Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Christianity and the Roman Empire - some mythical history


The history of Christianity is bound-up with the Roman Empire - indeed the fullness of Christianity probably depends on this Empire, in its lineal manifestations.

Christianity arose within the Empire, and retains a major centre in Rome; yet Rome fell.

Rome fell, however, after having been replaced as Imperial capital by Constantinople (the second Rome) where Christianity reached its apogee in a Christian-Roman-Greek synthesis.

The third Rome was Moscow, descendant of Constantinople.


The enemies of Christianity - who conquered the first, second and third Rome - were respectively heathens (i.e barbarians - or the relatively uncivilised), Muslims, and Communists (Leftists); these also being purposive enemies of The Good as conceptualised by Christianity although in different ways.

(Significantly, there remains an alliance, or at least unity of purpose in opposition to Christianity, between the conquerors of the three Romes.)


I get the sense that (on earth) there is meant to be Empire, and the Empire is meant to be consciously Roman (i.e. Rome-descended) and Christian.


What of the British Empire?

The mythical history of Britain in Anglo Saxon and Medieval times had us descended from Troy - that is pre-Roman.

Then we were part of the Roman Empire, then not. The loss of Empire was a massive psychological (as well as physical) trauma - one fruit of which was the Arthur legend.

Awareness of our membership of the greater Empire of Christendom, with its centre in Constantinople, seems to have been weak in Anglo Saxon Times. Yet the 'Celtic' Christianity which came from Ireland (St Patrick), Scotland and Northumbria was classically Eastern Orthodox in form: it was monastic in focus, and the holy  islands Iona and Lindisfarne prefigured Mount Athos.

From a Christian perspective, in terms of sanctity, 'Celtic' (actually Orthodox) Christianity was the high point of history in the British Isles.

Spiritually, therefore, Britain was a part of the Byzantine Empire - and this may have been more explicit than commonly realized, since around ten percent of the population fled from the Rome-backed Norman invasion from whom several thousand made their way to Constantinople and set up an English colony that lasted some centuries.


The second wave of 'Roman'-style Catholicism came up from the South East (Kent; St Augustine of Canterbury) - the restoration of linkage to Rome is palpable; and was reinforced by the Norman kings.

However, by the time the British Empire got going, the Reformation had intervened, and the awareness of spiritual links to the Roman Empire had dissipated.

Indeed, it had been replaced by active hostility to Rome and the Holy Roman Empire since Britain had been in constant conflict with Spain, France, Central European powers. Constantinople was gone, there was no link with the Orthodox world.


Perhaps that was the major flaw in the British Empire - it 'should' have been a continuation of the Christian Roman Empire, but it was not - and the British state evolved further and further away from any genuine aspiration to a divinely-sanctioned Monarchy.


So here we are - The great Byzantine Empire now almost entirely a matter of history, its memory vilified; yet retaining its power to inspire. Our task being to live among its ever-crumbling ruins, loyal to the spiritual ideal.



Gyan said...

Weren't the barbarian conquerors of Rome already Christian (of Arian variety, same as the Emperor of Constantinople ?

Also you are missing the Holy Roman Empire and its emperor . A medieval European would have referred to this Emperor as the successor to Rome.

Daniel said...

America is no Constantinople, obviously. But there's a strong continuing tradition of Christianity (a remnant, if you will). My Scots-Irish ancestors made the rural South and Appalachian wildernesses into outposts of the Celtic tradition, via Reformation Presbyterianism, Calvinism and modified Anglicanism (with a smattering of Catholicism here and there).

My other group of ancestors, the landed English "Episcopalian" ones, have all abandoned their church. Of those that remain nominally, they have no problem with the odious Rowan Williams, which tells us all we need to know about their faith.

If the Celtic church is an attenuation of Constantinople, then the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee are an attenuation of Celtic Christianity. We have no saints to match Brendan, Patrick, and Columba, but at least we don't people the rolls of the Harvard University faculty.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ Gyan - I agree that the immiediate conquerers of Rome specifically were semi-civilized (Boethius worked for the Gothic ruler, until he was imprisoned and executed horribly) - but not those who took over the rest of the Empire; and I did name-check the HRE.

@Daniel - Well yes. The 'Scots-Irish' (actually English-Scotch borderers, I believe - such as my own ancestors) are a good example of how devout Christianity can be found combined with bad behavior!

The US Episcopalians (especially the Bishops) seem to have led the apostatsy of the Anglican Church - since the Synod have been trying to retain them, while also retaining the Africans. Or at least that was the excuse that liberalizers used.

You might enjoy this:

Their 'hero' is a certain 'Bishop' name of Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Anonymous said...

While it is fashionable in some circles to equate the various heresies of Antiquity and the Medieval era with the Protestant traditions of the Renaissance and Modern times,Arians were not Christians - The doctrine of the created Son precludes valid Baptism,and any communion of mind or spirit with the Church of Christ.

josh said...

Somewhat off topic. I just wanted to say that I had never heard of the original "New England", so thanks for an hour of the most interesting reading I've done this week. What a nice little corner of the internet we've carved out.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Josh - yes, it's fascinating. I came across this in the works of Fr Andrew Phillips who is an English-born Russian Orthodox Priest - and runs the really excellent web site Orthodox England. He has also self-published several books, eg on the Saints of England. which are well worth purchasing.

Jens said...

No offense to you BGC, but you are showing way too much bias to Eastern Orthodoxy. Not just here I should mention. Yes, the Byzantines were great, no mistake there. And we westerners dismiss them to our own shame. But there was a little something called Catholicism which dominated the medieval world more than the orthodox did. Not that you are spitting on them or anything. But I think your love of Seraphim Rose is getting to you, if it was a choice between the two, I'd say the Catholics were the more impactful, more succesfull of the two (and this is coming from a protestant). Even in the modern world today, the catholic church is in a better position than the Eastern orthodox, who have splintered into many smaller groups. Only the Russian church retains any of its former glory (with the possible exception of greece). Dont confuse my words, I respect the orthodox much, but sometimes you go to far. The sack of constatinople for example, was not the devastating thing you make it out to be, nor the cause of its fall. The Byzantines own infighting and loss of several major battles against the turks did that, not the crusaders (whom always get the short end of the stick with the orthodox, which is sad. They leave out Byzantines many betrayals of the crusaders themselves. Why do you think they eventually turned on them? See Rodney Stark's book, God's Battilions for example)
Other than this, I like your writing very much, please do continue it.

Sorry for my english, this is not my first language. And speaking of Rose, if the orthodox ever make him a saint, he could be an example of what a chaste homosexual can become...a holy man indeed.

dearieme said...

"Arians were not Christians": really? They thought they were, and the catholics seemed to have viewed them as heretical Christians, not as non-Christians.

"Arian variety, same as the Emperor of Constantinople": which emperor do you have in mind?