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The Ostrogoths Overthrown in 553
In 534, when the General Belisarius returned triumphant to Constantinople from his successful African campaign, he was given a Roman Triumph in his honor. The general was given a laurel wreath and a purple-and-gold “painted toga” and was paraded through the streets of the city.
It is believed to be the last Roman Triumph ever given.
The Emperor Justinian then resolved to take Italy from the Arian Ostrogoths and restore it to Orthodox faith. In 535 Belisarius was commissioned, and after taking some strategic cities, the Ostrogoths offered him the position of Emperor over the Ostrogothic Kingdom. He pretended to accept, marched into Ravenna in 540, and then claimed the city in the name of Justinian.
However, the news that Belisarius had accepted the Ostrogoth offer reached Justinian, and he recalled Belisarius to Constantinople. He returned, bringing with him the captured King Witiges and his treasures. In the next few years, he fought the Persians, who had taken Syria. Meanwhile the Ostrogoths had elected a new king, Totila, and had reconquered the cities of Italy.
Belisarius was sent to Italy, but he failed to take back Italy, due mainly to lack of supplies and reinforcements. Perhaps it was due to the Bubonic Plague that had decimated Constantinople in 541-542. Belisarius retired in 549, and two years later a eunuch named Narses was sent to Italy with an army of full strength. By this time Constantinople had recovered from the effects of the plague.
The Arian Ostrogothic Kingdom was conquered in 553, pulling up the third “horn” by the roots, as prophesied in Daniel 7:8. Both Belisarius and Justinian died in 565 within a few months of each other.
The Power Struggle: Pope and Emperor
In the last part of Daniel 7:8, we read about the little horn, saying, “this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth uttering great boasts.” This is referenced later in Revelation 13:5, 6, saying,
5 And there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies; and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. 6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven.
We have already shown how the era of the little horn began with Emperor Justinian’s resolve to alter times and law, which he did from 527-534. By replacing the old Roman laws with Orthodox Church law, he unwittingly placed himself as the enforcer of Church law, subordinating himself to the vicar of the Church who, as it was believed, was the interpreter of the law, if not its author.
The Catholic Encyclopedia says of Justinian, “the most enduring work of Justinian was his codification of the laws.” It was known as the Corpus Juris Civilis. The Catholic Encyclopedia says further,
“It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of this ‘Corpus.’ It is the basis of all canon law (ecclesia vivet romana) and the basis of civil law in every civilized country.”
In other words, Justinian’s “Corpus” is the foundation of the legal system in the West. During the Medieval times, it established the Feudal System, which made the nobility landlords and the common people serfs. This was a near-slavery arrangement, under which most of the people suffered extreme poverty and enslavement for centuries.
Kings and nobles were also subject to the Popes, who claimed supremacy over the entire earth. Of course, to claim supremacy is also to claim responsibility for the oppressive societies that these laws had established.
The “Corpus” was fully operational on December 30, 534 A.D. The next year the Pope in Rome asserted his authority over the Roman Emperor in Constantinople.
North Africa had just been “liberated” from the Arian Vandals in 533. A council in Carthage was then convened to determine what to do with the Arian priests and bishops who had newly converted to Orthodoxy. The Arian priests and bishops were declared ineligible and forbidden to hold offices in the Church.
When Emperor Justinian heard that Agapetus had been elected Pope in Rome in 535, he sent an ambassador to congratulate him and to suggest that clemency toward the newly-converted Arian priests and people would help facilitate their absorption in the Orthodox Church. He suggested that the priests and bishops be given the same rank that they had enjoyed previously as Arians.
Agapetus replied that the Popes did not have the power to change the canons which prohibited ex-heretics from remaining in authoritative positions in the Church.
Meanwhile, Belisarius was already conquering Italy, and King Theodatus of the Ostrogoths was frightened. He ordered Agapetus to go to Constantinople to negotiate a peace or truce, even threatening to kill the people of Rome if he failed in his mission. Agapetus was old and tried to excuse himself from such a long, demanding trip. But Theodatus’s threats only increased, and so Agapetus was forced to go.
The Catholic Patriarch of Constantinople was Anthimus. He had gotten his position through the influence of Empress Theodora, the wife of Justinian. He appeared to be Orthodox in his beliefs, but Ephraim of Antioch suspected that he was a supporter of the “heresy” of the Acephali (a branch of the Monophysites).
The Monophysites believed that Jesus Christ had only a divine nature or a single nature that was a combination of divine and human. Anthimus was accused to favoring these Monophysites, and charges of “heresy” threatened to disqualify him from his position as Patriarch. In those days the Church leaders attempted to determine the precise nature of Christ by Church Councils and then enforced their views with little humility and love.
Anthimus was called upon to make a written confession of his “faith” (i.e., belief about the nature of Christ). Anthimus did so, declaring his belief in Orthodoxy. Yet his tolerant policy toward the Monophysites allowed some of their leaders to re-enter Constantinople and to begin holding house meetings. Many came from the court of Justinian to attend those meetings, and as they gained followers, they even began to build temples to rival the Orthodox churches. The Catholic bishops began to see their followers diminish, along with their revenues.
This was the situation that Anthimus had to deal with, even before he arrived in Constantinople (in 535) to assume his new position as Patriarch.
It was into this situation a year later that Agapetus became embroiled when he arrived in Constantinople in 536. Agapetus had heard the charges against Anthimus and refused to receive him. This enraged the Monophysite leaders, who went to the Empress to accuse Agapetus and to turn Justinian against him as well. The Emperor listened to their complaint and took it seriously, partly because he was not favorable to the mission of Agapetus, who was trying to obtain a peace treaty between Justinian and the Ostrogoths.
So Justinian told Agapetus, “I am determined to reject your unjust pretentions, holy father, and no longer weigh them. Receive us to your communion, or prepare to go into exile.”
Agapetus replied, “It is true, I deceived myself, my lord, when I was received by you with so much earnestness. I hoped to find a Christian emperor, and I have met with a new Diocletian. Well! Let Diocletian learn that the bishop of Rome does not fear his threats, and refuses to submit to his orders.”
Agapetus then appealed to the emperor to arrange a discourse with Anthimus about the nature of Christ. This was agreeable, and when Anthimus appeared, Agepetus gave a long dissertation and then asked Anthimus to subscribe to his view that Christ had two natures. Anthimus, however, refused, saying that Christ did not possess two natures. Agapetus furiously hurled anathemas against Anthimus and the “heretic” leaders who were present.
The Pope, supported by the Orthodox bishops in Constantinople, then found courage to demand that Justinian prohibit the Acephali heretics to enter any large city. Their books were burned, and the scribes copying those books had their hands cut off. Justinian submitted to Agapetus and deposed Anthimus, consecrating a new Patriarch for Constantinople. Soon afterward, Agapetus was struck down with an unknown malady and died within a few days. His body was transported back to Rome, where he was buried.
His political mission was not carried out, and so Belisarius continued until he had taken Ravenna.
Yet this incident was used in later years to prove the supremacy of the Roman pontiff over the Patriarchy of Constantinople and even over the Emperor himself. Though it was not the only precedent for papal supremacy, it set an important precedent under the new Corpus Juris Civilis.