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The End of an Era


Gonzales writes, “When Augustine died, the Vandals were laying siege to the city of Hippo. Shortly thereafter, they were masters of the northern coast of Africa, Except Egypt. A few years earlier, in 410 CE, Rome had been taken and sacked by Alaric and his Goths.”1 Augustine died in in 430 AD, historians will give varying answers as to when the Patristic period ended and the Medieval period began. My instructor, Provost, Dr. Jason Duesing marks it around 500 AD.2 There is good reason for this; Catholics and Protestants alike look back at Augustine as the last great theologian of the Patristic period, but there were still much in the realm of Christological debates still occurring during the fifth century. There were two great Ecumenical councils during the fifth century (Ephesus 431 AD and Chalcedon 451 AD) that came to a consensus on the person of Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully Man yet without sin.3
During the Medieval period much of the areas discussed during the Patristic period in the East and Northern Africa were invaded by Arab Muslims.  The Eastern Empire would hold for several more centuries in the Byzantine Empire in Modern day Turkey. During the Medieval period the East (Orthodox) and West (Catholic) church were drifting apart, a final schism occurred in 1054 AD.4
With the destruction of the Western Empire by the Germanic invaders, the Bishop of Rome, who was called Pope would become a leading figure in the west, because there was no emperor. In the Eastern Byzantine Empire, the emperor would dictate ecclesiological matters. There was a brief restoration of the Western Empire under Charlemagne in the ninth century. Charlemagne was a proponent of education, but the Carolingian period would not last.5
During the eleventh and twelfth centuries reform was the name of the game, but not what we Protestant Christians understand as reform. The reform was in the form of the Monastic movement and the clergy. In the Monasteries, The Rule of Benedict for monastic life was mostly ignored, therefore reform was underway to bring the monastic life back to the Rule of Benedict. As a result of the reformation of the monasteries, a movement was made to reform the entire church. The reformation that took place in the Monasteries spilled over into ecclesiastical reform, because the popes and bishops had become feudal lords.6
Simony was rampant, because there was much power and wealth to be had as clergy. Simony, which is the buying and selling of Bishop and abbot posts was common place. The Monastics perceived that the greatest enemy to ecclesiastical reform was clerical marriage, because the Bishop and Abbey post once bought were handed down to their perspective children. A group of three reforming popes emerged; the third and most significant was Hildebrand. Hildebrand was a monk of modest upbringing from a monastery in Rome.7
The program of reformation of the clergy centered around the idea of clerical celibacy and the doing away of simony. When Hildebrand was elected pope he took the name Gregory VII, and continued his work against simony and clerical marriage. Gregory’s reformation clashed with the interest of Emperor Henry IV, but in the end the program succeeded. Therefore, Catholic clergy today must take a vow of celibacy. The power of the papacy continued to grow through the thirteenth century. While like the monastics they took a vow of celibacy, they in no way lived in poverty. In fact, many used their positions for personal profit. So, what was intended for good, was used for evil; creating the ecclesiastical monster that existed at the dawn of the protestant reformation.8


1 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 259.
2 Jason Duesing, 30,000 Foot Overview of Christian History (Instructional Video), accessed January 24, 2017, Link Private.
3 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 296-302.
4 Ibid, 295.
5 Ibid, 315-324.
6 Ibid, 330-334.
7 Ibid, 334-336.
8 Ibid, 337-344.