Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

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ArcturusMengsk
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Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by ArcturusMengsk » 2008-10-14 08:09am

The Empire by the time of Romulus Augustus was in many ways already essentially 'medieval' in function: large fortified manors in the less cultivated regions sprung up to defend the locale where Imperial troops were rare or non-existent, and while it's true that the clergy had taken over many of the auspices of the Roman government, the decline of contact between the civilized regions of the Empire did lead to a gradual dissolution of Latin civilization.

England is a prime example of a region that was de-Christianized following the deposition of Augustulus and the descent of Western Europe into anarchy. Britain had been largely Christianized until the withdrawal of the Roman troops by the first decade of the fifth century; and yet the polytheist King Arwald reigned over the Isle of Wight some two centuries after the downfall of Romulus Augustulus, and Christianity was not thoroughly re-established in the British Isles until some time later. Clearly it seems that the British Christians that remained after the Roman retreat were re-subsumed into a British paganism that lasted until missionaries arrived from the mainland, and yet there is relatively little historical evidence dating from this period. The few Christians that remained in the region following this interregnum are today known by the misnomer of 'Celtic Christians', who intertwined classical Christianity with Pelagian heresy and polytheistic tendencies.

Which leads me to my question: why did the rest of Europe not go the way of England? Was Christianity truly such a dominating force in 476 that it was inevitable to outlast the state? Polytheism had been predominate in Europe as early as a century prior to the fall; it seems intuitive to me that the veneer of monotheism foisted upon the barbarians by Constantine and his followers ought to have dissolved along with the Empire - and yet it historically did not. What reason is there for this?
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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by TC Pilot » 2008-10-14 01:51pm

The other half of the empire probably helped a bunch.
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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by ArcturusMengsk » 2008-10-14 01:56pm

TC Pilot wrote:The other half of the empire probably helped a bunch.
Was there that much contact between Byzantium and the west after the fifth century, though? As far as I'm aware, after they got their collective asses kicked at Ravenna, the heirs of Zeno mostly left western Europe to its own devices, at least for the centuries immediate to the fall in the west.
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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by GrandMasterTerwynn » 2008-10-14 02:03pm

The Church. Really. By the time the Roman Empire disintegrated, Christianity was broadly consolidated into a number of centralized structures (the Roman Catholics in the west, and the Orthodox churches in the east.) These structures were the centers of learning and infrastructure, constructing convents and missions and establishing a base for the religion to pursue its aggressive proselytizing. The Church converted nobility, which provided strong impetus for their subjects to convert as well. Christian rulers gained a measure of temporal authority from their association with the Church, and the Church had tools at its disposal to maintain this top-down secular authority (namely the threat of excommunication, as well as the evolution of the ability for the sufficiently wealthy to 'buy' their way out of Purgatory through the so-called 'indulgences.') Further down the societal ladder, monasteries and convents amassed libraries of literary material and provided services to their local communities.

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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by Guardsman Bass » 2008-10-14 07:34pm

Don't forget, too, that the Church was a secular power in its own right, particularly in Italy.
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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by Fingolfin_Noldor » 2008-10-14 08:10pm

ArcturusMengsk wrote:
TC Pilot wrote:The other half of the empire probably helped a bunch.
Was there that much contact between Byzantium and the west after the fifth century, though? As far as I'm aware, after they got their collective asses kicked at Ravenna, the heirs of Zeno mostly left western Europe to its own devices, at least for the centuries immediate to the fall in the west.
Well, if I remember a Medieval class I had, the Church continued to expand via the use of missionaries who established monasteries throughout Europe. It should also be noted that many of the "barbarians" themselves adhered to some form of Christianity, be it Arianism or Chalcedonism. Later, some of them were "persuaded" to adhere to Rome's own brand of Catholicism. And then there was Charlemagne, "Emperor of the West"

As for the Byzantines, they did maintain contact. Most notably, they were darn bloody unhappy when Charlemagne was declared Emperor. Also, they still held territories in Italy at that time. So no, they still had territorial interests in Italy after Justinian's death. Anyhow, the Patriarch of the West isn't likely to be that easily forgotten, considering that the Pope was pulling all the stops to ensure that he was first among equals among all the Patriarchs and was loathe to have the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople become the majordomo over all.
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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by Zor » 2008-10-15 07:30am

The fact that the Ostrogoths were keen on emulating Roman Ways in Italy also did not hurt.

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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by Thanas » 2008-10-15 07:48pm

ArcturusMengsk wrote:The Empire by the time of Romulus Augustus was in many ways already essentially 'medieval' in function: large fortified manors in the less cultivated regions sprung up to defend the locale where Imperial troops were rare or non-existent, and while it's true that the clergy had taken over many of the auspices of the Roman government, the decline of contact between the civilized regions of the Empire did lead to a gradual dissolution of Latin civilization.
No.
England is a prime example of a region that was de-Christianized following the deposition of Augustulus and the descent of Western Europe into anarchy. Britain had been largely Christianized until the withdrawal of the Roman troops by the first decade of the fifth century;
On what grounds do you base that assessment? It is very hard to prove any kind of degree of christianization, since we do not even know how many christians there were in the whole empire. In fact, I believe Britain to be among the least christianized provinces of the Roman empire at all - it was far removed from any centre of christianity and easily among the least civilized of any Roman province. I also find it somewhat dubious that Britain is supposed to be that heavily christianized in one century of reigning christian emperors who could not eradicate paganism from their capitals.
and yet the polytheist King Arwald reigned over the Isle of Wight some two centuries after the downfall of Romulus Augustulus, and Christianity was not thoroughly re-established in the British Isles until some time later. Clearly it seems that the British Christians that remained after the Roman retreat were re-subsumed into a British paganism that lasted until missionaries arrived from the mainland, and yet there is relatively little historical evidence dating from this period. The few Christians that remained in the region following this interregnum are today known by the misnomer of 'Celtic Christians', who intertwined classical Christianity with Pelagian heresy and polytheistic tendencies.
Actually, you have to look to Ireland, which was hugely christianized. And as for the Roman retreat, it is not really documented how many people actually left Britain with the troops. The citizenry, after all, was strong enough to resist Saxon invasions far longer than one would expect from one of the poorest provinces with little military infrastructure left.
Which leads me to my question: why did the rest of Europe not go the way of England? Was Christianity truly such a dominating force in 476 that it was inevitable to outlast the state?
Yes. Christianity was the glue that kept the empire together at that point. Also, every "Barbarian" king that wanted to have laws written etc turned to the church, since they had the biggest collections of laws available. Augustine of Hippo, for example, was known to have had a larger law library than the governer of Africa himself - and that was the governor of the richest province of the Roman empire. The Romans had a very downsized administration, even in the later empire, often governing whole cities with less than a hundred appointed officials. The governer of the Roman province of Belgica secunda, for example, only had a staff of less than a thousand men and that includes his guard troops.

The situation is very different in England than in the rest of Europe as well. Whereas in Gaul, Italy and Spain the invading people were very keen to civilize themselves, even going so far as to offering high government posts to local elites (for example, one only needs to look at Cassiodorus or the many ministers of state of the frankish kingdom).

Furthermore, the people who had a great deal invested in the church, like the ancient Roman nobility (the Anicii Glabriones being the best known case, they are also known as the family that "invented" the papalcy) had a great deal of wealth and money, even in the later days of the empire. They had vast riches, even rivaling the emperor (for example, the biggest church in Constantinople until the Hagia Sophia was a gift of just one member of that family to the city of Constantinople) and may be considered the first global citizens. They also had the money to invest in huge private armies and protec their property. Sure, they suffered losses, but they were never extinct. Their dominance was only broken in the ninth century, when power began to shift to the Holy Roman Emperor who then was powerful enough to appoint popes.
Polytheism had been predominate in Europe as early as a century prior to the fall; it seems intuitive to me that the veneer of monotheism foisted upon the barbarians by Constantine and his followers ought to have dissolved along with the Empire - and yet it historically did not. What reason is there for this?
Why should it dissolve? What advantages did Polytheism have at that point that Christianity did not?

ArcturusMengsk wrote:
TC Pilot wrote:The other half of the empire probably helped a bunch.
Was there that much contact between Byzantium and the west after the fifth century, though? As far as I'm aware, after they got their collective asses kicked at Ravenna, the heirs of Zeno mostly left western Europe to its own devices, at least for the centuries immediate to the fall in the west.
That statement is wrong in every aspect. I find it puzzling you have never heard of Justinian or his CIC - after all, almost every continental book of law is derived from it. The Byzantine Empire maintained a huge presence in the west until the death of Manoel Kommenos. They were involved in almost everything happening in France, Germany and Italy, be it via going to war, bribery, enormous cultural influence and a very smart marriage policy.

Byzantium was, even after the ascension of Charlemagne, considered to be the strongest christian power until Manzikert. And even after Manzikert, it was considered to be the most civilized country until 1204. One only needs to look at the Solidus and its enormous impact - where do you think the word soldier comes from? It was up to the high middle ages the only recognized currency by every state for a reason.
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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by RedImperator » 2008-10-16 03:46pm

Two things to remember about the Romans:

1) During their rise, they subverted local authority structures, not obliterate them. The rich and powerful of the civilized provinces were descended from the kings of the barbarian tribes the Romans conquered.

2) During their fall, local authority structures didn't implode the moment the legions left, not even in Britain or Dacia. The barbarians generally just placed themselves on the top of these structures, in place of the Emperor.

And the Church grafted itself tightly to these structures once it became legal. It suffered setbacks as Imperial authority faded, but in large swaths of the Western Roman Empire, it kept on functioning as if nothing had happened. And anyway, even if the barbarians had destroyed the Church, 1) they were mostly Christian themselves, and 2) there wasn't any other religion to step into the vacuum. Islam didn't exist, Judaism didn't proselytize, Zoroastrianism was the faith of the hated Persians, and the old pagan gods were long dead, except as saints and Christianized legends. Which is another problem for a pagan resurgence: the old beliefs are, by the fifth century, hopelessly entangled with Christianity. It's hard to see those religions reasserting themselves without carrying Christianity with them. A fragmented, decentralized Christianity, but Christianity nonetheless.
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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by Surlethe » 2008-10-16 04:13pm

My history prof gave an excellent visual analogy: it was as though the Roman Empire were a mold into which Christianity had been poured, and when the Empire broke apart and fell, Christianity remained.
RedImperator wrote:2) there wasn't any other religion to step into the vacuum. Islam didn't exist, Judaism didn't proselytize, Zoroastrianism was the faith of the hated Persians, and the old pagan gods were long dead, except as saints and Christianized legends.
The other day, my wife was telling me about the Aryan heresy and how Clovis had nearly converted to Aryanism and not Catholicism. She opined that perhaps Aryanism could have supplanted Catholicism as the religion of Europe north of the Alps and Pyrenees, at least. What do you think of that?

Of course, being a Christian heresy, that doesn't do much to rebut the notion that nothing but Christianity, in some form or another, existed. But I thought it was interesting enough to bring up.
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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by RedImperator » 2008-10-16 06:12pm

Surlethe wrote:My history prof gave an excellent visual analogy: it was as though the Roman Empire were a mold into which Christianity had been poured, and when the Empire broke apart and fell, Christianity remained.
RedImperator wrote:2) there wasn't any other religion to step into the vacuum. Islam didn't exist, Judaism didn't proselytize, Zoroastrianism was the faith of the hated Persians, and the old pagan gods were long dead, except as saints and Christianized legends.
The other day, my wife was telling me about the Aryan heresy and how Clovis had nearly converted to Aryanism and not Catholicism. She opined that perhaps Aryanism could have supplanted Catholicism as the religion of Europe north of the Alps and Pyrenees, at least. What do you think of that?

Of course, being a Christian heresy, that doesn't do much to rebut the notion that nothing but Christianity, in some form or another, existed. But I thought it was interesting enough to bring up.
You're right, I should have been more clear I was talking about Christianity in general, not Catholicism in particular. If the barbarians chose to destroy the Church, one of the heresies may well have wound up taking its place, and certainly, if the Church was destroyed, even if it rebuilt itself it wouldn't have come out looking as it did in real history.
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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by Thanas » 2008-10-16 08:54pm

Surlethe wrote:My history prof gave an excellent visual analogy: it was as though the Roman Empire were a mold into which Christianity had been poured, and when the Empire broke apart and fell, Christianity remained.
That one is really excellent, I have to remember it.
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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by Junghalli » 2008-10-18 08:13pm

As I learned in my Roman history class in college, many of the Germanic barbarians had already been Christianized before the Empire fell. So a lot of the guys who took over afterward would have already been Christian: the Western Empire wasn't completely taken over by pagans.

Also, as I recall, the Saxon conquest of Britain was unusually brutal. So Britain may not be the most representative example.

Sorry if the thread is a little old.

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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by Fingolfin_Noldor » 2008-10-19 02:58am

RedImperator wrote:You're right, I should have been more clear I was talking about Christianity in general, not Catholicism in particular. If the barbarians chose to destroy the Church, one of the heresies may well have wound up taking its place, and certainly, if the Church was destroyed, even if it rebuilt itself it wouldn't have come out looking as it did in real history.
Well, even if the Western Church got destroyed, it would merely open a vacuum for Orthodox Catholicism to go West and firmly establish the Ecumenical Patriarch as the head of the Catholic church. History as we know it would have been radically different, not least with respect to the Crusades.
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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by Thanas » 2008-10-19 03:32am

Junghalli wrote:As I learned in my Roman history class in college, many of the Germanic barbarians had already been Christianized before the Empire fell. So a lot of the guys who took over afterward would have already been Christian: the Western Empire wasn't completely taken over by pagans.
Define most. The goths were, the vandals are more of an open question, the franks, alamanni, saxons, angles, scirii, quaddi were not.
Also, as I recall, the Saxon conquest of Britain was unusually brutal. So Britain may not be the most representative example.
Hmm. What are your sources for this?
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Re: Why did Christianity survive the fall of the Roman Empire?

Post by Imperial Overlord » 2008-10-25 02:05am

A couple points.

1) As has been mentioned, a number of the Germanic tribes were Arian (it's name comes from the originator of the heresy Arius, not wacko race theory) Christians already and the church actively sent missionaries into those areas and places like England where Christianity had taken a beating.

2) High church officials were Roman government employees and in the towns essentially inherited what survived of government functions. Unsurprisingly Christianity did well in those places.

3) Any place which ended up speaking a Romance language was essentially speaking bad Latin which meant that former Romans ended up being numerous enough that their language became the lingua franca instead of the conqueror's dialect of German (i.e. France). That in turns means they are the religious majority and more likely to religiously assimilate their new neighbors than the other way around.
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