Oxford history of the christian church


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



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


The bishops and their congregations constitute the Orthodox Church and basically, whatever the rank, the episcopal office was the same. There was nevertheless a clearly marked episcopal hierarchy. In the patriarchate of Constantinople this was headed by the oecumenical Patriarch or archbishop. Then there were the leading bishops with the title of metropolitan, whose sees were the centres of the eparchies or provinces. Occasionally a metropolitan would be called an 'archbishop', as in the case of Athens, but he was obviously in a different class from the archbishop of Constantinople. The highest ranking metropolitan was given the title of 'protothronus', and similarly the highest suffragan in each province. Order of precedence was laid down in the Notitiae Episcopatuum. 47 Under the metropolitan were his suffragan bishops, each with their own diocese. The autocephalous archbishop was a special case. Originally the metropolitan see was the chief city in a civil province, but should the government divide this province so that a second city gained this status, then its bishop considered that he should be raised to the rank of metropolitan. This was opposed by the existing metropolitan in the original province (on grounds of loss of prestige and finance) and a solution was then found in giving the newly created metropolitan a purely honorary rank as an independent or autocephalous archbishop holding directly from the Patriarch and without any suffragans. 48 This kind of archbishop is found throughout the middle ages and is distinct from such as the autonomous archbishop of Cyprus who had suffragans and was virtually independent of the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The election of a metropolitan came to take place in the synod in Constantinople (as described above) and not in his province. This was more practical when metropolitans were so often in the capital. Their responsibilities within their diocese followed much the same pattern as those of their suffragans, though their absence meant that these had to be increasingly delegated. Procedure for the election of a bishop was laid down by canon law as early as Nicaea I (can. 49). The metropolitan had to convoke the suffragans of his province (eparchy); three would constitute a quorum. They were to select three names. The metropolitan took no share in this, but he had the right to choose one of the three names submitted and he then proceeded to consecrate the newly-elected bishop with the obligatory assistance of two or three suffragans. Those absent from the meeting could vote and affirm by letter and the majority were to prevail. In filling the vacant see there was to be a delay of not more than three months. It is possible that Justinian I favoured the participation of clergy and leading citizens, but the sole right of the bishops was reaffirmed by Nicaea II, can. 3. But in this as in other cases, the rulings of the canons had come to be modified owing to altered circumstances, and the twelfth-century canonists were not unanimous in their interpretations. In the case of episcopal elections the practical difficulty which arose was the frequent presence in Constantinople of the metropolitans and the problems created for the diocese should there be a long delay in filling the vacant see, apart from contravening the three months' limit. Ninth-century evidence points to episcopal elections in Constantinople and by the mid-eleventh century it was sufficiently frequent for Patriarch Michael Cerularius to attempt to stop the practice. He failed and in 1072 Patriarch John Xiphilinus sanctioned the election of bishops in Constantinople. This clearly continued and Balsamon thought such elections illegal, but he is misleading for the practice was regarded as normal. In the course of a synodal enquiry in 1143 criticizing the consecration of bishops by the metropolitan alone the actual election of two bishops in Constantinople was spoken of as usual procedure. 49

By canon law episcopal office was incompatible with secular office. 50 This did not debar a bishop from participation in nonecclesiastical affairs, but he was considered to be acting in an advisory capacity for moral reasons. In this respect he had many obligations often of an informal kind as for instance the letters of the eleventh-century humanist Archbishop John of Euchaita show. A bishop might be charged with watching over local officials, supervising prisons, and in times of need giving encouragement to those resisting enemy attack. His more specifically ecclesiastical duties included pastoral care (preaching on Sundays and festivals though not in other bishops' dioceses), and watching out for signs of heresy. His administrative duties covered supervision of monasteries and charitable institutions (unless these were specifically exempt by their typicon or by stauropegial foundation). He was responsible for such divergent duties as overall care for liturgical offices and for the diocesan temporalities. In this he was assisted by officials attached to his cathedral church who had the same duties as those serving the Great Church though on a much smaller scale and without certain obligations peculiar to the patriarchal clergy in the capital. By canon law the appointment of a financial officer, the oeconomus, was obligatory. 51 This was extended to cover all churches and monasteries. And it became necessary at the outset of each episcopate to make clear what was the bishop's personal property which could be claimed by his heirs at his death. Outside his diocese the bishop had to attend his metropolitan's synod held at least once a year, though central synodal duties as well as a certain predilection for Constantinople often meant that the metropolitan was not in his province. And increasing enemy inroads, not to say Latin occupation, must have frequently resulted in the absence of the bishop too, as well as disruption of cathedral and diocesan life. Translation from one see to another was normally forbidden though this did occur, increasingly so with the loss of territory to the Muslims.

One of the bishop's main duties was jurisdictional. By reason of his position he had always been regarded as a natural arbiter. This responsibility developed into a recognized and defined authority to act as judge in his court in certain cases. Guide-lines on this subject were laid down before the seventh century especially by the legislation of Justinian I. This bishop might be appealed to by laity in matters involving moral issues. He had authority over his clergy who were forbidden to seek redress in the secular courts (Chalc. can. 9 and later rulings). 52 If laity brought civil suits against the clergy of Constantinople these were to be heard by the Patriarch or his delegate, so Heraclius ruled in 629. 53 Similarly such cases in the provinces or dioceses were judged by the metropolitan or the bishop assisted by his leading officers. His deputy and chairman of the court (as in Constantinople) would be his chartophylax. Marriage problems were originally dealt with by both secular and ecclesiastical courts and indeed often by patriarchal ruling as the entries in the registers show. Civil and canon law differed on this subject, but the views of the Church on the indissoluble nature of the marriage union tended to prevail. In 1084 Alexius I supported the ecclesiastical claim to sole jurisdiction in this field, 54 but not with entire success. It was an intricate subject riddled with problems, particularly concerning the prohibited degrees of kindred and affinity.

Various penalties could be imposed by the Church such as suspension from office or excommunication or relegation to a monastery. In cases of very serious crime involving a penalty of exile or death the cleric would be unfrocked and handed over to the secular authority for punishment. Alexius I tried to insist that in civil cases between laity and clergy the defendant must be tried in his own court, 55 that is, if a cleric was bringing an accusation against a layman the case would be tried in the secular court, a practice which was criticized by canonists. Appeal was from bishop to metropolitan and his synod composed of all the bishops of the province, and then failing this to the Patriarch. Charges against metropolitans, or by a metropolitan against one of his suffragan bishops or other clergy came to the Patriarch and the standing synod in Constantinople. There was no appeal against the Patriarch even though this might be the court of first instance. There were isolated cases of appeal to the Pope but this was extremely rare. Balsamon seems to deny that appeal could be made from the Patriarch to the Emperor, though this would appear to conflict with his opinion that the Emperor was above the canons, not that he was consistent in this view of imperial authority.

The secular clergy as a whole were divided into major orders (bishops, priests, and deacons) and minor orders (subdeacons, readers, exorcists, cantors, and doorkeepers). There were also deaconesses, though these declined in importance during the later middle ages. As already shown, bishops varied in status though their ecclesiastical order was the same, that is, there were metropolitans, autocephalous archbishops, and suffragan bishops. 56 Certain conditions governing age, character, and minimum education were laid down by canon law. These were occasionally modified, sometimes by imperial ruling. Canon 14 of the Quinisextum council (691) said that a man however worthy could not be ordained priest before he was thirty years old, and similarly a deacon had to be twenty-five and a deaconess forty. All clergy except bishops could be married provided that this had taken place before they were ordained subdeacon, though certain women, such as actresses or prostitutes or widows, were ruled out and so were second marriages. Bishops if already married had to separate from their wives. From time to time the disciplinary canons of the councils reminded all ranks of clergy (from bishops downwards) of the conduct expected of them in matters of dress and behaviour. They were warned against gambling, haunting racecourses, taverns, and theatres, or taking part in unseemly festivities after a marriage ceremony, 57 but it does not of course follow that all were addicted to such practices.

A certain standard of education was required, particularly from bishops who were expected to be in the habit of reading with care the canons and the Scriptures and should know the Psalter by heart (Nicaea II, can. 2). The great ecclesiastics of Hagia Sophia were often highly educated and were among the scholars of their day. But these were comparatively few in number. At the beginning of the twelfth century the Emperor Alexius I evidently found resources available for pastoral work in the capital inadequate for he instituted a special salaried grade for clergy and even monks and laity who were to be trained as didaskaloi to carry out such teaching duties. 58 During the twelfth century there was certainly opportunity for men and boys to attend ecclesiastical teaching establishments in the capital and probably elsewhere in large towns such as Thessalonica, Athens, or Corinth. Modern scholars sometimes speak only of an 'intellectual élite' thus giving an incomplete picture. Surviving textbooks used in teaching subjects such as reading and writing, grammar, and geography, 59 point to the demand for at least a moderate standard which must have profited many who did not at the time know that they were going to join the ranks of the clergy. Ecclesiastical, like state, administration was highly organized with its various departments, and to a lesser extent this was also the case in the provinces and dioceses. Such administration could not have functioned without a personnel with a reasonable standard of literacy and numeracy, though there may well have been very few in the top flight. Nor could the educational standard of the country clergy have been entirely negligible. It was essential for them to have had some education in order to perform their part in the liturgy and this applied not only to the priest but also to the deacon and the reader who both had a special role in the service. Often it was the country papas who provided elementary education in the village and the psalms were always favourite material in teaching children to read. Monasteries had their schools though intended primarily not for the outside public but for boys meaning to take monastic vows. The ninth-century Studite house in Constantinople had a special teacher for its children. In the mideleventh century on the far eastern borders of the Empire Eustathius Boilas expected the clergy of his church of the Theotokos to give instruction to boys on his estate with a view to their serving the church. Evidence, scattered as it is, suggests that education at a modest level was generally available and the Church profited from this.

The numbers of the clergy at any given time cannot be assessed even approximately, but both literary and archaeological evidence during the 800 years covered by this book point to continual foundations of churches, and particularly monasteries, each of which would have had one or more of its own churches (as at Hosios Loukas in Phocis). It is only necessary to look through the two volumes of Janin listing the churches and monasteries of Constantinople and certain provinces, 60 or the Tabula ImperiiByzantini Byzantini which includes sections on the Church, 61 to realize the continuous activity of Christians in the East Roman Empire. Constantinople with its opportunities for ambitious churchmen as well as laity and its obvious cultural amenities has all too often overshadowed life in the provinces which needed its clergy as much as did the capital. Some figures can however be known. The approximate numbers of the various ranks of the episcopate can be calculated from the Notitiae Episcopatuum. The clergy attached to Hagia Sophia, including the pentades (the leading officials in nine groups of five), appeared to have been more than 600 in the seventh century when, at the instigation of the Patriarch Sergius, the Emperor Heraclius decreed that the Great Church was overstaffed. He laid down the maximum number for each order from priest to doorkeeper. Even then the total was more than a hundred in excess of the number permitted by Justinian I who had tried to deal with the same problem. At the same time Heraclius also issued a ruling about the clergy serving the church of St Mary at Blachernae.

Churches and chapels in each diocese were under the control of the bishop. They fell into two main classes. The 'catholic' (kαϑολικαί) churches were parish churches for general use and there were not many of them. Then there were the chapels, oratories, and churches to be found in monasteries or in the private houses of the wealthy, or on country estates, or indeed built by the villagers themselves for their own use. These private buildings were by far the greater number. The position of the 'catholic' or public churches was clear. Their clergy were appointed by the bishop of the diocese and they administered the main sacraments as of right. Private churches, which proliferated often in conjunction with a monastic foundation, appointed their priests subject to the bishop's approval; they were supposed to get episcopal consent for performing baptisms and marriages as well as for the celebration of the liturgy. This seems to have been an attempt to safeguard the rights of parish priests in the towns and proved to be a continuing battle. In the private category there were very diverse kinds of church or chapel. The oratories in a rich man's house evidently attracted priests from provincial dioceses, hence Nicaea II, can. 10, which forbade clergy to go into other dioceses particularly the diocese of this imperial city and 'live with princes and celebrate the divine liturgy in their chapels' unless sanctioned by their own bishop and by the Patriarch. Very different were the two private churches of the Theotokos and St Barbara (the mortuary chapel) built by the eleventh-century Eustathius Boïlas on his eastern estate and carefully provided for in his will. 62 Presumably without his church of the Theotokos his tenants would not have had the services of a priest. Such churches on a country estate were not likely to be in competition with a 'catholic' church and fulfilled a genuine need. But it might well be otherwise in a city where there was an increasing tendency to establish private chapels and to found monasteries in which some of the family fortune was invested in the form of an endowment. In practice this permanently withdrew financial resources from episcopal control, and in some cases also from the state, as more than one Emperor was quick to perceive but failed to prevent. 63

The finances of the Church were complicated and the subject of conciliar and imperial legislation, and the guide-lines had been laid down before the seventh century. 64 The responsibility for private churches and chapels rested with the founder as was made clear in ecclesiastical legislation (for example Nicaca II, can. 17). The vast complex' of the Great Palace had its own churches and chapels which were served by the imperial clergy, a much sought-after office carrying with it a sum on appointment and a regular salary. Less exalted private foundations also made their own arrangements. The main body of the Church, the Patriarch, and the bishops and the clergy under them, derived their income from donations given by the faithful. These might include modest offerings in kind, but the vast bulk of ecclesiastical revenue came from property which steadily accumulated over the centuries. This was inalienable, though the Church sometimes had to struggle to preserve its rights over property which had either been leased out, or, more rarely, directed to imperial need in times of crisis.

Bishops and clergy were originally not supposed to claim fees or regular obligatory offerings for their services. This was explicitly forbidden in pre-eleventh-century canons, but was evidently a common practice. In any case there was probably a very thin line between a precise fee and a customary 'gift', perhaps after a marriage or baptism or an ordination. During the eleventh century payments to the bishop were admitted and regulated by imperial and patriarchal legislation. The canonikon was an annual tax levied on villages and varying in proportion to the number of families there and calculated in terms of what they were supposed to be able to afford. In the twelfth century some could not manage the usual 'gift'. 'Then be content with what you are offered' was the advice of Balsamon to Mark Patriarch of Alexandria when he brought up this point. 65 Priests of 'catholic' churches had to make an annual payment of one nomisma to their bishop and this became extended to private churches and monastic foundations. The longstanding 'gifts' made to the bishop by an ordinand were also regulated during the eleventh century. A bishop got three nomismata for ordaining a priest or deacon, and one for a reader. 66 Likewise at a lower level priests received certain fees. At the top imperial bounty expended large sums on special occasions such as a coronation. The De Cerimoniis mentions the sum of 100 pounds of gold for the clergy of Hagia Sophia. There were also from time to time suggestions that the higher clergy of the Great Church lived in too lavish a style. In the early fourteenth century Patriarch Athanasius thought that they could well cut down their income. He was no doubt mindful of the want and penury being suffered at that time by the flood of refugees from Turkish-occupied Asia Minor.

But most clergy were not of episcopal rank or leading officeholders at Hagia Sophia. Those deputed by the bishop to serve the comparatively few 'catholic' churches in a town might be granted an allowance or diaria paid in money or kind, or in the later middle ages they were allotted klerikata, that is, property from which they enjoyed the proceeds as a lessee, the Church retaining ownership. There were far more private than 'catholic' churches especially in the countryside and the owner, that is, the founder or his heirs, sometimes paid a salary to the priest as provided for in the foundation charter. Many such priests would also work like other small farmers on the estate thus living partly off their produce. Work of this kind in order to make a living was sanctioned by the Church, but there were repeated prohibitions on holding lucrative offices or engaging in money-making occupations such as banking or running an inn. 67 It would be rash to generalize about the economic position of parish priests. Evidence from the thirteenth century onwards, from sources such as Chomatianus's rulings, Athos archives, patriarchal registers, shows considerable variation in their material circumstances. In both city and countryside there were instances of wealthy parish clergy as well as others living on the poverty line. There was also variation in function. Being familiar with local problems they might be called in to help resolve disputes, perhaps concerning property, or to act as witnesses to charters and wills, or even to perform marriages which offended against canon law, in which case they were called to account by the patriarchal synod. 68



The acceptance of secular offices by the clergy was prohibited, though there were frequent instances of the violation of this rule, as for example Michael Psellus who began his career as teacher and politician, then became a monk, and finally succeeded in emerging from monastic life (though not without censure) to resume his political career. In the later middle ages, when the Empire was in process of disintegrating, churchmen took office in the interests of the state and acted for instance as General Judges. One profession however remained strictly forbidden. In no circumstances were clergy allowed to take life or fight and this prohibition was adhered to throughout the middle ages and the penalties were severe. In the West it is true that episcopal tenants-in-chief had to retire from the royal council when it came to taking life and limb, but on occasion they certainly fought in battle, notably during the crusades, thus rousing the astonishment and indeed the bitter criticism of the Orthodox. Thus in some ways the secular clergy in the East Roman Empire were in contrast to those of the Latin Church. They did not feature in Byzantine society as a separate entity or 'estate'. There were no powerful prince-bishops as in Germany, no great ecclesiastical feudatories. Orthodox clergy had the special rules or nomocanons appropriate to their needs and calling, but there were no ecclesiastical tenants-in-chief to sit as of right in the senate or the imperial council. In this respect within its conservative framework Byzantine society was much more loosely woven than in the West. This does not imply that the secular clergy were not conscious of their place in the patriarchate and in the Church. It was this which sustained them. From the political angle when Michael VIII recaptured Constantinople he was attempting an impossible task and the rot set in. But not so in the life of the Church. To the secular clergy the Great Church was the traditional centre of the patriarchate and its re-establishment there in 1261, even though in difficult and frequently changing circumstances, was welcomed. While the state ran down, the patriarchate maintained and increased its authority.



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