This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #182, titled, “The Papacy, Part 2.”
When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.
Our Scripture for today is 1 Peter 2:9-10 which reads: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”
Our History of Christianity quote today is from Jerome of Bethlehem. He said: “As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is, with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the Church is built! This is the only house where the Paschal Lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the Ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails.”
Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Papacy, Part 2” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).
Leo died in 461 and was succeeded by Hilarius [HE-LAHR-EE-US], who had been his close associate, and who continued his policies. But under the next pope, Simplicius [SIM-PLIS-EE-US], conditions changed. In 476, Odoacer [OH-DOH-AY-SER] deposed the last Western emperor, and thus began in Italy a long period of political chaos. In theory, Italy was now part of the Eastern Roman Empire. But there were constant tensions between the popes and the Eastern emperors, mostly having to do with the theological controversies to which we shall return shortly. Eventually, this resulted in a schism between East and West that would take several years to heal. This schism was further aggravated by the invasion of Italy by the Ostrogoths. Since they were Arian, tensions between them and the earlier population were unavoidable. By 498, these tensions resulted in the existence of two rival popes, one supported by the Ostrogoths and the other by Constantinople. There were violent riots in the streets of Rome, where the followers of one pope clashed with the followers of the other. At long last, after a series of synods, the conflict was resolved.
The new pope was Hormisdas [HOR-MEES-DAS] (514-523), and under his leadership a series of negotiations finally ended the schism with Constantinople. Meanwhile, the Byzantine Empire was enjoying its brief resurgence under the leadership of Emperor Justinian. It was then that Belisarius [BEL-EH-SAHR-EE-US] invaded Italy and put an end to the kingdom of the Ostrogoths. But this did not bring a favorable change for the church in Italy, for the emperor and his functionaries tried to impose there a situation similar to that which existed in the Eastern empire, where the church was almost completely subject to the state. The next few popes, for as long as Byzantium held sway, were mere puppets of Justinian and of his empress, Theodora. Those who dared follow an independent policy soon felt the consequences of imperial wrath.
As part of this revival of the Byzantine Empire, Justinian rebuilt in Constantinople the cathedral of Saint Sophia, Hagia Sophia–dedicated to Christ as Holy Wisdom. It is said that when he beheld the finished product he boasted: “Solomon, I have outdone thee!” This structure still stands, although now surrounded by minarets built after the Turkish conquest.
Byzantine power over Italy did not last long. Only six years after the last stronghold of the Ostrogoths had been conquered, the Lombards invaded the area. Had they been united, they would soon have conquered all of it. But after their first victories they broke up into several rival groups, and this slowed their advance. After Justinian’s death in 565, Byzantine power began to wane, and Constantinople could no longer maintain a strong army in Italy. Thus, those who had not been conquered by the Lombards, although still technically part of the Eastern empire, were forced to take measures for their defense. In Rome, the popes became responsible for the preservation of the city against the Lombard threat. When Benedict I died in 579, the Lombards were besieging the city. His successor, Pelagius II [PEH-LAY-JEE-US], saved it by buying the Lombards off. Then, since no help was forthcoming from Constantinople, he turned to the Franks, hoping that they would attack the Lombards from the north. Although these initial negotiations did not come to fruition, they pointed to the future, when the Franks would become the main support of the papacy.
The next pope, Gregory, was one of the ablest men ever to occupy that position. We have already met him as the person who sent Augustine and his companions in a mission to England. He was born in Rome around 540, apparently to a family of the old aristocracy. At that time Justinian reigned in Constantinople, and his generals were fighting the Ostrogoths in Italy. Belisarius [BEL-EH-SAHR-EE-US], Justinian’s ablest general, had been recalled to Constantinople, and the war dragged on. The Ostrogoth king, Totila [TOH-TEE-LAH], took the offensive for a short time. In 545, he besieged Rome, which surrendered the next year. At that time, archdeacon Pelagius [PEH-LAY-JEE-US] (later Pope Pelagius II [PEH-LAY-JEE-US]) went out to meet the victorious king and obtained from him a measure of mercy. It is likely that Gregory was at Rome at the time, and witnessed both the sufferings during the siege and Pelagius’s [PEH-LAY-JEE-US] intervention on behalf of the city. In any case, the Rome that Gregory knew was a far cry from the ancient glory of the empire. Shortly after Totila’s [TOH-TEE-LAH] victory, Belisarius [BEL-EH-SAHR-EE-US] and the Byzantines retook the city, only to lose it again. After years of neglect and repeated sieges, the city was in a grave state of chaos and mismanagement. Many of its ancient monuments and buildings had been destroyed in order to provide stones for repairing the walls. The aqueducts and the system of drainage had fallen into disrepair, and disease was rife.
Next time, we will continue looking at “The Papacy.”
Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.