Political Milestones: 400AD to 500AD
The century started terribly for Rome. With the invasion of France and Spain by the Vandals, Suebi and Alans, these lands were lost to the empire forever. Then, taking advantage of the western battles, Rome itself was sacked for the first time in 800 years by an invading army of Visigoths in 410AD. Britain was abandoned in a vain attempt to save the capital, but to no avail. Taking advantage of this political vacuum in England, invading Saxons crushed the Britons at the battle of Aylesford in Kent in 455AD. This battle was an important step in the Saxon conquest of Britain. By 476AD the Western Roman Empire was assigned to history and the Visigoth leader Odoacer became king of Italy.
Over in the Americas the Mayan, Teotihuacán and Zapotec empires were battling for control of Mexico, while the Moche, Huari, Nazca and Tihuanaco peoples were all creating South Americas first independent kingdoms, that would later be plundered by Spain.
European history in the middle of the century was dominated by one group of people, the dreaded Asiatic Huns. Under their brilliant leaders, The Huns first invaded Sassanid Persia, only to be pushed back. They then invaded the crumbling political structures in Europe under the fearsome Attila. It took until 451AD for a European army to check their advance in the fields of France. By this time they had effectively conquered all of northern Europe, the Russian plains, and Central Asia all the way to Kazakhstan. To their east, the Mongolian empire of the Ruruans controlled northern China. This was the only time in history that Europe has been under the control of Asians.
After Attila’s death, and his son Ellac’s military defeat, the Huns quit Europe in 471AD. Their influence was short-lived but historically marks the end of the Roman era. Not finished, the Huns next invaded India in 510AD and defeated the powerful Gupta Empire. They ruled central Asia and the Indian sub-continent for the next hundred years.
Spiritual Milestones: 400AD to 500AD
The beginning of the century opened with about 25% of central Asia now Christian in what we now call the Nestorian, or Eastern Church. These believers would soon come under the control of the Huns. This branch of Christianity has now completely died out and one of the many reasons for this is the insistence they placed on all worship being in the Syriac language. Local languages were considered subservient. This prevented the indigenisation of the faith into Turkic and Iranian culture, a mistake that changed history. However, to their credit the Nestorians laid great emphasis on scripture reading, prayer and adaptation to host cultures. By 425AD Herat in Afghanistan and Samarkand in Uzbekistan had their own bishops.
Over in Europe, the Bible was finally translated into Latin in 404AD. It was also during these first few decades that Augustine, a church leader from Algeria gave the world a legacy of wisdom and theological insight that greatly enriched the church of that time and the development of Western Civilization that followed. His Biblically inspired teaching on the issues of slavery, government, war, church and state, education, science and philosophy deeply influenced the great Scholastic teachers of the Middle Ages, such as Thomas Aquinas, and the Protestant reformers of the 1500’s. It is Augustine that popularised the Biblical understanding of theological, technological and cultural progress though time, a concept now central to Western Civilization. From this point on Christianity became by far the most philosophically rational of any of the world’s religions.
In 410AD the Gospel reached Yemen. In 420AD the first Arab tribes became Christian through the efforts of the Nestorian church. Sadly, the Bible was never translated into Arabic until after the death of Muhammad. How would the story of the Arab Peninsula be different if this one task had been completed?
In 432AD, a Celtic Briton named Patrick took the gospel to Ireland. Thus was born the Celtic church, which became a repository of learning in a collapsing Roman civilisation. In centuries to come this small branch or Christianity would eventually send missionaries all across northern Europe, seeing whole nations come to faith.
In 451AD the Council of Chalcedon in Europe condemned the Nestorian doctrine that Jesus had two distinct natures. Thus the thriving Middle Eastern branch and European branches of Christianity were irrevocably and forever divided, one Catholic and the other Nestorian. Meanwhile, and in stark contrast to these debates, Christians were still dying in the hundreds of thousands for their faith in Persia.
In 478AD the first Shinto shrine was built in Japan, marking the emergence of that nation’s current religion.
In 496AD the Frankish king Clovis became a Christian in Rheims, France. His descendants would later become the only force capable of stopping the Muslims from conquering all of Western Europe in the Seventh Century.
The world’s population remained fairly static during this century at around 200 million. But the number of Christians continued to grow and some 20%, or 35-40 million people would call themselves “Christian” by the year 500AD. Sadly, this term no longer specifically defined a person with a personal relationship with Jesus. Half a million of these Christians would lose their lives four their faith during the century. The chief persecutors remained the Persians, but they were now joined by the Barbarians in Western Europe. The Armenians, as usual, continued to suffer greatly.
The Cultural Influence of Christianity: 0 – 500AD
“The creation waits for the sons of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19)
Rome, that great pagan edifice that had stood for a millennium, had now crumbled and life in European Christendom would be very different from the previous five centuries. Unfortunately, many people look back to the Roman era as one of progress and grandeur, and of the thousand years that followed it as the “Dark Ages”. Unfortunately, this is a false view of history popularised by Humanist historians of the 19th Century. The reality was that Rome was rapaciously greedy, heavily taxing the empire for the self-delusion of a few arrogant egos at the centre of one city. What architecture we still see standing today is really the legacy of tyrants. In reality, some fifty per cent of the people living in the empire were slaves. Rome’s vast dependence on slavery and tyranny stifled European social progress and commerce outside of Italy. Only a privileged few saw its glory, most saw its inhumane misery. It stayed afloat only through theft and suppression of human rights (Daniel 2:36-45, Matthew 22:17). For most people living at the time, life under Rome was itself a “dark age” in history and the growth of Christianity was the dawn of a new era filled with hope in the universal dignity of man. Below are a few of the changes Christianity brought to theses deeply pagan and selfish peoples:
The large scale eradication of slavery after the fall of Rome is due to the influence of Christianity seeing all men as equals before God and slowly working that theology out into society. Once all men were free from oppression, innovation took off, as did the birth rate.
Rome practiced a high level of sexual deviancy resulting in rampant disease, poor marriages and masses of unwanted pregnancies and children. Christians rescued these children and condemned behaviours that caused children to suffer or be aborted. In the same process they elevated the role and status of women and marriage.
Roman world put a low value on human life, whereas Christians saw them as children of God. Hence Christians started the first hospices (3rd Century), formed associations to look after the poor (2nd Century) helped the needy and orphans (4th Century), introduced mental asylums (3rd Century) and began the first schools that included girls (2nd Century). Human rights was a Christian invention.
In Rome, and indeed every major ancient civilization, work and business was beneath the elite and distained by them. Wealth was extracted from slaves and the poor and spent on displaying status. Idleness was the highest value. However, Christianity used the work ethic of its founder to give ordinary people dignity in their vocations and business. This philosophical distinction would later lead to the development of capitalism in the monastic estates before the end of the first millennium.
Most ancient societies and their respective religions were irrational. There gods were remote, impersonal or lacking consciousness, and their religious practices were often questionable. Christianity alone saw God as a loving, rational, law-giving (and keeping) creator. This point alone enabled Christianity alone to develop theology, the rational study of God and his interaction with his creation. Theology found its first great champion in the writings of Augustine of Hippo.
Slowly, inexorably, with the growth of Christianity, came new ideas about the nature of reality, humanity, the spiritual world, social roles and responsibilities that would change the world forever. A passion for humanity, with all its faults, was replacing the selfishness of Rome.