Essay on The Rise of Christianity: The Stabilizing Force of Europe
In the late fourth century, Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire. As the empire fell and began to divide into eastern and western parts, the Catholic church began to play an increasingly prominent role in stabilizing these emerging European civilizations. The question that arises is: to what extent did Christianity act as a stabilizing force in European society after the fall of the Roman Empire? Some argue that Christianity only caused unrest, creating controversies and disputes throughout North Africa. However, to a much greater extent, Christianity did indeed act as the primary stabilizing force which bound the European society together. It was able to play a crucial role in civilizing post-Roman empires and provided universal leadership across Europe. Then, as the Christian church began to claim authority over the government, Christianity was then able to unify all of Europe through a common belief.
Christianity played a crucial role in the civilization of the post-Roman empires and thereby created a lasting influence on European society. The monastic movement played a significant role in spreading Christianity to all of Europe, but its greatest contribution was the enactment of immediate and dramatic changes to European society. Monasticism established the new Christian ideal which, according to Spielvogel, the author of Western Civilization, was “the monk who died in the world and achieved spiritual life through denial, asceticism, and mystical experience of God.” 1 This new ideal attracted followers on a wide scale, and soon became the dominant form of life. These monasteries did not just create and keep the communal framework of society together, but housed weary travelers, nursed the sick and assisted the poor. The intellectual renewal of the Carolingian era also took place in monasteries. As Christian monasteries acted as centers of learning, the Catholic church was, according to Spielvogel, able to enact “the revival of classical studies and the effort to preserve Latin culture.” 2 The monasteries provided the only source of education available at that time, and many, including imperial leaders, went to monasteries to seek an education. Daily life in Europe was also heavily affected by Christian and monastic beliefs. Spielvogel writes that “By Carolingian times, the Catholic Church had begun to make a significant impact on the Frankish family life.” 3 The Christian church affected and influenced views on family, marriage, sexuality, children, and health. Christianity not only brought the Christian community together but also helped civilize and stabilize the post-Roman empires and set a way of life for years to come.
Christianity was able to keep communities together and created a lasting universal leadership within Europe. It has already become obvious by now that monasteries created tight communities. Spielvogel writes that “a [monastic] life was a communal one; monks ate, worked, slept, and worshiped together.” 4 However, the Christian church, in general, did form communities as well. As the main goal of the church was to serve the spiritual needs of the people, it instructed townspeople of the Christian faith and comforted them in troubling times. The emperor Justinian aided in this with the construction of hundreds of churches, most notably Hagia Sophia. The construction included a dome, which allowed, according to Spielvogel, “an incredible play of light” 5 to pass through as “light served to remind the worshipers of God.” 6 This was particularly important as churches served as the social centers of villages and towns. The officials throughout the government also played a prominent role in keeping society together. Since the Byzantine rulers believed that God commanded their state to preserve Christianity, “emperor, clergy, and civic officials were all bound together in service to this ideal.” 7, says Spielvogel. He adds that “It can be said that spiritual values truly held the Byzantine state together.” 8 Moreover, like the Byzantine Empire, the Carolingian Empire was also built off the foundation of Christianity. From this, it can be seen Christianity was able to create communities everywhere and keep them together through lasting universal leadership.
The Christian church was able to claim authority over the state government, and unify the people of Europe through a common belief. As the official Roman state disintegrated, there were considered to be two ruling powers, spiritual and temporal, each carrying different functions. However, the spiritual ruling of the church had obviously taken authority over the imperial government as, according to Spielvogel, “all men, including emperors, must look to the church ‘for the means of...salvation.’” 9 It was this common belief that allowed Christianity to overcome the authority of the state government. In addition, bishops of the Christian church were allowed to take a role in the state government and some even served as advisers to emperors. Spielvogel writes that as bishops “often played a noticeable independent political role” 10, the church was able to maintain independence from the state. Consequently, this enabled Christianity to continue to thrive over imperial government. By maintaining this authority, Christianity was able to become the center and the focus of the entire state population. Moreover, when much of pagan Europe was converted to Christianity, the “primary instrument was the monastic movement.” 11, says Spielvogel. With Christianity constantly gaining followers throughout Europe, it is clear how the Christian church was able to bring not only the people of Europe together but was also able to bring different empires and kingdoms together through a common belief.
It can be seen that to a great extent, Christianity did indeed act as the primary stabilizing force within Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. With the expansion of Christianity across Europe and the prominence of the Christian church throughout, it was able to bring the people together through a common belief. Christian monasticism was able to further spread Christianity, even to uncultivated areas, and initiated the revival of classical learning. By creating schools, hospitals, and hotels, monasteries were also able to play a prominent role in the civilization of society and set a lasting influence on the way of European life. The laws of the land, governance of the people and public policies were all affected by Christianity and societies were even built around the Christian church. By maintaining and spreading this common religion, Christianity was able to unify the people, minimize disputes, and therefore stabilize European society.