From Peter to Gregory the Great
Since there are so many installments in this on-going megaseries on the causes and effects of the annals of Church history and how Holy Mother Church played such a pivotal role in world events and cultures, we felt it best to interrupt our chronology at this point to review the first thirteen hundred plus years. The reason for this is to highlight the first 600 years and then the next 600 years, both pivotal periods in the overall scope of our present third 600 years which actually climax this year with the third millennium on the horizon just over a year away.
The Century of the New Covenant
The first 600 years incorporated the establishment of Christianity - the struggles and persecutions. The first century could be called "The Century of the Apostles and Their Disciples." The Old Covenant was being supplanted by the New Covenant - a Testament left by Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior Who came that man might be redeemed. He left us the greatest legacy we could want - His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and the seven sacraments, most notably the Holy Eucharist in the hands of His personalized appointed bridge-builder - Saint Peter to whom Our Lord gave this fisherman the Keys of the Kingdom (cf. Matthew 16: 18-19) and promised He would be with us until the consummation of the world (cf. Matthew 28: 19-20). The city that had been the seat of the Old Testament - Jerusalem - was destroyed in 70 A.D. and the city of its conqueror became the new headquarters for the New Covenant: Rome. Peter and Saint Paul were largely responsible for the spread of Christianity along with the eleven other apostles and the many, many disciples they recruited. During that first century they chronicled much of their progress, passing down the teachings of their Master. Paul clung to Antioch and Constantinople while Peter chose Rome which grew in greater stature and eventually became the heart and soul of Christianity as Peter established his rule in Rome and passed it down to his successors who also claimed the eternal city. But the city and empire were ruled by men who didn't understand this Christian phenomenon and, because of their ignorance and pagan beliefs, considered Christianity a threat. Therefore they sought to eliminate this upstart, but, true to Christ's words it could not be killed. Oh, they tried and have been trying for 20 centuries but the Scriptures bear out why the Church has stood strong through it all. From the blood of martyrs sprouted the seeds of faith. The Holy Mass became a staple of the Christian's day and the word "Catholic" was first employed by Saint Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Smyrneans.
The Second and Third Centuries: Apologists need offer no apologies
Eleven Popes ruled the second century which increased to 15 in the third century, all saints. Because the majority of the teachings were by word of mouth, heresies sprouted up. From Druidism to Ophitism, then Manichaeism, Arianism, Donatism and Nestorianism to name just a few. To combat these God raised up great apologists such as Quadratus, Aristides, Justin, Athenagoras, Tatian, Theophilus, Tertullian, Origen and other illustrious men to successfully deny and refute the unfounded calumnies uttered by the pagans against Christianity. But their replies, while met with an influx in conversions, also created more resentment among the pagan Romans and their emperors and violent repression ensuied under the Emperors Trajan, Adrian, Marcus Aurelius, Septimus Severus, Decius, Valerian and Diocletian. This forced many to flee - either to the catacombs or to the outer regions of the empire such as the mideast and Africa where many established hermitages to "get away from it all" and thus, the first monastic monks began with Saint Anthony of Egypt and Saint Paul of Thebes being the first hermits. After twenty true successors of Peter, the first antipope Novatian surfaced in 251, the first of 34 antipopes in Church History from 258 to the last one in 1449 - Felix V. Bishoprics multiplied in the far points of the empire in Spain with a strong presence in Toledo, Leon, Tarragona, Cordova and Elvira as well as dioceses in northern Africa, Euroasia, France, England and the Rhine countries. Throughout all of this expansion martyrs swelled the ranks as they gave their lives for what they truly believed.
The Century of the Great Church Fathers and Constantine
In the fourth century the Christians were finally delivered from their exile by the decree of Constantine who ended the "age of martyrdom" with the proclamation that Christianity would be the state religion. Former pagan temples were converted to churches, basilicas and cathedrals. From the Roman coffers great sums were turned over to the Church to rebuild. In 325 the first General or Ecumenical Council was held at Nicaea in which the Arian heresy was condemned. Fifteen years later the father of Church history Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, died. But taking his place were great theologians and scholars, the greatest being Saint Augustine, Saint Ambrose, Saint Cyril, and Saint John Chrysostom. It was during the fourth century that Ufila, bishop of the Western Goths, first translated the bible into Gothic which would be a significant event in that the ensuing centuries would see the conversions of these warriors from the north and intermarriages that would establish the cultures of Europe to this present day.
The Century of fending off the Infidels
In the beginning of the fifth century Rome was overrun and plundered by the Goths under the despot Alaric. Despite this devastation, the Holy See survived as the Vandals moved south into Africa invading Alexandria. More ruthless than the Goths were the hordes from the far-east in Mongolia and those regions. They had already ravaged China and were advancing on Rome, laying a path of desolation in their wake, but at the gates of Rome in 449 the 45th successor of Peter Pope Saint Leo the Great met the infidel leader of the Huns Attilla. All thought Rome was gone and the Pope was toast, but through Leo's prayers, courage and perseverance and a generous helping from the Holy Spirit, Atilla saw the writing on the wall - literally in the sky behind Leo and turned tail, superstitious that to conquer Rome was paramount to disaster for him and his tribes. All Italy was saved and the Church was left with rebuilding as the Roman empire sank farther into decline. The Church looked outward - extending the faith to the far regions of the empire in Ireland thanks to Saint Patrick's efforts, and held two General Councils - the first at Ephesus in 431 which declared Nestorius a heretic and established the dogma that there is one person in Christ and confirmed the dignity of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God; the second - the Fourth General Council at Chalcedon - condemned the teaching of Eutyches and confirmed that there are two distinct natures in Christ - the divine and the human, hypostatically united in one divine person. Because of the glorious 21 years of Leo's pontificate, there were only eleven pontiffs who ruled in the four hundreds. In 476 the mighty Roman Empire fell during the reign of Emperor Romulus Agustulus and twenty years later an event took place that would have great ramifications for the spread of Christianity with the conversion and baptism of the lord of the Franks King Clovis.
The Century of Modern Monasticism
The raids of the Vandals, Ostrogoths and Visigoths took their toll. With the fall of the Roman Empire new centers rose up as Constantinople became the center of classic learning and influence and the Byzantine Empire resurged to the forefront politically and culturally. Thus evolved the Eastern Orthodox Church which took its rich traditions from the cultural traditions of the Greeks and Slavs. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian tried vainly to reunite the Roman Empire by restoring the old western empire by retaking the Vandal kingdom in North Africa, the Visigoth kingdom in Spain, and the Ostrogoth kingdom in Italy. His greatest achievement and legacy was the "Code of Justinian" which would become the cornerstone of western European law through the centuries. Another law was also established, one that would have great results and produce countless saints and intercessory prayer through the centuries. This was the Rule of Saint Benedict whose monastic rule became the foundation of monasticism in all ages for the Church. He founded the Benedictine Order which, until the thirteenth century remained the primary religious order of the Church. The Benedictines worked relentlessly and prayerfull for the civilization of Europe, for the development of the Church, and, most importantly, for the salvation of souls. This century of modern monasticism ended with the emergence of another great Supreme Pontiff in the mold of Leo the Great - Pope Saint Gregory the Great to whom we attribute as the father of the medieval papacy, the creator of Gregorian chant, and a great scholar of the Church as a Doctor of the Church whose decrees made great inroads into establishing the Church as a major player from that point on in world events. One event that we will cover in depth in the next installment is the rise of Islam and its founder Mohammed who was born in 570 in the city of Mecca in what is today Saudi Arabia. The tremendous expansion and threat of Islamism played into the hands of satan as we cover the first pivotal date in the triumverate of these two New Testament millenniums - the year 666 in the next installment as we continue our review of the first thirteen hundred plus years in the History of the Mass and Holy Mother Church.