Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St Martin de Tours

Coat of Arms of Marttila, Finland

Saint Martin of Tours (316-397) was a chosen weapon by our Lord Jesus Christ in the history of the Kingdom of God when Gospel penetrated towards the heart of Europe.

One cannot truly understand the arrival of Christ to Europe without knowing something about this lovely and highly personal character. King of the Kings used him to open the way for the growth of His Kingdom that slowly but surely reached the Gallians, Franks, Spaniards, Anglo-Saxons, Germanic tribes and continued from victory to victory towards the furthest corners of the world. 

Also it is not by chance that Islamic invasion of Europe from Spain was aimed at Tours. The invincible armies of Muslim horsemen had crossed the Pyrenees as they had heard about the riches of the monastery of St Martin of Tours. They wanted to have their share of the gold and jewels there if not all of it. Charles Martel stopped them for good on their way to Tours and so the Kingdom of God was saved in Europe. Otherwise we all would be Muslims today and there would not be any Christian USA or Argentina.

The history by Sulpicius Severus
God has so arranged in His wisdom that there is a reliable and powerful description of the life of Martin by a contemporary historian Sulpicius Severus (363-425).

I purposely say historian - and not hagiographer - because Sulpicius took great pains to verify the details of his story and thus wrote as a critical researcher of his time rather than as someone throwing in miraculous stories just to emphasize the holiness of some man or woman venerated in the Church.

Our good Lord has also arranged things so that today any modern reader anywhere at the reach of Internet can easily and for free read the book by Sulpicius Severus for example in Documentia Catholica Omnia in Latin original or as English translation by Alexander Roberts.

Saints go marching in!
Modern Christians have basically two kinds of difficulties reading about the holy martyrs and saints of the first millennium AD.

Uncritical acceptance of everything
For millions and millions of Catholic, Orthodox and other Christians the holy stories are just that - holy stories with miraculous events, divine interventions that strengthen our faith and moral lessons and examples for our lives.

Because they are in the core of religion and the images and icons of these martyrs and saints fill churches and homes it is for many forbidden to be critical and to evaluate the historical truthfulness ... to ask is this true?

So we get a potpourri of amazing true stories mixed with pure products of imagination, fairytale and ancient pagan myths and legends baptised as property of the Church as it grows among the nations.

Uncritical rejection of everything
For millions of Protestants, Lutherans, Calvinists, Baptists, Pentecostal and others, all stories about "Catholic and Orthodox saints" are garbage and something to be utterly rejected from the Biblical faith of reformation. 

This was, of course, a crucial issue to that other Martin, the son of Hans Luther, who got his name from St Martin of Tours. As an Augustinian monk he was extremely well versed into the Late Medieval hagiography and had himself prayed help from Saint Anna, Mother of Mary, when lightning struck near him.

The power of Gospel, the Word of God, had been hidden under tons of human stories from the Church of Christ and Reformation got rid of all that which prevents souls of seeking the grace of God in Jesus Christ alone.

Martin Luther fought against the idolatry in the Church, against the creeping worship of humans and angels, martyrs and saints, devils and spirits, instead of the only Son of God.

Importance of martyrs and saints
But the problem is that the true history of the Kingdom of God gets lost from us with all its immense treasures if we do not ask "Is this true?"

Among all the stories about holy martyrs many are true and amazing witness about the power of Jesus Christ. What could be more touching than the personal diary of Saint Perpetua from the prison before her cruel death?

Among all the stories about holy men and women many are true and amazing witness about the power of Jesus Christ.

Who could forget Martinus after hearing or reading his true story from Sulpicius Severus?

Let us NOT worship them for they are people like you and me who would never imagine that someone would pray them instead of God.

Let us LEARN from them and PRAISE our Lord Jesus Christ about them.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Heb 12:1-2

labels: Heb 12:1-2, martyrs, St Martin of Tours, Sulpicius Severus, worship of saints,

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pope Innocent I as a pagan high-priest

Pope Innocent I  was in the office from 401 to his death on March 12, 417.

He was the son of Pope Anastasius I (399-401).

How come?

Well - celibacy was not yet required from the bishops at that period of time.

The security situation was very grave in 410. Two years earlier the Visigoths had lifted the devastating first siege that had caused such widespread sickness and hunger in the city after getting plenty of gold, silver, silk - and most importantly - pepper from the Senate.

But now they were coming back for more.

Many people were thinking that perhaps the pagans were right and the recent misfortunes of Rome at the hand of enemies was revenge of Jupiter and other ancient gods whose temples had been closed and even the Sacred fire of Vesta had been put off in 394 by the order of Emperor Theodosius I.

Saint Augustine writes much about this ideological and theological matter in De Civitate Dei and argues against the claim that abandoning classical paganism doomed Rome to the barbarians.


Pope Innocent I agreed with the pagans.

In his anxiety with the terrible enemy at the gates of Rome, Pope Innocent I took in year 410 the role of  a high-priest and performed pagan rites to appease the angry gods.

This highly unusual and very telling episode from the Rome at the end of its Classical glory is told by the pagan historian Zosimus in his Historia Nova written in 498-518. (It is unlikely that Church historians would mention such an awkward incident.)

It has been said that because the people of Rome did not participate in great numbers in these private sacrifices and prayers we can see that Christianity had already taken deep root in the hearts of the people.

I am not so sure. Why would Augustine write at such length on the matter if the memory of Jupiter and his court had already disappeared, those Immortals!

The first book sketches briefly the history of the early Roman emperors from Augustus to Diocletian (305); the second, third and fourth deal more fully with the period from the accession of Constantius Chlorus and Galerius to the death of Theodosius I; the fifth and sixth, the most useful for historians, cover the period between 395 and 410, when Priscus Attalus was deposed; for this period, he is the most important surviving non-ecclesiastical source. The work, which breaks off abruptly in the summer of 410 at the beginning of the sixth book, is believed to have been written in 498–518.

The style is characterized by Photius as concise, clear and pure; other historians have judged his accounts confused or muddled, and valuable only because he preserves information from lost histories. The historian's object was to account for the decline of the Roman Empire from the pagan point of view. Zosimus is the only non-Christian source for much of what he reports.

De Civitate Dei
The credibility of Zosimus has been questioned on many grounds and not least by Christian historians. However, I personally find the action of Pope Innocent I as described by him both plausible and understandable.

It gives us rare insight to the minds of people in Rome as the enemy approaches and the memory of the 408 siege lingers fresh.

If even the Pope was in doubt about Jesus Christ... what can we expect from the common people, the citizens bearing the brunt of the attack.

Not for nothing did Jesus Christ direct his servant, Saint Augustine, to write about the matter in depth.

In fact, in such a depth that his writing changed the world.

Earthly Empire of Rome .... the Kingdom of God.

We might say that Rex Regum took one away, pulled the matt from under classical antiquity, and gave instead something new.

Jesus Christ and the first sack of Rome 410

Again we return to this momentous historic event that changed the world and brought the thousand years old Classical era to an end in the West.

What did Jesus Christ do when the unstoppable Visigoths had set their eyes to the once invincible city?

For the conquest of a city, the breaking of walls built to defend people from people and the events when an aggressive bunch of enemies spreads to the streets among defenceless civilian population, is quite a thing. Many words starting with R and other letters come to mind.

Rome had been sacked only once in human memory. On July 18, 387 BC the Gaul  Senone tribe led by chief Brennon led had broken a Roman army of 24.000 men in the Battle of the river Allia near Rome and entered the city. Artist Paul Jamin imagined in his painting how victorious Brennon would smile while entering one of the rich houses and seeing the treasures and captive naked women waiting for their fate there. Voe victis

Le Brenn et sa part de butin
Paul Jamin 1893 (wikimedia)

It was not all that different in 410 AD as we learn from Saint Augustine in De Civitate Dei. The bishop of Hippos had met many refugees from the Rome sacked by Alaric and his people and discusses at length the matter of a chaste Christian women who have been raped by the cruel enemy.

In more recent memory we have the entry of Russian soldiers to Berlin after the collapse of the Third Reich when enemies were hunting German soldiers trying to hide from their wrath in the forests and we have heard stories about what was done to the women and children in Hitler's capital. And other cities in other places and in other times. homo homini lupus.

Christian Goths
Well - as for Jesus Christ, he had already conquered many hearts of the mighty Visigoths who had converted to His faith. There was therefore a certain trembling in their hearts when they entered the capital of Christian Rome on August 24, 410.

Alaric was on the verge of an agreement with Honorius when his forces were attacked by Sarus, a fellow Gothic commander who was allied to Honorius and who had a blood feud with Ataulf. In response, Alaric returned to Rome and laid siege to it a third time. On August 24, 410, slaves opened Rome's Salarian Gate and the Visigoths poured in and looted for three days. Many of the city's great buildings were ransacked, including the mausoleums of Augustus and Hadrian, in which many Roman Emperors of the past were buried; the ashes of the urns in both tombs were scattered. This was the first time the city had been sacked in 800 years, and its citizens were devastated. Many Romans were taken captive, including the Emperor's sister, Galla Placidia, who subsequently married Ataulf. Tens of thousands of Romans subsequently fled the economically ruined city into the countryside, with many of them seeking refuge in Africa.

The historian Procopius recorded the following satire: the feeble-minded Emperor Honorius was informed by a eunuch that "Rome was destroyed" and, thinking the reference was to his favorite hen named "Roma", cried out in great consternation: "How could it be? She just ate out of my hand." Upon being informed of his mistake, the hapless emperor was greatly relieved.

The Visigoths entered, ransacked ... and left with their spoils of war, people and things, aiming at the riches of Africa. But very soon after the sack of Rome a mighty storm destroyed their ships and God thus drowned many of their soldiers in the sea and the heroic king Alaric himself died in a fever.

Alaric, having penetrated the city, marched southwards into Calabria. He desired to invade Africa, which, thanks to its grain, had become the key to holding Italy. But a storm battered his ships into pieces and many of his soldiers drowned. Alaric died soon after in Cosenza, probably of fever, at the age of about forty (assuming again, a birth around 370 AD), and his body was, according to legend, buried under the riverbed of the Busento. The stream was temporarily turned aside from its course while the grave was dug wherein the Gothic chief and some of his most precious spoils were interred. When the work was finished, the river was turned back into its usual channel and the captives by whose hands the labor had been accomplished were put to death that none might learn their secret.

Alaric was succeeded in the command of the Gothic army by his brother-in-law, Ataulf, who married Honorius' sister Galla Placidia three years later .

The Gothic mind surely connected the two things - the conquest of a sacred city and the horrible curses that fell on their people thereafter. Rome was not just another city.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Rex Regum in action - Rome and Nea Roma

After Father gave Jesus Christ all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18) He has not been lazily sitting on that glorious throne relaxing and letting people manage things the best they can.

No, on the contrary, Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Kings, has been very busy with His Father's Kingdom and He still is.

One of His fundamental decisions - that required plenty of angel power to realize - has shaped the entire history of Europe in very significant manner and kept His enemies at bay.

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you,you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Matthew 16:15-18

Note how He says "I will build my church."

This I is what also this blog is all about. Looking from some points of view how Jesus has been building His church.

In this blog it is the double matter of old and new Rome, spiritual and physical realms of His Kingdom.

Two Romes
Firstly, He decided to change old Rome in a way that pretty much resembled the end of the world as it was known to so many people. The new spiritual Rome was different from the old one and is still up and standing ruled from the Seat of Peter in the City state of Vatican.

Secondly, He decided to create a new physical Rome, Nea Roma in Greek, that was to become a major Christian and cultural centre, a crucial fortification against non-Christian attacks on the heartlands of Europe and the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople.

At this time the all powerful Empire of Rome had already been divided into Latin speaking Western and Greek speaking Eastern parts. His people were obviously the chosen tools for performing these fundamental changes on the map of Europe and the world. Especially two men, Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippos in West and Emperor Constantine the Great in East.

Within the period of approximately one hundred years from 325 to 455 the earthly Emperor of Western Rome was turned into a Spiritual Father, primus inter pares, the global power seeking Pope and the earthly Emperor of the Eastern Rome was turned into the Supreme ruler of the Church, in a process called Caesar-Papism.

From Emperor to Pope in the West
The shocking crisis of the Sack of Rome 410 was first and foremost a psychological blow to the newly Christianized citizens of the Western Empire. Not few blamed the unprecedented event of Visigoth king Alaric I entering the eternal city to the abandonment of the gods of Rome and the extinguishing of the Fire of Nike in the Temple of Vesta. Surely, this had angered the divine beings and they allowed the barbarians to enter the ancient city deemed invincible.

Knowing this to be coming, Lord Jesus carefully prepared His people to withstand the enormous military, political, social and cultural catastrophe that might otherwise utterly destroy Western Rome and its Christianity. It was, actually, quite a close call.

He did this mighty deed by using a strange weapon - a book.
There is an Aramaic saying -  Sifra saif - Book is a sword. (Aramaic is the mother tongue of Jesus).
De Civitate Dei did the work. "The City of God profoundly shaped Western civilization."  (wikipedia)

From Emperor to Caesar-Pope in the East
Constantine the Great founded Κωνσταντινούπολις Constantinopolis Nea Roma on the strategic spot where Asia and Europe meet on the Bosporus at the site of ancient Byzantium. After six years of building the city was consecrated on 11 May 330. Eighty years before the first sack of Rome by Alarik on August 24, 410.

It rapidly grew to such extent that it was later simply called The City, εις την πόλιν eis tin polin, which in Ottoman Turkish ears sounded like "Istanbul".

To Emperor Constantine's great annoyance those Christians had bloody quarrels about almost everything in their faith.  A strong ruler he was and a strong religion he wanted to unite the Roman empire from inside the hearts of its citizens by religious faith.

In 325 he therefore summoned all those 1800 quarrelling bishops to a council in the city of Nicea (Iznik Turkey). 318 came. They hammered together a Credo that after been complemented by another Council in Constantinople itself in 381 has defined Christianity.

The Emperor called the bishops and they promptly came - who came - and from that time on the Eastern Church has known what is Caesar-Papism.

Emperors, Popes and Patriarchs

Knowing us people He created a strong spiritual City and a strong physical City and gave His people strong rulers.

But Alas! History of Europe is thereafter much influenced by these - not always so humble servants of Christ - to take control of earthly kingdoms as well and to push Emperors and Kings and Presidents under their toes.

After all, is that not what Jesus ment when He said

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Matthew 16:19

Two keys - absolute spiritual power of the Pope, Vicar of Christ, in the Church and absolute earhtly power of the Pope, Vicar of Christ, among the nations.
Isn't that what Jesus meant?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eudoxia - Princess of the Vandals

The modern Basiclia in École Biblique Jerusalem 
Built on location of Aelia Eudoxia's Church of St. Stephens

Queen of the heart

The fate of the Kingdom of Vandals was to succumb to the superpower of East Roman Empire and to vanish from the surface of the earth. The Vandal branch of Arian Christianity was cut off the Wine tree of Christ and disappears with hardly a memory of it surviving in the Church.

In this momentous story there is one particularly interesting woman whose central role in the events of pruning the Vine tree is not so easy to notice. Men have written the history of Goths and Vandals, Jordanes, Procopius and others, and they tend to concentrate on manly things, theological controversies, wars and politics.

But the truth is that behind the major historical events are things that happen in secret in human hearts. And women have had some impact on the hearts of men, as we know. Jesus Christ knows this and uses skilfully family connections and webs of social relations to advance His kingdom about which He once said:

And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you.
Luke 17:20-21 ASV

Young Eudoxia
Our heroine Eudoxia (or Eudocia) was born in 439 silver spoon in her mouth. She was the eldest daughter in the royal family of Valentinian III, Emperor of Western Rome from 425 to his murder by two Scythians on 16 March 455.

Her mother Licinia Eudoxia (422-462) was also of the highest royal blood, her father being nothing less than the Emperor of East Rome, Theodosius II the Younger (401-450). This man built those amazing Theodosian Walls of Constantinople that withstood thousand years of fierce attacks and still stand in today's Istanbul. He is also remembered as an important lawmaker as Theodosian Code affected the lives of everyone in the Byzantine empire.

Her grandmother was another highly influential - and little known - woman in the Kingdom of Christ, Aelia Eudoxia (401-460) the wife and supporter of emperor Theodosius II. She was banished from the court and moved to Jerusalem on 443 and there on October 20 460. She was buried in the Church of St. Stephens. Today, the church is in the area of the famed Dominican monastery and research centre École biblique et archéologique française de Jérusalem (EBAF) in the eastern part of the city.

The marriage of Eudoxia's parents on 424 must have been quite an occasion: the groom was a manly four years old and the bride barely two!

So when young Eudoxia was betrothed at the age of five to become the future wife of Huneric, the son of the mighty king of Vandals Genseric, she was already quite old - relatively speaking...

Serious complications with marriage plans
Things did not always go quite as planned by men and women in high places.

Little Eudoxia was growing up as princesses do and eagerly waited in the Carthage as the future queen. Her early engagement was a tool of diplomacy with the intention to strengthen the friendship between East Roman Empire and the scary Vandal Kingdom in North Africa.

But when Eudoxia was 16 years old her father was murdered. A very smart and stupid man called Petronius Maximus (396- 31 May 455) was behind the schemes and promptly took power in Constantinople - for an amazing total of seventy five days.

This fellow did not waist time. He forced the widow of Valentinian III, Licinia Eudoxia, to marry him. That might still have been okay in the politics of the time but then he did something you do not do with Vandals - he cancelled the engagement of Eudoxia with the son of their king.

Instead of Huneric, Eudoxia would be married to Palladium, the son of Petronius Maximus.

Huh. Maximum stupidity!

It did not matter that angry mob stoned Petronius to death on May 31 455. Insulted king Genseric was already sailing with his troops and he was really on bad mood.

Soon the entire city of Rome would be sacked in such a horrific way that the world still remembers it trembling. After all, that is from where the word "vandalism" comes.

And yes, the girl was taken to Carthage and married five years later, on 460, to Huneric as had been agreed earlier on. Eudoxia was 21 years old when she became the First Lady of Carthage.

Seed of destruction
Things did not go quite as planned by men and women in high places.

Princess Eudoxia was not some weakling from corrupt Roman nobility - no! She obviously was an exceptional woman, a powerful character who could withstand the force and fanaticism of her Arian husband, King Huneric. He is remembered as the most active persecutor of Nicene Christians in Vandal Kingdom.

Eudoxia kept her faith and her son, Hilderic, wanted to be a Nicene Christian following in his heart the faith of her mother and not of his father. Such conversion was officially forbidden in Huneric's kingdom. We can only imagine what kind of tensions there were in the court and how the education of the boy - especially his Christian education - developed at these tumultuous years.

We see hear the real King of Hearts at action but quietly and secretly, behind the scenes... where it matters.

And yes, this was the seed of destruction that led eventually to the utter destruction of Vandal Kingdom.

For it was the royal messing up by Arian Christian Gelimer with the son of Eudoxia - king Hilderic (523-530), the friend of Emperor Justine the Great - that eventually was the cause of the utter destruction of the Vandal Kingdom.

To Jerusalem
The writers of the wikipedia article on Princess Eudocia say
At some time following the birth of Hilderic, Eudocia withdrew to Jerusalem due to religious differences with her Arian husband. She died there and was buried in the sepulcher of her grandmother, Aelia Eudocia.

This is not what I wrote above claiming that Eudoxia was present in the court of Carthage and influenced the Christian education of her son. Historical sources are needed to decide who is right in this matter!

It is truly appropriate that Princess Eudoxia was buried in the same Church of St. Stepehens that her grandmother had built and was buried in. The two ladies were obviously cut from the same noble and upright tree and the King of Kings gave them both crucial but very different roles in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Arius and end of Vandal Kingdom

Ruins of Carthage
Tunis Minsitry of Tourism

The Christian kingdom of Vandals in North Africa was destroyed in a war largely because of Arius the Darnell.

The founder of the kingdom king Genseric (428-477) used his powers as the ruler to strengthen his church. For this he exiled and even executed Nicene bishops and priests and the state confiscated the property of many non-Arian nobles. The persecutions of other Christians came in waves and varied according to political circumstances, especially the relations with the superpower of the day, East Roman Empire. Both Nicene Christians and followers of the Berber Bishop of Carthage Donatus Magnus (d. 355) felt the pressure.

King Huneric (477-484), the son of Genseric, is remembered for his aggressive religious policies. During his time conversion of Arian Vandals to other Christian churches was strictly forbidden. Also king Thrasamund (496–523) is said to have been a religious fanatic but his pressure to strengthen the local Arian church did not include executions.

King Hilderic
Silver coin of Hilderic (525-30). 

Political and religious events came to critical point after the death of king Hilderic (460-533). He was at heart a Trinitarian Christian because of the deep influence of his mother Eudocia.

Relations with Constantinople improved greatly and king Hilderic became a personal friend of Emperor Justinian the Great. Instead of making life difficult to Nicene Christians the king supported them and allowed them to chose their own bishop in Carthage. Historian Procopius (500-565) from whom we learn about this man tells that Hilderic was of advanced age when crowned as king and let his nephew Hoamer take care of the military affairs of the state.

Arian revolt
We see that religion - question of who is Jesus Christ - was causing serious internal problems and theological matters led quickly to physical acts of violence with devastating consequences to the Vandal kingdom.

Wikipedia tells
After seven years on the throne, Hilderic fell victim to a revolt led by his cousin Gelimer, an Arian, who led the people in a religious rebellion. Gelimer then became King of the Vandals and Alans, and restored Arianism as the official religion of the kingdom. He imprisoned Hilderic, along with Hoamer and his brother Euagees but did not kill him.

Justinian protested Gelimer's actions, demanding that Gelimer return the kingdom to Hilderic. Gelimer sent away the envoys who brought him this message, blinding Hoamer and putting both Hilderic and Euagees under closer confinement, claiming that they had planned a coup against him.

When Justinian sent a second embassy protesting these developments, Hilderic replied, in effect, that Justinian had no authority to make these demands.

Angered at this response, Justinian quickly concluded his ongoing war with Persia and prepared an expedition against the Vandals in 533. Once Gelimer learned of the arrival of the Roman army, he had Hilderic murdered, along with Euagees and other supporters of Hilderic he had imprisoned.
wikipedia referring to the history of Procopius

The end
Bad mistake!

You do not treat someone like Justinian in such manner. And that was not the only mistake - it is as if God in turn blinded the usurper of power, Gelimer, who had blinded Hoamer in the prison: like an idiot he had send his main army to Sardinia even the army of Byzantium was approaching under the leadership of that military genius Belisarius (500-565).

Byzantine Emperor Justinian I declared war, with the stated intention of restoring Hilderic to the Vandal throne. While an expedition was en route, a large part of the Vandal army and navy was led by Tzazo, Gelimer's brother, to Sardinia to deal with a rebellion. As a result, the armies of the Eastern Empire commanded by Belisarius were able to land unopposed 10 miles (16 km) from Carthage.

Gelimer quickly assembled an army, and met Belisarius at the Battle of Ad Decimum; the Vandals were winning the battle until Gelimer's brother Ammatas and nephew Gibamund fell in battle. Gelimer then lost heart and fled. Belisarius quickly took Carthage while the surviving Vandals fought on.

On December 15, 533, Gelimer and Belisarius clashed again at the Battle of Tricamarum, some 20 miles (32 km) from Carthage. Again, the Vandals fought well but broke, this time when Gelimer's brother Tzazo fell in battle.

Belisarius quickly advanced to Hippo, second city of the Vandal Kingdom, and in 534 Gelimer surrendered to the Roman conqueror, ending the Kingdom of the Vandals.

There were many reasons to the collapse of the Vandal kingdom but Jesus Christ was the key - also in this case as He is today.

As for king Gelimer, he "was honourably treated and received large estates in Galatia. He was also offered the rank of a patrician but had to refuse it because he was not willing to change his Arian faith" (Catholic Encyclopedia)

As for the Vandals...

they disappear from the history as a nation, their name surviving in many languages because of their questionable fame after the Sack of Rome 455. And their name has survived in the honorary title of the King of Sweden from Gustav Vasa to Karl Gustaf!

The Vandal church disappears, as well, but the victory of Orthodoxy and Donatian church did not last for long as a new religion was rising in Arabian peninsula, a religion that would after about one hundred years largely wipe out Christianity from North Africa.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vandal coins in the Holy Land

Ancient synagogue of Gush Halav (el Jish)

Careful detective work by numismatist Gabriela Bijovsky (Israel Antiquities Authority) unexpectedly led to quite remarkable results - the first ever identification of Vandal kingdom coins in the Holy Land.

The discovery
Gush Halav is located seven kilometres north-west of Safed in Upper Galilee, Israel. Excavations were carried out in the lower synagogue area in 1977 and 1978 by the American School of Oriental Research, under the direction of professors E.M. MeyersC.L. Meyers, and James F. Strange.

A hoard of about two thousand very small minimi coins was found in a humble cooking pot. The broken vessel was laying near a plaster floor that belongs to the last phase of the synagogue. The building collapsed in the earthquake of 551 A.D. and was abandoned. (The region is geologically volatile as it is near the massive continental plate boundary, the East African Rift Valley and devastating earthquakes are frequent.)

The re-examination of the coins from Gush Halav synagogue hoard was first published by G. Biovsky in  'Atiqot XXXV (1998). She has since continued her work on the subject and is currently (2011-2012) publishing more academic works on Vandalic coinage in the Holy Land.

Difficult to identify
It is no wonder that the unique identity of the coins was not noticed when the excavations were first published by two eminent scholars, in a preliminary report by numismatist R.S. Hansen (1979) and a comprehensive report by J. Raynor (1990).

"Most of the types are crudely manufactures, have no names, or are so illegible that theri dating and origin are only approximate."
G. Bijovsky 1998:81

International co-operation
The accumulation of information from different sources, in this case from Carthage excavations, and international co-operation between scholars led to the wonderful identification bringing also Holy Land to the picture with the short-lived Christian North-African kingdom. Bijovsky thanks in her important numismatic study a leading expert on Vandal coins, H. Mostecky, who first draw her attention to these humble coins.

What minimi?

Hoard of small Byzantine coins from Karm er-Ras, Israel

The minimi was used in handfuls put in small bags with the value marked on them in nummi and apparently only the weight was important with such small change.

Like today's collection of euros in ones purse may include coins from many different countries apparently also in the international Byzantine period the coins could have been minted somewhere around Eastern Mediterranean and include imitations and even frauds, nobody cared.

Bijovsky tells in her article that "among the coins were four tiny issues of the Vandal king Trasamund (496-523 CE), representing a Victory to the left, holding a palm branch."  She also noted a very rare coin from the  Domino Nostro series which definitely comes from Carthage. Some of the tiny coins have crosses, "a cross potent in reel-border" and there is a coin with a Christogram.

Arian Christian presence in Justinian period Holy Land!


The excavators suggest that the hoard was actually a collection jar for visitors who would drop into it the smallest coins they had with them.

In the light of Bijovsky's studies it is now possible to put this hoard in a pot to the horizon of other such hoards found around the Mediterranean. Because it seems that none of the hoards listed by Bijovsky from North Africa or elsewhere are from synagogues or churches the idea of religious gift seems less plausible.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Living and dead branches

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit"
John 15:1-2

On 3rd 6th centuries AD the vine of Christ grew Arian branches among Goths and Vandals. 
  • One branch, the church of the Ostrogoths, flourished in their kingdom in Italy and bordering areas.
  • One branch, the church of the Visigoths, flourished in their kingdom in Spain and bordering areas.
  • Third branch, the church of the Vandals, flourished in their kingdom in North-Africa and Carthage.
But not all of these branches beard good fruit.

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Thus you will recognize them by their fruits."
Matthew 7:15-20

Patiently He took care of these branches in the Tree of the Kingdom for more than two hundred years. Asked from Father more time - perhaps next year they will bring good fruits!

But the end was swift for two of the branches:

Byzantine general Belisarius (500-565) finished off the Vandal Kingdom and dispersed and beaten they disappear with their church. Vandalic War was harsh and swift and took place near Carthage in 533-534.

Belisarius finished off the Ostrogoth Kingdom and they dispersed to Austria and disappear with their church. Gothic War took longer 535-554.

Only the Visigoths survived as their branch was pruned from Arianism in the Third Council of Toledo (589).

Goths and Vandals sacking Rome
There is a big difference in the two attacks on the city of Rome by

  • Christian king Alaric leading the Visigoths in 410 staying in the city for three days.(ref)
  • Christian king Genseric leading the Vandals in 455 and vandalizing the city for two weeks. (ref)

King of the Nations
Was this cutting down of the kingdoms and throwing the branches into the fire justified decision from Rex Regum?

The fruit of the Vandal church was particularly bitter as they persecuted Trinitarian Christians, occupied Sicily and Corsica and sacked Rome in 455 AD in a manner that history still remembers with trembling.

The fruit of the Ostrogoth church is beautiful and is witnessed by the Silver Bible carefully stored in Uppsala, Sweden, and also the art and architecture of Theodoric the Great. But Italy was not going to become a centre of Arian Christianity - and did not, as we know very well today. Catholic faith is very closely associated with this country, to say the least.

Visigoths became Trinitarian and mingled with the Roman-Iberian population of Spain.

Enemy in action
With the false prophet Arius in decline the Enemy of Christ did not remain quiet. Another prophet, much more powerful, had already been born in Arabian peninsula.

If Arius emphasized that Son is born from Father, later and smaller, this rising prophet of Islam claimed in a much more radical manner that God has no son.

Arians are gone from the vine of Christ.

Recenty, the number of Sunni Muslims has passed the number of Catholic Christians among the human beings living on this Earth.

Christ and Vandals

Siliqua of Vandal king Genseric (389-477)

Let us work a little to understand the role of the famous Vandals during the Migration Period in connection with the Kingdom of Heaven. After all, who has not heard of vandalism?

Name and origins
It is possible that like the Gothic tribes also Vandals originally came from Sweden. Their tribal name may survive in the parish of Vendel in Uppland.  The village is on the large Vendelsjö lake and there is also a Vendel river. (Other theories about the name also exist). During the 3rd century A.D. they already had reached the borders of Rome and had at this time probably mixed with other Germanic and Slavic tribes. The two main groups were called by Roman historians and geographers  Silingi and Hasdingi.

Wikipedia tells:
According to Jordanes' Getica, the Hasdingi came into conflict with the Goths around the time of Constantine the Great. At the time, the Vandals were living in lands later inhabited by the Gepids, where they were surrounded "on the east [by] the Goths, on the west [by] the Marcomanni, on the north [by] the Hermanduri and on the south [by] the Hister (Danube)." The Vandals were attacked by the Gothic king Geberic, and their king Visimar was killed. The Vandals then migrated to Pannonia, where after Constantine the Great (about 330) granted them lands on the right bank of the Danube, they lived for the next sixty years.

Around this time, the Hasdingi had already been Christianized. During the Emperor Valens's reign (364–78) the Vandals accepted, much like the Goths earlier, Arianism, a belief that was in opposition to that of Nicene orthodoxy of the Roman Empire. Yet there were also some scattered orthodox Vandals, among whom was the famous magister militum Stilicho, the chief minister of the Emperor Honorius (384-423).

Christ and Vandals
How did Christ reach the Vandals so that we find them as Christians already at the time of Constantine the Great?

We apparently have no information about this but the process may have been similar to what happened with the Goths who raided Roman territory and took Christian captives, especially women.

However, there was no Wulfila. Vandal speech has never been written down, as far as I know, and they never not the New Testament in their own language. Since church historians wrote about the persecution of Nicene Christians by Arian Vandals in north-Africa we see that also in this they resembled the Goths by confessing the teaching of Arius.

Vandals had a different kind of deep impact on the Kingdom of God - for they, together with Alans, attacked Frankish tribes in Gaul. This fight was crucial for Clovis who became a Christian as a consequence of his prayer victory. (We shall return to the fundamentally important Franks later.)

In 406 the Vandals advanced from Pannonia travelling west along the Danube without much difficulty, but when they reached the Rhine, they met resistance from the Franks, who populated and controlled Romanized regions in northern Gaul. Twenty thousand Vandals, including Godigisel himself, died in the resulting battle, but then with the help of the Alans they managed to defeat the Franks, and on December 31, 406 the Vandals crossed the Rhine, probably while it was frozen, to invade Gaul, which they devastated terribly. Under Godigisel's son Gunderic, the Vandals plundered their way westward and southward through Aquitaine.

Hispania and North-Africa

Vandals continued vandalizing southern Europe and reached Spain in 409. There the Alans wanted to join them so that their army may have reached over 80.000 men (estimates vary). After they established their kingdom in Carthage the title of the ruler was Rex Wandalorum et Alanorum.

"From around 1540, the Swedish king had been styled, Suecorum, Gothorum et Vandalorum Rex ("King of the Suecii (Swedes), Goths (Geats) and Vandals (Wends)"). Carl XVI Gustaf, dropped the title in 1973 and now styles himself simply as King of Sweden." (wikipedia)

Death of St Augustine
With the leadership of their most powerful leader Genseric (389-477) they crossed Gibraltar in 429 and conquered North-Africa. 430 AD they laid heavy siege on Hippo Regius where St. Augustine was Bishop of a Nicene Church.

It may well be that the hardships brought by the long siege by Christian Vandals led to the death of that man of God, Saint Augustine of Hippo: "On 28 August 430, three months into the siege, St. Augustine (who was 75 years old) died".(wikipedia)

Attacked by the Romans and the Suevi, the Vandals left Galicia about 420 and settled in southern Spain, which have got its name Andalusia from the Vandals. They did not stay in Andalusia for long however, their new king Gaiseric (also called Geiseric or Genseric) led them to north Africa 429 where they created a powerful state. Carthage was seized 439 and made into their new capitol and their navy that was built shortly afterwards made the the Mediterranean unsafe and conquered all large islands in the western Mediterranean. The sacking of Rome would much later result in the term "vandalism". But the Vandal kingdom was weakened after Gaiseric's death 477 and it was easily conquered by the East Roman Empire 533-534.
  • 400-428 Gunderic
  • 428-477 Gaiseric
  • 477-484 Huneric
  • 484-496 Gunthamund
  • 496-523 Thrasamund
  • 523-530 Hilderic
  • 530-534 Gelimer
Historical Atlas

For a recent scholarly discussion on the subject see, for example, this on-line article
(To read the article you need a membership to library society or you can purchase 24h rights to read it)

Christianity and the Vandals in the reign of Geiseric
Peter Heather July 27 2011
Institute of Classical Studies. School of Advanced Studies, University of London

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Christ and Devil in Europe

If it was up to us it would be so much more simple!

Christ has risen from the death, conquered and won, and God of Israel has crowned Him with glory and power!

As the Son of Man himself says "I have been given all the power upon earth and heaven"

So what's the problem? Avanti populi!

And yet, the battle is so slow in our eyes... two thousand years and still counting. And instead of a continuous series of victories we see many setbacks, serious setbacks that - if we were granted such power - surely would not have happened!

Psalm 2

The Reign of the LORD’s Anointed
 1Why do the nations rage
   and the peoples plot in vain?
2The kings of the earth set themselves,
   and the rulers take counsel together,
   against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3"Let us burst their bonds apart
   and cast away their cords from us."  
4He who sits in the heavens laughs;
   the Lord holds them in derision.
5Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
   and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6"As for me, I have set my King
   on Zion, my holy hill."
 7I will tell of the decree:The LORD said to me, "You are my Son;
   today I have begotten you.
8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
   and the ends of the earth your possession.
9You shall break them with a rod of iron
   and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel."
 10Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
   be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear,
   and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son,
   lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
   for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

And the anointed almighty King tells His people to conquer the world!

So what could be more straightforward - the entire humanity will come under the rule of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, and worship the only true God and live in peace and prosperity following the Laws of the Kingdom of Heaven?

Competing ruler - Satan
How nice it would be if this was just a bad dream, just some stupid ancient mythology and religious nonsense.

Unfortunately, the spiritual world is a reality that has direct consequences on our physical, mental and spiritual existence and includes both the rule of the Son of God, the Almighty, and the rule of the king of this world, Satan.

The history of the Kingdom of God is not a simple straightforward - and fast forward - spreading of the good news to the entire humanity, truth and love and so on.


Look at the royal Son and how He tells about the victory over death and sin and Satan and everything - so humbly and to such a humble crowd of about five hundred nobodies. Some of whom dared to doubt the whole thing...

Mission impossible
 16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them,  "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Matthew 28:16-20

The Battle
Yes, we would make things quite fast, straightforward and simple ... one great victory, one great people of God in coventant with Him and singing praises to Him day and night!

But alas, the battle about the hearts of humans continues even today!

In fact, today the Kingdom of God seems again to be in great troubles in Europe with the forces of Darkness with all their power running King Christ out of the European Union.

Why on earth does it has to be such a fight - from the beginning on - with real sweat and blood, death and destruction?

What a story it is!

The Secret Kingdom
And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.

Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.

In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, 

Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.

And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see:  For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
Luke 10:17-23

Vous soldat du Christ!

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 
  Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  
 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

   Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
  And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
  Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
  Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
Ephesians 6:10-18

His selected soldier, Paul, was executed by a sharp sword his head cut off at his old age.

May that example encourage you, soldier of Christ, in this battle of the battles that determines the eternal fate of human beings.

Eastern winds

From the movie The Rise of Genghis Khan (2008)

World still remembers in terror the two Eastern winds, the Whip of God Attila the Hun (d. 453) probably from Mongolia and some five hundred years later Genghis Khan (1167-1227) with his unstoppable Mongol horsemen. Both invasions have left lasting impact on the history of the world.


Empire of the Huns at the time of Attila I 

Also the Kingdom of God became in close contact with the Huns in the West Roman Empire and beyond its borders. Church historian Jordanes tells about these people in unflattering terms

"They made their foes flee in horror because their swarthy aspect was fearful, and they had, if I may call it so, a sort of shapeless lump, not a head, with pin-holes rather than eyes. Their hardihood is evident in their wild appearance, and they are beings who are cruel to their children on the very day they are born. For they cut the cheeks of the males with a sword, so that before they receive the nourishment of milk they must learn to endure wounds. Hence they grow old beardless and their young men are without comeliness, because a face furrowed by the sword spoils by its scars the natural beauty of a beard. They are short in stature, quick in bodily movement, alert horsemen, broad shouldered, ready in the use of bow and arrow, and have firm-set necks which are ever erect in pride. Though they live in the form of men, they have the cruelty of wild beasts."
(Jordanes. The origins and deeds of the Goths. Translated by Charles C. Mierow. XXIV: 121-2)

The Huns presence in Europe from fourth to seventh century A.D. may have been the root cause of the nervous movements of people during the Migration Period. Under Attila the Huns established a huge empire in Middle Asia reaching from there for the riches of Mediterranean countries and trying to extend their power to the shores of Atlantic Ocean. These expeditions totally mixed the habitation of Europe sending refugees to all directions with devastating consequences to the prevailing order.

Rouran Khaganate 330-355 A.D.

The Huns may themselves have left their homes in the East because of the expansion of the Chinese Rouran Khaganate on the northern borders of inner China in 4th - 6th centuries A.D.

The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from east of the Volga River, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and established the vast Hunnic Empire there. Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of the Huns, considerable scholarly effort has been devoted to investigating such a connection. However, there is no scholarly consensus on a direct connection between the dominant element of the Xiongnu and that of the Huns. Priscus mentions that the Huns had a language of their own; little of it has survived and its relationships have been the subject of debate for centuries. According to predominant theories, theirs was a Turkic language. Numerous other languages were spoken within the Hun pax including East Germanic. Their main military technique was mounted archery.

We will later return to the details of the encounter between Jesus Christ and Attila.

Genghis Khan

It helps to keep things in perspective to compare the arrival of Huns to that of the Mongol invasion some five hundred years later. The pattern of swift attacks on horseback is very similar and the consequences to the people of Western Asia, Near East and Europe equally important.

Expansion of Genghis Khan empire during the 13th century

Friday, November 11, 2011

Europe 526 Anno Domini

This venerable map of Europe in 526 A.D. is from the Perry-Castañeda Library of the University of Texas at Austin.

Byzantium - East Roman Empire in the map - is still ruling Greece and Macedonia in Europe, Near East and Egypt in north-Africa.

But alas, the West Roman Empire is no more!

Instead, Ostrogoths are ruling Italy from Ravenna with a big chunk of the Balkans - Kingdom of the East Goths in the map.

Goths are also ruling northern Mediterranean coast of Septimia in modern Southern France and Visigoths rule the Iberian peninsula - Kingdom of West Goths in the map. (Except for the mountainous region in NE Spain, Galicia and Basque country, Azuria, areas that also the Umayyad Muslims and Berbers were unable to conquer.)

To the north and north east of the regions of Goth ruled areas were Germanic and Slavic people.

Franks have established at this time their first kingdom in areas that today belong to modern France with Burgundians to the SW.

Vandals have a kingdom in North Africa in areas that today reach from Morocco and Algers to Libya and Tunis with Carthage as their capital. From there they have conquered Sicily and Corsica.

Rex Regum
Of great interest to us in this valuable map of world history is the fact that the key players in the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea at 526 are all Christians!

Christ the King rules in the hearts of these people.

Yes, even the Vandals were Christians.

Some of the Christians were Arians, some Catholic, some Donatians, some Orthodox, some Chalcedonians, some Monophysitists - true! - but all these Christians were under the divine rule of Jesus Christ, the King.

And many of them are therefore going to live forever with Him!

Two Phases of Migrations

I quote here part of a Wikipedia article making only a few modifications to it. The article gives good general outline of the difficult to study Migrations Period from Constantine the Great to the Siege of Constantinople. The period of migrations lasted for about four hundred years.

The First Phase 300 - 500 A.D.
The first phase, occurring between 300 and 500 A.D., is partly documented by Greek and Latin historians but difficult to verify in archaeology. It puts Germanic peoples in control of most areas of the then Western Roman Empire.

The Visigoths entered Roman territory, after a clash with the Huns, in 376. Their subsequent deditio was probably not acceptable. During a dramatic incident the following year in Marcianopolis, the escort to Fritigern, their leader, was killed while meeting with Lupicinus. The Visigoths rebelled, eventually invading Italy and sacking Rome itself in 410, before settling in Iberia and founding a kingdom there that endured for 200 years. They had been followed into Roman territory by the Ostrogoths led by Theodoric the Great, who settled in Italy itself.

In Gaul, the Franks, a fusion of western Germanic tribes whose leaders had been strongly aligned with Rome since the 3rd century, subsequently entered Roman lands more gradually and peacefully during the 5th century, and were generally endured as rulers by the Roman-Gaulish population. Fending off challenges from the Allemanni, Burgundians and Visigoths, the Frankish kingdom became the nucleus of the future states of France and Germany.

The initial Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain took place in the 5th century, when for all intents and purposes Roman Britain no longer existed.

The Second Phase 500 - 700 A.D.
The second phase took place between 500 and 700, saw Slavic tribes settling in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in eastern Magna Germania, and gradually making it predominantly Slavic. In 567, the Avars -alongside the Lombards - destroyed much of the Gepid Kingdom. The Lombards, a Germanic people, settled in northern Italy in the region now known as Lombardy. The Bulgars, people of either Turkic or Iranic origin who had been present in far Eastern Europe since the 2nd century, conquered the eastern Balkan territory of the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century.

During the early Byzantine–Arab Wars, the Arab armies attempted to invade Southeastern Europe via Asia Minor in the second half of the 7th century and the early 8th century, but were eventually defeated at the siege of Constantinople by the joint forces of Byzantium and the Bulgars in 717–718. During the Khazar–Arab Wars, the Khazars stopped the Arab expansion into Eastern Europe across the Caucasus.

At the same time, the Moors (consisting of Arabs and Berbers) invaded Europe via Gibraltar, conquering Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula) from the Visigothic Kingdom in 711, before being halted by the Franks at the Battle of Tours in 732. These battles largely fixed the frontier between Christendom and Islam for the next millenium. The following centuries saw the Muslims successful in conquering Sicily and parts of southern Italy from the Christians, although never consolidating it.

Christ and the Migrations Period

In our story we are now jumping ahead in time after the crucial event, the Sack of Rome by Visigoth king Alaric I on August 24, 410 and its implications to the Kingdom of God, De Civitate Dei.

We go ahead of this fundamentally important event because knowing about the world after it helps us to grasp the significance of those events. The world that existed after the fall of Western Rome is in the time line between Classical Antiquity and Early Middle Ages. This was the Period of Migrations in Europe, Near East and North Africa that has largely shaped this part of the world as we know it today.

Scholars, historians, archaeologists, sociologists and others, are heatedly discussing what constituted the identity of the many people mentioned in the historical sources about the Migrations Period, whether they formed kinships as genetically related tribes, social ideas or what.

It may well be that several factors affected the way the people identified themselves as belonging to a specific group and obeying its leader, for example being a "Gothic family" in Moesia or being a brave in a certain village in Classical period Gaul with Asterix and Obelix.

My point in this blog is that eventually it was Rex Regum who gave these people those identities that have grown into modern nation states of Europe and elsewhere. One example of this are the Franks under King Clovis I as we shall see later on.

The arrival of Christ in the midst of these peoples through His apostles already in the first millennium A.D. gave them national identity, written language, structures of government around the Church, early seeds of civilization that has flourished ever since. After all, His Father in Heaven has given all people on Earth to His rule and He has been very busy ever since with us.

These nations, French, German,Swiss, Austrian, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian ... were not invented by the romantic nationalists of modern times.  Instead, these are ancient people who have roamed Europe in Iron Age, settled, moved, migrated, fought wars, suffered hunger, enjoyed rich yields of their agricultural fields and cattle, looted treasures, slaughtered people, hunted animals and build houses and villages and cities and empires...  and at one point something decisive happened to them - they met Jesus Christ.

And the rest is history - literally, literal history!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gothic Cross

Ostrogoth coin with a cross. Byzantine imitation c. 550 AD

Today the term Gothic cross is often used for a dagger like design with numerous variations popularly sold as pendants or even used as a tattoo. These cross designs are often associated with Gothic subculture with murderous Nazi, bloody vampire or other such dark associations. These crosses have little or nothing to do with the historical Goths.

Do we have real Gothic crosses that would have survived in structures, gravestones or archaeological discoveries from the times of Wulfila and the Arian Christians from late 4th to the end of 6th century? The problem is that with the victory of Nicene Christians there apparently was a heavy onslaught on heretic Arian places of worship and mosaics and objects of art where destroyed.

For this reason alone it may not be easy to find crosses among the surviving evidence of historic Goths.

But it is also possible that cross itself was not a central symbol among Gothic Christians. These were warriors who venerated heroic deeds and loved bloody battles.  The shameful death of our Savior as a defenseless victim on a cross might not have been easy to accept. In other words, Gothic Christianity may have emphasized other things than the suffering and slaughter of the Lamb of God.

We may note that also in the 3rd and 4th centuries when Christ reached the hearts of the Goths through the missionary work of Wulfila and others cross was not a common symbol in the Church. The memory of its cruelty was still alive and it was something like a gas chamber or electric chair would be for today's Christians. Only later, after Constantine the Great forbade crucifixion in Rome and after the reality of it was forgotten did the cross become a prominent symbol of Christianity.

Here is some evidence that I have been able to find and it all is from the later periods in 6th and even 7th centuries when the Gothic Arian Christianity was nearing its end.


The beautiful mosaics in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo,,Ravenna, made during the rule of king Theodoric (496-526) were largely destroyed with the suppression of Arianism. The mosaic depicting bearded Christ seated on throne has survived but the cruciform halo surrounding His head is later Byzantine addition (see in here more pictures of the Ostrogoth and Justinian mosaics in this Basilica which is listed by UNESCO as part of world cultural heritage).

Coin of Athalaric, Ravenna 526-540 AD

There is numismatic evidence of crosses, like in this decanummi of king Athalaric. But this cross does not represent any Gothic cross as it is an imitation of the standard designs in Byzantine coins.
Coin of Baduila 541-549 AD 

The nummi of king Baduila has a small cross that clearly shows Christian identity. It is, of course, too tiny to indicate any specific type of cross.

The coins are imitations of Byzantine coins and may therefore not be good evidence about Ostrogoth Christians attitude towards the symbol of a cross.

Visigoths It is difficult to find crosses among the scant material remains of Arian Goths from the Visigothic period of Spain 409-711. Nicene Catholics may have efficiently destroyed the places of worship and heretic religious art objects after the Third Council of Toledo 581 AD in the same manner the Byzantines destroyed Arian art after victory over the Ostrogoths.

There are several outstanding jewelry crosses in the Treasure of Guarrazar found in tombs after heavy storms in August 1858 in an orchard in Guadamar near Toledo. Most of the treasure has since been stolen; surviving objects are on display in the Royal Palace of Madrid, in the National Archaeological Museum of Madrid and in the Museum of Middle Ages, Paris. 

However, these very skilfully made precious objects are dated quite late in Visigoth history, to the seventh century AD when the Visigoths had already converted from Arianism to the Catholic faith. Indeed, the inclusion of crosses may have been a deliberate act to emphasize the newly found orthodoxy of the Goths of Spain.

The Treasure of Guarrazar is an archeological find composed of twenty-six votive crowns and gold crosses that had originally been offered to the Roman Catholic Church by the Kings of the Visigoths in the seventh century in Hispania, as a gesture of the orthodoxy of their faith and their submission to the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

The most valuable of all is the votive crown of king Reccesuinth with its blue sapphires from the former Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and spectacular pendilia (hanging jewels and ornaments).

Though the treasure is now divided and much has disappeared, it represents the best surviving group of Early Medieval Christian votive offerings, and was probably comparable to groups deposited in other major European shrines that have now disappeared.

19th century lithograph of objects in the Guarrazar treasure

The shape of the crosses found in the beautiful Visigoth treasure does resemble the shape of the cross seen minted on the simple Ostrogoth coin shown above.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Christ, Goths and Ossetians

Scythia and Parthia about 100 before the birth of Christ

Jesus Christ, the King of the Kings, wants that His Kingdom will reach all the people upon the Earth. This is the task He kind of trusted to His own after being crowned Rex Regum - but to be sure that this Mission Impossible would succeed, He said "I will be with you every day to the end of the world".

And so He does.

"Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen."  
Matthew 28:16-20 KJV

South Ossetia War 2008
The world is so busy with news that we who live a bit further from the Caspian Sea may already have forgotten the South Ossetian War in 7–16 August 2008. Ethnic Georgians had occupied more than half of Ossetia in the 1991-92 war and Abkhazia in the 1992-93 war.

"During the night of 7 to 8 August 2008, Georgia launched a large-scale military offensive against South Ossetia, in an attempt to reclaim the territory. ... Georgia successfully captured most of Tskhinvali within hours. Russia reacted by deploying units of the Russian 58th Army and Russian Airborne Troops in South Ossetia, and launching airstrikes against Georgian forces in South Ossetia and military and logistical targets in Georgia proper. .... Through mediation by the French presidency of the European Union, the parties reached a preliminary ceasefire agreement on 12 August, signed by Georgia on 15 August in Tbilisi and by Russia on 16 August in Moscow."


 Ossetians of modern times

The Ossetian people living today in the regions behind the Caspian Sea are a rare survival of the Sarmatians through Alans. They still speak their ancient East Iranian language called Ossetic. During 1920'ies Russians introduced their Cyrillic writing system to Ossetic which does not have its own system. An Early Medieval inscription looks like this in transliteration:

Saxiri Furt Xovs
Istori Furt Bæqætar
Bæqætari Furt Æmbalan
Æmbalani Furt Lak
Ani čirtī

After centuries of life under Russian rule they are today mostly Eastern Orthodox with a Moslem minority. But originally Christ reached them through the missionary work of the Goths.

Accordingly, the Ossetians are an old branch in the Kingdom of Heaven. For Christ reached them about the same time as He won the heart of king Clovis I  (466–511). To put this in perspective, let us remember that Christ reached the Germans some three hundred years after the Franks and that the Gospel crossed to Americas when New World was found by Christopher Columbus about one thousand year after Goth missionaries preached behind the Caspian Sea.

So now we know! The Ossetians are a respectable ancient Christian people in the Kingdom of God. One of those the King of King asked His own to reach, to baptise and teach.

And they did.

Saints are marching on!
Ossetians' ancestors learned to know Jesus Christ through the Goths who had such an impact on their life during the Migration Period in addition to the Huns. They are descendants of Sarmatians who lived in the Caspian region north of Parthia (modern Iran).

As in so many other ancient churches also among the Ossetians old tribal religion found its way into the new world of Christianity through many saints.

Ossetian holy ones included already in Antiquity, of course, Biblical characters and holy martyrs of the Roman period venerated everywhere in the Church of Christ as well as their own holy people. But among these there are also "baptised pagan gods" and mythological heroic characters.

Nart sagas
Sosruko bringing fire to mankind

Jesus Christ loves all people and Ossetians are not an exception. They are a treasure to Him and also a treasure to the humanity. Look at, for example, their version of ancient Nart sagas (Hero sagas).  These very old Iranian traditions are shared by the people of Caucasus including, besides the Alans, ancestors of modern Ossetians, also Chechenians and Circassians and others.

"Based especially on the Ossetian versions, the sagas have long been valued as a window towards the world of the Iranian-speaking cultures of Antiquity. For example, the philologist Georges Dumézil used the Ossetian division of the Narts into three clans to support his Trifunctional Hypothesis that the Proto-Indo-Europeans were similarly divided into three castes—warriors, priests, and commoners. ... Some motifs in the Nart sagas are shared by Greek mythology.

The story of Prometheus chained to Mount Kazbek or to Mount Elbrus in particular is similar to an element in the Nart sagas. These shared motifs are seen by some as indicative of an earlier proximity of the Caucasian peoples to the ancient Greeks, also shown in the myth of the Golden Fleece, in which Colchis is generally accepted to have been part of modern-day Georgia. ...

In the book From Scythia to Camelot, authors C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor speculate that many aspects of the Arthurian legends are derived from the Nart sagas. The proposed vector of transmission is the Alans, some of whom migrated into northern France at around the time the Arthurian legends were forming. As expected, these parallels are most evident in the Ossetian versions, according to researcher John Colarusso.

So - we clearly have here an Ossetian cultural treasure that is today shared by the civilizations of the world!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Goths and Eusebius of Nicomedia

 Ostrogoth jewellery at Metropolitan Museum of Art
Sailko wikimedia

Christ reached the Goths at the borders of Roman empire while they were living in paganism that is not very well known to us from historical sources. The pious captives, especially Roman and Anatolian women, brought Him in their hearts and words and example of life to the new husbands and lords. Apparently Goths treated these civilized captives, wives and slaves, with dignity and wanted to learn from them.

At the time of the early conversion of the Goths the Kingdom of Christ was in the midst of very serious process of defining in a binding way the fundamental statements of faith - what is faith in God after what happened in Jesus Christ? Who is this Christ and what is His relation to His Father that He talks so much about?

There were no easy solutions and there is an amazing spectre of theological opinions, all based in the Scriptures in one way or other, emphasizing this or that. Groups of believers were stamped with theological names usually according to their leading theologian and the fight between the groups was not limited to writing pamphlets and learned books stretching the versatile Greek language to the limit.

The first Ecumenical Councils at Nicea 325 and Constantinople 381 were dealing with the most essential theological questions. There Christianity formulated the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Major concern in these discussions was the rational teaching of Arius and his disciples who insisted that Son is not equal to Father. This seemingly innocent battle that in reality is of the deepest significance to Christian faith reached the highest political levels in the courts of the Roman emperors.

Christianity was now quickly becoming the state religion instead of Greco-Roman paganism forcefully demanded from all citizens. It was now imperative that the new religion would be internally united and thus function as the glue that keeps the enormous Empire internally together. Heretics were now the threat to unity but what was Orthodoxy?

The Credo of Nice-Constantinople had a crucial role in defining orthodox Christianity and the major camps during the 4th century were the Niceans and the Arians who rejected the Creed of Nicea.

Eusebius of Nicomedia
We do not know the birthday of Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia. He died in Constantinople Anno Domini 341.

This is the man who baptised Constantine the Great resting at his death bead and so brought the emperor to the Kingdom of Christ on May 22, 337.

Eusebius of Nicomedia was also the bishop who ordained Wulfila as the bishop and apostle of the Goths and thus was the key persion in directing these people towards Arian Christianity.

Monk Rufinus of Aquileia (340/345 – 410) has recorded important sources also about Eusebius of Nicomedia. Wikipedia article uses hi through Philip R. Amidon, The Church History of Rufinus of Aquileia: Books 10 and 11. New York: Oxford University Press (1997) when describing the crucial events 325 and the years immediately after the Council. 

After being the Bishop of Berytus (Beirut) and then of Nicomedia Eusebius finally came to Constantinople in 338 staying there near the hubs of political and ecclesiastical power until his death in 341.

Distantly related to the imperial family of Constantine, he owed his progression from a less significant Levantine bishopric to the most important episcopal see to his influence at court, and the great power he wielded in the Church was derived from that source. In fact, during his time in the Imperial court, the Eastern court and the major positions in the Eastern Church were held by Arians or Arian sympathizers.

With the exception of a short period of eclipse, he enjoyed the complete confidence both of Constantine and Constantius II and was the tutor of the later Emperor Julian the Apostate; and it was he who baptized Constantine the Great on May 22, 337. Also during his time in the Imperial court, Arianism became more popular with the Royal family.

It can be logically surmised that Eusebius had a huge hand in the acceptance of Arianism in the Constantinian household. The Arian influence grew so strong during his tenure in the Imperial court that it wasn't until the end of the Constantinian dynasty and the appointment of Theodosius I that Arianism lost its influence in the Empire.

Like Arius, he was a pupil of Lucian of Antioch, and it is probable that he held the same views as Arius from the very beginning; he was also one of Arius' most fervent supporters who encouraged Arius. It was also because of this relationship that he was the first person whom Arius contacted after the latter was excommunicated from Alexandria by Alexander. Apparently, Arius and Eusebius were close enough and Eusebius powerful enough that Arius was able to put his theology down in writing. He afterward modified his ideas somewhat, or perhaps he only yielded to the pressure of circumstances; but he was, if not the teacher, at all events the leader and organizer, of the Arian party.

However, despite of his strong leaning towards the teachings of deacon Arius Eusebius signed the Nicene Creed. This act, the signing of such a significant confession against his inner beliefs tells us much about the character of the man.

At the First Council of Nicaea, 325, he signed the Confession, but only after a long and desperate opposition in which he "subscribe with hand only, not heart" according to ancient sources. It was a huge blow to the Arian party since it was surmised that the participants in the First Council of Nicaea were evenly split between non-Arians and Arians. His defense of Arius angered the emperor, and a few months after the council he was sent into exile due to his continual contacts with Arius and the exiles.

After the lapse of three years, he succeeded in regaining the imperial favor by convincing Constantine that Arius and his views do not conflict with the Nicene Creed. After his return in 329 he brought the whole machinery of the state government into action in order to impose his views upon the Church. 

Character of Eusebius
Such was the man who was so crucial to the Christian faith of the Goths - their Arianism - through his choice of the bishop and his powerful support to him.

Eusebius was more of a politician than anything else, and a skilled one. Upon his return, he regained the lost ground resulted from the First Council of Nicaea, established alliances with other groups such as the Meletians and expelled many opponents.
He was described by modern historians as an "ambitious intriguer" and a "consummate political player". He was also described by ancient sources as a high-handed person who was also aggressive in his dealings; he also used his allies to spy on his opponents.

The Kingdom of God
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
Matthew 13:24-30 KJV

Evaluation of Eusebius of Nicomedia
The writer(s) of the wikipedia describe the impact of Eusebius of Nicomedia in rather solemn colors:
He died at the height of his power in the year 342.

He was so influential that even after his death, Constantius II heeded his and Eudoxus of Constantinople's advice to attempt to convert the Roman Empire to Arianism by creating Arian Councils and official Arian Doctrines.
It was because of Eusebius that "On the whole, Constantine and his successors made life pretty miserable for Church leaders committed to the Nicene decision and its Trinitarian formula." (wikipedia)

As for the Goths...

Mausoleum of Theodoric the Ostrogoth 520 AD (Ravenna)
Its roof is a single 300–ton Istrian stone, 10 meters in diameter. 

because of Wulfila they became Christians and got their own language in writing. The Goths formed powerful states, Visigoths in Hispania and Ostrogoths in northern Italy (Ravenna).

Arian teaching survived among these people for about two hundred years:

Visigoths of Spain accepted Nicene Creed in the Third Council of Toledo in 589.

Ostrogoths were conquered by the famous general Belisarius (500-565) during the time of Justinian the Great and their kingdom was destroyed. Their last king was called Theia and he ruled only for a year 552-553. The remaining people moved to Austria and their nation - and church - was dissolved.