Thursday, May 7, 2015

Saving the West

The fall of Rome as Rome was essentially complete in the wreckage of Justinian’s wake.  What remained of the Empire was based in Constantinople and the east.  Europe was left to the barbarians…and the church – a church in a relatively disorganized state.  Perhaps the most important institution of the church in building and rebuilding Western Europe was the Order of Saint Benedict:

The monastery at Subiaco in Italy, established by Saint Benedict of Nursia circa 529, was the first of the dozen monasteries he founded. He later founded the Abbey of Monte Cassino.  There is no evidence, however, that he intended to found an order and the Rule of Saint Benedict presupposes the autonomy of each community.

Interesting – a decentralized monastic order that was to become one of the central institutions in rebuilding civilization in Europe. 

The term Order as here applied to the spiritual family of St. Benedict is used in a sense differing somewhat from that in which it is applied to other religious orders. In its ordinary meaning the term implies one complete religious family, made up of a number of monasteries, all of which are subject to a common superior or "general" who usually resides either in Rome or in the mother-house of the order, if there be one…This system of centralized authority has never entered into the organization of the Benedictine Order. There is no general or common superior over the whole order other than the pope himself, and the order consists, so to speak, of what are practically a number of orders, called "congregations", each of which is autonomous; all are united, not under the obedience to one general superior, but only by the spiritual bond of allegiance to the same Rule….

What would you call a decentralized system of governance and organization, voluntarily joined, submitting only to a common rule?  But I digress…

Not to suggest that a Benedictine monk lived a life of freedom as the secular world might describe it.  He lived a life of implicit obedience, obedience to the abbot.  It was a life of absolute submission.  Then again, it was most certainly not the life of the hermits of the Middle East.  From Davis:

It was here, perhaps, that the main achievement of Benedictine monasticism lay, because it succeeded in diverting religious enthusiasm from ‘record-breaking’ feats of asceticism into the life of an ordered community.

After Benedict, the key figure in this story is Gregory, a monk from the Benedictine order who became Pope in 590 – in the wake of Justinian’s failed folly.  According to Davis, under Gregory “the Papacy begins to emerge in its medieval form”; John Calvin would describe him as the last good pope.

Gregory was born during the times of Justinian’s attempts to rebuild empire.  He was born of a prominent senatorial family; his great-great-grandfather was Pope Felix III.  Gregory lived in a Rome that had been overrun several times during Justinian’s Gothic War.  He was pessimistic regarding the empire – little wonder, given his environment.

In Gregory’s opinion, the decay of imperial power, of Romania, and civilization all betokened that the world was rapidly drawing to its end.  The Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.

He became a monk and, critically important, a monk of the Benedictine type.  In 579, Pope Pelagius II made him a deacon and sent him to Constantinople to beg for troops for the defense of Italy.  Gregory spent six years in the eastern capital, ultimately receiving no help from the emperor.

After the death of Pelagius, Gregory was elected pope.  Before and during his time, the church was greatly increasing in material wealth – for example, landowners who found it impossible to pay taxes would surrender their land to the bishop.  In the meantime, administration of the western empire continued to break down:

As the administration of the Empire broke down, so the Church stepped in to save as much as could be saved of Romania, and the logical development of this process was reached in the eighth century when it was found that the Pope was a temporal as well as spiritual ruler, being in possession of the Papal States.

The roots of the Papal States were already visible in Gregory’s time.  Gregory had lands to defend; he also represented the last remnant of the order that was Rome.  For both reasons, Gregory once again approached the emperor in Constantinople for reinforcements for defense.  No support was forthcoming. 

If you can’t beat them, join them: Gregory then decided to make peace with the Lombards.  Through this, Gregory got the emperor’s attention; the emperor blamed Gregory for his “simplicity” in pursuing such a policy.  Gregory proceeded as planned.

Once this step with the Lombards was taken, the remainder of Gregory’s mission became clear.  Gregory evangelized Europe:

Pope Gregory had strong convictions on missions: "Almighty God places good men in authority that He may impart through them the gifts of His mercy to their subjects.”… He is credited with re-energizing the Church's missionary work among the non-Christian peoples of northern Europe.

With Gregory’s direction, the Benedictine missionaries evangelized England, and from there to Germany.  These were not “Romans” being evangelized, but the so-called barbarians.  As the Church spread, he established the form of church government: “bishops being supervised by their archbishop, and archbishops by the Pope.”

Hence, Gregory “saved” the west:

What made him so specially great was that, at a time when the imperial power was crumbling and when the world seemed to be coming to an end, Gregory undertook the task of saving the Church.

Civilization requires governance – not government in its current form, but governance.  The Church, in addition to the custom of the Germanic tribes, provided this.

The Church was one of the key institutions – if not the key institution – of medieval Europe; a foundation and fount of industry and learning, a source of governance.  The Church offered a governing structure competing with the power of kings – often beneficial to those out of favor with either king or church. 

By building the Church, Gregory built (or rebuilt, if you prefer) the foundation for civilization in the west. 

(I don’t believe, however, that this is what Gregory had in mind.)


  1. I long ago quit venerating The Church and no longer view it as being the fount of the West.

    I now view The Church as a huge roadblock to progress and as a parasite. I was a devout Roman Catholic for nearly 50 years, was married in The Church, and had our two children Confirmed in it. Then, a few years ago, I examined its history, tenets, and current practices, and left it.

    The Church decided against reincarnation as part of the Council of Nicaea.

    Yet, there are hints of reincarnation, from Jesus, in John 9:2, '...Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?...', i.e., the man born blind must have been a sinner before he was born, in a prior life.

    And in Matthew 11:13-14, '...For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come...', i.e., John is the reincarnation of Elijah.

    Reincarnation, if true, implies something much different from the day-to-day reality of The Church, that 'You have one chance to make it to Heaven, and to put yourself in the best position of getting there, listen to us, the priests and the rest of the hierarchy.'

    As I see it, The Church was long ago hijacked by ugly political forces that tied it to the Old Testament. What an ugly God in the OT, what a much different God in the NT. As a child, it never made sense to me, the dichotomy. Priests explained that the OT prepared the way for Jesus, that we can think of it as 'background storytelling' of sorts. I accepted that answer, until I took a clear, hard look at it a few years ago.

    With Christianity now tied to Rabbinical Judaism, if Rabbinical Judaism has ugly, misanthropic elements -- it does, just read portions of the Talmud -- it has the protection of The Church. If some powerful Jews are witting or unwitting foot soldiers of The Cabal -- as they are, along with powerful Gentiles -- they now have powerful protection in polite company.

    Marcion, son of a 2nd century bishop, had it right, I think, when he fought the move to tie the Gospels and Letters to the OT. Unfortunately, as The Church burned all copies of his Antithesis (I bet there is a copy in the Vatican Secret Archives), we only know of his argument from Tertullian's 'Against Marcionism.' Marcion's arguments, pieced together by Harnack from Tertullian and others, is cogent and powerful, and convincing to me.

    An organization that puts itself at center and teaches against a naturally hopeful truth -- that this is NOT our only life (read 'Life Before Life' and 'Proof of Heaven' for modern science-based examinations of reincarnation and the true character of 'heaven') -- must have evil at its heart, it seems to me.

    1. I write little if anything about doctrinal issues; however, as an institution it cannot be denied that the Church greatly shaped and saved European civilization during the time in question - and more for the better than the worse.

    2. @John G: The Pharisees believed in reincarnation as well as life after death. The Sadducees believed in neither of those things. The question in John 9:2 you refer to was both a question of clarification as well as a trap.

      And there is no "God of the OT" or "God of the NT". God is infinitely perfect. If He changed, that would mean that something was wrong in the "old God" and that would mean He would no longer be infinitely perfect. The OT simply shows us God's justice, and the NT shows us His love, both of which are infinite perfections. If His justice is limited by his love (or vice versa), then they cease being infinite and cease being perfections.

  2. I offer a course at an alternative learning center for home-schooled and unschooled teens: Community Economics for Sustainable Living. (Heavily influenced by Mises, Rothbard and the Austrian School). As an ice breaker, at our first meeting, I ask the kids who, in their estimation, would be the "greatest Western historical figure since the Fall of Rome." Most of the kids say Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Obama, the Beatles and we bat the question around for a while.

    Naturally, they ask me, "So who do YOU think is the greatest historical whatever," and I reply, "St. Benedict of Nursia." The kids go, "St. Who of What?" And off I go on a little rant that echoes so much of what you're saying here, that it was St. Benedict (as well as the Irish) Who Saved Civilization.

    If you have a minute, check out the course at
    Place the cursor over "Lesson Plan" and click on "Introduction."
    I think you'll get a kick out of it.
    Our minds appear to think alike. Thanks for the post on LRC!

  3. And the West was full of savages before the arrival of Christianity? Actually Rome had a good thing going until Christianity was adopted as the official religion and things went downhill fast. Likewise the birth of modern civilisation and the notion of individual rights started with the displacement of Christianity as the basis for life.

    1. Christianity and Stoicism were the moving forces that ended Roman slavery. Slavery had the advantage of limiting descent. With greater individual rights populism was one of the undermining mechanisms of Rome’s fall. Individual rights are both difficult to keep and often the source of anarchy run amok, i.e. the French Revolution. The Church’s faith-based discipline was a damper on lawlessness. Not a great system but about the best that could be hoped for during those times.


  4. Was the West 'saved'?

    What was so terrible about the Germanic tribes? What was so terrible about the Celts? I read Tacitus' 'Agricola and the Germania' long ago; my vague recollection is that he found little objectionable about their manner of living: monogamous, peaceable unless disturbed.

    What was so terrible about the American Indians? The Plains Indians were the tallest people in the world in the late 1800s (i.e., they lived a healthy life), as they were being massacred by The West. They lived in harmony with the land and minded their own business. 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,' by a white man who saw them up close, paints a picture of a principled, peaceable people who were repeatedly forced to attempt to defend themselves.

    What was so terrible about the Mexican and Central American Indians? They -- or more likely, advanced ancestors of them from Atlantis -- built stupendous structures that modern engineers cannot replicate today.

    What was so terrible about the Cathars -- a peaceable Gnostic sect -- that so angered The Church that she ordered them to be the target of the first crusade, with its slaughter of whole villages in France?

    What was so terrible about the Druids? They had colleges for teaching long-held truths -- natural and spiritual -- to its prospective priests -- both men and women -- long before 'The West' did.

    As I see it, The Church did not save the West. It merely brought 'holy' sanction to the use, and centralization, of power.

    Note -- there is dispute about the genesis of the Renaissance: some point to China as providing important technical and cultural impetus for it.

    Note -- there was widespread use of the Cross in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus, then the Spaniards. The Cross, like the Swastika, is an ancient symbol used by 'pagans' and 'naturalists' -- both of whom see God in all things -- worldwide.

    Who brought the Cross to the Americas? The Mexican, Central, and South American Indians describe Quetzocoatl as tall, fair-skinned, blue-eyed, long-haired, peaceable, who taught them how to live, and who walked on water; the parallel to Jesus is astounding.

    There are cogent arguments -- DNA links to the Mediterranean, see Gary North's recommendation of 'Old Souls in the New World', which I subsequently read -- that the Cherokee were and are one of the lost tribes of Israel. Lovely, that Western 'Christians' subdued and massacred true Israelis (members of one of the ten lost tribes; 'Jew' refers to those from the single tribe of Judah, which was not lost).

    Jesus led a simple life: no power, no riches, just helping set mankind set itself straight. He was much different from 'The Church,' with its riches and itself a great seat of power. That was the case for The Church from the beginning, and is the case for it today.

    The West, populated by Germanic, Celts, Druids, Cathars, American Indians, etc. would have progressed differently, but perfectly well, in the absence of The Church, I think.

    1. Nobody named bionic mosquito has written that the Church was perfect, or even only did good things, or never did bad things. However, the history and development of the Germanic tribes is so intertwined with the Church as to be indistinguishable. And I have written often about the value I find in Germanic law based on custom. Sadly, the Germanic tradition of law did not survive and develop further - instead being replaced by the return of the Roman.

      Trying to imagine western civilization developing and thriving without the monasteries is an alternative history difficult for me to contemplate. But I guess anything is possible - not very plausible, but possible.

    2. You believe there's no ability to be good let alone be civilised without Christianity?