Christianity reached Italy at an early date. The ch. at Rome was widely known ca. 57 (Ro 1:8); in 64 the Christians in Rome were a vast multitude (Tacitus, Annales, XV, 44). At the time of Constantine* I Christianity had taken firm root; paganism was losing its hold. During this 1st stage the religious hist. of It. did not differ essentially from that of the Roman Empire in gen., though the commanding position and influence of the ch. at Rome and the beginnings of the papacy lend it a somewhat distinctive character and indicate its subsequent trend.
From the time that Constantine I transferred the seat of empire to Byzantium and esp. after barbarian invasions, the religious his. of It. became virtually the hist. of the papacy. The papacy alone gives a semblance of unity to the story of It. during the Middle Ages. Arian (see Arianism) Teutonic invaders gen. did not try to force their creed on their new subjects. Odoacer (Odovacar; Odovakar; ca. 434493; ruled It. 476493) and Theodoric* were tolerant. The Lombards entered It. 568, est. a kingdom, combined martial despotism with religious intolerance, eventually adopted the religion of Rome and succumbed to the diplomacy of the popes and the weapons of the Frankish allies of the papacy (see also Charlemagne). From Otto* I to the time of Gregory VII (see Popes, 7), the emps. gen. had the upper hand. From Gregory VII to the overthrow and end of the Hohenstaufens 1268 the popes asserted supremacy. From ca. the beginning of the 14th c. the papacy began to decline. Its dependence on Fr. kings during the Babylonian captivity 130977 (see Babylonian Captivity, 2), the papal schism 13781417 (see Schism, 8), and authority assumed by councils (see Councils and Synods, 7) show papal power on the wane.
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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