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By H. W. C. Davis
Text in [square brackets] was added especially for this online publication by Ellopos
V - THE PAPACY BEFORE GREGORY VII
With Gregory VII the primacy of Western Christendom assumed a new character. But the primacy, in one form or another, had for centuries belonged to the Roman See. So much his remote predecessors had achieved, and their success is all the more remarkable when we remember how few of them had been distinguished statesmen. It is no matter for surprise that, in the course of nine troubled centuries, some Bishops of Borne had proved incompetent and others had betrayed the interests committed to their charge. It is, however, surprising that the Roman See was able to assume and hold the leading position among Western bishops without rendering much service to the extension or the organisation of the Church.
Of all the early Popes, save Leo I and Gregory I, it is true that we may be tolerably at home in the history of their times without knowing much about them. No Pope is ranked among the leading Western Fathers. The only considerable theologian who occupied the Holy See, before the year 1000, is Gregory I; and the highest praise which we can give his writings is that they imparted new life to some ideas of St. Augustine. It is as statesmen, not as thinkers, that the early Popes appeal to our attention. Yet their practical achievements scarcely account for the reverence which they inspired. The one great mission which Rome set on foot was that of Augustine to England. The other evangelists of the Dark Ages found their inspiration elsewhere, in the monasteries of Ireland or of Gaul and Germany. If we consider the progress of theological science, and of ecclesiastical organisation, we find that the great controversies were resolved, and the great legislative assemblies convened, in the Eastern Empire. It was but rarely that Rome asserted her right to speak in the name even of the Western Church; the record of the early Popes who attained to such a momentary pre-eminence was not such as the West could recollect with satisfaction. In fact, it was due to other causes than the merits of individual Popes that Rome became and remained the religious metropolis of Europe.
Cf. Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Ancient Rome * Ancient Greece * The Making of Europe
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