Yesterday we saw an interesting picture: a pope crowning an emperor—the church legitimizing the state, the sacred validating the secular. This isn’t the first time in the church’s history, of course, that church and state have joined hands. Remember when Constantine made Christianity the empire’s official religion in AD 380? But still, how did this happen? Scholar Bruce Shelley asks, “How could the kingdom that Jesus said was ‘not of the world’ become so much a part of worldly power?” And what came of it? That’s what we’ll take a look at today.
How a Pope Crowned an Emperor
Where Did the Pope Come From?
The title pope comes from the Latin word for father. In the early church it was a generic title used to address important bishops. Remember that bishops were stationed in each of the main cities of the early church. The Roman bishop was just one of several equals. Even today, the Eastern Orthodox Church still views the Roman Catholic pope as one among several church leaders, or patriarchs. But for a number of reasons the Roman bishop came to have more authority. One reason is the fact that Rome was both the seat of power for the empire and an important city in the New Testament. Another is that when Islam took over the other main Christian cities except for Rome, the authority of the Roman bishop increased. On top of this, the Catholic Church sees the pope as part of a line of church leaders that goes all the way back to Peter. They argue that, because Jesus said He would build His church on Peter (see Matthew 16:13–19; Luke 22:21–23; and John 21:15–17) and because Peter handed down his authority through the line of Roman bishops, the pope has a unique authority.
The Papacy into the Middle Ages
After Gregory, says Shelley, “the popes slowly assumed more and more power until Innocent III (1198–1216) taught Europe to think of the popes as world rulers. Later centuries, however, saw the popes corrupted by power, and increasingly militant reformers cry out for change.” While on the one hand the papacy “gave unity and continuity to the Middle Ages,” it also marred it. At times in church history it’s clear that the office of the pope had become corrupted into a weapon of earthly power and injustice that looked little different from the world’s ways. Pope Boniface VIII (1294–1303), for example, is said to have possessed a crown with forty-eight rubies, seventy-two sapphires, forty-five emeralds, and sixty-six large pearls, and he enjoyed declaring himself an emperor. Like other popes before and after him, he would offer forgiveness of sins to individuals—if they paid him money. Fortunately, not all popes were corrupt. Gregory VII (ca. 1025–1085), for example, introduced reforms to try to cut back on the abuse of power and breathe more authentic devotion to the office. The papacy, unfortunately, did not always stand by Gregory’s self-given job description, “servant of servants.”
Read Matthew 6:24 and Matthew 20:25–27 How can these words guard your heart?
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