One of the most intriguing thoughts I read in a fiction book was written by a Portuguese ex-Priest. In explaining some plot point, he basically said that the Vatican is just the Ancient Roman Empire.
I found it fascinating because not too long ago (but before I read this) I was reading about the “Fall of the Roman Empire”. It is a misnomer. I mean part of the Roman empire moved to Byzantium / Constantinople and ran the Eastern Roman Empire for another 1000 years. Even the Western bit didn’t truly collapse like we think. It was gradually taken over by invading troops, but still center a powerful state in Rome (much like ancient China).
But assume that the Roman Emperors were smart (or seriously lucky). In the mid 393 AD, they define the contents of the Bible – keeping some books, tossing others as heresy. They define Christianity (of which Catholicism was the only acceptable practice) AND then become Pope – ruler of the church. So they trade their physical Empire for a Cultural Imperialistic Empire – but they continue to get tribute to the power, only this time in terms of donations to the Catholic Church, not tributes to Rome. The Pope defines law, approves rulers, allows, disallows or accepts marriages of the great houses of Europe. Was the Catholic Church – for the first 1400 hundred years, just a way for the Romans to maintain an Empire? An empire still richer than anyone can really comprehend.
It makes the actions of Middle Ages’ Popes more understandable. The infighting, the armies, the very actions that appear to us hypocritical (like Popes having a family or murdering others), it makes them understandable in this context.
.I don’t know, I thought it was interesting.