Tag Archives: christianity

May we be Frank?

Throughout this history I’ve been trying to keep it zippy. Not too many words. No excess verbiage. Avoid the chit-chat. Anyway…to do that I’ve had to shrink down some larger-than-life personalities into one or two paragraphs. Charlemagne—also known as Carolus Magnus, Karl der Grosse, Charles the Great—is one guy who can hardly be covered in a book, let alone a blog post. But I’ll give it a whack.

After the western half of the Roman Empire fell to barbarian invasion in ad 476, civilization and culture had a tough time of it. From the north and west, people who would later become the French, the Germans, the Spanish and the Italians all fought within the empire. People from the MidEast also wanted to take over the empire. This state of constant warfare lasted more than a couple of centuries. Forget about culture—nobody could relax long enough to create art or music. Then in the 600s one tribe, the Franks, started fighting better than everybody else and a dynasty was begun—a ruling family who set up some stability and order using military power. The Carolingian Dynasty started with Charles Martel, then his son Pepin, then Charlemagne. Charlemagne was a ruler who rode at the head of his army and whupped the other armies. He brought more than peace to what had been the Roman Empire—he encouraged the arts, education and literature.

Remember that Christianity was the empire’s official religion since Theodosius. Pope Leo III was Charlemagne’s biggest fan and had Charlemagne crowned the Holy Roman Emperor in ad 800. After that, Charlemagne began a program of standardizing many parts of the Holy Roman Empire’s way of doing things. He relied on his right-hand man Alcuin of York to make much of this happen. Alcuin was a gifted innovator—he came up with cultural inventions that are part of our culture today.

F’rinstance, Charlemagne noticed that churches throughout the empire would sing a particular hymn, but each church used a different tune. He decided they should all sing a hymn using the same tune for that hymn, so Alcuin invented musical notation. With a songbook you can read how a tune should be sung. Charlemagne thought that the Roman way of writing (ALL CAPS) used up too much space and was difficult to read, so Alcuin invented upper-case and lower-case letters, like what you’re reading here.

Here’s why I’m telling you about Charlemagne. He liked Little Dennis’ Anno Domini system, so Charlemagne made AD and BC the Holy Roman Empire’s official way of numbering the years.

Just as it still is today.

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Little Dennis

dennis570

At the Council of Nicaea a lot of things were agreed upon. One thing the western and eastern halves of the Roman Empire could not agree on was when Easter should be celebrated. Each half—western and eastern—celebrated on a different date. This went on for a long time until finally in ad 525 an expert was called in. Dionysius Exiguus (his name means ‘Little Dennis’) was a scholarly monk who got the job of figuring out exactly when the Christian holy day of Easter should occur every year.

Dionysius decided to go back and find when the first Easter occurred. Jesus’ resurrection happened during the Jewish Passover—Pesach. The Jewish calendar relies on the motions of the Moon and Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Using some incredibly complicated astronomical calculations, he was able to arrive at the original date.

Dionysius realized once he’d found the date of Jesus’ resurrection, he could then figure out when Jesus was born. Jesus was 33 years old when He was crucified, so Dionysius counted back 33 years from the first Easter to get the year of Jesus’ birth.

In the past, years had been named after whoever was the imperial consul at the time. Dionysius decided it was time to change that. He named the years after Jesus, the Christian Savior. So the years beginning with Jesus’ birth are numbered and called Anno Domini (ad for short)—Latin for ‘the year of our Lord.’

By the way, Dionysius reckoned that Easter should occur on the first Sunday following the 14th day of the lunar cycle—the full moon—that falls on or after the spring equinox.

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https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/historians-european-biographies/dionysius-exiguus
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Constantine-I-Roman-emperor

You got some change coming

It may have been time-consuming to send a letter across the Roman Empire (especially by today’s standards), but the Christians spread their new religion fairly quickly. You can read in The Acts of The Apostles how Christians traveled from town to town, telling people about the Gospel. Roman roads went everywhere and were well-maintained. The Roman army kept the roads safe. Roman soldiers who’d adopted Christianity spread the Word to far-flung regions of the empire where they were garrisoned.

In earlier posts I talked about how Christians were persecuted when they were a religious minority. Emperor Constantine turned that around when he became a Christian himself and issued the Edict of Milan, which made it legal for Romans to practice whatever religion they chose.

Christians learned how to build their religion mostly thanks to letters from Saint Paul. Saint Paul was a missionary who organized Christian thought. His letters are in the New Testament of the Bible. There were still issues to iron out, so in ad 325, Constantine got all the Christian leaders together in the Anatolian town of Nicaea to agree on what Christians believe. They wrote the Nicene Creed, which Christians still recite today (you can find it in the back of your gray hymnal).

Finally, in ad 380, Emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

I spent a few posts here showing you how Christianity grew within the Roman Empire; then became the official religion; the empire split into eastern and western halves; and each half developed its own culture. I wrote earlier how the Torah (the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament) changed the way people thought about time: as a line, not a circle.

Okay—what happens next?

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Christianity In The Roman Empire


https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/ancient-medieval/christianity/a/roman-culture
https://www.britannica.com/event/First-Council-of-Nicaea-325

Constantine dreams

Persecution means to target and punish a particular person or group of people. Christians who lived in the Roman Empire suffered persecution. They weren’t allowed to worship God and were arrested and punished for not worshiping the Roman gods. Yet despite being persecuted, the followers of Christ grew in number. You can grab a bible and read all about it in The Acts of the Apostles and Saint Paul’s letters (in the New Testament).

For the Christians, a big change happened when Emperor Constantine was about to fight the Battle of Milvian Bridge in ad 312. This battle was part of a civil war—Romans fighting Romans. Constantine had been a worshiper of Apollo, the Sun god. The night before the big battle, Constantine had a dream. In his dream, he saw the sun (Apollo’s symbol)—but with a cross in front, blotting it out. Beneath the cross a Latin inscription read, “In hoc signo vinces*”—“Under this sign, you will win.” Early the next morning, Constantine ordered his troops to paint crosses on their shields. Constantine won the battle and became the sole emperor of Rome. Out of gratitude he became a Christian and issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which allowed everyone in the empire to follow whatever religion they chose without being persecuted.

The Battle o the Milvian bridge seems ideal for a rousing climactic scene in a sword & sandals movie—the hopeless odds, the clever general, a lightning strike at the enemy’s vulnerable spot, the victory as the enemy retreats in confusion. You can read about it here.

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http://www.ushistory.org/civ/6f.asp

The Growth of Christianity in the Roman Empire


https://www.britannica.com/topic/Battle-of-the-Milvian-Bridge

*EEN HOKE SEEN-yo WEEN-kays, for you pronunciation purists.