Early Middle Ages (500-1000): Barbarians & the Papacy

In 413, Church Father Augustine of Hippo wrote one of his most famous works, “City of God.” It was here where Augustine made a distinction between earthly kingdoms (City of Man) ruled by man and the spiritual kingdom (City of God) which is ruled by Christ. Thus, it was this work which sparked a commitment to bring the spiritual kingdom of God on earth for as long as it lasts. Thus, in attempts to further Christendom throughout the western half of the Roman Empire, the Early Middle Ages saw the beginnings of the Roman Catholic Church and a progression towards an allegiance between Church & State.

The western half of the Roman Empire saw many conquests during the 5th century. Most notably, Alaric the Visigoth invaded Rome in 410, Attila the Hun in 453, and in 476 Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor. But who were these people invading Rome? These people were Germanic

tribes from northern Europe known as the Barbarians. By the Early Middle Ages (500-1000), Barbarian groups spread throughout the westclaiming their own regions through their conquests.

As noted by Ferguson, “It was of great significance that when the barbarian Germans swept through the western Roman world in the 5th century, they came (for the most part) not as pagans but as Arian Christians.”[1] Yet one of these pagan Germanic kings was Clovis (also a grandson Meroveus of the Merovingian Dynasty), King of the Franks (496). Clovis was known for regarding Christianity as nonsense but his wife Clotilda was a Christian. Then, one day Clovis accepted Christ through his wife’s witness by praying,”Jesus Christ, Clotilda says you are the son of God, and you can give victory to those who home in you. Give me victory, and I will be baptized. I have tried my gods and they have deserted me. I call on you.Only you save me.”Now Rome again began to ally with the Church through the Popes, even to point of crowning them as emperors. (A development of the Roman Catholic Church I will trace in the concluding paragraphs of the blog).

After a weakened Merovingian Dynasty, the Carolingians took control of the kingdom of the Franks (which became France).  From this dynasty arose Charlemagne (Charles the Great) in 771. Through Charlemagne, the Church solidified through education, liturgy, and newly built buildings. In addition to this, Charlemagne is known for his violent conquests which expanded his kingdom and the Church’s efforts. This was known as the Carolingian Renaissance, and Pop Leo III named Charlemagne the Roman emperor. Here there was a strong commitment to further Church and State relations.

As for the papacy, it found its roots in Matthew 16:18-19 and the 2nd century establishment of the city bishop. Bishops were individuals who traced back to the apostles through physical ordination and doctrinal coherence. By the 4rd century, various councils [including the Council of Antioch (341), Council of Sardica (343), and the Council of Constantinople (381)] gave ecclesiastical authority to the church leaders at Rome. There the “first pope” was Leo the Great (440-461), which fused together civic work and ministry. Thereafter, Gelasius (492-496) and Gregory the Great (590-604) further developed the office of the papacy through their ideals of Church government and ministerial efforts. These efforts ultimately led to papacy working together with Roman Emperors, and developed the Roman Catholic Church in 500.

During the Early Middle Ages, it was evident that the Church was further progressing towards Christendom. Hence, the product of this progression was the formation of the Roman Catholic Church, which further unified Church and State. The Roman Catholic Church was built on basis of bringing the City of God and the city of man together. This was to be a government which fused spiritual and civic matters. Therefore, WE AS EVANGELICALS HAVE CLEAR AND DEFINITE DISTINCTIONS FROM THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, but we should understand the reason of its formation. Ultimately, we must understand that God was and is still sovereign over all matters on earth.


[1]Ferguson, Everett. Church History. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006. 289.




Categories: Blog, Church History, Wednesday teaching