I often think about my gaps in historical knowledge, which are undoubtedly small when compared to my ignorance of which I am not even aware. One such topic involves the Roman Christians’ experience under Arian dominion. Many people mistakenly think that the Germanic invaders in late antiquity were pagans, but most of them were Arians who seem to have treated the conquered Catholic population with a good deal of mercy. I would like to know more about the occupation and how it affected the religious climate in Rome. I know that Roman popes and other Catholic bishops had extensive diplomatic relations with the Arian rulers, but I do not know if there was significant political pressure or persecution due to religious differences.
Much of the Arian controversy in the East was due to politics. Constantine’s heirs were Arians or Arian sympathizers, and the eastern empire was the more interesting half in the fourth century controversy. Non-specialists know a bit about the theological ragings in the East, while we do not hear much about the West. Why? The following are some uninformed but reasonable guesses.
—By the time of the Arian ascendency in the West, the Orthodox position had been solidly established and defended due to the theological work and conciliar decisions of the fourth century. Therefore, the Catholic populace in the West was dedicated to the Nicene formulation, and the Arians had no chance of convincing them otherwise.
—Likewise, we could say that the firm Orthodoxy of the Roman Church had never succumbed to Arianism from within—from influences internal to the empire. It is thus not surprising that the Romans never succumbed to Arianism from without.
—The Germanic Arians persisted in their (recent) ancestral commitment to Arianism for tribal reasons. Once they settled down and began to engage the issue theologically, they slowly converted to the Catholic Church.
—Similarly, the Germanic Arians were Arian for tribal reasons; Arian missionaries had converted their pagan tribes to a heretical form of Christianity. Their interest in Arianism was not theologically grounded. Therefore, when they took over Western lands, they did not do so to impose Arianism. They wanted riches and power. Like the Mongols, they could have been religiously tolerant because they were largely theologically apathetic. In the East, by contrast, the Arians were devoted to the cause for religious reasons.
—In the fourth century East, the Arians benefitted from the support of the established government and, quite often, ecclesial leadership. In the fifth century West, the Arians were foreign conquerors. The populace would have been more resistant to the “other.”
—The Germanic Arian invaders did not displace the population but only the imperial leadership. They did not have the numbers to transform Western lands into Arian bastions. The West remained Catholic just as England, after William’s invasion, retained its Anglo-Saxon language. Eventually, the Plantagenets adopted the conquered’s speech, and the Arians adopted the Catholic faith.
—The Germanic invaders were not prepared to run the civilization that they conquered. They had no spare time to invest in religious reformation.
—The Germanic Arians may not have seen the Catholic Church as inimical as the Arians in the East. For they were more recent converts to Christianity from a more primitive paganism than Greco-Roman paganism. Therefore, they may have been tolerant of the Catholics because they were more likely to identify Catholics as religious kinsmen when compared to the paganism of their recent past and of their contemporary cousins north of the Danube.
I would like to know more about the topic if anyone would like to suggest resources.