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Robert Marcus: Secular Ideas in the Early Middle Ages

After fall of Rome, numerous intersecting secular concepts continued to function, expressed not in absence, but in dialogue with powerful political institutions.

By decoupling Christian secular ideas from actual degree of religious pluralism or tolerance in a given society, historians can better understand current complexities of early medieval secularism.

To return to secular historian of early Middle Ages, it is necessary to consider views of Robert Marcus, whose work was a key starting point for previous generations of research not only on Christianization of Roman world, but also on Middle Ages. religious pluralism in early Europe.

In a number of important publications, notably in his seminal work The End of Ancient Christianity, Marcus challenged modern attempts to systematize uncomfortable aspects of a Christianized society as "pagan 'survival'". Instead, he focused on "Late Roman Christians, lay and clergy alike, draw a line separating what they consider 'religion' from their other activities and experiences, their 'worldly life' and its context."

Author's Perspective: The need to prioritize modern definitions of "religious" over "secular" led to formation of mainstream Latin Christian thought in fifth and sixth centuries and its implications for late and post-Roman A rich and eloquent account of influence of Western society.

Robert Marcus: Secular Ideas in the Early Middle Ages

However, as William Klingshearn astutely points out, this statement cannot be extended directly to early Middle Ages.

In fact, central narrative that Robert Marcus traces over and over again in his writings is trajectory of Latin Christian thought from Augustine to Gregory Great and summarizes vision of secular "drainage" period.

For Marcus, Augustine formulates concept that this age or world is a neutral space, as individual members of city of God and secular will manifest, so current age sees a mixture.

Humanity is made up of those who will be saved and those who will be damned, and before Last Judgment, no one used any means to determine who is who.

According to Marcus, this radical uncertainty led Augustine to describe Temple as a neutral space open to both Christians and non-Christians, including his Gentiles reacting in city and elsewhere.

Robert Marcus: Secular Ideas in the Early Middle Ages

Many commentators rightly point out that Augustine was less consistently neutral in his use of "secular" than Marcus suggests, that City of God also used adjectives in a more derogatory sense, and that in narrative chapters on history of two cities repeatedly associate secular city with city and history of Roman Empire and its idolatry.

However, this neutral secularism was an important, if not all, branch of Augustinian thought, and it was of utmost importance for Mark, as a Catholic public figure, to try to restore Augustine's holiness. society is no longer centered on Christian God.

However, by time of Gregory Great, this neutral space was closed, and according to Gregory, Marcus saw culmination and future of profound social change. Can understand influence of Augustine's Subtlety.

The progressive Christianization of Roman world meant that Gregory no longer had to think about religious pluralism and traditional civic culture in an almost exclusively Christian society, and end of Roman Empire in West allowed him to elevate Church to most important secular institutions.

Most importantly, Gregory's work embodies a "grand simplification" that is most evident in his introduction to work of divine in contemporary society.

Robert Marcus: Secular Ideas in the Early Middle Ages

The secular has moved from ambivalent, morally neutral space of Augustine, populated by Christians and adherents of traditional Greco-Roman religions, to ambivalent, morally neutral space of Gregory, populated by best and worst Christians.

According to Marcus, this transformation is both end of secular and beginning of a new "secular" cultural hegemony, but latter kind of secularism does not interest Marcus at all for an understandable political reason: He wanted to restore process of desecularization at end of antiquity, not those "secular" contours from then on that were part of a self-evident medieval future.

There is a significant paradox here, which Marcus almost resolved, but never resolved, at very moment when ordinary disappeared from ancient world, and it was very moment when ordinary became a means for modern man to understand his society. Thus , it becomes a critical moment for our understanding of society.

It is necessary to go back to end of Marcus' influential account of Christian thought in order to rediscover early medieval interpretive possibilities.

Recent writings on fourth and first-fifth centuries offer ways to move beyond closed narratives, and while Mark's pioneering ideas remain fundamental, historians of Christianization of Roman world have begun to develop, refine, and question aspects of his narrative.

Richard Lim, Hartmut Leppin, Eric Rebillar, and Mayastina Kalos point to problem of applying modern "secular" to study of Roman culture and society in fourth and fifth centuries.

The author's point of view: in fact, she requires acceptance and privileges of exact Christian worldview that she seeks to share, and it is certain that many of late antiquity found a place in society from various religious beliefs. defined as religion-neutral methods.

Robert Marcus: Secular Ideas in the Early Middle Ages

However, classifying this terbium exchange as "secular" and juxtaposing it too closely with specific conceptual framework of modern writers may cause all these late ancients to think like Christian bishops.

Moreover, it can smooth out reactions to these cultural phenomena and social spaces, closing possibility that they will be interpreted as having some connection with gods. This critique fits in interesting ways with critique of late twentieth century secularization argument that inspired Marcus's work.

These post-secular approaches suggest that modern understanding of secularity, although devoid of theological content, still relies on a distinctly Christian opposition to religion and secularity, which, when Augustine wrote The City of God, Opposition, was not yet dominant.

Thus, history of religious change in modern antiquity attempts to trace even further contingency of modern interpretations of religiously neutral social activities, concerns, and circumstances.

They argue that many people may not have bothered with these categories when dealing with aspects of everyday life in Late Antique Mediterranean, and that by removing "secular" as accepted means of conceptualizing aspects of Late Antique society, they are simultaneously redefining how we understand . Those Christian authors who use it use it.

Author's point of view: Richard Lim argues persuasively that we should see "Christianization and secularization as historically significant as discursive strategy."

Robert Marcus: Secular Ideas in the Early Middle Ages

"Christianity", "secular" and "paganism" are "agreed categories", decisions about their application are "situational", and author uses them to convince others, both to explain aspects of Late Antique society and to consider that categories themselves matter in everyday life.

The strategic nature of these textual representations reveals a variety of contemporary perspectives and makes them less amenable to interpretation as indicators of progress of religious change.

While writers working over many centuries felt they could use same strategies in much same way, a greater distance was needed between secular discussions of late antiquity and desecular metanarratives.

In this sense, recent work suggests that even in face of less religious pluralism, Christian notions of "secularity" are still crucial.

The four historians at my institute do not go beyond first decades of fifth century in West: part of this may be due to a deep sense that traditional religiously neutral spaces did end in sixth century and disappeared.

However, "secular" approach they offer as a basic rhetorical strategy and conceptual framework for moralizing can clearly top 430, 500, or 600.

The secular heritage of late antiquity will outline specific forms of Christianity that Marcus pushed into medieval future, that is, use of this concept as a reference to certain phenomena in societies assumed by Christian means of classification.

In a recent landmark essay, Mischa Meyer revised Marcus's account to include late fifth and early sixth centuries as a key transitional period.

For Meyer, fall of Rome led almost immediately to a paradigm shift in Latin Christian political thought, which Meyer argues was case for bishops of Rome in late fifth and early sixth centuries, much like Gregory Marcus. retreat of imperial state in West added to Augustine's special false interpretation, that is, "city of God" discovered by eschatology was only identified with church of this age, and political system was devalued accordingly.

Robert Marcus: Secular Ideas in the Early Middle Ages

The "simplification" of Augustine, identified by Mark in writings of Gregory and attributed to medieval history, is already present in letters of first bishops of Rome.

This Christian secularism is particularly evident in Galasius's famous implacable apology in a letter from Eastern Roman Emperor Anastasius dated 494 regarding "two powers".

After ordination controversy in eleventh century, readers of this letter were most concerned with its description of relationship between empire or kingdom and Church, and Meyer rightly points out that Galacius played a role in royal and priestly power. ideal mutual relations are established between characters and institutions.

The ruler had power over "human" or "earthly" things supported by priests who had power over "sacred" or "heavenly" things and enjoyed support and obedience of former.

Because divine things are more important than human things, average priest has a supposed sense of moral superiority over king, and just as important are visions of church and human society implied by this vision, which differ from Augustine's uncertain priests. far from truth, since among Augustinian priests priests were also "lay" authorities, whose moral status was uncertain.

Within Galatia, earthly and divine are clearly separated, and Anastasius regulates his political behavior in order to maintain his reputation as a Christian.

This collapse of imperial politics into a matter of personal piety was partly a matter of traditional rhetorical positioning, with bishop describing emperor as an ordinary Christian who needed his pastoral guidance to punish his political and social superiors.

However, Galatius' description of Church as ultimate context of political activity is still very informative and reflects broader ecclesiastical development of Roman Church in fifth century.

Mayer's article is important in tracing secular origins of this particular Latin Christianity, it is less convincing in describing its contemporary meaning. Meyer revives two traditional Western metanarratives of fifth century: The Fall of Rome and Rise of Pope.

Robert Marcus: Secular Ideas in the Early Middle Ages

Like Markus, Meyer argues that power vacuum created by a deposed Western emperor led to this political and ecclesiastical equation.

For Meyer, this also led to a challenge to authority of rulers, since as members of church they were subject to priests, especially Bishop of Rome.

The absence of emperors in West made it possible for bishops of Rome to formulate their overarching authority, and this transfer of power from emperor to pope is consistent with recent work on bishops and hereditary kingdoms in late antiquity.

Firstly, epistles of these bishops did not influence their contemporaries to allow such reflections, as Hans Christoph Brennecke recently stated in sixth century: this vision of pope's moral superiority of emperor is "practically without foundation." really."

Similarly, any reader of a previous generation of scholars studying sixth-century Rome or Ostrogothic Italy will be surprised by political vacuum created by Glacius's interpretation of papacy, with many studies emphasizing that in Ostrogothic Lavinus in Rome, rulers with imperial pretensions continued, whereas real influence in city passed from bishops to families of Senate elite.

The gestures in these letters are not a good guide to actual social and political position of bishops in Rome in late fifth and early sixth centuries, and Galatius's letters to Anastasius are a useful limiting case.

Gerasius may not be subject to authority of emperor, but he still recognizes continued existence, establishment and alternative thinking of eastern imperial states, he simply pushes them into background, referring to church affiliation of Anastasius.

Robert Marcus: Secular Ideas in the Early Middle Ages

Galacius framed his post-Augustian secularism in a context in which claims of civil, royal, and even imperial institutions continued, and, most importantly, this ecclesiological model was not limited to specific episcopal and political circumstances of Rome.

Government as a theme of Church has implications beyond emerging narrative of papal supremacy, and some Western writers of early sixth century advanced a similar view, viewing rulers and political institutions as secular components of Christian society.

The Christian secular ideas put forward by bishops of Rome in late fifth and early sixth centuries bear striking similarities in work of three writers of early sixth century: Fuergentius, Ferrandus, and Aurelian.

Like Glacius, these North African and Gallic clerics demonstrated a clear debt to Augustine and articulated parallel claims to priestly supremacy of imperial and post-imperial political systems.

Like letters to Anastasius, these texts deal in part with power of priests and defense of their jurisdiction against royal or imperial pretensions.

But, unlike Galatia, they also found room for a broader discussion about how secular people should behave when ruling post-Christian imperial societies, and post-August period can be better understood by looking at these writers.


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