By Todd Lewis
Amongst the inchoate movement of the New Right, Dark Enlightenment or Radical Right there is an element that emanates from the neo-pagan revival of the 1970s. This is not an attack on the foundations of Neo-Paganism par se, but a refutation of a certain polemic that has arisen in that quarter against Christians. Stephen McNallan, a practitioner of Asatru, argues that the Norse and Germanic civilizations, thriving and dynamic cultures who were creative and progressive, were destroyed by the Roman Catholic Church, whose imperial spirit was an extension of the Roman Caesars. The Viking raids are cast in the light of a belated response to the imperialist Church under the Pope, and the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne. He cites the Saxon wars and forcible conversion of Germans as the Munich moment, pardon the metaphor, for the Norse. The Viking raids, while a failure, were justifiable self-defense. The Church is further cast as a genocidal destroyer of culture and religion that sought to exterminate the pagans of the north and east.
This is a patently absurd narrative. The first civilization in the west was the Cretan kingdom of the Minoans (2700 BC – 1450 BC). The Minoans were known for their sailors, palace at Knossos and having developed a hot and cold running water system. Western civilization with periodic barbarian invasions sprung from that root and eventually flowered in the great civilization of Athens and Rome. During this time science, philosophy, rhetoric, geometry, poetry writing, history, architecture, and law were developed and refined to a level unmatched except in China. From the 3500 years from Minos to Charlemagne what did the Norse and Teutons produce? For all practical purposes nothing. Runes, longboats, broadswords and sacred groves are a poor replacement for Aeschylus, Herodotus, Plato, Numa and Virgil. So these Northmen were a completely unproductive and irrelevant race inhabiting the hyperborean regions of the Europe. Irrelevant, accept for their periodic murderous expeditions south.
Neo-Pagans would have you believe that it was the Ancient Romans and the Medieval Church that initiated a war of extermination against the religiously tolerant pagans in a paroxysm of imperialism. This is an absurd claim; first blood was drawn by the Teutons. After smashing the thriving Hallstate Culture (Earliest known celtic civilization), these unquenchable pagans poured over the Alps into the Roman province in Cisalpine Gaul. The tribes who invaded Roman lands were the Cimbri and Teutoni; at the battles of Noreia and Arausio they smashed two Roman armies. This tide of the Northmen was finally stopped by Marius at the battles of Aquae Sextiae and Vercellae. All future Roman wars were seen in this light of preventing a repeat of the Cimbri and Teutoni invasion.
The countless wars between the Romans and Germans from Julius Caesar till the Emperor Honorius were largely inconclusive, but the fear Rome had of the Northmen was proven valid in 406 with the Rhine frontier stripped of its armies, by Stilicho in order to fight Alaric, the heathens swarmed into Gaul. The great classical civilization which had lasted for 1000 years was seen to be no more in the west. Desolation, conquest, slavery and dislocation were the norm. Brutish pagans destroyed the great classical civilization of Rome. Demographic collapse followed, the cities shrunk, the population disappeared. In England the worst was yet to come. The bloodthirsty heathens (Angles, Jutes and Saxons) engaged in an unprovoked war of extermination against the Romano-Celtic inhabitants. The Saxons were delayed by the rallying figure of Arthur, but he could not stop the heathen hordes. A once thriving Romano-Briton civilization disappeared only to survive as echoes in Wales and Ireland. The horrors reported in Gildas, Bede and the Anglo-Saxon chronicle are but a taste of what the invasion must have meant for the inhabitants of England. Classical and Christian learning and light was replaced by superstitious heathenism and darkness.
The darkest days of the west were only the night before the dawn. As the Saxons were committing acts of genocide in England, another Romano-Briton, Patrick was converting the Irish and bringing to them the light of classical and Christian knowledge. Patrick ended human sacrifice and slavery in Ireland. Ireland was transformed from a primitive backwater at the edge of the world to the center of western scholarship, especially Latin. Time would fail me in describing the conversion of the Picts by Columba or the Northumbrians by Aiden, or the Alemani by St. Gall or Lombard Italy by Columbanus, or the necklace of monasteries planted by these wandering mendicants from Ireland, to England, to Gaul to Italy where the light of learning was preserved in these dark days. The long process of reconverting these savages from heathenism or arianism was begun by both the Irish and the Papacy. The most salient aspect of Celtic Christianity was that it sought to make brothers of those who, by the right of retribution, should have been killed for murdering their ancestors in England. This expression of Christian love, rather than heathen revenge, produced the great centers of learning in York and Jarrow, producing Alcuin and Bede respectively.
With the Merovingians and Charlemagne the first tentative steps to restore the light of reason and faith occurred in Achen the imperial capital. Charlemagne gathered to himself all the great men of his age, by default mostly Irish and Christian Anglo-Saxons. He oversaw the preservation of ancient texts. We all take for granted Carolingian Miniscule a product of this age. Carolingian Minuscule was the first attempt to introduce lower-case letters, paragraphs and punctuation in grammar. Before texts were all capital letters with no spaces, just one large block of text on the scroll or page. This Renaissance whose intellectual heart lay in Ireland was brutally smashed in the 9th century.
Not being satisfied with destroying the Western Roman Empire the Northmen sought to destroy its successor the Holy Roman Empire. This is where McNallan’s claim of defensive war is absurd. If the Viking raids were retribution for the Saxon wars, which is an invalid assumption of pagan solidarity which was foreign to their tribal life, why was Lindisfarne (founded by St. Aiden) sacked in 793 and the numerous Irish and Christian Saxon monasteries looted and burnt to the ground? What offense had they committed against the Norse? None! McNallan is just making a specious justification for genocide. The inhabitants of the Hebrides and the Picts of Eastern Scotland did not survive the Viking raids. The great Irish civilization was extirpated, never to revive. The Anglo-Saxons under Alfred and his successors and the Kings of West Frankia barely held off the savage hordes of the north. The 10th and 11th centuries saw the gradual absorption of England into the Norse Empire, until King Cnut ruled, but by that time Cnut and Denmark were already Christian.
The Christianization of Norway, Denmark and Sweden were defensive measures to bring the barbarians to heel. Since no army in Europe could have conquered the Norse, it took the Gospel of peace to do so. From 1050 onward, after the Christianization of the Norse and Magyars, Western Europe had the safety it needed to engage in the reconstruction of western civilization and the modern scientific age, no thanks to the Norse invasions. In short we can view the millennium-long struggle from the Cimbri and Teutoni to King Cnut as a struggle between barbarism and ignorance and classical learning and Christianity on the other, with the latter triumphing not in conquest and pillage and rape, but in charity and love through conversion.