This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with the History of Christianity Podcast #183, titled, “The Papacy, Part 3.”
When I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I somehow had the false idea that Christianity began when I got saved. I had no concept of the hundreds of years of history that Christianity had gone through since the time of Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago. I have found that many believers, young and old, have the same false idea. The purpose of this broadcast is to dispel this notion by sharing with listeners the history of Christianity from the ministry of Jesus Christ all the way up until the present day in an easy-to-understand format. You don’t have to worry: this is not a lecture. This is a look at the basic facts and figures of Christian history that every believer and every person needs to be aware of.
Our Scripture for today is Acts 20:28 which reads: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
Our History of Christianity quote today is from Gregory the Great. He said: “Act in such a way that your humility may not be weakness, nor your authority be severity. Justice must be accompanied by humility, that humility may render justice lovable.”
Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “The Papacy, Part 3” from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).
Little is known of Gregory’s early years in this beleaguered city. He may have been an important Roman official–a career for which he was undoubtedly trained by his family, which was of aristocratic origin. After he became a Benedictine monk, Pope Benedict made him a deacon–that is, a member of his administrative council. The next pope, Pelagius II [PEH-LAY-JEE-US], appointed Gregory his ambassador before the court at Constantinople. There Gregory spent six years, and was often involved in the theological controversies and political intrigues that were constantly boiling in the great city. Finally, in 586, Pelagius [PEH-LAY-JEE-US] sent another ambassador, and Gregory was able to return to his monastery in Rome, where he was made abbot.
At that time the situation in Rome was serious. The Lombards had finally united, and intended to conquer the whole of Italy. Although some resources were sent from Constantinople for the defense of Rome. and although the Lombards were occasionally being attacked from the rear by the Franks, there was great danger that the city would fall.
To make matters worse, an epidemic broke out in Rome. Shortly before, floods had destroyed much of the store of food. Since those who were ill frequently had hallucinations, rumors began circulating. Someone had seen a great dragon emerging from the Tiber. Death was seen stalking the streets. Fire had rained from heaven. Then Pope Pelagius [PEH-LAY-JEE-US], who with the help of Gregory and other monks had organized the sanitation of the city, the burial of the dead, and the feeding of the hungry, himself became ill and died.
Under such circumstances, there were not many who coveted the empty post. Gregory himself had no wish to become pope, but the clergy and the people elected him. He sought to have his election annulled by writing to the emperor and asking that his appointment not be confirmed–by that time it had become customary to request the approval of Constantinople before consecrating the bishop of an important see. But his letter was intercepted. Eventually, although reluctantly, he was made bishop of Rome.
Gregory then set about his own tasks with unbounded zeal. Since there was nobody else to do it, he organized the distribution of food among the needy in Rome, and he also took measures to guarantee the continuing shipments of wheat from Sicily. Likewide, he supervised the rebuilding of the aqueducts and of the defenses of the city, and the garrison was drilled until morale was restored. Since there was little help to be expected from Constantinople, he opened direct negotiations with the Lombards, with whom he secured peace. Thus, by default, the pope was acting as ruler of Rome and the surrounding area, which soon came to be known as “Saint Peter’s Patrimony.” Much later, in the eighth century, someone forged a document, the so-called Donation of Constantine, which claimed that the great emperor had granted these lands to Saint Peter’s successors.
But Gregory considered himself above all a religious leader. He preached constantly in the various churches in Rome, calling the faithful to renewed commitment. He also took measures to promote clerical celibacy, which was slowly becoming the norm throughout Italy, and which many claimed to follow but did not. Also, as bishop of Rome, Gregory saw himself as patriarch of the West. He did not claim for himself universal authority, as Leo had done earlier. But he took more practical steps, which did in fact increase his authority in the West. In Spain, he was instrumental in the conversion of the Visigothic population to Nicene Catholicism. To England, he sent Augustine’s mission, which would eventually extend the authority of Rome to the British Isles. His letters to Africa, dealing with the Donatist schism, were not as well received by the local bishops, who wished to guard their independence. He also tried to intervene in the various Frankish territories, seeking more autonomy for the church. But in this he did not succeed, for the Frankish rulers wished to have control of the church, and saw no reason to yield to the pope’s entreaties.
Next time, we will continue looking at “The Papacy.”
Dear friend, simply knowing the facts about Christian history without knowing the One on Whom this faith is based will do you no good. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, may I encourage you to get to know Him today. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can be a part of the church in this life and in the life to come. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will. Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Until next time, remember that history is truly His story.