Chapter 4

Otto the Great—the Birth of German Nationalism

From the booklet The Holy Roman Empire in Prophecy
By Brad Macdonald

“When the German kings acquired the right to be crowned Roman emperors, the German people themselves became the imperial nation. They accordingly began to take pride in the German name. A national sentiment was thus aroused, which the Germans never afterwards abandoned.”—Israel Smith Clare

Charlemagne died in his castle in Aachen the morning of January 28, 814. He was an ardent Catholic till his last breath. His last act before he died was taking communion.

Before he died, Charles handed the keys of the Frankish empire to his son Louis the Pious. But Louis lacked the personality and leadership to fill the massive vacuum created by the death of his seemingly omnipotent father. It wasn’t long before civil war broke out, and within a few years, Charlemagne’s Frankish empire, one of the largest to ever rule Europe, had collapsed.

The empire was dead, but Charlemagne’s dream of a Catholic-led, resurrected Holy Roman Empire was not. By the middle of the 10th century, it was once again becoming reality—this time on the east side of the Rhine River, in the forests of Germany.

In the early 10th century, the Germanic King Henry i, also known as Henry the Fowler, repelled many of the invaders plaguing Germany and established his royal influence over most of the dukes and aristocrats that ruled the Germanic tribes. By the time King Henry died and his son inherited his throne, the peoples of Germany had a strong central government. In 936, Henry’s son Otto was crowned king of Germany.

Like Charlemagne, Otto was crowned in Aachen. And like Charlemagne, elements of Otto’s coronation were copied from the Old Testament. His crown and clothing were modeled on the garments worn by ancient Israel’s high priest (it also contained images of Israel’s kings and of Christ). The symbols of the ceremony show that Otto saw himself as a high king-priest.

As soon as he became king, Otto picked up where his father left off. Like Charlemagne before him, Otto the Great employed the sword and the cross to resurrect the ancient Roman Empire—this time creating a distinctly German Holy Roman Empire!

The Ottonian System

Otto the Great wasted no time in forging a close relationship with the Vatican and making the Catholic Church the key sponsor of his dream of an empire. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that when Otto inherited the throne of his father, the “Ottonian system, a close alliance of the German realm with the church, was begun” (emphasis added throughout). As the Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges, “Charlemagne, too, had carried out the great conception of unity of church and state.”

The Ottonian system, wrote Friedrich Heer in his book The Holy Roman Empire, “transferred to [Catholic] bishops a preponderant weight and major responsibility, thus making the imperial church the cornerstone of the empire.” The pope became Otto’s chief advocate. And Otto, thanks to his relationship with the Vatican, was given the moral and spiritual license to do whatever was necessary to create a Germanic Catholic empire.

Of course, endorsing Europe’s most powerful leader came with terrific benefits for the Vatican. Like Charlemagne, Otto assumed the responsibility of defending the Catholic Church. In 960, when Pope John xii came under attack by Berengar of Ivrea, a descendant of the Lombards, Otto rode to his rescue. In 962, Pope John xii made Otto “holy Roman emperor,” and the new emperor went on to defeat Berengar. For the next 800 years, German kings called themselves “Roman emperors of the German nation.”

Like Charlemagne’s alliance with the Vatican, the Catholic-German alliance was also a military alliance. “By granting the church such royal domains as were not in use, the state could devote its revenues to military purposes,” reads the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Otto was a ruthless warrior. He used the sword to forcefully spread the reach of the Catholic Church. Encyclopedia Britannica says he was “subject to violent bursts of passion” and that “[h]is policy was to crush all tendencies to independence” (11th edition). Under Otto, like Charlemagne, “[c]onversion was by the sword,” wrote Heer.

Otto quickly expanded the borders of the German Empire. He conquered northern Italy and became the most powerful ruler in Europe. In each new territory he conquered, Otto carefully planted new German colonies. Of course, these were also Catholic colonies, meaning that as the German Empire expanded, so did the reach and influence of the church.

Otto used the church as an agent to administer the regions he conquered. Besides increasing the support he received from churchmen, this arrangement helped secure Otto’s leadership. Bishops were supposed to be celibate, which meant they would never rebel in order to set up their own dynasty.

The Rise of German Nationalism

The rule of Otto marked the dawn of German nationalism. Prior to this time, the Germans were still largely divided according to tribe. “But when the German kings acquired the right to be crowned Roman emperors, the German people themselves became the imperial nation. They accordingly began to take pride in the German name. A national sentiment was thus aroused, which the Germans never afterwards abandoned” (Israel Smith Clare, The World’s History Illuminated, Vol. 4).

German nationalism is rooted in the work of Otto the Great—an ardent Catholic and a man cut from the same cloth as Charlemagne. The world-ruling, nationalistic spirit that he engendered is what drove so many German kings across the Alps into Italy in search of things Roman. Although relations between German emperors and Catholic popes have not been without competition and struggle for supremacy, it is clear why the affair has endured the test of time. German emperors have always known that the road to world dominion goes through Rome.

Equally so, the papacy has long known that the only way to forcefully spread its religion is to straddle the terrifying political beast wielding the sword.

The Investiture Controversy

Otto’s empire—the third revival of the Holy Roman Empire—proved to be more enduring than Charlemagne’s. He passed rulership on to his sons and their descendants, who preserved the vital Catholic connection to the empire. The length to which many German kings went to secure close ties with the papacy is remarkable. In fact, Otto’s next two successors, his son and grandson, spent most of their lives, and eventually died, in the neighborhood of Rome.

During this time, however, tension emerged between the German kings and the Vatican. Church officials grew tired of the kings’ influence in ecclesiastical affairs, and by the reign of Henry iv in 1056 the church was ready to stand up to the kings and assert its spiritual influence over the state. In 1075, Pope Gregory vii began issuing commands to Henry, a move that quickly annoyed the king and resulted in a showdown between the two most powerful men in Europe.

This confrontation is known today as the Investiture Controversy. It was essentially a battle over who had the right to choose church leaders. But the root cause of the fight was the Catholic Church’s thirst for power. “There can be little doubt that Gregory vii was the aggressor, in that Henry iv was merely doing what all his predecessors had done,” writes Paul Johnson in A History of Christianity.

Since the time of Otto, the king had appointed the church’s bishops. Now the popes refused to allow this, saying that only church authorities could appoint them. But the scope of the confrontation went far beyond appointing bishops. The bishops held so much secular power that handing over sole control of the bishops to Rome meant handing over large swathes of the empire. What the pope wanted “amounted to a theory of papal world-government,” writes Johnson.

The Catholic Church, according to Pope Gregory vii, “has never erred; nor will it err.” The pope proclaimed that he alone had the authority not only to appoint and work with the bishops, but also to “make new laws … depose emperors and absolve subjects from their allegiance,” Johnson explains.

This is a perfect real-world embodiment of the woman riding the beast described in Revelation 17!

Such a papal power grab was unacceptable to the German kings. In January 1076, Henry gathered the bishops from northern Italy and Germany. They all agreed not to obey the pope, and actually called on Gregory to abdicate. Pope Gregory excommunicated the emperor and all the bishops who allied with him. The pope claimed he had power to make and unmake emperors, and so Henry was no longer the king of the Germans.

The real holder of power quickly became clear. Henry’s nobles seized on this papal pronouncement as an opportunity to rebel against their king. Within a year, a penitent Henry waited in the snow outside the pope’s residence in bare feet, begging forgiveness. In the imagery of biblical prophecy, the beast was groveling before the woman, seeking forgiveness and restitution.

But with so much at stake, the confrontation did not end quickly. The pope deposed and excommunicated Henry again in 1080. The emperor won this round of the battle; Pope Gregory was driven from Rome and died in exile. Gregory’s successors remained adamant in their opposition to the political ruler. The confrontation was vicious, and on several occasions the Catholic Church even attempted to assassinate Germany’s monarchs. “Unspeakable ferocity was throughout the hallmark of these death-struggles between popes and emperors,” writes Johnson.

Finally in 1122, at Worms, Pope Calixtus ii and Emperor Henry v came to an agreement. The church won the authority to elect its own bishops, but it agreed to do so in the presence of the emperor. It was a victory for the pope. The church could guide the beast—as long as it didn’t force the empire too far out of its way. The rivalry between pope and emperor, however, continued for the rest of this resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire, weakening it and hastening its downfall.

The Vatican never forgot the German kings who had defied it. Hundreds of years later, in the 13th century, the church had the descendants of these kings imprisoned or executed.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Revelation 17 prophecy is that, in addition to forecasting the unity between the woman and the beast, it says that there would also be tension and confrontation. Speaking of the final resurrection of this Holy Roman Empire, Revelation 17:16 states, “And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore [the Catholic Church], and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.” This scripture states there will be another falling-out between church and state in this end time.

In Henry’s time, church-state cooperation did not end for good. With the fall of the Ottonian Empire, the stage was set for another German family to gain favor with the Vatican in its quest for world rule. This royal line would eventually span 600 years of history!

Sidebar: The Catholic Crusades

The Crusades were a series of Roman Catholic “holy” wars that occurred between the late-11th century and the 15th century. The purpose of these wars was to wrest control of the Holy Land from the Muslims. They produced some of the bloodiest battles in history.

In a.d. 614, Catholics fought and were defeated in a war against the Persians and the Jews. “Christians” claim some 60,000 Catholics were killed and 35,000 enslaved. The fall of Jerusalem left the Catholic world shocked and mourning—and bitter against the Jews for the role they had played in the war. Some historians consider this the First Crusade. But the Crusades we best remember came later, beginning in the 11th century.

These Crusades began on November 27, 1095, at the Council of Clermont. Here in southern France, Pope Urban ii delivered a rousing speech to thousands of followers. He told Catholic Europeans that it was their “Christian” duty to recapture Jerusalem, butcher the “heathens” who had infiltrated it, and reestablish Vatican control over the spiritual and physical “center” of the universe. The pope’s speech unleashed a savage Catholic army—one so devoted to its cause that it marched 3,000 miles to conquer the Holy Land.

In Crusades, Terry Jones and Alan Ereira write: “By summoning an army under the banner of the cross, the pope was extending the church’s mantle over all Christendom. This was the idea at the very heart of the revolutionary papacy; in place of separate local churches at the center of discreet communities, there was to be one overarching church, ruled by one overarching pope. The Crusade was to be its expression and its instrument. …

“Urban’s army would also rescue Jerusalem, the spiritual (and therefore the physical) center of the universe. He hoped that the redeemed Jerusalem would be directly ruled by the church.”

The Crusades reveal the Catholic Church’s profound desire to control Jerusalem. But that aim is just part of its desire for world domination. The way to world government, it believed—and still believes—is through Jerusalem. Paul Johnson writes that the church held “the idea that Europe was a Christian entity, which had acquired certain inherent rights over the rest of the world by virtue of its faith, and its duty to spread it” (A History of Christianity).

In Urban’s famous speech, unreliably recorded by William of Malmesbury, the pope declared: “Can anyone tolerate that we do not even share equality with the Muslims the inhabited Earth? They have made Asia, which is a third of the world, their homeland. … They have forcibly helped Africa, the second portion of the world, for over 200 years.” This arrangement was upside-down, the pope argued: “In one sense the whole world is exile for a Christian, and in another the whole world is his country.”

Jones and Ereira conclude, “By saying that carrying out a military/political enterprise would make you a better person, wiping out past sins, Urban had invented a way by which every person could internalize papal policy. Fighting in the pope’s cause was not only an obligation, it made you righteous. With that one idea, mass political action was launched. With that one idea, ideology was born. With that one idea, the Crusade was set in motion. Urban did not understand what he had done” (op cit).

Pope Urban initiated a series of indescribably brutal wars between Catholics and Muslims. The Crusades spilled rivers of blood, all in the name of God. Of course, Muslims responded with massive slaughters against the crusaders, also in the name of God.

Jones and Ereira recalled an incident after the Catholic army had taken Jerusalem. “The following morning the Crusaders reentered the al-Aqsa Mosque and slaughtered every Muslim sheltering there. No one knows how many died; the Muslim chronicler reports 70,000. One of the crusaders reports picking his way through a mess of blood and bodies more than knee-deep” (ibid). This was only one gruesome episode of many.

The Catholic Church endorsed the slaughter of tens of thousands. “But killing, the pope now declared, need not be a sin after all. It depended on who you killed. In fact, if you killed the enemies of Christ, killing did not require penance—it was the penance. Holy slaughter could be as effective a devotional activity as prayer, or fasting, or pilgrimage …” (ibid). Killing heathens put one on the path to salvation!

Muslim and Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem were mercilessly slaughtered. All of this was done by Catholics who sincerely believed—and had been told by the pope—that they were becoming more righteous in the process. The memory of such horrendous massacres still lives in the minds of many Arabs. Those memories have provoked Arabs and Jews to massacre Catholics throughout history in a similar manner—all in the name of religion.

The Crusade philosophy has made Catholic popes the bloodiest religious leaders ever.

Still, most people ignore this sobering reality. Most history books, when they recite this history, speak of the Crusades as the “Christian” crusades. This is watering down the truth. The fact is, it was the Catholic Church that spearheaded this bloody series of wars! The Catholics unleashed their violence even against Orthodox Christians at times.

This is the main reason why the worst Catholic crusade is yet to come: Because mankind refuses to study history, accept the truth, and believe God!

Sidebar: Causing Many to Be Put to Death

The Catholic Church was responsible for the death of millions during the Middle Ages. The Crusades massacred whole cities in the Middle East. But the church killed thousands in Europe too. Society was Catholic. To reject Catholicism was to reject society. Jews had no rights. Those who converted away from Catholicism were put to death.

How were the “heretics” killed? Revelation 13:15 says this religious beast would “cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.” It wouldn’t kill them itself—it would “cause” them to be killed. This is exactly what the church did.

If an un-Catholic belief took root in an area where there was a weak government, the church called on an outside power to intervene. For example, in 1208 the church called for the Albigensian Crusades in the south of France. Knights who fought were given a free pass through purgatory from the pope. The crusaders didn’t bother trying to sort the Catholics from the “heretics.” The pope told them, “Kill them all. God will know His own.” Whole cities were massacred. One soldier boasted to the pope that they had killed 15,000 in taking one city, “showing mercy neither to order, nor age nor sex.” The Crusades were a license for soldiers to rape, pillage and burn, while the pope told them they were doing God’s work.

The church also condemned individual “heretics” to death. Their method was subtle. The Bible says this church looks like a lamb and speaks like a dragon (verse 11). If the church accused someone of heresy, it wouldn’t kill the man. Instead it labeled him as being “deprived of the protection of the church.” It even sent a formal plea for mercy for the heretic. The church looked like a lamb—but this was only an illusion. The local official knew that if he didn’t have the man put to death, he himself would be condemned as a defender of heretics and killed.

In rooting out these heretics and punishing “thought crimes,” the church violated “town charters, written and customary laws, and virtually every aspect of established jurisprudence,” Paul Johnson explains. “The object, quite simply, was to produce convictions at any cost” (A History of Christianity).

Continue Reading: Chapter 5: The Habsburg Dynasty—a Global Empire