Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Kingdoms of the World

In the year 800, Pope Leo the third was having trouble in Rome. People did not like him. Historians are not sure why. He may have been immoral and dishonest or he may have been insufficiently aristocratic. He had many critics but little evidence survives today. He ran to Charlemagne to save his position and his power. After much deliberation, Charlemagne marched into Rome with all his armies in a tremendous display of power and support for Leo. Leo swore on the Gospels in St Peters Cathedral that he was innocent of any wrongdoing. With Charlemagne standing nearby, no one contested his re-institution as Pope. On Christmas day, Charlemagne went to morning mass and as he kneeled, Leo came forward and crowned him "imperator et Augustus". The title of the former Roman emperors. In the words of a contemporary, "it seemed to Pope Leo and to the whole Christian people that it would be fitting to give the title of emperor to the King of the Franks, Charles." From Charles on each new Holy Roman Emperor was crowned with the Crown of the Holy Empire. The octagonal bejeweled crown was topped with an imperial cross. It was composed of eight gold plates, each one decorated with pearls and other precious jewels. The Biblical figures of David, Solomon, Hezekiah and Jesus surrounded the crown. Metal workers were said to have embedded in the cross nail shards and wood from the cross of Christ. The wearer of this crown had the right to rule under God. Unfortunately, as history goes, that didn't happen. The crown was used to justify violence, territorial expansion and gaining more glory for the one who wore the crown.

Voltaire, the writer and atheist, commented on this time many years later saying, "the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, Roman nor an empire."

"Greed, slaughter, intolerance, adultery, jealousies, competition, warmongering and other sins permeated the holy millenia." (Judith Couchman)

What a contrast to the kingdom Jesus taught about whose values are not anything like the power grabbing world empires. In Matthew 5:3-10, Jesus describes the values of his kingdom. The citizens of his kingdom are poor, mournful, meek, hungry, thirsty, merciful, pure, peaceful, and persecuted. In our culture we are we are told to: get rich quick if we are poor, buck up if we are mourning, assert ourselves rather than be meek, get what is due us rather than be merciful, not to be so straight laced we come off like a goody two shoes, fight back for what we deserve, and dont appear too fanatical hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Not only is this advice from our culture, it is often what the church hands out as well.

Jesus kingdom was inverted. To live in it, we are called to embrace a lifestyle where the first will be last, our faith must be childlike, and pursuing riches makes it hard to get in at all. He also said, His kingdom was as near as our willingness to repent and allow his kingdom to live within us.

[Portions of the above were taken from The Mystery of the Cross by Judith Couchman and The History of the Medieval World by Susan Wise Bauer]