Church History:  The 500s


What happened in this century?

  • Monasticism began to grow in Europe.

  • Southern Europe became stable under the rule of Justinian I in mid-century, and then experienced chaos in the latter part of the century, and then stability under Gregory I.

Contact Mark Nickens, Ph.D. in Church History, at  Questions, comments, and observations are welcome!


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2011 Mark Nickens

Early 500s        Dionysius Exiguus (d. c. 550) introduced the method of dating years.  He began with year one as the year of Jesus' birth.  Later archaeologists realized that he was wrong by 4-7 years, which makes the birth of Jesus between 4-7 BC. 


527        Justinian I became the Roman Emperor.  He reconquered North Africa and Italy and built many basilicas.  (See the year 537 below.) 


529-30        The Church of the Nativity (in Bethlehem) was badly damaged by the Samaritans (in an attempt to create their own state) in 529.  Justinian sent an architect who directed that the building be leveled and a new one built.  The present Church of the Nativity is the same structure built in 530.  


532        Boniface II died and John II became Pope the next year.  He was the first pope to change his name, Mercurius being his birth name and being the name of a pagan god.


535        John II died and Agapitus became Pope.  While in Constantinople the next year, he was poisoned by the Emperor's wife Theodora; she was of the Eutychian persuasion.


536        Agapitus died (see above) and Silverius became Pope.  The Byzantium (Eastern Roman) Emperor Justinian captured Rome (led by his general) and Silverius was exiled to the island of Ponza.


537        Pope Silverius was forced to renounce his Papacy while under Byzantium exile and then assassinatedVigilius became Pope.


537        Hagia Sophia consecrated.  Known as "Holy Wisdom" (Greek "Hagia Sophia"; Latin "Sancta Sophia"), this church was the finest example of Byzantine architecture and was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople for almost 1000 years.


550        Benedict of Nursia died.  He is known as the "Father of Western Monasticism."  During his lifetime he established twelve monasteries with twelve monks apiece.  He also wrote his Rule (c. 540), which contains regulations for maintaining a monastery and the monastic life; this Rule became exceedingly popular.  To read one of Benedict's chapters, one on living a holy life, click here.


553        Council of Constantinople II.  This Council was called to combat three different individuals, all of whom were accused of Nestorianism:  Theodore of Mopsuestia (352-428), Theodoret (393-466), and against the letter of Ibas (Bishop of Edessa from 435-457)


565        Justinian I died.


570        Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was born in Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia.


589        At the Third Council of Toledo in this year, the Filioque clause was added to the Nicene Creed.  "Filioque" means "and the Son" in Latin and was added after "the Holy Ghost proceeds . . . from the Father" so that the Holy Spirit is seen to have had a double procession (from the Father and the Son) instead of a single procession.  This was a major point of contention between Western and Eastern Christianity, with the West holding to double procession and the East holding to single procession.  The Eastern churches argued that this formula was not agreed to at the Third Ecumenical Council, the Council of Constantinople in 381. 


590        Pelagius II died and Gregory I became Pope.  He became the second pope known as "the Great."  The first was Leo I who died in 461.  During his pontificate, Rome regain stability.  He also created the music which would bear his name, Gregorian chants.  [Personal note, Protestant scholars are divided over whether Leo I was the first pope or if it was Gregory I.  I believe it was Gregory.  ("Pope" in the sense people think of today when you say "pope.")]  Gregory did not desire the papacy, to learn more about his life, click here.


596        Gregory I sends Augustine of Canterbury to England to reestablish Christianity.  To learn more about Augustine's mission, and why he settled in Canterbury, click here.


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