“And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of  the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and  silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:  Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication,  nor of their thefts” Revelation 9:20–21.

The arrival of Charles the Great (“Charlemagne”) upon the European stage in  the later part of the 8th century was preceded by an intriguing time of history  which made a path for what the Word of God had declared so long before  in the book of Revelation. That history involved both the Roman Emperor  in Constantinople and the Bishop of Rome. It also involved another royal  line in the kingdom of the Franks. This first article illustrates how they all  came together at the right time and provided the steps for the ascendancy  of Charlemagne.

The ninth chapter of Revelation is such a  unique picture that it is not surprising that  its identification with the origin and advance  of Islam has been almost universally accepted  since the earliest times. In Brother Jon Burke’s  book, “A More Sure Word of Prophecy”, he lists  students and writers on the book of Revelation and  all of them until the late 19th century give the same  basic interpretation. So it has been indeed a helpful  revelation to many centuries of God’s people,  yet strangely never comprehended by that very  institution portrayed in the verses above. In fact  the predominant characteristic of this movement  is that it “repented not” (v19,20)! Yet the subject  is idolatry, sorcery and murder and theft! No  repentance?

History makes obvious that the thrust of Muslim  war, Jihad, was against Roman Catholicism, firstly in the Eastern third of the Roman Empire  and later in Western Europe. So the sense of these  last two verses in Revelation 9 is that, despite the  horrendous reversals suffered by Catholicism, it  was yet determined to maintain the practices for  which God had sent the scourge of Islam.

Mohammed began his work in 612 and died  in 632, but within less than a century the Roman  world was in desperate conflict with his armies on  both the eastern and western flanks of the empire.  Spain was captured and in the east the Emperor  Leo III (of Constantinople) only narrowly defeated  the Muslims at the foot of the Taurus mountains,  in Syria AD 718.

Map of expansion of Caliphate

 

Expansion of the Islamic Caliphate 622 – 750

There was great concern throughout the Empire  and some searching of hearts, for why should God  bring or allow devastation of such coveted Christian  ground as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Antioch and  Alexandria etc? The Muslim adversary ridiculed  the Christians for their many gods, saying they were  as idolatrous as the pagan Romans before them.  The Church had developed, especially in the East,  a system of worship in which prayers were made  to Mary and other ‘saints’, their relics and images  venerated and pictures and statues reverenced. By  the 8th Century the churches of East and West were  cluttered with statues, images, paintings and relics,  making the words of Revelation 9 so remarkably  apt. The local Jews also taunted the Christians and  Leo and his subjects felt the sting of the criticism.

The Emperor had some close confidants on  doctrinal matters and to the amazement of the  Church and the world he decreed, in 726, the  destruction of all images and statues in the churches  of the Empire and set a public example by burning  the statue in the front garden of his palace. This edict  was pursued throughout the empire, but the reaction  was mixed indeed and controversy rent the Empire  for the next 120 years; it is known in history as the  Iconoclastic Controversy.

Pope Gregory’s Reaction

The most vehement reaction against Leo’s decree  came from the Roman Bishop, Pope Gregory II.  Two of his original letters to Leo remain intact  and are reproduced in Eureka, Volume III, p301.  Gregory treated Emperor Leo with disdain and  threats; there was absolutely no way that the  churches of the west were going to part with their  beloved icons!

“Are you ignorant that the popes are the bond of  union, the mediators of peace, between the East  and the West? The eyes of the nations are fixed  on our humility, whom all the kingdoms of the  west hold as a God upon earth, whose image,  St Peter, you threaten to destroy. The remote  and interior kingdoms of the west present their  homage to Christ and His Vicegerent; and we  now prepare to visit one of their most powerful  monarchs, [Charles Martel, grandfather of  Charlemagne] who desires to receive from  our hands the sacrament of baptism. The  Barbarians (the Ten Horns) have submitted to  the yoke of the gospel, while you alone are deaf  to the voice of the shepherd” (Eureka Vol III p  301, John Thomas).

The upshot of this vehement altercation was  that the Pope lost the temporal support of the  Emperor in Constantinople, his trust for some  200 years. Worse still, a cruel and warlike people  called the Lombards, meaning “long beards”,  came into northern Italy, saw the opportunity to  advance on an unprotected Italian peninsula and  they captured Rome with its Pope! These people  had been converted but not to the Nicene doctrine;  they were of Arian persuasion. The Papacy was in a  great quandary and desperately sought a champion  for the protection of the City and the Papacy. Where  could such a saviour be found?

Clovis and the Kingdom of the Franks

The kingdom of the Franks went back to the late  5th century, to Clovis, the first French king. The  Franks were a strong warlike people living in the  Rhine Valley and frequently skirmishing or warring  with the Romans. Clovis was a great leader and  succeeded in uniting the German tribes and had  general sway over the whole of Western Europe  right down to the Seine and Loire rivers in France,  establishing his residence near Paris. This amazing  achievement was made possible by the support of  the influential Catholic bishops who had provided  encouragement to the western inhabitants as  wave after wave of Goths, Vandals and Huns had  rampaged through Gaul in the previous 100 years.  In 496 Clovis was baptised and so the Roman  Church had a resourceful northern ally of their  Trinitarian persuasion in contrast to all the other  eastern invaders who were Arian in their Christian  doctrine (ie Jesus was just a man, and not God as the  Trinitarians taught). This conversion was one of the  most significant in European history for it laid the  basis for the Catholic unification of all Europe.

“To the oppressed and persecuted Catholics  Clovis appeared as a saviour and avenger,  while the hope of the future spread and ultimate  triumph of orthodoxy centred in him. The long  succession of cruel, treacherous, and aggressive  warfare, waged avowedly for the church as well  as for the kingdom, was hailed as the work of  a modern David, a second Constantine, a true  champion of Christianity against heretics and  heathens” (The Age of Charlemagne, Charles  Wells).

Those kings who succeeded Clovis preserved  this basic relationship but, with time, they  degenerated into the inactive Merovingian dynasty:  they became known as the “do-nothing kings”,  “Rois Faineants”. The bishops on the other hand  were increasingly powerful and wealthy, receiving  large endowments of land, taxation favours and  other honours.

These great spiritual lords, strong in popular  support, rich in gold and lands, possessed of  what intellectual power there was, surrounded  by vassals, ruling their clergy, rivalling, often  successfully, the counts and great lay lords, the  censors of kings, freed by immunities from many  burdens and obligations, attained a height of  power seemingly almost unassailable” (The  Age of Charlemagne, Charles Wells).

It is estimated that at the close of the seventh century  the Church owned one third of the land of Gaul and  most of this belonged to the bishops and abbots.

The Large Picture to Date

So to summarise, we see that since the time  of the break-up of the Roman Empire, temporal  power had contracted to the East, to Constantinople,  allowing the Catholic Pope in Rome a far greater  influence in the West than he ever had before. Whilst the Emperor sustained the authority of the Pope, he  was increasingly out of touch with the western and  northern regions of Europe. The constant Muslim  threat kept him on his toes in his own back yard! In  all this time, from 451, the kingdom of the Franks  was slowly expanding and strengthening but the  actual line of the kings had become decadent and  true power had gone to the Mayors of the King’s  palace.

Europe was about to change dramatically.

The Alliance of Pope and Frankish Kings

In the year 732 a most notable battle was fought in  Tours (or Poitiers) in the South of France, between  vast hordes of Muslim cavalry and the combined  but trembling forces of the Roman Catholic world.  The Muslims had crossed the Mediterranean at  Gibraltar, swept over Spain, crossed the Pyrenees  Mountains and now were set for a critical battle  in the south of France. Huge issues rested on the  outcome and the Catholic world trembled before  the unbeaten forces of the Muslims.

However, the Muslims were soundly defeated  and driven over the mountains back into Spain.  Several times the Roman forces repeated their  ascendancy over the Muslim army of cavalry;  the praise and thanks of the West fell upon their  principal leader, Charles Martel (“The Hammer”),  who was not the king of the Franks but Mayor of  his palace. His courageous and capable leadership  had saved the Roman world from certain eclipse  and preserved the Bishop of Rome and his Papal  throne. This man was the father of Pepin and the
grandfather of Charlemagne.

Pepin, King by the Grace of God”

The Iconoclastic Controversy of AD726 weakened  the bond between the Pope and the Emperor of  Constantinople. Pepin became the Mayor of the  Palace during the reign of Childeric the last of  the Merovingian dynasty of the Frankish kings.  In 751, knowing that Pope Zecharias was looking  favourably in his direction, he asked the question  of Zecharias as to whether it was good that a king  without power should rule over those who were  ruling for him? The Pope replied that Pepin, who  was exercising the royal power, should be called  king and placed upon the throne!

So the Mayor of the Palace now became the king  in the city of Soissons and he and queen Bertrada  received the anointing; whilst Childeric was stripped  of his royal robes, his long flowing locks cut off and  was despatched to the monastery to spend the rest  of his days in humiliation. To the common people,  because of the Pope’s involvement, Pepin was king  by the grace of God!

“Thus took place that act of most solemn and  momentous significance to Western Europe and  to the Christian church, as well as to the Frankish  kingdom and the Roman Papacy. There is no  need of trying to justify the act; its historical  explanation lies in the fact that it took place  orderly and peaceably, as an evident political  necessity. Its manifest advantage to all persons  concerned except the poor last remnant of the  royal line, and, above all, the absolute necessity,  which the Pope had already felt and recognized,  of having some strong arm near at hand if Rome  was to be saved to the Papacy and the Papacy to  the Western Church, are plainly seen” (The Age  of Charlemagne Charles Wells).articles3

The Pope of course had no authority to do this;  he himself was appointed and authorised by the  Eastern Emperor. But we see here a classic step  forward in that tale of papal arrogance that has no  equal in the history of mankind. Pope Zecharias  knew that Rome needed a powerful champion  near at hand if the Papacy and the Western Church  were to be saved. If treason was the price, so be it!

Notice in this the disregard of the official Emperor  in Constantinople.

Revelation chapter 13 presents three main  periods of the Papacy: “the beast of the sea” (verses  1–8), “the beast of the earth” (verses 11–14) and  “the image of the beast” (verses 14–18). What  we are seeing above is the change of a Papal-  Constantinople alliance to a Papal-Central Europe  confederacy, where support for the Pope’s worldly  aims, will come from the central powers of Europe,  rather than eastern Constantinople by the sea. 751  was a big year in history.

Pepin’s Donation and Papal Statehood

Only three years later, AD 754, the Bishop of  Rome, Stephen the Third, crossed the Alps into the  region of King Pepin. The Lombards were so strong  and active that help was again sought to preserve  the Papacy, its lands and its wealth. Pepin heard  of his coming, the first Bishop of Rome to cross  the Alps, and sent his eldest son, Charles, later  Charlemagne, then only twelve years of age, to meet  and escort the Bishop! How intriguing it is that the  king who is to elevate the Papacy so significantly  (“he doeth great wonders”!) was entrusted by  his father to bring the Pope home to the palace  of Pepin. Pepin met him with great humility and  prostration. In the chapel of the palace the Pope  and his ministers, in sackcloth and ashes, pleaded  “by the mercy of Almighty God and the merits of  the blessed apostles Peter and Paul” that Pepin  would free them from the cruel and proud Lombards  and they remained prostrate before the king until he  and his sons and nobles stretched forth the hand and  raised the Pope from the ground in token of their  future aid and deliverance.

Pepin also promised to restore what the  Lombards had already seized. He further granted  papal jurisdiction over some conquered lands  which became historically known as “Pepin’s  Donation”, the foundations of the Pope’s lust for  temporal power. The Popes never let the Frankish  kings forget this promise, repeatedly raising the  matter in correspondence and reminding them  of their promise to Peter and Paul! Indeed in 756  Pepin received a letter direct from Peter, pressing  him to comply with his promises! In the same year  Pepin had his final victory over the Lombards  and he handed over to the Pope the provinces of  Ravenna, Rimini and Pesaro and other towns and  their dependencies.

This land represents about 25% of the Italian  leg and remained as the personal lands of the  Popes from 756 to 1870. Thus, too, the Pope  became an important secular prince and took over  the old Byzantine dominion (of the Emperor in  Constantinople) in Central Italy. We can see the  truly wonderful way in which Revelation 13 was  being fulfilled. Papal support was coming from  beyond the Alps and not from the Mediterranean  powers. The “beast of the earth” was rising!