The history of the Catholic Church is a weird and wild one. It's not something to be proud of when you look at it as a whole. From Constantine to the modern child-sex scandals, there are a lot of things to be ashamed of. But when you pick it apart, you can find the good strewn about with monks and saints and good people who did good things in the name of Christ. But that over-arching corruption and violence is probably why most churches today don't really bother teaching its congregations how things got started. Oh, sure we know about Jesus gathering up some fishermen, Paul and his miraculous turnaround (and later uptight letters), and Augustine and his prayer journals where he sweat over his insatiable sex-drive. But as I was reading the last couple of days, I was struck by an idea that Piers Paul Read brought up in his book The Templars. The idea of Roman Catholicism is taken for granted, but what we history students have to realize is that though this is the oldest form of organized Christianity, there existed Christ's message before it was integrated into Roman culture. What did that look like? How Roman did those early Christians make the religion?
When Christianity was born, it was within the Roman Empire. As it grew and blossomed, it took the shape of the well organized and disciplined bureaucracy upon which the Roman world was built. Jesus didn't say anything about bishops or popes or monasteries. But as the religion bumped into the culture, the Catholic Church began to take shape. And then came the fall. It wasn't sudden of course, but a gradual process of immigrants settling on the borders and barbarians looting the cities. Eventually the political government of Rome fell apart (if only to be transplanted in Constantinople), and it left a vacuum. Part of the lure for the barbaric tribes was the structure and organization of the empire. If someone didn't step up, chaos would reign and everyone would be in for it!
And just like that, there was the changing of the guard. Emperors like Constantine had offered gifts of land to the Church, making it extremely wealthy. So when the government dissipated, the clergy stepped in its place. Bishops took the place of senators. It was a nearly flawless exchange. The people needed order and the church had it ready. And suddenly the terms Roman and Christian were interchangeable. Thus rose the Roman Catholic Church, not as the religion but as the powerful, governing body. It is my belief that the motives were pure. People were in need. The Church was able to meet those needs. Once it discovered the power it held, thereafter came the corruption and disasters that we identify with that Medieval Christianity.
And before we close, we hear at History Books want to give a big ol' thank you to Benedict of Nursia.
It was Benedict who, in his Rule for monastic life, decided each monastery would be equipped with pen and parchment, and that it was their duty to not only copy the Bible but all the old Classics. The father of western monk-life gave us all the gift of ancient literature. Just think of all we could have potentially lost if Benedict didn't think conserving literature wasn't important.
Here's hoping we find our way out of the church and into the battle field soon!