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Early Italian & Christian Chronology 64 - 800


Ecumenical Councils


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Some events related to Rulership and Christianity in Rome and Italy

up to the Coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas Day in 800AD


64 AD

Saint Peter martyred in Rome followed in 67 AD by Saint Paul.


Early systematic persecution of Christians by the last Flavian Roman Emperor Domitian (51 - 81 - 96 (45)) who ended up being assassinated himself, paving the way for the Roman Empire to enjoy their century in the sun under the Five Good Emperors.


Martyrdom of Eustace, who refused to offer a sacrifice to a pagan god after a military victory.  Eustace was a senior officer in Roman Emperor Trajan's army, and had converted to Christianity after seeing a stag with a crucifix between its horns.  This gave rise to a large iconography, including one of the few large narrative wall paintings left in Britain (in Canterbury Cathedral) and a capital in the Basilique Ste-Madeleine at Vézelay.  Until the Christians came along, the common practice was to sacrifice an animal(s) to give thanks for victories and on other major occasions.  In earlier days of course it was people who got sacrificed.  The rejection of the making of sacrifices was a very public distinguishing characteristic of the new Christian religion.


Emperor Valerian's (c200 - 253 - 260 (60)) massacre of Christians included the Roman Deacon Lawrence (charcoal grilled, which was why he later became the patron saint of cooks) and Pope Sixtus II.

303 - 311

The last great Roman persecution of Christians, driven by the Emperor Diocletian (c236 - 284 - 305 - c316 (80)).  Celebrity martyrdoms during this "Era of Martyrdom" included the young teenage girls Agnes (Rome) and Foy (Agen, later Conques), and the soldiers George (Lydia) and Julien (Brioude).

The years to 312

Christianity not authorized by the Roman State and therefore an illegal assembly.


Roman Emperor Constantine's (c274 - 306 - 337 (63)) Edict of Milan in 313 gives Christians freedom of worship - the ability to assemble publicly,  build churches and collectively own assets.


The Synod of Arles formally establishes Papal primacy in the western world, though the Pope himself (St Sylvester I) was not invited to this or the Council of Nicea (below).


The Council of Nicea - the first Ecumenical Council, is convened by the Emperor Constantine (not the Pope, Sylvester I, who was not invited).


Public pagan worship forbidden, followed in 356 by the closure of all pagan temples.


Emperor Theodosius I makes Christianity the (only) State Religion.  Heresy is a crime, but there is a long bloody way to go whilst the church sorts out what is heresy and what is not - who is in the tent and who is outside.  Competing cults and events (including the Olympic Games) are all closed down.  By 395 public holidays based on pagan celebrations are banned (though many of these have seamlessly morphed into Christian holidays).


The Western Roman Empire ends and the Barbarian Chief Odoacer takes over and lasts for a surprisingly successful 17 years - partly by not interfering too much in the ways of administration.


The Ostrogoths take over from the Barbarians, and Ostrogoth King Theoderic rules from Ravenna.

536 - 553

Power see-saws between Byzantium and Ostrogoths, until the former emerges as winner and Byzantine rule, headquartered in Ravenna, prevails - hence the great Byzantine Churches of Ravenna.

590 - 604

With Saint Gregory the Great as (a very reluctant) Pope (590 - 604), the church progressively takes over as the civic and military power in Rome and surrounding regions.


Byzantium is unable to answer a call for help as the Lombards slowly advance on Rome, so Pope Stephen III (752 - 757) appeals to Pepin (the Short), King of the Franks.


The Lombards finally get round to attacking Rome, and are beaten off by the forces of Pope Hadrian I (772 - 795) and Pepin's son Charlemagne (mostly the latter in reality). 


Charlemagne returns to Rome for his "thank you" present, and is crowned (Holy Roman) Emperor (a new title) by Pope (Saint) Leo III (795 - 816) on Christmas Day 800.  In effect the Franks now rule the north of Italy, the Pope the centre (with Frankish support) and the Byzantines the South, though the Lombards still retain significant presences.  The Saracens, Normans, Spanish, English and French are yet to appear - lucky Italy.



The Christian Church organization was based on five Patriarchates - Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. - with each Patriarchate being divided into provinces (or Metropolitan Sees, headed by Metropolitan Bishops) which in turn contained Dioceses (headed by elected Bishops).  Most of "the heel" of Italy was part of the Patriarchiate of Constantinople until as late as 1600.



Ecumenical Councils


The highest level of management meetings in the Christian Church is the Ecumenical Council.  The first of the 21 Ecumenical Councils that have been held to date (2007) was held in Nicea (present day Iznik in Turkey) in 325.  The Council of Nicea was actually convened by the Emperor Constantine (rather than Pope Sylvester) to knock the heads of the church's quarrelsome bishops together and address issues such as Christ's divinity.   318 Bishops were at this first church gig, recently revisited with questionable accuracy in "The da Vinci Code", and one of the outcomes was the Nicean Creed.  


Other Ecumenical Councils followed in quick succession and many places, as the early Christian church sorted out its beliefs, boundaries and rules.  


Council number 3, the Council of Ephesus (431) was presided over by St. Cyril of Alexandria representing Pope Celestine l.  The best known output of this meeting was the declaration that Mary was indeed the mother of God, a notion that had been challenged by the followers of Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, who thus became heretics.  This declaration prompted a major celebratory rebuild of Rome's Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore by Pope St Sixtus III - much of which is still in place in this, the most attractive of the Major Basilicas of Rome and the only one which has retained its original form.


The most important Council of the Middle Ages was Number 12 - the 4th Lateran Council under the all powerful  Innocent III in 1215, held in the Pope's Lateran Palace in Rome.  Those present included the Patriarchs of Constantinople (which still controlled churches in Southern Italy and was to continue to do so for a further few hundred years) and Jerusalem, 71 archbishops, 412 bishops, and 800 abbots,  the Primate of the Maronites, and St. Dominic (St Francis, head and shoulders above the other 1300 people there in the Dom's view,  probably had other non bureaucratic priorities to do with God).   The Council issued an enlarged creed against the Albigensians, condemned the Trinitarian errors of Abbot Joachim, and published 70 major "reformatory" decrees. Amongst these was a mandatory code of dress / badges for Jews and Moslems - something which the Spanish refused to implement despite direct orders from successive Popes.  


This council is the high tide mark of medieval European ecclesiastical life, papal power and especially the power of monasteries and their abbots (as opposed to bishops).  From now on it was downhill for Popes as the Monarchs of the Nation States of Early Modern Europe emerged,  and for Abbots as their abbeys became depopulated and had their wealth appropriated by the state and church.  1215 was also the year in which the English Barons Magnacartared King John.


Council number 16, the Council of Konstanz (1414-1418), reduced the number of Popes from 3 going on 4 to 1 (Martin V) based in Rome.


Council number 17 started life in 1431 as the Council of Basle under Pope Eugene IV, moved briefly to Ferrara in 1438 and then on to Florence, where it became the Council of Florence and was bankrolled by the Medici (who were in turn bankrolled, though not transparently, by the church).   The Council ended in 1439 with a signed agreement which in theory reunited the Western and Eastern churches, but this never became reality.  The famous Gozzoli fresco of the Procession of the Magi (painted 1459 - 1462) in La Capella dei Magi in the Palazzo Medici in Florence drew on the Movers and Shakers at the Council of Florence for some of its principal performers.


Between the Council of Florence (ended 1439) and the Council of Trent (started 1545) the Empire states got together in 1521 to have a meet called the Diet of Worms.  The Emperor Charles V chaired the event, the main outcome of which was the confirmation of his loathing for Martin Luther.


Council Number 19, the Council of Trent, lasted eighteen years (1545-1563).  The Council decided that  the Reformation needed to be rolled back (or at least stopped stopped from further expansion) and is also known as the Council of the Counter-Reformation.  Two of the European instruments used in this initiative were the Jesuits (founded by S Ignatius Loyola and S Francis Xavier in 1534) to teach, and an expanded Inquisition (which originated in Spain in 1478) to root out and eliminate those who did not want to be taught.   It was 1562 before the Council's deliberations got round to music, resulting in the banning of masses based on popular songs (which most of them were) and other "distractive" music.  Luckily Palestrina and Victoria were in Rome to take up the challenge of producing the new church music, and produced a transcendently beautiful style that was to retain its influence into the eighteenth century.


After the epic of the Council of Trent everyone ran out of council puff (there have only been two more in the 450 years since then) though the appetite for violence did not even pause to catch breath, the first cab off the ranks being the French Wars of Religion (1562 - 1598).


If you want to get the blow by blow detail of all the councils, try this link, meantime here is a bonus contemporary painting of the Council of Trent, which you will find in Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome.





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