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THE ROMAN CHURCH - ST BENEDICT AND GREGORY THE GREAT
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About the year 500 a young man named benedict left his comfortable home in central Italy and travelled to Rome. His parents, who were weathy Christians, had sent him to finish his education and prepare to work in government service. g6n12nf
The Rome that greeted Benedict was different from the proud city that for centuries had ruled the Mediterranean world. During the previous 100 years ‘barbarian’ invaders from the north had ransaked the city. They had destroyed public buildings, carrying away tonnes of valubles, melted down beautiful bronze statues, smashed stone monuments and left the streets littered with rubble. Even the great aqueducts acanals on bridesi, which fed the city’s taps and fountains, were broken down or chocked with vegetation.
Many people had left the city and there werw open spaces where houses once stood. The palace of the emperors was deserted. The most important citizen was now the Bishop of Rome- the Pope afatheri of the Christian Church. Cristianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire and there were by this time many Christians in Western Europe, including barbarians who had been converted. Some of them still looked to Rome and the Pope for leadership and guidance.



St Benedict

Benedict was a deeply religious young man. He was shocked by the lawless and sinful behaviour of many Romans. So he have up his studies, left the city and travelled eastwards to the hills. There, on the mountain of Subiaco, he found a cave and lived alone as a hermit. To Benedict it seemed the best way of getting closer to God and living a truly Christian life.
After some years Benedict left Subiaco with a small band of his closest followers. They travelled south, to the top of hill overloking the village of Monte Cassino, and there, about the year 525, Benedict founded his first and most famous monastery. He lived at Monte Cassino until his death in 543. Some of the time he spent writing a Rule for monks to live by. This ‘Benedictine Rule’, which is in fact a large number of rules, is still practised today by monks in many countries.





St Benedictine ‘Rule’

St Benedict’s idea of a monastery was a place where ordinary men would want to come and lead a Christian life, praying and working together. He ordered that the monks’ clothes, although plain, should be warm and comfortable. They were to have a good eight hours of sleep, and two daily meals of simple but nourishing food.
No personal belongings were allowed. Even a monk’s clothes were the property of the monastery. A monk could not receive a letter from his parents without the abbot’s agreement. On top of this there were strict rules about silence. The monks were rarely allowed to speak to each other. And, of course, all relationships with women were forbidden.
St Benedict’s Rule was practical and full of common sense. In the year to come monasteries all over Europe copied it. Nuns, too, lived according to its basic vows of obedience, poverty and chastity.
Their example encouraged ordinary Christians to live better lives. Monasteries were also centres of learning and education.


Gregory ‘the Great’

In Benedict’s lifetime the Rule was only followed in monastiries he set up himself. It later became famous mainly through the efforts of a pope-Gregory I, called ‘the Great’.
He was only in his early thirties when he was chosen Prefect of Rome, the highest position in the government of the city.
It was a time of great hardship for the people. Italy was again being invaded by barbarians-the fierce Lombards a‘Longbeards’i who came from north Germany. Pouring through the Alps, they quickly overran most of northern Italy apart of this area is still called Lombardy todayi. Seeing all the misery and destruction around him, Gregory felt sure the world was coming to an end. He wrote:
Beaten down by so many blows, the ancient kingdom aRomei has fallen from its glory and shows us now another kingdom aHeaveni , which is coming, which is already near.
After only a year as Prefect, Gregory decided to give up his position and devote his life to serving God. His father had just died, leaving a large fortune. Gregory gave some to charity and used the rest to set up six monastiries in Sicily. His own house in Rome was turned into a seventh, and there Gregory became a monk.
Not long afterwards some monks from Monte Cassino arrived in Rome and it was probably from these monks that Gregory first learned about the Rule of St Benedict. It was a great inspiration to him and he put it into practice in his own monastery. Later h4e wrote about Benedict’s life and work, making it known ti Christians in many countries.

‘ The first of the great popes ‘

The most important part of Gregory’s life begane in 590, a year of floods and plague, when he was chosen to be Pope. By then he was in poor health. Yet right up to his death, in 604, he worked tirelessly to strengthen the organisation of the Church and to unite Christians in many lands. He kept in close contact with bishops and clergy, and wrote a special handbook called The Pastoral Rule, which told them how to carry out their duties.
Abouve all, Gregory worked to spread the faith among heathens athose who were not Christiani. Missionaries sent by Gregory converted the barbarian king of Spain, and most of the King’s subjects soon became Christians. Gregory also sent aband of monks to convert the English.
The Church was only part of Gregory’s concern. He also felt responsible for the poor and plague- stricken people of Rome.
In a time of invasion, plague and famine, the organisation of the Roman Church might easily have collapsed, just like the Roman Empire, had it not been for Gregory’s work. He has been rightly called ‘the first of the great popes’.




HEATHENS BECOME CHRISTIANS

Christianity first came to Britain when the country was part of the Roman Empire. But the English invaders were heathens, so Christian workship died out wherever they settled. The English wore charms to keep away evil spirits, and they believed gigants, dragons and other monasters lived in the lonely moors, woods and swamps. They worshipped nature gods and made sacrifices to them.
Chief among their gods was Woden. Nearly all Anglo-saxon kings claimed to be descended to him. Other gods included tiw, a war-god; Thunor, god of thunder, the sound of wich was belived to come from his chariot rolling across the heavens; and Frig, a goddes supposed to bring good harvest. All are still remembered in our days of the week -; Tuesday (Tyw), Wednesday (Woden), Thursday (Thunor), and Fryday (Frig). Saturday probably comes from Saturn, the Roman god of agiculture. Sunday and Monday are named after the sun and the moon, both worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons.
The heathen English certanly expected some kind of future life. Otherwise they would not have buried the goods of the dead -; as at Sutton Hoo. But we cannot be sure what kind of afterworld they belived in.

AUGUSTINE’S MISSION

When he beacame Pope, Gregory decided to send missionaries to convert the English. He gathered a party of forty monks from his own monastery in Rome. Under their leader, Augustine, they landed om the Isle of Thanet in Kent, in 597. The king if Kent, Ethelbert, had a Christian wife called Bertha. She was a princess from the kingdom of the Franks (now France) wich had been converted 100 years befor. Ethelbert himself was still heathen.
Before the year was out, Eyhelberg had been baptised a Christian, and so had thousands of his people. Soon more converts were gained in the neighbouring kingdoms. It was an encouraging start. Gregory made Augustine Archbishop of Canterbury and sent him instruction on how to organise the English Church. He advised Augustine not to destroy the heathen temples but to change them into churches, replacing the idols with altars. Gregory also suggested turning the heathen sacrifices into regular Christian festivals. Christmas therefore replaced the winter feast of Yule, and Easter is still named after a Saxon spring goddes, Eostre.
Soon after wards there was a return to heathen ways in many parts of southeastern England. The northern English were soon brought back to Christianity, but not by the Roman missionaries.

CHRISTIANS FROM IRELAND

Right throught the years of Anglo-Saxon settlement, the Christian faith had been kept alive in the unconquered western parts of Britain. Ireland in particular became a stronghold of Christianity throught the efforts of St Patrick, a Briton who became a monk in Gaul.
In the middle of the fifth century Patrick travelled throughout Ireland preaching and baptising the people. After about thirty years he and his followers had made Ireland a Christian country.

THE SYNOD AT WHITBY

Christianity, therefore, came to the English by two different routes. Rroman missionaries converted many peoplke in the South, bringing rhem into the Roman Catholic aor universali Church. ‘Celtic’ Christians led the conversion of the North and Midlands from Iona the land of the heathenPicts.






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