Theological identities regional differences

Under the heading "identities," we must ask what gave late Roman Christian communities their specific characters. We are dealing with a plural: "Christianities." The late Roman period was, in religion as in much else, a fractured age. What lay at the root of the resulting variety? Leaders of government and church pleaded for universal loyalty - to empire and orthodoxy above all. By 600 CE, Christians found themselves nevertheless divided geographically into four main blocs. The Latin West was extensively settled by "barbarians" and strained in its relations with the East. The "Chalcedonian" church, centered on Constantinople, retained a more nuanced attachment to the Council of 451. Disaffected Christians in Egypt and western Syria, opposed to the Council, subscribed more explicitly to a "one-nature" or "miaphysite" theology. The church of East Syria distanced itself increasingly from all such preoccupations, deeply affected by its proximity to Persia and the Arabs.

It is tempting to describe and therefore explain those divisions in terms of theological dispute. Dispute there certainly was, and it was not a mere front for other principles or prejudices: the issues at stake affected the core of Christian belief and must be paid respect.1 The disorder and acrimony of the fifth and sixth centuries had roots reaching back at least to the Council of Nicaea (325). Arius, condemned at that council, appeared to qualify the divinity ascribable to Jesus. Forceful opponents of his position - notably Apollinarius of Laodicea (d. c. 390) - downplayed the permanence of God the Son's humanity in the name of divine unity. Fifth-century churchmen, therefore, strove to discover a formula that would defuse the exaggerations of both parties. The humanity of Jesus had to be safeguarded, for otherwise his fellow humans could not share in the transformation of their nature that he promised them; the divinity of Jesus had to be safeguarded, for otherwise his offer lacked both authority and the

1 Jones, "Were Ancient Heresies National or Social Movements."

possibility of fulfillment. Yet, how could one describe Jesus as at once human and divine without prejudice to one nature or the other, and without dividing his very person?

Unfortunately, antagonisms were exacerbated before compromises could be achieved. Especially intense was the rivalry between the bishops of Alexandria (heirs of Athanasius, the Arians' greatest foe, and guardians of a long theological tradition) and of Constantinople (upstart capital of the new Christian empire); a rivalry that had already led to the downfall ofJohn Chrysostom (originally from Antioch) in 404.2 Now, Nestorius (also bishop of Constantinople and another Antiochene) was condemned at the Council of Ephesus (431) for overemphasizing the humanity ofJesus. The council's acclamation of Mary, the mother ofJesus, as Theotokos or "God-bearer," crowned with temporary success a long struggle for ascendancy by Cyril (bishop of Alexandria since 412); a success that reinforced an emphasis on the transcendent nature of the divine Logos (whence the term "miaphysite"). Cyril's supporting documentation reflected convictions developed over many years and colored much of the subsequent debate.3 Although opposed by John, bishop of Antioch, Cyril had also (at the expense of some honest clarity) gained the support of Pope Celestine I (422-32) in Rome. So, already at Ephesus, a metropolitan quartet was set in place, destined for dissonance more than harmony.

A degree of arrogant intransigence edged out more moderate opinion. Such was the fate of the Antiochene exegete Theodore, later bishop of Mopsues-tia (d. 428). Theodore had taught Nestorius and was unfairly identified with his pupil, even though his theology was at once clearer and more moderate. Cyril's successor Dioscorus (bishop 444-54) inflamed suspicion of Theodore and attacked two of his Syrian supporters - Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus, and Ibas, bishop of Edessa. The ploy affected debate for well over a century. Theodore's most ardent admirers emerged in the East Syrian church, where he was seen as "illustrious and eminent among the teachers of the true faith."4 That East Syrian religious culture, described in more detail in a later chapter, had its immediate roots in Ibas's see, Edessa.5 The scholar Barsauma (subsequently bishop of Nisibis) and his colleague Narsai were active in the city from the 430s. After the Council of Chalcedon, opposition to its "two natures"

2 See Dagron, Naissance d'une capitale and La romanite chretienne; Haas, Alexandria in Late Antiquity; Baynes, "Alexandria and Constantinople."

3 Acta conciliorum oecumenicorum, 1.1.1, 23-42. See Cyril of Alexandria, Select Letters; Wessel, Cyril ofAlexandria.

4 Synod of Bet Lapat (484 CE) quoted by Gero, Barsauma ofNisibis, 45, and see 29-31.

5 See Segal, Edessa, 110-91; Baum and Winkler, Die apostolische Kirche des Ostens; Gillman and Klimkeit, Christians in Asia.

formula (in both Antioch and Alexandria) encouraged further antagonism towards Theodore (not least because Chalcedon had affirmed his orthodoxy). Those Syrians sympathetic to Theodore's cause were forced to leave Edessa, with Narsai in the lead; and Barsauma's see further east seemed a natural place of refuge. There, the two set up the so-called "School of Nisibis" -traditionally in 489, although events are "shrouded in impenetrable darkness."6 Barsauma proceeded to make the city an intellectual center, partly as a competitive gesture towards the catholicos of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, who claimed virtually patriarchal status over all the churches within the Persian sphere. Soon, study at Nisibis became a sine qua non for anyone aspiring to clerical eminence in the East Syrian church. Internal disputes were often stormy, especially in the later decades of the sixth and the opening decades of the seventh centuries. What matters here is that the continuing rise and fall of Theodore's reputation (as of Theodoret and Ibas), coupled with the East Syrian Christians' involvement with Persia, inevitably contributed to not only the theological but also the strategic crises of the following hundred or more years.

But this is to anticipate. Theodore's temporary restoration to favor reflects the more general importance of the Council of Chalcedon.7 The theological developments of the following century or so were a prolonged attempt to escape from its unforgiving precision. Authorities in Constantinople, both civil and religious, strove always, by dint of compromise, to entice opponents into a semblance of unity; but they were never able to cede enough. The council had created, moreover, a new arena within which Constantinople had to contend with the bishops of Rome. Pope Leo the Great (440-61) was more formidable than his immediate predecessors, and precisely in relation to Chalcedon defended an interpretation of its decrees that made concessions further east even harder to confirm.

In that respect, the antecedents of the council were as important as its results. A Constantinopolitan monk and court favorite, Eutyches, had put himself forward as a forceful opponent of Nestorius, questioning the distinct humanity of Jesus.8 He gained the support of the emperor, and of Dioscorus, but was opposed at Antioch. Thus, Leo was brought into the fray, since Eutyches sought his backing. He gained little comfort from the pope's response - his so-called Tome, addressed to Flavian of Constantinople in 449.9 Dioscorus tried

6 Voobus, History, 33.

7 See Grillmeier and Bacht, Das Konzil von Chalkedon.

8 Eutyches linked with Apollinarius: Corpus iuris civilis: CodexJustinianus, 1.5.8 (455 CE), 52; see also 1.1.5-7 (527-33 CE).

9 Eutyches' appeal: Acta conciliorum oecumenicorum, 2.2.1, 33-35; preceded by Leo's letter to Flavian, 24-33.

to vindicate Eutyches at what Leo later called the "Robber Council," which affirmed the orthodoxy of Cyril and the errors of Theodoret and Ibas.10 But a die had been cast: Leo's pronouncements commanded the greater respect, and his Tome was accepted at Chalcedon itself as the clearest expression of the council's theological position. Unfortunately, Leo's Latin articulation of the "two natures" argument encouraged the western church and its allies in the East to resist every subsequent attempt to modify the council's decrees in the interests of reconciliation. The Tome ceased to summarize existing belief and enshrined a relentless exercise in the control of the future.

The search for universal agreement is described in detail in the previous volume ofthis History. My taskhere is to identify its later effects. They fall under three headings: the exercise of religious authority by the emperor (an issue now restricted to the East), the imperial government's difficulty in controlling the religious loyalties and customs of Syria and Egypt (later to fall under the dominance of Islam), and that government's eagerness (often humiliating but never wholly successful) to enlist papal support in both endeavors. In that last respect, the period between the accession of Leo and the death of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) moves from independent self-assurance through enforced subservience under Justinian I (527-65) to a painful restoration of papal status and influence. The restoration was precarious, as the fortunes of Pope Martin I (649-55) were to show; but Gregory was able to create a sense of the papacy's role in the West, and to initiate pastoral and administrative policies that would last for centuries.

Imperial policy and papal response were intertwined throughout the post-Chalcedonian era. The first major attempt to defuse contention was the Henotikon issued by the emperor Zeno in 482. His plea that "limbs be attached to limbs," that the church was "the incorruptible and never-ending mother of our scepters," that he was acting "not in order to make innovations in the faith but so as to reassure you," set a tone that would persist.11 Acacius, bishop of Constantinople and the document's doctrinal architect, saw Zeno's move as an opportunity to enhance his own status. The Henotikon, however, while affirming traditional orthodoxy in general terms, was not sufficiently anti-Chalcedonian for eastern extremists - another portent. Nor were western churchmen delighted by Zeno's apparent concessions. Pope Felix III

10 Leo to the Empress Pulcheria: in illo Ephesino nonjudicio sed latrocinio, see his Epistola, 95.2 in PL 54.943B.

11 Evagrius Scholasticus, EcclesiasticalHistory, 3.14, ed. BidezandParmentier, 111.15-16,112.5, 113.21-2 or trans. Whitby 147-49. See Allen, Evagrius Scholasticus.

(483-92) excommunicated Acacius in 484, and the resulting "Acacian Schism" lasted for more than thirty years.12

In spite of tensions within the Roman see itself, the tenure of two subsequent popes, Gelasius I (492-6) and Symmachus (498-514) reinforced western suspicion of eastern doctrine and vaunted authority. The two men were aided by the indecisive policies of the emperor Anastasius I (491-518) and the opportunist tolerance displayed by the Arian Ostrogoth Theoderic (master of Italy 493-526). Those rulers created a space for papal independence: the legacy of Leo could be protected and the religious influence of secular rulers called into question.

Anastasius's even-handedness was his own undoing: as Evagrius put it, "each of the prelates conducted himself according to his beliefs," and "the situ-ationbecame more absurd."13 In Constantinople, dangerous riots (511-12) combined religious outrage with political disaffection. Theological debate focused increasingly on the question whether God could be said to have suffered in the Incarnation (subsequently described as the "theopaschite" position), which seemed an inevitable consequence of miaphysite doctrine; one that Nestorius had striven to avoid, but at the cost of undermining divine agency in Jesus' redemptive sacrifice. The army supported the greater cautions of Chalcedon, hoping that Anastasius would make concessions to the more rigorous westerners. A new pope, Hormisdas (514-23), as intransigent as his predecessors, insisted on a humiliating bargain. Eventually, he forced John of Constantinople to accept Chalcedon on Leo's terms. John was effusive in recognizing Roman authority: "the Catholic religion has always been kept inviolable by the Apostolic See."14 As for the miaphysites, Anastasius's ambiguity encouraged a new generation of leaders with formidable talent, Philoxenus of Mabbug (bishop 485-523) and Severus of Antioch (bishop 512-18).15 They interpreted Zeno's Henotikon as an explicit attack on Chalcedon, which they happily anathematized, along with Leo's Tome. John of Ephesus later described the Council as "anathematized not only by us [the miaphysites], but also by the angels of heaven" - a spirit rooted in the belief that only a pagan could have persecuted Christians.16

12 See Publizistische Sammlungen.

13 Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History 3.30, ed. Bidez and Parmentier, 126 or trans. Whitby, 166-67.

14 Collectio Avellana, Epistola 159, 608.

15 See Chesnut, Three Monophysite Christologies; De Halleux, Philoxene de Mabbog; Torrance, Christology; Allen and Hayward, Severus of Antioch.

16 John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints 2, vol. 17: 24 and his Historia ecclesiastica, 3.2.39. See Grillmeier, Jesus der Christus im Glauben derKirche, trans. Bowden 2.1, 273 and following.

The accession of Justin I (518), more loyal to Chalcedon, did not meet all western expectations. Justinian I, his nephew and successor (527), was even less helpful. Bishops of Rome quickly learned that their role was to support the emperor - an emperor more opinionated and interventionist than Zeno and Anastasius. They were also caught up in his forceful overthrow of the Ostro-gothic regime. Justinian quickly hit his mark. He condemned both Nestorius and Eutyches, and launched a broad attack on Manichees, Montanists, Samaritans, pagans, and eventually Jews.17 Later difficulties were heralded, however, in his frequently modified but obstinate belief that the second person of the Trinity had taken upon himself "both the wonders and the sufferings" of the flesh, which at once appealed to and affronted the Cyrillian view.18 Julian of Halicarnassus (d. after 518) had already carried the "theopaschite" debate in the other direction, stressing the unity preserved in the Incarnation to the extent of suggesting that Jesus had only appeared to suffer corruption - a view dubbed "aphthartodocetism" by its critics. In practical matters, Justinian was more resolute. He controlled tightly the selection and training of clergy, having a clear notion of his ideal churchman; and he virtually monopolized the erection and funding of churches and other religious institutions by ensuring that no one would be allowed to endow church building on a grander scale than he did.19

The Nika riots of 532 gave pause to that initial confidence, inducing a sense of political insecurity. Justinian decided that anti-Chalcedonian fears had to be assuaged by debate rather than coercion. He held a conference, therefore, between Anthimus of Constantinople (Chalcedonian), Theodosius of Alexandria (miaphysite), and the exiled Severus (who had continued to keep in the forefront of debate the theological stance he epitomized as bishop).20 The situation looked as hopeful as it ever became; but more rigorous supporters of Chalcedon complained to Rome. There followed a brief moment of papal assertiveness. With his campaigns in Italy at a crucial stage, Justinian was willing to recognize Rome as "more ancient" than Constantinople, the summi pontificatus apex.21 But his attempts to translate dialogue into law had ignored Leo's Tome. Pope Agapetus I (535-36) succeeded in getting the

17 Corpus iuris civilis: CodexJustinianus 1.1.5 (527 CE), 1.5.18 (529 CE); Novellae 45 (537 CE), 146 (553 CE).

18 Corpus iuris civilis: Codex Justinianus 1.1.5 (527 CE).

19 Corpus iuris civilis: Codex Justinianus 1.2.19,1.3.41 (both 528 CE); Novellae 6 (535 CE).

20 Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, 4.10; John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints 48.

21 Corpus iuris civilis: Codex Justinianus 1.1.7 (533 CE), 8; Novellae 9 (535 CE), 91.

emperor's orders reversed.22 The pope was fearlessly unambiguous: he praised Justinian's "painstaking faith," but undercut any layman's claim to "preaching authority."23

Such a rebuff could not go unavenged. Justinian was prepared at first to accept his wife's intervention in support of a new papal candidate, Vigilius (pope 537-55),24 and even urged him to ratify the judgments of Agapetus. Vigilius obliged. The emperor may have feared that Theodora was becoming too independent in her religious loyalties.25 John of Ephesus always called her "the believing queen," "appointed by God to be a support for the persecuted against the cruelty ofthe times," and described howthe empress sheltered anti-Chalcedonian monks in the palace of Hormisdas in Constantinople.26 It may have seemed unwise, especially given the military situation in Italy, to leave a bishop of Rome exposed to such ambiguities. By the time Theodora died in 548, however, Justinian's ecclesiastical diplomacy had entered a new phase, destined to leave Vigilius the victim of much greater threats. The emperor succumbed to the notion of a renewed attack on at least portions of the work of Theodore, Theodoret, and Ibas (the so-called "Three Chapters"). These, it was argued, could be made to look anti-Cyril and pro-Nestorius, and their condemnation would assuage the eastern opponents of Chalcedon. Justinian first employed the ruse in an edict of 544, now lost. Churchmen in Italy and Africa were immediately disturbed (and we can sense why from Justinian's later pamphlet On Right Faith, issued in 551, likely to provide the gist of the earlier decree, and explicit in subscribingto a Cyrillian view).27 Justinian reacted promptly: in 548, imperial officials virtually kidnapped Vigilius, forcing him to ratify the edict of 544 in a iudicatum. Stirred by commendable scruple, the pope boycotted the second Council of Constantinople (553), but then buckled in a constitutum the following year.28

Humiliated and broken, Vigilius died on his way back to Rome; but he had long become a marked man among his western colleagues. He was condemned at a council in Carthage in 550, even though recalcitrant Africans, only shortly before, had been exiled or arrested. Their strong feelings were inspired in part by the adamant rejection of imperial pretensions by the deacon Ferrandus. Facundus of Hermiane (another humiliated victim of the council's

22 Corpus iuris civilis: Novellae 42 (536 CE).

23 Collectio Avellana, Epistola 82.3, 229.

24 See Procopius on his changeable predecessor, Silverius: Wars, 5.11.26, 5.14.4, 5.25.13.

25 Procopius, Secret History, 10.13; Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, 4.10.

26 John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints 25 and 47, vol. 18: 529 and 676-84.

27 Drei dogmatische Schriften, 73-111.

28 See Vigiliusbriefe.

aftermath) also rallied later to the defense of the condemned trio, vigorously and at length,29 as did the quaestor Junillus.30 Since Belisarius's swift defeat of the Vandals in the 530s, Africa had faced more than a decade of cultural ignorance and military and financial ineptitude, and the time had come to express embitterment. 31 Later writers gradually wove that resentment into a fuller account of Justinian's failure. Corippus, "the last African to write a secular poem in the classical manner," had tried (in 549) to persuade his compatriots that they had gained something from fifteen years of war. With the accession of Justin II in 565, he obligingly supplied a less rosy view in a panegyric at Justinian's expense. Agathias achieved something of the same effect, in contrast to Procopius earlier, who had been unwilling to spoil the image of African "liberation."32

The "Three Chapters" controversy marked a vital hiatus, not only in relations between the western church and the imperial authorities, but also in relations within the western church itself. It brought home to the bishops of Italy and Africa the extent to which an undermining of Chalcedon had been inseparable from "reconquest": the subjection of the West had served an eastern agenda. But that subjection had been only partially achieved -thanks not least to western defense of the legacy of Leo the Great. Justinian's final settlement for post-Ostrogothic Italy, the "Pragmatic Sanction" of 554, strengthened the local authority of bishops in civic affairs, but demonstrated also the emperor's failure to impose any direct control over the old western provinces or to gain the allies essential to that control.33 Meanwhile, bishops of Rome from Pelagius I onward (after 555) were left with the task of redeeming their city's reputation, even among the bishops of northern Italy, not to mention the West more broadly. The task was not made easier by the almost immediate intrusion of the Lombards. In the thirty years before his accession, an agenda was thus marked out that would govern the episcopate of Gregory the Great. It explains that pontiff's meticulous attention to church government in Italy, Africa, and eventually in Gaul, so fully documented in his Letters, and his readiness to articulate the needs and hopes of the West independently of the emperor in Constantinople.

29 Facundus of Hermiane, Pro defensione trium capitularum. See Cameron, Procopius, 27.

30 Junillus, Departibus divinae legis. He was successor to the lawyer Tribonian, acquainted with Syrian churchmen, and later praised by Cassiodorus: Jones, Martindale, and Morris, Prospography, IIIA, 742; Cassiodorus, Institutiones, 10. Negative portrait: Procopius, Secret History, 20.17-19, with Cameron, Procopius, 28, 63, 231.

31 Frend, Rise of the Monophysite Movement, 281.

32 Jones, Martindale, and Morris, Prosopography, III, 354-55; Cameron, Procopius, 21, 62, and 127 (but note 184-86); Cameron, Agathias, 124 and following.

33 Corpus iuris civilis: Novellae appendix 7; see CodexJustinianus 1.27 (534 CE).

Developments in the East were no less ominous. The council of 553 had achieved little reconciliation, partly because opponents of Chalcedon could not agree among themselves. Already in the early 540s, Theodosius ofAlexan-dria - frustrated at the failure of religious diplomacy, and encouraged by Ghassanid Arabs (allies of Rome but sympathetic to the anti-Chalcedonian cause) - had consecrated two new bishops, Jacob Baradaeus in Edessa and Theodore in Bostra; the latter as bishop of all Arabia. The move represented a crucial shift in the center of gravity of Syrian anti-Chalcedonianism. Jacob in particular represented a growing fault line, carelessly accepted by Paul of Anti-och (bishop 557-81) and never wholly bridged. As a freelance missionary, he spread monastic ideals, fostered strong theological loyalties, and gave church government a looser structure. John of Ephesus describes his bewildering speed and bedraggled disguises as he traversed the East, leaving his Chalcedo-nian pursuers "beating the air."34 Geopolitics were also involved. Not only were West Syrians venturing more deeply into Ghassanid territory, they were also adding fuel to resentment among the neighboring Lakhmids, closer allies of Persia and sympathetic towards the East Syrian Church. Many of those adverse to Justinian's religious hopes were thus becoming essential players in an all-important buffer zone between two great polities: they would affect not only relations with Persia in the shorter term but also with Islamic Arabs later.

Imperial reaction was no more successful than it had been a hundred years before. Justin II at first rested content with the vague assertion of ancient orthodoxies - a timeworn strategy. His efforts were stymied by anti-Chalcedonian extremists. He then tried to condemn the Three Chapters afresh and honor the memory of Severus - an unacceptable outrage in the eyes of many. In 571, he formulated a miniature Henotikon of his own, emphasizing the need for peace (and showing some theological inventiveness).35 "Pathetic rather than vicious," he finally resorted to persecution until his death in 578.36 His successor Tiberius II - for John of Ephesus, the "God-loving emperor" - was more preoccupied with Slavic encroachment in the Balkans than with religious coercion. As he put it, "barbarian wars are enough for me: I do not want to take upon myself a war with my own people."37 Maurice displayed the same attitude after him;

34 John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints 49, vol. 18: 694.

35 Evagrius Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, 5.4, foreshadowing seventh-century "monothelite" debate.

36 John of Ephesus: early ignorance, Historia ecclesiastica, 3.1.16; later oppression, 3.3.1 and following. Cameron, Procopius, 65.

37 John of Ephesus, Historia ecclesiastica, 3.3.12, repeating 3.1.37.

but even he became harshly exasperated.38 The whole period was remarkable for its bitter confusions, which remained essentially disputes between the four great cities involved in the prelude to Ephesus: the development of their theological identities was still governed by their rivalry with one another.

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