Gothic Christianity

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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.


The Gothic tribes converted to Christianity sometime between 376 and 390 AD, around the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Gothic Christianity is the earliest instance of the Christianization of a Germanic people, completed more than a century before the baptism of Frankish king Clovis I.

The Gothic Christians were followers of Arianism. [1] Many church members, from simple believers, priests, and monks to bishops, emperors, and members of Rome's imperial family followed this doctrine, as did two Roman emperors, Constantius II and Valens.

After their sack of Rome, the Visigoths moved on to occupy Spain and southern France. Having been driven out of France, the Spanish Goths formally embraced Nicene Christianity at the Third Council of Toledo in 589.


Roman provinces along the Ister (Danube), showing Dacia, Moesia and Thrace, with Sarmatia to the north and Germania to the northwest. Roman provinces of Illyricum, Macedonia, Dacia, Moesia, Pannonia and Thracia.jpg
Roman provinces along the Ister (Danube), showing Dacia, Moesia and Thrace, with Sarmatia to the north and Germania to the northwest.

During the 3rd century, East Germanic people, moving in a southeasterly direction, migrated into the Dacians' territories previously under Sarmatian and Roman control, and the confluence of East Germanic, Sarmatian, Dacian and Roman cultures resulted in the emergence of a new Gothic identity. Part of this identity was adherence to Gothic paganism, the exact nature of which, however, remains uncertain. Jordanes' 6th century Getica claims the chief god of the Goths was Mars. Gothic paganism derived from Germanic paganism.

Descriptions of Gothic and Vandal warfare appear in Roman records in Late Antiquity. At times these groups warred against or allied with the Roman Empire, the Huns, and various Germanic tribes. In 251 AD, the Gothic army raided the Roman provinces of Moesia and Thrace, defeated and killed the Roman emperor Decius, and took a number of predominantly female captives, many of which were Christian. This is assumed to represent the first lasting contact of the Goths with Christianity. [2]


The conversion of the Goths to Christianity was a relatively swift process, facilitated on the one hand by the assimilation of Christian captives into Gothic society, [2] and on the other by a general equation of participation in Roman society with adherence to Christianity. [3] The Homoians in the Danubian provinces played a major role in the conversion of the Goths to Arianism. [4] Within a few generations of their appearance on the borders of the Empire in 238 AD, the conversion of the Goths to Christianity was nearly all-inclusive.

The Christian cross appeared on coins in Gothic Crimea shortly after the Edict of Tolerance was issued by Galerius in 311 AD, and a bishop by the name of Theophilas Gothiae was present at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. [2] However, fighting between Pagan and Christian Goths continued throughout this period, and religious persecutions – echoing the Diocletianic Persecution (302–11 AD) – occurred frequently. The Christian Goths Wereka and Batwin and others were martyred by order of Wingurich ca. 370 AD, and Sabbas the Goth was martyred in c. 372 AD.

Even as late as 406, a Gothic king by the name of Radagaisus led a Pagan invasion of Italy with fierce anti-Christian views.

Bishop Ulfilas

The initial success experienced by the Goths encouraged them to engage in a series of raiding campaigns at the close of the 3rd century, many of which resulted in having numerous captives sent back to Gothic settlements north of the Danube and the Black Sea. Ulfilas, who became bishop of the Goths in 341 AD, was the grandson of one such female Christian captive from Sadagolthina in Cappadocia. He served in this position for the next seven years. In 348, one of the remaining Pagan Gothic kings (reikos) began persecuting the Christian Goths, and he and many other Christian Goths fled to Moesia Secunda in the Roman Empire. [5] He continued to serve as bishop to the Christian Goths in Moesia until his death in 383 AD, according to Philostorgius.

Ulfilas was ordained by Eusebius of Nicomedia, the bishop of Constantinople, in 341 AD. Eusebius was a pupil of Lucian of Antioch and a leading figure of a faction of Christological thought that became known as Arianism, named after his friend and fellow student, Arius.

First page of the Codex Argenteus, the oldest surviving manuscript of the 4th century Bible translation into Gothic. Codex Argenteus.jpg
First page of the Codex Argenteus, the oldest surviving manuscript of the 4th century Bible translation into Gothic.

Between 348 and 383, Ulfilas likely presided over the translation of the Bible from Greek into the Gothic language, which was performed by a group of scholars. [5] [6] Thus, some Arian Christians in the west used vernacular languages in this case Gothic for services, as did many Nicaean Christians in the east. See also: Syriac versions of the Bible and the Coptic Bible), while Nicaean Christians in the west only used Latin, even in areas where Vulgar Latin was not the vernacular. Gothic probably persisted as a liturgical language of the Gothic-Arian church in some places even after its members had come to speak Vulgar Latin as their mother tongue. [7]

Ulfilas' adopted son was Auxentius of Durostorum, and later of Milan.

Later Gothic Christianity

The Gothic churches had close ties to other Arian churches in the Western Roman Empire. [7]

After 493, the Ostrogothic Kingdom included two areas, Italy and much of the Balkans, which had large Arian churches. [7] Arianism had retained some presence among Romans in Italy during the time between its condemnation in the empire and the Ostrogothic conquest. [7] However, since Arianism in Italy was reinforced by the (mostly Arian) Goths coming from the Balkans, the Arian church in Italy had eventually come to call itself "Church of the Goths" by the year 500.

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.

Goths Early Germanic people

The Goths were a Germanic people who played a major role in the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the emergence of medieval Europe.

Ostrogoths Germanic ethnic group in the Balkans during the 5th–6th centuries

The Ostrogoths were a Roman-era Germanic people. In the 5th century, they followed the Visigoths in creating one of the two great Gothic kingdoms within the Roman Empire, based upon the large Gothic populations who had settled in the Balkans in the 4th century, having crossed the Lower Danube. While the Visigoths had formed under the leadership of Alaric I, the new Ostrogothic political entity which came to rule Italy was formed in the Balkans under the influence of the Amal Dynasty, the family of Theodoric the Great.

Theodoric the Great 5th century King of the Ostrogoths

Theodoricthe Great, also called Theodoric the Amal, was king of the Ostrogoths (471–526), and ruler of the independent Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy between 493–526, regent of the Visigoths (511–526), and a patrician of the East Roman Empire. As ruler of the combined Gothic realms, Theodoric controlled an empire stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Adriatic Sea. Though Theodoric himself only ever used the title 'king' (rex), some scholars characterize him as a Western Roman Emperor in all but name, since he ruled large parts of the former Western Roman Empire, had received the former Western imperial regalia from Constantinople in 497, and was referred to by the title augustus by some of his subjects.


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.

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.

Christianisation of the Germanic peoples

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.

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.

Third Council of Toledo 589 synod in which Visigothic Spain entered the Catholic Church

The Third Council of Toledo (589) marks the entry of Visigothic Spain into the Catholic Church, and known for codifying the filioque clause into Western Christianity. The council also enacted restrictions on Jews, and the conversion of the country to Catholic Christianity led to repeated conflict with the Jews.

Ostrogothic Kingdom

The Ostrogothic Kingdom, officially the Kingdom of Italy, was established by the Germanic Ostrogoths in Italy and neighboring areas from 493 to 553.

Gothic Bible Bible translation

The Gothic Bible or Wulfila Bible is the Christian Bible in the Gothic language spoken by the Eastern Germanic (Gothic) tribes in the early Middle Ages.

<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.

The Goths, Gepids, Vandals, and Burgundians were East Germanic groups who appear in Roman records in Late Antiquity. At times these groups warred against or allied with the Roman Empire, the Huns, and various Germanic tribes.

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 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 persecution of Christians

There is a record of Gothic persecution of Christians in the third century. According to Basil of Caesarea, some prisoners taken captive in a Gothic raid on Cappadocia around 260 preached the gospel to their captors and were martyred. One of their names was Eutychus. Bishop Dionysius of Caesarea sent messengers to the Goths to ransom captives and there was still a written record of these attempts in Basil's time.

Gothic paganism

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

Theophilus (bishop of the Goths)

Theophilus was a Gothic bishop who attended the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE and was among those who signed the Nicene Creed. His name is also sometimes spelled Theophilas, such as Theophilas Gothiae, or Theophilos.

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.


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