No political event or circumstance can be evaluated without the knowledge of the Vatican’s part in it,” writes Guy Emery Shipler, “and no significant world political situation exists in which the Vatican does not play an important, explicit or implicit, part.” Here we have the outcome of a long journey down the centuries; this essay can do no more than point to some of the significant landmarks, while avoiding those given individual treatment elsewhere in this issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

By the beginning of the second century, Christianity had adherents among Rome’s elite class. Fifty years later, Rome was established as the metropolis of the whole Church. It gave the lead in struggles with the state, it protected Christians in different parts of the Empire, it vindicated orthodoxy against heretics, many of whom had friends at court. Appeals to Rome were made against the Donatist and Pelagian claims in the fourth and fifth centuries; further, it could boast the tombs of Peter and Paul, which became a center of pilgrimage for the pious. Slowly there grew up the tradition of Rome’s primacy. After twice saving the city of Rome from barbarian invasion, Leo the Great (d. 461) consolidated the image of the papacy as champion of Christendom by resisting the subtle heterodoxy of Eastern theologians, and by wise cooperation with—and equally wise stout resistance to—the secular authority. Thus was set the stage for that moral domination and independence, and for the eventual process of centralization consistently espoused by Hildebrand six centuries later.

With the conversion of the barbarians, new problems and new opportunities confronted the Church. Since generally only churchmen could read and write, much of the civil government ...

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