all things, but too often the greed and political power-mongering kept the sovereign pontiff and emperor at odds. Also at odds were those who believed images were important for worship and reverence and those who believed they were idolatry. From this arose the sticky wicket of iconoclasm in the East and it wasn't until 787 when the Council of Nicaea II (7th Ecumenical Council) confirmed the time-honored and pious veneration of images, thus condemning iconoclasm just as most of the twelve Popes during the eighth century had recommended, reaffirming the decree by Pope Gregory III at a Synod in Rome in 731.
The Century of Splitting and Schism
With Charlemagne constituted as the protector of the Church, he became the chief among all Christian princes of the West. The Holy Roman Emperor's son Louis the Pious would share his inheritance with his three sons and therein began the split of the empire as internal conflict among Charles the Bald, Louis II and Louis the German caused demarcation lines in the empire forming the outlines of modern France and Germany. This occurred in 843 at the Treaty of Verdun. Meanwhile the Vikings were invading Ireland and settling in on the emerald isle as the Saxons, Norsemen, Swedes, Norwegians and Bohemians were being converted by the droves. It was during this time, however, that Paschius Radbertus originated the first controversy on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in which John Erigena appeared as a forerunner of the more dangerous Zwingli. In the East the Byzantine Patriarch Photius was doing all he could to separate the Eastern Church from Rome and he was successful when the 8th Ecumenical Council in 869 condemned him and he took many of the churches with him and formed the Eastern Orthodox Church, thus inaugurating the Great Schism in the East. Twenty-one Popes ruled during the ninth century with the first pontiff Pope Saint Leo III reigning the longest.
The Century of Delineation and Division
The final century of the first millennium began with the founding of one of the most famous Benedictine monasteries in the world - the Monastery of Cluny in France by William, Duke of Aquitaine. From these hallowed walls would emerge great scholars that would exert powerful influences on the Church and nations. A record number twenty-six pontiffs ruled during the tenth century with four antipopes during this time. It was also the time that brought us Otto the Great, the Holy Roman Emperor who would revive Charlemagne's kingdom. Late in the ninth century rulers in Poland, Russia, and Hungary were converted, opening the door for the true faith to penetrate these borders where it has been solid in the former ever since, giving us our present Pope. The feasts of All Saints and All Souls are added to the liturgy by Saint Odilo, Abbot of Cluny and Pope John XV becomes the first sovereign pontiff to officially decree canonization of a saint, elevating Saint Ulrich of Augsburg and proclaiming his feast be celebrated by the entire universal Church. The first millennium with the appointment of the first French pontiff Pope Sylvester II. As we shall see in future installments how the French Popes throughout the centuries, especially during the Avignon captivity, played a significant role in Church policy.
In the next installment we shall enter into the second millennium and the medieval times where God would rise up great saints such as Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Dominic, and Popes such as Pope Saint Gregory VII to guide Holy Mother Church through the Era of the Crusades as we continue our review of the first thirteen hundred plus years in the history of the Mass and Holy Mother Church.