Christianisation of the Germanic peoples

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9th-century depiction of Christ as a heroic warrior (Stuttgart Psalter, fol. 23, illustration of Psalm 91:13) Stuttgart Psalter fol23.jpg
9th-century depiction of Christ as a heroic warrior (Stuttgart Psalter, fol. 23, illustration of Psalm 91:13)

The Germanic peoples underwent gradual Christianization in the course of late antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. By AD 700, England and Francia were officially Christian, and by 1100 Germanic paganism had also ceased to have political influence in Scandinavia.

Contents

History

In the 4th century, the early process of Christianization of the various Germanic people was partly facilitated by the prestige of the Christian Roman Empire among European pagans. Until the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes who had migrated there (with the exceptions of the Saxons, Franks, and Lombards, see below) had converted to Christianity. [1] Many of them, notably the Goths and Vandals, adopted Arianism instead of the Trinitarian (a.k.a. Nicene or orthodox ) beliefs that were dogmatically defined by the church in the Nicene Creed. [1] The gradual rise of Germanic Christianity was, at times, voluntary, particularly among groups associated with the Roman Empire. From the 6th century, Germanic tribes were converted (or re-converted from Arianism) by missionaries of the Catholic Church. [2] [3]

Many Goths converted to Christianity as individuals outside the Roman Empire. Most members of other tribes converted to Christianity when their respective tribes settled within the Empire, and most Franks and Anglo-Saxons converted a few generations later. During the centuries following the fall of Rome, as the East–West Schism between the dioceses loyal to the Pope of Rome in the West and those loyal to the other Patriarchs in the East grew, most of the Germanic peoples (excepting the Crimean Goths and a few other eastern groups) would gradually become strongly allied with the Catholic Church in the West, particularly as a result of the reign of Charlemagne.

Goths

In the 3rd century, East Germanic tribes migrated into the steppes, north of the Black Sea in what today is southwest Ukraine, Crimea and from there to Bessarabia and today's Romania. The Greuthungi or Ostrogoths lived in Bessarabia and the Thervingi lived in the provinces of Moldova and Wallachia, which they called Caucaland.[ citation needed ] Gothic culture and identity emerged from various East-Germanic, Sarmatian, local Dacian, and Roman influences. In the same period, Gothic raiders took captives among the Romans, including many Christians, and Roman-supported raiders took captives among the Goths.

Ulfilas, or Wulfila, was the son or grandson of Christians from Sadagolthina (near Parnassus [4] [5] ) in Cappadocia who had been taken captive by the Goths. In 337 or 341, Ulfilas was sent by Arian emperor Constantius II to preach to the Goths in their language, and became the first bishop of the (Arian Christian) Goths. By 348, one of the (pagan) Gothic kings (reikos)[ what language is this? ] began persecuting the Christian Goths, and Ulfilas and many other Christian Goths, [6] fled to safety within the Roman Empire's borders.

Between 348 and 383, Ulfilas translated the Bible into the Gothic language. [7] [8] Thus some Arian Christians in the west used the vernacular languages, in this case including Gothic and Latin, for services, as did Christians in the eastern Roman provinces, while most Christians in the western provinces used Latin.

Franks and Alamanni

Figure carved on the Frankish grave stele of Konigswinter (seventh century), known as the earliest material witness of Christian presence in the German Rhineland; the figure is presumably a depiction of Christ as a heroic warrior wielding a lance, with a halo or crown of rays emanating from his head. Frankish depiction of Jesus.JPG
Figure carved on the Frankish grave stele of Königswinter (seventh century), known as the earliest material witness of Christian presence in the German Rhineland; the figure is presumably a depiction of Christ as a heroic warrior wielding a lance, with a halo or crown of rays emanating from his head.

The pagan Franks, who had been migrating to Gaul from the third century, with their ruling Merovingian dynasty converted to the Catholic Church on Christmas Day in 498, [9] following the Battle of Tolbiac, when Clovis I converted and was baptised at Reims. The details of this event have been passed down by Gregory of Tours, who recorded them many years later in the sixth century. After their conversion he portrayed the Franks as fighting against Arian heretics and barbarians. However, evidence indicates that Clovis failed to cause religious disagreement between the Arian Visigoths and the Gallo-Romans and there is no indication that religion was the motivation for the wars. [10] Many of the Frankish aristocracy followed Clovis in converting to Christianity, but the conversion of all his subjects occurred after considerable effort and in some regions over the next two centuries. [11] The Chronicle of St. Denis relates that, following Clovis' conversion, a number of pagans who were unhappy rallied around Ragnachar, who had played an important role in Clovis' initial rise to power. Though the text remains unclear as to the precise pretext, Clovis had Ragnachar executed. [12] Remaining pockets of resistance were overcome region by region, primarily due to the work of an expanding network of monasteries. [13]

The Alemanni became Christians only after a period of syncretism during the 7th century, by gradual emulation of the new religion of the Merovingian elite. The Lombards adopted Catholic Christianity as they entered Italy, also during the 6th century.

Until 1066, by which time the Danes and the Norse had lost their foothold in Britain, theological and missionary work in Germany was largely organized by Anglo-Saxon missionaries, with mixed success. A key event was the felling of Donar's Oak in 723 near Fritzlar by Saint Boniface, apostle of the Germans and first archbishop of Mainz.

Continental Saxons

The conversion of the Old Saxons was imposed by armed force and successfully completed by Charles the Great (Charlemagne) and the Franks in a series of campaigns (the Saxon Wars), starting in 772 with the destruction of their Irminsul and culminating in the defeat and massacre of Saxon leaders at the Massacre of Verden in 787 and the subjugation of this large tribe by forced population movements of Saxons into Frankish territory and vice versa.

England

The Christianization of Anglo-Saxon England began around AD 600, influenced by the Gregorian mission from the south-east and the Hiberno-Scottish mission from the north-west. Pope Gregory I sent the first Archbishop of Canterbury, Augustine, to southern England in 597. The process of conversion usually proceeded from the top of the social hierarchy downwards, generally peacefully, with a local ruler choosing to convert, whereupon his subjects then also nominally became Christian. This process was often only partial, perhaps due to confusion as to the nature of the new religion, or for a desire to take the best of both traditions. A famous case of this was king Rædwald of East Anglia, who had a Christian altar erected within his pagan temple. His suspected burial place at Sutton Hoo shows definite influences of both Christian and pagan burial rites.

The last pagan Anglo-Saxon king, the Jutish king Arwald of the Isle of Wight, was killed in battle in 686 fighting against the imposition of Christianity in his kingdom.

During the prolonged period of Viking incursions and settlement of Anglo-Saxon England pagan ideas and religious rites made something of a comeback, mainly in the Danelaw during the 9th century and particularly in the Kingdom of Northumbria, whose last king to rule it as an independent state was Eric Bloodaxe, a Viking, probably pagan and ruler until 954 AD.

Scandinavia

Scandinavia was the last part of Germanic Europe to convert and most resistant. From the High Middle Ages, the territories of Northern Europe were gradually converted to Christianity under German leadership, and made into nation states under the Church's guidance.

Later, German and Scandinavian noblemen extended their power to also Finnic, Samic, Baltic and some Slavic peoples.

Characteristics

The baptism of Clovis highlights two important characteristics of the Christianization of Europe. Clovis I's wife Clotilde was a Chalcedonian Christian and had an important role in the conversion of her husband. [14] Long before his own baptism, Clovis had allowed his sons to be baptised. [15] However, the decisive reason for Clovis to adopt the Christian faith was the belief that he received spiritual battle aid from Christ. [16] [17] In the Battle of Tolbiac he prayed to Christ for victory. Clovis was victorious, and afterward he had himself instructed in the Christian faith by Saint Remigius. [18]

That a pagan like Clovis could ask Christ for help shows the adaptability of Germanic polytheism. In the polytheistic Germanic tradition, "if Odin failed, one absolutely could try it with Christ for once." [15] The Christian sense of religious exclusivism was unknown to the pagans. As a result, pagans could be pragmatic and almost utilitarian in their religious decisions. A good example for this are several Thor's Hammers with engraved crosses, worn as amulets, that archaeologists have found in Scandinavia. [19] Another exemplary event happened during Ansgar's second stay in Birka, a pagan priest demanded from the locals that they not participate in the cult of the foreign Christian God. If they did not have enough gods yet, they should elevate one of their deceased kings, Erik, to be a god. [20]

The baptism of Clovis I also highlights the sacral role of the Germanic king. A Germanic king was not only a political ruler, but also held the highest religious office for his people. [21] He was seen as of divine descent, was the leader of the religious cult and was responsible for the fertility of the land and military victory. Accordingly, the conversion of their leader had a strong impact on his people. If he considered it appropriate to adopt the Christian belief, this also was a good idea for them.

Conversion of the Germanic tribes in general took place "top to bottom" (Fletcher 1999:236), in the sense that missionaries aimed at converting the Germanic nobility first, who would then impose their new faith on the general population. This is attributable to the sacral position of the king in Germanic paganism: The king is charged with interacting with the divine on behalf of his people, so that the general population saw nothing wrong with their kings choosing alternate modes of worship (Padberg 1998:29; though Fletcher 1999:238 would rather attribute the motivation for conversion to the workings of loyalty-for-reward ethics that underpinned the relationship between a king and his retinue). Consequently, Christianity had to be made palatable to these Migration Age warlords as a heroic religion of conquerors, a rather straightforward task, considering the military splendour of the Roman Empire.

Thus early Germanic Christianity was presented as an alternative to native Germanic paganism and elements were syncretized, for examples parallels between Woden and Christ. A fine illustration of these tendencies is the Anglo-Saxon poem Dream of the Rood , where Jesus is cast in the heroic model of a Germanic warrior, who faces his death unflinchingly and even eagerly. The Cross, speaking as if it were a member of Christ's band of retainers, accepts its fate as it watches its Creator die, and then explains that Christ's death was not a defeat but a victory. This is in direct correspondence to the Germanic pagan ideals of fealty to one's lord.

Later developments

In the German Holy Roman Empire of the High Middle Ages, there was a chronic power-struggle between the Emperor and the Pope, exemplified by the Investiture Controversy.

From the 16th century the Protestant Reformation erupted, which took hold almost exclusively in territories where Germanic languages are spoken (the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Britain). The last German Emperor to be crowned by the Pope was Maximilian I in 1493. The religious division eventually generated The Thirty Years War (1618–1648) which ultimately led to the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and the confessional division of Germanic Christianity that exists to this day: most of Austria, Luxembourg, Flanders (by force), Duchy of Brabant, Southern (especially, Bavaria) and Western Germany (notably Saarland and Rheinland part of Nordrhein-Westfalen) remained Catholic while Northern and Eastern Germany (notably Prussia) remained Lutheran. Under the Peace, the religion of the Lutheran or Catholic ruler determined the religion of his subjects. [22] The last German Pope, Benedict XVI, was born in Southern Germany (Bavaria) and was a product of this confessional division. The Romance speaking territories remained Catholic (with the exception of Geneva, where Calvinism originated) while Scandinavia remained Lutheran.

List of missionaries

Christian missionaries to Germanic peoples:

to the Goths

to the Lombards

to the Alamanni

to the Anglo-Saxons (see Anglo-Saxon Christianity)

to the Frankish Empire (see Hiberno-Scottish, Anglo-Saxon mission)

to the Bavarians

to Scandinavia

See also

Related Research Articles

Arianism Christological doctrine, attributed to Arius

Arianism is a Christological doctrine first attributed to Arius, a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, Egypt. Arian theology holds that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who was begotten by God the Father. The Arian concept of Christ is based on the belief that the Son of God did not always exist but was begotten within time by God the Father, therefore Jesus was not co-eternal with God the Father. Arianism holds that the Son is distinct from the Father and therefore subordinate to Him. The term Arian is derived from the name Arius; it was not what the followers of Arius's teachings called themselves, but rather a term used by outsiders. The nature of Arius's teachings and his supporters were opposed to the theological doctrines held by Homoousian Christians, regarding the nature of the Trinity and the nature of Christ.

Germanic peoples Group of northern European peoples in Roman times

The Germanic peoples were a historical group of people living in Central Europe and Scandinavia. Since the 19th century, they have been traditionally defined by the use of ancient and early medieval Germanic languages and are therefore also called "Germanic-speaking peoples", although different academic disciplines have their own definitions of what makes someone or something "Germanic". The Romans named the area in which Germanic peoples lived Germania, which modern scholarship typically describes as stretching West to East between the Vistula and Rhine rivers and north to south from Southern Scandinavia to the Danube. The concept of the Germanic peoples has become the subject of controversy among modern scholars, with some calling for its total abandonment.

Saxons Germanic tribes from the North German Plain

The Saxons were a group of early Germanic peoples whose name was given in the early Middle Ages to a large country near the North Sea coast of northern Germania, what is now Germany. In the late Roman Empire, the name was used to refer to Germanic coastal raiders, and also as a word something like the later "Viking". Their origins appear to be mainly somewhere in or near the above-mentioned German North Sea coast where they are found later, in Carolingian times. In Merovingian times, continental Saxons had also been associated with the activity and settlements on the coast of what later became Normandy. Their precise origins are uncertain, and they are sometimes described as fighting inland, coming into conflict with the Franks and Thuringians. There is possibly a single classical reference to a smaller homeland of an early Saxon tribe, but its interpretation is disputed. According to this proposal, the Saxons' earliest area of settlement is believed to have been Northern Albingia. This general area is close to the probable homeland of the Angles.

Ulfilas

Ulfilas, also known as Ulphilas and Orphila, all Latinized forms of the unattested Gothic form *𐍅𐌿𐌻𐍆𐌹𐌻𐌰 Wulfila, literally "Little Wolf", was a Goth of Cappadocian Greek descent who served as a bishop and missionary, is credited with the translation of the Bible into Gothic, and participated in the Arian controversy. He developed the Gothic alphabet – inventing a writing system based on the Greek alphabet – in order for the Bible to be translated into the Gothic language. Although traditionally the translation of the Bible into the Gothic language has been ascribed to Ulfilas, analysis of the text of the Gothic Bible indicates the involvement of a team of translators, possibly under his supervision.

Clovis I First king of the Franks (c. 466–511)

Clovis was the first king of the Franks to unite all of the Frankish tribes under one ruler, changing the form of leadership from a group of royal chieftains to rule by a single king and ensuring that the kingship was passed down to his heirs. He is considered to have been the founder of the Merovingian dynasty, which ruled the Frankish kingdom for the next two centuries.

Christianization Process by which Christianity spreads in a society or culture

Christianization was the conversion of societies to Christianity beginning in late antiquity in the Roman Empire and continuing through the late Middle Ages in Europe. Outside of Europe, the process was significantly halted by the parallel process of Islamisation, beginning in Arabia and the Near East.

Germanic paganism Ethnic religion practiced by the Germanic peoples from the Iron Age until Christianisation

Germanic paganism refers to the various religious practices of the Germanic peoples from the Iron Age until Christianisation during the Middle Ages. Religious practices represented an essential element of early Germanic culture. From both archaeological remains and literary sources, it is possible to trace a number of common or closely related beliefs among the Germanic peoples into the Middle Ages, when the last areas in Scandinavia were Christianized. Rooted in Proto-Indo-European religion, Proto-Germanic religion expanded during the Migration Period, yielding extensions such as Old Norse religion among the North Germanic peoples, the paganism practiced amid the continental Germanic peoples, and Anglo-Saxon paganism among the Old English-speaking peoples. The Germanic religion is best documented in 10th- and 11th-century texts from Scandinavia and Iceland.

Migration Period art

Migration Period art denotes the artwork of the Germanic peoples during the Migration period. It includes the Migration art of the Germanic tribes on the continent, as well the start of the Insular art or Hiberno-Saxon art of the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic fusion in Britain and Ireland. It covers many different styles of art including the polychrome style and the animal style. After Christianization, Migration Period art developed into various schools of Early Medieval art in Western Europe which are normally classified by region, such as Anglo-Saxon art and Carolingian art, before the continent-wide styles of Romanesque art and finally Gothic art developed.

Anglo-Saxon paganism Polytheistic religious beliefs and practices of the Anglo-Saxons

Anglo-Saxon paganism, sometimes termed Anglo-Saxon heathenism, Anglo-Saxon pre-Christian religion, or Anglo-Saxon traditional religion, refers to the religious beliefs and practices followed by the Anglo-Saxons between the 5th and 8th centuries AD, during the initial period of Early Medieval England. A variant of Germanic paganism found across much of north-western Europe, it encompassed a heterogeneous variety of beliefs and cultic practices, with much regional variation.

Gothic Christianity refers to the Christian religion of the Goths and sometimes the Gepids, Vandals, and Burgundians, who may have used the translation of the Bible into the Gothic language and shared common doctrines and practices.

<i>God</i> (word)

The English word god comes from the Old English god, which itself is derived from the Proto-Germanic *ǥuđán. Its cognates in other Germanic languages include guþ, gudis, guð, god, and got.

Christianity and paganism Christianity and paganism

Paganism is commonly used to refer to various religions that existed during Antiquity and the Middle Ages, such as the Greco-Roman religions of the Roman Empire, including the Roman imperial cult, the various mystery religions, religions such as Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, and more localized ethnic religions practiced both inside and outside the Empire. During the Middle Ages, the term was also adapted to refer to religions practiced outside the former Roman Empire, such as Germanic paganism, Egyptian paganism and Baltic paganism.

Christianity began as a Second Temple Judaic sect in the 1st century in the Roman province of Judea, from where it spread throughout and beyond the Roman Empire.

Christianity in the 4th century Christianity-related events during the 4th century

Christianity in the 4th century was dominated in its early stage by Constantine the Great and the First Council of Nicaea of 325, which was the beginning of the period of the First seven Ecumenical Councils (325–787), and in its late stage by the Edict of Thessalonica of 380, which made Nicene Christianity the state church of the Roman Empire.

Christianity in the 5th century Christianity-related events during the 5th century

In the 5th century in Christianity, there were many developments which led to further fracturing of the State church of the Roman Empire. Emperor Theodosius II called two synods in Ephesus, one in 431 and one in 449, that addressed the teachings of Patriarch of Constantinople Nestorius and similar teachings. Nestorius had taught that Christ's divine and human nature were distinct persons, and hence Mary was the mother of Christ but not the mother of God. The Council rejected Nestorius' view causing many churches, centered on the School of Edessa, to a Nestorian break with the imperial church. Persecuted within the Roman Empire, many Nestorians fled to Persia and joined the Sassanid Church thereby making it a center of Nestorianism. By the end of the 5th century, the global Christian population was estimated at 10-11 million. In 451 the Council of Chalcedon was held to clarify the issue further. The council ultimately stated that Christ's divine and human nature were separate but both part of a single entity, a viewpoint rejected by many churches who called themselves miaphysites. The resulting schism created a communion of churches, including the Armenian, Syrian, and Egyptian churches, that is today known as Oriental Orthodoxy. In spite of these schisms, however, the imperial church still came to represent the majority of Christians within the Roman Empire.

Christianity in the 6th century

In 6th-century Christianity, Roman Emperor Justinian launched a military campaign in Constantinople to reclaim the western provinces from the Germans, starting with North Africa and proceeding to Italy. Though he was temporarily successful in recapturing much of the western Mediterranean he destroyed the urban centers and permanently ruined the economies in much of the West. Rome and other cities were abandoned. In the coming centuries the Western Church, as virtually the only surviving Roman institution in the West, became the only remaining link to Greek culture and civilization.

Christianity in the 8th century

Christianity in the 8th century was much affected by the rise of Islam in the Middle East. By the late 8th century, the Muslim empire had conquered all of Persia and parts of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) territory including Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. Suddenly parts of the Christian world were under Muslim rule. Over the coming centuries the Muslim nations became some of the most powerful in the Mediterranean basin.

Christianity in late antiquity Christianity in the Roman Empire (c.313 - c.476)

Christianity in late antiquity traces Christianity during the Christian Roman Empire – the period from the rise of Christianity under Emperor Constantine, until the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The end-date of this period varies because the transition to the sub-Roman period occurred gradually and at different times in different areas. One may generally date late ancient Christianity as lasting to the late 6th century and the re-conquests under Justinian of the Byzantine Empire, though a more traditional end-date is 476, the year in which Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustus, traditionally considered the last western emperor.

Gothic paganism

Gothic religion was the original religion of the Goths before their conversion to Christianity.

Christianization of the Franks

Christianization of the Franks was the process of converting the pagan Franks to Catholicism during the late 5th century and early 6th century. It was started by Clovis I, regulus of Tournai, with the insistence of his wife, Clotilde and Saint Remigius, the bishop of Reims.

References

  1. 1 2 Padberg 1998, 26
  2. Bernadette Filotas; Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (2005). Pagan Survivals, Superstitions And Popular Cultures In Early Medieval Pastoral Literature. PIMS. pp. 39–. ISBN   978-0-88844-151-5 . Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  3. Richard P. McBrien (12 May 1995). The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism. HarperCollins. pp. 558–. ISBN   978-0-06-065338-5 . Retrieved 14 March 2013.
  4. Harnack, Adolf (1997). The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 338. ISBN   1-57910-002-3 . Retrieved Aug 19, 2018.
  5. Cramer, John-Anthony (1832). A Geographical Ad Historical Description of Asia Minor with a Map, v.2. University Press. p. 116. Retrieved Aug 19, 2018.
  6. Jamie Wood (20 March 2012). The Politics of Identity in Visigothic Spain: Religion and Power in the Histories of Isidore of Seville. BRILL. pp. 26–. ISBN   978-90-04-20990-9 . Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  7. Philostorgius via Photius, Epitome of the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, book 2, chapter 5.
  8. Auxentius of Durostorum, Letter of Auxentius, quoted in Heather and Matthews, Goths in the Fourth Century, p. 140.
  9. 497 or 499 are also possible; Padberg 1998: 53
  10. Jamie Wood (20 March 2012). The Politics of Identity in Visigothic Spain: Religion and Power in the Histories of Isidore of Seville. BRILL. pp. 32–. ISBN   978-90-04-20990-9 . Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  11. Sönke Lorenz (2001), Missionierung, Krisen und Reformen: Die Christianisierung von der Spätantike bis in Karolingische Zeit in Die Alemannen, Stuttgart: Theiss; ISBN   3-8062-1535-9; pp.441-446
  12. The Chronicle of St. Denis, I.18-19, 23 Archived 2009-11-25 at the Wayback Machine
  13. Lorenz (2001:442)
  14. Padberg 1998, 47
  15. 1 2 Padberg 1998, 48
  16. "The mild saviour arose as a battle-god, a chivalrous leader of the heavenly host, who found greatest pleasure in combat and the noise of battle; his humble apostles were imagined as proud Paladins" (Der milde Heiland erhob sich zum Schlachtengott, zu einem ritterlichen Führer himmlischer Heerscharen, der das grösste Gefallen fand an Kampf und Waffenlärm; seine demütigen Apostel wurden als stolze Paladine gedacht Alwin Schultz, cited after Otto Zarek, Die geschichte Ungarns (1938), p. 98)
  17. Padberg 1998, 87
  18. Padberg 1998, 52
  19. depicted in Padberg 1998: 128
  20. Padberg 1998: 121
  21. Padberg 1998, 29; Padberg notes, that this is probably disputed research, but can be affirmed for the northern Germanic area
  22. Dairmaid MacCulloch, THE REFORMATION, 1st ed. (New York: Viking, 2003) 266, 467-84.