Last week, I finally bought a bicycle. With gasoline skyrocketing toward $4 a gallon and my waistline skyrocketing toward – well, none of your business – my wife and I decided it would be good for my wallet, my physique, and the environment for me to ride to work a couple of days per week. It is almost 11 miles one way and takes about an hour. Yesterday, I did it for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was great to be outside, to see things from a different perspective.
On Monday, I met with Dave Gilbert, the director of the New Hampshire Institute of Biblical Studies. NHIBS (as it is called) started this spring, and I was on the advisory board. Dave asked me to teach Church History in October. I am very excited about the opportunity, and if you’re interested in learning about the subject, you should check it out. NHIBS is just getting started, but it will be good to have a Bible institute closer to home.
History is one of my passions, particularly the ancient world. Recently, I’ve also developed an interest in the early medieval period, particularly in the Frankish and Byzantine Empires. I know these aren’t what most people consider stimulating history, but they had a tremendous influence on the way the Church developed.
The class will focus on understanding the flow and rhythm of the Church’s development over the ages. It will also reflect on the influence the Church had on major historical transitions. Here is a sample of my notes dealing with the Fall of Rome:
Arianism was also popular with the German foederati. Many of the Germanic tribes had been converted to Arianism by the missionary Wulfila (also called by his Latinized name Ulfilas). Wulfila had been commissioned by Eusebius of Nicodemia, at the time the bishop of Constantinople, and had preached the Arian form of Christianity among his native tribes – the Goths. He translated the Bible into Gothic, creating an alphabet for the language as he went.
An oppressive leader named Athanaric persecuted the Gothic Christians, and Wulfila received permission from the Arian emperor Constantius II to resettle his group of Christians in what is now Bulgaria. In 376, one of Athanaric’s rivals, a chieftain named Fritigern asked permission from Valens to join the Goths Wulfila had resettled. Valens granted them permission with the condition that they serve in the military. In gratitude for Valens’ assistance, they converted to Arian Christianity as well.
Unfortunately, the Roman governors treated the Goths poorly and refused to assist them when a famine struck. In a pattern that would repeat itself a number of times with a number of German groups throughout the Empire, Fritigern led a rebellion. Valens went out to meet him, and the Germans destroyed the Roman troops at the Battle of Adrianople in 381. Valens was killed in battle.
In the wake of the disaster at Adrianople, the Romans began to incorporate the German foederati into the military, replacing Roman citizens and allies. This brought the Arian Goths into contact with many of their German cousins, and many other German tribes converted as well.
As Arianism was on the decline among the Romans, it was on the rise with their German confederates. This, as well as language and style of dress, brought about a persecution of the Germans as second-class people. It was considered indecent to be considered German, and the Nicene Christians used this to their advantage, persuading people that Arianism was the religion of the barbarians.
When Theodosius died, Ambrose praised him: “The faith of the emperor produces strength in his soldiers.” The intent was obvious. Theodosius had been a warrior for God, and it was expected that those who followed him would continue his campaign.
Ambrose followed Theodosius two years later. Under Theodosius I, it had became illegal to be anything but a Nicene Trinitarian. This made the Arians and pagans among the Germans outlaws. Ambrose’s reforms had swept into the Roman legal system. Orthodoxy became a matter of law.
Theodosius’ successors in the West, beginning with Honorius and ending with Romulus Augustulus, were now pawns in the hands of Nicaean Christianity. The Germans would have none of it. They were held in check only because of a strong Eastern general named Flavius Stilicho. He spent his entire career keeping the Goths and their cousins at bay.
If you’re interested in being a part of the class, let me know. We’ll be meeting for 7 weeks in October and November, 6:30-8:30pm. NHIBS meets at Concord Christian Academy.