3.2.1. The rise of the Holy Roman Empire

3.2. THE FIRST PERIOD: 950-1000

3.2.1. The rise of the Holy Roman Empire

In the year 1000 Western Christians continued to be obsessed with the fate of the Roman Empire. Glaber said that Western Christianity was the successor of the Roman world and he dedicated to the memory of the former empire his most important work, Historiarum libri quinque ab anno incarnationis DCCCC usque ad anum MXLIV.165

In 954 Adson, abbot of Montier-en-Der, concluded Libellus de Antichristo, a work addressed in particular to the queen of West Francia and in general to all who were concerned with the issue of the end of the world. Adson advised his contemporaries to calm and peace because, from his point of view, the end was far: the prophecy of the messianic emperor had not been yet fulfilled, the Jewish Antichrist had to be preceded by many other antichrists, who would create disorder, and the Antichrist could not appear as long as the Roman Empire was still standing. The destiny of the Universe was still tied to that of the empire: the disintegration of this structure, ruling over the earthly city, preceded the return to chaos and total annihilation. Adson, however, like Glaber, did not refer to the Byzantine Empire. For the medieval Western scholars the coronation of Charlemagne as Imperator Augustus and the beginning of the Carolingian dynasty had revived certain political and spiritual structures which were ensuring the continuity of the genuine Roman Empire with the capital in Rome. Better said, Adson assured his queen that, as long as her Carolingian dynasty was reigning, the Carolingian Empire and

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2.2. The prophecy of the messianic emperor


Shortly after he came to power in 306, Emperor Constantine the Great promoted religious tolerance in order to stop the conflicts within the empire. But Constantine was not prepared to become a Christian; he only converted in 312 and continued to hold the pagan position of Pontifex Maximus (a title discarded by emperors, but later taken by the Papacy: the “Supreme Pontiff”). In the spring of 313 Constantine, together with Licinius, promulgated the Edict of Milan. Through this act he asked all governors of the provinces to stop all religious persecutions and the confiscated properties to be immediately returned. The edict did not declare Christianity as the official religion of the empire, but it only allowed religious freedom, so that anyone may worship any deity without being persecuted. However, through the Edict of Milan in 313 and the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 emanated by Emperor Theodosius, Christianity ended by becoming a reality first tolerated, and then a constitutive part of the empire. The tradition spread the idea that the Edict of Milan was the act through which tolerance toward the Christian religion was instituted, but Galerius issued an edict of tolerance in 311 as well.142

Constantine was far from being a saint. On the contrary; he committed unimaginable atrocities to secure his power, while the legalization of Christianity (together with the other beliefs) was nothing but a political scheme meant to bring peace within the empire and to gain the sympathy of his subjects.143 But, just as Cyrus the Great stood as a model for the image of the Messiah, the masses of Christians responded by idolizing Constantine the liberator. The emperor shifted the religious paradigm: Christians appreciated him, worshiped him, and even sanctified and began to celebrate him on the 21st of May. Indeed, the creation of legends regarding great personalities was a common practice. But the alliance between the church and the imperial institution so grossly altered and exaggerated the image of the emperor, that this became an integral part of the apocalyptic scenario. The Roman emperor turned into the predecessor of Christ’s return, while the Roman Empire was no longer seen as an apocalyptic

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1.4. From Babylon the Great to the Christian Empire


The image of the Roman Empire as Babylon the Great suffered a strange transformation in the 4th century, after Emperor Constantine the Great granted religious freedom, converted to Christianity, and the religion of Christ became the dominant cult of the empire. The change of the political context led to the change of the eschatological context. As in the case of Nero and the Jewish Antichrist, two contradictory conceptions merged. On the one hand, for the early Christians the Roman Empire was the Whore of Babylon (negative connotation), “drunk with the blood of the saints” (Christians) persecuted and killed. Rome was the capital of an empire of abomination and martyrdom, Peter the Apostle being its first victim. The luxury, the exuberance and the paganism were making Rome a damned city, accurately described by Daniel and John. It was the sanctuary of Satan’s acolytes, the emperor and the senate, from whose mouths the orders of execution, torture and confiscation were coming.

On the other hand, for the non-Christian citizens of the empire the capital was the cradle of civilization itself, the city established through the will and the blessing of the gods, the heart of the empire and the factor of stability that was preventing the world to return to chaos. Rome was more than a capital-city; it was an icon of unity, progress and civilization. Jews believe that Jerusalem holds a major role in God’s universal plan; in the same way the Romans saw the “city of the seven hills” as the heart of mankind. Rome was simply worshiped

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1.2. Nero the Jew – the Antichrist


Early Christians agreed that the fourth beast from Daniel’s visions refers to the Roman Empire, that the Whore of Babylon from Revelation refers to Rome and that the final events of the world were taking place in front of their eyes. The main problem was the identification of the Antichrist.

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries Irenaeus of Gaul and Hippolytus of Rome elaborated so well the image of the Antichrist that their conclusions became eschatological landmarks for the entire Christianity. Nowhere in Revelation is the name “Antichrist” mentioned but, as in Daniel, the entities with negative connotation are symbolized through beasts. Irenaeus advanced the idea that the Beast 666 from Revelation 13 is one and the same with the “abomination of desolation” described by Jesus in the gospels (Matthew 24:15), named by the apostles the “Antichrist,” the “son of perdition,” the “man of sin” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), and by Daniel a “king of fierce countenance” (Daniel 8:23).59 Furthermore, Irenaeus speculated that the ten horns from Daniel 7:7 are one and the same with the ten horns from Revelation 17:12-13: “And the ten horns that thou sawest are ten kings, who have received no kingdom as yet; but they receive authority as kings, with the beast, for one hour.

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