Europe and the Church, Part 6: The First of the Seven Mountains on Which the Woman Sits

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Europe and the Church, Part 6

The First of the Seven Mountains on Which the Woman Sits

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Daniel 7:7-9 showed that the Roman Empire would continue in different forms right down until the second coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

There were to be 10 horns or 10 revivals of the Roman Empire. A horn is symbolic of aggressive strength, and it is associated with political authority and power. It can also symbolize royalty.

In addition, an extra horn was prophesied that would not be a military power like Rome and the other 10, but would be a "mouth speaking pompous words" (verse 8), a reference to the false religious system based in Rome.

Before this horn reached preeminence, the same verse says "three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots," a prophecy that was fulfilled in the three barbaric tribes that briefly subdued Rome in the fifth and early sixth centuries.

The other seven horns prophesied in Daniel 7 were to follow the ascendancy of the Roman church. This church, pictured as a woman in the book of Revelation, was to "sit" on the seven, in an uneasy relationship likened to "fornication" (Revelation 17:2).

In contrast to the marital relationship where a husband and wife give themselves to each other, fornication is purely "get," with each participant looking out for him or herself. So it has been with the European church-state relationships down through the centuries.

The remaining seven horns of Daniel 7 are described with different symbolism in Revelation 17:9: "Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits."

The woman is the "great harlot who sits on many waters" (verse 1), "with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication" (verse 2). This false church was prophesied to play a major role in politics down through the centuries.

A constant theme running through the last two millennia of European history has been the church-state relationship. It has not always been an easy one. The analogy of "fornication" is apt as the two were only committed to each other as long as it served their own interests.

During that 2,000-year period, the Roman church has been a constant. No dynasty or political institution has lasted as long as the church has. The power and influence of the church has had its ups and downs, but it remained in some form and remains to this day.

One reason for its great political role has been its political status—the Papal States in the Middle Ages and Vatican City today have been secular political powers as well as spiritual forces. This makes the Roman church unique out of all the religious systems of the world. It is the reason Scripture highlighted its future role in prophecy.

During the fifth century the Roman Empire in the West declined and fell even as the spiritual authority of the church increased. Eventually, the church replaced the secular power.

"Though the administrative centre of the Empire had been transferred to Byzantium, the state religion was still centrally conducted from Rome. Already indeed its chain of command, and its contacts with outlying regions such as Britain, were maintained in a more regular fashion than the political and military functions of the Empire. Christianity still had a working international infrastructure.

"This religion, by its very nature, was centralized, universalist, authoritarian and anti-regional. It was run by a disciplined priestly caste, commanded by bishops based on the imperial urban centres, under the ultimate authority of the Bishop of Rome itself, the spiritual voice of the western Empire. Its doctrines were absolutist, preaching unthinking submission to divine authority: the Emperor and his high priest, the Bishop of Rome, in this world, and a unitary god, who appointed the Emperor, in the next" (Paul Johnson, The Offshore Islanders, pp. 29-30).

Herein lay the origins of modern European history. Continental Europe has always tended toward authoritarian forms of government, whereas the peoples of the British Isles, "The Offshore Islanders" in Paul Johnson's words, developed somewhat differently, with a greater emphasis on individualism and equality, symbolized by the medieval King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

"The Roman Church strongly and repeatedly condemned Round Tables" (ibid., p. 51). The church taught a strictly hierarchical system, inherited from the Roman state. The church was and remains the prophesied mirror "image of the beast" (Revelation 13:15).

Well into the last century the church taught the divine right of kings, that God put the king in power and that the people should obey his dictates. In the same way, the people were taught that the church was the Kingdom of God, and the head of the church, the pope, the "Vicar of Christ."

The word vicar means "in place of." His dictates were ex cathedra, a Latin expression meaning "from the chair," referring not to a literal chair, but to the pope's office. The Roman church teaches that when the pope speaks in an official capacity, his words infallibly carry the authority of God.

Between the king and the pope, the people were subjugated for well over a thousand years. Only with the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century did we see the beginnings of religious and political freedom.

Thanks to the church, the Roman system never went away. Directly or indirectly, the church enabled ambitious political figures to attempt revivals of the original Roman Empire. These seven attempts at resurrecting the Roman Empire are the prophesied "mountains on which the woman [church] sits" (Revelation 17:9).

First revival of the Roman Empire

The first revival of the Roman Empire was less than a century after the fall of the Western Empire in A.D. 476. Following the "first three horns that were plucked out by the roots" (Daniel 7:8), the Roman Empire in the East still thrived under Emperor Justinian, one of the most important figures of European history.

His empire, ruled from Constantinople, dominated the Eastern Mediterranean and included the Holy Land and Egypt. Constantinople was the New Rome, also built on seven hills. The empire in the east was to last another thousand years, until the year 1453.

Justinian's dream was to restore the western provinces of the empire to his dominions. In order to achieve his goal, the emperor realized the need for religious unity. But Christendom was divided, primarily over the issue of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

The Monophysites believed that Jesus Christ had only one nature, a divine one. Catholics believed that His nature was dual, both divine and human. Led by the pope in Rome, this view prevailed in the West, while Monophysitism was popular in the East.

The Council of Chalcedon (in modern-day Turkey) declared Monophysitism a heresy in 451, just as the Council of Nicea over a century earlier had ruled about Arianism. However, this left the Eastern Church torn between Catholic orthodoxy and the heresy of the Monophysites.

Justinian's predecessor, his uncle Justin, had reconciled with the church of Rome in 518. His prelates had signed a letter of reconciliation supporting Rome and the decision made at Chalcedon, but the heresy continued.

Justinian, who came to the throne in August of 527, supported the decision of the Council of Chalcedon and of Catholic orthodoxy, but he did not want to alienate the Monophysites who were dominant in the provinces of Egypt and Syria . His wife, the influential and powerful Empress Theodora, was also sympathetic to the Monophysite cause.

Scheming with a Roman deacon called Vigilius, Theodora agreed to help him become pope in exchange for a promise that he would negate the decision of the Council of Chalcedon. Vigilius did indeed become pope but failed to fulfill his promise.

Justinian was finally forced in May 553 to convene the Second Council of Constantinople (the Fifth Ecumenical Council), in yet another attempt to reconcile the Monophysites. The Council finally agreed on a compromise that basically upheld the previous decision but leaned toward satisfying the Monophysites. Few were satisfied with this compromise.

Pope Vigilius initially refused to accept the decision of the Council, but finally yielded under pressure in February 554. By way of thanking him, Justinian granted the pope an imperial document known as the Pragmatic Sanction, which confirmed and increased papal temporal power. The papacy was under the thumb of the Eastern emperor, but only temporarily.

Religious divisions between East and West were to continue for five more centuries, before the two halves of the old Roman Empire formally and finally divided in 1054. The Catholics and Orthodox remain divided to this day.

However, even though Justinian failed to resolve differences between the two largest factions of Christendom, the old pagan religion supposedly ended during his reign through a combination of new laws, discrimination and persecution. In truth, many of the beliefs from the old pagan religion had already been incorporated into the new state religion.

It wasn't just in religion that Justinian profoundly influenced the future course of European history. His legal code, commonly called the Code of Justinian, also left an enduring legacy on the continent of Europe. It is still the basis of civil law in many countries. This further helps us understand the historical divide between the English-speaking countries and the continental Europeans.

"Because of the deference granted to whomever writes the Laws, and the absence of a jury to rule on matters of fact, the Civil Law tradition is fundamentally friendlier to tyrannical regimes than the [English] Common Law...

"As Lord Coke put it, under the Common Law, every man's house is his castle; not because it is defended by moats or walls, but because while the rain may enter, the king cannot; under the Civil Law, the king is bound by nothing at all. Justinian left the European nations that grew out of Roman soil more than just the law; he bequeathed them autocracy, as well" (William Rosen, Justinian's Flea, 2007, p. 131).

"By establishing the position of the emperor—by extension, any anointed ruler—as the legislator of divine will, the Lex Sacra, the Code was an essential, perhaps the essential, endorsement for what would eventually become the divine right of kings" (ibid., p. 130).

Victory and defeat

Justinian saw himself as reviving the Roman Empire with himself as the emperor, once again uniting both East and West. When the persecuted Catholics of North Africa appealed for aid against their Arian Vandal oppressors, Justinian sent the greatest general of his age, Belisarius to achieve victory. He quickly succeeded and the territories that had once been a part of Rome's Empire were now added to the territory of the New Rome, Constantinople.

Soon after, Justinian set his eyes on recovering Italy from the Ostrogoths, where the Arian King Theodoric had turned against his Catholic subjects. After Theodoric's death this persecution only intensified. Once again, Justinian sent Belisarius to take care of things. It took until 554 for Italy to be subdued.

So 78 years after the fall of the Western Empire, the "deadly wound" was healed (Revelation 13:3).

The imperial restoration that he achieved was the first of a number of attempts to revive the empire, as we shall see.

In spite of his military triumph and his ecclesiastical and legal achievements, Justinian's reign paved the way for the ultimate fall of the Byzantine Empire, the eastern Roman Empire founded by Constantine. His military conquests did not last long after his death on Nov. 14, 565, at the age of 83. He had reigned for 38 years.

It was to be almost a thousand years before Byzantium fell, but the seeds of its destruction were sown in Justinian's time, due to a factor totally beyond his control. For during his long reign the world experienced the first outbreak of bubonic plague. The fact is that in long term, Justinian's dream was defeated by the simple flea.

"In the middle of the sixth century, the world's smallest organism collided with the world's mightiest power. Twenty five million corpses later, the Roman Empire, under her last great emperor, Justinian, was decimated" (Rosen, book cover).

The deaths of 25 million people paved the way for the triumph of Islam in the following century. Less than a century after Justinian's death, much of his empire had been conquered by the followers of the prophet Muhammad. Eventually, the descendants of those conquerors wiped the entire Byzantine Empire off the face of the earth!

But the Roman Empire in the West was to see more revivals down through history.