The northward expansion of Byzantine Christianity

The expansion of the Byzantine wing of the Catholic Church to the east was long estopped by the chronic warfare between the Roman Empire and the Zoroastrian Sas-sanian dynasty which ruled in Mesopotamia and Persia. Beginning with the seventh century expansion to both east and south was effectively blocked by Islam.

However, to the north the situation was not so forbidding. To be sure, pagans, largely Slavs, Avars, and Bulgars, had broken through the imperial defenses and had settled in what had once been imperial and Christian territory. Slavs had infiltrated into Macedonia, Epirus, Greece, and Asia Minor. Scandinavians, the Northmen, moving southward, had taken possession of part of what was later to be Russia and were raiding the Byzantine coasts. In 860, for example, they attacked Constantinople itself. In the 8oo's the pagan Magyars established themselves in the modern Hungary. Yet these invaders were of a "lower" stage of "civilization" than were the Christian Greeks and tended to adopt the latter's culture and religion. Before the middle of the tenth century the conversion of all of these except the Northmen — the Varangians — north of the Black Sea was well under way. Moreover, through contacts made possible by commerce, Byzantine Christianity was spreading among the peoples of the Caucasus.

Beginning with the reconquest of North Africa, under Justinian, as we have seen, Catholic Christianity resumed the expansion in that region which had been interrupted by the Vandal occupation in the preceding century. Numbers of the Berbers were converted. However, the Arab conquest brought that to an end and, as we have noted, Christianity rapidly lost ground.

In lands which remained under the administration of the Byzantine continuation of the Roman Empire the conversion of the invaders was part of the assimilation to "Christian" Greek culture. Following Roman practice, the imperial armies were in part recruited from "barbarian" peoples. Since the state was officially Christian, festivals were regularly observed among the troops in honour of the Virgin Mary and the saints, and the armies were deemed to be fighting in behalf of the Catholic faith. Those who came into the ranks as pagans would, therefore, speedily conform. In Asia Minor, Greece, Macedonia, and Epirus, conversions seem to have come about unspectacularly and through the ordinary machinery of the diocesan organization. We hear of the monks of Mt. Athos baptizing a large body of Slavs. The Patriarch of Constantinople appointed inspectors to oversee the work of conversion in the European provinces. We read of men of Slavic blood high in the Church, among them at least one Patriarch of Constantinople.

The conversion of the Slavs outside the areas which were continuously under the political control of Constantinople proceeded more slowly, but made rapid progress in the second half of the ninth century. Some of it, as we are to see, was through German missionaries and to the Latin wing of the Catholic Church. Some, however, usually that in the regions nearest Constantinople, was by missionaries from the Greek Church.

The most famous of the early missionaries to the Slavs from the Eastern wing of the Catholic Church were the two brothers, Constantine (also known as Cyril from the name which he assumed late in life) and Methodius. Shortly before the year 852 the Moravians were won to a nominal profession of the Christian faith. Precisely how that was accomplished we do not know, but within a few years Italian, German, and Greek missionaries were said to be labouring among them. Sometime in the years 861, 862, or 863 the prince of the Moravians, Rastislav, himself a Christian, asked the Byzantine Emperor for missionaries to instruct his people. That Emperor was Michael III whom we have already met in connexion with the end of the iconoclastic controversy and with Photius. Michael, often contemptuously known as "the drunkard," was more noted for his dissipations than his piety. However, in his name and perhaps at the instance of his minister, Bardas, and on the recommendation of Photius, then in the first period of his patriarchate, the brothers were appointed.

Methodius and Constantine are said to have been sons of a prominent citizen of Salonika, an officer in the army. Methodius was the older and may have been a civil official before entering the monastic life. Constantine, the younger, is reported to have gained distinction as a teacher and philosopher and to have been a missionary to the Khazars in what is now Russia. Tradition has it that before the brothers left Constantinople Constan-

tine had devised a script for the writing of Slavonic and had begun the translation of the Gospels into that tongue. Whether this was the first reduction of Slavonic to writing we do not know, nor are we sure which of the ancient Slavonic alphabets, the Cyrillic or the Glagolithic, was his work.

Rastislav received the brothers with honour and they began the instruction for which they had come. Constantine continued his translation and put the liturgy and some other religious literature into Slavonic. In doing this he was following the custom of the East, where the Bible and the services of the Church were customarily in the vernacular. However, in Moravia he met opposition. This was probably from German clergy who were penetrating that region. Jealous of Byzantine influence, they maintained that the only languages permissible in the Eucharist were the three which were alleged to have been in Pilate's placard on the cross of Christ — Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. This became a cause of controversy with the Germans which was to plague the lives of both brothers.

Methodius and Cyril went to Rome (868), thus acknowledging the authority of the see of Peter. This must have been balm to the soul of the Pope, then Hadrian II, as recognition of his authority by Greek priests in his dispute for jurisdiction with the Patriarch of Constantinople. Yet the Pope wished to avoid giving unnecessary offense to the powerful Germans. He is said to have received the brothers cordially, to have given approval to the Slavonic service bonks, to have permitted the use of Slavonic in the Eucharist in some of the churches in Rome, and to have made arrangements for the ordination of several of the candidates for the priesthood who had come to Rome with the missionaries. Constantine died in Rome (February 14, 869).

Heeding a last wish of his brother, Methodius continued the mission to the Slavs. Possibly at the request of one of the Slavic princes, the Pope revived an ancient bishopric in Illyricum and appointed Methodius to it, presumably welcoming this opportunity to strengthen, through a Greek, the jurisdiction which he claimed in that area. The Germans were offended. Methodius was tried and condemned by a synod of Germans and for two years and a half was confined in a German monastery. The Pope eventually obtained his release, rebuked two German bishops who were involved, and ordered his restoration to his see. Yet Rome compromised with the Germans and Pope John VIII, he who confirmed the reinstatement of Photius, ordered Methodius not to use Slavonic. Perhaps, in view of the needs of the mission in Bulgaria, John later relented and permitted Slavonic in the services of the Church. John (c. 879) made Methodius archbishop and head of the hierarchy for the Moravians. Methodius is said to have visited Constantinople in 882 and to have been received cordially by Photius. Photius established in Constantinople a school for Slavonic studies. This became a refuge for Slavonic priests who had been sold into slavery by a hostile prince and had then been freed by Venetians and sent to Constantinople. Methodius died in 884 or 885.

The course of the pupils of Methodius continued to be troubled. Probably at the instance of German clergy, Rome again withdrew its permission for the use of Slavonic. In the year 900 the pagan Magyars crossed the Danube, soon made themselves the masters of much of the area in which Constantine and Methodius had laboured, and Christianity suffered. Yet the work of translating Christian literature into Slavonic went on and contributed greatly to the spread and nourishment of the Christian faith in Bulgaria and, after 950, in Russia.

It was through the Byzantine wing of the Catholic Church that Christianity made its chief gains among the Serbs, The Emperor Heraclius (reigned 610-641), whom we have already met in connexion with the Monothelete controversy and the Persian and Arab invasions, sent missionaries who baptized some of the Serbs. In the second half of the ninth century Basil I attacked the Serbian pirates who were preying on commerce, swept them off the seas, laid waste their strongholds, and, sending them priests, compelled them to accept baptism.

We have already had occasion to say something of the conversion of Bulgaria. That, however, is so important that it demands a more comprehensive statement. The Bulgars were a people of Asiatic origin and of Turkish or Hunnish stock. In the second half of the seventh century they had made themselves masters of extensive territories north of Constantinople. They were so near that capital that they repeatedly threatened it, especially in those perilous decades when the Arabs were making great gains. They were a minority who ruled over a population which was predominantly Slav.

As we have seen, the Khagan or King of the Bulgars, Boris, was baptised in 864 or 865. Boris seems to have been considering that step for some time. One of the Carolin-gians, Louis the German, whom Boris had defeated, believed that he had persuaded him to receive the rite. While the Bulgarian army was out of the country assisting Louis, the Byzantine forces invaded the country and Boris purchased peace by ceding some territory, promising to withdraw from his alliance with Louis, acknowledging the suzerainty of Michael III, and accepting baptism. Envoys of his were baptized in Constantinople and a mission of Greek clergy sent by Photius went to Bulgaria and baptized the prince himself.

This act of Boris precipitated a rebellion of the Bulgar aristocracy. It may be that Boris wished to use his new faith as a means towards introducing European civilization and of strengthening his own power as against that of the nobles. We shall see that happening in more than one kingdom in succeeding centuries. To this the nobles would quite understandably object. Boris put down the rebellion and furthered the instruction and baptism of his subjects. As we have noted, missionaries came from the Byzantine Empire — Greeks, Armenians, and Paulicians — and a mass conversion was soon in progress. Missionaries also entered from the West.

We have remarked that Boris wished to have a patriarch of his own for Bulgaria. It may be that his motive was in part to make certain that the Bulgarian church would not be used to further the political designs of either the Byzantines or the Germans. It is probable that he at least wished to have his realm and his church on a full equality with Constantinople. We have reported how he bargained with both the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople to attain this ambition and took advantage of the rivalry between the two sees to gain his end. Boris did not at once obtain a patriarch, but in 870 Ignatius consecrated a Bulgar as archbishop and sent him with ten bishops and many priests to his new see. In spite of the surrender by Photius in 879-880, as part of his peace-making with Rome, of his patriarchal powers in Bulgaria, Boris continued relations with Constantinople. This was natural, for that city was much nearer than Rome. He sent a younger son, Simeon, to Constantinople to be educated as a monk, presumably with the hope that he would return to head the church in Bulgaria, thus keeping both state and church in the hands of one family.

Some of the Slavonic clergy who had been trained by Constantine and Methodius and who had found their old homes impossible were welcomed by Boris. The latter was trying to bring about an amalgamation of the Bulgars with the subject Slav majority and to that end was encouraging Slavonic literature. One of the exiles, Clement of Ochrid, probably a Byzantine Slav, was sent by Boris to Macedonia and there established a school for training clergy and translating sacred books. Later he became a bishop.

In 889 Boris resigned his throne and retired to a monastery which he had founded near his capital as a centre of Slavic Christian culture and was succeeded by his eldest son, Vladimir. However, Vladimir led a pagan reaction. Around him gathered the nobles who were opposed to the innovations of Boris — Christianity, the new customs associated with that faith, and the centralizing of authority in the monarch. After a few years Boris, thoroughly aroused, emerged from his retirement, deposed Vladimir, had him blinded and placed in confinement, called a national council, and had Simeon chosen for the vacancy. He also induced the assembly to substitute Slavonic for Greek as the language of the Bulgarian church. Feeling his life work now to be secure, Boris once more retired to his monastery.

Under Simeon Bulgaria enjoyed its golden age. Simeon renounced the monastic life for which he had been trained, hut he furthered the growth of Bulgarian literature. This was in Slavonic and was made up mostly of translations from Greek. It was from Bulgaria that Slavonic literature spread to other Slavic peoples. Under Simeon the formal conversion of the land to Christianity was completed. He also fulfilled his father's vision of a realm legally on an equality with the Byzantine Empire. He surrounded himself with the splendour and ceremonial which he had seen in Constantinople, assumed the title of "the Tsar and Autocrat of all Bulgarians," thus giving his crown a title on a par with that of the Macedonian dynasty in Constantinople, and had the Bulgarian bishops declare (918) the Bulgarian Church fully independent (autocephalous) and place a patriarch at its head. The patriarch crowned Simeon, hailing him with the imperial title. At first the Patriarch of Constantinople was unreconciled to these changes, but Rome seems to have accepted them, and in 927, the year of Simeon's death, Constantinople also assented. The Bulgarian Church was orthodox in doctrine, but independent in administration. By Simeon's initiative it was the first to establish the tradition, later characteristic of the family of Orthodox Churches, of being reciprocally independent of one another administratively, but of agreeing in doctrine and regarding the Patriarch of Constantinople as a kind of primus inter pares among their heads. In the first halt of the eleventh century, less than a century after Simeon's death, the Byzantine Emperor Basil II conquered the country, made it a Byzantine province, and cancelled the Bulgarian patriarchate. But Bulgaria continued to be professedly Christian.

Just when and how the peoples of the Caucasus became Christians we do not know. Conversion began well before the sixth century, but it continued after that time and seems largely to have been through Byzantine influence. Some of it was in the reign of Justinian. The conversion of the Alans is said to have been in the eighth century. Contacts with Byzantine commerce and culture by way of the Black Sea, long a Greek lake, furthered the process. The birth of the largest offshoot of the Byzantine Church, that of Russia, was not to come until shortly after 950.

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