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The Church, the Barbarians, and the Growth of Christianity
Dec 8, 2010
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Leo I

In 452 a Christian bishop left the City of Rome on a journey north to the river Po. His goal was a diplomatic mission that would shake the world. A Christian bishop was sent by the Emperor to save Rome. It’s been a little over twenty years since Augustine (354-430) died, and Augustine had to defend Christianity against pagan claims that the gods were angry against Rome because of the Christians. Rome wasn’t Christian yet – the majority of its population was still pagan. And now a Christian bishop was on a mission to save the lives, the liberties, and the property of both Christians and pagans.

The Bishop’s name was Leo I, Bishop of Rome. He was on his way to meet the Scourge of God, the most formidable threat the Empire had ever met, Attila the Hun.

The last time a Christian bishop shook the world was 60 years earlier when Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, threatened Emperor Theodosius with excommunication unless he repented for the massacre of 7,000 tax-protesters in Thessalonika. No one ever threatened a Roman Emperor before. No priest ever dared stand in the way of the civil authorities when they collected the taxes. Theodosius was a battle-hardened veteran. He had accompanied his father who put down a rebellion in Britain and Gaul by the united forces of the local Celtic tribes and deserters from the Roman Army. He was the last great emperor of the united Roman Empire. And he was an orthodox, Trinitarian Christian with a vengeance. But the Bishop of Milan treated him like a Barbarian for the massacre of those tax-protesters. Theodosius replied in anger that he was coming to seize Ambrose’s church and drag Ambrose out. Ambrose’s reply was a revolution in the ancient world: “You have no right to enter a private person’s home. What makes you believe you have the right to enter God’s home?”

Theodosius’ response was the response of a true Christian: He repented. His soul was saved. But the Empire wasn’t the same anymore. The fearless defense by Ambrose of the life, liberty and property of those ordinary people who paid taxes put an end to the absolute rule of the Emperors. Ambrose was the hero of the ordinary people. Christianity grew in influence, and in numbers. If the Bishop could stand his ground against the Emperor, how much greater must that Bishop’s God be!

But Leo had a different challenge: He was meeting a real Barbarian in an attempt to persuade him not to attack Rome. Attila hasn’t been known for his love for Christian clergy. In the cities in the Balkans and in Gaul that he took and massacred, Christian priests were the first to die. Some commentators say that Attila added to the list of Christian martyrs almost as many as the two and half centuries of pagan Roman power before Constantine. Leo’s position wasn’t easy. Attila was a master negotiator, and he had no moral restraints. He was unpredictable, and he could break his word without having a second thought about it. He was a Barbarian, after all.

But Leo had to succeed. Behind him was Rome, and the population of Rome, helpless, paralyzed by fear, apathy, and despair. Just as Ambrose stood up to Theodosius to protect the weak, Leo had to stand up against the Barbarian to protect Rome. The life, liberty, and property of the ordinary citizens of Rome were a legitimate concern for a Christian pastor, and he had to face death if necessary to protect the defenseless.

No one knows what Leo said to Attila. Some say he gave him lots of money. That hardly would have worked on Attila. He was smart enough to know that there was even more where that money came from. Some say Attila’s army was restless because of disease, and because of rumors of their towns in the rear being attacked by the forces of the Eastern Empire. This may have been, although Attila had proved quite resourceful in dealing with greater challenges. Whatever Leo said, Attila turned back, never to return. That winter Attila died – some say of too much drinking, some say he was killed by his wife.

Rome was defended by a Christian Bishop. The influence of Christianity grew even more.

When three years later, in 455, the fleet of another Barbarian, the Vandal king Genseric, appeared in full surprise at the mouth of the Tiber, Leo didn’t have the time to negotiate. Petronius Maximus who had become Western Roman Emperor just two months earlier, tried to leave the city rather than fight the Barbarians, and was killed by angry mobs.

So it was now again the Bishop against the Barbarian. And this time the Barbarian wasn’t going back without plunder.

So Leo at least tried to protect the life and the dignity of his fellow Romans. He negotiated the terms with Genseric: Plunder, yes, but no arson, no rape, no killing. Genseric agreed. Rome was sacked, but the dignity of the individual ordinary citizens was spared. Leo’s goal was again to protect the weak, the defenseless, the little people. And he succeeded.

Rome’s glory had passed – if we mean Rome’s glory as an Imperial capital. But Leo I’s actions created a different glory for Rome. The City of Rome had now become the Christian capital of the world, the arbiter of theological disputes, the judge between kings, Christian and pagan. One Bishop’s concern for the fate of the people, and his courage and skill in protecting them without a sword changed the religious and cultural landscape of Italy, and then of Western Europe. We don’t hear of pagan populations in Rome after the death of Leo. Leo’s God had judged the Empire, but He had also honored the prayers and the efforts of His servant, and had protected the inhabitants. No other evangelism was needed for the eradication of paganism in Italy.

* * * * * * * * * *

Today, Barbarians have been at the gates of the Western civilization for several generations. Atheists, socialists, Fabian Socialists, statists, and evolutionists attacked Christendom. The pastors were relatively silent.

Then the Barbarians took over the political power in the West and started sacking Western civilization. The pastors were silent again, for the most part.

Here in the United States the Barbarians established the Federal Reserve to steal the savings of the population. The pastors didn’t say anything. Then they introduced the income tax. The pulpits were silent. Then the State schools began stealing Christian children. Then the unborn – the most defenseless members of our society – were subjected to the greatest massacre ever known in history. The Barbarian State introduced new laws to control our business, our work, our savings, our old age. Judges decreed private property wasn’t immune to seizure anymore. Our health – and therefore life and death – is now in the hands of the Federal government.

The pastors were silent.

Well, at least our dignity was spared. At least we didn’t have Barbarians stripping us, groping us, raping us. Maybe the churches would intervene when that thing happens.

It happened. Federal agents can now legally ogle our daughters and sexually molest our 5-year old sons. Barbarians are not at the gates of the city anymore; they are at the airport check-points. And they rape, this time in earnest.

But the pastors don’t say anything. The great influential Christian ministries of this nation remain silent, several weeks into the greatest sexual rape this nation has ever seen. We see activist groups, politicians, media anchors, bloggers discussing, calling for action, protesting against the Barbarian rape of America.

One group has remained strangely silent: Christian churches and ministries.

Or, rather not. They keep talking. They keep telling us how wonderful our salvation in Jesus is. Or they keep informing us that we are saved by grace alone. And they keep being interested in those intricate details of Christian psychology, how important it is to have forgiveness. Maybe they should add, to have forgiveness when your children are raped by Barbarians, when the Bishops are too cowardly to stand up to those Barbarians and tell them to go away, in the name of God.

And then the pastors and the ministers bemoan the fact that Christianity is losing influence. We live in a post-Christian world, don’t we? What we do in a world that doesn’t seek Jesus anymore. How we are to “have hope in Jesus” while our nation and our world are going farther away from the faith of our fathers.

But the influence of Christianity doesn’t just happen magically. It is a direct function of the willingness of Christians to witness for Christ and His salvation of the whole world (Rom. 10:14-15). And a great part of this witness is the willingness of the pastors to stand up to the Barbarians in the gates and protect the life, liberty, and property of those who can’t defend themselves. When the pastors are not willing to proclaim the God of Jesus Christ to the Barbarians to protect the people, we can’t expect evangelism of the ordinary church members to prosper. If the pastors are silent, the sheep are not led. Evangelism suffers, and Christianity declines.

Those pastors and ministers who speak of a great apostasy in “the last days” are themselves the great apostates. Their silence is the great sign of the apostasy of the church. When the life, liberty, and property of the people are violated by Barbarians, any pastor who doesn’t stand up to the Barbarians in the civil government and work to protect the people is an apostate himself. The decline of Christianity is caused by those who claim to bemoan it; those that admonish us from the pulpits to “have hope in God” while we are being raped by Barbarians are the very reason for that religious and cultural decline. The revival of Christianity will start when God smites the pulpits and replaces the corrupt shepherds with shepherds after His own heart; shepherds who will fearlessly face the Huns and the Vandals of our day, and make them turn back to the wilderness where they came from.

* * * * * * * * * *

Leo I wasn’t even obsessed with expanding the influence of the Roman see, nor with diplomacy. His main interests were theological. He was a faithful defender of orthodoxy, not a skillful politician. When in 448 Eutyches was deposed in the East for his heretical views concerning the nature of Christ, he took refuge with Leo in Rome. Leo ignored the opportunity to expand the influence of Rome in the Eastern Empire and waited for an explanation from Flavian, Eutyches’ chief opponent. When learning about Eutyches’ heretical views, Leo sided decisively with the Trinitarian orthodoxy. The Bishop of Rome was a theologian first, and diplomat and politician last.

But when the Barbarians were at the gates, he had to act.

We need Leos today to man our pulpits.

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About author

Bojidar Marinov

A Reformed missionary to his native Bulgaria for over 10 years, Bojidar preaches and teaches doctrines of the Reformation and a comprehensive Biblical worldview. Having founded Bulgarian Reformation Ministries in 2001, he and his team have translated over 30,000 pages of Christian literature about the application of the Law of God in every area of man’s life and society, and published those translations online for free. He has been active in the formation of the Libertarian movement in Bulgaria, a co-founder of the Bulgarian Society for Individual Liberty and its first chairman. If you would like Bojidar to speak to your church, homeschool group or other organization, contact him through his website: http://www.bulgarianreformation.org/

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