7th Century Religious Earthquakes

Rome first influenced the conversion of Pagans living in the British Isles, to Christianity. According to Prosper of Aquitaine, Palladius was from a noble family in Gaul. In 429, he was serving as a deacon in Rome. The Pope commissioned him to send Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, to investigate rumors of Pelagianism in Britain. In 431, Pope Celestine I consecrated Palladius a bishop and sent him to minister to the “Scots believing in Christ”. His mission mainly seems to have been to Irish Christians in the east midlands, Leinster, and perhaps east Munster. It is uncertain if he converted any Irish. What little is known of his mission appears to have been successful, though it was later downplayed by partisans of Patrick.

Depiction of Celestine I


The Anglo-Saxons were a people who inhabited Great Britain from the 5th century. They comprise people from Germanic tribes who migrated to the island from continental Europe, their descendants, and indigenous British groups who adopted some aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and language. The elite declared themselves as kings who developed burhs, and identified their roles and peoples in Biblical terms. Above all, as Helena Hamerow has observed, “local and extended kin groups remained…the essential unit of production throughout the Anglo-Saxon period.” The effects persist in the 21st century as, according to a study published in March 2015, the genetic make up of British populations today shows divisions of the tribal political units of the early Anglo-Saxon period.

During the early decades of the seventh century, many Anglo-Saxon nobles were educated at Irish monasteries in northern Britain, specifically at Iona. This was the period when the Romans had left and the Anglo-Saxons were dominating Britain.

Bede said that the Irish willingly welcomed the students, gave them food, and provided them with books and instruction, without seeking any payment. When these Irish-educated nobles returned to England, they invited Irish missionaries into their pagan kingdoms to evangelize. For example, the Anglo-Saxon King Oswald invited the Irish bishop Aidan from Iona into his kingdom, and Aidan founded the monastery at Lindisfarne on the coast of Northumberland around 635. The English historian Bede shows that Irish missionary activity in northern England was more successful at converting the pagan English than that started by Rome in 597 from Canterbury in the south of England.

Saint Columba, the founder of the monastery at Iona, has a Latin hymn, “Exalted Creator” (Altus Prosator), attributed to him, although not all critics accept the attribution. Three poems in praise of Columba rank among the oldest complete poems in the Irish language. One of them, the “Eulogy for Columba” (Amra Choluim Chille), has been dated on linguistic grounds to around 600, which coincides well with Columba’s death date of 597. When Columba died in 597, Christianity had been preached and received in every district in Caledonia, and in every island along its west coast. In the next century Iona had so prospered that its abbot, St. Adamnan, wrote in excellent Latin the “Life of St. Columba”. From Iona the Irish Aidan and his Irish companions travelled to evangelize Northumbria, Mercia, and Essex.

Depiction of St Columba


Whilst across in Constantinople…….
Sergius I, born a Syrian, was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople from 610 to 638. He is most famous for promoting Monothelite Christianity, especially through the Ecthesis (The Ecthesis (Greek: Ἔκθεσις) is a letter published in 638 CE by the Byzantine emperor Heraclius which defined monotheletism as the official imperial form of Christianity.)

Monothelitism or monotheletism (from Greek μονοθελητισμός “doctrine of one will”) is a particular teaching about how the divine and human relate in the person of Jesus, known as a Christological doctrine, that formally emerged in Armenia and Syria in 629. Specifically, monothelitism is the view that Jesus Christ has two natures but only one will. This is contrary to the Christology that Jesus Christ has two wills (human and divine) corresponding to his two natures (dyothelitism). Monothelitism is a development of the miaphysite or monophysite position in the Christological debates. Formulated in 638, it enjoyed considerable popularity, even garnering patriarchal support, before being rejected and denounced as heretical in 681 at the Third Council of Constantinople.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is one of the most enduring institutions in the world and has had a prominent part in world history. The ecumenical patriarchs in ancient times helped in the spread of Christianity and the resolution of various doctrinal disputes. In the Middle Ages they played a major role in the affairs of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as in the politics of the Orthodox world, and in spreading Christianity among the Slavs. Currently, in addition to the expansion of the Christian faith and the Eastern Orthodox doctrine, the patriarchs are involved in ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, charitable work, and the defense of Orthodox Christian traditions.

In 610 the Council of Constantinople synod ruled that monks could be full members of the clergy, a decision that would massively increase the hordes of Greek monks about to flee to Rome as the Slavs conquered much of the Balkan coast. At this time Salona in Dalmatia, Prima Justiniana in Illyricum, peninsular Greece , Peloponnesus, and Crete were under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Rome, and Constantinople was one of “the last places to which one could turn for refuge in the early seventh century”.

In 613, the Jewish revolt against the Byzantine Heraclius culminated with the conquest of Jerusalem in 614 by Persian and Jewish forces and establishment of Jewish autonomy. 

In the year 622, Muhammed and some followers had moved from Mecca to Medina. He was now around 52 years of age. Muhammed proclaimed that “God is One”, that complete “surrender” (lit. islām) to him is the right course of action (dīn), and that he was a prophet and messenger of God, similar to the other prophets in Islam.

After the Persians had departed Jerusalem in 629, they left the Jews unable to defend themselves and they were eventually massacred by the Byzantines ending 15 years of Jewish autonomy. The massacre devastated the Jewish communities of the Galilee and Jerusalem. Only those Jews who could flee to the mountains or Egypt are said to have been spared.

In Medina, Muhammad united the tribes under the Constitution of Medina. In December 629, after eight years of intermittent conflict with Meccan tribes, Muhammad gathered an army of 10,000 Muslim converts and marched on the city of Mecca. The attack went largely uncontested and Muhammad seized the city with little bloodshed. In 632, a few months after returning from the Farewell Pilgrimage, he fell ill and died (aged 62). Before his death, most of the Arabian Peninsula had converted to Islam.

The Rashidun Caliphate (Arabic: اَلْخِلَافَةُ ٱلرَّاشِدَةُ‎‎ al-Khilāfaṫur-Rāshidah) (632–661) was the first of the four major caliphates established after the death of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. It was ruled by the first four successive caliphs (successors) of Muhammad after his death in 632 CE (11 AH in the Islamic calendar). These caliphs are collectively known in Sunni Islam as the Rashidun or “Rightly Guided” caliphs (Arabic: اَلْخُلَفَاءُ ٱلرَّاشِدُونَ‎‎ al-Khulafā’ur-Rāshidūn). This term is not used in Shia Islam as Shia Muslims do not consider the rule of the first three caliphs as legitimate.

Meanwhile, Emperor Heraclius (610–641) had set out to recover much of the part of his Empire lost to the Persians and had attempted to bridge the controversy with Monophysitism, which was particularly strong in Syria and Egypt, by proposing a moderate theological position that had as good support in the tradition as any other. The result was first monoenergism, i.e. that Christ, though existing in two natures, had one energy (divine and human), the second was monothelitism, i.e. that Christ had one will (that is, that there was no opposition in Christ between his human and divine volition). This doctrine was accepted in most of the Byzantine world, but was opposed at Jerusalem and at Rome and started a controversy that persisted even after the loss of the reconquered provinces and the death of Heraclius. 

In 632, Muslim leadership passed to Caliph Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr had been a close companion of Muhammad from the Banu Taym clan, and he was elected the first Rashidun leader, during the conquest of the Arabian Peninsula. He ruled from 632 to his death in 634. Once Bakr’s sovereignty over Arabia had been secured, he initiated a war of conquest in the east by invading Iraq, then a province of the Sassanid Persian Empire; while on the western front, his armies invaded the Byzantine Empire.

In 634, Abu Bakr died and was succeeded by Umar, who continued his own war of conquest. 

In May 636, Emperor Heraclius launched a major expedition to regain lost Byzantine territory, but his army was defeated decisively at the Battle of Yarmouk in August 636. (See https://dailyscribbling.com/a-brief-guide-to-byzantium/byzantine-battles-the-battle-of-yarmouk/)

Battle of Yarmouk depiction

Thereafter, Abu Ubaidah, the Muslim commander-in-chief of the Rashidun army in Syria, held a council of war in early October 636 to discuss future plans. Opinions of objectives varied between the coastal city of Caesarea and Jerusalem. Abu Ubaidah could see the importance of both these cities, which had resisted all Muslim attempts at capture. Unable to decide on the matter, he wrote to Caliph Umar for instructions. In his reply, the caliph ordered them to capture the latter. Accordingly, Abu Ubaidah marched towards Jerusalem from Jabiya, with Khalid ibn Walid and his mobile guard leading the advance. The Muslims arrived at Jerusalem around early November, and the Byzantine garrison withdrew into the fortified city. 

The Patriarch was Sophronius. He was born at Damascus, in Syria, where Saint Paul was baptized. Catholics record him Sophronius as “the great defender in the East of the full humanity of Jesus Christ against those heretics, the Monothelites, who denied that Our Lord had a human will, and therefore that He had truly become man for love of us.” (See http://catholicism.org/saint-sophronius-639.html)

Sophronius said he would surrender on the condition that he submit only to the Rashidun caliph. This was arranged.

In early April 637, Caliph Umar arrived in Palestine and went first to Jabiya, where he was received by Abu Ubaidah, Khalid, and Yazid, who had traveled with an escort to receive him. Amr was left as commander of the besieging Muslim army.

Upon Umar’s arrival in Jerusalem, a pact known as The Umariyya Covenant was composed. It surrendered the city and gave guarantees of civil and religious liberty to Christians in exchange for jizya. It was signed by caliph Umar on behalf of the Muslims, and witnessed by Khalid, Amr, Abdur Rahman bin Awf, and Muawiyah. In late April 637, Jerusalem was officially surrendered to the caliph. 

It has been recorded in the annals of Muslim chronicles, that at the time of the Zuhr prayers, Sophronius invited Umar to pray in the rebuilt Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Umar declined, fearing that accepting the invitation might endanger the church’s status as a Christian temple, and that Muslims might break the treaty and turn the temple into a mosque. After staying for ten days in Jerusalem, the caliph returned to Medina.

Following the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, Jews were once again allowed to live and practice their religion in Jerusalem, 8 years after their massacre by the Byzantines and nearly 500 years after their expulsion from Judea by the Roman Empire.

Image of Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Old City, Jerusalem (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlascar/ • CC BY 2.0)

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About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers.
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