Embattled on many fronts


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The Fall of the Western Roman Empire

The 5th century is a agitated century with many rearrangements on Roman lands. First of all, in 402, Honorius is obliged to transfer his capital from Milan (since 293 AD Milan was the capital of the Roman Empire) to Ravenna under pressure from the Visigoths. At that time many barbaric tribes were threatening the frontiers and  kept penetrating into Roman territory.

The fifth century is characterized by the defensive and survival efforts of the Roman civilization against the continual invasions by the Goths, Ostrogoth, Visigoths, Vandals, Alamans, Sueves, Huns and other and the Christological conflicts which triggered two more Ecumenical Councils, the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus (431) and the Fourth in Chalcedon (451).

The Ecumenical Synods clarified the position of the Virgin Mary in God’s plan of Salvation and declared her Theotokos, i.e. the Mother of God. She brought forth Christ into the world, one person in two natures (human and divine), perfect God and perfect Man.

In the Councils Pope Leo the 1st the Great, Saint and Doctor of the Church, played a decisive role. A man of Faith with great moral stature and clarity of mind, he not only resisted the heresies by his teaching and guidance to the Church, but he also left behind significant written work and letters. He also successfully prevented, in 452, the sack of Rome when Attila was advancing threateningly towards the eternal city.

The two men met on the banks of the river Mincio, in Lombardy, alone, at a distance from those who accompanied them. Actually Attila crossed the river on his mount in order to meet the elderly pontiff. What was said between them is not known. Attila, however, not only did not attack Rome, but he withdrew to the furthest bank of the Danube never to attempt to loot anymore!

This episode is extremely important! It came as a response to the pagans who were claiming that the fragmentation of the Roman Empire was due to their abandoning of their religion; the radiance of the Apostolic See was confirmed in the consciences and its political influence was strengthened!

augustine_city_of_god_320x332Almost in parallel with the above events Saint Augustine, bishop of Hippo in North Africa (nowadays Algeria), was writing the “City of God”, a work completing on pen and paper the reality to which the Successor of Peter gave form through the navigation of his boat.

In the same century we must mention Saint Genevieve, who in 451, through her prayers and her prompting of the inhabitants of Paris to prayer and repentance prevented Attila’s plans to loot the city and at t he last minute he turned against Orleans instead!

Another significant event, in 480, is the Baptism of Clovis 1st king of the Francs. At that time all the barbaric tribes flooding Europe were adherents of the heretic Arius. Through Clovis’ s baptism the Church obtains “allies” in the Catholic Faith among the barbarians, something that played a primary role in the stability which later emerged from the chaos of the continual invasions.

The Western Roman Empire capitulated in 476 AD.

Did you know…

The plural you which is used out of deference when we address persons we do not know well or who we particularly respect has its beginnings in the Roman times, namely in the period when the Empire was ruled through a tetrarchy or a triarchy or a diarchy, that is when there were two or three or four Cesars simultaneously at the helm of the Empire.

In the English language the plural form you has prevailed over the singular thou in common usage, the latter being used sometimes in certain formal prayers of the Church.

In all the European languages which have the polite plural form of address we can trace the expansion of the Roman Empire, their regions having once been part of it, for example, in French tu / toi and vous, in German Du and Sie, in Dutch jou and Uw, in Spanish tu and Usted etc.

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