“Through Justinian’s Imperial Restoration in a.d. 554, the Catholic Church revived the empire! That church then guided all the resurrections of that empire that followed.”—Gerald Flurry
By the end of the fifth century, the Roman Empire appeared dead. It had lost most of its territories in North Africa, the Middle East and Western Europe. Rome, the capital, had been sacked by the Goths in a.d. 476. The empire’s economy was in ruin, its leadership had been gutted, and it was commanded by foreigners.
The destruction was inflicted by barbarian tribes from the north and east. Through the course of the fifth century, Rome had been ruled, in sequence, by three different Germanic tribes. These tribes didn’t just destroy Rome’s secular leadership; they also overthrew the bishop of Rome and his religion.
Despite its loss of power and prestige, the Roman Catholic Church—and its ambition of becoming a universal religion ruling over a world-ruling empire—did not die. The religion and its aspirations remained alive and well in one place in particular: Constantinople.
But how would the Catholic Church return to its place atop Europe?
In a.d. 527, a formidable and ambitious emperor came on the scene in Constantinople, the capital of the eastern Roman Empire, known also as the Byzantine Empire. Emperor Justinian i considered himself a Roman Caesar. He considered it his duty to purge the western territories of the Germanic tribes, to reconquer Rome, and to reunite the eastern and western legs of the Roman Empire. His motto says it all: “One empire, one church, one law.”
And he lived it. Over the next two decades, the former Roman Empire became his state, the Roman constitution his law, and Roman Catholicism his religion. And those who got in his way or opposed him were eliminated—quickly, painfully and by the thousands.
Justinian had a vision of empire grander than any other ruler in the previous 200 years. “More than any emperor since Constantine, he believed himself charged with a mission to redeem the world,” writes Tom Holland in his bestselling book In the Shadow of the Sword. He was “an emperor as forceful, energetic and egotistical as any in Roman history.”
Catholic authorities convinced Justinian that in order to win battles and restore the empire, he needed God on his side. And the path to God’s heart, they said, was to purge the empire of paganism and heretics. “Help me to destroy the heretics, and I will help you to destroy the Persians,” Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, told one of Justinian’s predecessors.
Justinian obeyed and immediately set about ridding the land of all forms of non-Catholic religion. By command of the emperor, the law stated, “We order all those who follow this law to assume the name of Catholic Christians, and considering others as demented and insane, we order that they shall bear the infamy of heresy; and when the divine vengeance which they merit has been appeased, they shall afterwards be punished in accordance with our resentment, which we have acquired from the judgment of heaven …” (emphasis added throughout).
Under Justinian, an individual was either Catholic or a heathen. Laws were created to destroy the heathen. One states, “Let those who do not accept those doctrines cease to apply the name of true religion to their fraudulent belief; and let them be branded with their open crimes, and, having been removed from the threshold of all churches, be utterly excluded from them, as we forbid all heretics to hold unlawful assemblies within cities. If, however, any seditious outbreak should be attempted, we order them to be driven outside the walls of the city with relentless violence, and we direct that all Catholic churches throughout the entire world shall be placed under the control of the orthodox bishops who have embraced the Nicene Creed.”
Jews who owned a Christian slave were put to death. Together, Justinian and the Catholic Church banned all non-Christian places of worship, including synagogues, even as far away as North Africa. Jews were forbidden from celebrating Passover. “As no preceding sovereign had been so much interested in church affairs, so none seems to have shown so much activity as a persecutor both of pagans and of heretics,” the 1911 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica reads. Justinian “renewed with additional stringency the laws against both these classes.”
The historian Procopius, a contemporary of Justinian, wrote in his Secret History, “Now among the Christians in the entire Roman Empire, there are many with dissenting doctrines, which are called heresies by the established church: such as those of the Montanists and Sabbatians, and whatever others cause the minds of men to wander from the true path. All of these beliefs [Justinian] ordered to be abolished, and their place taken by the orthodox dogma: threatening, among the punishments for disobedience, loss of the heretic’s right to will property to his children or other relatives …. Agents were sent everywhere to force whomever they chanced upon to renounce the faith of their fathers. … Thus many perished at the hands of the persecuting faction ….”
Justinian’s persecution was so thorough that some were driven to commit suicide. “The Montanists, who dwelt in Phrygia, shut themselves up in their churches, set them on fire, and ascended to glory in the flames,” Procopius wrote. Under this church-state alliance, “the whole Roman Empire was a scene of massacre and flight.”
“Killing,” wrote Procopius, “in the opinion of Justinian, was hardly to be ranked as murder, if those who died did not share his beliefs.” Justinian took the persecution of heretics to a historically unprecedented level. Under Constantine, they were exiled and some were killed. Under Justinian, they were killed by the thousands.
Restoring Papal Authority
The joint quest to purge the land of heretics and pagans helped to formalize the church-state partnership that began with Constantine. “The process of integration of church and state, begun by Constantine, continued until the two became inseparable,” writes Paul Johnson in A History of Christianity. “The Byzantine Empire became, in effect, a form of theocracy, with the emperor performing priestly and semidivine functions, and the Orthodox Church constituting a department of state in charge of spiritual affairs.”
Emperor Justinian also restored the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, including the supreme authority of the pope. One of the fundamental aims of Justinian’s ecclesiastical policy from the beginning was to establish a close alliance with the pope of Rome, who, despite Rome’s subjugation by the Goths, was widely considered the leader of the church.
Justinian knew that in order to restore the Roman Empire, he needed the endorsement of the bishop of Rome. In one of his letters to the pope, Justinian addressed him as the “head of all holy churches.” In one of his novels, Emperor Justinian stated that “the most blessed see of the archbishop of Constantinople, the New Rome, ranks second after the most holy apostolic see of Old Rome” (Alexander Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire).
The bishop of Rome inherited the scholars and the scholarship of the Roman Empire. Paul Johnson explains, “The fact that the bishopric of Rome had an accurate and authoritative list of saints, and scientific dating and calendarizing, and had a reference system, with authorities, for all questions which impinged on church doctrine, practice and discipline, was an immeasurable advantage in dealing with bishoprics all over the West; they increasingly looked to Rome not just because they venerated St. Peter and his shrine, but because Rome knew the answers” (op cit).
Justinian was emperor in the East, but the ultimate religious authority resided among the seven mountains of Rome!
Religion in Law
Catholicism’s influence over Justinian’s empire went far beyond religion. After the emperor reinstated Catholicism as the state religion, he and the church jointly set about establishing the laws of the land.
“During the fourth century, the church had become increasingly involved in the law-making process,” Johnson writes. “Much of the first great collection of laws, the mid-fifth-century Theodosian Code, was of the church’s making. There was, of course, no distinction between secular and ecclesiastical law; in administering and transmitting the one, the church automatically made known the other” (ibid).
Between a.d. 529 and 534, Justinian issued a state constitution for his revived Roman Empire. This overarching document was called Corpus Juris Civilis, also known as the Code of Justinian. It was based on the laws of Rome, laws largely written by the Catholic Church. This new legal standard elevated Roman Catholicism to the level of state religion and outlawed religious practices and assemblies of any other kind.
It also enshrined the strategic relationship between pope and emperor into a legal framework. The pope proclaimed the emperor as the one, true ruler of the Roman Empire, and in turn the emperor defended the Roman Catholic religion from all outside threats.
This body of Roman laws became the legal cornerstone of Justinian’s empire—and of all the Holy Roman resurrections to come after him.
Even today, European law and justice are rooted in the Code of Justinian. “For more than 2,000 years, Roman law has guided the destinies of the civilized nations and many of the barbarous peoples in the world,” wrote Cary R. Alburn, a lawyer from the Ohio Bar, in the American Bar Association Journal. “Since the days of Magna Charta, the realm of jurisprudence has been ruled by two great legal systems, the Roman and the English.” He summarized Justinian’s work, saying: “This compilation of Justinian consolidated Roman law for the thousand years preceding him and formed the foundation of most of the later legal codes throughout the world.”
But remember: Emperor Justinian’s foundation was built largely by the Catholic Church!
Catholic influence infused every part of Justinian’s government, even its foreign policy. Justinian’s laws enforced the spread of Catholicism within his realm, but he also looked to spread it abroad. “For the first time in Roman history, the conversion of pagan kings became enshrined as a priority of state,” writes Tom Holland (op cit).
“The church, of course, had been ambitious to plant the cross on the furthermost reaches of the world” since its inception, Holland continues. “That the Roman state had a duty to contribute to this mission was, however, a more radical presumption.”
The year after Justinian finished codifying his new constitution, he set his sights on reconquering the territory of the former Roman Empire. Now that he had made Roman Catholicism the official religion of his empire, it was imperative to ensure that the chief seat of that religion, Rome, was part of his realm.
In a.d. 535, internal turmoil broke out in the Ostrogoth kingdom reigning over Italy. Emperor Justinian decided to use this turmoil to initiate a war to reunite the empire. With the pope of Rome offering political support, Justinian dispatched one of his armies and his most gifted general, Belisarius, to the south of Italy. Within five years, King Vitiges of the Ostrogoths had been captured and most of Italy conquered. The Ostrogoths rallied several more times. In the end, however, the bloodstained garments of the last Ostrogoth leader were sent to Constantinople and laid at the feet of Justinian as visible proof of his demise.
After almost 20 years of warfare, Emperor Justinian had retaken Italy, as well as Dalmatia and Sicily—and resurrected the Roman Empire.
Emperor Justinian made this Imperial Restoration official in a.d. 554 with an edict known as the Pragmatic Sanction. This edict restored all the lands the Ostrogoths had taken from the Roman Catholic Church back to Vatican control. It also returned to the pope and his Vatican hierarchy all the rights, powers and privileges that they enjoyed before the barbarian invasions of Rome. Both halves of the empire were now united. For the first time in history, the Roman Catholic Church was ruling over the state, instead of the state controlling the church. The deadly wound inflicted by the Goths was healed and the first resurrection of the “Holy” Roman Empire had begun (see “The Deadly ‘Wound’,” page 188).
Entering the Valley
Justinian’s revival of the Roman Empire was short-lived. Within a few years of his death, the Byzantine hold over Italy began to crumble. The Lombards invaded mainland Italy, and the Byzantines were only able to hold cities on the coast. The Italian peninsula was once again fragmented.
Although the Imperial Restoration had ended and Italy was largely disintegrated, one core institution continued to perpetuate its law and lifestyle. The Catholic religion, the essence of Justinian’s restoration and the former Roman Empire, remained alive and well.
Over the next two centuries, the Catholic Church, operating from Rome, remained an influential force in Italy and Western Europe. Most importantly, the flame of the Roman Empire was kept ablaze in the Vatican and in the minds of popes and Catholic leaders. The Vatican patiently watched and waited, knowing that the opportunity to resurrect the Roman Empire would eventually come.
From the fifth through seventh centuries, Germanic tribes gained control over northern and western Europe—the territory of what was once the western empire. Though these tribes rejected Roman government, remarkably, many converted to Rome’s religion. Moreover, the political power vacuum in Western Europe gave the Roman church a chance to, as Paul Johnson writes, create society “in its own Christian image” (op cit).
As Catholicism was embraced throughout the former empire, the church saw opportunities to exert its influence. Western Europe was devoid of moral and political authority and leadership, leaving the Catholic Church as the only organized, wealthy and sophisticated organization.
The following statement by Paul Johnson is remarkable. Many cities throughout the empire survived the collapse of the Imperial Restoration “with the Catholic bishop as their chief inhabitant and decision-maker,” Johnson writes. “He organized the defenses, ran the market economy, presided over justice, negotiated with other cities and rulers. … In some cases, the bishops organized ‘civilized’ resistance against the ‘invaders.’ Far more often, however, they negotiated with them and in time came to act as their advisers.”
Lacking strong political leadership, it was left to the Roman Catholic Church to develop and uphold the rule of law and train and educate Europe’s uneducated. Johnson continues: “As pagan societies, all the tribal confederations possessed vast and ancient bodies of customary law, not written but memorized, and slowly and occasionally altered in the light of changing needs. When the church came into contact with these barbarian societies, and induced them to accept baptism or, in the case of Arians, full communion with Rome, its bishops almost immediately set up arrangements to link Christian legal customs with existing pagan law codes.”
Europe was not at this moment being ruled by a centralized political government from Rome, but it was still being created in the shape and form of the Roman Empire. By whom? By the Vatican and by thousands of Roman Catholic bishops scattered across Europe.
Johnson gives the example of the laws of the Lombard King Rothari, called Rothari’s Edict. This was written not in Lombardic, but in Latin, the language of Rome. Some material was copied directly from Justinian’s code of laws. “In this code, in fact, there are not only Roman elements but a formal foundation in Roman law,” he writes. “Rothari was an Arian; but his court had clearly been infiltrated by Catholic clergy, and his code indicates that his political and legal thinking was moving on a moral level which was plainly the result of Christian influence.”
The church also took charge of the writing of history. “If the church was identified with the future in the minds of the barbarians, it also established itself as the custodian and interpreter of their past,” Johnson continues. “[T]he church possessed from the start a monopoly of the writing of history. This was absolutely central to its success in making so deep an impression on Dark Age society.”
Catholic clerics recorded the oral traditions of the tribes. In feudal Europe, Catholic monks and clerics were the scribes to kings and lords, responsible for writing and storing the important records. Men increasingly began to view the history of their nation through the lens of the Catholic Church. Early medieval Europeans were taught to view their tribes’ conversion to Catholicism as the moment they transitioned from darkness to light.
The church carried the learning and knowledge of the past into the post-Roman world. Monasteries became the repositories of ancient know-how, and they transmitted it to medieval Europe. With no central political power to lead, the church had a monopoly on Europe’s culture and education. “This presented the church with a unique opportunity to capture society by its roots. It had the chance not merely to establish a stranglehold on education, but to re-create the whole process and content and purpose of education in a Christian setting,” Johnson writes.
The foundation of that education was devised by Isidore, a powerful Catholic bishop. This became “the basis for all teaching in the West for about 800 years,” writes Johnson. Isidore’s works “determined educational method, as well as content, from the primary to the university level. Everything taught thereafter was no more than an elaboration of what he wrote: It was impossible for the medieval mind to break out of his system.” His work was based on the foundation of the ancient world, and it was through the Catholic Church that these ideas reached the modern world.
Today we take for granted the freedom with which we can access knowledge in books, on the Internet, at universities. In medieval Europe, formal education was rare; even books were extremely scarce. Most people couldn’t read or write anyway. The chief repository of knowledge, secular and religious, was the Catholic priest and the local abbey.
The church also carried practical knowledge from the ruins of Rome. As the descendants of Rome’s leading families, the bishops were skilled landowners and experts in estate management. “In barbarian eyes, churchmen were ‘modern’ farmers, who kept accounts, planned ahead, invested,” writes Johnson. “Together, bishoprics and abbacies constituted the core of the agricultural economy of Europe. Bishops and abbots were the innovatory elite of society.”
The monks “saved agriculture when nobody else could save it,” said Henry Goodell, president of Massachusetts Agricultural College. “They practiced it under a new life and new conditions when no one else dared to undertake it.” Johann Lorenz von Mosheim of the Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern said, “Wherever they came, they converted the wilderness into a cultivated country: They pursued the breeding of cattle and agriculture, labored with their own hands, drained morasses, and cleared away forests. … By them, Germany was cultivated and rendered a fruitful country.”
Truly, the influence of the Catholic Church on European history is much more extensive than what most people know. Today we underestimate the extent—right down to the smallest details—to which Europe was built by the Catholic Church!
Seeking Another Champion
Although they wielded considerable spiritual, moral and cultural influence in the sixth through eighth centuries, Catholic authorities knew that in order to attain universal supremacy, they needed help from a political and military power. The Vatican needed another Justinian, another powerful personality it could inspire and guide in another crusade to unite Europe and resurrect the ancient Roman Empire.
Pope Gregory i was the first to start creating this champion in the seventh century. Here is how Johnson describes Gregory’s effort: “The future, he thought, lay with the ‘emerging nations’ north of the Alps. The job of the bishop of Rome was to bring them into Christianity, to integrate them with the ecclesiastical system. It was no use lamenting the empire. ‘The eagle,’ he wrote, ‘has gone bald and lost his feathers. … Where is the Senate, where are the old people of Rome? Gone.’ … Gregory preached a basic evangelical religion, shorn of classical complexity and elegance; and he sent his monks to teach it to wild, coarse Germanic-speaking warriors with long hair and the future in their strong arms” (op cit).
Pope Gregory initiated an alliance with the “emerging nations north of the Alps” that would coalesce on and off for the next thousand years. By the middle of the eighth century, with the Germanic tribes of northern Europe now embracing Catholicism, the Vatican was positioned to exploit the man who would resurrect the Roman Empire and forever be regarded as the father of European unification.
Sidebar: The Catholic Calendar
One dramatic measure of the Catholic religion’s global influence is its control over the definition and measurement of time itself. Even today, though the presence of Catholicism doesn’t seem as ubiquitous as it once was, we continue to live by a calendar largely created by the popes of old: the Gregorian calendar—named after Pope Gregory xiii. That calendar revolves around fixing the date of Easter in line with the spring equinox, ensuring that the Catholic’s pagan festivals fall at the right time relative to Earth’s revolution around the sun.
This calendar is based on the Julian calendar, the Roman calendar established in 45 b.c. by Julius Caesar. He chose the names and lengths of the months that we still use today (except July and August, which were renamed after Julius and Augustus). But the Julian calendar was later altered by the Vatican.
Here is what is truly amazing: God actually prophesied that the Catholic Church would change time itself!
Read the prophecy in Daniel 7:24-25. Here God is talking about the “little horn,” the Catholic Church. (This is thoroughly proved in Chapter 9.) “And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.”
What is the Catholic Church’s motive for changing the way mankind measures time? The first half of verse 25 provides the answer: It is an attempt to destroy—by removing from mankind’s memory—the knowledge about God’s true holy days and the Sabbath.
Among these 10 kingdoms which have ruled in the Western world since the fall of Rome to the present, appeared another “little horn,” whose “look was more stout than his fellows.” In other words, another government, actually smaller, yet dominating over all the others. Students of prophecy recognize this “little horn” as a great religious hierarchy. And in the 25th verse of this prophecy, it is stated that this hierarchy shall “think to change times and laws.”
This same power is mentioned again in the 17th chapter of Revelation, here pictured as ruling over the kings and kingdoms of the Earth, persecuting the true saints.
In every possible manner, this power has changed time!
God begins the days at sunset, but “the little horn” has changed it so the world now begins the day in the middle of the night by a man-made watch.
God begins the week with the ending of the true Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, but the world begins the working week in the middle of the night, the second day of the week.
God begins the months with the new moons, but this “little horn” has induced the world to begin the months according to a clumsy man-made calendar of heathen origin.
God begins the year in the early spring, when new life is budding in nature everywhere, but ancient heathen Rome caused the world to begin the year in the middle of dead winter.
God gave His children a true rest day, designed to keep them continually in the knowledge and true worship of the true God—a memorial of God’s creation—the seventh day of the week. But the “little horn” has fastened upon a deluded world the observance of the days on which the pagans worshiped the sun, the first day of the week, called Sunday.