The Fourth Century was an important one for the Christian Church. For one thing, we saw the first Roman Emperor embrace Christianity. This Emperor was Constantine, and he not only embraced the religion, but he assumed a position at the head of the church. The second important thing that happened to the church was that the organization of the church changed a great deal due to the increased authority the bishops assumed. There was another important effect of Constantine’s accepting Christianity, and that of course was that the great persecutions by the Romans finally ceased.
The church in the Fifth Century is to a great extent a church which has to follow the course of history. At the beginning of this century, the Roman Empire was divided into two parts. Arcadius was Emperor of the east and reigned at Constantinople. Honorius was Emperor of the west and reigned in Italy, but not at Rome. Honorius was an Emperor noted for his mildness, and he chose Ravenna for the place of his residence. Honorius was such a mild-mannered man, in fact, that he allowed the weighty duties of the empire to entirely escape him. The Goths, taking advantage of the opportunity, made attacks into Italy, laying waste its best provinces, and even carried their desolation as far as Rome. But the Goths were not the only tribes who overran these western territories, but other fierce people from Germany followed the Goths and overran Italy, Spain and France so that by 476 AD, a people called the Heruli gave the moral blow to the Roman Empire and brought all of Italy under their control. Their rule didn’t last long, however, because after 16 years the Ostrogoths over ran them and set up a kingdom which lasted into the Sixth Century. These monarchs in the west pretended to acknowledge allegiance to the Roman Emperor in the East, but in fact, paid him no attention.
These wars in the west which went on almost continuously between the Romans and the savage tribes of Germany certainly had a detrimental to affect on the Christian Church. However, the Emperor in the east continued to try to stamp out the pagan religions and removed from public office all people who continued to hold to any form of Polytheism. The gladiatorial combats and other pagan feasts that were held in the western empire continued to be held for much of the Fifth Century, until finally they were everywhere abolished.
The church continued to spread during these times. The limits of the Christian empire were everywhere pushing back the pagans. It is said that in the east a group of people inhabiting the Libanus mountains appealed to the famous Simeon because they were beset by wild beasts. He replied that their only hope was to embrace Christianity. They were in such a hopeless state that they did embrace Christianity and had the pleasure of seeing their savage enemies abandon their habitation.