The Christianity of the future

The correlation between the two processes - doctrinal estrangement and geopolitical instability - remains problematic. The course of Christian history in the seventh century and beyond is certainly unintelligible without attention to both, and each provides a context, if not an explanation, for the other. It remains to describe the characteristics of Christian life that were at once the product of that disruption and the legacy of a more distant past. The disruption undoubtedly affected the legacy. The "Byzantine" or "Syrian" or "early medieval" churches were not radically removed from their ancestry, any more than was the empire itself; but they now faced questions inevitably recast by new circumstance. How was one to define and maintain a Christian community, and how was one to defend its ideals persuasively and with effect?

Defining the community Christian communities were defined, as had long been the case, by their cult: by baptism and the Eucharist, by bishops and priests, and by the buildings within which those cultic leaders acted out their roles.46 Definition was essentially a local achievement. We have already seen with what difficulty the great cities of the empire had, in religious affairs, acquired and maintained their

45 Menander Protector, History, 6.1, 54-75.

46 See Elm, DieMacht der Weisheit; Sterk, Renouncing the World.

influence. They did not exercise unchallenged control over large blocs of territory: their immediate influence may have been strong, but it became less marked with distance-Constantinople's over Armenia orthe western Balkans; Alexandria's over the upper Nile; Antioch's over the Persian borderlands; and Rome's over Italy, Africa, and Gaul. The same limitations affected proportionately the more humble centers of religious life. John of Ephesus provides a vivid example in his portrait of Symeon (the "mountaineer," as he calls him), who knocked discipline into wild villagers of the hills, ordered their liturgies, schooled their children, and dragooned as many as possible into the ascetic life (a telling list of priorities).47 Bishops in both East and West would have been at once grateful for the extension of their influence and fearful of its potential independence. 48

In the West, a wealth of anecdote makes it paradoxically difficult to build up a precise picture of how bishops functioned. Gregory of Tours (d. 594) appears a rich source; but one must beware his governing program, especially his view of the proper relationship between a bishop and a king: he wished upon his peers the status he aspired to himself.49 Occasionally, however, we gain a less guarded glimpse, as in the tale of Parthenius the tax collector. Pursued by a crowd swearing vengeance against his harsh methods, Parthenius seeks the aid of no less than two bishops, asking them "to quell the riot of the enraged citizens by their sermons." His expectation is as revealing as their subsequent failure. The story ends with a skirmish between people and church officials, resulting in the discovery of the doomed Parthenius hiding in a chest of church vestments. So many components of religious power are brought together in this anecdote: relations between secular and religious leaders, the implied force of a bishop's words, the independence of the people, and the supposition (disappointed) that church buildings, church guile, and church property will remain protected.50

The story reminds us also that the influence of churchmen could be impeded not only in rural or remote areas but also in the very towns over which they presided. Their wish to affect rural populations depended upon recasting in Christian terms the traditional nexus between municipium and territorium. Hence their care in transporting beyond the city's walls the rituals of the urban church - processions, for example, or ceremonies of veneration at the tombs

47 John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints 16, vol. 17: 229-47.

48 Western examples: Orange (511 CE), canon 25, Concilia Galliae, 11; Clermont (535 CE), canon 15, Concilia Galliae, 109; Orange (541 CE), canon 7, Concilia Galliae, 133-34.

49 Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours, trans. Carroll, especially 36-93.

50 Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 3.36.

of martyrs.51 And the bishop, no less than the distinguished aristocrat, was a potential country dweller. We know from the will of Caesarius of Arles (d. 542) that a bishop might command substantial property beyond a city's walls.52 Quintianus, bishop of Rodez, fleeing from Arian opponents, sought refuge with his colleague Eufrasius of Clermont-Ferrand, whereat his host gave him "accommodation with fields around and vineyards," which he described as "resources of this diocese ... sufficient to support us both."53 Religious leaders thus followed the same path as their secular counterparts. In the fourth century, provincial elites had given their loyalty to regimes that honored them on the broader stage of imperial office. By the fifth century, they had begun to focus their energies, bishops included, on local settings better calculated to enhance their status.54

In the East, a bishop's world was more built about, even outside the major cities. There was a greater density of urban and village settlement, and correspondingly a larger number of episcopal sees. The interstices of open country were smaller in extent, and only higher and less fertile land was distinctly remote. Other factors made the East different from the West. In the Balkans, destructive encroachment and vigorous campaigning, from the late sixth century onward, disrupted the rhythms of settled life and penned it within narrower confines - to an extent from which the West was now beginning to recover. In Egypt, the centralized authority that Alexandria had long enjoyed continued to make control of the south problematic. In Syria, the world represented by Jacob Baradaeus created among churchmen closer to Antioch and the coast a sense of having lost their grip on the wilder border country to the east. But, for all those differences, localism was as prevalent in Syria as it was in Gaul. The independence and, in some cases, self-interest of bishops under Persian threat in the sixth century was as marked a century later under the threat of Islam.55

The bishop, as definer of a community, came most into his own during the celebration of the Christian liturgy. The setting for that drama was as important as the drama itself. A bishop would see a new or refurbished basilica as

51 Rogations: Avitus of Vienne, Homilia de rogationibus; Orange (511 CE), canon 27, Concilia Galliae, 11-12; Lyons (567-70 CE), canon 6, Concilia Galliae, 202; Gregory ofTours, History of the Franks, 4.5, 9.21.

52 Caesarius of Arles, Testament (especially 9), 67-76.

53 Gregory ofTours, History of the Franks, 2.36. See Epaone (517 CE), canon 12, Concilia Galliae, 27.

54 See Clark and Bowesin Burns andEdie, Urban Centers; for thebroader context: Magdalino, New Constantines.

55 Procopius, Wars, 2.6.15-2.7.37, 2.13.8-15, 2.20.1-7; Al-Baladhuri, Kitab, 172-74, 200, trans. Hitti, 269-73, 314-15.

an act of generosity towards his civitas, as well as an investment calculated to enhance his influence and safeguard his memory. Such motives had long inspired the grand architectural gesture, the stylistic embellishment of cities. They provided a space - a temple, perhaps, but also a bath or a hippodrome -in which the citizen could find an identity at once elevated and shared. In later centuries, we can expect to find a shift in the perceived purpose and intended audience of such enterprises. Christian buildings at once symbolized and reinforced the new communities that bishops were willing to preside over -a "people of God." Sturdy brickwork, opaque windows, and unpretentious tiling were almost exercises in understatement. Exteriors were more massive than inspiring, hinting at capital, rank, and the command of a long-term workforce - characteristic resources of their (often lay) patrons. Inside, however, the reassuring structures were overlaid with vibrant mosaics and frescoes, worn like a richly encrusted garment over a plain body. Surrounded by such texture and movement, the worshiper felt less rooted to the ground, at once enfolded and uplifted.

Ancient forms were thus carried into new settings: a rich body of scholarship continues to explore the survival in the Christian empire of artistic themes and motifs traditional to classical culture.56 But artistic endeavor can never be divorced from context. The raw material, the patronage, and the skill may have been expensive, dependent on leisure and an informed sense of antecedent, reflecting the wealth and sensibility of the elite. As times changed, however, the bishop was the impresario. The decor presented images of virtue, scenes from sacred writings, emblems of a universal salvation, and a fulfillment beyond death and time. The implications were entirely theological. Gregory of Tours presents a telling vignette: the wife of Namatius, bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, "used to hold in her lap a book from which she would read stories of events which happened long ago, and tell the workmen what she wanted painted on the walls." The anecdote reinforces several points: the church being decorated with "colored frescoes" was outside the city; and a passing "poor man," who had popped in to pray, mistook the bishop's wife for "one of the needy" and promptly gave her a piece of bread. Within the embellished fabric, a scene of reminiscence and artistic skill, a new type of social drama was played out: mercy was bestowed, rank rendered ambiguous.57

Those Christian buildings did not stand lifeless, but were put to use - indeed, took on their full form only when they were in use. The interdependence of

56 See Elsner, Art and the Roman Viewer; Krautheimer, Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture; Mathews, Art and Architecture and Clash of Gods.

57 Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 2.17.

sacred space and sacred action is most obvious in the startling inventiveness of eastern church building in the sixth century. Unimpeded movement and vision were increasingly made possible - in contrast to a lingering conservatism in the West, where the old basilica style, elongated and colonnaded, lasted longer. For accounts of what happened in the eastern buildings, we have to rely on evidence from the seventh century and later. The shape, decor, and atmosphere of the church, all skillfully conceived, were designed to bring out the theological meaning of the liturgy conducted within it.58 The liturgy provided the indispensable setting within which to make lessons clear - not only in homilies, but also in singing, processions, the images of earthly hierarchies (emperors, bishops, courtiers, and soldiers) and their heavenly counterparts (God or Jesus enthroned as judge or teacher and the surrounding company of saints and martyrs), and even in the simple depiction of scriptural event. The religious portraiture of the period used to be thought of as static and hieratic; but, when figures are multiplied within a single space, they contribute to a lively and mobile scene with dramatic or narrative force.

Defending the ideal

Few bishops were faced, on their accession, with a clean sheet: one inherited one's diocese, with its habits of mind and webs of patronage. The career of Hilary of Arles (d. 449) illustrates brilliantly how cautious and subtle one might have to be.59 Bishops, especially in the East, were also exposed to the force of government displeasure: deposition, exile, and destitution permanently outstripped, in their case, negotiation as tools of enforcement.60 But the greatest challenge was the very Christianity of the people one was appointed to govern. One could never take for granted the quality of their devotion. As with an emperor's aspirations, the impact of homilies or conciliar decrees was neither predictable nor assured. The ostensibly Christian populace still needed awakening to the full implications of their adhesion, still needed to be taught how much of their religious legacy they should reject and how much they might tolerate and retain.61 Gregory the Great, a generation later, recounts many instances of persistent appeal to alternative sources of healing and exorcism.62 "Christianization" was not a matter merely of defeating "paganism": it

58 See opening chapters of Mathews, Art and Architecture and throughout Early Churches; Mango, Byzantine Architecture, especially 97-160; Mainstone, Hagia Sophia.

59 See Honoratus's Life of Hilary of Arles, with Mathisen, Ecclesiastical Factionalism.

60 Corpus iuris civilis: CodexJustinianus 1.5.8 (455 CE); 1.5.18 (529 CE).

61 See Flint, Rise of Magic; Mills and Grafton, Conversion. More negative: MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism.

62 Example: Gregory the Great, Dialogues, 1.10.

meant implanting more securely the system of belief that the population had already in theory embraced - converting the converted. Nor could a bishop rest content with the force of law or secular authority, no matter how friendly he might be with those who wielded it. He was faced with more than criminal intransigence, and had to deploy other traditional forms of role and status -those of the orator, the scholar, the man of virtue - in order to bring to bear in this new cause the established techniques of instruction and persuasion.

The chief instrument of episcopal power, therefore, was the homily. We must be cautious in the face of selective editing (not always sanctioned by the preacher himself); but in homilies - where they were personal or spontaneous -we see close up the bonds between priest and people. In the late Roman West, there was a striking proliferation of sermon collections, which attached the authority of an eminent figure to material that any churchman might make use of. (Where a bishop or priest was absent, a deacon might read a sermon from the writings of the fathers.63) Augustine proved a mother lode; but a collection like the Eusebius Gallicanus shows how much eastern material could also infiltrate the West. Caesarius of Arles presents us with another model -indeed, he seems to have been ready to countenance such a collection under his name, designed to spread his own message and to bolster the impact ofhis colleagues.64 He himself had drawn in similar ways on those who had come before him.

What was the effect of this material? There is at times a hectoring tone, and evidence of decreasing exegetical sophistication; but the chief aim seems to have been to forge agreement, to impress upon hearers that they were defined by their membership of the church more than by their personal ambitions or failures.65 Selfishness and willful isolation were the features most deplored by priests and most frequently identified as causes for regret. "If we refuse," said Caesarius, "to do what we have promised to God [in baptism], I do not know whether we will be able to preserve fidelity to men." On the other hand, "Then there will be true and perfect peace, when we are at peace, not only with others, but also with ourselves." And he described brilliantly a new species of interplay between "public" and "private" virtue, between the civic and the personal: "One who gives alms out of the desire to be praised by men gives them publicly, even if he bestows them in secret, since he seeks praise from men. However, one who gives alms solely out of love for God, in order that other men may imitate him in this good work and that God, not himself, may

63 Vaison (529 CE), canon 2, Concilia Galliae, 79.

64 Flint, Rise of Magic, 42-45, 88. See Klingshirn, Caesarius of Arles.

65 See Bailey "Building Urban Christian Communities."

be praised, gives them in secret even if he does so in public."66 Faith in oratory persisted in the work of Gregory the Great, for whom the "true preacher . . . stretches out his arms at the end of his address and calms the troubled spirits of the assembled people, calling them back to one way of thinking." The pope's Pastoral Care was designed in part to facilitate that effect: "He, then, who strives to speak wisely, should greatly fear lest by his words the unity of the hearers [audientium unitas] be confounded."67

In the East, there was a comparable dependence on patristic antecedents -John Chrysostom especially.68 It is hard to judge whether insistence on regular preaching was an indication of neglect. The Trullan or "Quinisext" synod of 692 summed up expectations operative since the time of Justinian: sermons were to be preached on Sundays and festivals throughout the empire, strictly in accord with the teachingofthe fathers.69 A sixth-century collection of sermons, preserved under the name of the Constantinopolitan presbyter Leontius, has a special interest. Freed from the responsibilities of episcopal address, he seems to have established an easier rapport with his audience. He was also surprisingly original.70 In other respects, the setting and splendor of the liturgy may have compensated for a lack of explicit exhortation. One should not underestimate the homiletic effect - indeed, intention - of extended chant, such as the kontakia composed by Romanos (fl. c. 540), which had some antecedent in the madrashe and memre of Ephraim (d. 373).71

The thought-world revealed in sermons seems at times vitiated by superstition and vulgarity - emblematic of the degree to which "Christianization" had failed. Yet, we face here simply another example of how the formerly extraneous was incorporated into a changing culture. To preach was still to exercise an elite skill, and to reach beyond the elite was always difficult; but it was usually attempted, and those speaking and listening, writing and reading at the cultural hub had been captured by a new sensibility and interest. Similar considerations should govern our understanding of hagiography, which was also the product of elite industry and probably designed (more than

66 CaesariusofArles, Sermones, 12.3, ed. Morin, vol. 103:60, and trans. Mueller vol. 1:70; 166.4, ed. vol. 104: 680, trans. vol. 2: 400; 146.1, ed. vol. 104: 600, trans. vol. 1: 309.

67 Gregory the Great, Dialogues, 4.4, trans. Zimmerman, 193; Cura pastoralis, 2.4.67-9, ed. Rommel 192, trans. Davis 54; see also 1.7, 3.39. Compare with John Chrysostom, Desacerdotio, 5.1-3.

68 See Krumbacher, Geschichte, 160-76.

69 Mansi 11, 952.

70 See Leontius, Fourteen Homilies.

71 Romanos: Grosdidier de Matons, Romanos leMelode, and Schork, Sacred Song; Ephraim: Brock, Luminous Eye, and Griffith, "Ephraem, the Deacon of Edessa" and "Images of Ephraem." See also Petersen, Diatessaron.

sermons) for an elite audience. Secure in their privilege and comfort, the refined could live dangerously and invite into their villas or town houses the strange but impressive heroes of a world that they would never visit and that even their informants might not have known at first hand.72 There was no simple lapse or decline, therefore, in any of this material, whether oral or written. It remained firmly in educated hands, and many who deployed it retained a capacity for skepticism.73 When we witness in hagiography, for example, the persistence of visions, we detect a readiness not only to control and legitimate such experiences, but also to incorporate the popular into stable and orthodox communities.74 Writers acknowledged an old and rich tradition of dreams and visions, even as they admitted that the frontier between the explicable and the wondrous was never stable.75 In that sense, they made available to a broader audience what had hitherto been a sophisticated indulgence - exactly the reverse of what is often imagined.

Alongside this rhetoric, we overhear a jangle of anxiety and effort in a sudden abundance of conciliar documents. In the East, the ebb and flow of Christological debate, dominating most of the gatherings, was complicated by imperial pressure. Equally in the sixth-century West (during a golden age of conciliar industry), the consensus of barbarian kings was deemed essential to the enforcement of episcopal sentential6 Even so, bishops were able to attend independently to disciplinary needs. The "Quinisext" synod, with its desire for taxis or "order" (its opening word), provides an inherited compendium of odd behavior: giving communion to the dead, singing in church without restraint, observing in traditional ways the appearance of the new moon, using accounts of martyrdom to validate pagan error, and (naturally) telling fortunes.77 In Gaul, the majority of canons (as at Chalcedon) were concerned with relations among the clergy themselves, and then with marriage and sexual conduct.78 Repetitive exasperation reveals in another register the bishops' failure to secure an orthodox approach to either doctrine or devotion. If the

72 See Patlagean, "Ancienne hagiographie byzantine"; Rousseau in Hayward and HowardJohnston, Cult of Saints.

73 Dagron, "L'ombre d'un doute"; Gregory the Great, Dialogues, 3.37.

74 Flint, Rise of Magic, echoed by Moreira, Dreams, Visions and Spiritual Authority. De Nie, Views, attributes more control to the clergy.

75 Miller, Dreams. Sulpicius Severus, Vie de saint Martin, see commentary byJ. Fontaine, ep. 2.2-3, vol. 135: 1188-96.

76 Clovis as precedent: Orange (511 CE), introduction, Concilia Galliae, 4.

77 Canons 61, 63, 65, 75, 83 in Mansi 11, 969-80. On communion and the dead, see Auxerre (561/605 CE), canon 12, Concilia Galliae, 267.

78 Clerical relations: Chalcedon, canons 9, 13, 19, Actaconciliorum oecumenicorum, 2.1, 16061; Epaone (517 CE), canon 5, Concilia Galliae, 25; Clermont (535 CE), canon 11, Concilia Galliae, 107; Orange (538 CE), canon 16, Concilia Galliae, 120-21.

Christians of Gaul were indulging in what councils forbade - swearing on the heads of animals, visiting sacred trees and fountains, forgetting the new meaning attached to old festivals, consulting incantatores and divinatores -their full conversion lay very much in the future.79 Virtue and miraculous power could be dangerously confused with wizardry and hysteria.80 In such an atmosphere, few bishops could settle quietly and map out their plans for their own communities. Episcopal letters, whether surviving accidentally or deliberately collected, testify to the chaotic involvements such men might face. Even in calmer instances, the story of daily commitment is swamped by complaint, inquiry, flattery, and defense - a trajectory of increasing distraction in both East and West.81 Even the epistolary influence of "holy men" - Isidore of Pelusium (d. c. 440), for example, Nilus of Ancyra (d. c. 430), or Barsanuphius (d. 540) and his correspondent John - was achieved at the cost of interruption and compromise.

A particular difficulty afflicted the western church: the weaning of Christian barbarian settlers from their Arian loyalties (the accidental result of their original conversion under Arian emperors). The problem had arisen within the Roman frontiers, and alliances between the empire and its northern intruders were always threatened by the settlers' abiding heresy. Hence, long after the definitive condemnation of Arius and his later admirers at the Council of Constantinople in 381, churchmen remained fearful of Arian influence. Their faithful allusions to Nicaea and their conservative litanies against Marcionites and Paulinianists were quickly injected with alarm when they considered the contemporary errors that pressed upon them. They were naturally disturbed by extreme examples of persecution, such as that inflicted by the Vandals, especially under Huneric (477-84) and to a lesser degree by the Visigoth Euric (466-84) in southern Gaul. Even the milder Theoderic induced tension in Italy and exacerbated relations with both Constantinople and the Franks.

When it came to the doctrinal integrity of a local community, a nearby Arian bishop could seem as dangerous as an Arian king.82 Gregory of Tours prepared his readers for what they might expect of Arians anywhere, with a vivid tale of martyrdom inflicted by the Vandals even before they had left Spain for Africa. But then he presented an equally circumstantial account of

79 See Concilia Galliae for Orange (541 CE), canon 16, 136; Council of Bishop Aspasius (551 CE), canon 3,163-64; Auxerre (561/605 CE), canon 3, 265; Tours (567 CE), canon 23, 191; Narbonne (589 CE), canon 14, 256.

80 Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 9.6, 10.25, 29. See Rousselle, Croire etguérir.

81 Succinct vignette: Sidonius, Poems and Letters, Epistola 4.9.5, vol. 2:106. The whole letter is a brilliant portrait, together with Epistola 4.25 and 7.9.5-25, vol. 2:164-68 and 338-58.

82 Gregory the Great, Dialogues, 3.28-9.

later rivalry among African bishops (this under Huneric), pitting a vain and powerless Arian against Eugenius ofCarthage (later exiled to Gaul). Truth was at stake in their contest, but so also was the standing of a bishop in the eyes of his people.83 It might be thought that the (ultimately) Catholic loyalty of the Franks countered real danger. As Gregory's Clovis puts it, "I find it hard to go on seeing these Arians occupy a part of Gaul. With God's help let us invade them."84 Yet, the Franks were at first ambiguous in their inclinations, having strong ties with Arian settlers elsewhere.85 Gregory, some ninety years later, still felt a need to present a potted history of "that evil sect." He rounded off his account of the early days with a careful declaration of his own orthodoxy; and he voiced a hesitant assurance: "the true believers may well lose many things . .. the heretics on the other hand have not much advantage to show."86 All that, in spite of the fact that, by his own time, matters had improved. In Visigothic Spain, a natural stronghold of the Arian cause, the ill-fated king Hermenegild converted to orthodox Christianity in 582, partly persuaded by his Frankish wife Ingund. (He had also colluded hopefully with the emperor Tiberius, but then fell victim to his own father's deceit.) The Catholicism of the kingdom as a whole was confirmed under his brother Reccared at the Council of Toledo in 589.

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