Our picture of the expansion of Christianity in late antique Italy is only sketchy. Only sixteen Italian bishops attended a council in Rome in 313. A substantial growth in numbers can be assumed for the fifth century; at the close ofthe sixth century the number of 250 episcopal sees seems to be realistic, a fifth of them in the northern parts. Christian penetration of the countryside intensified in the fifth century: rural monasticism apparently played a role. The political instability that accompanied the dissolution of Theoderic's Ostrogothic kingdom in the sixth century, particularly the invasion of the Lombards, seems to have partly retarded the Christianisation of the countryside.61

The civil diocese of Italy was divided into Italia suburbicaria with Rome as its centre and in the north Italia annonaria with Milan as its centre. For the bishops of Italia suburbicaria the Roman bishop was the metropolitan. During the fourth century Milan became the ecclesiastical centre of Italia annonaria. When, however, the residence of the emperor was moved from Milan to Ravenna at the beginning of the fifth century, Milan lost its prominent position. In the longer run this resulted in a tripartition of ecclesiastical Italia annonaria with Milan, Ravenna and Aquileia as metropolitan sees.62

60 R. Markus, Gregory the Great, 125-42.

61 E. Pack, 'Italia I', 1166-8 (statistics of episcopal sees), 1177-82 (spread of rural Christianity).

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