In 312 A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine ruled Rome. On the eve of a great battle, Constantine claimed to have received a vision from the Christian God, which caused Him to win the battle. The Emperor soon adopted Christianity and halted the persecution of the Christians. In 325 the Emperor gave an exhortation to his citizens to adopt Christianity; and everyone was expected to comply. The edict paved the way for Christianity to become the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Now while this may have seemed to be a blessing to the Christians, it eventually put the Church in a much worse state. Because becoming a Christian was to be a conversion of conscience and not obligation, the surge of Roman converts were not committed in heart. In fact, because of Constantine’s ongoing behavior, it is questionable if his own conversion was ever genuine. Indeed, the Emperor’s motives for embracing Christianity have often been called into question. At the beginning of Constantine’s reign, the Roman Empire was falling apart. It is believed that in an attempt to unify his empire, he determined to use the proven unifying force of the Christian Church to bring it together.
Constantine allowed government positions to be held by Christians. Moreover, he allowed the Christian clergy to be exempt from mandatory civic duties. He proclaimed their Sunday Sabbath a national holiday; and basilicas (church buildings) were commissioned by the state to be built for the Christians to assemble. The basilicas were formalized temples with religious alters and pews to facilitate the rituals of the priest and appease the pagans. In fact, many of the pagan temples were converted to Churches simply by putting a cross at the pinnacle and or over the door.
Moreover, the Church hierarchy system paved the way for Emperor Constantine to be titled the “Bishop of Bishops”, of which gave him unprecedented authority over the Church. Constantine resided over church councils and ruled on religious issues. Consequently, any who disagreed with the Emperor-Bishop’s decisions could be ostracized from the Church, the Empire and ultimately heaven. Through his assertion as the absolute authority, the Emperor was not only able to govern the physical activities of his people, but their hearts and minds as well. Even though many Christians protested the new position saying “…what does the Emperor have to do with the Church”, the office was set and there was nothing they could do about it. Once again man was in control of the Kingdom of God. Indeed, just like old Israel, the Church rejected God as their King and chose a man to rule instead. The Christian Church had become a physical kingdom that was completely contrary to the spiritual Kingdom of Jesus. The Church became known as the Holy Roman Empire.
The rise of the Pope
Although Rome had been the capital of the Empire for over 1000 years; in 324 A.D. Constantine decided to move the capital to the eastern city of Byzantium of which he renamed Constantinople. However, in doing so, he left a power vacuum in the western region, and some ambitious Bishops in charge of the powerful city of Rome. The lead Bishop became chief administrator of the dominant city—even over its military, giving the office an authoritative secular position in a geopolitical goldmine.
Later, in 440 A.D. the Roman Bishop Leo I claimed that the Apostle Peter had been given sole rule over the Church by Christ—and that Peter had been the first Bishop of Rome. Thus, Bishop Leo claimed that as Bishop of Rome, he was the rightful heir to Peter’s reign. Through this, Leo created the office of the Pope. Leo’s declaration, along with some other doctrinal riffs with some Bishops in the east eventually led to the division of the Eastern Orthodox Church. But in the west, the office of the Pope took hold and became firmly established.
The office of the Pope became absolute, and was often considered as sovereign as the Emperor. In fact, the popes often appointed the emperors. In return, those Emperors expanded the Empire on behalf of the papacy (Pope). At times the power shifted and it was the Emperor who decided who could be Pope. To no surprise, these power shifts created contentious power struggles between the Popes and the Emperors. However, in the tenth century the Popes prevailed when they deployed some unique weaponry. Because it had become fully accepted that there was no salvation outside of the Church, the Pope could besiege any kingdom simply by pulling the priests from its region. With no priests, there were no saving sacraments and the entire kingdom was doomed to an eternal damnation. The Pope could also exact this same force against an individual (even a king) by excommunicating him. Moreover, anyone found assisting an outcast could also be excommunicated as well. Hence the Pope became greatly feared throughout the Empire; so much so that his subjects were to bow before him and kiss his feet. Through these unrivaled powers, the Popes could rule the Empire unchallenged.