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§ 53. The Papacy from Gregory I to Gregory II a.d. 604–715.


The successors of Gregory I. to Gregory II. were, with few exceptions, obscure men, and ruled but a short time. They were mostly Italians, many of them Romans; a few were Syrians, chosen by the Eastern emperors in the interest of their policy and theology.

Sabinianus (604) was as hard and avaricious as Gregory was benevolent and liberal, and charged the famine of his reign upon the prodigality of his sainted predecessor. Boniface III. (606607) did not scruple to assume the title of It universal bishop, “against which Gregory, in proud humility, had so indignantly protested as a blasphemous antichristian assumption. Boniface IV. converted the Roman Pantheon into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs (608). Honorius l. (625–638) was condemned by an oecumenical council and by his own successors as a Monothelite heretic; while Martin I. (649–655) is honored for the persecution he endured in behalf of the orthodox doctrine of two wills in Christ. Under Gregory II. and III., Germany was converted to Roman Christianity.

The popes followed the missionary policy of Gregory and the instinct of Roman ambition and power. Every progress of Christianity in the West and the North was a progress of the Roman Church. Augustin, Boniface, Ansgar were Roman missionaries and pioneers of the papacy. As England had been annexed to the triple crown under Gregory I., so France, the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia were annexed under his successors. The British and Scotch-Irish independence gave way gradually to the irresistible progress of Roman authority and uniformity. Priests, noblemen and kings from all parts of the West were visiting Rome as the capital of Christendom, and paid homage to the shrine of the apostles and to the living successor of the Galilaean fisherman.

But while the popes thus extended their spiritual dominion over the new barbarous races, they were the political subjects of the Eastern emperor as the master of Italy, and could not be consecrated without his consent. They were expected to obey the imperial edicts even in spiritual matters, and were subject to arrest and exile. To rid themselves of this inconvenient dependence was a necessary step in the development of the absolute papacy. It was effected in the eighth century by the aid of a rising Western power. The progress of Mohammedanism and its encroachment on the Greek empire likewise contributed to their independence.


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