Political Changes

Under Justinian I (Roman emperor 527—65), the decline of imperial power was reversed for a time. He reconquered North Africa from the (Arian) Vandals and Italy from the Ostrogoths, who were also Arian Christians; he also reestablished imperial authority in part of Spain, where the (Arian) Visigoths had dominated. He built many magnificent basilicas, including the majestic Santa Sophia in Constantinople. Dedicated to the person of Christ as 'Holy Wisdom', it was to be converted into a mosque when the city fell to the Turks in 1453. A champion of orthodox Christianity, Justinian persecuted the Montanists and in 529 closed pagan schools of philosophy. They included the celebrated Academy or Platonic school, which had met in the gardens and olive groves of Academe (on the North-West side of Athens) since the days of Plato and provided a name for countless other academies in modern times. Justinian answered Tertullian's questions ('What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What has the Academy to do with the Church?') by closing the Academy and forcing many pagans to accept baptism. Through the Second Council of Constantinople (553) the Emperor unsuccessfully tried to end the break between mainline Catholicism (which accepted the Council of Chalcedon's teaching about Christ's two natures) and the Monophysites. (We return to this issue below.) His failure to heal the divisions between the Chalcedonian and the non-Chalcedonian Churches weakened Christianity and made the Muslim takeover much easier in such countries as Egypt. The Emperor's codification of Roman law, the Code of Justinian, was to exercise a great influence on legal systems (both civil and ecclesiastical) in Europe and on subsequent relations between the Church or the 'priesthood (sacerdotium)' and the state or imperial authority, the imperium. On his Eastern frontiers, Justinian spent years in unsuccessful or at least indecisive conflicts with the Persians. Within a century of his death the whole landscape was changed through the rise of Islam.

After the death of Muhammad in Medina (Arabia) in 632, the Arab conquests of Palestine, Syria, Persia, Egypt, and North Africa moved ahead fast. In the eighth century Muslim forces conquered Spain but were stopped from overrunning the kingdom of the Franks by the victory won near Poitiers in 732 by the forces of Charles Martel (c.690—741). Armed conflict, as well as a measure of religious and cultural dialogue, were to characterize Christian—Muslim relations in the centuries to come.

We return to this theme below (in the context of the Iconoclastic controversy) and in the next chapter.

The grandson of Charles Martel, Charlemagne (¿".742—814, and sole ruler of the Franks from 771), proved highly successful in extending his kingdom, creating good state administration, reforming the clergy, and stimulating learning. He became the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire when crowned by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day 800 in the old Basilica of St Peter's. The following year his campaign to win back Spain from the Muslims achieved its first notable success when Barcelona was captured. By that time, through defeating the Arian Lombards who had overrun the Italian peninsula at the time of Gregory the Great, Charlemagne had swept away the last dominion of Arian Christianity. But his coronation as the first 'Holy Roman emperor' permanently strained relations with the Eastern emperor (in Constantinople) and the Eastern Church. Under Charlemagne the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed began to be chanted regularly at Mass throughout his empire, with the fateful words added about the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father 'and from the Son' (Filioque). Not part of the original Creed, the one word in Latin (which becomes four in English) had been added probably in 675 at the Fourth Synod of Braga (in modern Portugal). This issue comes up in the next section, on doctrinal developments.

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