In these struggles between the bishops and Patriarchs, it would seem that the church in the east, the Patriarch of Constantinople would surely have come out on top. That was not the case. Perhaps he overplayed his hand, but in trying to extend his authority over the other Patriarchs, and encroach upon the territory of Rome, he caused these lesser church rulers to scurry to Rome for help. This meant that they owed their allegiance to the Roman church from that time on. Furthermore, the invaders who came into Italy and Gaul and Spain found the Roman ruler so impotent that they made an ally of the Pope in order to preserve the civil order in the country. Leo the Great, Pope of Rome, was the most active pope in extending the authority of the Roman church in the century.
The vices of the clergy were now carried on almost without limit. The writers of these times tell of the luxury, arrogance, avarice and voluptuousness of the religious orders.
On the good side, many points of religion were more clearly explained by the writers in this century. On the other hand, the clergy further confused the laymen by their controversy over these points. There seems to have been no authority in the church at this time who forbade the converted pagans from bringing into the church many of their pagan beliefs. Among the doctrines so brought in were those concerning prayer and the power of sacred objects. There had been no clear-cut decision in the church concerning the transmission of prayer. Many of the pagans prayed to the departed saints who they thought still hovered around, and naturally stayed close to their former bodies. Consequently, the practice of praying at the sculptures of dead saints came into being. Also, the power of the church through one man, the Pope, and through his appointed officers to relieve, or shorten the sufferings of one’s loved ones in purgatory became enhanced.
The rites and ceremonies which were added to the church in this century would require a lesson in themselves. Divine worship was rising almost daily from one degree of pomp to another. The churches were decorated grandly with images made of costly woods and gold and silver. An important change in the method of proceeding with penitents was introduced to the church. Formerly, the offender was required to stand before the congregation, confess his sin and ask forgiveness. However, Leo the Great permitted the penitent to confess his sins privately to a priest.
Another incident shows the trend of the church at this time. We mentioned previously the sect of Donatists. These people were fought by the church at Rome and many were banished, their goods destroyed and their churches torn down. However, in about 412 AD, the Emperor Honorius published an edict allowing the liberty of conscience in religious matters. However, this edict stood for only two years, when the Church at Rome prevailed upon him to withdraw the law. From this time, the people in the area of the Roman pontiff did not have the right of religious freedom.