Oxford history of the christian church

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Excerpts from

“The Orthodox Church

in the Byzantine Empire”

By J. M. Hussey

Clarendon Press Oxford

(Please get the full version of this book at your bookstore)


Excerpts from

The Orthodox Church

in the Byzantine Empire”

By J. M. Hussey

Clarendon Press Oxford



Part I. Challenge and Response within the Historical Framework.

I 1. The Christological Problem in the Early Middle Ages.

1. The seventh-century watershed in the Byzantine Empire

2. The theological background to seventh-century monotheletism.

3. Monenergism and monotheletism against a background of imperial crisis.

4. The Quinisextum council (691-692) 30

II. The Iconoclast Controversy 726-843.

1. The North Syrian rulers: the first phase 726-787. The background to the eighth-century crisis.

The opening conflict under Leo III.

2. The first restoration of the icons. The Empress Irene and the council of Nicaea (787).

Conflicting currents 787-843.

Irene and Constantine VI.

Nicephorus I, Michael I, and the Patriarch Nicephorus (802-813).

3. The second phase of iconoclasm.

4. The restoration of orthodoxy in 843: the Synodicon.

5. The significance of the controversy over icons.

III. The Age of Photius (843-886).

1. Patriarch Methodius (843-847): the first patriarchate of Ignatius (847-858).

2. Photius's first patriarchate (858-867).

3. Ignatius's second patriarchate (867-877): the council of Constantinople (869-870).

4. Photius's second patriarchate (877-886): the council of 879-880: the alleged second Photian schism.

5. Photius — churchman and humanist.

6. Byzantine missionary activities in the early middle ages.

IV. Leo VI's Dilemma: Nicholas Mysticus and Euthymius (886-925).

1. Leo VI: the Emperor's fourth marriage.

2. Nicholas I's second patriarchate (912-925); the interdependence of church and state.

V. The Patriarchate 925-1025: the Predominance of Constantinople.

1. Cooperation and criticism 925-970.

2. The imperial advance in the East: the Muslims and the non- Chalcedonian Churches.

3. Caucasian and North Pontic regions: Russia.

4. Byzantium and South Italy.

VI. Increasing Pressures on Constantinople and the Widening Gap 1025-1204.

1. Impending threats.

2. Patriarchs (1025-1081).

3. 1081: a new era or continuity?

4. Philosophers and theologians: individual heretics: ecclesiastical currents.

5. The dualist heresies.

6. Relations with the West.

VII 1 . The Effects of the Fourth Crusade 1204-1261.

1. The patriarchate of Constantinople 1204-1261: the Latins in occupation.

2. Ecclesiastical organization within the various Latin conquests.

3.Thirteenth century rival Byzantine churches: Nicaea and Epirus.

4. The Nicaean Empire and Rome.

VIII. Contacts: Failure and Achievement 1258-1453.

1. Michael VIII Palaeologus and the papacy: Byzantine doubts concerning union 1258-1274.

2. Michael VIII and the council of Lyons II (1274).

3. Byzantine reaction to the union 1274-1282.

4. Andronicus II: internal problems: Josephites and Arsenites: repudiation of the union.

5. Patriarch Athanasius I and his immediate successors.

6. Renewed contacts with the West under Andronicus II and Andronicus III.

7. Palamite problems.

8. John V Palaeologus and John VI Cantacuzenus: Constantinople and the West.

9. Manuel II: the council of Ferrara-Florence and after.

10. The authority of the Byzantine Church in the later middle ages (c.1334-1453).

Part II. Organization and Life of the Orthodox Church in Byzantium.

1. Collegiality: the emergence of the pentarchy; the position of Constantinople.

2. The patriarchate of Constantinople and the Emperor.

3. Canon law: the nomocanons.

4. The Notitiae Episcopatuum: the higher clergy and imperial ceremonial.

5. The Ecumenical Patriarch and his election.

6. Patriarchal administration: the major officials of the Great Church.

7. The patriarchal synod: the metropolitans.

8. Secular clergy in the provinces (eparchies) and in the dioceses 46

9. Monks and monasteries.

10. The spiritual life of the Orthodox in Byzantium.

Bibliographical Note.

General Works.

Atlases, Geography and Topography.

Reference Works.




I SHOULD like to express my grateful thanks to the Trustees of the Leverhulme Foundation for the award of an Emeritus Research Fellowship and to the Trustees of the Bethune-Baker Fund for a grant towards the cost of typing. A good deal of the work for this book was done in the Gennadius Library and in the British School at Athens and more especially in the University of Cambridge Library where I have to thank hard-pressed assistants for their generous help.

This book is built on the work of past and present scholars too numerous to thank individually. But I should like to say in gratitude how much I owe to the late Norman Baynes who introduced me to the thought-world of East Rome. And it is a pleasure to acknowledge my special indebtedness over the years to three living scholars — Jean Darrouzès, Herbert Hunger, and Paul Lemerle -whose distinguished work has opened avenues leading to a more constructive view of an often changing Byzantine society. I am also most grateful to Julian Chrysostomides and Henry Chadwick both of whom read the typescript and made valuable suggestions.

J.M.H. 5 June 1984


IN accordance with the plan of this series this book deals with the Church of the Byzantine Empire from the re-shaping of the polity in the post-Justinianic period of the seventh century to the downfall of Byzantium in the fifteenth century. It was within this framework that one of the main branches of Orthodox Christianity developed and was enabled to give its religion to the neighbouring Slav peoples. When John Meyendorff published his Byzantine Theology in 1974 a reviewer took exception to his title on the ground that the truths of Orthodoxy were not related to any historical period.1 This may be so, but it is also a fact that Orthodox theology was Byzantine theology. Universal truths have to be articulated in a temporal milieu and this articulation however imperfect is that of its generation. The historian cannot therefore discard the world in which medieval eastern Orthodoxy developed, nor ignore the ecclesiastical framework of the Church, and indeed the spirituality of its people is often better understood in the light of the contemporary background.

In the present state of our knowledge a book on the Byzantine Church must necessarily be in the nature of an interim report since much pioneer work remains to be done. Probably the most significant result of the research of this generation is a change of emphasis. Byzantine life is now seen as marked by constant change though at the same time there was loyal adherence to certain traditions governing the outlook of both Church and Empire. It has also become increasingly clear that Byzantium had its own creative contribution to make not only in art (that at least had been allowed), but in other fields and most vital of all in its many-sided religious life. The Church was not a department of state. But it was closely integrated into the daily life of an empire which was regarded as being ideally the mimesis or copy of the heavenly kingdom. Yet in the last resort the Church maintained its own responsibility for the things which were not Caesar's.

This book is written primarily for the non-specialist layman wishing to know something of a Church which was one of the main vitalizing forces in the East Roman Empire. It attempts to trace the medieval history of Greek Orthodoxy in terms of challenge and response; to outline the organization of the Byzantine Church, indicating its essential role in the imperial polity and in Christendom; and finally to suggest that way in which its members tried to achieve what was, and still is, the heart of Orthodoxy, that is, the gradual theosis or deification of each individual Christian.

A recurrent challenge to the Greek Orthodox Church running through its medieval history and beyond came both from the western Latin Church and from the (all too often forgotten) eastern non-Chalcedonian Nestorian and monophysite Churches. This challenge largely turned on the interpretation of Trinitarian and Christological doctrine. In the case of the West it also concerned ecclesiastical authority because the eastern conception of the equality of all bishops and a collegial authority clashed with the Latin development of a single supreme bishop of Rome. The gap between Greek and Latin was there long before the aggravation of 1204. Primarily rooted in theological differences this gap was further widened by cultural, political, and linguistic problems, due in part — as far as Latins and Greeks were concerned — to the differing fortunes of the eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire. But as far as theology went it was also to be found within the eastern provinces and beyond, as the non-Chalcedonian Churches show.

Factual evidence reveals the increasing extent to which the differences between Greek and Latin contributed to a rift which became the concern of all circles in Byzantium, making increasing demands upon diplomats as well as churchmen. For in the later middle ages the restoration of union between the Greek and Latin Churches was closely linked to the pressing need for a united Christian front in the face of a rapidly advancing Islam. Neither Lyons II (1274) nor Ferrara-Florence (1438-9) could provide an acceptable solution. But failure does not mean that these abortive negotiations can for that reason be omitted or watered down. They were significant for various reasons. They underlined the tenacity with which the Orthodox Church maintained its doctrinal and ecclesiological traditions. And they throw light on many aspects of the Byzantine world particularly in the post-1204 years. Behind the more formal diplomatic exchanges many, often conflicting, crosscurrents can be discerned — the mediating Latin friars going backwards and forwards between the papal and imperial courts or on other missions, the dead weight of Greek anti-union opinion, the agony and frustration of Manuel II and his family, the false hopes of Patriarch Joseph and the Emperor John VIII — all this comes out and contributes to a picture of life balanced on a knife-edge, often perforce pessimistic and yet able to produce a Nicholas Cabasilas with his Life in Christ, or a Symeon of Thessalonica urging his people not to count economic gain as more important than supporting the Orthodox episcopate. And in the background the often unfortunate role of the monks in the capital must be balanced by the stabilizing influence of the widely scattered monastic foundations ranging at various times from the Studite house and Athos to the Meteora or the Patir of Rossano and St Saviour of Messina.

East-West ecclesiastical relations also reveal how little the Greeks knew of Latin theology (using 'theologia' in the western doctrinal sense, for to the Greeks it meant the spiritual contemplation of God). The Church, despite differences between its members, was regarded as being one, but it early ceased to draw on its common heritage, at least as far as the Greeks were concerned. The major Greek fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries were rapidly translated into Latin, as was the seventh-century Maximus the Confessor. But the Latin father Augustine of Hippo was not known in Greek until the late middle ages and then only in part, for instance the translation of the De trinitate by the fourteenth-century Manuel Calecas who also translated other later Latin works, as Boethius and Anselm of Canterbury, while his contemporaries the Cydones brothers made Aquinas available. Thus for most of the middle ages the Greeks knew little of the western tradition. It was partly that they had long tended to regard the Latins as 'barbarians' using a language which was in the Greek view ill-suited to express doctrinal truths. It was also partly due to a certain antagonistic undercurrent of political rivalry and hostility, for instance in the earlier period in Italy and the Balkans and then later on over the crusades. Further, the Greeks on the whole did not gravitate much to the West, though there were frequent contacts in Italy. But it was otherwise with the westerners who came East for various reasons. There was always the incentive of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or the journey on crusade which could mean travelling through Byzantine lands, and finally there was the opportunity of actually settling in the conquered Aegean lands. It was only in the late middle ages that the Greeks were brought up against some of the more acceptable aspects of Latin culture (together it must be said with much which they disliked). It was then that the Latin theological works, such as Augustine or Aquinas, began to be translated, though not on a large scale. Much remained unknown and might indeed have been found to be out of line with Greek doctrinal teaching. The Greeks were also in disagreement with the western use of the scholastic method, as they showed when debates took place, particularly in the fourteenth-century disputes. They regarded logic as a useful, indeed an essential, tool, but considered that dialectic could not be applied to the mysteries of faith. Much as some Greeks in the later period might admire individual Latins whom they got to know, with few exceptions (as for instance Demetrius Cydones) they probably felt that their own rich patristic heritage provided for their doctrinal and spiritual needs and for the most part they had no desire to explore western thought.

Thus during the 800 years and more from Heraclius to the end of the Empire the Orthodox Church went its own way. Closely integrated with the daily life of the East Romans, it was able to perfect and adapt its central administration, to organize its provinces and dioceses to meet changing needs, and to introduce its religion and way of life to its Slav neighbours. Above all it deepened its spiritual life which was centred in a developing liturgical round, particularly in the eucharist. This service kept its original character and purpose, but during the course of the middle ages it was gradually enriched by additional actions, responses, hymns, and ceremonies. The Byzantines had a strong feeling for dignified ceremony and symbolism and this left its mark in ecclesiastical as well as imperial developments, bringing out and enhancing the meaning of the liturgy and indeed of the Christian faith. But it did not obscure the purpose of the sacramental life as is evidenced by the writings of the more spiritually minded members of the Church, often monks, but by no means always so.

The vigilance with which the Church guarded doctrinal belief was seen not only in its relations with the Latin Church but in its treatment of heresies which cropped up within the Empire, particularly adherence to ancient Greek thought conflicting with Christian teaching as well as various forms of widespread and recurrent dualism. Such challenges were brought to light and met in public trials and by synodal rulings. Then there was a whole range of dubious superstitions, belief in portents and wonders, demonology, magical practices, to be found at all levels of society. These were to some extent ingrained in human nature and were frequently pinpointed by official condemnation. But often there was a very thin line between superstition and more harmless folklore much of which has survived into modern times.2 Superstitions did not however make up the essential life of Greek Orthodoxy (or of any other Christian Church) and it is therefore not expatiated on here as in some more modern treatments of Byzantium. What mattered was the liturgical life and faithful adherence to the traditions of the Church.

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