The christianization of Europe

augustine-ethelbert
King Ethelbert meets Augustine at Canterbury

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(The content first appeared in the February 2010 issue of the Informative Bulletin of the Paphos Latin Parish)

Confronted by the chaos that followed the fall of the Western Roman Empire, by the end of the 5th century, certain strong figures stood up who tried, more through persuasion than by the arms, to resist the rage of the various barbarian tribes, firstly in order to protect the indigenous people, secondly in order to convert to Christianity that tide of conquerors who were flooding the lands of Europe.

Many are the names of those brave men who have remained in history for the role they played at rescuing the Roman civilization in the West! We mention just a few: Saint Remy bishop of Reims who baptized Clovis 1st king of the Franks, since the Franks followed their chief and they were baptized in their turn. Saint Colomban, an Irish monk and missionary with rich activity in the British Isles; Saint Augustine of Canterbury who brought Catholicism to the English, by baptizing their king Ethelbert on Pentecost Day 601 AD and, of course, specific mention is due to the holy Pope Gregory 1st the Great (540-604 AD) who inspired and organized the missionary work of the Church to the lands of the West.

To the rescue of the civilization in the West monasticism played a significant role, for the various monasteries were not only nurseries for the spiritual life and  Christian inspiration for the world, but in their libraries there were, also, manuscripts of important classical works which the monks conscientiously copied and preserved for the following generations.

The father of Western monasticism is Saint Benedict of  (480-547) who founded a monastery in Monte Cassino.  Monasticism, like in the East, quickly spread and decisively contributed, little by little, to the formation of the Christian physiognomy of Europe.

“When we address the needs of those who have not, we give to them what belongs to them, not what is ours. Moreover, we do not do works of charity, but  rather we pay a debt of justice”.

pope_gr-_detailThe above words are attributed to Pope Gregory 1st the Great and they certainly allow his character and spirituality to be discerned through them. He was a leader who knew how to, tirelessly and efficiently, serve both God and His People.

He strongly defended the independence of the Church during those difficult times from the political influence of the Byzantine court and its efforts to subjugate the Holy See to the imperial environment in Constantinople, and he emphatically protested against the heavy taxation of Byzantium which forced many to emigrate to lands occupied by the Lombards or to even sell their own children in order to be able to pay.

In actual fact, he did not desire the demise of the Lombards, but rather their conversion to the Catholic faith.

Every challenge found Gregory standing, strong, a fighter to the end.

Did you know…

saint-basilThe First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea, in 325 AD, ardently promoted in the Church the care of the poor, the sick, the widows and the orphan.

It decreed that in every city where there is a Cathedral, i.e. in every city where there is the seat of a bishop, a hospital be constructed.

Among the first Christian hospitals which were built was the one of doctor Samson (↑530 AD) in Constantinople, which functioned for six hundred yeas, and the one of Saint Basil (330-379 AD) in Cesaria. The latter was adjacent to a monastery and it provided a roof for the poor and the travelers, as well as medical care to the sick and the weak. Further away there was a department looking after the leper.

In Medieval Europe many were the religious communities, of men and women, who took care of the sick, and the charity of the Church remains, to date, a model to be imitated.

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