The Little Horn

Little Horn of Daniel

After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words.

“Then I wished to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its nails of bronze, which devoured, broke in pieces, and trampled the residue with its feet; and the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up, before which three fell, namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth which spoke pompous words, whose appearance was greater than his fellows.” Daniel 7:7–8, 19–20

The Conversion of the Emperor

During the first century after Christ, the persecution endured by the Christian church kept it relatively pure and free from error; but with the cessation of persecution under Constantine, Christianity entered the courts of kings. The nominal conversion of Constantine in the early part of the fourth century opened the way for the apostasy to progress more rapidly. Paganism, while appearing to have been vanquished, became the conqueror. Her spirit controlled the church; her doctrines, ceremonies, and superstitions were incorporated into the faith of the professed followers of Christ.

Early Church Organization

In the beginning, each church had a bishop over it. The prestige and dignity of the bishop was in proportion to the size of the church over which he presided. With the seat of the empire being in Rome, the authority of the bishop of the church there naturally was great. With the emperor a nominal Christian, the authority vested in the bishop of Rome tended to increase; and over a period of time, he came to exercise that authority over the church as a whole.

One of the doctrines of the Roman Church is that the pope is the visible head of the universal church of Christ, invested with supreme authority over bishops and pastors in all parts of the world. Moreover, the pope demands the homage of all men (the same claim urged upon Christ by Satan in the wilderness of temptation); he also claims the power to reverse the decisions of all others.

It was not possible, however, for the head of the church to exercise this unlimited power while an emperor sat on the throne of the western empire. With the removal of the capital to the East and the fall of the western empire to the barbarians, the way was opened for the assumption of power in the West by the church.

There was, however, a division within the Christian church with regard to various doctrines. On one side of the controversy was Arius of Alexandria; and on the other, the bishop of Rome and much of the rest of Christendom. Three of the barbarian nations into which the western empire had been divided accepted the doctrines taught by Arius.

Barbarian Rule in Rome

The first barbarian to rule in Rome was Odoacer who was king of one of these Arian nations. In the sight of the bishop of Rome, this was a grievous sin. More than that, because of the violence often associated with the election of the pope, in order to keep the peace, Odoacer placed the church under civil authority. At the election of the first pope after the fall of the empire, the representative of Odoacer appeared and notified the assembly that without his direction, nothing could be done and that the election process must begin again. It was a common practice for those who wished to hold a church office to obtain the position by bribery, often using church property to buy votes. Odoacer issued an order forbidding the bishop who should now be chosen, as well as his successors, to barter away any property belonging to the church, declaring all such bargains void, and requiring that all lands formerly owned by the church be returned regardless of how long it had been in the hands of its present owners.

For this offense, there was no forgiveness for Odoacer; and nothing short of the utter uprooting of the whole nation could atone for it. The Catholic ecclesiastics of Italy began to plot his overthrow, and soon a plan was devised.

There were at that time, in the Eastern empire, an unsettled and wandering people with no settled homeland—the Ostrogoths under King Theodoric. They were so savage and powerful that the emperor, Zeno, was in constant dread of them. The suggestion was made to Theodoric that if he were to drive out and disposes Odoacer, Italy would provide a very pleasant place to settle. As he was in service of the empire, it was necessary that he should have permission from the emperor to undertake the expedition.

Theodoric wrote a letter to the emperor, suggesting just such a plan. The proposal was gladly accepted by the emperor, and in the winter of 489, the whole nation of Ostrogoths took up its march of seven hundred miles to Italy. “The march of Theodoric must be considered as the emigration of an entire people: the wives and children of the Goths, their aged parents, and most precious effects, were carefully transported; . . . and at length, surmounting every obstacle by skillful conduct and persevering courage, they descended from the Julian Alps, and displayed his invincible banners on the confines of Italy.” Gibbon, Decline and Fall, chap. XXXIX, par. 6

The First Arian Nation Destroyed

Theodoric defeated Odoacer in three engagements in A.D. 489–490. From the Alps to the southern extremity of Italy, Theodoric reigned by the right of conquest. Soon after, Odoacer was killed and his people were universally massacred. The defeat of Odoacer and the destruction of his people was largely the work of the Catholic faction.

Odoacer had no more than been overthrown when the pope called a council in A.D. 499. Its first act was to repeal the law enacted by Odoacer that related to church property. The law was not repealed to get rid of it, however, for it was immediately reenacted by the same council. It was plainly done to declare that the estates of the church were no longer subject in any way to the authority of civil power but were to be held under the jurisdiction of the church alone. It was, in effect, the declaration of independence of the papacy and her possessions.

Theodoric ruled Italy for thirty-three years, during which time Italy enjoyed greater peace than it had ever before known. Theodoric carefully avoided getting himself involved in church business. While he refused to meddle in church affairs, he also refused to enforce church law.

Justin was emperor of the East from 518–523. He was violently orthodox and was supported by his nephew, the even more violently orthodox Justinian. It was the ambition of both to make the Catholic religion alone prevalent everywhere. Their first edict, issued in 523, classified all those of other faiths as heretics and ranked them with pagans and Jews, excluding them from all public offices. This edict was no more than issued when in the West there was talk in Rome of liberty from the Gothic yoke.

At this time, the Jews were protected by law in Rome and various other cities in Italy that were under Gothic rule. Though the Catholics did not dare to attack the Gothic heretics, they did attack the Jews, abusing them, robbing them, and burning their synagogues. A legal investigation was attempted, but it could not be determined who the leaders of the riots had been. Theodoric then levied a tax upon the guilty cities, with which to pay for the damages. Some of the Catholics refused to pay and were punished. This aroused the cry of religious persecution. In response, throughout the rest of the empire, Arians were stripped of all offices of honor and their churches closed. Many conformed to the state religion; but those who held firm to their faith, appealed to Theodoric for protection.

Theodoric did all that he could; and though appeals were made for him to persecute Catholics in his domains, he refrained. He determined, however, to send an embassy to Justin. The group that went was made up of the pope and five other bishops, as well as four senators. They went with the stated purpose of obtaining tolerance for non-Catholics throughout the rest of the empire. This arrangement, however, gave the bishop of Rome the perfect opportunity to form a compact with the imperial authority of the East for the destruction of the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy.

Pope John I was received in Constantinople with flattering honors. The emperor, Justin, knelt at his feet and begged his blessing. Before John’s return, the conspiracy became obvious and in Rome, some of the senators and leading men were arrested. One of the senators and his father-in-law were executed. When the pope returned to Italy, he was received as a traitor and put in prison where he died on May 18, 526.

The pope was no sooner dead than there was an outbreak of violence among the rival candidates for the now vacant office. Fearing bloodshed, Theodoric, who was now seventy-four years old, allowed his position to override his principles and acting in his authority as king, named a new bishop of Rome. He was met by severe opposition. Eventually a compromise was reached by which the clergy were free to hold an election but with the understanding that their choice must be confirmed by the king. A short time later, Theodoric died and his grandson reigned in his place.

The Crusade Against the Arian Nations

The crusade against the two remaining Arian nations began with an attack on the Vandal kingdom in North Africa. From the very beginning, it was avowedly and openly in the interests of the Catholic religion. In a council of his ministers, Justinian was advised against undertaking the African war. He hesitated and was about to give up his plan when a fanatical bishop exclaimed: “I have seen a vision! It is the will of heaven, O emperor, that you should not abandon your holy enterprise for the deliverance of the African church. The God of battle will march before your standard and disperse your enemies, who are the enemies of his Son.” Ibid., chap. XLI, par. 3

In 533, Justinian’s general, Belisarius, set out against the Vandal kingdom in North Africa, quickly defeating them. The following year an imperial army attacked the Ostrogoths in Italy. In 538, they were fully driven from power and soon after completely disappeared from history. With no strong head of state in the West, the way was now open for the Bishop of Rome to reign supreme in Rome. This date marks the establishment of the temporal authority of the papacy and the exercise of that authority as a world-power, beginning the 1260 years of papal domination. This period of papal dominance continued until February 20, 1798, when Pius VI was taken prisoner by Berthier, the French general, and the church no longer retained her secular power.

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