These evil results may be summed up under the general designation of the secularization of the church. By taking in the whole population of the Roman empire the church became, indeed, a church of the masses, a church of the people, but at the same time more or less a church of the world. Christianity became a matter of fashion. The number of hypocrites and formal professors rapidly increased; 223 strict discipline, zeal, self-sacrifice, and brotherly love proportionally ebbed away; and many heathen customs and usages, under altered names, crept into the worship of God and the life of the Christian people. The Roman state had grown up under the influence of idolatry, and was not to be magically transformed at a stroke. With the secularizing process, therefore, a paganizing tendency went hand in hand.
Yet the pure spirit of Christianity could by no means be polluted by this. On the contrary it retained even in the darkest days its faithful and steadfast confessors, conquered new provinces from time to time, constantly reacted, both within the established church and outside of it, in the form of monasticism, against the secular and the pagan influences, and, in its very struggle with the prevailing corruption, produced such church fathers as Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Augustine, such exemplary Christian mothers as Nonna, Anthusa, and Monica, and such extraordinary saints of the desert as Anthony, Pachomius, and Benedict. New enemies and dangers called forth new duties and virtues, which could now unfold themselves on a larger stage, and therefore also on a grander scale. Besides, it must not be forgotten, that the tendency to secularization is by no means to be ascribed only to Constantine and the influence of the state, but to the deeper source of the corrupt heart of man, and did reveal itself, in fact, though within a much narrower compass, long before, under the heathen emperors, especially in the intervals of repose, when the earnestness and zeal of Christian life slumbered and gave scope to a worldly spirit.
The difference between the age after Constantine and the age before consists, therefore, not at all in the cessation of true Christianity and the entrance of false, but in the preponderance of the one over the other. The field of the church was now much larger, but with much good soil it included far more that was stony, barren, and overgrown with weeds. The line between church and world, between regenerate and unregenerate, between those who were Christians in name and those who were Christians in heart, was more or less obliterated, and in place of the former hostility between the two parties there came a fusion of them in the same outward communion of baptism and confession. This brought the conflict between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, Christ and antichrist, into the bosom of Christendom itself. (from Schaff's History of the Church)
THYATIRA - ADULTEROUS CHURCH - A.D. 591-1516:
Even during their darkest days of evil, Christians are still God's people. Moreover, the church has never been totally without people who sought to serve Christ. Accordingly, Christ has some words of commendation for those who strive to serve him in their lives:
(Revelation 2:18-19 RSV)
(18) "And to the angel of the church in Thyati'ra write: `The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
(19) "`I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.
Christ said that their latter works would exceed their earlier works. This brings us to a very important point. The people of the Roman Catholic Church will continue to exist as a church body until the time of the rapture. The power of the adulterous church of the Dark Ages would finally be broken. Catholic Christians of the latter days would produce more works acceptable to Christ. I will comment on this aspect later.
Yet, Christ had a serious charge against the church during this period.
(Revelation 2:20-23 RSV)
(20) But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jez'ebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
(21) I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her immorality.
(22) Behold, I will throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings;
(23) and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches shall know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.
Christ condemns this church for tolerating the women Jezebel (verse 20). Jezebel was the evil wife of King Ahab who reigned over ancient Israel. She had constantly opposed the people of God and helped lead the people of Israel into idolatry. Christ was saying that part of his church was a harlot like Jezebel. They had become part of the harlot Babylon:
(Revelation 17:1-2 RSV)
(1) Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters,
(2) with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on earth have become drunk."
The papal hierarchy had become a harlot. They were committing fornication with the kings of the nations that had emerged from the fallen Roman Empire. Phillip Schaff commented as follows concerning the depravity of the papacy during this period:
63. The Degradation of the Papacy in the Tenth Century.
The tenth century is the darkest of the dark ages, a century of ignorance and superstition, anarchy and crime in church and state. The first half of the eleventh century was little better. The dissolution of the world seemed to be nigh at hand. Serious men looked forward to the terrible day of judgment at the close of the first millennium of the Christian era, neglected their secular business, and inscribed donations of estates and other gifts to the church with the significant phrase "appropinquante mundi termino."
The demoralization began in the state, reached the church, and culminated in the papacy. The reorganization of society took the same course. No church or sect in Christendom ever sank so low as the Latin church in the tenth century. The papacy, like the old Roman god Janus, has two faces, one Christian, one antichristian, one friendly and benevolent, one fiendish and malignant. In this period, it shows almost exclusively the antichristian face. It is an unpleasant task for the historian to expose these shocking corruptions; but it is necessary for the understanding of the reformation that followed. The truth must be told, with its wholesome lessons of humiliation and encouragement. No system of doctrine or government can save the church from decline and decay. Human nature is capable of satanic wickedness. Antichrist steals into the very temple of God, and often wears the priestly robes. But God is never absent from history, and His overruling wisdom always at last brings good out of evil. Even in this midnight darkness the stars were shining in the firmament; and even then, as in the days of Elijah the prophet, there were thousands who had not bowed their knees to Baal. Some convents resisted the tide of corruption, and were quiet retreats for nobles and kings disgusted with the vanities of the world, and anxious to prepare themselves for the day of account. Nilus, Romuald, and the monks of Cluny raised their mighty voice against wickedness in high places. Synods likewise deplored the immorality of the clergy and laity, and made efforts to restore discipline. The chaotic confusion of the tenth century, like the migration of nations in the fifth, proved to be only the throe and anguish of a new birth. It was followed first by the restoration of the empire under Otho the Great, and then by the reform of the papacy under Hildebrand. (from Schaff's History of the Church)