Rome-Ancient and Future Master of the World?
The tourist posters display a fascinating Rome-a city of seven hills covered with the architectural glories of the past and present. Rome is a city of contrasts. Old buildings and ancient ruins jostle side by side with a thriving, modern city. Twenty-seven centuries have come and gone since its legendary founding at the hands of Romulus and Remus. During this long expanse of time, this remarkable city has played an unparalleled role in the history of western civilization, as a seat of ongoing intrigue and power!
Nestled within the city of Rome is the world’s smallest sovereign territory-Vatican City. Maintaining its own diplomatic relations with all the major powers, this minuscule city-state, ruled by the Roman pontiff, is a full participant in international affairs. The Vatican aspires to be far more than a mere participant, however. It seeks to once again achieve the guiding role it played for so many centuries.
Though Rome’s ancient empire received a fatal wound with the death of the last emperor in 476ad, that was not the end of the story! The first three kingdoms springing out of the old Roman Empire, the Vandals, Herulii, and Ostrogoths, were uprooted. The might of the eastern emperor, Justinian, accomplished this “plucking up” at the behest of Rome’s pope. Justinian’s “imperial restoration” in 554 “healed” the “deadly wound” and launched the first of six historical attempts to revive and carry on the empire of ancient Rome. And according to the Bible, there is a seventh and final revival yet to come. Your life will be affected profoundly by events yet to take place in what its residents call the “eternal” city!
The Deadly Wound Is Healed
With the conclusion of the Gothic Wars in 553ad, Italy was left in poverty and disorder. Rome had been captured, besieged, looted and starved. Finally the armies of the eastern Roman emperor Justinian stood victorious. Justinian’s armies had succeeded in reconquering Italy and remnants of the western empire, but how was he to govern it? The answer lay in an alliance of church and state that has shaped the history of western Europe ever since. Though secular authority in the West had collapsed, “the survival of ecclesiastical organization [under the bishop of Rome] appeared even to the emperors as the salvation of the state. In 554 Justinian promulgated a decree requiring that ‘fit and proper persons, able to administer the local government, be chosen as governors of the provinces by the bishops and chief persons of each province‘” (Durant, pp. 519-520).
This event is known in history as the Imperial Restoration. The emperors in Byzantium continued as nominal rulers of a revived Imperium Romanum in the West from 554 until 800. By the terms of Justinian’s decree, however, the bishops of Rome (now called popes) held the reins of power and were thus the real riders sitting astride the imperial Beast in the West.
It is important to note at this point a significant difference between the Beast described in Revelation 13 and the one described in Revelation 17. The Beast of Revelation 13 corresponds to what Daniel saw in Daniel 7. John described a creature that began in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon and continued on to his day. Out of the seventh head, the Roman Empire, would arise ten kingdoms. Daniel 7 explained that the first three of those ten horns would be “plucked out.” However, the Beast of Revelation 17 is different. It is a creature ridden by the woman, unlike the earlier description. The Beast in Revelation 17 is the one “that was and is not” (v. 11)-the Roman Empire after the deadly wound is healed. This is what history has ironically and misleadingly labeled the “Holy” Roman Empire, dominated by the Church of Rome, which has continued from 554ad through various revivals to modern times.
Revelation 17:11 explains that this Beast “is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition” (KJV). It is a continuation of the seven-headed creature described in Revelation 13, but it is in some ways like an eighth head on that creature since it begins after the last head of the Beast of Revelation 13 receives a “deadly wound.” The seven heads of the Revelation 17 Beast are seven kingdoms (v. 10). They are the seven resurrections of the Holy Roman Empire, corresponding to the last seven of the “ten horns” of Daniel 7 and Revelation 13. The ten horns of Revelation 17 are also ten kings or kingdoms (v. 12). They give power to the final revival of the Holy Roman Empire and will be destroyed by Christ at His coming (v. 14), thus corresponding to the ten toes on the image described in Daniel 2.
Now, look more closely at the history of the “seven heads” mentioned in Revelation 17. In the years after the imperial restoration, the eastern emperors generally focused their attention closer to home. The protection and security that the eastern emperors provided for the West became negligible. Private negotiations between Charles, King of the Franks, and Leo, Bishop of Rome, were held to resolve this problem. The results of the negotiations were made manifest in 800ad.
“On Christmas Day, as Charlemagne [King of the Franks], in the chlamys and sandals of a patricius romanus, knelt before St. Peter’s altar in prayer, [Pope] Leo suddenly produced a jeweled crown, and set it upon the King’s head. The congregation, perhaps instructed beforehand to act according to ancient ritual as the senatus populusque Romanus confirming a coronation, thrice cried out: ‘Hail to Charles the Augustus, crowned by God the great and peace-bringing Emperor of the Romans!’ The royal head was anointed with holy oil, the Pope saluted Charlemagne as Emperor and Augustus…” (Durant, pp. 468-469). After several years of dispute, the eastern emperor at Byzantium recognized Charlemagne as co-emperor. The Imperium in the West passed to yet a second head since the days of the “deadly wound” in 476 and its subsequent “healing” in 554. Both times were at papal behest and with papal blessing.
As historian Will Durant puts it: “Out of this intimate co-operation of Church and state came one of the most brilliant ideas in the history of statesmanship: the transformation of Charlemagne’s realm into a Holy Roman Empire that should have behind it all the prestige, sanctity, and stability of both Imperial and papal Rome” (Durant, p. 468).
During the century and a half that followed Charlemagne’s coronation, his empire slowly disintegrated under weak successors. By 936 the German Saxons had become the most powerful group in central Europe. In 955 Otto, Duke of the Saxons and King of the Germans, defeated the Magyars who were attempting to invade western Europe from the East. Several years later he entered Italy at the request of Pope John XII to restore him to power and in the aftermath received the imperial crown at Pavia in 962. “Thus once again the ghost of the Roman empire was summoned to sanction the successful state building of a semi-barbarian king” (Handbook of Western Civilization, William McNiel, p. 317). Otto’s coronation marked the inauguration of a third head in the continuity of the western empire since Justinian’s imperial restoration.
How did Otto’s contemporaries and their successors view the significance of his revival of the empire? As historian Robert Hertzstein wrote, “the Empire was understood not as a mere term, but as a universal Christian regent for God on Earth, to exist until the coming of the Anti-Christ. Like Charlemagne, Otto received his throne through the Papal claim that the Roman Church had been the only Imperial elector since the early fourth century… The Holy Roman Empire was thus to a large extent German in its ethnic and political base, Christian in its moral justification, and Roman in its claim to legitimacy and universality” (The Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages, ed. Hertzstein, p. viii).
In an essay titled “The Empire as a Regency for God on Earth,” noted Austrian historian Friedrich Heer wrote: “The task of the Empire was to be God’s protagonist on earth, to fulfill His aims here, to protect Christianity and the Church, and to preserve the righteousness of God and the divine order of the universe on earth. The earthly Empire was the transitory reflection of the eternal City of God… In the imperial symbols this claim was displayed to the whole world: with the imperial apple, filled with earth from the four corners of the world, the Emperor holds the whole world in his hand… [the emperor] called the imperial crown corona urbis et orbis [the crown of Rome and of the globe]; he viewed himself as the caput mundi and as the dominator obris et urbis [head of the world and ruler of the globe and of Rome]” (Hertzstein, pp. 64-65).
Otto’s revived empire continued for almost 300 years. Finally, with the death of Conrad IV in 1254, the empire became so rent by rival factions that a 19-year interregnum (time without an emperor) resulted. In its aftermath, Rudolph I was elected emperor in 1273-the first of the Hapsburg family to be elevated to the imperial throne. The apex of this fourth revival of the old Roman imperium was the crowning of Rudolph’s descendant, Charles V, in Bologna by Pope Clement VII in 1530. Charles ruled over a vast empire. From his mother (Joan, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain) he had inherited Spain and all Spanish possessions in the New World. From his father he inherited the vast Hapsburg domains in Germany, Italy and central Europe.
After Charles V, Hapsburg power waned. By the 18th century, “Holy Roman Emperor” was an increasingly empty title. In the final decade of the 18th century, all of Europe was shaken by the French Revolution and its aftermath. A man both highly gifted and supremely ambitious came to power in France. His name was Napoleon, and he aspired to far more than the presidency of a French Republic or even becoming a new king of France. His ambition could only be satisfied by the reestablishment of the Roman Empire-with himself as emperor. As historian Will Durant notes, “he dreamt of rivaling Charlemagne and uniting western Europe” (The Story of Civilization, Will Durant, vol. 11, p. 243).
Napoleon considered himself a successor to Caesar and Charlemagne. Staging a plebiscite which he won by a vote of 3,572,329 to 2,569, Napoleon had the French Senate proclaim him emperor on May 18, 1804. Immediately he began negotiations with Pope Pius VII to come to Paris and consecrate him as emperor. The negotiations were successful and the coronation occurred on December 2.
The Hapsburgs of Austria felt keenly the successive diplomatic and military pushes of Napoleon, especially his assumption of the imperial title. Two years later, at Napoleon’s instigation, 16 princes and their states withdrew from the Holy Roman Empire, formed the Confederation of the Rhine and asked Napoleon to take them under his protection as a part of his empire. The following month, on August 6, 1806, Francis II renounced his now-empty title as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Napoleon’s European empire now stretched from the Atlantic to the Elbe. Spain, France, Holland, Belgium, western Germany and eventually all of Italy formed his renewed empire. Napoleon thus became the fifth head of the revived western Imperium since the days of Justinian.
Napoleon’s empire was not destined to be long-lived, however. A British-led coalition brought about his defeat and abdication in 1814. This ended a period of 1,260 years since the imperial restoration under Justinian in 554. Thus the prophecy in Revelation 13:3-5 of the Beast receiving a deadly wound, the wound being healed, and then the Beast “given authority to continue for forty-two months” was fulfilled (42 “months” of 30 days equal 1,260 “days”). Napoleon’s abdication marked the end of an epoch. According to prophecy there were yet to be two more attempted revivals of the glory and grandeur of ancient Rome.
By John H. Ogwyn
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