Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/42

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Provincial loyalties seldom assumed the form of religious nationalism, and Rome had no rival as a Christian center in its half of the Empire. The inhabitants of the West were less interested in subtle doctrinal problems than those of the East; heretical leaders were rare and attracted few followers. The absence of serious disputes over doctrine and the unquestioned prestige of Rome made it easy for the Western churches to unite around the bishop of Rome. His leadership in spiritual matters was recognized even during the period of persecution, and was strengthened during the controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries. The backing of the Western churches gave the bishop of Rome great influence in the Councils, and the fact that the doctrines which he supported were finally recognized as orthodox increased his prestige throughout the Christian world. Although he still had no direct administrative authority, his decisions on important problems were almost universally respected in the West, and often prevailed in the East, even over the opposition of the bishops of Constantinople. The fourth-century bishops of Rome were not yet the all-powerful popes of the twelfth century, but they had laid a firm foundation on which their successors could build. They had secured sufficient administrative and doctrinal unity in the West to ensure the survival of a universal Church in a period of political disintegration.


The acceptance of Christianity by the rulers of the Empire did not repair the fatal weaknesses of the Roman state. The able men who became Christian bishops and teachers did not feel that it was their duty to occupy themselves with political and economic problems. They had the tremendous task of organizing churches throughout the towns of the Empire, of converting pagans and improving the morals of nominal converts, of combatting heresy and developing Christian theology into a logical and self-