21.—The Holy Roman Dominion, or Little Horn of the West.
We have seen how the Constantinopolitan Little Horn Power acknowledged the god of guardians, who was unknown to his predecessors under the pagan constitution of the empire. From about A.D. 395 to the recovery and settlement of Italy, A.D. 554, after a war of twenty years, the Roman god flourished in tumultous times. With the exception of sixty years, the period of the reign of the Gothic kings in Rome, whence they were expelled by the generals of Justinian, his godship was the cherished ally of the Byzantine emperor. During the turbulent period indicated, the Constantinopolitan dominion had receded from Gaul and Spain before the new kingdoms of the West; while the Universal Bishop had been recognized by the barbarian lords of Europe as a god upon earth. This recognition filled him with stoutness towards the emperor, which he would not have ventured to manifest if he had not been energized by their countenance. From A.D. 554 to A.D. 799, Rome had lost her preeminence, having been reduced to the rank of the second city of the Byzantine or Constantinopolitan empire; and Italy to the condition of a province of it. During this period a violent quarrel broke out between the Roman god and the imperial majesty. The subject of it was the adoration of images. The use and even worship of saint-idols was firmly established before the end of the sixth century. In the beginning of the eighth century, however, in the full magnitude of the idolatry, the people of the East were awakened to an apprehension, that under the mask of Christianity they had restored the paganism of their fathers. The Mohammedans, who reigned in Damascus and threatened Constantinople, denounced them as idolaters, whose punishment it was the divine commission of the followers of the Arabian prophet to execute.
It was the invasion of their empire by these avengers of the divine law against images, and the bowing down to them, that stirred up the Orientals to the consideration of the subject, and at length to their opposition to the practice. The monks zealously defended the images, which were also fondly cherished by the clergy and people of Constantinople; while the rude and remote districts of Asia were strangers to the innovation.
In 726, the controversy issued in a revolution. An adventurer named Contra appeared from the mountains of Isauria, filled with zeal and indignation against the Images. He was raised to the throne of Constantinople by the Anatolian legions which he commanded, and being installed reigned as the founder of a new dynasty under the imperial name of Leo III. or the Isaurian.
During the first ten years of his reign his policy was moderate and cautious; too much so, indeed, to satisfy the views of the reformers who had effected his elevation. During that period of toil and danger he bowed before the idols he despised, and satisfied the Roman god with the annual profession of his orthodoxy and zeal. But at length their impatience caused him to be more decided. He proscribed the existence as well as the use of religious pictures; the churches of Constantinople and the provinces were cleansed from idolatry; and the images of Christ, the Virgin and the saints, were demolished, or a smooth surface of plaster was spread over the walls of the edifice. The zeal of his party, styled the Iconoclasts, or Image-Breakers, was rendered effective by the cordial co-operation of his five successors, and the East and West were involved in a stormy conflict of one hundred and twenty years. The Iconoclasts, however, were at last suppressed by the Idolaters, who in the reign of the empress Theodora, A.D. 842, finally succeeded in re-establishing the adoration of the idols of the demonials whom they delighted to honour. This system of idolatry continued upwards of six hundred years after, the government and people being sunk in the grossest superstition. “They repented not of the works of their hands.” The Deity, therefore, sent against them the Four Euphratean Angels, who at length extinguished their dominion by me capture of Constantinople, A.D. 1453.
While the patient East under the Iconoclast emperors abjured with reluctance her idols, they were fondly cherished and vigorously defended by the independent zeal of the Italians. A distant and dangerous station amidst the barbarians of the West, excited the spirit and freedom of the Bishops of Rome. Their popular election endeared them to the Romans; the public and private indigence was relieved by their ample revenue; and the weakness or neglect of the emperors of Constantinople compelled them to consult, both in peace and war, the temporal safety of the city. In the school of adversity the Roman god insensibly imbibed the qualities and ambitions of a prince; so that after the loss of her legions and provinces, the genius and fortune of the popes again restored the supremacy of Rome. “It is agreed”, says Gibbon, “that in the eighth century, their dominion was founded on rebellion, and that the rebellion was produced and justified by the heresy of the Iconoclasts”: in other words, that the temporal power of the popes is based upon a determined adhesion to the worship of demonials and of their idols of gold and silver, wood and stone.
Pope Gregory II., the founder of the papal monarchy, commenced the controversy with Leo the Isaurian, who avowed his intention of breaking the Images in Rome, and of transporting the pope in chains an exile to Constantinople if he did not submit to the imperial edict, which abolished the images of Christ, and the Virgin, and of the angels, martyrs, and saints, in all the churches of Italy. The Italians swore to live and die in the defence of the pope, and of the images of his guardian saints. Leo despatched an army into Italy to establish his decree, but being defeated by the idolaters with great slaughter, the edict could not be enforced. This was a great triumph for the Roman god. He convened a synod of anti-Iconoclastic bishops, with whose consent he pronounced a general excommunication against all who should by word or deed attack the tradition of the fathers and the images of the saints. The emperor, of course, was tacitly involved in the sentence, though the god of Roman thunder did not make a personal application of it to Leo. His moderation delayed and prevented the election of a new emperor for Italy and the West; and the Italians were exhorted not to separate from the body of the Roman monarchy; so that till the imperial coronation of Charlemagne, the government of Rome and Italy was exercised in the name of the successors of Constantine.
Rome was now free from the foreign yoke of emperor or king, but reduced to her ancient territory from Viterbo to Terracina, and from Narni to the mouth of the Tiber. Her ruins presented the sad image of depopulation and decay: her previous slavery was a habit, her liberty an accident—the effect of superstition, and the object of her own amazement and terror. By the necessity of their situation, her inhabitants were cast into the rough model of a republican government. The style of “The Roman Senate and People” was revived, but the spirit was fled; and their new independence was disgraced by the tumultuous conflict of licentiousness and oppression. The want of laws was supplied by their religion, and their foreign and domestic counsels were moderated by the authority of the Bishop, whom they became accustomed to consider as the first magistrate or prince of the city.
Here then was formed the nucleus of a new power, consisting of a god upon earth, and a scanty remnant, the offspring of slaves and strangers, inhabitants of Rome and its territory; feeble, unwarlike, and despicable in the eyes of the victorious barbarians. As often as the Franks or Lombards expressed their most bitter contempt of a foe, they called him a Roman; “and in this name”, says the bishop Luitprand, “we include whatever is base, whatever is cowardly, whatever is perfidious, the extremes of avarice and luxury, and every vice that can prostitute the dignity of human nature”. Such were the pope’s children at the origin of his principality, a fitting progeny for such a sire. The Lombards were his immediate neighbours, and under their king Astolphus, the equal enemy of the pope and emperor. The love of arms and rapine were congenial to them; and both the prince and people were irresistibly tempted by the disorders of Italy, the nakedness of Rome, and the unwarlike profession of her new chief. They summoned the city to acknowledge the victorious Lombard as her lawful sovereign; and to pay an annual tribute of a price of gold as the ransom of each citizen, and the sword of destruction was unsheathed to exact the penalty of her disobedience.
Had the pope and his Romans been left to their own resources in this extremity, the world might never have witnessed among the ten barbaric kingdoms of Europe, a power answering to the “Little Horn with Eyes like the eyes of a man, and a Mouth speaking great things”, as seen by Daniel on the head of the Fourth Beast. The little popedom was too feeble to defend itself against its rapacious neighbours; so that if succour could not have been procured from a stronger power, it must have perished in the alpha of its existence. In this event, it would be impossible to say what would have been the constitution of Europe for a thousand years past. This, however, may be considered as certain, “the Holy Roman Empire” would never have existed; and “the Saints” would have escaped that long and terrible war by which they have been prevailed against in all the countries of its dominion. But “the powers that be are ordained of God”, with reference to an end appointed. He scourges the wicked with the evil works of their own hands. They founded the papacy, which has whipped them who with it warred against the saints with scorpions; while He has overruled its policy to the formation of a situation which will favour the manifestation of His righteousness and power.
In their distress the “strange god” and his feeble folk sought the protection of the king of the French. The ambassadors of Pepin and of the Greek emperor accompanied the pope to the court of Astolphus, king of the Lombards, to persuade him to peace and amity with the papists. But he would listen to nothing short of absolute submission to his sceptre, which would have been fatal to the ambition of the popes. Finding nothing could be done, Stephen III. hastened to Pepin to excite his pity for St. Peter’s patrimony, and his indignation against Astolphus who was ready to devour it. Prompted by the love of glory and superstition, Pepin yielded to the solicitation of the Roman Bishop, and proclaimed himself the champion of the papal church. Being the first of the Barbarian Kings who stood up in defence of the “Holy See”, the king of France came to be honoured by the popes with the title of “Eldest Son of the Church”. An alliance was formed between France and the Little Papacy; which in forty-six years from Stephen’s visit to Pepin expanded into the Roman Empire of the West, called “the Holy Roman Empire”, and represented by the Little Horn of Daniel’s Fourth Beast.
From A.D. 754 to A.D. 799 at Christmas, was the period occupied in the establishment of the Little Horn power; which, like the Little Horn of the Goat, budded forth upon the territory of the Kingdom of Babylon, but confined to its western division. The first event in the formation of the Little Horn of the West was the overthrow of Leo the Isaurian’s army against the saint-idols of Rome and Italy; the next was the recognition of Charles Martel and his heirs as Patricians of Rome; the assumption of the championship of the papal church by Pepin; his coronation by the pope; and his compulsion of Astolphus to restore its possessions, and to respect its sanctity: the third series of events was the plucking up by the roots of the Lombard kingdom by Charlemagne, the son of Pepin, A.D. 774; his investment with the honours of Patrician, being presented with the keys of the shrine of St. Peter as a pledge and symbol of sovereignty; and with a holy banner which it was their right and duty to unfurl in defence of the church and city: and his coronation by the pope, the people shouting, “Long life and victory to Charles, the most pious Augustus, crowned by God the great pacific emperor of the Romans!” The patrimony of St. Peter was enlarged through the liberality of Pepin and Charlemagne, by the spoliation of the Lombards and the emperor of Constantinople, to the dimensions of an earthly kingdom of respectable limits, constituting the Eye and Mouthship proper of the Roman god. The gift of this enlarged estate did not, however, alienate it from the empire of Charlemagne; for in his life and at his death, Ravenna and Rome were numbered in the list of his metropolitan cities.
At this crisis of affairs, there existed on the territory of the Kingdom of Babylon two Little Horn Powers, the Strange God, and the Ten Horn or Toe Kingdoms. I would remark here in passing that it has hitherto been found impossible to define these kingdoms according to the number given. Several tens have been guessed at, but the lists bear inaccuracy on the face of them. The kingdoms are represented by ten horns, and ten toes, because there would be that number appear on the territory of the Roman Beast between A.D. 476 and A.D. 799, the interval between the fall and restoration of the Western Roman Empire. In part however of this period only seven independent monarchies can be found, three of the original ten being “plucked up by the roots”. At the time of the revelation of Jesus Christ and the Saints, there will also be ten kingdoms whose territories will embrace those of the original Gothic Ten. In past centuries their number has varied. The ten kingdoms contemporary with the smiting of the Image by the Stone-power, or with the slaying and burning of the Fourth Beast by the Saints, in relation to the old Gothic kingdoms, are as so many trees to their original sapling-roots. The Gothic kingdoms of the period indicated were the roots of the present kingdoms, which are designated in prophecy by the number of Romano-Gothic kingdoms extant at the beginning and when the end comes. There will then be ten; therefore, without regard to their numerical variation, in previous ages, they are styled the ten kingdoms of the Beast.