Lights and Shadows

This summary of the years between Constantine and Chalcedon would remain patently incomplete without an account of some developments that were to cast lights or shadows over the Catholic centuries to come. The lights included the rise of monasticism and pilgrimages, while shadows showed up in some areas of authoritative administration.

Monasticism may be described as a movement among baptized Christians who respond to Christ's call for perfection (Matt. 5: 48; 19: 16—26) by giving themselves through poverty, celibacy, and obedience to a life of prayer, common worship, and service of others. Towards the end of the Roman persecutions, an ascetic existence (involving prayer, penance, and manual work) in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria began to provide a heroic alternative to real martyrdom. In Egypt St Antony the Hermit (£-.252—356) and St Pachomius (c.290—346) organized their followers around a way of life led by spiritual guides, thus preparing the way for the two standard forms of monasticism: the life of hermits and life in common. Deeply influenced by Basil of Caesarea, Eastern monasticism helped to promote Western monasticism through such writings as The Life of St Antony by Athanasius of Alexandria and the Conferences of St John Cassian (c.360—435). The monastic life of Augustine of Hippo and his community also exercised a big influence over coming developments.

Journeys of devotion to holy places have been practised by Christians and adherents of other religions. After freedom came with Constantine, pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to the tombs of the Roman martyrs increased. In her old age Helena, the saintly mother of Constantine, visited the Holy Land and founded basilicas on the Mount of Olives and at Bethlehem. A tradition that dates from about seventy years after her pilgrimage in 326 told of her discovering the cross on which Christ died. A work from the end of the fourth century, the Pilgrimage of Etheria, gives the story of a Christian pilgrim (probably a Spaniard) who visited Jerusalem and its neighbourhood. She described in detail the liturgical ceremonies: not only the daily and Sunday offices but also the services for the Epiphany, Holy Week (including the procession of palms to the Mount of Olives and the veneration of the cross), Easter, and Pentecost. Other traditional and modern places of Christian pilgrimage came to include

Fig. 2. An anonymous picture expresses the intensity of St Bernadette Soubirous at prayer. Her visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858 made Lourdes into one of the world's most popular places of pilgrimage. (Bibliothèque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris/Bridgement-Charmet collection.)

Fig. 2. An anonymous picture expresses the intensity of St Bernadette Soubirous at prayer. Her visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858 made Lourdes into one of the world's most popular places of pilgrimage. (Bibliothèque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris/Bridgement-Charmet collection.)

Santiago de Compostela (Spain) and the Marian shrines of Czestochowa (Poland), Fatima (Portugal), Guadalupe (Mexico), Loreto (Italy), Lourdes (France), and the island of Tinos, where the Orthodox celebrate in a special way the 'dormition' (or falling asleep in death) of Our Lady.

Under Diocletian (emperor 284—305) the Roman Empire was reorganized into fifteen 'dioceses', or administrative divisions. In the Western Church this became the standard term for the territory under the authority of a bishop or archbishop. Even earlier, Catholic Christianity had already taken over some symbols and terms of public administration. Thus from the third century the seat, or 'cathedra', of Roman magistrates was adopted to symbolize the authority of bishops in teaching, preaching, and presiding at worship in their 'cathedral', the chief church in a diocese where the bishop has his throne or cathedra. Terms used in the public adminstration of the Empire passed into common Christian usage. Thus ministers were spoken of as 'ordained' (or initiated into office), and gatherings of bishops came to be called 'synods'.

The political authority of Rome made it easier for Christians and their leaders to accept the distinctive ministry of leadership invested in St Peter's successor, the bishop of Rome. A sense of the primacy of authority enjoyed by the bishop of Rome developed notably in the fifth century. At the Council of Chalcedon the bishops greeted 'for the confirmation of the orthodox faith, the letter [Tomus] of the Ruler of the greatest and elder Rome, the most blessed and most holy Archbishop Leo... since it agrees with the confession of the great [St] Peter and is a pillar of support to all against the heterodox'.23

Inevitably there were already shadows over the history of the bishops of Rome. The worldly and politically canny Damasus (pope 366—84) is remembered as St Damasus. But the murderous strife that accompanied his election and left at least 137 people dead in what is now the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore hinted at the renaissance popes and scandalous times to come. Earlier in the fourth century Constantine had founded Constantinople (or the 'New Rome') on the site of old Byzantium. Little by little the division between the Western and the Eastern Empire would entail a separation between the pope in Rome and the bishop of Constantinople, who, despite Pope Leo's objections, formally received patriarchal powers at

23 J. Stevenson and W. H. C. Frend, Creeds, Councils and Controversies (London: SPCK, 1989), 352.

the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Previously the Church of Alexandria had striven for pre-eminence with Constantinople. After 451 tension was to grow between Rome and the patriarch of Constantinople, acknowledged from the sixth century as the ecumenical patriarch of the East.


Missionary outreach, political changes, doctrinal developments, and monastic growth can serve as headings to bring together some of the major changes in Catholic Christianity from the middle of the fifth century up to the close of the first millennium.

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