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© 2004 Dr Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, Australia

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THE SIXTH CENTURY

(i) THE FIRST MEDIEVAL POPE

A painting of Pope Gregory and Ambrose by Michael Pacher in 1483

Depending on your outlook of history, the approximate years between 500 and 1000 were either the Dark Ages or the Golden Age. Protestant historians consider this period the Middle or Dark Ages, while the Roman Catholic church has labelled it as the Golden Age. It is generally marked by the appointment of Gregory I as the Pope in 590.

What marks Gregory the Great's appointment as a turning point in world history, let alone Church history, was that he firmly established the supremacy and power of the Bishop of Rome, over the other bishops, expanded the realm of the Roman Church to Britain, greatly increased the wealth of papacy possessions, organised a highly respected army to defeat the enemies of Rome, and developed a chant which became known as the Gregorian Chant.

  • It was Gregory the Great who laid a foundation for successive popes to introduce spurious doctrines and practices into the Church. Among his doctrines were:
  • Salvation based on grace and the merits of man
  • The idea of purgatory as a place where souls would be purified prior to their entrance to heaven
  • Church tradition was equal in authority to the Bible
  • The Mass as a re-sacrifice of Christ's body and blood
  • The invocation of the saints in order to gain their aid
  • And, the sacramental hierarchical system of the institutionalised Church (sacerdotalism).

Apart from these Biblical aberrations, he squarely placed the Church in the political arena of the world. But as we have shown, God had leaders throughout this period who functioned apostolically by striving to keep the Church's doctrine pure. Even against Papal pressure to introduce aberrations from Biblical doctrine some of these leaders had the courage to withstand this growing trend away from the New Testament's leadership requirements, and often did so at the expense of their own lives.

Over the proceeding centuries the Roman Church was challenged by various military threats, but none were so great as the threat posed by Islam. Slavs, Magyars, and Mongols also militantly threatened the Eastern Church. All of these factors played a role in causing the Church to generally become corrupted both in its authority and doctrine. This would inevitably give rise to the Reformation.

 

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