Aspects of Byzantine Orthodoxy 8501095 The patriarchate

One might have expected that the ease with which, in the period 600 to 850, emperors found compliant patriarchs of Constantinople to support religious policies eventually declared to be heretical - monothelitism and then icono-clasm - would have damaged the standing of the institution of the patriarchate itself. On the contrary, however, the patriarchate emerged in the ninth century as much more powerful than two and a half centuries earlier.

There seem to be several reasons for this. In various ways the jurisdiction of the patriarchate was both clearer and greater in 850 than in 600. Originally, the archbishop of Constantinople had been granted no very clear jurisdiction, despite being granted "privileges of honor" (tapresbeiates times) after the bishop of Rome by the Ecumenical Councils of Constantinople I (381; canon 3) and Chalcedon (451; canon 28), the latter further specifying that these privileges were "equal" to those of Rome, with Constantinople taking "second place." Having no clear territory, the archbishop had no bishops to summon to a regular synod as envisaged by the Council of Nicaea I (325; canon 5). His synodal authority therefore came to be exercised through the so-called "home synod" (endemousa synodos), consisting of any bishops who happened to be in Constantinople at the time - a fluctuating constituency, but dependable, given the presence of the court. This synod gradually gained authority, so that, in the ninth century, the reintroduction of both iconoclasm in 815 and the veneration of icons in 843 could be authorized by a session of the home synod. By this time the home synod was a much more permanent body, reinforced, as it was, by bishops (and even patriarchs) who had taken refuge in Constantinople because their dioceses had either fallen to Islam or suffered regular harassment by Arab troops or Slav occupation.

The Arab conquest of the eastern provinces had also clarified the question of the extent of Constantinople's jurisdiction. Chalcedon had granted Constantinople the right to consecrate metropolitans in the nearby provinces of Pontos, Asia, and Thrace, though since the time of St. John Chrysostom in the early fifth century, Constantinople had claimed the right to consecrate (and therefore ultimately supervise) the metropolitans of Asia Minor, a claim disputed by the patriarchate of Antioch. But with the fall of the east to Islam, the Melkite patriarch of Antioch was either subject to the Arabs or in exile in Constantinople, in neither case in any position to dispute Constantinople's jurisdiction throughout Asia Minor. The patriarch's jurisdiction was further extended by Leo III who, in retaliation against Rome's refusal to implement iconoclasm, transferred the jurisdiction Rome had traditionally exercised over Illyricum, that is, the western Balkans south of the Danube, to Constantinople. With the loss of Ravenna to the Lombards in 751, the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople became virtually co-extensive with the territory ruled by the Byzantine emperor. The patriarch, together with the clergy of the Church of Hagia Sophia, thus became the hub of ecclesiastical authority throughout the Byzantine Empire.

The taint of heresy was skillfully removed, or obscured, by propaganda taking the form of hagiography, issuing from the patriarchal court. The Vitae of St. Stephen the Younger, St. Ioannicius (c. 754-846), and of the patriarchs Tarasius and Nicephorus - all emanating from the patriarchal court -presented a picture of resistance to iconoclasm in which the patriarch had played a noble role.5 The patriarchal office thus emerged from iconoclasm greatly strengthened, both in power and esteem. Patriarch Methodius, appointed by the Empress Theodora to reintroduce the veneration of icons in 843, was able to pursue his own policy, despite the prestige of the Studite monks, who claimed victory, though this was partly achieved by exploiting the divisions that had emerged within the monastic party during the second phase of iconoclasm between the supporters of St. Theodore the Studite and of St. Ioannicius.

The power and prestige of the patriarchate continued to develop in the centuries that followed. It became an element in the growing estrangement between the Latin West and the Byzantine East. Both with Patriarch Photius (858-67, 878-86) and Pope Nicholas I (858-67), and with Patriarch Michael I Cerularius (1043-58) and Pope Leo IX (1049-54), part of the clash must be put down to an encounter between notions of patriarchal and papal power, both of which had developed in independence in the seventh and eighth centuries, and continued to develop in now independent political regimes, both focusing on the person of the patriarch or pope.6

The patriarch also came to gain in authority from the expansion of the Byzantine Empire during the Macedonian dynasty, and in particular from the spread of Byzantine influence through the creation, from the ninth century onwards, of what Dimitri Obolensky called the "Byzantine Commonwealth."7 Byzantium's expansion east brought it into relationship with Armenia, which

5 All now available in new editions and/or translations: La vie d'Etienne leJeune, ed. Auzepy; The Life of Patriarch Tarasios, ed. Efthymiadis; and translations of the Vitae of St. Ioannicius and Nicephorus, in Byzantine Defenders of Images, 243-351, 25-142.

6 See Kolbaba in this volume.

7 Obolensky, Byzantine Commonwealth.

had been unrepresented at the Council ofChalcedon and subsequently found itself drawn into the anti-Chalcedonian camp. Relationships with Armenia -and any attempt to incorporate it into the Byzantine Empire - therefore involved issues of theology, and also religious customs, analogous to those raised with the Latin West.8 Patriarchs from Photius onwards were inevitably involved. The case ofthe spread of Byzantine Christianity amongthe Slavs gave the patriarch a peculiar preeminence, for whereas the Slav nations, beginning with Bulgaria, accepted Byzantine Christianity, they were not incorporated into the Byzantine Empire, but rather entered into the loose alliance of the Byzantine Commonwealth. Within that "commonwealth," the authority of the patriarch was clearer than that of the Byzantine emperor, for the patriarch appointed the archbishop in Bulgaria (save for about a century, when Bulgaria had an independent patriarch) and the metropolitan of Kiev and all Russia.9

Learning -from Photius to Psellus The ninth century saw the beginnings ofwhat has been called the "Macedonian Renaissance," or "le premier humanisme byzantin."10 The epithet "Macedonian" is misleading, not least because the renaissance of learning was already well under way decades before the accession to (or usurpation of) the imperial throne by the founder of the Macedonian dynasty, Basil I, in 867. Like the roughly contemporaneous Carolingian renaissance, it was marked by a technical innovation - the use of the cursive minuscule hand for literary manuscripts -and also by a revival of classical learning, though such classical learning had never suffered such a decline in the East as the West had known. The earliest witness to the use of the minuscule hand for a literary manuscript - the so-called Uspensky Gospel Book of 835 - comes from the Studios Monastery, but although it is likely that St. Theodore the Studite's monastic reform involved the setting up of something like a scriptorium for the copying of biblical, liturgical, and patristic texts, this isolated witness is not sufficient to establish that the introduction of the minuscule hand for literary purposes was a Studite innovation, though the Studios Monastery must have been one of the first places to adopt it.

This renaissance had several elements. I have already mentioned the religious aspect, involving rediscovering and making available the writings of the fathers. The origins of this can be traced back several centuries, to the

8 See Dorfmann-Lazarev in this volume.

9 See Shepard in this volume.

10 See Lemerle, Le premier humanisme byzantin. See also Treadgold, "The Macedonian Renaissance," in Renaissances before the Renaissance, 75-98.

controversies of the seventh century over Christology and those of the eighth and ninth over iconoclasm. In both cases appeal to the fathers of the church entailed serious scholarship to ensure that the authorities being cited were authentic - to such an extent that Adolf Von Harnack called the Sixth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople III; 680-81) a "Council of antiquaries and paleographers."11 The florilegia of citations from the fathers presented at all these synodal gatherings demonstrate the extensive learning on hand; it is an awesome thought that the fathers of Constantinople III spent a whole session listening to readings from the fathers interpreting Christ's agony in the garden. Theodore's monastic reform also revived interest in the Great Asceticon of St. Basil the Great (c. 330-79), as well as other ascetical works, such as those associated with the sixth-century monks of the Gaza desert (Barsanuphius, John, and Dorotheus) and the Ladder of St. John of Sinai (John Climacus: fl. probably early seventh century). On the literary side, the other aspect is the recovery of (Greek) classical learning. The single great monument to the extent of this renaissance is the Myrobiblion or Bibliotheca of Photius, patriarch of Constantinople. This is a collection of what have been called "bookreviews," sometimes including extensive citation of the books in question, some 280 in total. Photius says that it was written in a hurry, before he set out on an embassy to the Arabs; the workbears many signs of haste. There is no structure; secular and religious books intermingle. Photius discusses more religious books than secular ones, but tends to give greater attention to the secular works, with the result that the sections dealing with religious books amount to less than half the whole. Nor is it clear what the principle of selection was: Are these all the books Photius could lay his hands on? Or do they represent what interested him? Photius certainly knew more than he included, as is clear from his other works, and a good deal can be gleaned from the Myrobiblion about writers whose books are not included, for example Plato. Poetical works constitute a striking omission. Photius's other works include a Lexicon, which is itself evidence that enough people were reading ancient literature to need such an aid, and his letters and "Amphilochia," these last being discussions of problems in Scripture and the fathers, allegedly put to him by a certain Amphilochius, metropolitan of Cyzicus; they represent a genre of theological reflection first used extensively by St. Maximus the Confessor (in his Ambigua, "Difficulties" -many also addressed to a bishop of Cyzicus - and various "questions"), which became popular in Byzantium (Michael Psellus (1018-81) being a contributor to the genre).

ii Von Harnack, History ofDogma 4, 26i.

What structures of education supported this learning is obscure. Claims that there were patriarchal or monastic schools, on the analogy of such in the West, have been questioned.12 It is also clear that the traditional educational system collapsed sometime in the wake of the Arab conquests. And yet education must have been available, even if not of a very high standard (on the evidence we have, command of literary Greek in the eighth century, at least in Constantinople, seems to have been poor).

Most of the manifestations of the Macedonian renaissance in the tenth century are outside our compass: compilations of political and administrative material under Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-59), the Suda, and the Palatine Anthology, though theological and religious material can be gleaned from these. The next century saw the ascendancy of Michael Psellus and his disciples, who drew on philosophical, especially Neoplatonic, sources. This active interest in learning, that was sometimes quite openly pagan, exposed the rift that had developed between what the Byzantines had come to call "outer learning" (he thurathen paideia) and "inner learning," that is, Christian doctrinal and ascetic theology. Psellus escaped outright condemnation, but not his pupil, John Italus (c. 1025-after 1082), who was tried and condemned for heresy and paganism in 1082, under Emperor Alexius I Comnenus (10811118). The additions to the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, promulgated by Alexius as part of his drive to establish himself as a guardian of Orthodoxy, include a condemnation of "those who pursue Hellenic learning and are formed by it not simply as an educational discipline, but follow their empty opinions, and believe them to be true."13


Monasticism had been a prominent feature of Byzantine society from the beginning - the fourth century seeing the dramatic rise of monasticism -firstly in Egypt, and then in other parts of the Roman Empire, both in the East and the West. Fourth-century monasticism of the Egyptian desert came to be looked upon by later ages as a kind of golden age of monasticism. In the fifth-century collections of stories and sayings of the fathers of the Egyptian desert, known as the Gerontikon in Greek and the Apophthegmata Patrum in Latin, were put together, probably in Palestine, and these collections became the core of monastic wisdom passed on down the ages. From the beginning these collections of sayings were complemented by other material: Vitae of saints,

12 Lemerle, Le premier humanisme byzantin, 95-96, 103-4.

13 Le Synodikon d'Orthodoxie, 59.

such as St. Antony the Great, the monastic rules associated with Pachomius and Basil of Caesarea, and other accounts of the Egyptian monks, such as the Lausiac History and the History of the Monks of Egypt.14 Later on further additions were made to this body of literature, such as the account of the beginnings of Palestinian monasticism in various Vitae by Cyril of Scythopolis (c. 525-after 559); the letters of the great ascetics of Gaza, Barsanuphius and John (both d. c. 540), and their disciple Dorotheus (fl. mid-sixth century); the account of a journey to various monastic sites made by John Moschus (c. 550-634) and Sophronius of Jerusalem, the Spiritual Meadow; and finally the great Ladder of Divine Ascent, by John (before 579-after 650), abbot of the Monastery of the Burning Bush at Sinai (known after his work as Climacus), probably belonging to the seventh century.

From the beginning there emerged three forms of monasticism that continued to be characteristic of Byzantium. There were hermits or solitaries, who lived remote from human society, either deep in the desert, like St. Antony (251^-356) or on the top of a pillar or stylos, like St. Symeon the Stylite (c. 390459) (monks who lived in remote caves in mountains were also called stylites); there were monks who lived in communities, called cenobites (after the Greek, koinos bios, "common life"), who lived either remote from human society, as in the monastery founded by Pachomius (c. 290-346) at Tabennisi, or in cities, as in Basil's foundation at Caesarea; there were also monks who pursued the solitary life, but accepted the guidance of a superior and met each weekend for fellowship and to receive Holy Communion - such groups were called lavras or (later) sketes. Given that the solitary life normally required preparation in a community, it was not uncommon to find a cenobitic monastery acting as a mother community to hermits and groups of lavras; famous examples are the Monastery of Sinai, and the Great Lavra of Mar Saba in the Judean Desert, both of which flourished throughout the Byzantine period, and still continue.

The seventh and eighth centuries are a dark period for Byzantine monasticism. This is mainly for lack of information. Apart from John's Ladder and what can be gleaned from the ascetic and theological writings of Maximus the Confessor and Anastasius of Sinai (all from the seventh century), there is little to go on, and anyway all this material comes from regions that had either been lost or were soon to be lost to Islam. Within what remained of the empire itself, it is likely that monasticism suffered considerable disruption. When the Persian armies marched across Asia Minor in the 620s, many monks fled (Maximus among them). The harassment of much of Asia Minor by the

14 See Louth, "Literature of the Monastic Movement."

Arabs later in the seventh century is likely to have hindered any resettlement, but there is evidence that monasteries survived in the eighth century on and around the holy mountains of Mount Auxentius and Mount Olympus, both south of the Sea of Marmara, not too remote from the capital. The monasteries in Constantinople are likely to have suffered from the severe depopulation experienced by the city in the seventh and eighth centuries, the result of endemic plague and recurrent earthquakes. Constantine V's drive against monasticism must further have depleted the monastic ranks, though to what extent it is impossible to judge. On the other hand, the impression given of monastic decline at the end of the eighth century by the Vitae of monastic reformers such as Theodore the Studite should probably not be taken too seriously, as it is a topos in the vita of a monastic founder.

There is no doubt, however, that the ninth century saw the beginning of a period of monastic reform, in which Theodore and his restoration of the city monastery of St. John the Forerunner of Studios played a central role.15 This is evident from the way in which the arrangements for that monastery (detailed in its typikon, that is, its foundation document) became a pattern for later Byzantine monasticism, not least the monasteries founded on Mount Athos from the tenth century onwards. Theodore's reform, focused on the Studios Monastery, which he was invited to take over by the Empress Irene in 798, is often seen as an attempt to restore the traditions of monasticism established by St. Basil the Great in the fourth century. There is no doubt that this was an inspiration - like Basil, Theodore valued cenobitic monasticism and discouraged the solitary life, and the Studios Monastery is responsible for one of the recensions of Basil's Asceticon - but Theodore found inspiration elsewhere, too. In contrast to Basil, he lays great emphasis on the abbot, elected by his monks, who was to be their spiritual father. This points to the influence of Pachomius (though it reminds one, too, of St. Benedict). The abbot is to exercise his spiritual fatherhood through regular catechesis of his monks (very many of Theodore's survive), and also through exagoreusis, in which each monk opened his heart to the abbot, confessed his thoughts (not just sins), and received counseling and absolution. Other influences on Theodore's monastic ideals were the ascetics of the Gaza Desert (Barsanuphius, John, Dorotheus) and John of Sinai. Further principles of Studite monasticism as introduced by Theodore include the prohibition of slaves in the monastery (they must be freed), the forbidding of any female domestic animals, a realistic emphasis

15 See Morris, Monks and Laymen. For the Studite reform, see, most conveniently, Leroy, "Le monachisme studite." See also BMFD.

on poverty and manual labor, and promotion of learning and the copying of manuscripts of the fathers and liturgical texts. The pattern of liturgical prayer followed in the Studite monasteries is that already established by the sixth century: the midnight office, orthros, and lauds during the night leading up to dawn; services at the first, third, sixth, and ninth hours during the day; vespers at sunset; and compline. Probably during Theodore's lifetime, however, the Studite office adopted the complementation of the monastic office with liturgical verses, especially the canon (a collection of verses composed to be sung with the Old Testament canticles at orthros), that had been used in Palestine from the late seventh century onward.

Particularly in the tenth century, monastic foundations attracted the support of the emperors, especially Nicephorus II Phocas (963-69) and John I Tzimiskes (969-76). This was particularly true of the new foundations on the peninsula north of Thessaloniki that reaches down into the Aegean, known by synecdoche as "Mount Athos," the first of which was the Great Lavra, founded by St. Athanasius the Athonite, with the support of the Emperor Nicephorus Phocas, in 964. Gradually the monastic communities on Mount Athos acquired a unique spiritual authority, which continues to the present day.

The tenth and eleventh centuries saw a host of monastic foundations throughout the Byzantine world. The influence of the Studite reform was great, but not exclusive. Monastic founders who drew in their own way on the wealth of the Byzantine monastic tradition include John of Rila (c. 876-946) and Nikon the Preacher of Repentance (c. 930-c. 1000),16 Lazarus of Mount Galesius (c. 981-1053)17 and Christodulus of Patmos (d. 1093). The career of St. Symeon the New Theologian (c. 949-1022) across the turn of the millennium, with his profound ascetic and mystical theology and his clashes with patriarchal authority, illustrates the potential tension that existed between institutional authority and the charismatic appeal of the monk. It also illustrates one of the ways in which monks related to contemporary society: through the provision of spiritual counseling.

Liturgy, art, devotion The proclamation of the triumph of Orthodoxy in 843, which marked the defeat of iconoclasm, was ultimately to have a profound effect on the place of religious art in Byzantium, and beyond that in the Slav countries that were soon to embrace Byzantine Christianity. Initially the impact was slow, doubtless

16 See Life of Saint Nikon.

17 See LifeofLazaros.

because of the fear of provoking an iconoclast backlash. Eventually, however, the crosses that had replaced icons in Byzantine churches were removed and icons erected instead. On the dedication of the icon of the Mother of God, replacing the iconoclast cross in the apse of the Church of the Holy Wisdom, on Holy Saturday 867, Patriarch Photius declared:

having mingled the bloom of colors with religious truth, and by means ofboth having in holy manner fashioned unto herself a holy beauty, and bearing, so to speak, a complete and perfect image of piety, she is seen not only to be fair in beauty surpassing the sons of men, but elevated to an inexpressible fairness of dignity beyond any comparison beside.18

The use of art in Byzantine churches now became an imperative, not just an optional decoration. Gradually, a fairly fixed pattern of artistic decoration developed. The ground for this had already been prepared, however, in the interpretations of the liturgical ceremonies, especially the Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist, and of the ecclesial space in which this took place, which go back to the fourth century. Such interpretation received further development in the works ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite, whose whole theology has a liturgical context, but particularly influential for the whole Byzantine period were the Mystagogia of Maximus the Confessor19 and the oddly entitled "Ecclesiastical History and Mystical Contemplation" by Patriarch Germanus of Constantinople (715-30), which could perhaps be rendered: "What Happens in Church and its Hidden Meaning."20 Fundamental to these interpretations was the division of the church into two parts, the sanctuary and the nave, separated by a templon consisting of a low barrier and a gate with, later, columns and an architrave (the solid iconostasis, characteristic of modern Orthodox churches, is a later medieval development). The church thus divided symbolized heaven and earth, so the church building itself symbolized the whole cosmos: the church was a microcosm, as, too, was the human being. In the period after iconoclasm, the decoration of the church building, generally cruciform with a dome over the nave, was determined by this fundamental perception. In the dome was depicted Christ the Pantocrator, ruling over the cosmos, and illuminated by light entering through the small windows at the base of the dome and reflected upwards. The rest of the church came to be decorated with icons (frescoes or mosaics) of the saints, ofboth the Old and the New Testaments, angels, and scenes from saving history, especially the life

18 Photius, Homily 17.4, Homilies of Photius, 292.

19 I Mystagogia; English translation by Berthold in Maximus, Selected Writings, 183-225.

20 Germanus of Constantinople, On the Divine Liturgy.

of Christ and the Virgin. It was then a peopled cosmos, or rather a cosmos consisting of people, following an already well-established Christian tradition that saw the cosmos in terms of living beings, rather than the celestial bodies of pagan antiquity.21 Icons were also used in private devotion, thus carrying into the private sphere the cosmic dimension expressed in the church decoration.


Byzantine Orthodoxy, as defined by the Ecumenical Councils, represented a middle way between various heresies about the nature of God and the Incarnation. After the defeat of iconoclasm, such heresies ceased, for the most part, to trouble the Byzantines. In their stead, there emerged various heresies that have been characterized as dualistic, that is, holding that the cosmos is not the creation of a single good God, but is the product of a conflict between powers of good and evil, that are equally ultimate. These heretics were called Paulicians and Bogomils. The Paulicians were traced back to the late seventh century to a certain Constantine of Mananalis, an Armenian, though they probably owe their name to a certain Paul, who refounded the Paulicians in Armenia in the early eighth century. The Bogomils came later, named after a priest called Bogomil (Slavonic for Theophilus), who lived in Bulgaria in the tenth century. For their beliefs we are dependent on refutations of them by Orthodox opponents, especially the ninth-century Peter of Sicily, who wrote against the Paulicians; a tenth-century sermon on the Bogomils by one Cosmas; and the early twelfth-century Dogmatic Panoply by Euthymius Zigabenus. This is very unsatisfactory, as all these Orthodox writers regard them as some kind of Manichee, and present their beliefs accordingly. For it is quite certain that there is no historical link between these Byzantine heretics and the Manichees, who, after their persecution by Justinian, turned their attentions eastward. Like the Cathars (dualist heretics who emerge in the West in the mid-twelfth century), who were probably inspired by the Bogomils, the root of these "heresies" probably lies in a reaction against the institutional church and a search for the purity of the Gospel. At the heart of the beliefs of the Paulicians was faith in Jesus Christ, as a spiritual being; they rejected the Old Testament, and based themselves on the New Testament (or most of it). They rejected the sacraments, veneration of the cross, the cult of the saints, and icons; instead they were devoted to a spiritual Christ. It is easy to see how such a rejection of matter smacked of Manichean dualism to an

21 See Mathews, Clash of Gods, 150-61.

22 For this see Christian Dualist Heresies.

Orthodox opponent. That they were led by a supreme teacher, a didaskalos, who was regarded, we are told, as an apostle, would only have reinforced their identification as Manichees. The Bogomils may have had a more developed dualistic teaching. Their principal threat seems to have lain in the attraction of the apostolic simplicity of their lives, which led others to seek them out as a source of spiritual counseling.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment